Let’s talk about slow cookers.
These handy little devices, commonly referred to as “Crock-Pots” (though that name is actually trademarked), have been part of American culinary culture since the 1970s. Now, when the topic of slow cooking comes up, people tend to think of pot roasts or casseroles. And while there’s nothing wrong with pot roasts and casseroles, there’s also nothing wrong with thinking outside of the box! If you’re craving Tex-Mex food, here are four entrées surprisingly well-suited for slow cooking:
Chili (with or without Beans)
We are not here to settle the great “Should chili contain beans and meat or just meat?” debate; that’s an argument for another day. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, though, most of us can agree that the key to mouthwatering chili is to simmer the mixture for a long period of time at a relatively low temperature. Nothing else works quite as well to bring out the flavors (and heat) of the ingredients. Considering that this is exactly what a slow cooker is designed to do, it’s pretty much ideal for the art of chili preparation!
Queso is a popular and delicious appetizer for parties and home dining alike, but the vast majority of people who enjoy the stuff prefer to eat it warm. Cold queso can actually be a bit gross, especially if the temperature has made it congeal in the bowl or caused its components to separate.
Queso made in a slow cooker is convenient for two distinct reasons. The first is that it can be eaten right out of the cooking bowl; unless your device is very old or extremely basic, it likely has a stoneware insert that can be lifted away from the heating unit. No extra dishes to wash or paper plates to toss at the end of the night! The other advantage is that the queso can be kept warm for an extended period of time. Simply turning the slow cooker on to its lowest setting will provide the yummy cheese dip with constant, low heat; this will ensure that you (and your dining companions) won’t have to drop everything to re-heat your queso again and again.
Pork is one of those proteins that really, really lends itself well to slow cooking. Hastily roasting or broiling a large cut of pork can make it tough, give it an almost stringy texture, and/or dry the meat out. For many home chefs, being able to produce a “fork chop”—that is, a piece of pork so tender than you don’t even need a knife to cut it—is the ultimate show of one’s culinary prowess!
A slow cooker can make preparing soft, succulent pork relatively painless; it may not be the quickest way to cook dinner, but “low and slow” preparation really is the best way to unlock a piece of pork’s true potential. Any herbs and seasonings that you choose to throw in will be able to fully permeate the meat, and the results will be perfect for tacos or Tex Mex sandwiches. Plus, heating up pork in a slow cooker tends to make the whole kitchen (and sometimes the whole house) smell like bacon for the better part of the day. How can anyone resist that?
Tex Mex Chicken Soup (and Other Stews)
Soups and stews are great because their recipes almost always yield a large number of servings. Unless you’re feeding a big group, one evening spent making soup means that you have dinner for tonight and another night—maybe even more than that, if you’re only cooking for one. And chicken is another wonderful protein to cook in the crock pot, as allowing it to “bask” in its own juices over a long period of time helps prevent it from drying out during the cooking process (a problem often associated with baked or broiled chicken.)
Tortilla soup is probably the most famous kind of broth-based Tex Mex dish, but it’s far from your only option. Plain ol’ chicken soup can be embellished with the addition of a commercially-prepared taco spice blend, and there’s no rule saying that slow-cooker soup can’t use ground beef! Be creative; as long as you’ve got meat, broth, and vegetables at your disposal, you can make a hearty, warm meal that’s just perfect for chilly fall and winter evenings.
Back in the 1970s, slow cookers were popular with career-minded women who had to balance the demands of their jobs with their responsibilities at home. Being able to start cooking dinner in the morning, leave the house all day for work, and then come home in the evening to a hot, ready-to-serve entrée was incredibly convenient and saved money in the long run. These days, slow cookers are used by busy individuals from all walks of life; we’ve all gotta eat, after all, and not all of us have the time (or energy) to cook up a storm when we get home from school or work!
If you’re craving Tex Mex food, then the easiest way to obtain it is to spend an evening at a local Tex Mex restaurant. But if you’d really like to try preparing Tex Mex food in your own kitchen, then a slow cooker may be exactly what you need.