I can't recall dedicating a blog to anyone, other than the one I wrote for my stepmother on Mothers' Day, but this one is for Tina and Suz, two of my pals from Starbucks who made a request for recipes for their slow-cookers.
So: dear Tina and Suz: Dis one's fer yinz 'n'at.
The first thing I should review, I suppose, are the few, but crucial, rules of cooking in a crock pot. I mentioned them in a previous blog* but they bear repeating.
a.) Don't cook pasta in a crock pot (unless you're monitoring it, and have put it in near the end of the cooking cycle); otherwise, it will turn into a glob of starch.
b.) Dried spices end up being much stronger than fresh ones in a crock pot. If the recipe calls for fresh and you have only dried ones, you'll need to cut back by roughly half, depending on the flavor or what the recipe offers as an alternative.
c.) You musn't keep lifting the lid to check your meal every fifteen minutes! This allows heat to escape, and the crock pot needs to "recapture" the steam - and momentum - due to that heat loss.
d.) Not every recipe can be adapted for the crock pot. For those that can, ensure you adjust measurements, especially liquid, accordingly. Cut liquid measurements to about half of what the recipe requires. You generally need very little or no liquid at all, depending on what you're cooking. For example, I recently cooked a whole chicken with no added liquid at all and ended up with almost 2 1/2 cups of chicken broth in the pot!
e.) Although it seems contradictory, it's true that browning your meat before placing it in the crock pot produces a better flavor. It seals in the juices and prevents the meat from getting too mushy. However, it's by no means a requirement. It depends on the time you have available to you...as well as how ambitious you feel! The only exception is ground meats like beef or turkey, which end up producing a lot of grease in the crock pot unless browned and drained beforehand.
f.) About one hour on HIGH is equal to around 2 1/2 hours on LOW. Plan accordingly.
Well, that's about all the rules I ever adhere to. Now, here are some things that I like to make.
Classic Creamy Chicken
The most sturdy and time-tested of slow cooker recipes is among the simplest - even if it's not very glamorous! Place four large boneless chicken breasts or six or seven breast halves in a medium-sized crock pot. Combine one can of cream of mushroom soup with one can of cream of chicken soup. Add a dash of pepper, some garlic powder, some onion powder. Pour over chicken. Cook on low for about 8 hours. Serve over rice or noodles.
This particular recipe is best in a smaller crock pot, which is the kind I generally use. Brown a half-pound of ground beef and about a half-pound of "fondue-style" steak chunks (they're less tender than other cuts). Drain, then place in the bottom of the crock pot. Add one can of petite-cut diced tomatoes (I use the no-salt-added variety), one half-can of drained, rinsed black or kidney beans, one half-can of drained, rinsed sweet corn, one can of cream of tomato soup (again, I prefer the brands with less sodium). Spices, of course, vary by individual preference, but I load my chili - stove-top as well as slow-cooked - with onion powder, black pepper, red pepper, cumin, garlic, and a sprinkle of both curry powder and cinnamon. (You'll notice I omitted fresh onion from the menu. Despite my European heritage, I've never been able to handle cooked onions. I like the flavor and the scent but I can't stand the texture, and my husband feels the same, so we're an onion-free household!) Cook on low for about 7 hours. Great mixed with rice, topped with cheddar cheese!
This one's easy. Put into a small crock pot about a pound and a half of boneless pork loin. Ribs are fine, but I prefer the loin because there's a lot more meat there. In a separate bowl, combine a cup and a half of prepared barbecue sauce (I use Open Pit. It's not the healthiest on the market, but it's cheap and it's what I remember from my childhood) with several splashes of hot sauce, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and about quarter cup of ginger ale or cola. Pour over the meat and cook on low for about 7 hours. When it's done, turn off the heat, remove the lid and let it sit for several minutes. Then, take two forks and begin to pull apart the pork. It will fall apart pretty easily. If you prefer sauce that's not quite as runny, omit the ginger ale or cola. Serve on toasted wheat buns or, for a twist, top with sauteed peppers, cheese and beans and serve atop tortilla chips or in a wrap (it's great with cole slaw).
Well, I think that's all the inspiration I can muster regarding cooking this afternoon. The hubby is getting healthy veggie burgers tonight, whether he likes it or not, since we enjoyed a humongous, rich and delicious dinner at Mallorca Restaurant in the South Side last night. I was still so full even this morning that all I've eaten today was a bowl of cereal and an egg white wrap. Hope I'm hungry when the man gets home!