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Preparing a family-pleasing meal doesn’t have to take a great deal of time and energy. Slow cookers are convenient for making dinners for one, two or more people. Use them for creating appetizers, all-in-one-meals, soups, side dishes and even cobblers and pudding.
Many of your favorite recipes can be successfully adapted to a slow cooker or crockpot if you follow a few simple rules. Try not to lift the lid of the slow cooker while cooking. Peeking will only increase the cooking time by 20-30 minutes!
A Few Simple Rules
Place vegetables like potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables in the bottom of the pot, since they take longer to cook.
In slow cooking, one cup of liquid is usually enough. For increased flavor and taste, try using wine in place of water. Beef or chicken stock is also a great substitute. For veggie soups, I like using a little V-8 Juice.
Try to use as many fresh herbs as possible when cooking in a crockpot, as they release their flavors over a long period of time. Ground herbs and spices tend to lose their effectiveness over long cooking times. I would suggest adding them near the end of cooking. Always taste and adjust your seasonings, if necessary, before serving.
Milk, cream and sour cream should be added during the last hour of cooking. The same goes for cheeses, as they generally don’t hold up over extended periods of cooking. Consider using condensed cream soups as a substitution for milk and using processed cheeses and spreads.
When you are making soup, only add enough water, or stock, to cover the ingredients in the soup. You can always add a little more later for a thinner soup.
Thickening your sauces
To make a thickened sauce or gravy for your dish, just add a cornstarch or flour mixture near the end of the cooking time. Allow the mixture to simmer an additional 10-15 minutes until thickened to your liking. You can also use a quick-cooking tapioca (crushed). Just add 1-1/2 tsps. plus 2 tablespoons of cold water per cup of liquid. Tapioca is usually added at the beginning because it doesn’t break down during the long cooking time.
Asian Chicken Noodle Soup
This is a great way to use up that leftover rotisserie chicken you bought last week. And, we all have some extra packages of ramen noodles in the pantry, right?
6 cups water
2 (3-oz.) pkgs. chicken-flavored ramen noodles
2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
2 cups chopped rotisserie chicken
1 (16-oz.) pkg. frozen broccoli stir-fry vegetables
1/4 cup sliced green onions (whites and greens)
Pinch red pepper flakes
In a 5-qt. slow cooker, combine water, seasoning packets from noodles, ginger and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Add chopped rotisserie chicken and frozen vegetables. Cover and cook on high-heat setting for 2-1/2 hours. Add noodles and stir. Replace cover and cook another 10-15 minutes, or until noodles are tender. Add and stir in the green onion. Ladle soup into bowls. Add a couple dashes of soy sauce to each bowl. Makes 6 main-dish servings.
Crockpot Clam Chowder
4 cans (6-1/2 oz.) minced clams with juice
1/2 lb. bacon, diced
1 cup chopped onion
6 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 cups water
3 tsps. salt
1 tsp. pepper
4 cups half and half (or use fat-free version)
3 Tbsps. cornstarch
Fresh parsley for garnish
If necessary, cut clams into bite-sized pieces. Sauté bacon and onion in a medium saucepan until golden brown; drain. Place clams, bacon and onion, potatoes, water, salt and pepper into 5-qt. crockpot. Cover and cook on High for 3-4 hours or until vegetables are tender.
During the last hour of cooking, combine 1 cup of half and half with the cornstarch. Add cornstarch mixture along with the remaining half and half; stir in well. Cover and heat until heated through.
Top each serving with parsley. Makes 6-8 bowls.
Slow Cooker Beef Curry
This tastes great over mashed potatoes or rice.
1 lb. beef stew meat (remove any excess fat)
1 can (14.5 oz.) stewed tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tsps. hot curry powder
1 tsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
1 Tbsp. fresh minced garlic
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup beef stock
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, and brown the beef on all sides. Place the onion in the bottom of a slow cooker, and layer with the browned beef. Add the stewed tomatoes, onion, curry powder, paprika, Italian seasoning and garlic. Mix in the beef stock. Cover and cook on Low for 6-8 hours. Makes 4 servings.
Slow Cooked Honey Garlic Chicken
8 chicken thighs, remove skin
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
3/4 cup honey
3/4 cup soy sauce
3 Tbsps. ketchup
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
1 can (20 oz.) pineapple tidbits, drained; reserve juice
2 Tbsps. cornstarch
4-cups cooked, long-grain rice
Add oil in a large skillet over medium heat and cook chicken thighs until evenly browned on both sides. Place thighs in a slow cooker.
Mix honey, soy sauce, ketchup, garlic, ginger and reserved pineapple juice in a small bowl. Pour mixture over the chicken thighs, cover and cook on High for 4-5 hours. Stir in pineapple tidbits just before serving.
In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch with 1/4 cup of water. Remove thighs from slow cooker and place over cooked rice on a large serving plate. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the remaining sauce in the slow cooker; allow sauce to thicken.
Ladle sauce over the chicken and rice. Makes 4-6 servings.