Great Crock-Pot Meals

Great Crock-Pot

Now that it's getting colder outside, you're looking forward to a nice, warm, hearty dinner that's ready when you get home. It's the perfect time of year to break out that crock-pot or slow-cooker to make a thick, beefy chili or a chunky vegetable stew. We've got some suggestions for great crock-pot meals that'll warm you up after a long, cold fall day. 

Meatballs

This is a versatile dish because you can customize it to taste. If you like a more tangy and fresh option, you can add ingredients like citrus dressing or lemon zest; if you like them more traditional, add tomatoes and cilantro. Just add the flavorings that you like to a bag of frozen meatballs, leave it in the crock-pot, and come back in a few hours after watching a movie or running errands.

One option is to make honey garlic meatballs. Mix together a quarter cup of honey, ketchup, and brown sugar, then add a few minced garlic cloves and a tablespoon of soy sauce. Pour the mixture over a bag of frozen meatballs and leave it on the crock-pot for four hours.

Lasagna

You don't just have to bake lasagna in the oven- you can make it in the crock-pot as well. It's a great, hearty family meal for those colder fall nights. Start by cooking a pound of ground beef round until it's no longer pink. Layer the bottom of the crock-pot with tomato sauce, then add a layer of frozen ravioli. Over top of the ravioli, add some ground mozzarella cheese. On top of the cheese, add a layer of beef. Continue adding layers until you've got your lasagna. This should be ready in about 4-6 hours.

Chicken

Chicken is a great option for the crock-pot because the slow cooking time allows the chicken to really soak up the flavor and moisture. Chicken is also such a versatile base: you can make anything from barbeque chicken to cacciatore. Or you can make a simple, inexpensive chicken and rice dish. Pour a few cans of vegetable stock or cream of chicken soup into the crock-pot, add your boneless skinless chicken breasts, and it'll be done in about 7-8 hours. Then mix the chicken with some rice and you've got a family dinner that everyone will love.

Beef Stew

This is the ultimate winter comfort food. While it has more ingredients and it takes slightly longer to make, you can cook a lot at one time and freeze it for later. Add chunks of potato, cooked beef, corn, oregano, Worcestershire sauce, carrots, onions, flour, celery, and beef broth into the crock-pot. The stew should be done in about 6-7 hours.

You can also add variations to the traditional beef stew. If you're a vegetarian, substitute tofu or soy for beef. Likewise, if you're not a fan of certain vegetables, you can substitute those in and out as well. Crock-pot stew gives you a wide range of options to slow-cook the foods you love in order to retain the moisture, flavor, and texture of a great autumn meal.

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Slow Cooker Sides

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It is once again that time of year. The leaves have been changing colors and falling to the ground, and the temperatures are dropping. The holiday season starts out with Thanksgiving. What is an easier way to prepare holiday means for busy mothers than to prepare a side dish or two in the slow cooker? There is a wide array of delicious slow cooker side dishes available.

Rustic Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are a staple on any holiday dinner table. There is no easier way than to prepare this side dish in a crock pot. The ingredients needed for these scrumptious potatoes are:

  • 3 lbs of baking potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces that are a couple of inches (Yukon gold work wonderfully, or russet are good as well)
  • 1 cup of whole milk
  • 2 - 14 ounce cans of seasoned chicken broth
  • 6 cloves of garlic, cut in half
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup of butter

To make this dish, put the potatoes and the garlic in a 3 1/2 to 4 quart crock pot and pour the seasoned chicken broth over the potatoes and garlic. Depending on how much time is available, the potatoes can either be cooked on high heat for 3-4 hours, or low heat for 6-8 hours. Once the potatoes are cooked, drain them and return them to the crock pot. Heat the milk and butter until the butter is melted then pour over the potatoes in the crock pot and mash together. More milk can be added if the consistency of the potatoes are too stiff. The potatoes can be left on low heat in the crock pot to keep them warm until serving, making it easy to prepare them earlier in the day.

Apple Buttered Sweet Potatoes

Another great side dish that's a breeze to make in the crock pot is apple buttered sweet potatoes. For this dish the ingredients needed are:

  • 3 lbs of sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2 medium tart cooking apples
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (to taste)
  • 1 cup apple butter

In a 3 1/2 to 4 quart crock pot, place the sweet potatoes and apples. In a medium sized bowl combine the whipping cream, pumpkin pie spice and apple butter. Pour the wet mixture over the sweet potatoes and apples and stir gently to combine. This dish can cook on low heat for 6 to 7 hours, or on high heat for 3 to 4 hours.

These are just two of many side dishes that are delicious and simple out of the crock pot. Other examples of side dishes that are simple and stay delicious until serving out of the crock pot include:  creamy corn and roasted red peppers, tex-mex mac and cheese, easy cheesy potatoes and broccoli in alfredo sauce.

 

I Just Got A Slow Cooker…Now What?

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A slow cooker can be the start of a new cooking experience that leads to a more simplified, less stressful lifestyle. It can also be the encouragement you need to get more organized in the kitchen. Using this convenient kitchen appliance on a frequent basis gives you an opportunity to reduce your grocery expenses while preparing new, healthy recipes for your family.

With your new kitchen helper, you can easily prepare large quantities of food with a minimal amount of skill or effort. Once-a-month cooking marathons are a wonderful way to simplify your life. Slow cookers are an ideal accessory that makes cooking in large quantities incredibly easy. If you are a new user, there are a few additional items you will need if you decide to cook large amounts of food at one time. You will need some freezer bags and storage containers. As a new user, you may want to do some research on freezer tips to be sure that you follow the best method for the type of food you are freezing.

If you want to prepare a month of meals at one time, you will have to do some planning. First of all, you'll need to block off one day, or possibly two half days, for cooking. You'll need a menu plan. It's helpful if you can go shopping the day prior to your scheduled cooking day. Go shopping with a list in hand that includes everything you will need to prepare the items on the menu you prepared.

On the day you are doing your once-a-month cooking, start with the recipes that will go in the cooker first, then move on to baked goods or stove top cooking. As a time saver, chop all of the vegetables you will need for the recipes at one time. You can then measure out what you need for each recipe without having to switch from mixing to chopping. You'll find this really will save you some time.

Many of the recipes for your favorite soups, stews and sauces can be doubled so that you can freeze them in meal size portions. Once these have been removed from the freezer and thawed in the refrigerator, you can reheat them in the slow cooker. That makes life even easier for you. Now, go search through your recipes, plan your shopping, and soon you'll be ready to prepare recipes in large quantities, freeze them in mealtime portions, and enjoy the time you save.

Happy Halloween! Slow Cooker Dessert

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Kids are back in school and our lives are busier than ever. I found making slow cooker desserts is a time-saving way to give my kids a healthy homemade snack choice during busy times. Apples and oranges are popular and healthy autumn fruit that always cook perfectly in a slow cooker. Choose autumn fruit for your slow cooker dessert recipes that you know your kids will eat. My kids love apples, so I try to create healthy slow cooker desserts that incorporate them. One of my favorites is apple raisin crumble because it is affordable, yummy and healthy.

Apple and Raisin Crumble

Ingredients:

5-6 apples, peeled and sliced
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup raisins
3 Tbsp. butter, softened
1 tsp. cinnamon

Directions:

1. Lightly butter the inside of the slow cooker. You can also use cooking spray.
2. Spread out the apples evenly at the bottom of your crock pot
3. Mix together the sugar, flour, oats, raisins, cinnamon and butter
4. Sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly over the apples
5. Cook on low for approximately 3 to 5 hours

This is a dessert that can be enhanced with a multitude of toppings. Sprinkle a little cinnamon over the apple crumble, then top it with crushed walnuts. Walnuts are healthy and add a wonderful burst of flavor to the apple crumble. Put some whipped cream on top of the apple crumble, then drizzle a little caramel sauce over it for an extra heavenly flavor.

I love this dessert because the leftovers can be frozen to be eaten at a later time. I put individual servings of the apple crumble in airtight plastic containers. These individual desserts are perfect taken out of the freezer the night before a school day and used as a snack for my kids' lunch. If you have unexpected company, pop the desserts in the microwave for a few seconds to thaw, then add your favorite topping and serve.

It’s Getting Chili: Classic Chili Recipe

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When the weather turns cool and the leaves begin to fall from the trees, you know it's the perfect time to whip out your stock pot or slow cooker and make a batch of chili. As your family and friends gather around for a tailgate party or to watch a football game, you can ensure that their bellies will be full when you serve them this traditional hearty dish.

The great thing about this recipe is that you can serve it the day you make it or freeze it for use at a later time. Whether you want to eat a steaming hot bowl of chili, top hotdogs with it or slather it on top of spaghetti noodles, chili is a versatile dish.

Here is a traditional recipe you can make anytime:

1 pound of ground beef (or ground turkey, for a healthier alternative)
2 - 15 oz. cans of kidney beans
2 - 15 oz. cans of diced tomatoes
2 - 15 oz cans tomato sauce
1 medium onion, diced
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. chili powder
sugar (optional: 1/4 - 1/3 cup for a sweeter mixture)

While your ground beef is frying in the skillet over medium heat, peel, slice and dice your onion into 1/4 inch pieces. Once your ground beef is almost cooked, throw the onions into the pan and continue cooking until the onion is translucent. Once done, drain the grease from the mixture and place it in your stock pot or slow cooker.

Drain and add the kidney beans to your meat and onion mixture. Add the tomato sauce and the diced tomatoes to the pot, as well. Choose your level of heat. You can turn the fire up to medium-high when you're in a hurry, or use medium-low when you plan to let your concoction simmer for several hours.

Now it's time for seasoning. Start with one teaspoon each of the chili powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Taste your dish frequently and adjust the amounts to suit your taste if necessary. If you prefer your dish to have a sweet quality, add 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup of sugar to the mixture. Add seasonings slowly and taste as you proceed. Once you have the amounts just right, record them for future use!

As the days grow shorter and darker, you can rest assured that everyone who tastes this dish will request it again and again, and by planning ahead, you can always have it on hand to fulfill those requests.