Metro-East Living

Slow cooker does the work while you are sleeping

Ragu is a thrifty, nutritious Italian-style dish that can be prepared in a slow cooker.
Ragu is a thrifty, nutritious Italian-style dish that can be prepared in a slow cooker. MCT

Family mealtime is a challenge no matter the time of year. Slow-cookers are one tool in the culinary arsenal that can help put a healthy fast dinner on the table.

And, with the right recipes, you can do it while you sleep.

Slow-cooker recipes today offer a wide variety of dishes that may be delicious but don’t take into account working families. When are you supposed to make dishes that only take four or less hours? Yes, a weekend will work when you’re around the house or running short errands, but what if you want a meal ready when you and the kids get home after a long day?

The answer, if you have a cooker that doesn’t have a timer features (and many households do), is to find recipes that take six to eight hours to cook. Turn on the cooker before you go to bed and the next morning you’ve got a meal or entree.

A lot of slow-cooker recipes suggest getting everything ready for the crock, then setting it to cook while you’re at work. But, how much spare time do you have during a weekday morning to prep for a meal, fill and turn on the machine and leave the house? Probably not enough.

And, what happens if you’ve got a slow cooker going during the day and you get home late. Is dinner ruined if you’ve left the crock pot on too long? For some recipes, this might not matter, but for chicken dishes, for example, it can be a disaster.

So, consider these recipes, all of which can cook overnight in a cooker with or without a timer feature. In the morning, check for doneness, turn it off and let it cool while you get ready for work. Then, either stick the pot with the cooked meal in the refrigerator or remove the food to a refrigerator container to be heated up when you get home.

How to convert to a slow cooker

Want to adapt a soup or stew recipe from a big pot or Dutch oven to the slow cooker? Follow these tips:

  • Liquid: Slow-cooker recipes require less liquid, so use about 1/2 to 1 cup less than regular recipes.
  • Seasoning: Use half the amount of dried herbs and spices. When using fresh herbs, salt and pepper, add them 1 hour before cooking is finished.
  • Timing: A stew that takes one hour on the stove will take 6 to 8 hours on low heat in the slow cooker, or 4 to 4 1/2 hours on high.

Chicago Tribune

Crock Pot Loaded Baked Potato Soup

6 large baking potatoes, peeled, cut in 1/2-inch cubes

1 large onion, chopped

1 quart chicken broth

3 garlic cloves, minced (or pressed)

1⁄4 cup butter

2 1⁄2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 cup cream or 1 cup half-and-half cream

1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

1 cup sour cream (optional)

4 slices bacon, fried and crumbled

Cheese, for sprinkling

Combine first seven ingredients in a large crock pot; cover and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours (potato should be tender).

Mash mixture until potatoes are coarsely chopped and soupy is slightly thickened.

Stir in cream, cheese and chives.

Top with sour cream (if used), sprinkle with bacon and more cheese.

Makes six to eight 2-cup servings.

Slow-Cooker Chicken Burrito Bowls

1 to 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, chicken thighs, or a mix

14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 cup chicken stock, divided, plus more if needed

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon cumin

1 cup (white or brown) rice

15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup frozen corn

Optional toppings: shredded cheese, chopped cilantro, sour cream, diced avocado, salsa, hot sauce, diced green onions, shredded lettuce

Combine the chicken breasts, diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup of chicken stock, chili powder, salt and cumin in the bowl of a 2 1/2- to 3 1/2-quart slow cooker. Make sure the chicken is covered, and add additional stock if needed. Cover with the lid and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.

Add the black beans and corn and cook for another 1/2 hour. (You can do this when you come home at the end of the day.)

Prepare the rice during this final phase of cooking.

Use two forks to shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces. You can do this either in the slow cooker itself and then mix it into the rice, or you can transfer the chicken to a cutting board if you prefer to keep it separate. Taste the burrito mix and stir in more salt or other seasonings to taste.

Serve burrito bowls with a selection of toppings. The burrito mixture will keep for 1 week refrigerated or for 3 months in the freezer. This recipe makes about 7 total cups of burrito mix. Serves 6 to 8.

Slow Cooker Turkey Breast with Honey & Garlic

2-3 pound bone-in turkey breast

1 large white onion, chopped small

1-2 large russet potatoes, chopped small

1-2 cups baby carrots

2-3 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup chicken broth

Seasoning salt, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

Garlic powder, to taste

1/2 cup honey

1 cup white wine (or substitute more chicken broth)

Spray slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Add onion, potato, carrots and garlic to bottom of pot.

Add broth and season with some salt, pepper and garlic powder.

Season bottom and sides of the turkey as follows: spread honey on bird, then add seasoning salt, pepper and garlic powder. Turn turkey breast over and place it on top of the vegetables in the pot.

Pour wine over the turkey breast and then spread honey on top of bird and season. Cover pot and cook on low 6-8 hours. Meat should be fork tender when done.

Slice and serve with vegetables. Should serve 4.

Note: Skim fat from any leftover liquid and put a pan on the stove. Add a little cornstarch and cook down to thicken and make gravy.

Slow-Cooker Beef and Fennel Ragu

1 pound boneless beef round steak or London broil

1 small yellow onion, diced

2 carrots, finely chopped

1 fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into thin strips

2 teaspoons dry minced garlic

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes with no salt added

1 (9-ounce) jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped

Hot, cooked pasta or rice, or crusty, rustic bread slices (optional)

Slice steak into thin slices and place into a medium slow cooker. Add onion, carrots and fennel. Stir to blend all ingredients. Add dry minced garlic, tomatoes and roasted peppers. Stir to blend well. Cover and cook on the low setting for 5 to 7 hours, or until the meat is tender.

Serve over pasta or rice, if desired, or serve with crusty, rustic bread.

Makes 4 to 6 servings. Per serving, based on 4: 278 calories, 8 grams total fat, 72 mg cholesterol, 24 grams carbohydrates, 30 grams protein, 115 mg sodium, 7 grams fiber.

The Kansas City Star