Tool of the Trade: The Crockpot (and: Recipe Open Thread)

crockpot busyWe were pleasantly surprised when numerous commenters to our What to Eat When You Have No Time to Eat post started mentioning the crockpot — we thought it was our dirty Midwestern secret. But it truly is one of our best tools in the kitchen, and if we’re preparing dinner (beyond boiling water) it’s pretty much all we can manage on work days.  (Pictured: Hamilton Beach 33967 Set ‘n Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker, available at Amazon.com for $58.)

If you don’t have one, here are the reasons we love it:

  • The food is amazing. Moist, falling apart, delicious. It’s particularly great for recipes involving spices, as they tend to soak in.
  • You don’t have to totally know what time you’re coming home. Recipe directions frequently say things like “Cook 6-8 hours on low” — and we often find that if it cooks for 10 hours it’s just fiiiine. (And we have a super old crockpot that does not have a “warm” function.) If a meeting goes long, or if you end up bumping into a friend on the way out, or if you just need another half hour to get home — it’s cool. Whenever you arrive home, dinner will be there waiting for you.
  • Prep is, generally, easy. We’re a fan of simple recipes (we’re posting one of our favorites below) that take very little prep — more intricate things exist, but for many recipes the most difficult part is measuring out the spices, which can be done the night before.
  • Clean-up is, generally, easy. Particularly with the advent of crockpot liners, cleanup often consists of a) removing the food to serve you and your family and eating it, b) after dinner, removing the leftovers (if any) and packaging them up, c) discarding the crockpot liner, and d) rinsing the crockpot. Done. No baked-on goo to scrub at, or soak, and the dirty dishes are minimal.

Some possible misconceptions:

  • You need a family of four to use one. Nonsense — even if you’re just serving one the leftovers are awesome.
  • The food turns to tasteless mush. Again, this is not our experience. Keep in mind, if you want to serve something like chicken cutlets, the crockpot is not your friend — chicken tends to fall apart and shred in the crockpot — but otherwise, how tasty your meal is depends on how tasty the recipe is.
  • They’re expensive — not true! Most crockpots are $50-$100. Just make sure you get one with a removable stone container (our very first crockpot, 15 years ago, did not have one) but otherwise, it’s pretty easy.
  • You can only make stews.  Again, not true.  Last night we made the filling for enchiladas — over the weekend we made a whole roast chicken.  (The meat was falling off the bone — delicious.)  We also frequently make pasta sauce or soup.
  • They’ll burn your house down. We admit, the idea of leaving an appliance on all day worries us a bit. But you leave your TV plugged in all day, right?  And we have never burned down our house (or heard of anyone else burning theirs down with the crockpot), for what that’s worth.

Readers, what do you love about your crockpot? What is your favorite recipe or recipe source? (Our favorite is after the jump…)

(L-3)

To start it off, here’s our favorite recipe — we particularly like it because it involves frozen chicken, so we don’t even have to remember to defrost the chicken.

Moroccan Chicken and Lentils

.5 bag baby carrots
1.5 cup dry lentils
1.5 pounds uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breast(s) (frozen)
2T minced garlic
.75 tsp salt
29 oz fat-free chicken broth
.75 tsp ground turmeric
.5 tsp ground cinnamon
.5 tsp ground red pepper

Instructions

Add carrots, uncooked lentils, frozen chicken, garlic, salt, the spices, and then the chicken broth, in a slow cooker and cook for 5 hours on high (or 1 on high and 7 on low).  (Or, if you’re us, 10 hours on low.)

Comments

  1. Two-ingredient crock pot meal: pork loin and BBQ sauce. This makes great “pulled pork” sammies.

    • corporate-chickee :

      Yum, that sounds delicious! I will have to try that… my husband just used it the other day, it was wonderful to come home to a ready-made dinner!

  2. Check out Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker (http://www.amazon.com/Fresh-Vegetarian-Slow-Cooker-Recipes/dp/1558322566) even if you aren’t a vegetarian. The cassoulet is absolutely yummy, requires few ingredients, and tastes great as left overs.

  3. With no relation to the post above…
    check out this collection http://www.maxmara.com/it/Collezioni/Studio. I think Max Mara is one of the best fashion houses when it comes to elegant, quality corporate attire, even though it is not too popular in the States (I reside in Europe). I think the dresses in pictures 11 and 13 are the most perfect for work! Great material, perfect cut and long lasting!

    • Wow! I’ve never really paid attention to this line before, but I will from now on. Thanks for the tip!

    • Agness – Not trying to be obnoxious, but are you paid per Max Mara post or something? Noticed you posted the same thing earlier today in the dress post.

      • Sorry for the double post. Just felt that the previous topic and its comments were already spent, and we moved on to the next.

  4. Pink Shoes :

    Used the crock yesterday to make Italian Beef.

    The night before, mix 1 tsp Italian seasoning, 1 tsp crushed red pepper, 1 tsp minced garlic and 1 can of low sodium beef broth. Place in large plastic bag and add 2.5 lb beef rump roast. Place in fridge overnight. In the morning, dump contents of bag into crock pot. Cook on low 8 hours (or so). Remove beef and thinly slice. Serve on hearty rolls. Especially good with some sauted green pepper (chop one up and saute in a little olive oil). Husband loved the sandwich!

  5. Made pot roast yesterday in mine! Small roast, small red potatoes, bag of baby carrots, lipton beefy onion soup mix and a little water!

  6. I use my crock pot al the time – sometimes two or three times a week! I make roast by topping the meat with a mixture of cream of mushroom soup combined with an envelope of dry onion soup mix. If I’m feeling fancy I throw some fresh, sliced mushrooms in at the end.

    I also posted two of my absolute favorite crock pot recipes in the thread on “What to Eat When You Don’t Have Time to Eat.” They are turkey-spinach lasagna and turkey-pumpkin-black bean chili. My family of 5 can actually polish off both at a single meanl.

    I’m always looking for new crock pot recipes, so I can’t wait to read some more posts!

  7. Hmm … this sounds very meat-centric.
    Does it work for anything less “hearty”? (Sorry, but the idea of veggies that spent 6-8 hrs cooking — even on low — just sounds gross & I do not eat a lot of meat).

    • You can make soups that need to simmer (which really, is almost all of them) – like a potato soup, for instance.

    • Cholent and chili are both great in the crockpot – anything that involves beans will be good.

    • Cooking Light’s basic crock pot book has a whole chapter of vegetarian entrees (none of which I’ve tried so far – I’m getting to it). Williams Sonoma’s crockpot cookbook (recipes Google-able, so you don’t have to have the book) has an aMAzing ratatouille recipe which my meat-eating husband and I love to make and to eat. It is also phenomenally simple and has only a few ingredients other than mounds of veggies.

    • I’d reiterate my suggestion for Fresh from the Vegetarian slow cooker. Everything I’ve made has been great.

    • absolutely – I have a great meatless (made with Boca crumbles) soup that I adapted from my sister’s meat filled one:

      1 bag Boca meat crumbles (looks like ground meat) (for meat people, my sister uses 2Lb. ground meat cooked)
      1 onion, browned in a skillet with Olive Oil and minced garlic
      2 cans of progresso minestrone soups
      1 can of Large ranch style beans
      1 can of “Rotel” (if you aren’t in the south and don’t have rotel, any can of diced tomatoes with spices)
      1 Can vegetable or beef broth

      after you have cooked the onion, throw everything into a crockpot and cook on LOW for 2-8 hours. the longer it is together, the better the spices are. I’ve noticed the the boca crumbles get a little rubbery if I leave it longer than 8 hours.

    • you can also cook dried beans in it: http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2008/10/cooking-dried-beans-in-crockpot.html

      http://crockpot365.blogspot.com actually has tons of great recipes, and her book is great, too

  8. If anyone owns a kindle – amazon has a great book with crock pot recipes for free on their website. I don’t have a crock pot yet, but have been drooling at the book and a crock pot is going to be my next kitchen purchase.

  9. I made gumbo this weekend for a bunch of my friends in my crockpot–it’s a bit more complicated than most crockpot recipes because you have to make a roux beforehand (which turns out is a lot harder than it sounds given that it’s mixing two ingredients), but if you have time, it’s delicious–I got the recipe from my brother, who lives alone, so he just makes it and freezes it to eat all week. Some of the ingredients need to be adjusted depending on the size of the crock pot(they won’t all fit in my 4-qt one), so just use less of whatever you want :

    (2) 16 OZ cans stewed tomatoes
    (1) 2 LB bag of frozen okra
    (1) Diced red bell pepper
    (1) Diced green bell pepper
    (1) Diced white onion
    3-4 cloves of garlic (you can get garlic already diced, it’s alot easier)
    (1) Lb Andouille or Kielbasa sausage, cut into 1/4″ slices
    (1) Lb peeled shrimp
    seafood stock (just add however much you want to make it the consistency you want. Some people prefer more which will make it turn out more like a soup, but I prefer it a little thicker. I’d guess around 8-10 ounces would be best)
    roux (mix about 1 cup vegetable oil & 1 cup flour in a skillet and heat about 20-30 minutes, until it turns dark brown. It’s a pain to make this because you have to keep stirring it or else it will burn and stick to the pan)
    salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and hot sauce depending on how you want it to taste

    Add everything but the shrimp into a crockpot and cook on low for 6-7 hours. Pour the shrimp in last because they only take about 10-20 minutes to cook. Usually served over white rice. Don’t mix the rice in with the gumbo because if you end up freezing it the rice basically disintegrates when it thaws out.

  10. Kristin B. :

    Got a basic 5 qt crockpot from Bed Bath & Beyond for $15 (I used one of the 20% off coupons they seem to send out every month), and it has been a lifesaver as I begin my career.

    I love making “stone soup,” alternately known as leftover soup or kitchen sink soup (because it has everything but the kitchen sink). Basically, about 3/4-1 pound of whatever meat I have on hand (ground turkey, chicken breasts, ground venison, stew meat) browned in a skillet with plenty of seasoning. I put that in the bottom of the crockpot, and then I add whatever veggies I have (frozen or fresh) cut into uniform pieces. This usually includes onion, celery, carrot, peeled turnips, bell peppers, green beans, etc. Add a can of diced tomatoes or a can of V8 juice, then add enough water or stock to cover the veggies and meat. If using water, add 3-4 bouillon cubes. Add salt/pepper, seasoning (Italian seasoning, bay leaves, garlic, etc), and cook on low 8ish hours.

    I freeze the leftovers in individual gladware type containers to take to work for lunch!

  11. this blog has a lot of crockpot recipes (including many without meat: check out the “index” tab), all of which are gluten free: http://crockpot365.blogspot.com

  12. One of my favorites – Stupid Chicken (so called because it’s so stupidly easy!)

    4 raw skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
    1 can Italian-seasoned diced tomatoes (28 oz.)
    1 envelope Lipton Recipe Secrets Herb & Garlic seasoning

    Throw it all into the slow cooker. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Serve over pasta, with Parmesan on top if you like.

    My slow cooker runs a bit hot so when I make this I usually add a 15-oz can of plain tomato sauce to the other ingredients. The chicken does get shreddy but that’s part of the charm. :-)

  13. My husband and I are med and law students, respectively, so we thought we didn’t have time to cook. But this year we’ve taken up crockpot cooking with an absolute passion. Unlike C, we don’t usually do this on weekdays, but prefer instead to make crockpot recipes on Saturday and Sunday, producing either fabulous and stress-free dinner parties or leftovers for at least two weeknights the following week (we were not leftover people before the crockpot, but crockpot stuff seems to reheat really well). My husband had never cooked before we got married but is now quite confident following crockpot recipes either alone or with me alongside, since they’re basically foolproof (hard to burn or overcook, easy to substitute ingredients, and made without involving fiddly techniques or terminology).

    We didn’t like the books that came with the pots (we have – and use! – two pots, a four-quart for soups, applesauce, and steelcut oats, and a six-quart for most full-dinner recipes) since we aren’t ketchup and cream-of-mushroom soup folks, but we’ve since become hooked on the fancy-but-basic slow cooker books from Williams Sonoma (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0848731395/ref%3Dasc_df_0848731395985084/%3Ftag%3Daskcomel-20%26creative%3D380333%26creativeASIN%3D0848731395%26linkCode%3Dasn) and Cooking Light (http://www.amazon.com/Cooking-Light-Essential-Recipe-Collection/dp/0848730682/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1263931392&sr=1-1).

  14. I’m also a big fan of “Fresh From the Vegetarian Slow Cooker.” I think this is from it, but I’m not 100% sure. I’ve let it go for way longer than 4 hours — once I accidentally left it on overnight, and even then the top layers were edible. (Bottom layers….not so much.) It’s delicious, and makes a bunch of really good sauce — I’ve had it over soba noodles, those cellophane starch noodles, and brown rice, and it works really well with all 3. (My favorite is probably with the brown rice, since the rice soaks up the sauce the best.)

    Slow cooker bok choy

    1 Tbsp soy sauce
    1 Tbsp hoisin sauce
    1/2 fl oz mirin
    1 Tbsp water
    1 Tbsp peanut oil
    1 clove(s) garlic clove(s)
    1 tsp ginger root, minced
    3 heads baby bok choy, trimmed and halved lengthwise
    3 medium scallion(s), thinly sliced

    In small bowl, combine soy sauce, hoisin, mirin, and water. Set aside.
    Spread the oil in the bottom of slow cooker and turn heat setting to high. Add the garlic and ginger and arrange the bok choy on top. Sprinkle with the scallions and pour the soy sauce mixture over all. Change the heat setting to low, cover, and cook for 4 hours, until the bok choy is tender. Serve hot.

    • This sounds yummy. I’m on the fence — I love the convenience & easy clean-up, but I don’t eat much meat or pre-packaged ingredients like soup mix, etc., so not sure if actually getting one of these would be a waste. But this sounds awesome — I am going to investigate this Fresh from the Vegetarian book!

      • Well for what it’s worth, I’m vegetarian and don’t eat any prepackaged stuff (the only packaged things I eat are Fiber One cereal and yogurts, pretty much), and I use my slow cooker pretty often. There are a few soups/stews that I really like, and there is a sweet and sour cabbage recipe (all in the Fresh from the Vegetarian book) that I want to marry. (I toss in some vegetarian sausages from Trader Joe’s to make it more of a main dish rather than a side.)

      • I don’t eat processed food either and I am trying to cut down on my meat consumption (what meat I do eat is only local grass-finished beef and the like). I love my crock pot and have found plenty of great recipes on the Year of Slow Cooking site, and whenever there is a recipe involving something like cream of mushroom soup in a can, I’ve gotten good at making substitutes through cream/milk, mushrooms, etc. You can find good natural substitutes for those processed ingredients on the internet.

  15. genderoles :

    We have a slow cooker and haven’t found too many recipes we like yet. But I have high hopes for this one I just found on my favorite food blog.

    http://smittenkitchen.com/2010/01/southwestern-pulled-brisket/

    I haven’t made it yet, but I’ve cooked several other things from this blog and they were all excellent.

  16. I love my crock and usually make two dishes a week in it. Often I make chilli (raw beef on the bottom of the pot, 1 can of veggie chilli, 1 can of black beans, 1 can of pinto beans, 1 diced tomato, 1 small can green chillies, 1 small can corn, half a diced onion, garlic and dried red pepper on low for 9 hours). Have also made some really great stews and soups – the easiest being french onion soup – 1 onion diced in beef broth cooked on low for at least 5 hours to however long you like – then serve with ripped bread and cheese on top. My husband also loves using the crock to make pulled beef.

  17. Oh! and a great crockpot tip – always use a little olive oil to grease your stone dish and you’ll have way less cooked on mess to deal with at clean up.

  18. Crock Pot Lasagna!
    - 1/2 box pre-cooked lasagna noodles
    - 1.5 cup cottage cheese
    - 1.5 cup parmesan cheese (shredded)
    - 2/3 jar of spaghetti sauce
    - 2 cups diced veggies (optional)
    - layer, between layers sprinkle on Italian seasoning. cook on LOW – tomato sauce scorches on high

  19. divaliscious11 :

    Love my crockpot. Will post recipes later. I usually have 2 going every Sunday for later in the week dinners. I make, pull two lunch portions and freeze, and refrigerate for dinner later in the week.

  20. Looooove my crockpot. Most recent use:

    2 lbs. top round, cut 1.2 inch thick
    1 tbs. fat-free Italian dressing
    1 10oz package frozen spinach, chopped, drained and squeezed dry
    1/2 cup onion, chopped
    1 clove garlic, minced
    1 tbs. fresh basil leaves
    2 tbs. Romano cheese, grated
    1 14 oz can stewed tomatoes

    Cut steak into 2 pieces, each about 10x4inches. Place steak on cutting board and brush with dressing. Combine spinach, onion, garlic, basil and cheese in a small bowl. Stir in 1 cup of tomatoes. Spoon one cup of spinach mixture over each steak spreading to cover steak evenly. Roll up in jelly-roll fashion. Tie rolls with string. Place the meat rolls in the Crock-Pot Slow Cooker and pour the remaining tomatoes and spinach over the meat. Cover; cook on Low for 8 to 10 hours or on High for 4 to 5 hours.

Trackbacks

  1. […] never thought I’d heard Julia Roberts recommend a crockpot, and yet… she and other celebrity moms have some great advice for new mom Savannah Guthrie, […]

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