Autumn’s shorter days remind us how precious time is, especially when we can spend the hours with good friends and loved ones. That’s why Chicago mothers and bloggers Meg Barnhart and Jane McKay decided to try slow cooking with a Zen approach in creating family meals. With the time they save in food preparation— especially when one recipe can yield an extra lunch or dinner—they free up moments for both family interaction and their own spiritual practices.
“Slow cooking with the sacred intention of slowing down creates a sense of peace and calm after a full day of work and school,” says Barnhart. Once she transitioned to this kind of meal planning and preparation on a regular basis, she realized that it allows her to be more attentive to her family’s needs while a healthy, tasty dinner basically cooks itself. With extra time for meditation and yoga in her daily life, she realizes increased clarity and focus for other interests and demands.
McKay enjoys the creative challenge of making family-pleasing, whole food recipes and converting conventionally cooked recipes for use with a slow cooker. “I especially love the bounty of the autumn harvest, which includes seasonal picks from our family’s urban garden,” she says. She’s found that root vegetables, squash, pumpkin, leeks, mushrooms, leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, apples, pears and nuts all translate well to lower temperature cooking for a longer period.
Whether it’s a quick preparation that allows for other activities or a more contemplative, mindful endeavor that can be relaxing in itself, the recipes on the pair’s website, TheZenOfSlowCooking.com, are highly suited for busy people.
Slow Cooking 101
Slow cookers have come a long way since they were first introduced in the 1970s. Today, they come in all shapes and sizes, with inserts, timers and a wide range of settings. Barnhart and McKay recommend the five-tosix- quart size with a removable insert as the most practical. Food cooks in the insert, which can be washed and dried separately, so there’s no need to put the entire slow cooker in the sink to clean up afterwards.
Because the slow cooker’s low temperature is about 200° F and the heat is indirect, the appliance uses less liquid than conventional cooking. Many of Barnhart and McKay’s easier recipes simply require putting the ingredients in the slow cooker, selecting the temperature, replacing the lid and turning the appliance on.
Fresh garnishes, such as the roasted pumpkin seeds or fried sage leaves for the Butternut Squash Soup, make a crisper contrast to the softer texture of slow-cooked foods, notes McKay.
Dishes like Sweet and Spicy Apples can be made the day before; leftovers taste delicious for breakfast with a dollop of yogurt. Barnhart and McKay make their own Sweet & Spicy Ground Spice Blend, available on their website, with proceeds funding cooking classes for adults with developmental disabilities.
Judith Fertig blogs at AlfrescoFoodAndLifestyle.blogspot.com from Overland Park, Kansas.
Mindful Fall Recipes
Yields: 6 servings
Prep Time: 5-10 minutes
5-6 cups butternut squash, diced
½ cup or 1 carrot, chopped
1 cup or 1 small bunch scallions
or spring onions, chopped
8 whole sage leaves, fresh
(or 1 Tbsp dried)
1 Tbsp rosemary, fresh
(or ½ Tbsp dried)
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup organic dairy or non-dairy milk
Slices of freshly toasted bread, drizzled
with olive oil and cubed
1/3 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
8 additional fresh sage leaves, fried
4 slices of lean bacon or tempeh, crispy and crumbled
Place the squash, carrot, scallions, sage leaves, rosemary, chicken broth and milk into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high setting for 3 hours or low for 6 hours. Then, blend using an immersion blender until smooth and leave covered until ready to serve. Make the toppings available to sprinkle and stir.
Yields: 6 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
1 cup or 2 medium parsnips, diced to ½ inch
2 cups or 3 medium carrots, diced to ½ inch
1 cup or 2 medium turnips, diced to ½ inch
6 oz Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
½ cup vegetable or chicken broth
4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup organic olive oil
1 Tbsp dried oregano
8 oz sliced Portabella mushrooms
1 large onion, sliced into half moons
6 oz blue cheese, crumbled, or vegan cheese
4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/3-inch slices
Black pepper to taste
Put the vegetables into the slow cooker with the garlic and stir in the olive oil and oregano. Layer the mushrooms on top of the vegetable mixture, followed by a layer of onions. Next, sprinkle the blue cheese crumbles on top. Pour the broth over the vegetables and cheese mixture, and lay the sliced potatoes on top. Season the potatoes with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours or on low for 6 hours.
All recipes adapted from TheZenOfSlowCooking.com by Meg Barnhart and Jane McKay.