Foods That Will Warm the Soul

sardines in crock pot

My fans have let me know how much they enjoy crockpot cooking, so I love holding giveaways of these slow cookers each month. They allow working families the chance to come home to long-simmered soups, sauces, stews and other comforting meals that warm the soul. The trick to developing or converting recipes for slow cookers is to correctly estimate the liquid needed. Figure that about 2 cups of liquid will be evaporated during the cooking process over six to eight hours, so plan accordingly.

For instance, if you want to make chicken soup or minestrone soup in the slow cooker, just add 2 extra cups of water to your recipe and it should work out well. Don’t add pasta or rice until the end (15 minutes before serving for pasta, 30 minutes before serving for white rice, 40 minutes before serving for brown rice). Chili works particularly well in the slow cooker. Most chili recipes have long cooking times and won’t need much adjustment, but if the cooking time calls for only one or two hours of heat, add those two extra cups of water and let it simmer all day.

Because of the long cooking times, lean towards using tougher cuts of meat and heartier fish for best results. Lamb shanks hold up well to 10 hours of braising as do short ribs. Pork shoulder and rump roast become very tender after stewing for hours. Don’t be afraid to make fish in your slow cooker. My Homemade Sardines cook for about 6 hours and can be made with mackerel, smelt, herring, or even trout. The recipe follows. If you use tender cuts of meat like chicken, use bigger pieces (the whole bird is best) so that the meat doesn’t turn to mush. I created my Crockpot Chicken with Annatto recipe just for my crockpot-loving fans. Recipe follows.

Dried beans and root vegetables are ideal for slow cookers. Black-eyed peas cooked for hours with ham hocks and water become very tender and very tasty. Dried navy or cannellini beans are wonderful after being simmered with water, rosemary, garlic and onions. Hard root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, potatoes, turnips, onions, and beets can handle being cooked for six or eight hours. If you want to add more tender veggies like spinach, kale, or bell peppers, put them into the pot 20-30 minutes before the end of your cooking time. Tomatoes are very versatile and can be cooked for the whole run or thrown in near the end. Sundried tomatoes and other dried fruits can endure hours of cooking and add sweetness to your most comforting foods.

Homemade Sardines

Sardines are any type of small fish like mackerel or smelt or herring that have been preserved in oil or packed in sauce. Sardines are a good source of protein, iron, zinc, vitamin D, and calcium (if you eat the bones). I like to make my own at home because it’s not very difficult and the result is wonderful. This cooking process can be applied to larger fish like trout very well. Just cut the bigger fish into pieces. The sweet-pickle juice adds a beautiful complexity to these homemade sardines. The olive oil provides the protection of polyphenols. I like to smash the sardines up and eat them on Saltine crackers.


Brine of ¼ cup salt dissolved in 2 cups water
2-3 lbs. of mackerel, herring, or smelt, cleaned with heads removed (skin on, bones in)
¾ cup olive oil
¾ cup water
¾ cup vinegar from a jar of sweet pickles
3 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. peppercorns


1.  Add the fish to the brine and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.
2.  Remove the fish from the brine and add to a crockpot with the olive oil and all remaining ingredients. Be sure the fish is completely covered with liquid. Add more water if necessary.
3.  Simmer on low heat for 3-6 hours (depending on the size of the fish) or until the fish is very soft, even the bones.

Serves 2-4

Crockpot Chicken with Annatto

The chicken is fall-apart tender after cooking slowly for hours. To add color, flavor, and vitamin E, I use some of my Annatto Water. I also add chorizo deBilbao sausage to spice things up, and plantains for a bit of sweetness. Most people don’t peel cooked or canned garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas), but I find they are much more delicious when their outer skin is removed. I serve this chicken with rice and fried plantains. 


1 whole chicken, 2-4 lbs.
1 Tbsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup safflower oil
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 cup diced onion
2 cups diced tomatoes
1 cup thinly sliced chorizo deBilbao
1/2 cup Annatto Water recipe
1 cup cooked or canned garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas), peeled
2 cups quartered potatoes (from about 4 medium-sized potatoes)
4 plantains, peeled and halved
1/4 cup julienned scallions
3 cups rough-choppedNapacabbage (from about 1/2 head)
3 cups rough-chopped green cabbage (from about 1/2 head)


1. Rinse the whole chicken and pat dry. Rub with salt and pepper.
2. Place chicken in crock pot and cook on medium heat for 4-6 hours or until juices run clear and the bones pull apart easily.
3. In a separate pan, sauté garlic and onion in oil for 3-5 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook another 5 minutes.
4. Add chorizo and Annatto Water to the sauté pan and boil for 5 minutes.
5. Add the chorizo mixture to the crock pot along with the garbanzo beans, potatoes, and plantains. Cook on low in crock pot for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
6. Add the scallions and cabbages and cook for another 5-10 minutes or until the cabbage is tender.

Serves 4-6

Annatto Water


1/2 cup annatto seeds (whole, not ground)
1/2 cup warm water


1. Add seeds to warm water and let soak for 5 minutes.
2. Work seeds with your hands for a couple of minutes until water turns orange.
3. Strain the seeds out. Water will last in refrigerator for up to a week.

Yields 1/2 cup


About Grace O

Grace O has been cooking and baking professionally and recreationally all of her adult life. As a child in Southeast Asia, she learned the culinary arts by her mother’s side in her family’s cooking school. She became so well versed in hospitality and the culinary arts, she eventually took over the cooking school and opened three restaurants. She is widely credited with popularizing shrimp on sugar-cane skewers and being one of the first culinarians to make tapas a global trend. She has cooked for ruling families and royalty. Grace O’s move to America precipitated a career in healthcare, inspired by her father, who was a physician. Twenty years and much hard work later, she operates skilled nursing facilities in California. Grace O strives to create flavorful food using the finest ingredients that ultimately lead to good health. Her recipes, although low in saturated fat, salt, and sugar, are high in flavor. Grace employs spices from all over the world to enliven her dishes, creating food that is different and delicious. She believes that food can be just as effective at fighting aging as the most expensive skin creams. And since she’s over 50 herself, she’s living proof of that.
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