Article and photo by Lisa Crockett
It’s here, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: Crocktober. It’s the time of year when we dust off the slow cooker and put it on regular rotation in the kitchen. There’s a chill in the air, leaves on the ground, Halloween candy in the store; the perfect kind of atmosphere for a slow cooker full of deliciousness, bubbling away on a kitchen countertop and filling the house with a savory, homey scent.
In my first few years of learning how to cook for myself as a young adult, slow cookers seemed to be regarded as outdated. They were something your mom might use, but nothing a savvy, sophisticated home cook would have on hand. It’s true that slow cookers have their limitations, but here’s my true confession: even when slow cookers were deemed passé, every time I went to a Halloween party, Monday Night Football party or other cold-weather gathering, some brave soul seemed to have overcome the need to appear cool, and filled a Crock-Pot (complete with vintage 1970s design and colors) with something tasty. Warm, gooey cheese dip, tiny sausages (swimming in “sauce” often made almost entirely of – gasp! – grape jelly) or hearty homemade soup, all delicious, all comforting and all perfect for a crisp autumn day.
I guess I wasn’t the only one secretly and somewhat shamefully enjoying all the bounty a slow cooker can offer, and many years ago, slow cookers regained their rightful respect. This time of year they seem to be everywhere, often with food writers and bloggers cooking every meal all month long in the Crock-Pot (hence, “Crock”tober.) I’ve never been able to do all 31 days of this month solely in the slow cooker, simply because I crave more variation than what a slow cooker can provide. Beef stew, chili, soup and pot roast in the slow cooker can be a revelation. Chocolate cake, eh, not so much (I’ve tried, so I know of what I speak.) But once you’ve grasped the parameters of what a slow cooker does well (things that need a long, slow cook time with broth, wine, or other liquid) the sky’s the limit. Dump everything in the pot in the morning, and by early evening you’ve got something warm and hearty.
The other thing a slow cooker does fantastically well is cook meat until it falls apart, which makes it a super handy way to produce shredded beef, pork or chicken that can be portioned and frozen and then warmed quickly to be used in burritos, soups, salads, sandwiches and about a thousand other entrées. The recipe I’ve included here uses the slow cooker to first produce tender shredded chicken, and then a hearty and savory variation on classic chili. This time of year, chili cook off parties abound, and I’ve taken home more than one blue ribbon with this recipe.
I often make this chili on Halloween night, keeping it warm while people come and go, offering it to cold, tired parents who are out with little ghosts and goblins on their rounds through the neighborhood. I can serve from my slow cooker throughout the night, keeping the chili fresh and hot, and when the last bowl is served, I only have one pot to wash. It’s my favorite kitchen trick that makes sharing a meal with others a real treat.
One onion, chopped
Two tablespoons olive oil
Two cloves garlic, diced
Two 11-ounce cans shoepeg corn
(or regular corn)
Two 4-ounce cans chopped green chiles (hot or mild, according to your preference)
Four 14-ounce cans pinto beans or other white beans
Five cups chicken broth
Four teaspoons cumin
Limes, shredded Monterey Jack cheese and sour cream for serving
Place chicken breasts in slow cooker and cook on low for about three hours or until meat shreds easily using two forks.
Heat olive oil in a medium frying pan on the stove and sauté onion and garlic until soft, then add to shredded chicken in the slow cooker. Stir in cumin, then add corn, green chiles, beans and broth.
Cook on low until all ingredients are heated through or up to several hours. Serve garnished with a squeeze of lime juice, cheese and sour cream.