I apologize in advance that eating a salad in wintertime will only be out of sheer guilt that you have not consumed anything nutritious or vitamin-rich in months. There is no joy in eating a salad in the winter.
You will consider all the frozen dinner entrees at the grocery store with careful scrutiny. You will be able to immediately identify the difference between “cut slit in film and leave in oven for 65 minutes” with “nuke this baby and be ready to eat in twenty minutes” packaging. Time is of the essence when you are half-frozen and exhausted from your daily commute and fight for survival. Allow me to introduce you to the savior of meal time – the CrockPot.
The CrockPot (or as I like to refer to it, the Vat of Delights) comes in various sizes; from miniature that you take with you to work to warm your leftovers, to the massize-connectable-feed-a-homeless-shelter size. The obvious, but no less amazing, appeal of the CrockPot is that it “cooks” while you are away. You turn it on, you leave, you come home, and dinner!
First of all, you do not need a whole separate cookbook for the CrockPot. It is virtually idiot proof. It is fun, however, to browse the internet for inspiration. Chicken & Gravy, Sauerkraut & Sausages, Meatball Stroganoff – all are as simple as they sound. Ponder what is tasty when served hot, and break it down into the skeleton elements, and then re-create!
For example, I love a good chicken pot pie. How would I go about recreating a chicken pot pie in the CrockPot? Well, first I’d google it. And if there isn’t a “slow cooker” specific recipe out there, I’d look up “ingredients in chicken pot pie.”
Then, I would think about the proportions of my CrockPot, get the ingredients listed for a traditional pot pie (minus the crust), and cook it in the CrockPot. To achieve the flaky crust satisfaction, I’d serve it with biscuits. That wasn’t so hard, was it?
This is one of my many favorite reasons for cooking in the CrockPot. It is creative and fulfilling, which is why you might fall in love with your CrockPot, and want to use it twice a week, or more.
Some “Rules of Thumb” For Experimenting With Your CrockPot
- Root vegetables (onions, carrots, celery, potatoes, etc.) should always be placed first, at the bottom of your pot. These take the longest to cook. If it is thick, tough, or starchy, allow it to be the “stones in your foundation”.
- YES – RAW MEAT GOES IN. It will touch everything else and you will be like “This goes against all my previous understanding of raw meat preparation safety!” Get over it. Your raw chicken cutlets will touch your carrots and your cow butt will ooze blood on your potatoes. Totally ok.
- Sufficient liquids. This can be a variety of things, or just one source. Consider if you are putting, say, two cans of corn in – there is some liquid there, but will need to be bolstered. Add water, chicken broth, beef broth, veggie broth, a little Dr. Pepper (seriously makes crazy good shredded pork), or whatever. Liquids keep it “simmering” instead of drying out.
- Season with gusto! Fresh and/or dried is great. The grocery store will have a little section (typically near canned soups) of pre-measured, packaged “slow cooking” seasoning kits. They also have recipes on the back, but they will tell you what you already know. Vegetables + Meat + Liquid = Liftoff Dinner Time.
- To keep a CrockPot-ready pantry stocked, be sure to have one or two of the following on hand to stare at before your brain clicks together to figure out what supplements you need to pick up:
- Chicken broth (or any broth)
- Frozen bags of vegetables (a 16oz/1lb bag is standard)
- 16oz/1lb bag of DRY beans and/or several cans of beans (whatever beans you want, honey)
- Pick out one or two of the prepackaged seasoning packets that sound good. Typically, you’ll just need to pick up some meat and have 1-2 cups of veggies (which is what your frozen bags are for)
My most recent favorite go-to CrockPot recipe has to be a Vegetarian Sweet Potato Chili that I adapted from this recipe. I made the original recipe a couple times, and while I LOVED it, my husband was not as big of a fan. The unsweetened cocoa powder, and cinnamon, made it a little too “sweet and smoky”, rather than the true spicy chili that he loves. However, he really likes this current version that I make, and it’s just too easy.
Sweet Potato Vegetarian Chili
- (2) cans fire roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
- (1) can black beans, rinsed & drained
- (1) can kidney beans (dark or light red), rinsed & drained
- (2) 4oz cans diced green chilies, undrained
- (1) green bell pepper, chopped
- (1) red onion, chopped
- (2-3) garlic cloves, minced
- (3) medium-size sweet potatoes, peeled & cubed
- About 28-30 oz Vegetable broth (I just eyeball it until there’s a nice layer, and then I add about 2 cups cold water until the liquid is ALMOST covering the ingredients)
- The Spices
- Chili powder
- Cayenne pepper
- Ground white pepper
- Ground black pepper
- Whatever else looks like it’d be good in chili and you’re trying to use up
- Acquire all the basics and prep
- Line CrockPot with a disposable, bad-for-the-planet plastic liner (or don’t)
- Add Sweet potatoes first, then onion, pepper, garlic, beans, chilies, then tomatoes
- Add liquid
- Add spices
- Plug in CrockPot, and cook on “low” setting for 6-8 hours
- Serve with sour cream, cheddar cheese, Fritos corn scoops or crackers – whatever you like with regular meat chili
- EAT IT
- Good job.