How to Crock Pot

Lindsey, full-time attorney and mother of Christina (3), Rebecca (1), and Allison (4 months), can be found at High Heeled Mom, a blog focusing on issues dealing with career, motherhood, and the combination thereof. She’s glad to answer any crockpot questions you have, any time. She knows how to cook other things, but usually doesn’t.  (She’s a stud- really!)

My daughter Rebecca started eating rice cereal at close to seven months old, after refusing solids for quite some time. She ate rice cereal for about a week and a half, and then one night reached for a bowl of minestrone soup that I was eating from. I smashed off a corner of a cooked carrot, and gave it to her. She gobbled it up. So I smashed up a corner of a piece of potato, and gave it to her. She gobbled it up. I tried a piece of squash, again smashed with a fork. Gone.


On a whim, I scooped a few teaspoons of the soup into a separate bowl and hacked it all up with a fork. Our family has no food allergies, and our older daughter had never shown any signs of food sensitivities, so I threw caution to the wind. Rebecca ate it all- pasta, ground beef, spices, broth, beans, and vegetables. (I did leave out the corn and green beans.)

Rebecca’s now one year and eight months old and has never stopped eating. She’s never been picky, either. And when you get close to mealtime, if there’s not food on the table, she’ll let you know just how unhappy she is about it.

I leave for daycare drop off and then work at 7 am, and I don’t get home until about 6 pm, (terrible commute), so by the time I’m home, dinner needs to be ready, and ready NOW if we want to avoid a Rebecca meltdown. (Don’t get me wrong- she’s not spoiled, just hungry.) My husband’s home alone with all three of our daughters for an hour or two before I get there, but with the three rugrats, there’s not much more he can do than turn on an oven.

Because of this (and because we’ve tried to cut down on takeout), I am perfecting the art of the crockpot.

If it’s recipes you want, I highly recommend the following link:

A Year of Slow Cooking

However, the beauty of the crockpot is that recipes aren’t needed, really, and that you can just play it by ear and things usually come out well. I follow a simple formula when improvising:
Protein (cheap cut of beef, chicken pieces, beans, lentils)
Vegetables (whatever’s handy, leftovers from another meal, anything you like from the freezer section)
Liquid (broth, water, mustard, salad dressing, salsa, tomato or pasta sauce)
Throw in everything, making sure the liquid covers most of the solids. Season with anything to taste. Cook on low a long time. Shred up the meat if you like. Serve over noodles, or rice, or baked potatoes.

Really, it’s hard to go wrong. Some of our favorites made with this formula are:
Beef stroganoff. Stew beef, some broth, a stroganoff spice packet, a big thing of mushrooms. Cook, stir in sour cream, serve over egg noodles.
Chicken noodle soup. Chicken breasts (you can start from whole and frozen, they’ll fall apart), broth, a few handfuls of mixed frozen vegetables. Add the noodles at the end of the cooking cycle.
Spaghetti sauce. Browned ground beef, tomato sauce, chopped onions and garlic, seasonings, maybe some red wine.
Corned beef. Corned beef brisket from the store with water and its included spice packet. Can cook from frozen, scrape fat off afterward. You can even put the potatoes and cabbage in there to cook with it, though cabbage is flimsy and shouldn’t go in until the end of the cooking cycle.
Mexican chili, also known as taco soup. A couple cans of beans, some ground beef, frozen corn, chopped onion, and a lot of Ro-Tel diced tomatoes with chilis. Mexican spice packet. Serve with cheese on top.

I’m pretty prone to just start throwing things into the crockpot- again, hard to go wrong. And it’s incredibly appealing to just come home to a meal already made and ready to scoop out. All my husband has to do is maybe stir once on his way in.

Some more tips and tricks:
As alluded to above, flimsy things like noodles should go in at the end, if you’re cooking them in the crockpot rather than separately- about an hour before eating time- and stir a couple times.
Your meat is quite likely to fall apart. If you really don’t want it to, take it out gently at the end and let it rest before cutting it.
I recommend browning ground meats first to drain off fat. Everything else can go straight from the freezer, unless there’s something you want to get off it/ out of it.
You can get away with really cheap cuts of meat. Everything turns out tender, I promise.
You can cook baby food in the crockpot! Vegetables cooked in water, then pureed work great. It’s also a good way to poach chicken, then fork-shred it tiny- I used to mix chicken shreds into mashed sweet potatoes for my first daughter (who didn’t dive straight into grown-up foods like Rebecca).
You can cook a whole chicken (or a bunch of chicken pieces) in the crockpot! A chicken needs to be thawed enough to pull out whatever’s kept inside- giblets and neck, usually. Pull the “easy” parts of the skin off, coat it with salad dressing- or even just cooking spray will probably do- to lubricate it a bit, throw it in, and cook. Take it out gently, let it set, and pull the meat off. The drippings can be thrown into a pot, thickened with flour, and made into gravy.
If you have a big crockpot, it’s pretty easy to let it sit after you eat until it cools, take out enough to have leftovers the next night, and freeze the rest.

I keep freezer bags on hand and tend to try and freeze a lot of leftovers, so we can mix things up (instead of eating one big crockpot meal for four days, we can save half of it for a month later. I could write an ode to my chest freezer much like this one to the crockpot.)

I cook in the crockpot at least once, usually twice, a week. Highly recommended.

Comments

  1. 1

    I work full time from home and I have 4 kids. The crockpot is my favorite way to cook. I started making freezer crockpot meals and I don’t know how I’ve survived before them.

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