"Now it's a push to use more whole ingredients in the slow cooking," she says. "There's definitely sort of a gourmet slow cooker thing going on."

She's made brisket tacos with green sauce, Maryland crab soup and pomegranate pulled pork, and figures she cooks with a slow cooker several times a month.

Among her stable of crock pots, Rappaport's favorite is the one that comes with interchangeable pots, so she can choose between a two-, four- or six-quart size.

Crock-Pot, the company that holds claim to original slow cooker, still offers a version that costs less that $20 — as well as pricier models tricked out with touch screens and decorator crockery with polka dots or toile.

Crate and Barrel carries Calphalon's $225 version as well as digital model by Cuisinart. And amid the high-brow culinary tools at Williams-Sonoma, the store offers a number of slow cookers, including one made by All-Clad that retails for $400. Among its mainly glowing reviews (418 of them at last count), is someone who used the device to prepare the Barefoot Contessa's pot roast.

Would Ina Garten approve?

These days, chances are.

Not long ago Paul Sevigny, who lives in Lutherville, won a crock pot cook-off organized by local food enthusiasts. He entered his goat curry and still proudly displays the winner's certificate in his kitchen.

The accountant describes himself as a foodie — someone who lived for a stint in Asia and enjoys seeking out unusual ingredients to try to replicate the dishes experienced there. He also works long hours, particularly during tax time.

Sevigny's trusty slow cooker allows him to work late and still come home to the likes of clay pot chicken, Singapore style. He's also scored points with his girlfriend, who's invited her book club over for Sevigny's soups, built with his aromatic slow cooker stocks.

Sure, he's gotten a smirk or two when he mentions the crock pot among food snobs. And yeah, there's been a lot of surprise when his guests are eating something delicious and find out how it was prepared.

But, anymore, not all that often.

"I think it's gaining respect," he says.


Quick tips on slow cooking

Beth Hensperger, author of a number of the "Not Your Mother's" slow cooker books, has a few suggestions for people considering cooking with a slow cooker:

1. Don't put cold food into the cooker. It takes too long to start the heating.

2. Never fill the pot more than two-thirds to three-quarters of the way. Food expands. (Hensperger says she learned that lesson the hard, messy way.)

3. Resist the urge: Don't open the lid. If you do, you let the cooking heat out and will probably have to add another half-hour to an hour to your cooking time.

4. If you're making something for a pot luck, plug it in on the serving table. Especially with a 7-quart machine, they can get heavy, and with the outside of the machine hot, moving it can be difficult, dangerous and awkward.

5. If you own one of the avocado or gold machines from the 1970s, get rid of it. The new models run hotter and safer.

6. When shopping for a slow cooker, Hensperger says, "real gourmands" should go to Williams-Sonoma and spring for a Cuisinart with all the bells and whistles. But a novice who just wants to experiment with slow cooking would do fine, she says, with something along the lines of a Hamilton Beach

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