For the busy parent, cooking can be a battle. On one side is the will to make a nutritious and economical dinner, on the other are babies that scream as soon as your hands are busy with raw chicken and little fingers yearning to grab a carrot while your knife is flying.
Pulling dinner from the hands of certain defeat is the humble crockpot, the ubiquitous wedding present designed to let you cook dinner on your own schedule.
Most people use take an “all or nothing” approach to slow cooker cooking. They either cook an entire meal in the crock or refrain from its use at all. The “one pot meals”, while handy and quick to prepare, get old quick. No matter how many variations the cook attempt, there are only so many times a family can eat pot roast or beef stew before revolting.
When used as a supplemental tool in meal preparation, though, the crock pot gives the cook the freedom to prepare large or complicated dishes early in the day or even the night before.
If you are preparing meat in the slow cooker, simmering it without adding additional liquid will usually yield a more tender finished product. When cooking vegetables alone, add a quarter cup of liquid and make sure to place any root veggies or tubers, like carrots and potatoes, on the bottom as they will take longer to cook.
Stir fries usually do not translate good into slow cooker dishes, but most chili, soup and stew recipes can be adapted by reducing the liquid and browning the meat before adding to the cooker.
The dishes that can be prepared in the slow cooker are endless. Here are some quick favorites.
Lemon Garlic Chicken
1 lemon, sliced
1 tsp minced garlic
1 lb chicken breasts, thawed
Arrange the chicken in the pot. Sprinkle with pepper and garlic. Top with lemon slices. Cook on low for 8-10 hours or as directed for your slow cooker.
1 lb beef stew meat
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
Place stew meat in the crock. Sprinkle with seasoning and cook on low for 8-10 hours or as directed for your slow cooker. Serve over rice or noodles or shred and use for burritos.
Country Style Carrots and Beans
1/2 lb fresh baby carrots
1 can green beans
1 small envelope garlic and herb salad dressing mix
Add carrots to crock pot. Pour entire can (including liquid) of beans on top. Sprinkle on dressing mix. Cook on low 6-8 hours or as directed for your slow cooker.
Faux Rotisserie Chicken
1 fresh roaster chicken
1 small onion, peeled
1 small envelope Italian salad dressing mix
Rinse and dry the chicken cavity. Stuff with onion. Place the chicken in the crock and sprinkle with dressing mix. Cook on low 8-10 hours or as directed for your slow cooker.