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Crock pot cooking--best ideas???

I am returning to work full time after a sabbatical and I bought a crock pot to slow cook meals to be ready for my family when we get home at night. I am new to crock pot cooking and I have done a couple of things already, but I am looking for good ideas. I have done chili and pulled pork so far with pretty good success. I am looking for things to cook that won't take a lot of time to prep in the morning before I leave since I am preparing breakfast and lunches for the kids to get everyone out the door. Any thoughts on what to put in my pot that will be relatively yummy (and healthy) by the end of the day?

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  1. HI, liveforfood, you might try jannie's Thai-flavored Thighs from this thread, very good!!! Have made it a number of times, plus there are other inspirational recipes there...ALSO, google "crockpot 365"...Stepanie O'dea has a pretty darn good website:

      1. Fresh herbs add flavor and color, but should be added at the end of
        the cooking cycle as the flavor will dissipate over long cook times.

        Ground and/or dried herbs and spices work well in slow cooking
        and may be added at the beginning.

        Garlic tends to lose it’s intensity after several hours of braising so use more than you normally would.

        Milk, cream, and sour cream break down during extended cooking.
        When possible, add during the last 15 to 30 minutes of cooking.

        Condensed soups may be substituted for milk and can cook for
        extended times.

        Some soup recipes call for large amounts of water. Add other soup
        ingredients to the slow cooker first then add water only to cover.

        Browning meat in a separate skillet or broiler allows fat to be drained
        off before slow cooking and also adds greater depth of flavor.

        Meat should be positioned so that it rests in the stoneware
        without touching the lid.

        Ensure the stoneware is always filled a minimum of ½ full and a
        maximum of ¾ full, and conform to recommended cook times.

        Crock pots are really good with soups and chilis as is pulled pork.

        Things you would normally braise will do well in a crock pot but the texture will probably be a little different than you are used to. Swiss steak is a good example. It’s good but not quite as good as it normally is. Small cost for the convenience.

        Pot roast is pretty good. Put the veggies on the bottom and the roast on top.
        You will find that 6 hours is great for the crock pot but 8 – 12 hours is a long time. The taste and texture will suffer some.

        1. My bible for slow cooker cooking is Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger. This is a real cookbook, not simply a collection of recipes. I recommend her method of cooking chicken breasts, which can be used in many other recipes. She has recipes for beans, chilis, pork, beef, chicken and more. You might check it out from the library to see if it would be useful to you before buying it. I recommend this as a very good resource. Good luck as you go back to work!

          1 Reply
          1. re: sueatmo

            I second this book. You can't get good results from a slow cooker by throwing everything into it and turning it, any more than you can get good results in an oven or on a stove by throwing everything in a pot and baking/cooking. For me, crock pots take more prep time than stove top/oven braising because you have to sear the meat and clean the pan (vs using the same pan in the oven or on the stove) but it's convenient when you're gone all day. I found the book at the library, too.

          2. I've been using the crockpot a lot lately, while eating a lacto-paleo diet, so in that sense, I suppose this is healthy? My favorites:

            Chili Verde
            - I've used pork shoulder hacked into pieces and bone-in chicken pieces with good results. The chicken was annoying because I had to remove skin and bones, and watch to make sure it didn't overcook. I don't brown the meat, just salt it., Then empty a jar of salsa verde from Trader Joe's over it, add whole or halved garlic cloves, chopped onion, a little lime juice, and lots of fresh cracked black pepper. I eat this over sauteed cabbage, serve to other with cilantro rice & beans & tortillas.

            Brisket & Onions
            - This I will brown very thoroughly in a cast iron pan. Add 1/2 cup any kind of stock, couple tablespoons each of soy sauce and worcestershire sauce, a dash of fish sauce for more salt if needed. Two sliced onions, lots of minced garlic, lots of cracked black pepper. I make the braising liquid into a gravy to serve over mashed fauxtatoes (cauliflower). When serving to others, they don't notice it's not potatoes, and I also serve up some quick crunchy kale chips.

            - Pork shoulder in chunks, with the juice of one orange, one lime, a little cinnamon, s&p, a bay leaf. Cook till tender, then I chop or shred it up, spread on a baking sheet and stick under the broiler to get crispy bits. To serve to others, I use the cooking liquid with all the meaty pieces to make Mexican rice (tomato paste, garlic, onion, cilantro) and it's amaaazing. But I normally just eat it salad style with tomatoes, lettuce, and lots of homemade guacamole.

            1. I'm sorry you already bought a slow cooker. My mornings and evening are precious to me. What has been a life, time, nutrient, and money saver for us is a pressure cooker. Rissoto-7.5 mins, pot roast-25 mins, split pea soup prep to the table about 15 mins (no pre soaking needed. We have 2. One of us is usually working until 6:00 PM. Dinner is a snap while you have a little time to sit back and have a drink.

              Lorna Sass has several good PC books as does Victoria Wise and her website missvickie.com is full of great info. I've not used a slow cooker in years unless is was to keep something warm.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Candy

                PC's are great too, just saying...I love both and they each serve a purpose for ME anyway...not true of everyone like you said for your own situation. I will say one drawback for the crockpot is dealing with and handling raw meats/poultry in the early a.m.'s kind of grosses me out...(this was excrutiating back in the old days when I was in my first trimester of pregnancy...I really got so nauseous over it)...but each appliance has it's place and both save me time and energy so I like them both.

                1. re: Candy

                  I rely on my PC too. I was looking at a recipe to try in the slow cooker, and I made a mental note to precook the beans in the PC, instead of the cooker. Then I'll make the white chili with great northern beans. We ate wonderful beans made in the slow cooker tonight.

                  1. re: Candy

                    Agreed. The idea of slow cookers seems great, so I've periodically tried to make it work for me; the reality is that in the mornings, I don't have the time or the desire to do all that prep, or (if the food has cooked overnight) deal with all that hot food. And on weekdays I'm typically away from home for much longer than the cooking times required by modern slow cookers. So I've ended up giving away every slow cooker I've ever bought, except for a small one that I hang onto just in case the urge strikes again. Pressure cooking, on the other hand, turns out to be a good fit for my long days and last-minute, what's-in-the-pantry approach to dinner.

                    1. re: Miss Priss

                      Having both would be optimal for me. During the week, I have free time in the early afternoon but then we rush around and get home about 7:30. I want dinner the minute I walk in the door and don't have the energy to cook at that time. But, on weekends, we're out during the day and get home late afternoon/early evening so pressure cookers are ideal then.

                    2. re: Candy

                      That's interesting. I thought pot roast needed time and low heat to melt the collagen and fall apart, though. Is the texture very different when cooked that fast?

                    3. You all have been SO helpful! Thanks so much for the recipes, tips, cookbook suggestions, links, etc. And I had not thought of a pressure cooker as an option before. I did do pot roast in the slow cooker this week, but actually, I could have done almost the same thing using my large oven-proof pot set in the oven on low all day. I guess the SC is more energy efficient than that, but I didn't find it saved me time. Its a mad rush in the morning getting everyone out the door and prepping then is a bit of a pain with breakfast and making lunches going on at the same time. And on the other end of the day, I am too tired to do too much prep for anything yet want good food for me and my family. I so relate to Miss Priss' "what's in the pantry approach to dinner", so maybe I'll get a PC too. And I like Candy's idea of coming home at 6, getting PC dinner prepped in a snap, and enjoying a cocktail while food cooking! I'll still work with the slow cooker trying some of what's posted here, but you have inspired me to consider a PC now. Thanks again!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: liveforfood

                        If you're using a SC with a removable pot, you can prep your slow cooker meal the night before, refrigerate the pot, and then place the cold pot in the SC when you leave the next morning.

                        1. re: liveforfood

                          I think the recipes you can just throw together are the ones you want to try during the week. I would never have tried to brown meat and veggies in the a.m. before leaving for work. What I've learned is that canned or precooked beans can go into the SC for most of the day, and they come out beautifully. I recommend finding a few recipes that work with thrown in ingredients. You can bake potatoes in the SC, as well, although I don't have any details. The SC works for us because we are retired. I didn't use it when I worked. I did use the PC when I worked though, and I would rank the PC ahead of the SC for the time when I worked. I think both will work for you. The key is finding good recipes for these cooking tools, and then relying on them. And,if the family is going for a Saturday outing, the SC would be useful in that case..

                          For years I would get home about 10 till 6 or so, and I learned to start dinner, and have it made around 6:30. After that I was toast. Naturally my cooking was influenced by how quickly I wanted to accomplish making the meal. Your cooking will be influenced by your circumstances too.

                        2. I make red beans and rice in mine all the time:

                          2 cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
                          1 large onion, chopped
                          2 bell peppers, chopped
                          4-6 stalks celery, chopped
                          1 lb andouille or other smoked sausage, sliced
                          a squirt of tomato paste (i use the tube kind, so about a heaping tsp?)
                          cayenne, salt, tobasco, and oregano to taste

                          Set it on low. Let it go all day. Cook some rice when you get home from work, make a nice green salad, and dinner is served.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: tzurriz

                            A retired teacher & cattle rancher told me to put in a well marbled frozen chunk of beef of the appropriate size with dry seasoning of my choice in the crockpot on my way out the door to school. No liquid. It is done by supper time. I have tried it, and to my amazement it worked fine. She is a German Lutheran farmer and was my PE teacher in the early 70's and was my mentor teacher when I started teaching 11 years ago. I don't argue with this woman.

                            1. re: Betty

                              I'm also a big fan of the "dry" meat method. It works particularly well with corned beef brisket, but you need to rinse it well so that icky package juice is not in your slow cooker.

                          2. Have you thought about "freezer cooking"? Example: onceamonthmom.com

                            This works well for us since it's hard to find good slow cooker recipes that fit when I have time to prep/start the slow cooker.

                            1. I highly recommend www.allrecipes.com they have a great crockpot collection. I use mine for soups and country style ribs. Also, stews, especially now that fall and winter are upon us, they all
                              make the house smell warm and cozy.

                              1. i pretty much have a dedicated 1.5quart crock pot dedicated to cooking steel cut oats overnight. set it on low for 8 hours while you sleep and wake up to steel cut oats without having to wait for them? yes please!