One-Pot Meals that Your Family Will Love
If your day consists of getting the kids ready for school, going to work, then dropping the kids off at their after school activities, you’re probably getting home at a time when the idea of preparing dinner is exhausting and simply not feasible. The tendency is to opt for an “easy” or “fast” option, such as the local fast food drive through. Trust me I’ve been there and done it. However, it’s obvious that the fast food option is not the healthiest or the most economical. With a little planning, preparing a healthy dinner on even the craziest of days is very doable. It’s called a slow cooker (or “Crock-Pot”) and if you don’t have one, you should get one.
Wikipedia defines a slow cooker, or Crock-Pot, as a countertop electrical cooking appliance that is used for simmering, which requires maintaining a relatively low temperature (compared to other cooking methods such baking, boiling and frying), allowing unattended cooking for many hours. Yes, it says “hours of unattended cooking.”
So with a little planning, you can toss in all your meal ingredients before you leave for work, put the pot on a low setting, and have dinner pretty much ready when you come home from work and dropping junior off. Ingenious! Here are some other advantages of using the slow cooker:
- Cheaper cuts of meats cook better than more expensive cuts because long slow cooking will soften the connective tissue without toughening the muscle. So cheaper cuts will cook tender.
- The low temperature of slow cooking makes it almost impossible to burn food even if cooked too long.
- Cooking the meal in a single pot reduces washing up and the low cooking temperature and glazed pot make cleaning easy. Spray the inside of the liner with cooking spray before you fill it to make cleanup easier. When purchasing a crockpot, look for one with a removable liner, which is easier to clean. You can also line your crockpot with a cooking bag and you’ll have no cleanup at all..
- You don’t need to add oil to a slow cooker; the contents won’t stick as long as there’s enough moisture in there. You don’t need a lot of fat on your meat either. Normally when you fry meat, a lot of the fat drains away, this won’t happen in a slow cooker so trim it off; otherwise you might find you have pools of oil in your stew. Trimming the fat will give you a healthier result and it’ll still be tasty.
- Vegetarians can also cut their grocery bills by using a slow cooker to soak and cook dried beans.
The disadvantage to slow cooking is that vegetables may lose some nutrients through a slow cook process, compared with rapidly cooking them, but they appear to be trace amounts so it’s not a deal breaker.
Only fill the crockpot one half to two thirds full. The foods will not cook properly if the appliance is filled to the brim. For more crockpot tips, read Crockpot 101.
To get you started (or inspired to bring out your crock-pot once again), here’s a healthy Indian recipe for boneless, skinless chicken with cucumber and tomatoes.
Slow-Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe
15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons garam masala (Indian spice blend)
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 8)
1/2 English cucumber, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup basmati or some other long-grain white rice
1/2 cup heavy cream
1. In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine the tomatoes, onion, garlic, tomato paste, garam masala, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables, cover, and cook until the chicken is tender, on low for 7 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours (this will shorten total recipe time).
2. In a small bowl, toss the cucumber and cilantro with the lemon juice and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for up to 8 hours.
3. Twenty minutes before serving, cook the rice according to the package directions.
4. Just before serving, stir the cream into the chicken tikka masala. Serve over the rice with the cucumber relish.
Here’s another super simple meal, just throw all the ingredients in and walk away!
Slow Cooker Red Beans and Rice Recipe
1 pound dried red beans
3/4 pound smoked turkey sausage, thinly sliced
3 celery ribs, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 sweet onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
Hot cooked long-grain rice
Hot sauce (optional)
Garnish: finely chopped green onions, finely chopped red onion
1. Combine first 8 ingredients and 7 cups water in a 4-qt. slow cooker. Cover and cook on HIGH 7 hours or until beans are tender.
2. Serve red bean mixture with hot cooked rice. If desired, sprinkle with hot sauce and garnish.
Preparing dinner in a crock-pot is super easy and can have you eating healthy meals at home more often, which means less trips to the drive-through!