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The Main Ingredients Spring Edition: Slow Cooking (Challenger's Meal)

03/06/2014 04:52 EST | Updated 05/06/2014 05:59 EDT

Things are changing at a fast pace for our family. We recently welcomed our newborn baby girl Alexandria in January. Our 2-year old Luke has quickly taken to her, especially since he thinks he can hide his unwanted breakfast in her diapers.

Mealtime is even more hectic than usual because, for the first time, I'm solely responsible for planning and prepping meals for the entire family. Whereas my wife and I teamed up on past cooking challenges, I was alone in the kitchen this time. Unfortunately, my skills are not even on par with an Iron Microwave Chef. Fortunately, the challenge was to create a healthy meal using "slow cooking" methods, which is ideal for my "minimalist" cooking style.

MAIN DISH: Chicken Surprise Stew with Mozzarella Bread

Main Ingredients Used:

The Main Ingredients Spring Edition: Challenger Meal 1

Chicken breasts

• Bell peppers

• Mushrooms

• Eggplant

• Kidney beans

• Baby spinach

• Quinoa

Ingredients List:

• 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 170 g/6 oz each)

• 1 eggplant

• 300 g (10 oz) mushrooms

• 2 bell peppers

• 1.8 L (7 cups) low sodium chicken broth

• 2 cans (540 mL/2.5 cups) kidney beans

• 500 mL (2 cups) quinoa

• 5 bay leaves

• 3 cloves garlic, chopped

• 1 onion, chopped

• 4 slices whole grain bread

• Partly skimmed mozzarella, shredded (optional)

• 400 g (14 oz) baby spinach

Preparation: Cut up chicken breasts into cubes (bite sized). Cut eggplant, mushrooms and peppers into bite sized pieces. In a slow cooker, combine chicken, broth, eggplant mushroom, peppers, kidney beans, quinoa, bay leaves, garlic, onion and 500 mL (2 cups) of water. Cover and cook until the beans are tender, about 7-8 hours on low or 5-6 hours on high. It's so beautifully simple. And for the final touch, stir spinach into the stew just before serving.

The slow cooker is awesome because it encourages you to be a scientist. Just toss an assortment of ingredients into the pot, add water, go watch some TV, and more often than not, something delicious will be created in a few hours.

For some extra taste, spread mozzarella cheese onto bread, toast until the cheese is slightly melted and serve with the stew, if desired.

DESSERT: Sweet Cereal Mix with Greek Yogurt

Ingredients list:

• 250 mL (1 cup) of dried dates

• 125 mL (½ cup) of cashews

• 500 mL (2 cups) of milk

• 175 mL (1/3 cup) of cream of wheat

• 60 mL (¼ cup) of brown sugar

• 125 mL (½ cup) of Greek yogurt

Preparation: Chop up dried dates. Crush the cashews. In a pot, add milk and bring to a boil. Slowly add the cream of wheat, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, stirring constantly until it thickens. Add brown sugar. Serve with chopped dates and sprinkle crushed cashews on top. Add Greek yogurt as the topping.

The Verdict: My wife was impressed at how healthy the stew was and how delicious it tasted. Usually, I would be tempted to throw in some sausages or processed meat into the mix, but I was able to restrain myself. She also enjoyed the mozzarella bread and said it was a good complement to the stew, although she also said she would have added some more bell peppers. Everyone's a critic.

I have to admit that our boy Luke did not seem to like the stew at all. He made his intentions known by calmly tossing the bowl off his high chair and on to the floor. I'm going to assume it had nothing to do with my plate presentation and everything to do with his Terrible Twos phase. Luke did however thoroughly enjoy helping me put the various ingredients into the slow cooker. It was a good opportunity to teach him different vegetables before he dropped them into the pot.

Everyone loved the dessert. Even I was a little surprised at how sweet and tasty it turned out. It was a filling dessert so I recommend serving it in small quantities, with a dollop of Greek yogurt.

The best part about slow cooking is that you can make a pot of food that could feed your family for a few days. Although it takes a few hours to cook the stew, it only takes to a few seconds to heat it up again in the microwave. This is when slow food suddenly turns into fast food!