For me the crockpot is a blank canvas and what is in my freezer, fridge and pantry are the paints that I play with – depending on what’s there! Once you get the basics down, you can mix and match to create hundreds of variations you and your family will love.
Meat or beans: I usually have either one or a combination of meat and beans. Tough, cheaper cuts do beautifully, while the leaner, more expensive cuts do poorly. Also, if I know something is too fatty, I’ll cook it in the crockpot, then let it cool and refrigerate it. The next day, I can just lift off the layer of fat so that the recipe is a lot healthier. You can put in whole roasts, whole chickens, big old loins of beef or pork. Leave a little fat and skim it off later. You can also cut up your meats, but reserve 1/4 for putting in right before serving and if the chunks left in the whole time are too dry, you can pull those out. (I usually leave them all in – so you get some dry, some fresh bits)
Liquid: is key to crockpotting. I buy the Pacific organic free range chicken broth by the case, so that’s my go to liquid. You can use water, wine, beer or whatever liquid your recipe calls for. With the lid on, the liquid is going to increase, not decrease, so keep that in mind. Tomato juice is great for toughening up and/or flavoring meats and soups. Tomato paste will make it thicker, so experiment with that to see if you should add it last.
Herbs & Spices: I typically add my spices to the crockpot, and any dried herbs. But fresh ones I’ll save to chop up and add to the finished dish or the last 30 minutes of cooking, but just depends on the recipe.
Vegetables: I love slow cooked veggies – they get soft and the flavors blend. Not everyone does, so again experiment. Some things, like hard squash,tough onions and sweet potatoes and other root vegetables are just perfect for the crockpot.
Pasta and Rice: NO! Cook this separately or if you insist, add for the last 30 minutes of cooking. It gets mushy and can ruin your whole dish. Plus, it makes the leftovers a lot less useful and cuts their storage life.
Here are some of our families favorites and if you search my posts, you’ll find the Mexican Crockpot Chicken recipe I posted before:
Pot Roast: layer in one or two sliced onions, then place your frozen or fresh pot roast (chuck roast, etc) on top of the onions. Season as desired, I use salt and white pepper and sometimes sage. Then dump in one or two cans of drained green beans on top of the roast and a few reserved bits of onion, chopped really fine. No extra liquid, as the beans and onions will add a lot of liquid as they cook. Cook on low for up to 8 hours. The meat will be falling apart and the beans and onions almost like gravy.
Chicken soup: put in a whole or all the parts of a chicken (I like fryers – less fatty) and dump in all the veggies in the house: carrots, onions, celery, green beans, herbs, spices or just salt and white pepper. Cover with chicken stock and let cook on low all day. Then I usually drain out the broth, bring to a boil and make noodles or matzo balls for the boys. Then I take apart the cooled chicken and put it back in, with a second batch of thinly sliced carrot rounds. Makes a beautiful soup.
Chili is one of my favorites: brown the meat and drain it, then add with diced tomatoes, onions, celery, beans (or not if you like no bean chili) and whatever spices I feel like: chili powder, cumin, white pepper – go for it. You can add lots of vegetables if you like: red, yellow and orange peppers, fresh tomato that you need to use up, hot peppers if you like the punch. Top up with beer, broth or tomato juice and let it cook all day.
For a white chili, I use white beans, cooked turkey meat, zucchini, onions and sage. MMMMM.
Did this yesterday: took a leftover ham bone and put it in with a bag of washed black beans. Covered with chicken broth, added in a tiny bit of salt (careful ham is salty) and white pepper and bay leaves, sliced carrots, diced celery and some leftover carmelized onion from the onion soup I made Saturday. Put on the cover and let it cook all day. it was fabulous and made enough to restock the freezer for leftover nights for the next couple of months. Inexpensive meal, too! A bag of beans is less than a dollar, the ham bone and onions were leftovers and the other veggies and spices were probably only a few dollars.
I served this with Fage 0% yogurt and shredded cheddar, though my husband assured me that it didn’t need anything added to it. I was going to make up some cornbread, but I was out of eggs.
So play with your crockpot and have fun!