Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Learning to Love the Crock Pot

I went back to work full time recently, and as expected, family dinners have suffered. It's not that my family isn't helpful. In fact, they've stepped up to the plate more than I anticipated. It's just that I used to pride myself on always having dinner on the table, and since I've been getting home at 6 or later, sometimes it's kind of slap dash and not always as balanced as I'd like. (Wow, that makes me sound like some kind of super mom -- my kids eat Fruit Loops for breakfast, don't be fooled)

So I bought this cookbook from Cooks Illustrated a few weeks ago, "The Make Ahead Cook," thinking it might help. And believe me, it has. Not everything is fabulous -- and it's a lot of work even making ahead, but at the very least, it's given me some new ideas. One of the best sections so far is the "Come Home to Dinner" section. The other night I made the Slow-Cooker Garden Minestrone and it was fabulous. I believe part of the great flavor came from the Parmesan rinds I'd saved and thrown into the pot -- but it was also the recipe. I wouldn't say everyone was voting make again on this, but it was a good hot nutritious meal (mitigating the Fruit Loops in the morning) and a great lunch the next day. Whether they said so or not, I'm going to make again.

Slow-Cooker Garden Minestrone

1 onion chopped fine
2 T. tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. olive oil
1 1/2 t. minced fresh oregano (1/2 t. dried)
1/8 t. red pepper flakes
7 c. chicken broth
1 c. cannellini beans (dried)

To finish:
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise, and sliced
8 oz. Swiss chard, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 c. elbow macaroni
1 lb. tomatoes (cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces)
1/4 c. minced fresh basil

To Prep:
1. Microwave onion, tomato paste, garlic, oil, oregano, and pepper flakes in a bowl, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened (about 5 minutes). Transfer to slow cooker. Stir in broth and beans.

To Cook:
2. Cover and cook until beans are tender, 9 to 10 hours on low (6 to 7 on high)

To Finish and Serve:
Stir in zucchini, chard, pasta, and tomatoes; cover and cook on high until vegetables and pasta are tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Stir in basil, season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

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