One of the most natural things to make in the crock pot is soup. For the graduate student, making soup in the crock pot is especially good: both because you can make it once and have meals for the whole week and because making your own soup is more healthy than getting canned--especially if you don't add much salt. When I first got back from winter break, on January 18, I made the Tuscan White Bean Soup from The Gourmet Slow Cooker: Simple and Sophisticated Meals from Around the World cookbook. And actually, another good thing about soup is that it's great to have when you're sick. I came back from winter break with a cold so the first thing I thought of doing was making soup in the crock pot.
This recipe was perfect for a graduate student lifestyle because most of the prep work can be done the night before, allowing you to just throw everything together in the morning before heading off to school. The night before you do have to rinse and sort through the beans, then leave them to soak overnight. Once you've prepared the beans, you can chop all of the other ingredients and stick them in tupperware over night. Now, apparently if you don't want to soak your beans overnight, you can actually cook them in water in the crock pot for two hours on high to get the same effect. However, after my experience with the baked beans, I always make sure to soak the beans overnight. (Note: I understand that this is an irrational connection to make because I did soak the beans overnight when I made baked beans, but that experience still has me a little paranoid.)
Now, all you need to do in the morning is drain the beans and then throw everything together. I added the beans first, then water (no broth needed, which saves a bit of money for the grad student!), then all the ingredients I chopped the night before: carrots, onion, celery, and garlic. Finally, you add one sprig of thyme and a can of crushed tomatoes. Then just turn it on low (for six to eight hours) and you'll come home to some great soup!
This is what it looked like before I turned it on.
Now, the cool thing about this recipe is that it does not make you add salt when you're cooking it. Salt is added, to taste, after the soup is done cooking. Of course, I didn't add any salt to my recipe. So it was easy enough to just take the sprig of thyme out and serve the soup, right when I got home. The soup is garnished with 1 tablesppon olive oil (per serving) and "a sprinkle of [freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano] cheese." Now, as you can see from the image, I may have added more than a sprinkle which ultimately would add to my calorie count, but the cheese was so tasty, I couldn't resist! In fact, in my cookbook I noted that the recipe was "yummy, especially with the cheese as garnish." I served it with a large salad and had a great dinner, though you could, of course, add some bread on the side if you wanted something more substantial.
The recipe says that this will serve four to six and I definitely got six servings out of it. I've actually found that this cookbook is a little more reliable in terms of servings than some of the other crock pot cookbooks I have. That means that the soup itself is only about 170 calories. With the garnish you'll add a bit more though because the tablespoon of olive oil is about 120 calories in itself and a tablespoon of the cheese (and I definitely used at least that much) is another 20 calories. So, for each serving I ate, it was probably about 310 calories. That seems high for a soup, but if you're having it as your main course with just a salad, you'll be in good shape if you're watching calories (and we all know that the time spent sitting in our cubicles or at home in front of a computer doesn't burn many calories!). In terms of cost, this was really good on my budget! When I went shopping, I already had garlic, canned crushed tomatoes, and olive oil at home, so I didn't need to buy those things. So for this recipe, I only actually paid a little over $2.00 per serving. The big expense, mostly because I was afraid it would go bad before I used it again, was the thyme at $2.59, which seems like a lot if you're only using one sprig! Of course, I actually ended up using it in other recipes before it went bad so it ended up not being as big of an expense. The big expense overall would be the olive oil, but that tends to be an item that you normally have on hand in your kitchen. I normally get the big jars of olive oil because it's a better deal overall, but then you'd end up paying up to $20.00 (or more) and I'm not going to use that in my calculations because it would throw it off. You can get smaller jars for around $5.99 and I would assume that if someone were getting olive oil just for this recipe, that's the size that they'd get. Using that, it comes out to about $3.28 per serving--not too bad at all for a week's worth of dinners on a grad student budget!