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TODAY

Tuesday, May 21

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The slow cooker, also called a Crock Pot, is usually condemned to cooking hinterlands. Well-respected chefs scoff at it. People reminisce about the burnt-orange and avocado greens that were popular when the slow-cooker came of age, and still chuckle at seemingly inferior slow-cooker classics--your Super Bowl Chili, your beans and franks, your queso goo.

The slow-cooker's bad reputation might have been well-deserved back in the days when bell bottoms and Fleetwood Mac was cool, but today it isn't. There are a ton of good stews, soups, and meat dishes you can make in a slow-cooker and they'll taste just fine. And those orange flowery slow-cookers can be cast aside--they now come in exotic colors like white, black and stainless steel.

I often recommend slow-cookers for people who can't cook or are inexperienced with making their own food and don't know where to start. While there are a ton of slow-cooker recipes out there, there is unfortunately a lot of really gross ones. Bad recipes never die, they just haunt the Internet and church cookbooks, and sadly, slow-cooker recipes are prominent on both. The SOAR archive is a good starting point though.

Stew wouldn't be stew though without a bread to go with it. Since the theme for today's column is simplicity, I'm going to give the yeast breads a rest this month and introduce quickbreads instead.

Quickbreads are simple breads that you can usually make with ingredients readily available at home in about five minutes. Instead of waiting for the yeast to rise, the mixture of the ingredients makes the bread fluffy.

There are two really important things to know about quickbreads though. First, do not over mix. If you mix the batter too much, all of the leavening escapes and you end up with quick brick. Second, unlike yeast bread, it's best to serve quick bread as quickly out of the oven as possible. It won't keep overnight, and tastes best when moist and warm from the oven.

Burgundy Beef Stew

2 lbs stew beef
2 c. baby carrots
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 onions, sliced
1 can undrained diced tomatoes
1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
3/4 c. red wine (something decent, not Shaw for Pete's sake)
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. mustard
some pepper
1/4 c. water
3 tbsp. all-purpose flour

Cooking Instructions

1. Throw it all in the slow cooker pot. Mix.
2. Cook. Low setting: 8-10 hours. High: 4-5 hours. Low tastes better.
3. Mix the water and flour together and then slowly mix into stew.
4. Serve.

Notes:

  • Don't buy lean meat unless you want beef jerky stew.
  • These ingredients are guidelines. Remove carrots, add corn, skip mustard--it's all good. Don't overdo it, but if you don't have celery, oh well. Add some other frozen vegetable instead.
  • Do not (do not!) peek and open the slow-cooker before its time. You'll just have to wait longer.

Quick Bran Bread With Molasses

2 c. bran
2 c. whole-grain flour
2 tsp. double-acting baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 egg
1 3/4 buttermilk
1/2 c. molasses or 3/4 c. brown sugar.

Note: If you don't have buttermilk, you can mix 1 tbsp. vinegar with milk to make 1 cup.

1. Preheat the oven to 375.
2. Grease two loaf pans.
3. In a bowl, mix the dry ingredients: the bran, the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
4. In a separate bowl, whip the egg, buttermilk and sugar.
5. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet. Do not over stir-- it'll ruin the bread.
6. Once the batter has a decent consistency, pour into loaf pan and bake for one hour.

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