Crock Pot Meal Recipes for People Who Don't Have Time to Cook
Crock Pots (now called by the generic term "slow cookers") provide an economical, healthy alternative to buying takeout food on those nights you know you don't want to cook dinner. You can cook healthy, delicious food in the slow cooker and have it piping hot and ready to eat by the time you come home from work. They're economical, since you can use poor cuts of meat and they still cook up nice and tender. Even if you're late getting home, some newer models of slow cookers have timers that automatically shut the cooker off yet retain heat, keeping food warm, moist and succulent. Incidently,the television show America's Test Kitchen recently tested over a dozen slow cookers at various price points and found that all cookers, no matter how inexpensive, safely and properly cook meat. The only difference is convenience and features. I use a $10, three quart slow cooker I bought at a discount store and it works fine. I also use my slow cooker to make delicious and healthy vegetarian and vegan slow cooker meals; the more I eat this way, the better I feel!
Cookbooks for Slow Cookers
As an entrepreneur running two very busy businesses, my slow cooker gets quite the workout some weeks. The best cookbook I've found for the slow cooker is "A Taste of Home: The New Slow Cooker" published by Reader's Digest. Each recipe has just a handful of common ingredients and tastes great. It's available on Amazon and Half.com.
Three recipes that are a staple in my household are:
- Slow Cooker Beef Stew
- Slow Cooker Pot Roast
- Slow Cooker Cashew Chicken
Recipe: Slow Cooker Beef Stew
You'll notice that I don't include precise measurements for the vegetables and meat. Start with half a cup to one cup of each, or one or two carrots and one potato per person. Adjust according to your tastes and your family's appetite as well as the size of your slow cooker.
Use any cut of beef such as arm roast, bottom round, or other pot roast type meats. Peel and cut carrots into chunks and place at the bottom of the slow cooker. Layer on top of that peeled and quarter potatoes. Place meat on top of potato layer. Peel and slice onion and place on top and around the meat. Add beef broth to the slow cooker mixture and spices including two or three bay leaves. Cover and cook on low for eight to nine hours. Remove bay leaves before serving. If you like, you can also add cut up celery, fresh green beans, and peeled and cubed turnips to the stew mixture. Most vegetables work great. Sometimes we add two tablespoons of tomato paste in the last hour, stirring it into the mixture, so give more body and flavor to the stew.
Recipe: Slow Cooker Pot Roast
This is absoutely my family's favorite. Even the pets, including the cat, line up at the table for this one. All you need is a pot roast cut of meat, such as a bottom round roast, arm roast, or pot roast meat. Simply place the meat into the crock pot. In a separate bowl, combine one can of cream of mushroom soup, one measured can of water, and a package of dried onion soup mix. Stir this mixture together. It will look like wallpaper paste, but trust me, it tastes fantastic. Pour over the meat. If the sauce doesn't cover the meat, add water until it does. Cover and cook on low eight to nine hours. The meat is fork-tender and seasoned with the mixture to perfection. Use the soup mixture as a gravy and serve with piping hot egg noodles, instant mashed potatoes, and green beans or peas for the ultimate comfort food.
Recipe: Slow Cooker Cashew Chicken
Another tasty recipe with a sophisticated flair. Use chicken breasts or chicken legs and thighs with skin removed. Remove skin, wash them, pat them dry with paper towels and place in the slow cooker. Slice half an onion into pieces and place on top of the chicken. In a separate bowl mix together one cup of orange juice, a dash of paprika, and a dash of salt and cayenne pepper. Cover and cook on low for up to five hours. When you're ready to serve, remove the chicken and add two tablespoons of flour to the sauce to thicken it. Heat, stir frequently until smooth and no lumps of flour remain. Serve the chicken on top of a bed of noodles, pour the sauce over and sprinkle with cashews. You've got a healthy dish that tastes like restaurant food!
Tips and Hints for Using Slow Cookers
- You can use the cheapest cuts of meat and still get great results. In today's tough economic times, this is a wonderful way to stretch those food dollars and get more from your meat budget.
- Once you cover the Crock Pot and turn on the heat setting, do not take the lid off to check if the food is done. Every time you take the lid off of a slow cooker, you release some steam. That slows down the cooking time. Some estimate that each time you remove the lid, you lose up to an hour of cooking time! Slow cookers with clear lids enable you to peek into the pot without lifting the lid and allowing the cooking steam to escape.
- The pot roast and stew recipes leave the meat pink or reddish looking, but the meat will still be well cooked throughout.
- Clean the slow cooker with hot soapy water, but be sure not to submerge the electric cord - and of course unplug it before cleaning it!