As our first child has gotten older and stopped napping, we’ve gradually moved dinner time earlier and earlier in the evening. And with a newborn in the house, we have our hands full, so I try and find things I can do to help out. I enjoy cooking, but with us eating so early and my work schedule, I seldom have enough time to do it justice when I get home. Slow cooking has become a dinner staple.
Many years ago, friends who regularly use a Crock Pot generously sent us one for Christmas and over the years we’ve built up a small repertoire of slow cooked meals. I’ll get up a little early or even prepare some of the ingredients the night before. I set everything going before I head into work and most recipes we make can be served right away or only require minor finishing touches 30 minutes to an hour before we eat.
All of the meals we make can also be frozen, so we’ll prepare enough to eat that night plus extra for two or three other meals we can freeze to enjoy in the following weeks. Some require nothing but chopping up the ingredients, measuring out the spices and putting them together in the pot. Others take a little more time upfront, such as browning of the meat.
Slow cookers are remarkably inexpensive, starting at around $30. Ours is several years old now, but today’s equivalent is this 6-Quart Crock Pot, which sells for about $50. We’ve found recipes online and in a couple of books, including the Slow Cooker Bible and The Everything Slow Cooking for a Crowd Cookbook.
Our Favorite Recipes
We came across this in Real Simple magazine and the picture of it looked great. This was our first vegetarian slow cooker dish and it’s delicious. If you stick to the proportions they suggest, it’s not very spicy at all. Our four and a half year old enjoys this as she’s a fan of sweet potatoes and the amount of chili used is insignificant. It’s also a recipe that requires zero upfront cooking.
We had no idea you could make a lasagna in a slow cooker. The beauty of this recipe is that you don’t have to cook the lasagna noodles. It does require browning of the sausage and stirring of other ingredients, but the result is great. We like to use sweet Italian sausage instead of regular. Watch the pot toward the end of the cooking process as you may find, like we have occasionally, that you want to turn it off a little early otherwise the edges can get overcooked.
This is a regular family meal and we’ve made it many times for guests, serving it over couscous. It’s featured on the front of the Slow Cooker Bible. The combination of flavors is terrific. It would go equally well over rice. The beef needs to be browned, but the beans can be prepared the night before.
This one we also originally found in the Slow Cooker Bible, but others have posted it online. Like the vegetarian chili, we thought this one might be a little spicy. However, the jalapeno pepper doesn’t make it too hot. Penelope enjoys the sweet potato, of course, and eats the pork too.
While this calls for a whole chicken, we’ve used de-boned chicken thighs without the skin, because Jennifer prefers boneless chicken and neither of us is much into skin.
This sauce is a very basic recipe that can be modified based on your tastes. I’ve never made it exactly this way as it calls for almost no herbs or spices. I like to add oregano and basil, plus I usually throw in extra vegetables like mushrooms and green pepper.
Beef stew (Nicholas’s variation)
This was one of the first I tried in a slow cooker. I can’t find it on the web, but it came with our Crock Pot and I’ve modified it slightly over the years. It requires no cooking upfront, so is a snap to prepare. I’ll often chop all the vegetables and beef, storing them separately in the refrigerator the night before. Then it’s just a matter of tossing them all in the pot in the morning.
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 chopped carrots
- 2 chopped parsnips
- 2 cups sliced celery
- 1 pound red potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
- 2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into chunks (I usually add about 50% more than this as I like plenty of meat in my stew)
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
- 1 can diced tomatoes in juice
- 3/4 cup of water
- 6 Oz can of tomato paste
1. Place onion evenly on bottom of crock pot. Add following ingredients in this order: carrots, parsnips, celery, potatoes and beef. Sprinkle with thyme. Pour diced tomatoes and water over top of beef.
2. Cover and cook on low for 8 – 10 hours.
3. Stir in tomato paste and cover again for ten minutes
Like the beef stew above, this requires zero cooking on the stove and involves the least preparation of any of the recipes we make. Although the recipe doesn’t call for it, we also like to add a few potatoes.
This chili uses dried beans that soak up the liquid generated from the cooking. It involves very little preparation and no cooking on the stove.
Try them out and let me know what you like. Please also suggest recipes you enjoy that we should make!