Slow cooking for fast family meals
I am the mother to an extremely sassy toddler. I also work full-time. So like many working moms, I have developed a series of routines that help me balance both sides of my life. One of which is the after-work-dinnertime-routine. It goes like this: Every day, I leave the office and pick up my daughter from the babysitter’s house. We then drive home, let the dog out to go potty and make dinner. I say that “we” make dinner because this particular 17-month-old girl wants to be held for the first 30-ish minutes that we spend at home, after spending the day away from mommy. Of course, I don’t mind this at all. She keeps my arms tone. Plus, I missed her too. It makes me feel great, and I know that her desire to hang with (or on) mom won’t last forever. However, this particular ritual also poses as a challenge because by the time we get home, it’s time to eat. She’s hungry, and she’s not at all shy about letting me know.
The desire to be held during dinner preparation has cut my evening use of the oven and stove out almost completely. I have to distract her and then quickly cook, if I want to cook in the traditional sense. These days, I have to find creative ways to prepare healthy meals that she won’t immediately throw on the floor. The microwave is in use more and more now, and I have a renewed appreciation for my slow cooker. To be honest, the relationship that I have with my crock pot has never been better, and I use it to prepare a meal at least once a week. YOU CAN COOK ALMOST ANYTHING IN THAT MIRACULOUS LITTLE BUCKET. Who knew?
Now, I am a countertop cook. By adding one step to my morning routine, I’ve simplified the dinnertime one. Instead of trying to prepare food in a hurry when we get home, I put our meals together in the morning before anyone else in the house wakes up. They cook slowly throughout the day, so when we get home there’s no need to try and figure out what’s for dinner and then literally juggle dinner preparation and a child in a timely fashion. Dinner is already done!
Here’s another awesome thing that I’ve discovered about my slow cooker. It makes really soft food — soft food that’s ideal for a kid with 5 ½ teeth. Plus, dishes like stews and soups provide a nice opportunity to work new vegetables into the mealtime mix and introduce new flavors. Well, you get the idea. Slow cooking good. Hurried cooking bad.
Here are a few easy, family-approved recipes that will get you started on the road to slow cooking.
- Huevos Rancheros Casserole - Put the Olé in Casserole with this slow-cooker spin on a classic egg favorite. A satisfying dish for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner.
- Turkey and Kale Meatballs - Introduce your family to a new green (and superfood) through meatballs. Sheer, diabolical, dinnertime genius.
- Sweet and Savory Butternut Squash Soup – Adding pear to this soup provides just enough sweet to encourage trial by toddlers and grown-ups alike.
Mine is beef or even a pork roast cooked until very tender then add quartered potatoes, onions, and carrots along with Mortons’ Natures Seasoning to taste ! You can make a gravy when it is done if desired!
Chicken Enchilada Chili
1 1/2 pounds chicken (boneless & skinless, OR fish out the bones and skin after about 4 hours)
1 1/2 cups prepared enchilada sauce (read labels carefully if avoiding gluten)
2 chopped celery stalks
2 (14.5 oz) cans tomatoes with seasoning (your choice: I had garlic and olive oil on hand)
2 (15 oz) cans pinto or kidney beans, undrained (or 1 cup dried pinto beans, soaked overnight)
1 onion, diced (or 1 tablespoon dried, minced onion flakes)
1-2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
Pour enchilada sauce and canned tomatoes into the bottom of a 6 quart slow cooker. Add beans, celery, onion and spices. Stir to combine. Place chicken on top.
Cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours, or until flavors have combined. If you are using dried beans, you may need to cook longer to fully soften the beans. Since I was using the chicken quarters I got on sale, I fished out the chicken after about 4 hours, and removed the bones. I then stirred the chicken back into the pot.
Serve with shredded cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream, if desired
Our favorite “recipe” is a pretty simple & versatile chili.
Homemade chicken/veggie stock (enough to cover everything)
Fresh beans (pinto, black eyed peas, lady cream peas, whatever’s handy)
Random assortment of veggies (whatever needs to be eaten soon, including leftovers that have been in the fridge for a couple days, even if there’s only 1 serving left)
A can of diced tomatoes
Meat (shredded chicken, ground beef, sliced pork chop, again, whatever’s handy & needs to be eaten soon)
Season to taste (usually just garlic salt & pepper since my son doesn’t like anything spicy)
We make this every other week or so to clear leftovers out of the fridge.
Crock Pot Mac n Cheese
1/2 pound elbow macaroni
4 cups shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
1 (12 fluid ounce) can evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Coat the inside of the slow cooker with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, beat eggs with fresh and evaporated milks. Mix in uncooked macaroni and 3 cups shredded cheese. Transfer to slow cooker, and sprinkle remaining cheese on top.
Cook on low for 5 to 6 hours. Do not stir or remove lid while cooking.
Marvelous Crock Pot Mac & Cheese
•1 1/2 cups macaroni (your choice of pasta)
•1 cup mild cheddar cheese, shredded
•1 cup medium cheddar cheese, shredded
•1 cup Velveeta cheese, shredded
•1/2 cup cottage cheese
•8 ounces of evaporated milk
•12 ounces of 1% or 2% milk
•6 ounces of butter (melted)
•1 teaspoon sea salt
•1 teaspoon black pepper (optional)
In separate bowl, mix and stir macaroni with melted butter.
Also mix together 3 cups of shredded cheese (excluding cottage cheese) in its own bowl.
Grease slow cooker with non-stick spray. Add mac and all other ingredients to crockpot (excluding 1 cup worth of mixed shredded cheese).
Stir ingredients and then add the last cup of mixed shredded cheese to top of mac.
Cook 6 to 7 hours on low. Do not stir while cooking.