Certain things happen when you get married. Your parents cry. You learn way more than you ever wanted to know about ring sizes. You learn a lot about your relationship. You explore many ways of answering the question ‘So when are you having a baby?’ (We’ll have to get back to you on that, nebnose.) And at the end of it all, you’re left with lots of photos, lots of memories, and lots and lots of kitchen appliances.
This is probably even more true if you are known to be foodies. Joe and I met working at the late, great Lechters Housewares, received all sorts of coffee makers, flatware, and slow cookers, among other gifts, from our wonderful and generous friends and family. We love gadgets, and we both subscribe to Alton Brown’s Unitasker Theory: the only unitasker allowed in our kitchen is the fire extinguisher. (OK, and maybe that awesome stovetop coffeepot Paola brought us from Lebanon.)
Fortunately, the slow cooker is versatile. Stew? Sauce? A whole chicken? Check, check and check. Our thoughtful friends Peter and Cat gave us not only a spiffy slow cooker, but also The Slow Cooker Ready & Waiting Cookbook: 160 Sumptuous Meals that Cook Themselves by Rick Rodgers. Like many cookbooks organized around a gadget, this one pulls recipes from every corner of the globe and adapts them for American tastes. I’m generally skeptical of this approach, but after two really, really delicious meals, I have to admit that Rick knows what he’s doing.
Both recipes are deceptively simple. The recipes are long, and aimed at beginner cooks, with instructions like ‘turn on the slow cooker’– so I’ll summarize them here but add a few notes. My main criticism is that these recipes go too light on the seasonings– feel free to load up on your spices and aromatics. Also, he seems to be a fan of canned broths. I use them sometimes, but try to stick to fresh– the sodium levels in canned broth are ridiculous, and they tend to be full of additives. The pot roast recipe is gluten-free, if GF beer is used; the chicken stew is dairy free, and also GF if served with rice or quinoa instead of couscous.
Belgian Beer and Onion Pot Roast
by Rick Rodgers (summarized)
Use high-quality beer and beef, and you will be amazed– this produces a meltingly tender roast with a rich sauce. We couldn’t get enough of this.
One 2 1/2-lb beef chuck roast, well trimmed (We used a grass-finished roast from Livengood Farms.)
1 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp unsalted butter
4 medium onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup double-strength beef broth, canned or homemade
1/2 lager beer (We used a Belgian-style trippel, but we’re beer snobs. You could also use a gluten-free beer.)
1 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard (We left this out, because I have an irrational hatred of mustard.)
1 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 tsp cold water
2-3 small Yukon Gold potatoes, halved (our addition)
1. Cut the chuck roast crosswise into 2 or 3 large pieces to fit into your slow cooker.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet* and brown the beef pieces. Season with salt and pepper and set aside on a plate.
*Note: our slow cooker’s bowl is flameproof, so we did this right in the slow cooker bowl itself. Pretty cool.
3. Melt the butter in the skillet and add the onions. Stir until lightly browned. Then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in the beef broth, beer, brown sugar, mustard and vinegar. Transfer to the slow cooker and stack the beef on top of the onions (and optional potatoes).
4. Cover and cook until the meat is very tender, 7-8 hours on low (200 degrees F). With a slotted spoon, transfer the pot roast, potatoes and onions to a platter and cover to keep warm.
5. Skim the fat from the surface of the cooking liquid. In a medium saucepan, bring the liquid to a simmer over medium heat. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and cook just until thickened. Pour over the pot roast and serve immediately.
Moroccan Chicken and Vegetable Stew
by Rick Rodgers (summarized)
This recipe uses acorn squash, which makes it great for using local produce during a Pennsylvania winter. The recipe calls for chicken thighs, but we used a whole fresh chicken (from L. Halteman, an Amish vendor, at the Reading Terminal Market), cut into pieces. Joe’s coworker from Morocco told us that this is a relatively authentic recipe; he thought it needed more spice, especially ginger, and said that his family uses potatoes rather than squash. This was also incredibly tender and delicious. Watch for bones, though.
1 acorn squash (we used a festival squash)
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (we used more)
1/2 tsp ground ginger (we used sliced fresh ginger)
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 medium carrots, cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minched
6 chicken thighs (or one small whole chicken in pieces– we kept the skin on for flavor)
1 3/4 cups double-strength chicken brother, canned or homemade
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup raisins
1. Cut the squash crosswise into 3/4-inch-thick rings and scoop out the seeds. (This is hard.) Cut the rings into quarters and pare off the skin.
2. In a small bowl, mix the dry spices.
3. In the slow cooker, combine the squash, carrots, onion and garlic. Sprinkle half the spice mixture over the vegetables. Sprinkle the rest over the chicken*, and arrange over the vegetables. Pour in the broth, cover, and slow-cook until the chicken shows no sign of pink at the bone when prodded with the tip of a sharp knife– 5-6 hours on low (200 degrees F). During the last hour** of cooking, add the chickpeas and raisins.
4. Serve with couscous (rice or quinoa are good gluten-free substitutions) and hot sauce.
*Joe’s Moroccan coworker prefers to brown the chicken in a skillet before putting it in the slow cooker. We didn’t do this, but it would certainly be good, as long as you don’t overcook it.
** The recipe calls for only half an hour, but that left the chickpeas a little hard. Go for the full hour.