I never liked Chinese food growing up. Every now and again, my parents would try to serve up some stir fry or fried rice in hopes that my tastebuds would have changed (they loved the stuff), and every time, I would get queasy at even the smell of soy sauce. It just wasn’t my thing.
Then, in high school, I started dating a guy who ate from a local takeout place all the time. Not wanting to be high-maintenance or bossy or any of those other things 17-year-old girls worry about when they are trying to impress a guy (none of which I worry about now, by the way—33-year-old Cass is way more self-assured than 17-year-old Cass), I went along with it.
I ended up not hating the food whenever we’d order it. I mean, it wasn’t my favorite, but it wasn’t so bad. At least, the taste wasn’t. The worst part about it was how I felt after we ate. I always had a headache. My stomach was always super upset. I just felt plain yucky within a few hours of our takeout feast.
The guy and I ended up breaking up when I headed off to college (you say you saw that one coming, what?), and the end of that relationship also ended my relationship with Chinese food. No one in my life really pushed the issue when I said that Chinese food makes me sick (writing credit to LFO for that one). So I didn’t eat any Chinese food for a good decade or so.
Then, about a year ago, I was doing some research about food allergies and stumbled onto some forum post where some random internet person mentioned that they thought they disliked Chinese food, but really, they found out, they disliked the way MSG (which many takeout Chinese food restaurants still use) made them feel.
I started thinking about how I felt about Chinese food, and realized that, in my noggin, I was tying how I felt about the flavors to how I felt after eating the food. I thought I didn’t like soy or ginger or sesame, but actually, I just didn’t like how MSG was making me feel. I just didn’t know about it.
Right around the same time, a client asked me to develop a stir fry recipe. At first, I thought, uh-oh, and then I realized, hey, maybe this is my chance to get reacclimated with Chinese food? Out of that assignment came my Healthy Chicken Stir Fry, and let me tell you, I LOVED it (and my Chinese food loving husband loved that soy sauce made an appearance in our house). And, guess what? Since there was no MSG, it didn’t make me feel yucky. Not even a little bit. Woohoo!
Now that I’ve figured out that I actually *like* Chinese food (just not MSG), I’ve started to playing with introducing myself to Chinese food at home. This Slow Cooker Beef and Broccoli is my latest experiment, and let me tell you, it is delicious, healthy, and totally not what you’d expect to normally come out of a slow cooker.
Slow cooker recipes have this reputation of being nothing more than mushy veggies and mealy meat, but I truly believe there is art to slow cooking. It’s not just about taking a shortcut (although, hey, anything that can make life easier is a win in my books), but you can really use your slow cooker to enhance your cooking. Yes, you can make flavorful, creative, and interesting dishes in your slow cooker—all without a hint of overcooked vegetables. If you’re trying to get into healthy eating, I believe a really great slow cooker is vital to your kitchen arsenal.
I made this dish using the newest love of my life—my Crock-Pot® 5-in-1 Multi-Cooker. This baby is life-changing. It slow cooks like a boss, but it’s the added features that really make it over-the-top awesome. Honestly, you could pretty much take this Multi-Cooker with you to the middle of nowhere (just as long as middle of nowhere has electricity) and have just about everything you need to cook an awesome dinner. Sauté, steam, roast, slow cook, bake—it does it all. I’m way obsessed.
I’m really excited to be working with Crock-Pot® brand for the rest of 2016 to bring you creative, healthy, and unexpected ways to use your slow cooker. Slow cooking isn’t just heavy soups and barbecue sandwiches! In fact, Crock-Pot® brand has a ton of interesting ways to use a slow cooker on their website. I think to really elevate your slow cooking, there are three keys. Do these, and your slow cooker transforms from a convenience tool to a legitimate heavyweight star of your kitchen:
- Brown, baby, brown. If you’ve ever noticed all the condensation on the lid of your slow cooker after it’s been going for a while, you know that slow cooking is a very moist method of cooking. That’s great for tenderizing food and adding moisture, it isn’t so good for getting a good sear on meat. Brown food is delicious good. Before you put meat in to slow cook, you should sear it over high heat to really add lots of yummy flavor. You can do this in a skillet, but I actually just do it on the Brown/Sauté setting in my Crock-Pot® 5-in-1 Multi-Cooker. Fewer dishes = happier me.
- Time it right. Tossing everything in the slow cooker and letting it do it’s thing for eight hours has it’s place, but if you’re really looking to elevate your slow cooking, you’ll want to play with timing. Meat will take the longest to get nice and tender. Harder veggies like potatoes and carrots can head in next. And then, right before serving, you’ll want to add things like pasta, rice, and other grains, or tender veggies like the broccoli in this recipe.
- Don’t (always) cook the dickens out of it. Seriously. I know part of the appeal of a slow cooker is that you can turn it on before work and come home to dinner ready—and that really does work for some dishes, but not all. Take this recipe, for example. It cooks in the slow cooker in just a few hours. Any more than that and you’ll get shredded meat and mushy broccoli. Sometimes your slow cooker is a precise tool instead of a wrecking ball that you use to beat your dinner into submission while you’re at your office, k?
In this case, using the slow cooker results in beef that is so fall-apart tender, it feels buttery (something you’d be hard-pressed to get using any other cooking method), and broccoli that is fresh, tender, and just a little bit crisp. All smothered in a silky smooth sauce.
I served my slow cooker beef and broccoli over fluffy quinoa. I love adding quinoa to dishes like this because it gives you the same “feeling” as standard white rice, but a ton more nutrition. Quinoa is packed with protein and whole grains! If you prefer, you can serve this over white or brown rice, farro, or any other whole grain. Enjoy!