When Amy Archer, a 23-year-old part-time student and part-time waitress, began eating gluten free last May, she didn't know how to cook.
"I grew up a typical American and grabbed fast food and prepared food on the run. That made going gluten free all the more difficult for me," says Amy. "I gradually learned how to bake or broil meats, steam or sauté vegetables, make rice, and make salads. But as the weather got colder, I wanted more home-cooked meals and tastier combinations of foods cooked together. With my schedule, and the fact that I didn't know how to cook very well, I didn't know how I could accomplish that."
Amy received a simple answer to her problem when she visited her aunt a few months ago. "My aunt picked me up at the airport and drove me to her house. When we walked in her front door, there was the incredible aroma of chicken cacciatore cooking in her kitchen. I found out that my aunt started the dish at lunchtime and it had been cooking most of the day in her Crock-Pot. Then it struck me: If I could start a meal in a slow cooker before I headed to work or school, I could have a delicious warm dinner all ready for me when I got back home."
Although new appliances and faster cooking techniques seem better to many in our fast-paced world, Amy, her aunt, and many others are realizing that using a Crock-Pot, or slow cooker, has many benefits. If you take a bit of time to start a dish before leaving the house, the slow cooker does the cooking for you, so you can come home to an instant meal. You don't need any advanced cooking skills other than the ability to brown onions, garlic, and meat before adding them to the slow cooker for improved flavor. You can easily make hot, appetizing meals without any gluten. And other than your serving plates, you have only one dish, the slow cooker stoneware, to clean afterwards. So ironically, a slow cooker is an answer for giving busy people fast food convenience and fast cleanup.
Here is some other basic information to know about slow cookers and slow cooking:
- Crock-Pot, the original slow cooker appliance, is a U.S. trademark of the Rival Company, part of Sunbeam Products, a subsidiary of the Jarden Corporation. However, the term "crockpot" is often used generically to refer to a slow cooker. There are now many other brands of slow cookers.
- Be aware that different slow cookers cook at different temperatures. Newer slow cookers manufactured in the past five or six years cook at temperatures significantly higher than in the past. So, if you have a slow cooker that is less than five or six years old, you'll need to reduce the cooking time called for in most slow cooker recipes to avoid food burning or overcooking.
- When purchasing a slow cooker, look for one with a removable stoneware liner. It is much easier to clean.
- Follow instructions for layering ingredients carefully. To many people's surprise, hearty vegetables do not cook as quickly as meat, so they should be placed in the bottom of a slow cooker.
- Fill the slow cooker one-half to two-thirds full. Foods will not cook properly if the slow cooker is packed full of foods. And if the foods and liquid level are too low, the foods will cook too quickly.
- Start with easy crock-pot recipes. Soups, stews, and chili, with or without meat, are natural slowcooker favorites, and roasts with vegetables are simple to make, too. Just add vegetables into the slow cooker, place browned meat on top, sprinkle with seasonings, add gluten-free liquid (i.e., beef broth, chicken broth, vegetable broth, vegetable juice, or tomato juice, or sauce), and forget about it while it cooks.
- Slow cooking is an excellent way to prepare grass-fed meats. They are low in fat, which acts as an insulator during cooking, so they turn out best when cooked low and slow.
Slow Moroccan Chicken and Vegetables*
Great for a cold winter day, here's an easy, throw-everything-into-the-pot dish.
- 2 Tbsp. organic extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 onions, quartered and sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp. ground ginger or fresh grated ginger
- 2 cups fresh organic green beans, snapped into 2-inch pieces
- 3 large organic carrots, diced
- 2½ lbs. boneless skinless organic chicken thighs trimmed of excess fat
- 3 Tbsp. organic raisins
- ½ tsp. unrefined sea salt
- ¼ tsp. ground pepper
- ½ tsp. turmeric
- ½ tsp. ground coriander
- ½ tsp. cumin (optional)
- ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
- 2 (14½ ounce) cans organic diced tomatoes
- 2 medium organic zucchini, sliced
- 1 (14½ ounce) can organic chickpeas, drained and rinse
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh organic parsley
- 3 Tbsp. toasted sliced almonds
- Sauté onion, garlic, and ginger in oil 3 or 4 minutes, and transfer to a 5- to 5.5-quart slow cooker.
- Brown chicken in the same pan over medium heat. Add carrots and green beans to slow cooker. Place chicken on top of veggies, and add raisins. Combine seasonings in a bowl, and sprinkle over chicken and raisins. Add tomatoes, and top with zucchini.
- Cover and cook on high 4 to 6 hours. Add chickpeas and parsley 30 minutes before serving. Serve over cooked brown rice or quinoa, and top with almonds.
- Ladle into large bowls, and garnish with a generous sprinkle of parsley.
PER SERVING: 340 CAL; 34 G PROT; 11 G TOTAL FAT (2 G SAT FAT); 26 G CARB; 118 MG CHOL; 512 MG SOD; 6 G FIBER; 11 G SUGARS
* Reprinted from the Going Against the Grain Group, 2011, by Melissa Diane Smith.