Another new year and let’s hope that at some point it gets better than 2020 was. So much of what used to call ‘normal’ has changed and in many ways the world is a different place. Let us pray it’s all for the better and doesn’t isolate humanity any more than technology and working virtually already has.
One thing that will never change (I hope!!) is that we still all need to eat. As I’ve said in the past, January is the time to slow down, relax a bit after the hectic holiday season and contemplate our goals and dreams for the year ahead. It is also the month when I like to make soup or stew often as it fills me up and warms the soul. It’s also a one pot meal that the lazy side of me needs at this time of year. Although to date, I do not own a crock-pot, I know many of you reading this column do, so this month we’ll concentrate on recipes for it.
First a little history. The first glimmer of a way to slow cook was in the 19th century in a small town in Lithuania. Jewish families anticipated the Sabbath by preparing a stew of meat, beans and vegetables. They would place their ingredients in a ‘crock’, take them to the local bakery and place them in still-hot ovens that would slowly cool overnight. The low and slow residual heat would result in a stew known as ‘cholent’. Early in the 20th century, a man named Irving Nachumsohn, known for his inventions of the electric frying pan and lava lamp, learned of this tradition from a relative. In 1936 he applied for a patent for his ‘slow cooker’, his solution to not having to turn on the oven in the summer heat. The patent wasn’t approved until 1940 and finally went to market in the 50’s. Nachumsohn’s first slow cooker was called the Naxon Beanery, a squat crock with a fitted lid and a heating element built around its inner chamber to promote even cooking. When he retired, he sold his business to a company called Rival Manufacturing and so the new version of the Crock Pot began, debuting in a 1971 National Housewares Show. The cooker was so popular that it continued to evolve into the products we see today. The original is now part of The National Museum of American History.
Let’s throw some ingredients into the pot, set it and go about our daily activities. With very little effort there will be a delicious meal waiting for you for lunch or dinner.
Chicken Noodle Soup
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 small leek, cleaned and thinly sliced
4-6 large carrots, cleaned, peeled and sliced into 1/4″ rounds
2 celery ribs, cleaned and sliced 1/4″ thick
4 cups cabbage, cleaned and sliced into 1″ ribbons (approximately 1/2 of a small cabbage)
1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
10 cups good-quality chicken broth or stock
2 tbs. olive oil
1 Parmesan cheese rind
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
8 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
8 oz. egg noodles
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Place onion, leek, carrots, celery, cabbage, and chicken breasts into your slow cooker and cover with the chicken broth. Stir to ensure chicken is fully submerged in the liquid. Add olive oil, Parmesan rind, bay leaf, rosemary, and thyme, and cover and cook on medium or high for 5 to 6 hours, depending on your slow cooker.
When chicken is fully cooked (it should be tender and fall apart easily when you push it with a fork), remove from soup and place on cutting board. Using two forks, shred the chicken into bite-size pieces. Return chicken to the soup.
About 30 minutes before you’re ready to eat, add kosher salt and noodles to the soup and cook for 15 to 25 minutes until al dente. Season to taste with extra salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls, and garnish with parsley and freshly ground pepper.
Easy Slow-Cooker Beef Stew
2 tbs. olive oil
2 pounds stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1-pound baby red potatoes, quartered
4 carrots, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups beef broth
2 tbs. tomato paste
1 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. each of dried thyme, dried rosemary and smoked paprika
1 tsp. caraway seeds, optional
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley leaves
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season beef with salt and pepper, to taste. Add beef to the skillet and cook until evenly browned, about 2-3 minutes.
Place beef, potatoes, carrots, onion and garlic into a 6-qt slow cooker. Stir in beef broth, tomato paste, Worcestershire, thyme, rosemary, paprika, caraway seeds and bay leaves until well combined; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cover and cook on low heat for 7-8 hours or high heat for 3-4 hours.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour and 1/2 cup stew broth. Stir the flour mixture into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high heat for an additional 30 minutes, or until thickened.
Serve immediately, garnished with parsley, if desired.