Sunday, December 11, 2011

Eating Omily: "Holy Frijoles, Batman! It's The Slow Cooker!"

You know, I could be mistaken, but, I spent the whole month of September blogging about packing lunches and easy dinners, and I don't think I once mentioned that awesome slow cooker of mine! How did I do that??

Well, better late than never! If you don't have a slow cooker, it is definitely something worth adding to your Christmas list! Understand though, that the times a slow cooker will save your ass are the times when you know ahead of time that it's going to be a crazy day and you are NOT going to want to cook. The slow cooker will not help you in the least if you thought you'd have an easy day, but came home exhausted, because it is, well, slow.

Classic slow cooker meals are things like pot roast: one-pot meals based around tough cuts of meat. And that's definitely a delicious avenue worth exploring, but I'll be honest: I never have. That said, don't panic. Add a 2-4 pound roast to your slow cooker along with some coarsely chopped aromatics: onions, carrots, garlic, maybe some potatoes, hardy dried herbs, and water/broth/wine to cover. Put that sucker on low, and go about your day. By dinner time, the connective tissue that made that cut of meat hopeless if prepared like a steak will have melted away, leaving the broth rich, fragrant, and full-bodied, and the meat perfectly, melt-in-your-mouth tender. Awesome.

The thing I use my slow cooker the most though, as in, once a week easy, is beans. I buy dried beans at the Farmer's Market a pound at a time. The night before I want to have beans for dinner, I pour the beans, and three times their quantity of water into the slow cooker, and leave it sit, turned off. The next morning, I add chopped onions, garlic, thyme, oregano, a bay leaf, maybe some allspice, pepper, and plenty of salt, plus some more water if the beans have absorbed enough that they aren't covered by a couple inches.

Disclaimer: a lot of people seem to think it's super-important to rinse the beans really thoroughly the night before, and then after the soaking, to drain them and cook them in fresh water. I live on the edge. I don't rinse, and I cook in my soaking water. I have not died yet, though I did once bite down on a pebble in my lunch. Draw your own conclusions.

Then I just put the lid on, turn the slow cooker on low, (or high, if it's a reeeaaaally long-cooking bean, like the black soy beans from the Farmer's Market. 99% of the time, low will do you, unless you want to eat in much less than six hours.)

Every single time, I come home from a long day out and about, and the most delicious smell greets me as soon as I step into the hallway of my building. Maybe it's because they're fresh Farmer's market beans. Maybe it's because the herbs have had so much time to release their flavors into the cooking liquid. Maybe it's because I don't wash away all that flavorful starch on the outside of the beans. Whatever it, they smell like, at least one-hundred-thousand times more delicious than you think a pot of beans can smell.

I check them for doneness when I come in the door. Usually I can switch them over to 'warm' by then; sometimes I let them go a little longer, or even turn them up to high. I make quinoa, or brown rice, or polenta, or mashed potatoes, to serve them over, and a veggie to go along side; often I just chop up hearty greens and let them cook along with the grain. On particularly rough nights I have been known to convince myself that those cooked-to-the-point-of-disintegration onions and garlic in the beans count as a veggie. This is hands down one of my husband's favourite meals, and one of the few things he will gladly take to work and eat for lunch day after day. Here is a bowl of beans, with kale, served over red quinoa, that we had for dinner the other night.
Om nom. Warm, hearty, delicious, and super-healthy!

And, you'll have a ton of left-overs! Oops, sorry, shouldn't have mentioned those words so close to Thanksgiving...if yours aren't safely being cared for, or sadly already in the garbage, quickly, don't panic! Reread this blog post! Ok. Feel better? Same rules apply to beans. Put no more in the fridge than your household can eat in, oh, a week or so, and freeze the rest in comparatively-sized containers. A note on freezer safety: be cautious freezing in plastics; always make sure it's declared safe for freezing, and always leave enough head space to allow for expansion of the food as it freezes.

So, aside from easy packed lunches, beans are great for: quesadillas, nachos, re-fried bean dips, soups, and just about anywhere else you'd use meat.
~em

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