You know how I usually cook dinner? With a toddler strapped to my leg, yelling “MOMMY, PICK UP-EE!” while I limp around trying not to spill boiling liquids on her. Although my offspring is generally a pretty good self-entertainer (for a 2-year-old, anyway), my attempts to keep her occupied at dinnertime inevitably fail. I know I am not alone in my plight.
Enter the slow cooker. You know, the crock pot that’s been collecting dust in the back of your kitchen cabinet since you got it as a wedding gift (or maybe that’s just me…)? It’s time to bust it out, because it sure does make a mama’s life easier at dinnertime. I know mine has been since I re-discovered my crock pot. When I can make it work with meal planning, I use it often, since it’s a great sanity-saver. I can prep meals the night before and stick them in the fridge to start cooking in the morning, or throw some stuff in the crock pot during nap time and forget about it until dinner.
There is plenty of inspiration out there for slow cooker meals, some of it good and some of it pretty darn bad. Just search for “crock pot” on Pinterest and you’ll see what I mean. If you don’t want a recipe that includes cream of something soup and/or Velveeta, you have to thin the herd quite a bit. For a vegetarian like me, the pickings are even slimmer, but with a little discernment, there are great meals to be had from a slow cooker, and with little if any toddler management problems.
I recently learned that beans can be cooked to perfection in a crock pot, if you know what you’re doing. Huzzah! Dried beans are a good source of iron and protein, so I love to include them in our meals. The rules are pretty simple: Make sure to soak the beans first, boil them hard for a short period on the stovetop (to help eliminate the sugars that cause indigestion), then drain and rinse them well before adding to the crock pot.
To make black beans into a hearty meal, I added quinoa and some smoky spices. You could easily throw in some veggies like carrots or sweet peppers, too. I originally intended to serve this with cornbread, but my other half was late getting home from work, and I didn’t feel like doing the toddler-strapped-to-leg routine, so we had it with tortilla chips instead. Not as gourmet (or healthy), but it was good!
Although there is a little spice to this ragout (which, okay, is just a fancy French word for stew), it is very mild and fine for adult and kiddie palates alike. The adults chowed down in our house, as did the toddler (who had refused dinner the night before), so I’d say it was a winner. Add a dollop of sour cream for extra tastiness.
Spicy Black Bean Ragout with Quinoa
1 lb dried black beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed well
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
6 cups vegetable stock
1 chipotle, minced (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
2 tsps chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp salt
Sour cream, for serving (optional)
Drain the beans and cover with a couple of inches of fresh water in a large stockpot. Bring to a rapid boil and boil hard for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool and drain. Rinse again and add to the crock pot along with the rest of the ingredients.
Cook on high for 4 hours, then reduce to low for an additional 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until the beans are tender. Add the salt, taste and adjust seasoning. Lower heat to warm until ready to serve. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, if desired.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.livemom.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/lauren.jpg[/author_image] [author_info] Lauren Walz is a freelance writer and editor and mama to a two-year-old girl. While she’s quick to brag about being a fifth-generation Texan, Lauren moved to Northern California in 2004 after graduating from UT Law and lived in the Silicon Valley area until last spring, when she and her family were drawn back to Austin. Lauren is busy getting re-acquainted with her old stomping grounds and is astonished by how the food and wine scene has changed in Austin in the past 8 years. Lauren also blogs about cooking and parenthood on gourmetveggiemama.com.[/author_info] [/author]