Crock Pot Cooking

Marin Magazine

January is a great time for food in a bowl. Crocks, pots, bowls and vessels steaming with nourishing soups and hearty stews are the perfect antidote to the cold weather and a comforting alternative to the highfalutin presentations of Christmas past. These one-pot wonders are easy on the wallet while deeply satisfying in taste, coaxing out flavor with slow, hands-off cooking. The best part is that they taste better with time, so prepare them in advance to enjoy during the school week or tote up to the mountains for après-ski dining.


Red Wine and Chipotle Braised Short Ribs

This braise is best made 1 to 2 days ahead of serving. While most of it requires little effort or technique, the biggest challenge will be waiting while the richly spiced aromas waft through your kitchen. Consider this time invested for good reason — to tenderize the beef to a supple version of itself, and to infuse the meat and stew with knock-your-socks-off flavor. Go ahead and give it a try; some things are worth the wait.

Marin Magazine

Serves 4 to 6


  • 4 pounds beef short ribs, cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 (750 ml) bottle full-bodied red wine
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
  • ½ cup chipotles in adobo, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups beef stock, or more as necessary
  • 12 ounces cipolline onions (or baby shallots), peeled, halved if large
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • Fresh thyme sprigs for garnish


DAY 1:

Generously season the ribs with salt and black pepper. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large Dutch oven or ovenproof pot with lid over medium-high heat until shimmering. Brown the ribs in batches on all sides without overcrowding the pan, about 8 minutes. (This step is very important, so take the time to do it well.)

Transfer to a plate or bowl and repeat with the remaining ribs. Drain off all the fat from the pot. Add 1 tablespoon oil, the yellow onion, carrot and garlic. Sauté, over medium heat, stirring up any brown bits in the pan, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the cumin, paprika and coriander and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the wine, tomato paste, chipotles and bay leaf. Return the ribs and any collected juices to the pot. Add the beef stock.

If the ribs are not completely covered with the liquid, add more stock as necessary. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Bake until the ribs are very tender, 2½ to 3 hours, stirring once or twice. With tongs or a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the ribs to a cutting board to cool. When they’re cool enough to handle, remove any remaining bones (most will have fallen away) and cut away any of the tough gristle.

Return the pot to the stove top and bring the sauce to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by about half and thickened to a sauce consistency, about 20 minutes, skimming any fat from the surface with a spoon. Strain the sauce into a bowl, pushing down on the solids to extract flavor, then discard the solids. Return the beef to the sauce, submerging completely. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

DAY 2:

One hour before serving, remove the ribs from the refrigerator and turn on the oven broiler. Scrape away any congealed fat collected on the surface of the stew. Gently rewarm on the stove top over medium-low heat to liquefy the sauce. Carefully remove the meat from the stew and arrange in a baking dish. Broil the meat until dark brown, turning once, about 2 minutes per side.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. Sauté until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Bring the sauce to a low simmer and add the onions. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add the balsamic vinegar, brown sugar and 1 teaspoon salt. Taste for seasoning.

To serve, divide the short ribs between serving dishes or shallow bowls. Ladle the sauce over and around the meat. Serve immediately, garnished with fresh thyme. Note: To freeze the ribs, perform all of the preparatory Day 1 steps. On Day 2, scrape off the congealed fat and then freeze. To continue, defrost the stew in the refrigerator overnight. One hour before serving, proceed with broiling the meat and the remaining steps.


Moroccan Lamb Stew with Chickpeas and Apricots

Infusing your dinner with aromatics and spice that tantalize and hint of far-flung destinations is a surefire way to beat the winter doldrums (short of a plane ticket). The secret ingredient in this North African stew is ras-el-hanout, a spice blend that can include upwards of 50 spices, including cinnamon, cardamom, clove, turmeric and cayenne. The name, translated, means head of the shop, or the best on offer. You can find ras-el-hanout in the spice section of supermarkets and specialty stores.

Marin Magazine

Serves 6



  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne


  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2½ to 3 pounds lamb shoulder or leg, excess fat trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 (15-ounce) can crushed Italian plum tomatoes
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 16 unsulfured dried apricots, halved
  • 1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon ras-el-hanout
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large carrot, cut into ¼-inch pieces
  • 1½ cups cooked chickpeas
  • 1 tablespoon honey or brown sugar
  • Fresh chopped cilantro leaves, for garnish


Combine the rub ingredients in a small bowl. Place the lamb in a large bowl and add the rub, mixing to thoroughly coat the lamb. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a Dutch oven or ovenproof pot with lid over medium-high heat until shimmering. Carefully add the lamb in batches and brown on all sides, taking care to not overcrowd the pan.

Transfer the lamb to a plate and repeat with remaining lamb. Pour off any accumulated fat from the pot. Add 1 tablespoon oil and the onion and sauté until slightly softened, about 2 minutes, stirring up any brown bits. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, apricots, cinnamon stick, ras-el-hanout and the salt.

Return the lamb and any collected juices to the pot. (The lamb should be mostly submerged in the stock. If necessary add more chicken stock to nearly cover.) Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot.

Transfer to the oven and bake until the lamb is tender, about 2 hours. Transfer the pot to the stove top and stir in the carrots and chickpeas. Return to the oven and cook, uncovered, until the sauce is slightly reduced and thickened, and the carrots are tender, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and stir in the honey. Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro and serve with couscous.


Tuscan Vegetable Soup with Farro and Kale

Kale is loaded with nutrients and antioxidants and is an excellent way to jump-start a healthy diet in the new year. And why hold back with just one nutritious ingredient? In this warming vegetable soup, kale is joined by farro, a nutty ancient grain packed with protein and fiber, and chunks of vitamin-rich butternut squash. If you’re craving extra protein, you can dump a heaping cup of cooked white cannellini beans into the soup, as well. As for what type of kale to use, either curly green or lacinato work well. Remove the tough ribs from the leaves before chopping.

Serves 4 to 6


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 6 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock, plus additional stock as necessary
  • 2 cups butternut squash, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 cup uncooked farro, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, drained
  • 1 (3-inch) chunk of rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 to 3 cups coarsely chopped green kale
  • Finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened without coloring, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, squash, farro, tomatoes, cheese chunk, bay leaf, thyme, salt, oregano and black pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to medium-low and partially cover the pot. Simmer until the squash and farro are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in the kale leaves and simmer until the kale brightens in color and just wilts, 1 to 2 minutes. Discard the cheese rind and bay leaf, and taste for seasoning. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Serve immediately.


Quick Chicken Pho

They say that chicken soup is just what the doctor ordered. They also say that chiles are nature’s solution to fighting a head cold. Combine the two and you have the equivalent of a bowl of soup any doting Jewish-Vietnamese grandmother would love to feed you. The good news is that you can make pho yourself, and you don’t have to be under the weather for an excuse. Pho tastes great, ticking off all the flavor categories, with spicy, sweet and sour notes mingling with fresh herbs and slurpy noodles in a steaming bowl of ginger-infused chicken broth. Need we say more? Traditionally, pho stock is slow cooked over many hours with a whole chicken, bones and charred vegetables. This recipe is a quick version for easy dining and instant gratification — you can call it faux pho.

Serves 4


  • 1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 (2-inch) knob fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
  • 8 ounces vermicelli rice noodles
  • 3 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced


  • 2 cups mung bean sprouts
  • 1 to 2 jalapeños, thinly sliced
  • Fresh mint, cilantro and/or Thai basil sprigs
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  • Asian chili-garlic sauce, such as Sriracha Hoisin sauce


Preheat the oven broiler. Scatter the onions and ginger on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil until the onions begin to turn golden brown, stirring once or twice, about 3 minutes. Add the whole spices and continue to broil until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Transfer the vegetables and spices to a soup pot. Add the stock and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover the pot, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve and discard the solids. Return the broth to the pot and stir in the fish sauce, sugar and salt. Add the chicken and simmer, partially covered, over medium-low heat until piping hot, about 5 minutes. While the stock is cooking, prepare the rice noodles according to package instructions.

Drain and divide between 4 serving bowls. Sprinkle half the scallions over the noodles, then ladle the chicken and stock into the bowls. Sprinkle the remaining scallions over. Serve with the garnishes.

This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition with the headline: “Crocks & Pots”. 

Lynda Balslev

Lynda Balslev is an award-winning food writer, editor and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay area. She authors the nationally syndicated column and blog TasteFood, and co-authored the cookbook Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture (2015 Silver Medal Winner Independent Publisher Awards). She is the 2011 recipient of the Chronicle Books Award (Recipe Writing) to the Symposium for Professional Food Writers, and a 2018 Fellowship Award recipient to the Symposium for Wine Writers at Meadowood, Napa Valley. Lynda’s writing and photography have been recognized by the New York Times Diners Journal, the Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post and more.