breaking out the slow cooker

Every once in a while, we pick a weekend day to break out the slow cooker. Sunday is the perfect day to prepare a hearty meal to enjoy the night before you kick off another week (and the leftovers are perfect for weekday lunches!). The slow cooker is also easy to use and you can leave the house and run errands while it does its work on your dinner throughout the day. Even someone who is new to cooking can master the slow cooker to make a delicious one-pot wonder.

With our slow cooker, we decided to try a new twist on shredded beef tacos, Barbacoa style. Barbacoa is believed to have originated many centuries ago in the Caribbean, where people marinated foods in herbs and spices to enhance the natural flavors and preserve them after cooking. This type of preparation was called "barabicu," which eventually evolved to today's "barbeque." Barbacoa-style cooking was brought to Mexico, where today it still refers to meat that is slow-roasted over heat with spices.

This Barbacoa beef dish is intensely flavored thanks to chipotle chiles in adobo, garlic, cumin and lime juice, which simmer together for 10 hours with whole beef shoulder. My husband Eric is one of those people who thinks cilantro tastes like soap so we skipped the cilantro, but definitely add that to the sauce as well for extra bright flavor. With any big fatty piece of meat like beef or pork, you want to cook it low and slow so the fat and fibers can break down. When the meat collagen begins to melt at about 160 degrees Fahrenheit, it turns to gelatin and contributes richness and silky texture to the sauce.

We also chose to make tacos with the particular intention of trying out our cast iron tortilla press. One of the most creative wedding gifts that we received was the Imusa Cast Iron Tortilla Press, which is simple to put together and even simpler to use - although we were pretty intimidated to trial it until now. Turns out we had nothing to fear! The Imusa allows you to press homemade tortilla dough between two large cast iron surfaces and then you can quick-fry the flattened dough in a hot skillet. The result is a thick, chewy warm tortilla - the perfect vehicle for beef and taco fixings. You can of course always buy tortillas at the store, but we decided we couldn't own a kitchen device without giving it a whirl!