The worst time of day to make dinner is dinner time.
It’s the witching hour, that horrible stretch between 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. You’re hungry, you’ve probably just dragged yourself home from an exhausting (if hopefully rewarding) day at work and maybe your choice of the dreamy nude pumps you put on that morning have turned into a mid-afternoon nightmare. The kids are “hangry” and manifesting their youthful blood sugar lability by punching each other, and your patience with it all is probably a bit thin. The temptation to call the local pizza place hits when you get a text from your husband asking, “What’s for dinner?” Is it a bad thing that the pizza guy knows you on a first name basis? The adage “physician heal thyself” must surely apply in this situation of stressed based poor eating choices.
Enter the lowly, oft maligned, slow cooker.
No, I do not suggest you resort to cream-of-something slow cooked mush. A slow cooker gives the wonderful opportunity to prepare a healthy dinner early in the day, before the witching hour hits, so instead of checking your phone’s contact list for Pizza Pete, you can be sitting down to dinner, kicking off those wicked shoes and calmly intervening in your children’s miniature WWE tournament.
My favorite recipe in our Crock-pot has been dubbed “Katie Bean Soup”, because it has always been my daughter Katherine’s favorite. Even as a 2-year-old she would gobble it down by the handful. This recipe has gotten me through medical school, residency and very long hospital rounding days. I have cooked it overnight and stowed it in the fridge to warm up later, and I have left it percolating on the counter during the day to have a warm meal ready as I walked in the door. If your work days tend to run on the long side (don’t they all?) I recommend a slow cooker that has an automatic “keep warm” switch so you don’t come home to the unappetizing smell of burnt beans.
Katie Bean Soup
1 package dry bean mix (I usually get the 15 bean soup mix – ham flavor) (with or without flavor packet)
16 oz diced ham *
2 carrots peeled and cut into large discs
1 onion coarsely chopped
1 – 15 oz can diced tomatoes (with liquid)
Approximately 6 cups water or stock (chicken or vegetable)
2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder **
Salt and pepper to taste
The hard part is the prep work – chop your veggies. The easy part is the cooking – dump it all in your slow cooker, fill with water or stock to cover, set on low and walk away. This recipe can cook for 8-10 hours without feeling abandoned – it is quite forgiving. It can easily be made vegetarian or vegan – just leave out the ham and use water or vegetable stock as your cooking liquid. You can make it a bit more exciting with a diced jalapeno if you like. And voila- dinner! Poor Pizza Pete…. he’ll just have to wait for another day.
* As a time saving venture I dice and freeze 16 oz portions of ham in sandwich bags whenever I make ham (e.g. for a holiday) and then I have it ready for crockpot meals – just throw it in frozen
**My Mexican grandmother-in-law swears by New Mexico chili powder. When it comes to food, Grandma Teddy is ALWAYS right!