Slow Cookers, October 28
Slow-cooked comfort food: right on time for the winter rains!
Despite the rainy evening we had on Wednesday, some 15 of us showed up at the Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House for another one of the monthly potluck, cooking, and all-things-food-related sessions run by The Food Connection. The theme for this month’s event was slow cookers—very timely, now that the winter seems to have finally decided to show up. The selling point of this workshop? It promised an easy way to provide some tasty and complete meals with minimum work. Who doesn’t want that?
After a round of intros and cooking stories, we moved on to the potluck table to start investigating what everyone had brought. One of the fun aspects of these potlucks is the variety of recipes and ingredients that show up at the table. You’re almost guaranteed to discover an ingredient you've never tried or a combination of foods that would challenge your ideas about which foods should be paired together.
For those with allergies, intolerances or special diets, fear not. Each of us identifies the ingredients we use in each dish to make sure you can avoid the dishes that you don’t want or can’t eat. And you’ll still have plenty of options. There are always many vegetarian dishes, also some vegan and gluten-free options. This time in particular—maybe slow food cooking in winter calls for it—there were a few dishes with meat, including a beef brisket, a pork dish, and a chicken stew.
The slow cooked theme didn’t stop at the meat dishes, though. People seemed to really embrace the slow-cooking idea and we also had a very hearty vegan chili with kidney beans, chickpeas, yams, onions and a lot of flavour. For dessert, another slow cooking recipe: a vegan rice pudding made with Arborio rice, coconut and rice milk, maple syrup, raisins and Mexican vanilla.
Thankfully, we were able to balance those hearty, warm dishes with fresh veggies and dips, and a few different salads that included a green papaya salad, and a kale, cabbage, seeds and berries salad. Nobody plans for it or works out a menu, but the potluck always works out in such a way we end up with a complete, very well-rounded meal.
When everybody had eaten their fill, it was time to dig deeper in the world of slow cooking. We formed three groups and rotated through different stations where we learned about slow cooker recipes, food safety, and slow cooker equipment and care.
I found the safety aspect particularly interesting. Who knew that there are several ways you can burn yourself using a slow cooker? Compared to frying pans and hot oil, slow cookers seemed pretty safe to me. And that’s what seems to be the problem: people might not realize how hot things can get with slow cookers. So, we learned about burns, what you do if you end up with some of those, and how to prevent hem.
Another important aspect we looked at was food safety. Some of the questions we explored were: How can you cool down hot slow cooked food to a safe temperature? How long will slow cooked food last in the fridge? And in the freezer? And did you know cooking utensils can spread food-borne illness when slow cooking? We also looked at why and how to prevent this from happening.
In another of the stations there were some basic stew ingredients (lentils, rice, onion, oil, spices) and a couple of recipes to get our creative juices going. The challenge was to come up with our own new recipe. We shared our own favourites, discussed techniques and tips, and we ended up taking home some good slow cooking recipes to try ourselves at home. We’re all set for the winter now!