How two busy moms and one crockpot are transforming dinnertime

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Chocolate chip pumpkin bread made in the slow cooker using The Zen of Slow Cooking recipe. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 2 hours

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup semi sweet chocolate chips

½ cup olive oil (or ½ cup butter)

⅔ cup maple syrup (or 1 cup sugar)

2 eggs

1 tablespoon 2% milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup pureed pumpkin

Spray a 2-pound loaf tin (or other round tin) or slow cooker insert with nonstick oil and shake in 1 tablespoon flour to coat the surface. Turn your slow cooker to high.

In a large bowl, mix the flours, baking soda, salt and chocolate chips.

Add the olive oil, maple syrup, eggs, milk and vanilla, making sure that the ingredients are thoroughly beaten and the mixture is without lumps. (Note: if using butter and sugar instead, cream those ingredients in a separate bowl before mixing the eggs, milk and vanilla.)

Stir in the pumpkin.

Pour mixture into loaf tin and cook on high for 2 hours.

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Zen and slow cookers typically are not words you’d see together. That is until now.

Meet Meg Barnhart, founder of The Zen of Slow Cooking (www.thezenofslowcooking.com). Barnhart, along with culinary expert Jane McKay, is transforming the way we think about dinner by creating a website dedicated to producing more Zen and less stress in your daily life, especially around the dinner hour.

Slow down with a slow cooker

“It’s hard to believe, but it was only six years ago that dinnertime was my biggest worry,” Barnhart said. “My husband was constantly traveling and my three kids were going in three different directions. Afternoons were dedicated to being a chauffeur, homework helper and scheduler, making it nearly impossible to get a healthy meal on the table.”

Fortunately, things soon turned around when a friend suggested Barnhart purchase a crockpot. “It sounds silly, but using a slow cooker really changed my life,” Barnhart said. “I was able to restore peace and calm in my home by focusing my attention on my kids, while dinner slowly came together in a foolproof way.”

Choosing a slow cooker

Since your slow cooker will become the workhorse of your kitchen, it’s important to choose one that fits your family’s needs and lifestyle. Both Barnhart and McKay recommend finding a slow cooker that has a cast iron insert, which can be used to brown meat or sauté vegetables.

“Not only does the cast iron insert improve overall flavor and appearance,” McKay said, “but it also saves on washing up since you don’t have to use a separate pan.”

Other issues to consider when buying a slow cooker include durability, temperature controls and price range, so it’s important to read online reviews such as those found on Amazon, Consumer Reports or Yahoo.

Just do it!

Once you have your slow cooker, the next step is to take it out of the box and start cooking. The Zen of Slow Cooking site offers recipes, tips and inspirational Zen moments to suit the whole family.

Be sure to check out their Chicken Pot Pie and Tangy Tilapia Taco recipes or try your hand at something sweet, such as their moist and delicious Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread.