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I love coming home from a long day to my Crock-pot full of delicious stew, chili, pulled pork, or chicken curry. This is especially true in the fall and winter, when my bike home is quite chilly and I am in no mood to cook. Fall offers many great ingredients for slow cooking, such as pumpkin, squash, apples, sweet potatoes and parsnips. A vegetable heavy stew is a great way to reach your 3 cups for the day and warm up on those cold November nights in Minnesota.

Slow cooking is a great option if you have limited time to prepare food in the evening, but don’t mind waking up a bit earlier to prep in the morning. The basic principle of slow cooking is low and slow, just like smoking meat, with the end product being a one pot meal. Even those who may consider themselves culinary novices can produce wonderful meals by just cutting up some veggies, meat and potatoes. Your apartment/dorm neighbors will be offering to clean your place just for a bowl of stew once they smell the results of an 8 hour simmer.

I’m not a big fan of following recipes, because I usually combine 3 or 4 of them when I cook, but they do provide a great way to organize ingredients and instructions. However, think of them as recommendations and don’t be afraid to mix it up, and substitute or omit things that you don’t have on hand. That being said, here are my recommendations for a Pork, Sweet Potato and Apple Stew:

2 apples, peeled and diced into 3/4 in. cubes

2 medium (~1/2 lb) sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into 3/4 in. cubes

1 small (~golf ball size) onion, cut in half and quartered

1 lb lean pork shoulder, cut into 1 in. cubes

1 cup chicken or vegetable broth

1 cup apple cider

1 tsp of your favorite salt-free seasoning blend (I like Penzeys’ Bavarian)

1/2 tsp ground pepper

1/2 tsp salt

Combine everything in the slow cooker, cover and cook on low for 7 hours. It is that easy, there are no special techniques, or complicated steps, just a little bit of chopping and dicing. Optionally, for firmer apples, add them halfway through the cook time, and for more vegetables, serve over raw spinach, which will cook by the heat of the stew. As I mentioned before, these are just recommendations. If you don’t have pork, substitute cubed chicken, another cup of broth for the apple juice and some diced celery for a stew more like chicken and dumplings. Stews are incredibly versatile and easy to put together, which makes them a great option for all levels of motivation and culinary skill.

This recipe makes about 3 quarts of stew, so invite some friends over, and be sure to tell them to bring appetizers, salads and dessert, for a hearty fall meal. Stew freezes really well, so if your roommates and neighbors don’t eat it all, save it for an easy meal when you’re in a rush.

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