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How to make healthy, convenient, and delicious comfort foods

It’s the time of year when all the high-fat and sugary comfort foods I love are calling my name. Loudly. Still, Sensible Me™ knows that it’s a good idea to restrict the treats and focus on healthy, nourishing alternatives. That’s one of the reasons my slow cooker gets such a heavy work-out this time of year.

I’ve been testing Hamilton Beach’s Stovetop Sear and Cook slow cooker for a month or so. I love it for all the usual reasons; it makes it so easy to cook dandy soups, stews, chowders, briskets, pulled meats, whole chickens, chilis, pot roasts, stocks, bread, rice and grains, stuffed peppers, and squash-all of which can be both healthy and delicious. And when it is time for a treat, I can use it to make cozy desserts like bread and rice pudding, baked apples, and gooey cakes.

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

TIP: adding cooked chicken carcasses or beef bones, along with vegetable peelings and water, to the slow cooker makes a terrific stock with almost zero fuss.

The stand-out feature for me is that this model can sear or brown food in the removable vessel on the stove-top. Why does that matter? Because searing enhances the flavour of the meat, and the residue from it can be deglazed to make super-delicious sauces and gravies.

Cooking nerds will want to know that the technical term for this is the Mailliard Reaction; for the rest of you, just remember that it will make the dish yummier.

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