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Classic comfort foods easy to make with a slow cooker

I love slow cookers for a lot of reasons, but I especially love them at this time of year, because they make all the lovely foods that help me get through the darker, shorter days. I’m talking about stews, chowders, briskets, pulled meats, whole chickens, chilis, pot roasts, meatballs, soups and stocks, bread, rice and grains, stuffed peppers, and roast veg. That’s to say nothing of the desserts it can do, including some of my favourite bread and rice puddings. Have I forgotten anything? Most certainly I have: the possibilities with a slow cooker are endless. As proof, I give you slow cooker Malteser Fudge!

It was so much fun to revisit some of my classic comfort food recipes while testing Hamilton Beach’s new Stovetop Sear and Cook slow cooker, which is a nicely designed, compact machine that performs well. The stand-out feature is that you can use the vessel to sear on gas and electric stovetops. I have an induction cook-top so I have not yet been able to test this feature, but it gets great reviews online.

Comfort food creates a special sense of home in 2020. Photo by Kelly Lacy from Pexels

The machine is a very affordable $70. The six-quart vessel easily fit the five-pound pot roast I did, but I liked that it’s small enough that it doesn’t hog space on the countertop.  It’s also oven-safe to 400°. Pot and lid are dishwasher-safe.

Some folks might wish it had a timer function, but I did not find the lack of one an issue, given that I’ve got timers on my laptop, phone, Fitbit, and kitchen stove. I find the absence of an on-off light more of question—I always like other members of the household to know when an appliance is on, and possibly, hot. Having said that, you should always acquaint yourself with the safe usage of any appliance, big or small.

One of the easiest dishes I made in it was my version of the diner menu classic, the “hot hamburger plate”. It got ridiculously good reviews from the family; totally out of proportion to the energy it required to make the dish. Here’s how you can do it, too:

Searing and browning meat before slow cooking amps up the flavour.

Mix one pound of ground beef with ½ teaspoon of thyme, oregano, salt, pepper, and about a teaspoon of dried or Dijon mustard into patties.

Chop one medium onion, one pepper, one stalk of celery, and one clove of garlic.

Add a little olive oil to the vessel, then add the onion, pepper, and celery.

Cover and cook on high for about 20 minutes.

Add the garlic.

Place the patties on top of the veg. Don’t stack them.

Add one or two cups of beef stock, enough to cover all the veg.

Stir in two or three tablespoons of a better-quality gravy mix. (Oh go ahead, it’s a great little cheat – I used Knorr’s four peppercorn mix.)

If you happen to have a bottle of red wine open, pour in a splash.

Cook on low for six hours or so.

Uncover and add defrosted corn, carrot, and pea mix*.

Cover and let sit for 15 or 20 minutes, or turn the machine to the keep warm setting.

Serve with mashed sweet or regular potato, or your favourite healthy grain.

*You can also, at this point, toss in any leftover cooked veg you have in the fridge. I added beet and parsnip.

My fave comfort dessert? It’s got to be this version of rice pudding.  Here’s how you can make it too:

Spray the inside of the slow cooker lightly with oil.

Mix:

½ cup brown rice, rinsed

14-ounces unsweetened coconut milk*

4 cups milk (I like 3 per cent for this)

¼ cup brown sugar

Pinch of cinnamon

Cook on high for three to five hours or low five to seven hours. Check after the minimum time. When done, stir in ½ cup chopped white chocolate and ½ cup chopped, toasted hazelnuts (substitute or add ½ cup dried cranberries, if you like, and see below for other flavour combos).  Let sit for 10 minutes. To healthy it up, serve with sliced of crisp apple or ripe pear.

You may also try:

½ cup maple syrup and ½ cup toasted walnuts

½ cup dark chocolate chips and ½ cup toasted slivered almonds (if using milk or dark chocolate, I like to let the mixture cool a bit before adding)

½ cup chopped pecans and ½ cup raisins

Serving it drizzled with salted caramel sauce

*I’ve heard of folks using sweetened condensed milk instead of coconut milk, but that sounds too sweet for me…

You can even make muffins in a slow cooker.

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