Crock-Pot Meals Simplified

This bean-spinach soup was created in a slow cooker using 4 simple ingredients.

What is slow cooking? To be clear, it is the same as braising; cooking over low temperature in a covered pot with a bit of liquid added to create a moist environment.

This method of cooking differs from roasting, frying, boiling, grilling and broiling.  Slow cooking is usually done in a crock-pot but you can also use a covered fry pan or covered casserole dish in your oven.

Crock-pot cooking usually includes the following 4 types of ingredients:

  • Proteins like chicken legs & thighs, pork shoulder, loin & ribs, chuck steak, deep water white fish, shrimp, and beans.
  • Vegetables like the mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery), bell peppers, mushrooms, garlic and potatoes.
  • A braising liquid like wine, broth, vinegar, soy variants, or your favorite marinades (which also enhance flavor)
  • a flavor enhancer like tomato sauce, cream soup, herbs & spices, honey, hot pepper, Oriental or Cajun sauce.

Examine  recipes for slow-cooked meals and you will usually find these four types of ingredients listed. Here are a few tips and tricks to use them in your slow cooker:

  • Beef, pork and lamb are usually marinated or rubbed with spices, patted dry and browned in a little oil before placing  them in your crock-pot.
  • Seafood requires very little cooking-time so put it into the pot near the end of the cooking time. Watch it carefully so it does not over-cook.
  • Saute onions with garlic and Ginger before putting it into the crock-pot. This increases sweetness and intensifies flavor.
  • Leafy vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard can be put into the crock-pot near the end of the cooking time.
  • Chop root vegetables approximately the same size so they cook evenly.
  • When using Better Than Bouillon® with water, mix it first so it is dissolved before putting it into the crock-pot.
  • To speed up the cooking time, I heat the liquid first before putting it into the crock-pot. Then I start the crockpot on high heat and lower the heat after it is warm.
  • Slow cookers are used for two purposes, to tenderize meat and to cook food. With meat, cook it long enough so it starts to fall apart and becomes tender. Otherwise use a thermometer to tell when it reaches a safe temperature and switch the pot to warm until dinner time. With practice you will learn how long to cook food for either purpose.
  • If you prefer to cook healthier meals, avoid salt and make your own broth for use in the slow cooker. For flavor enhancers I use herbs and spices and sometimes substitute a vinaigrette or low-fat salad dressing. some sauces are laden with salt and sugar. Hot chili peppers are common flavor enhancers and little else is required to increase the flavor.
  • Planned overs from our slow cooked veggie chili were used to make a delicious burrito when spinach, salsa and Parmesan cheese were added.

    Planned overs from our slow cooked veggie chili were used to make a delicious burrito when spinach, salsa and Parmesan cheese were added.

    After cooking, cool the leftovers in a pan surrounded by ice water. You can freeze what’s left or keep it in your refrigerator for up to five days. Enjoy it for several meals

we hope these tips & tricks are enough to get you started. You can use a recipe but we offer this simple formula so you can use ingredients from your pantry. and save a trip to the grocer.