We're one month into the school year, and I can honestly say this is the best start we've had to date. The kids are happy; the marks are good, the friendships uncomplicated and the emotional growing pains few and far between. At least for now. I look at both of my boys and I'm so insanely proud of them, but more importantly, I really like them! They're fun and smart and such good company at this age, and it's probably the first time I can confidently say that I don't miss them being younger.
In addition to embracing my growing kids, I'm also opening up my arms to using my slow cooker a little more. I've gathered, what I hope, are the best slow cooker cookbooks, and I'm learning how to turn out interesting, and most importantly, tasty, meals using my neglected electronic cooking device.
The problem I have with slow cooker meals is that they're often a little bland and a lot watery; not a tasty combination for even the plainest of palettes. That can all be changed though, if you're willing to spend a few minutes stove side before throwing everything into the cooker, which I totally am. And I hope you are too, because this marriage of chili and macaroni and cheese was pretty much the best thing I put on the table in the past month, according to the people I live with. It made plentiful portions, extras for lunch, and cooked while Jackson and I snuck out for a rare weekday afternoon movie. See, that's some of the fun you get to have when your kids are older.
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen
- Olive oil or cooking spray
- 1 slice sandwich bread
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- Salt and pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 small onions, minced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup chili powder
- 4 teaspoons cumin
- 1 (540ml) can of pinto or black beans
- 1 (28oz) can crushed tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 lb. macaroni or similar pasta
- 2 cups shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
1. Plug in the slow cooker and make an aluminum foil collar buy stacking three sheets of aluminum foil (about 16" long) on top of each other and folding the top 1/3 down and the bottom 1/3 up. Spray it lightly with cooking spray (or brush it with olive oil) and press the collar into the back side of the slow cooker. This will prevent the pasta from burning, as it's hottest at the back of the cooker.
2. In a large bowl, mash the bread and milk into a paste using a fork (this is called a panade). Mix in the ground beef and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper and mix well using your hands.
3. In a Dutch oven set over medium heat, warm the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the onion, garlic, chili powder and cumin and cook until the onions are soft and lightly browned, about 6 - 8 minutes.
4. Stir in the beef mixture and cook until no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Break up the meat with a wooden spoon as it cooks in order to avoid large chunks. Stir in the beans, tomatoes, tomato paste and brown sugar, scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pot (big flavour!), and simmer until slightly thickened about 4 minutes.
5. Stir in the pasta, 2 1/2 cups water, the cheese and 1 teaspoon of salt; transfer to the prepared slow cooker. Cook until the pasta is tender, about 2 hours on high.
6. Remove the foil collar from the pot. Stir well and add additional hot water to loosen the sauce if desired. Season with salt and pepper, if needed, and serve with sour cream or additional cheese, if desired.