When it comes to cooking from scratch you can save time, money, and energy by planning ahead. However, you can go one step better than simply planning by actually cooking ahead. Slow cookers (or crock pots) are a great way to prepare a meal in advance and come home and eat right away. Most cookbooks have a few slow cooker recipes but sometimes it’s nice to have more than just the perfunctory choices. Chef, culinary instructor, and cookbook author Donna-Marie Pye has just released a new book, Easy Everyday Slow Cooker Recipes (available locally at Relish Cooking Studio, and from Amazon and Amazon.ca). I always enjoy getting new cookbooks, but was especially interested in this one because the author lives here in KW! After trying out a couple recipes from the book I met with Donna-Marie at her cooking studio, Relish, in Uptown Waterloo. One thing I was excited to talk to Donna-Marie about was how to encourage people who don’t cook to get started. She stressed that when it really comes down to it what’s most important about cooking is health. Eating processed foods and premade meals in boxes is simply unhealthy and the easiest way to start eating healthy food is to make it yourself. So how do you convince others that cooking your own meals is worth it? By telling them! This is where social media comes in. You don’t have to be a blogger to share healthy tips with friends and family. Anytime you prepare a homemade meal that you thought was delicious share it with others—either with a photo, a link, or by inviting others over to eat it with you! The easiest form of teaching is through example, and it doesn’t have to be preaching or bragging. If you include successes and failures, as well as ask others for opinions and suggestions it becomes clear that you are not just trying to show off how great your food is, but that you are just sharing what’s going on in your life and trying to connect with others. Speaking of sharing ideas and suggestions, I asked Donna-Marie if she had one fun cooking trick to share and she didn’t hesitate at all before responding that she did indeed. Since cooking is always followed by cleaning it’s nice to be able to save some time by minimizing the cleaning that will be necessary. Parchment paper is one easy way of doing so. However while parchment paper is easy to use for baking cookies or pizzas it can be difficult to use in pans with edges, like for cakes, bars, and squares. Donna-Marie’s simple trick is to wet the parchment paper, then crumple it into a wad, and then it becomes pliable like cloth. It becomes easy to form it to fill a pan once you’ve done this which allows you to use it for almost any shape of cooking dish! We tried it at home this week for some black bean brownies that Madame made and it worked great. So, back to the cookbook, Easy Everyday Slow Cooker Recipes is straight to the point when it comes to healthy, simple cooking. The book begins with tips and instructions for using slow cookers and then gets to the recipes, which are divided into several sections based on styles and primary ingredients—vegetarian, stews, poultry, beef, pork and lamb, several different sections of meals, and desserts. My wife and I mainly focused on the vegetarian and stew section when searching for recipes to try. One thing that this book helps highlight is how versatile slow cookers can be. It’s not just about making thick stews and chili—you can do casseroles, cakes, custards and more. I think when it comes down to it, pretty much anything that is cooked can be slow-cooked, and if it proves that I’m very wrong about that, well, at least you experimented! We started with Mexican Minestrone and followed a few days later with Golden Lentil Stew. Both turned out quite well and were easy to make using ingredients we already had on hand. In fact the only ingredient we had to seek out was chipotle peppers for the Mexican Minestrone, and luckily our shopping trip for those only took us as far as our neighbor’s house next door! Next up to try is “Cathedral Café Red Bean and Barley Soup” and “Holy Mole Chili.” Since slow cooking tends to be associated with foods that appeal during the colder months we will likely use this book more a few months from now. However, one trick we’ve discovered is that when it’s hot the slow cooker can just be plugged in on the back porch and left for the day (make sure it’s in a safe place!) and this way it doesn’t heat the house and a nice cooked meal is waiting to be eaten at the end of the day. Although this is more of a winter kind of meal, with this absurdly cold weather we’ve been having we really enjoyed eating this Golden Lentil Stew, also known as Harira. Recipe courtesy of Easy Everyday Slow Cooker Recipes by Donna-Marie Pye, 2014 © www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with publisher permission. The publishers sent me a review copy and are providing the giveaway copy as well.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1⁄2 tsp sweet paprika
- 1⁄2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1⁄2 tsp ground ginger
- 1⁄2 tsp ground coriander
- 1⁄4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 4 stalks celery, finely chopped
- 1 can (19 oz/540 mL) diced tomatoes,
- with juice
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas,
- drained and rinsed
- 1 cup dried red lentils, rinsed
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 3 whole cloves
- 1 3-inch (7.5 cm) cinnamon stick
- 1⁄4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1⁄2 cup cooked orzo or other small pasta
- 1⁄2 cup chopped pitted dates
- 2 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sauté onion for 3 to 5 minutes or until tender and translucent. Add garlic, paprika, turmeric, ginger, coriander and nutmeg; sauté for 1 minute or until fragrant. Transfer to slow cooker stoneware.
- Stir in celery, tomatoes with juice, broth, chickpeas, lentils, tomato paste, cloves, cinnamon stick and pepper.
- Cover and cook on Low for 8 to 10 hours or on High for 4 to 5 hours, until stew is bubbling.
- Stir in orzo and dates. Cover and cook on High for 10 to 15 minutes or until heated through. Discard cinnamon stick. Stir in parsley, cilantro and lemon juice. Serve garnished with lemon wedges.
This dish can be assembled up to 12 hours in advance. Prepare through step 2, but don’t add the lentils. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, stir in lentils, place stoneware in slow cooker and proceed with step 3.
If you have any leftovers, this stew stores very well in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Store in an airtight container and reheat as necessary, adding a little water if the stew is too thick.
Broth (or stock) is one of the most indispensable pantry staples. Commercial broth cubes and powders are loaded with salt and just don’t deliver the flavor of homemade stock or prepared broth. I like to keep 32-oz (1 L) Tetra Paks on hand, especially the sodium‑reduced variety. They come in handy when you’re making soups and stews. Alternatively, you can make your own broth in a large batch (using a slow cooker!) and can it using a pressure canner.
Tomato paste is now available in tubes in many supermarkets and delis. It keeps for months in the refrigerator.
Orzo is a small, rice-shaped pasta. You can substitute any small pasta for the orzo or break spaghetti noodles into short pieces.
Win a copy of Easy Everyday Slow Cooker Recipes!
The publishers will send a copy of Easy Everyday Slow Cooker Recipes to one raffle winner in Canada or the US. You can enter multiple ways so get started here: