CARTHAGE, Mo. —
A slow cooker makes meals easy -- it slowly cooks your dinner all day, so you can go live your life.
But many slow-cooker recipes include canned cream-of-whatever soup or boxed mixes. Take a moment to check out the ingredients in those cans and boxes; there are way too many words, and most of them are unpronounceable. Your slow cooker does most of the work for you, so these canned soups and mixes aren't necessary for a successful meal.
I'm sure you made more room in your freezer after reading my column last week. You'll be glad you did, because now you can stuff it full of slow-cooker meals. Spend an afternoon chopping meat and veggies, mixing sauces, and labeling bags.
Put meals in zip-close bags or containers and layer them in the freezer. Take one out the day before you plan on eating it (so it can thaw), and dump it in the slow cooker in the morning. Set it on low, go about your business for the next several hours, and when you're ready for dinner, dinner will be ready for you. Some meals may need a side dish of veggies or whole grains, but otherwise you're all set. You'll have more time in the evenings for family fun, reading, online gambling or whatever it is you do to unwind. So fun-tastic.
Your slow cooker can help you stay on the clean eating path. Freezer meals are fantastic for helping you stay the course. Use leftovers for a clean lunch, and you've made it through another day without eating processed junk. Once you get the hang of it, you'll wonder why you haven't always eaten this way.
There are also many uses for slow cookers that don't involve food. Perhaps you've made an amazing Crock-Pot curry, for example. Although delicious, certain aromas can linger a little longer than you might like. Throw some aromatics such as lemon, lavender oil or vanilla into your slow cooker with water and simmer away. Try eucalyptus with lemon, cinnamon sticks and apple slices, or whatever funky herb combo you like. You can melt old, broken crayons and pour them into muffin tins to create rainbow swirly crayon chunks. Slow cookers can be used to make candles, dye fabrics, Easter eggs and even soap.
There are so many great ways to use your slow cooker that you may need to pick up a spare. Don't worry -- garage sale season is around the corner. Simplify your life, spend your precious time wisely, and try these recipes.
Clean-eating curry chicken
4 large chicken breasts
1/2 cup raisins
1 shallot, diced
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 teaspoon dried ginger
12 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup chicken stock (Use 2 cups if you want gravy, plus 1 to 2 tablespoons whole-wheat pastry flour. Whisk well into the broth before adding to the slow cooker to avoid clumps.)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
Place all ingredients in slow cooker. Stir well to get everything mixed and coated in the spices. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. Serve over brown rice with a side of cauliflower.
Adapted from thegraciouspantry.com
Crock-Pot beef fajitas
21/2 pounds beef roast
4 ounces diced green chilies
3 sweet peppers, sliced
1 yellow onion, sliced
3 tablespoons chili powder
3 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon pepper
Squirt of lime juice
Fajita fixings such as sour cream, plain Greek yogurt, cheese, salsa, lettuce
Place the roast in the bottom of your slow cooker. Place vegetables around the sides of the roast. In a small bowl, combine the chili powder through pepper. Stir well. Sprinkle over meat and veggies. Spoon chilies over top. Give it all a good squirt of lime juice. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours. Remove meat from slow cooker. Shred with two forks. Drain juices from slow cooker, leaving a small amount. Stir beef back in. Serve beef on tortillas with desired sides.
Adapted from Stacymakescents.com.
Slow-cooker lentils and rice
1 cup uncooked brown long-grain rice
1 cup dried lentils
1 medium onion, diced
1 (14.5-ounce) can low-sodium diced tomatoes
5 ounces fresh spinach, chopped or frozen, but thaw and drain first
5 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper or to taste
Place the rice and lentils in a large bowl, cover with water, and soak overnight. Drain and place in the slow cooker along with the rest of the ingredients except the cheese, if using. Cover and cook on high 5 to 6 hours or on low 8 hours. It's done when the rice is tender and most of the liquid has been cooked down. If using the cheese, add it individually to each serving.
To change the flavor of this dish, substitute the oregano and basil for cumin and chili powder and add some frozen corn (thaw and drain first). To make an Indian-inspired dish, substitute the oregano and basil for curry powder, cumin and garam masala, and add carrots and cauliflower.
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. You may want to add a little broth when warming it up.
Adapted from thenakedkitchen.com
Have questions? Email them to email@example.com or mail her c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.