I hear this one all the time from people…
“I just don’t have time to eat healthy”
First off, I think it is important to assign blame where blame is due… and it isn’t old man father time.
What I mean is, the average person who says this does, in fact, “have time,” they just don’t want to allocate their time to preparing food.
Which I completely understand!
I mean, odds are, like the average person (living in the Western world where you don’t have to haul your own water), you have a few hours a day of “free time.”
This is the time that is left after accounting for the necessities, like: working, sleeping, and errand running.
A lot of people would prefer to spend this off-time doing something other then playing in the kitchen, and I can respect that.
In some cases, I even can envy that, because kitchen time can easily eat up a huge chunk of your day…
…if you let it.
The good news is, there are a few kitchen tricks that take very little time and effort, while still yielding delicious and nutritious meals.
I call these tricks…
hmmm… I need a better name, huh?
Anyway, the king pin of these tricks, is: the humble crock pot.
Crock·pot | ˈkräkpät/ | noun.
A magical kitchen device capable of creating deliciously mouth-watering, and impossible to screw up, meals utilizing nearly any combination of veggies and/or meats. Easily obtained at your local place that sells stuff–costing less then the price of an oil change.
There is only 4 components to a crock-pot meal: veggies, “meat”, liquid, and time.
Start by chopping up random veggies and putting them in the bottom of your crock. What works best? All of the cheap stuff that lasts a long time in your fridge (lucky huh?). I’m talking celery, carrots, peppers, and onions… stuff like that. “Real” recipes will tell you to saute them first, this step will make the end flavor better, but it takes time, and isn’t necessary.
I put this in quotations because it doesn’t have to be animal meat, it can be anything that provides nutritional bulk… basically, it is what makes it a meal. Some examples: any big chunk of meat (shoulder, roasts, etc.) works well, chicken breasts, ground meat, canned beans (raw take FOREVER to cook), rice/quinoa/lentils, or even tofu.
Note: if you are using grains/ canned beans you don’t need to add them in the beginning, as they really only need an hour-ish. If you do add them in the beginning of a long cook, they will deteriorate into a mush–which is actually still delicious.
EVERY recipe you ever read will tell you to brown the meat first… this is not a safety thing, it is a flavor thing, and does make a difference. However, if I’m in a hurry, I skip the browning step –for anything but ground meat, and the end product is always delicious anyway.
This is a good chance to really boost flavor-awesomeness, without much extra work. Canned tomatoes of any kind is a classic choice, canned coconut milk is a personal favorite, stock/broth is a traditional route, or you can get crazy and mix in some of your favorite booze! A splash of red wine, vodka with tomato sauce, or maybe a dark stout beer… it’s your crock, own it!
Note though: if you have good veggies, and a flavorful chunk of meat, you can always use a little plain-old water… it will still be good.
Keep in mind, meat and veggies both release a lot of liquid. Your crock pot does not need to have enough liquid to make a watery-soup. I prefer “goulash” style, where it is full of big chunks of veggies and meat, with a thick liquid.
There are two factors effecting how long you should cook for: safety and flavor. In terms of safety, it depends on the chunk of meat, but a few hours on high should be fine (use a meat thermometer to check for doneness).
Now, in terms of flavor…
The best part of crock-pot cooking is that it only gets better with time!
Seriously… you can not overcook a crock pot meal. Even if the chunk of meat completely breaks down into the liquid, it will still be lip-smacking good!
Personal preference is low and slow. I toss everything in the crock in the morning while my oatmeal cooks, and I eat it for dinner that night– 10 hours-ish later.
While not necessary, these are the things that bring your crock to life! One secret is “acidity,” which can come from tomato sauce, a splash of vinegar or wine, or a twist of lemon. Spices are another key player, and really any of your favorites will work–however, some spices lose there kick as they cook, so try adding them in the last hour or so. Salt is, of course, another critical element… but likely your veggies, liquid, and meat will bring enough to the party–but a few dashes isn’t going to hurt.
Some of My Favorites…