Saturday, May 19, 2012

Recipes: Slow Cooker Summer

The other day I was making Jamie Oliver's delicious Crisy and Sticky Chicken Thighs with Squashed Potatoes and Tomatoes, and I thought to myself: this will most likely be the last time I turn on the oven this summer.

We've had a much milder spring than usual, but it's impossible to ignore that the broiling days of summer are on their way. Turning on the oven in my little apartment would be much like turning on the heater.

So, I use my toaster oven a lot, and I've recently picked up a slow cooker. The slow cooker is pretty fabulous -- and eco-friendly! - because it cooks things at a lower temperature and, because it's small and contained, isn't heating up a lot of unnecessary space.

Two of my recent favorite recipes:

Slow Cooker Black Beans
Want to save money and cut down on packaging? Make your own black beans instead of canned!

You can buy dry black beans in packages of 12-16 oz, or you can find them in the bulk area of some super-markets. You'll also need an onion and garlic, and any spices you want (I use salt, pepper, and cumin, along with some dried chilies.)

You need to start this recipe the night before you want to cook it. Pour the beans into a bowl, and pick through them to make sure there are no rocks, twigs, or stray chickpeas in there. If you're using dried chilies, you can put them in the bowl too. Fill with water until 1-2 inches over the top of the beans, and cover. Soak overnight in the fridge.

In the morning, drain the beans and pick out any broken ones. (Don't go crazy with this. You're not Psyche sorting the seeds.) Chop the onion and garlic, and quickly saute them. Put the beans, chilies, onion, garlic, and spices in the slow cooker. Again, cover with water until about 2 inches over the top of the beans. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 .

When they're done, I drain out some of the excess water, and then I usually divide the beans up into three parts. One I keep in the refrigerator. The other two I freeze, and thaw whenever I need them. A sixteen oz. bag of dried beans (which is usually less than $2.00) makes about as much as 3-4 cans.

Slow Cooker Pulled Chicken
When recipes call for rotisserie chicken, and you don't want the salt -- or mutant, non-organic chickens -- that come with the rotisserie chicken, why not make your own pulled chicken. It can also be used in salads, enchiladas (that you then cook in your toaster oven), or sandwiches.

Take 1-2 packages of organic, boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Put them in the slow cooker with 3-4 whole garlic cloves. Add your favorite spices -- a little salt, a little pepper, some cumin or chili flakes. Then cover with water or reduced-sodium broth. Cook on LOW for 8-9 hours. 

Remove the chicken from the slow cooker and using 2 forks, pull the chicken apart into shreds.

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