Saturday, January 9, 2016

Crockery Cookery

It was a long time coming this year, but winter is finally upon us. And with winter comes comfort food: Casseroles and stew and anything else that can be made in a crockpot. I love eating winter food, and I love cooking winter food. So I thought I’d share a few of my family’s favorite delicious, warm-you-to-your-toes, crockpot recipes that my family and I have been enjoying over the past week or so. And the best part is that the recipes all have very minimal prep time, so you can throw them together quickly and then forget about them until your kitchen starts to smell like heaven. Enjoy!


Fiesta Chicken

This recipe is great because it can be served over rice or with a side of cornbread, wrapped in a tortilla to make enchiladas or burritos, used to top a green salad garnished with tortilla chips, or made into tacos. You can even use it as a pizza topping! (I haven’t tried that one yet.) The recipe can also be halved if you want a single meal for four people with no leftovers. You can also alter the ingredients and amounts depending on what you have on hand and what your family likes.

2 to 2-1/2 lbs chicken breasts
2 (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups of frozen corn (or 2 10-oz cans)
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 pkg taco seasoning mix

Combine all ingredients in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 4-5 hours or on low for 8 hours. Shred chicken with a fork and stir to combine. Serve over rice, topped with cheese.

Orange Chicken
I love this recipe because it only has a few ingredients, and the only real “work” involved is cutting the chicken into bite-size pieces. And because my super-picky 6-year-old LOVES it (as does my not-so-picky husband). Another benefit for me is that it only takes 3 hours, so I can decide after lunch that I want to make it for dinner and still have time to pick up chicken at the grocery store before I have to get it started. It’s a little on the sweet side, but serving it over rice cuts the sweetness nicely.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
¾ cup Smuckers Sweet Orange Marmalade
¾ cup Sweet Baby Ray’s Original BBQ sauce.
2 Tbsp soy sauce

Spray crockpot liner with cooking spray and cook chicken on high for 2-1/2 hours. Drain juices, cut chicken into cubes, and return to crock. Mix together remaining ingredients and pour over chicken, stirring to coat. Cook on high for an additional 30 minutes. Serve over rice.

Beef Stew

My husband is not a fan of beef stew, as he finds the meat stringy, but I think it’s very tender when cooked in the crock pot. Substitute whatever vegetables you prefer or have on hand. This stew is a meal by itself, but it’s especially good served with crusty French bread or hearty rolls to sop up the broth at the bottom.

2 lbs beef stew meat, cut into 1-1/2” cubes
½ cup flour
2 Tbsp oil
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 onion, chopped (or ½ c. frozen chopped onion)
1 cup beef broth or bouillon
¼ tsp black pepper
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 cup frozen sliced or baby carrots or 6 fresh carrots, peeled and sliced or quartered
1 cup frozen peas OR lima beans
4 potatoes, peeled and cut into eighths
1 small jar pearl onions, drained
4 cups water

Coat meat with flour, set excess flour aside. Heat oil in large skillet and brown meat on all sides. Put all ingredients (except excess flour) in covered crockpot on low for 8-10 hours. Turn up to high; dissolve excess flour (~1/4 cup) in a bit of hot water and add to thicken. Cook for 10-15 additional minutes.

Roast Whole Chicken 

Whenever my grocery store has whole chickens on sale, I grab one and roast it in the crock pot. It's a lovely dinner with just a vegetable and starch on the side, and the leftovers can be served on toast with gravy, shredded for tacos/burritos/enchiladas/quesadillas, diced for chicken salad, served over salad, or made into soup with the broth you make from the carcass (see recipe below)!

1 fresh whole chicken, 3-5 pounds
1 Tbsp coarse kosher salt
1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp poultry seasoning (or other seasoning of your choice; Italian is also good)

Rinse chicken and remove giblets from cavity. Pat dry and place in crockpot, breast side up. Rub chicken inside and out with salt, pepper, and other seasonings. Cook on high for 4-6 hours. Save carcass to make homemade chicken stock, below.

Homemade Chicken Stock
This wonderful (and wonderfully easy) overnight recipe makes chicken stock that lasts for a long time in the fridge or the freezer, and is delicious as a base for chicken soup; in mashed potatoes, rice, and risotto; and for any other recipe that calls for chicken stock. I make it with whatever vegetables I happen to have on hand, and whatever herbs I’m in the mood to use, so it never comes out the same way twice, but it’s always delicious.

Chicken carcass from above
Carrots (peeled)
Celery
Onion
Poultry seasoning
Minced garlic
Salt and pepper

Remove meat from carcass, break as many small bones as possible, and return carcass to crock. Cut the vegetables into large chunks and add, along with some poultry seasoning, minced garlic, and salt and pepper (I prefer low sodium, so I rarely add salt). Add water to within an inch or so of the top of the crock. You can cook on low for 12 hours or on high for 8, but I usually leave it on high for a couple of hours and then leave it on low overnight. In the morning, strain into containers, allow to cool, skim fat if desired, and refrigerate.

Slow Braised Beef Tips

Much like the beef stew recipe above, these beef tips come out remarkably tender and flavorful. Do not substitute regular mushroom soup for the golden – the tanginess of the golden is what gives the sauce its rich, tangy flavor. This recipe can also be made in the oven – in fact, I converted it from a regular oven recipe. If you prefer using a standard oven rather than a crockpot, use a dutch oven and set the oven at 300 degrees (cooking time will be the same). In either case, DO NOT remove the lid until the cooking time is up!  

2 lbs stew meat, cubes
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 can cream of golden mushroom soup
½ cup beef stock
½ cup sherry or other red wine
4 cubes beef bouillon, crumbled
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp paprika (or try smoked paprika – it gives a nice, rich flavor)
1/8 tsp salt (I omit this; the bouillon and canned soup makes it plenty salty)
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 pint cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 large shallot, chopped
2 gloves garlic, smashed and chopped

2 springs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped (or a tsp or so of dried thyme)
Add cubed meat to crockpot (or dutch oven). In a large bowl, mix together cornstarch, soup, beef stock, wine, bouillon, onion powder, paprika, salt, and pepper and pour over the meat. Add mushrooms, shallot, garlic and thyme and stir to coat. Cover and cook on high (or bake at 300 degrees) for 2 1/2 - 3 hours. Do not open the lid until done.

Serve over rice, mashed potatoes or egg noodles.

Pork Chops

Our Costco has the best thick-cut, boneless pork chops. We buy them in packs of 8 or 10 and throw them in the freezer. Sometimes we butterfly them, since cooking time for most recipes is calculated for ½- to ¾” thick chops. Cooking them in the crockpot is a great way to avoid having to defrost them. The first time I made this recipe, I started the frozen, non-butterflied chops on high for half an hour, then turned the crock down to low, and they were done in 3 hours! I recommend using a meat thermometer and turning the crock to warm once the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Once you know how long your usual chops take in your particular crock pot, you can go by time instead of temperature.

4-6 boneless pork chops
1/4 cup brown sugar (can also substitute honey, to taste)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
2 cloves garlic, crushed (or 2 tsp minced garlic)
salt and pepper to taste (I omit completely)

Place pork chops in slow cooker. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over pork chops. Cook on low setting for 3-1/2 to 4 hours. Thicken the sauce with cornstarch if desired and serve over rice.

Mexican Lasagna

I know, it sounds kind of bizarre, doesn’t it? I had my doubts the first time I made it. But it was a huge hit with my family, especially with my husband. And just like regular lasagna, the leftovers were even better than when it was fresh out of the pan. This is another very generous recipe, so if you don’t want lots of leftovers, cut it in half. Adjust the spiciness by using mild, medium, or hot salsa. The original recipe called for 8 oz. of cream cheese but I found that much too rich, so I cut the amount in half. It also called for a can of Mexicorn, for which I substituted frozen corn. And since I’m the only one in my family who likes black olives, I left them out and added them on top of my portion just before serving.

2 16 oz. jars of salsa, your preferred spiciness
2 envelopes (8 Tbsp) taco seasoning, divided
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
1 14 oz. can refried beans
uncooked lasagna noodles
2 lbs. ground beef
1 cup water
1-1/2 cups frozen corn (or 1 14oz. can Mexicorn or regular corn)
2 small cans sliced black olives, drained
3 green onions, sliced
2 cups shredded mozzarella
2 cups shredded cheddar

Mix together 1 Tsbp taco seasoning with cream cheese, sour cream, and refried beans and set aside. Brown ground beef in a skillet; drain. Add remaining taco seasoning and water, bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Set aside. Mix shredded cheeses together in a bowl and set aside. Spoon a little salsa into the crockpot to avoid sticking.

Layer the lasagna as follows: Cover the bottom of the crock with (uncooked) lasagna noodles, breaking to fit as needed. Spread 1/3 of the bean mixture over the noodles and top with 1/3 of beef, 1/3 of corn, and ¼ of olives. Sprinkle with 1 cup of shredded cheese and top with ¼ of salsa. Repeat twice more, ending with a layer of noodles. Pour remaining salsa on top of noodles. Reserve remaining shredded cheese, olives, and green onions.

Cover crock and cook on high for 3-1/2 to 4 hours. Ten minutes before serving, top with remaining cheese, olives, and green onions.  

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