Food For Thought: Taking it slow and savoury

You're a busy student and you don't have a lot of time to prepare elaborate home-cooked meals, but you're tired of eating junk food for lunch and dinner. A possible solution to this problem lies in a handy countertop appliance that you've probably all seen before: the slow cooker. Having received one as a gift, I am only now beginning to see all the possibilities of using a slow cooker and how it can fit into a busy person's life.

The appliances are fairly affordable. You could spend as little as $25 or as much as $70 on one, depending on what sort of features you would like. The cheaper models feature a dial on the front of the unit with four settings: High, Low, Warm and Off. The more expensive they are, the more features they might have, such as the ability to program cook times and temperatures. They also come in different sizes depending on your needs. We use the Hamilton Beach Set and Forget model, which works well because you can set the temperature and time to the exact specifications in a recipe. Once it has finished cooking, the unit sets itself to "warm" and holds the food at that temperature until you turn it off. It's perfect if you are not sure when you will be getting home or if you will be out longer than the time that food will take to cook.

Using a slow cooker allows you to put minimal effort into making delicious home-cooked meals. All you need to do is prep the ingredients, throw it all in the slow cooker, turn it on and return home in four to eight hours to a fully cooked meal. Using a slow cooker also helps you save money. You can make large batches of chili, soup or pasta sauce and freeze them for future lunches and dinners. You can even find pre-packaged seasonings complete with recipes for slow cookers that make preparing a meal even easier — look for them near the spices at the grocery store.

If any of this intrigues you, I suggest picking up a slow cooker recipe book or checking out recipes online. There are literally thousands of recipes out there for the slow cooker; I've even come across recipes for drinks and cakes! The possibilities are endless.

I will leave you with a tried and true recipe for slow cooker chili that we have used countless times. Feel free to add and subtract whatever vegetables you like to customize the recipe:

- 2 pounds ground beef
- 2 (16 ounce) cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- 2 (14.5 ounce) cans diced tomatoes, not drained
- 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
- 2 medium onions, chopped
-1 green pepper, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp. chili powder
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. pepper
- Shredded cheddar cheese

In a skillet, cook beef over medium heat until no longer pink; drain. Transfer to a slow cooker. Add the next nine ingredients. Cover and cook on low for eight to 10 hours or on high for four hours. Garnish individual servings with cheese if desired.


Note: This recipe makes 10 cups of chili, but can easily be halved if necessary.

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