U-Relish: Fast Dinners from the Slow Cooker
The Crock-Pot is often forgotten in the graveyard of unused kitchen appliances. But Cara Dafforn is a champion of the slow-and-steady style of cooking, so much so that she's built her business on it.
For her company, called U-Relish Farm, Dafforn makes carefully prepackaged nutritious dinners of beans, peas and lentils that are designed for the slow cooker. Mesquite Three-Bean Chili, Pizza Lentils and Garlic Paprika Chickpea are a few of the dozen-plus varieties in the line.
Dehydrated herbs and vegetables from her own garden go into each packet that Dafforn sells from her stall at Indianapolis City Market. Other ingredients are regionally sourced. Each $6 mix contains three servings.
She has nicknamed the mixes "meals in a minute" because they are as easy to make as adding water or broth to the cooker and pressing the "on" button in the morning.
"When you get home there is a slow-cooked meal that is preservative free, nutrient dense and delicious," Dafforn says. Everything is vegan, gluten-free and soy-free.
Coming up next for Dafforn and U-Relish Farm are breakfast foods that can be popped in the slow cooker before bed. Think rice pudding, oatmeal and grits, in Dafforn's signature healthful style.
Dafforn says the slow cooker is ideal in the winter because of its ease of use, convenience and ability to feed large groups of people for very little money.
The slow cooker has seen many highs and lows since it gained popularity in the '70s; home cooks trot it out in tough times because it transforms inexpensive cuts of meat and other economical proteins into comfort food. And, there's a hint of nostalgia, even if today's cookers have gone upscale, with digital programming and internal temperature sensors.
If Dafforn is any indication, the slow cooker seems to be having a moment now.
Her commitment to the Crock-Pot can be seen on Twitter (@CaraDafforn) and the U-Relish Facebook page, where she documents the daily gurgles and grunts and contents of her own slow cooker. Both on- and offline, Dafforn strives to create a community and generate buzz about green business practices and local food.
Before U-Relish Farm, Dafforn worked for 15 years as a fundraiser for not-for-profits. Dafforn began developing the recipes that would become the cornerstone for U-Relish when her nephew, Ian, was born in 2003 with phenylketonuria, the inability to process certain amino acids. Ian, now a healthy 8- year-old, follows a strict diet, and Dafforn created her nutritious and convenient slowcooker mixes to free up time for Ian's vegetarian mom (Dafforn's sister) to weigh, measure and prepare Ian's food.
Dafforn says she had some help developing her recipes from a culinary advisor and a registered dietitian, but most of the combinations sold today are a result of her own trial and error and "five years of mistakes and uneaten meals."
Today, some of the most popular products she sells are the Hoppin' John Black Eyed Peas and BBQ Lentils.
Dafforn sources many of the ingredients for her mixes directly from her own urban farm in the Fountain Square neighborhood. It takes some creative planning to get good production out of her 1/3-acre lot. "[I] make the most out of it by going vertical," she says.
For those ingredients she doesn't grow herself, Dafforn partners with a Midwestern food supply company in order to keep her products regionally sourced.
U-Relish has a stall at City Market, where Dafforn sells her mixes and offers hot samples from 11am to 2pm, Monday–Saturday. The mixes are also available at Pogue's Run Grocer, Good Earth Natural Food Store and Georgetown Market, though only the mixes sold at City Market have ingredients from her garden.
Details: Find the U-Relish Farms booth at Indianapolis City Market, 222 E. Market St.; www.u-relish.com.