“Dinner time always seems to catch me off guard” A quote from my mother who successfully balanced a career and raised four children. I remember finding it amusing that something as predictable as eating dinner could catch anyone “off guard”. Now that I have my own children and career I completely understand how the day flies by and before you know it, it’s 6pm. My sister-in-law calls the hour before dinner the “power hour”. A time when she says her sweet children transform into screaming hungry monsters. Even grown adults can be reduced to cranky babies if dinner is not ready on time. It helps to have an idea of what you plan to cook before you get home.
Without a plan, the drive-thru starts looking pretty good or frozen dinners can become the rule rather than the exception. If you are finding yourself burnt out at the end of your workdays and lack the motivation to start a meal from scratch, why not cook your meal while you are at work. I’m talking about crock-pots of course. They deliver a hot meal ready to eat the minute you step in the door. A crock-pot cooks food slowly and safely even while you are out of the house. When set on LOW, crock-pots use less electricity than a 100Watt light bulb. Therefore it is economical and it doesn’t overheat the kitchen. Most recipes take 6-8 hours at a minimum but can safely simmer even longer until you get home.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a big family, you can buy small crock pots or take advantage of the large ones and freeze leftovers in individual portions for lunches and quick dinners. I even heard about a house full of Gryphon Football Players that used to take turns filling the crock-pot in the morning before classes. What could be better than an inexpensive hot meal ready to eat when they got home from practice. Now there’s a group of smart boys! You can throw together crock-pot ingredients in the morning before you leave the house or mix everything up the night before and put the pot into the fridge. Before you leave for work in the morning, set the crock-pot into it’s base and plug it in. Or as the old commercials used to say “set it and forget it”. Here’s a good old fashioned stew recipe designed especially for the crock-pot.
Old Fashioned Pound Stew: Makes 8 servings
1 pound lean beef cubes or boneless skinless chicken
0.25 cup flour
1 pound carrots cut into 1 inch thick pieces (I use baby carrots if I’m rushed)
1 pound potatoes washed and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 pound frozen pearl onions (I use cooking onions cut into wedges)
1 cup broth (beef, vegetable or chicken)
2 cups frozen peas
Coat the meat in the flour and brown in a lightly oiled non-stick skillet for 5 minutes. ( I skip this step and add the floured meat directly into the crockpot – it works fine and saves a pot to wash!) Transfer the beef into the crock-pot and add all ingredients except the frozen peas. Mix and Cover. Cook on low until the veggies and meat is tender, 8-10 hours. Stir in the frozen peas and cook another 15 minutes. If you like a thicker stew you can dissolve 2 Tbs of cornstarch in 4 Tbs of water and stir into the hot stew just before eating.
If you use a crock-pot there’s no way dinner can catch you off guard. I try to use it at least once per week for those days I know are going to be busy. And for those unexpected busy days…well there’s always Kraft dinner with a side of frozen broccoli. Not nearly as satisfying, but we all do our best to survive the “power hour”.
Heidi Smith is a Consulting Dietitian from the Health and Performance Centre at the University of Guelph. She is the author of the book “Nutrition for the Long Run”. Her column appears every 2nd Thursday. www.heidismithnutrition.com