Cook Without Looking

Wouldn’t it be nice to be greeted by the aroma of a steaming pot of homemade soup, stew, chili or chicken fajitas (this month’s recipe) at the end of a busy day? You just need to do a little work in advance and use a slow cooker.

Slow cookers have made meal preparation easier since the early 1970s. Slow cookers have the advantage of promoting the use of less expensive, less tender cuts of meat such as a chuck roast. The long, slow cooking process tenderizes the meat.

Try This Quiz.

How much do you know about slow cookers and their use?

  1. True or false: Using a slow cooker uses less electricity than an oven.
  2. True or false: The low cooking temperature allows less expensive cuts of meat to tenderize.
  3. True or false: You should fill the slow cooker no less than half full and no more than two-thirds full because cooking too little or too much food in the slow cooker can affect cooking time and quality.
  4. True or false: Always thaw meat and poultry in the refrigerator before cooking in the slow cooker to help ensure complete cooking.
  5. True or false: Keep the lid in place at all times because removing the lid slows cooking time.
  6. True or false: If you are not home during the entire slow-cooking process and the power goes out for an undetermined length of time, throw away the food even if it looks done.
  7. True or false: You should not reheat food or leftovers in a slow cooker.
  8. True or false: Remove the leftovers from slow cooker and place in shallow pans and refrigerate.

Answers: 1. True; 2. True; 3. True; 4. True: 5. True: 6. True; 7. True; 8. True. (Yes, these are all true statements!)

Try out a slow cooker if you have never tried one, or bring your slow cooker out of its storage spot. You and your family will enjoy the food!

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Make-ahead tips: If you plan to assemble your slow cooker meal in the morning, make it easy by doing some preparation the evening before you make it. In the following recipe, cut the peppers and onions and refrigerate. Thaw frozen chicken in the refrigerator. Gather the cans and equipment so you can assemble the recipe quickly.

Slow Cooker Chicken Fajitas

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 (16-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with mild green chilies, drained
3 medium bell peppers (your choice: green, red, orange, yellow or a mixture), sliced into strips
1 medium onion, sliced into strips
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. minced garlic
6 8-inch whole wheat tortillas, warmed
Toppings: shredded lettuce, chunky salsa, fat-free sour cream

If the chicken breasts are frozen, thaw in the microwave or in your refrigerator.  In a 3-quart slow cooker, combine chicken, beans, tomatoes, peppers, onion and seasonings. Cover and cook on low for five to six hours or until chicken is tender and reaches 165 F.  Remove chicken and cool slightly. Shred and return to slow cooker to heat through. Spoon about ¾ cup of chicken mixture down the center of each tortilla. Top with lettuce, tomato and sour cream if desired.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 350 calories, 5 grams (g) fat, 49 g carbohydrate, 26 g protein and 10 g fiber.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., F.A.N.D., is a professor and food and nutrition specialist with the NDSU Extension Service. Follow her on twitter @jgardenrobinson