Summertime Slow Cooker

I just ADORE this “tool” from Mark Bittman at the New York Times which offers up dozens of interchangeable ideas for what to put in your crock pot during the summer.

A lot of us think of crock pots as wintertime tools—for stews and braised meats, primarily. But they can work wonders when you don’t want to heat up the kitchen in the summer.  Bittman’s basic recipe is below.

Plus, a meal that starts with dry beans is—by definition practically—an inexpensive one, and you can easily make these recipes meat-free or meat-lite.  (A little meat like bacon, sausage, or ham hocks will go a long way towards adding flavor without breaking the bank!)

In an empty slow cooker, combine 1 pound of any variety of dried, unsoaked beans, ¾ pound meat (or more, or less, or none) and seasonings — including salt and pepper — to taste. Add about 4 cups stock or water — enough to cover the beans by ¼ inch to ½ inch. (Use closer to 3½ cups liquid if you want the mixture a little less saucy, and feel free to play around with stock combinations that include wine, beer, soy sauce or other flavorful liquids.)

On top of this, add 2 pounds of vegetables, cover and set the slow cooker to high. Cook for 6 to 8 hours, or until the beans are creamy inside but still intact. (If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can bake the mixture in a covered pot or Dutch oven at 250 degrees for 6 to 8 hours, but that does somewhat undermine the beauty of the crockpot in summer.) To brighten up the finished dish, garnish with some chopped fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, basil or chives.

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