Snack Stack: Turning Winter Comfort Food up to 11
Tech life has plenty of pluses. Hoodies as standard office dress, abundant free caffeinated beverages, mostly being left alone to work on your stuff, etc. These however come with the major downside of frequently variable working hours, and lots of them.
Bugs have no concept of time or hours of operation — come to think of it, neither do users/customers — so when something significant breaks, the laptop stays open until it’s fixed.
Best to be well nourished for whenever that next dark red Jira ticket lands, which means feeding yourself on more than a steady diet of free snacks scavenged from the nearest break area. But who has time to, you know, cook?
This is why the slow cooker is the ideal emotional support cooking appliance. Ingredients go into crockpot, button is pushed, and several hours later reasonably healthy deliciousness is ready to devour. At least in theory.
The only downside is that a tragically high percentage of crockpot recipes turn out food that is, well, a mushy, gloppy disappointment — no matter how easy, foolproof and perfectly delicious the recipe promises it will be. Even Sriracha, that miraculous savory savior of the otherwise inedible, can only help so much.
Over the past few years, I’ve logged a lot of slow cooker experiments, finding the culinary diamonds amid the dreary duds so that you don’t have to waste time (or Sriracha). Here are three of my go-to wintertime slow cooker steadies, only the most basic of cooking skills required:
- Mississippi Roast. This is a classic Southern dump in the slow cooker, depart for hours and return home to deliciousness dish. The ingredients might sound a little oddball at first, but whoever first thought to combine a stick of butter, a packet of ranch dressing mix and a jar of pepperoncini peppers with a chuck roast, but the result is comfort food nirvana.
- White Chicken Chili. My own crockpot-ification of a famous chili cookoff winner recipe that takes an entire day and a well-stocked spice cabinet to pull off. (I should know, since I’ve made the all-day version many, many times.) This is almost as good and one hell of a lot faster and easier to make.
- Fast and Furious Vegetable Soup. This is more a formula than a strict recipe, endlessly customizable to feature your favorite vegetables (or avoid the ones you loathe). This is not a cook-all-day-on-a-lazy-Sunday soup; this comes together fast and furious thanks to frozen mixed vegetables and time-saving pre-cut veggies from the grocery store produce section. Definitely use the fire-roasted tomatoes if you can, though regular canned diced tomatoes are good too.
Don’t be shy with the pepperoncini, even if you typically avoid hot/spicy things. Their flavor magically melds into the roast as a kind of counterpoint to the richness, and the end result is not the least bit spicy.
Serve over buttered egg noodles, mashed potatoes, or heaped high on your favorite sandwich roll.
1 (3 pounds) chuck roast
½ (12-ounce) jar whole pepperoncini (pickled banana peppers work as a substitute)
½ (12-ounce) jar pepperoncini juice
½ stick butter
1 (1-ounce) packet au jus gravy mix
1 (0.4-ounce) package of buttermilk ranch dressing mix
Chopped Italian parsley, for garnish, when serving
Cornstarch, if you’re doing the optional gravy step (highly recommend)
Unwrap the chuck roast, wipe it off with paper towels, salt and pepper generously on all sides. Put in slow cooker. Add whole pepperoncini peppers, pepperoncini juice, butter, au jus mix, ranch dressing mix, salt, and pepper in a slow cooker. Cover and cook on low until roast is fork-tender, about eight hours.
Remove roast from slow cooker to large bowl. Shred with two forks. Devour.
Pro tip: The liquid left behind in the slow cooker makes a delicious gravy. Turn temp to high, sprinkle two tablespoons of cornstarch over the juice in the crockpot, and whisk (or just stir energetically with a fork, if you don’t own a whisk) until it dissolves. Leave in the cooker for five more minutes until it thickens up a bit.
White Bean Chicken Chili
1 large onion, chopped
3 15.5-ounce cans white beans (cannellini, Great Northern, any kind works)
1 to 2 cups chicken broth
2 cans chopped green chiles (4 ounce size)
2 teaspoons cumin, ground
¼ teaspoon cloves, ground
1 ½ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1-plus teaspoon garlic powder (to taste. I add a lot)
4 cups cooked chicken, cut in chunks (grocery store roasted chicken FTW!)
3 cups grated Monterrey Jack or sharp cheddar cheese (divided)
Cut up avocado
- Open chiles and beans, drain the cans’ liquids, and dump them into the slow cooker.
- Add everything else except the cheese, stir to combine.
- Cover and cook for 40 minutes on high (or up to two hours on low) until everything is bubbling
- Stir in 2.5 cups of shredded cheese (save the rest for topping). Turn to low if the slow cooker is on high. Continue cooking 15 minutes longer on low until cheese is melted into chili. If the chili seems dry, add more chicken broth until things are looking nice and juicy.
- Top with toppings, devour.
Fast and Furious Vegetarian Vegetable Soup
This recipe is extremely friendly to both your body and your bank account. The first four vegetables/ingredients in this list are fresh. Grocery stores almost always sell these already cut up and ready to use in the produce section if, like me, you are cooking this on a Tuesday evening and looking for the fastest possible dump-and-go approach. (To really speed things up, use a bag of frozen diced potatoes — they cook faster than fresh potatoes.)
But don’t stop with the ingredients below! Make this your own. You want protein in your soup? Add a can of beans. Toss in leftover cooked pasta. Swap sweet potatoes for regular potatoes, or just skip them altogether (cooks faster that way).
My favorite hack is to drop in a couple handfuls of fresh baby spinach leaves, or a bag of chopped fresh kale, or fresh shredded Asian slaw mix to get some healthy greens in there too. You can also use a bag of any kind of frozen greens instead of fresh. Don’t have some (or all) of the herbs? No worries. Toss in whatever you’ve got. Be creative. It’s all good.
Serve with bread, or don’t. (Heat and serve Texas Toast is also right there in the freezer section, just sayin’.)
1 large onion chopped
3 stalks celery chopped
2 carrots peeled and chopped
3 medium Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed, diced into small pieces
2 14.5-ounce cans of fire roasted tomatoes
1 12- to 16-ounce bag frozen mixed vegetables
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons Italian Seasoning
8 cups vegetable stock
Put everything in the slow cooker. (Dump in tomatoes with their juice, don’t drain.) Cook on high for 90 minutes, until potatoes are soft (less time if you’re using the frozen potatoes hack). Salt and pepper to taste. Lots of pepper.