Slow cooker meals are a lifesaver for busy households, especially when you can get two, or even three, meals from one cut of meat. Except for the BBQ pulled pork (that tastes like it was slow-roasted for hours on the grill) that I make in the summer, the brisk days and long nights of fall and winter are prime season for warm, satisfying crock pot soups, stews, and braised meat and poultry.
Even though I cook a lot doesn’t mean I like spending hours in the kitchen – I’m all about simple preparations that highlight quality ingredients and the fresh, seasonal produce that we’re so lucky to have access to here in Southern California. Plus, the unusually cold weather we’ve been having – don’t smirk, we’ve had temps in the 30’s, with frost even, and we’re wimps – makes me lazy. So double duty meals are cause for a happy dance – because then economies of scale (corporate speak) comes to play in the kitchen which leaves me more time to devote to other things, like snuggling under a fuzzy throw and catching up on past seasons of Downton Abbey
Here, I cooked 3 1/2 pounds of beef short ribs imbued with a subtle Asian flavor achieved without using any soy sauce, so besides being delicious it’s also Low Sodium. I cooked the beef short ribs in the crock pot on a Sunday during the day, refrigerated it that night, and skimmed the fat the next day before cooking it on Low for a few more hours. Dinner prep for Meal #1 was simple: cook the rice and sauté the vegetables.
Cooking meat in a slow cooker is similar to the ultimate cold-weather technique of braising long hours in the oven. Just as with braising, there are a few steps to perform that ensure a complex and deeply flavored dish. I know that some people swear you can just throw a chicken or meat in the slow cooker and be done with it, but mouth-watering, fall-off-the bone results take a little more effort, especially when cooking beef or pork : (1) sear the meat; (2) deglaze the pan – add a little wine or broth to the pan and scrape up browned bits and cooking juices to add to the cooking liquid; (3) sauté your vegetables before adding to the slow cooker, this allows the natural sugars to caramelize and deepens the flavor of your stew or soup; and (4) add the vegetables to the meat later in the cooking cycle if possible. Note: I prefer to cook my vegetables separately to maintain their vibrant colors because they tend to get brownish looking when cooked all together, but that’s me…
For Meal #2, warm a quart of homemade vegetable broth or store-bought low sodium beef or vegetable broth, add the shiritake or rice noodles, cook according to package directions. Stir in the greens – I used Gai Lan – also known as Chinese broccoli and my new favorite green; but spinach, mustard greens, kale, or collard greens will do fine. Add cubed extra firm tofu and sliced scallions, sprinkle with Japanese togarashi. Serve with Kimchee (also, kimchi) – a Korean condiment of spicy fermented vegetables, most commonly, cabbage.
Did you know that Gai Lan is among the 5 most nutrient dense vegetables along with asparagus, beet greens, cilantro, and rapini?
“Nutrient dense” means that the vitamin and mineral content of these foods are high when compared with total calories. Continuing my “Get Your Greens” on series, I have more recipes coming featuring Gai Lan and beet greens. I highly recommend the new cookbook by Cathy Thomas and Melissa’s Produce, “50 Best Plants on the Planet“. The people at Melissa’s are absolute produce gurus who strive to bring consumers the best fruits and vegetables from independent farmers and expand the American palate by bringing “exotic” varieties to the marketplace. All three of the cookbooks they’ve published with Cathy Thomas, award-winning food columnist for the Orange County Register, cookbook author, instructor and culinary tour operator extraordinaire who has studied with famous chefs around the world, are full of valuable information on familiar and unfamiliar fruits and vegetables, nutritional facts, and delicious recipes and ideas on how to cook with produce.