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Jan 4, 2009 10:50 AM

Slow cooker dishes, Help

I'm a recently divorced male who likes good food. I have fair cooking skills and was thinking that a slow cooker would allow me to come home from work & have a hot, homecooked meal. I'm not asking for full recipes, but would like ideas for this type of cooking, with main ingredients listed. I haven't yet bought a slow cooker. First I'd like to see if there are enough things I can make, to justify another appliance in my modest kitchen. Your suggestions would br greatly appreciated.

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    1. One of the meals I make in a slow cooker is pork carnitas. I use boneless country style pork ribs, cut into 1" cubes, 1 onion cut into quarters for flavor. The fat in the ribs will make the meat most tender and moist. I cook it for 6 hrs and then shred the meat and make them into tacos. I also roast some tomatios with 1 serrano pepper and onions with some olive oil , and salt and pepper for about 45-50 minutes at 400°.

      1. I use my slow cooker alot - but I'm ONLY 61 and considered an above average cook :) The think I most do is a whole pork shoulder roast for carnitas. I put it in unbrowned (although I'm considering adding that step), add chunks of onion, garlic and jalapenos, salt, pepper, ground cumin (cause that's what I have) and 1/4 cup tequila. Cook on low for 6-8 hours til falling apart.

        On another thread there's a cookbook mentioned The Gourmet Slow Cooker by Lynn Alley. If your library has it, you might want to check it out. I've recently fixed an Italian pot roast and chicken with artichoke hearts and mushrooms. But were quite good.

        And, honestly, if you just use it for heating chili, etc. in it when people come over, I think it's worth it. IMO.

        6 Replies
        1. re: c oliver

          Well, I'm not 61 nor 70-anything and probably not even an average cook but I'm here to tell you that pulled pork is also easily done in the crockpot, just like carnitas! All you do is buy a pork shoulder...rub that sucker down with some nice spices like cumin, black pepper, maybe some chili powder and a little salt and some cayenne, heck, some folks love some brown sugar in that rub too...there are millions of great rubs...there's even a wet marinade that involves cider vinegar that I used for one of my son's when he was on a low-sodium diet last year...let those spices penetrate overnight and then put the roast in your crockpot with 1/4 cup of water and a little Liquid Smoke *if you like Liquid Smoke...a little does go a long way*...let it cook for a good 8 to 10 hours and you have pulled pork...barbeque sauce can be added after you "pull" it. Rmis32, there are loads of worthy slow cooker recipes out might also do a search on this boad for slow cooker's a pretty popular topic! BEANS are another great food in the slow cooker if you like them!

          1. re: Val

            Here is my favorite slow cooker recipe, in fact it was this soup recipe (made by a friend) that got me rushing out to buy a slow cooker. I would not say that I use it a lot, but when I follow a recipe specifically designed for a slow cooker it works well. I just got a new recipe book all about this I will let you know how I do...

            PS. don't be afraid of the lentils, my husband hates them but loves this. We have added in Sausage (cooked) at the end for a bit of extra ooomph


            PPS. I use ground cumin and jalepeno instead of hot sauce.

            1. re: cleopatra999

              I had all the ingredients for this Red Lentil Soup yesterday, and want to thank you for posting the link for this recipe. It was perfect for a gray, cold day, and we both loved it. I made it pretty much as is, but substituted ghee for the olive oil (it's only a tablespoon!) and Thai dragon chilies for the hot sauce. Cooked on high for about 4 hours. Didn't have cilantro, but did add a little squeeze of fresh lemon juice at the table. Nice color and flavor with very little trouble. The house still smells good!

              1. re: dkenworthy

                glad that you enjoyed it. i have passed this recipe onto endless people. everyone loves it!

            2. re: Val

              I make both pork carnitas (epicurious has a good recipe) and pulled pork in the slow cooker. It turns out very moist. Also nice because many other slow cooker recipes are very wintery type meals, so it's nice to be able to use the slow cooker other times of the year.

              1. re: mountaincachers

                I have not done pork carnitas yet, but I have done the pulled pork. It has turned out so moist and delicious. I would recommend that to anyone if you can't do it outside on the BBQ.

          2. I'm a slow cooker convert but not for anyone who's looking for a shortcut in the kitchen. I think it's more time consuming (as in using more pots and having to plan much earlier in the day) but nothing beats, as you said, coming home to a hot cooked meal. As with any dish, what you put in has to be good, eg. no condensed soups, velveeta cheese, canned chili, etc. I find stews and braises, chili work well but you need fatty cuts of meat w/ connective tissue that breaks down after long moist cooking. Think chuck roast, short ribs, chicken thighs, pork loins not chicken breast and eye rounds. It's important to season and sear the meat first and sautee the vegetables. For the most part, I season the meat, sear and add to crockpot. Sautee vegetables in the same pot, add flour and keep cooking, deglaze (wine or beer depending on what I'm cooking), then add home made stock (have tried some coffee and it's been good), season, and let thicken somewhat. Then pour over meat and cook. It varies depending on what I'm cooking. I also sometimes start w/ bacon and then sear meat in bacon fat (like coq au vin). I've done vegetarian meals w/ beans but rehydrate the beans first, sautee vegetables.

            If you're looking for a slow cooker, make sure to get one with a timer. If you're out all day, you don't want it overcooking. I like mine with three temperatures because sometimes they run hot. I think the problem w/ crockpots isn't with the crockpot but that people who want a short cut use them poorly and people started associating it with bad food. I've made braised short ribs over polenta for people who couldn't believe it was a crockpot dish.

            12 Replies
            1. re: chowser

              I think you are 100% correct and did a great job of explaining. It's kinda the garbage in/garbage out thing. If you use crummy ingredients and inadequate technique, then you just can't expect stellar results - no matter what you're cooking or how.

              1. re: c oliver

                Exactly--just about every crockpot recipe out there isn't one I'd use. I think a prime example of it is the crockpotting every day for a year blog. Throwing everything in at once won't give you good results. And, you can't "roast" a chicken in a crockpot.

              2. re: chowser

                I would add a three things. Veggies that don't take long to cook should be added at the end or they will over cook. Also, you want to reduce the liquid by at least half. What seems like not much when you start cooking will be way too much at the end. Remember, you lose less to evaporation in this type of cooking. Finally, you won't get a crisp or crunchy coating. Ie, chicken or turkey will have great meat but the texture of the skin won't be pleasant.

                1. re: breadzone

                  Totally correct about liquid. The half cup tequila is for flavor not moisture. There will be up to two cups of liquid by the time it's done.

                  1. re: breadzone

                    Thanks--there are variations, like adding mushrooms at the end that I didn't think about. And for potatoes, it depends on the variety. I reduce liquids by 1/2-1 cup. It's moist cooking, like braising, so you won't get anything crispy out of it. If I want it somewhat dryer (though it will never be like roasting in an oven), you can use paper towels below the lid. I prefer using it only for slow moist cooking.

                    1. re: chowser

                      Food Can be done in a slow cooker, BUT i would not bother.

                      1. re: mr jig

                        When you're tired and busy and walk in the door with hungry kids after 8pm, good hot food is better than not. I don't remember the last time I had enough time at home to keep an eye on a braise on the stove. I still hold that people who don't like crock pot meals are ones who've never had one done properly.

                    2. re: breadzone

                      Thanks all, for the suggestions. I'm considering a slow cooker that switches to "warm", after cooking time has elapsed. In regard to reducing liquid, do you turn it back up to high, w/ cover off, to speed evaporation?

                      1. re: Rmis32

                        The "warm" feature was the selling point on my crock pot. My husband and I love coming home to dinner (or waking up to breakfast) already done and ready to eat.

                        1. re: TampaAurora

                          breakfast eh? never thought of that? do you have any recipes to share Tampa?

                      2. re: breadzone

                        I learned a tip from Cooks Illustrated about cooking the vegetables (eg in beef stew or pot roast). If you wrap them in a foil pack and put them on top of the meat, they won't get all mushy and discolored. Usually when I use my slow cooker, I'm not at home, so can't just add the vegetables later. They also recommended tapioca as a thickener if you prefer less watery beef stew and a bit of soy sauce to make it beefier. Both of these suggestions work well.
                        I think the results of most slow cooked foods depend on using decent ingredients and also technique (for example, browning meat before throwing it in).

                      3. re: chowser

                        Excellent ideas here. I use my slow cooker all of the time and not just for soups or stews. You can also add an external timer if yours does not have a timer built in. I host a weekly blog event called Crock Pot Wednesday. There are some excellent ideas submitted there.

                      4. Slow cooking is awesome. It generally requires rather cheap ingredients, but can get you some tasty stuff.

                        Make chicken stock.
                        Make beef stock.

                        Use stock (or just water) to make so many other things:
                        potato leek soup
                        beef stew
                        pulled pork

                        It is very easy to use, and if you invest a bit of extra energy (add an onion, saute a few ingredients before adding to slow cooker, or add some reduced stock) you can get some delicious food.

                        Good luck!