So, remember a couple years ago, when I was all, like, “hey Scope friends, I’m totally pregnant and I hate food now, sorry for any inconvenience”? I mean, I got over the food-hating eventually, but man, was I ever not into cooking for a while there.
Well, I’ve done it again. Gotten pregnant, I mean. I had help, obviously, but the point is that I am once again in the family way. I’m halfway through the process, and I’ve managed to spare you the details of this particular food-hating phase (although I’m not sure chicken stir-fry and I will ever be friends again). I’m happy to report that my appetite is back in a big way. It returned, conveniently, just in time for me to consume several batches of cookies, innumerable chocolates, and the better part of a 22-pound turkey.
I may not be queasy right now, but you know what I am? Freakin’ exhausted. It turns out that having a six-year-old and a 15-month-old and being pregnant all at the same time is awfully tiring. Go figure. I wake up tired, I fumble through the day tired, I take a nap and I’m still tired. I usually fall asleep on the couch or putting my elder kiddo to bed at around 8:30, then I stumble to my room where I sleep in three-hour intervals punctuated by rounds of toddler-screams (he’s perpetually teething, poor darling boy), and then I wake up tired again. Next verse, same as the first.
And so it is with great enthusiasm that I have accepted a gift from my mother: a slow cooker. Yes. The “I’m really not a gadget person” Food Nerd now owns a machine that cooks dinner for her. My mother, you see, needed a slow-cooker for her Christmas party (there were meatballs, and they wanted to be warm), and the gadgets were so impressively marked down that she bought two. Now one of them lives at my house, on the condition that it be returned for parties.
You may be asking, “What the heck is a slow-cooker?” Well, you might know it as a Crock-Pot. Crock-Pot is actually a brand name, and belongs to the appliance company Rival. Just about every other appliance company has an equivalent product. The unit has three parts: a ceramic crock that you put your ingredients in, a metal or enamel base that has electrical elements running through it, and a glass lid. The elements heat the crock, which in turn cooks the ingredients you’ve put inside it. Only, rather than cooking everything at an oven-like heat, the slow cooker cooks at a low temperature (between 170F and 200F), and instead of things being done in an hour, it takes between six and ten hours to have dinner on the table.
“Why, oh why,” you ask, “would you want cooking to take longer than it already does?” A very good question, indeed. The beauty of the slow cooker is that you can toss your ingredients in the crock in the morning, or even the night before (in which case you stick the crock in the fridge overnight), and then you turn it all on, walk away, and by supper time you have a hot meal on the table with minimum effort. There may be a little preparation involved, like frying your onions or browning your meat, but it’s pretty reasonable. If you’re someone like me, who has just slightly more energy in the morning than in the evening, a slow cooker is an awesome help. At 9 am I can wrap my head around a decent meal, and I have the brains and coordination to assemble the ingredients, prep them, and pop them in the slow cooker. By 5:00 pm most days, I’d just as soon have a giant bag of potato chips for supper as even think about cooking. I’d do it, too, if it weren’t for the children.
Slow cookers are especially good for stew-type dishes that benefit from longer cooking times. Hearty stuff, not delicate fare. Pot roasts, chicken thighs, that sort of thing. If you’re a vegetarian, slow-simmered bean dishes do very well, but apparently some dried beans can be toxic if they aren’t cooked at a high enough heat, and so you have to bring them to a boil in a pot on the stove for an hour or so first (or just used tinned ones). Other than that little warning, though, let me suggest that, if you have a slow cooker you’ve never used, you dust it off, assemble yourself a nice dinner, walk away for a while, and enjoy.
Mo’ Rockin’ Chicken & Chickpeas
This recipe grew out of a similar one I read in a Moroccan cookbook years ago. I always just called it “Moroccan chicken,” until the joke emerged that it was “Mo’ rockin’ than any other chicken!” It’s my family’s favourite dish, and is perfectly suited to the slow cooker. Serves 4.
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1 small onion, finely diced
3 1/2 pounds chicken thighs, skin removed
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
5-6 tinned Roma tomatoes (or 3 regular summer tomatoes) seeds and juice squeezed out
1 1/2 cup cooked (or canned and drained) chickpeas
1 tablespoon honey
Salt to taste
Cooked couscous or rice (for the gluten-free crowd) and plain yogurt, to serve.
Slow cooker method
1. In a pot over medium-low heat, cook almonds in olive oil until golden. Remove almonds with a slotted spoon and set aside.
2. Add onions to pan and cook, stirring, until translucent. (If you have a problem with ¼ cup of olive oil, you can pour some of it off first, but I’m of the belief that olive oil is awesomely good for you, so I leave it all in.)
3. Transfer your onions and oil to the slow cooker. Add chicken and sprinkle with turmeric and cinnamon. Add tomatoes, crushing them with your fingers a little, and then chickpeas. Give it a stir, turn your cooker on “low” and let cook, undisturbed, 6 – 7 hours or until chicken is cooked through. Time will depend on your model of slow cooker and on the size of the chicken thighs.
4. Remove lid, and stir in honey. Add salt as necessary.
5. Serve immediately over couscous or rice. Dollop with good, thick yogurt, sprinkle some of the reserved fried almonds on top, and add a grinding or two of fresh pepper.
Follow steps one and two. Add chicken to pot and sprinkle with turmeric and paprika. Cover and let chicken cook on medium low in its own juices for 10 minutes. Remove cover, turn chicken pieces, and add tomatoes and chickpeas. Cover again and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook on low heat about 40 minutes or until chicken is cooked through, stirring occasionally to make sure chicken isn’t sticking to the bottom. Remove lid: if dish is too soupy, cook an extra 5-10 minutes uncovered. Add honey and salt and serve as above.