There’s a finally chill in the air and the always-hungry mouths in my house are hinting around that it’s time to whip up some soul-satisfying, stick-with-you, hibernation-worthy recipes. Cold sandwiches and salads just aren’t going to be met with applause and “oh-you-shouldn’t-have” – these guys of mine want manly meals that have been simmering all day and yet are ready to serve when they walk in the door. So, three cheers for my slow cooker, that trusty, no-fail sidekick of fall and winter meal management – although truth be told, I use mine year ‘round. There are so many amazing and easy slow cooker recipes that you can find at TxBeef.org’s Recipe Central, but today I’m sharing one of my own creations – Southwestern Beef and Quinoa Bowls. It’s hearty yet healthy and makes enough to feed a small army – or my family with three teenage boys! Plus, the dish reminds me of the yummy bowls of Tex-Mex that you can order at your local neighborhood burrito joint – the ones brimming with beans, rice, corn relish, tomatoes, peppers, onions and such. I’ve used stew meat chopped at the butcher’s counter in the recipe, but you can also cut up your own sirloin or round roast, depending on preference.
In addition to beef, the other main ingredient of this slow cooker recipe is quinoa. Quinoa has been all the craze for the last several years, although it’s been around for thousands of years. This tiny, kinda-crunchy whole grain (well, actually it’s a seed), is no longer “just” a side dish for sun-salutation-loving, super food-obsessed home chefs. Quinoa has been making mainstream appearances in all sorts of healthy recipes and purchased products from protein bars and breakfast bowls, to cookies, main dish casseroles and even as a binder in my beef meatballs. Actually, when quinoa and beef are served together, you get a pumped up punch of protein and other essential nutrients that not only helps to optimize health, but also a food budget! While I show this recipe for Southwestern Beef and Quinoa in bowls, you can also wrap up a couple scoops in a taco or burrito – or even use leftovers in beef stock to make a nourishing soup.
Right Size Slow Cooker: This counter top appliance comes in an array of sizes commonly ranging from 1 quart to 8 ½ quarts. To ensure your dish turns out properly, always use the size specified in the given recipe.
Always Pre-Thaw: Never add frozen foods (poultry, meat and even vegetables) to a slow cooker, doing so lengthens the time food may linger in the food safety danger zone (40F to 140F degrees). Instead, pre-thaw food in the refrigerator overnight.
Don’t Overfill: Every slow cooker should have a “fill line,” about ½ to 2/3 of the way up – don’t pile up ingredients past this. At a minimum, over filling will create a longer cooking time and, at worst, cause food safety issues.
No Peeking: Resist the temptation to lift the lid to check on a recipe’s progress. Each time you do, heat escapes, and an additional 15 to 20 minutes of cooking time will need to be tacked on.
Uniformity Matters: Chop up vegetables and meat into equal sized pieces to prevent overcooking. Layer dense vegetables like potatoes and carrots on the bottom and sides where heat is most intense. Delicate ingredients, like green beans or asparagus, should be added in the last 30 minutes to hour of cook time.
Last Minute Additions: Add dairy products, such as milk and sour cream, during the last 15 minutes of cooking to warm up. Consider adding fresh herbs and citrus zests to add brightness and extra flavor to your finished dish.