We welcome Carrington Fox, a writer who types not only fast but well. Her background as a food critic means she knows her juniper berry foam and organic raw maple water. But she also has a house with three boys, so she is all about keeping it real. We all love good food—and we particularly love good food that makes itself. This will be fun.
Ann and Kay
I’m embarking on a Slow Cooker Odyssey.
I’m hoping you might want to join me in assembling a winter’s worth of simply delicious slow cooker recipes—emphasis on the simple. And the delicious. The kind of recipes you chuck into the pot in the morning and scoop out at night. The kind whose laissez-faire instructions bubble with loosey-goosey prescriptions like “some,” “if available,” and “or whatever.”
I’m not talking about a journey for the weak of mind or stomach. This winter sojourn will lead us through 190-degree seas of meat braised to the consistency of soft fruit and vegetables simmered to mushy memories of their former cruciferous selves, all in the name of not really having to cook at the end of a hard day.
Come, say, Dec. 21, when it’s 13 degrees and pitch-dark at 3:47 p.m., and global warming is but a dreamy promise, we’ll just be cold and hungry and WANT TO EAT RIGHT NOW SO WE CAN GO TO BED. When that day comes, trust me, you’ll be glad you plugged in the slow cooker, set it to Low and let it simmer for eight hours.
Are you with me? This winter, will you help me put the ooooooooh in stew?
Fall finally arrived in Nashville, by which I mean temperatures dropped enough that I made it to the car without sweating through my waistband and falling to my knees to pray that GOOP would declare muumuus back in style. In fact, as I write this, I’m wearing my favorite fleece. (Patagonia, not sheep-fur. Sorry.) I found it right where I left it in March, on the floor of the closet. When I picked it up, I found a pair of yoga pants, collapsed like firefighter’s trousers, just waiting for me to step back in as soon as the mercury dropped.
And if you think my yoga pants were ready for autumnal action, you should have seen my slow cooker. Dancing on the countertop, rocking back and forth in frenzied excitement, the old Hamilton Beach looked so much like my stupid Havanese terrier when she greets me at the back door, I actually checked under the pot to see if there was a puddle.
Who can blame her—the slow cooker, I mean? Because today we embark on our Slow Cooker Odyssey, a seasonal journey through 190-degree wine-dark seas of braised meat and veg. It will be glorious. It will lead to cozy nights at the table with minimal cooking and cleanup. It will lead to leftover turkey hash and Super Bowl chili. Someday, it might even lead to boeuf Bourguignon or Oaxacan mole.
But it sure as hell isn’t gonna start there. You didn’t start out knitting mitered crosses, did you? Of course you didn’t, so we’re going to start with something elementary.
Simplicity, for Pete’s Sake
If there were a periodic table of edible elements, potatoes and broth would occupy slots somewhere along the lines of hydrogen and oxygen, so let’s start there—with the H20 of soups. That leaves us with just two decisions to make: What kind of potato? What kind of broth?
I prefer sweet potatoes to white potatoes, and chicken broth to veggie or beef.
Perhaps now is a good time for a sidebar on broth, because it will set the tone for our entire project. Read my lips: The Slow Cooker Odyssey embraces store-bought broth.
Whether poured from a can or from one of those weird European milk boxes, store-bought broth is a core value of our enterprise. In fact, simplicity is so critical to our culinary mission that it’s misleading to call it an Odyssey. After all, if we’d been in charge of getting the gang from Ilium to Ithaca, we’d have gone the direct route and been home in time for supper. Wandering for a decade, detouring to lie with sea witches and outwit Cyclops … such behavior is the folly of maximizers, which we on the SCO are not. We are straight-line-between-two-points kind of cooks. If we hear the siren song of homemade broth, we simply lash ourselves to the mast and sail forth into a tide of low-sodium Progresso. Or whatever.
With that disclaimer, it is time to embark on Slow Cooker Odyssey Recipe No. 1.
Sweet Potato Soup
- Sweet potatoes
- Chicken broth
How much of each, you ask? Depends. How much you got? This is a very easygoing recipe.
- Peel and slice potatoes and place in slow cooker.
- Cover with broth.
- Cook on high for 2 hours, or on low for 8 hours.
- Puree soup in blender or with immersion blender, aka soup stick.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
That’s the basic formula. But there’s so much room for embellishment. For example:
- While you’re cooking the potatoes and broth, throw in celery, carrots, garlic, onion, peeled apples, or other kinds of potatoes. (Warning: apples add lots of sugar. Some people don’t like sweet soup. By “some people,” I mean “my family.”)
- Experiment with spice profiles. For example, add equal parts clove and nutmeg. Or fresh thyme & rosemary. Or curry & cinnamon. (Start with 1/8 tsp each and add to taste.)
- Garnish with a drizzle and/or a confetti, such as maple syrup, coconut milk, half & half, yogurt, toasted pumpkin seeds, brown sugar or bacon.
There you have it. Starting with just two ingredients, the possibilities are endless. Once you get comfortable with the basic chemistry, start tinkering with substitutes such as butternut squash or pumpkin. And, as always, if you discover something you love, please share.