The Vegetarian Crockpot

I am always amazed at how well my crockpot cooks vegetables.  A roast is so tender it is falling apart, yet the potatoes and carrots keep their shape and aren’t mushy in the least.

So I decided to look for some vegetarian crockpot recipes, to better appreciate this function of the crockpot that I had recently only relegated to accompaniments to the meat.  Here are a couple of interesting ones I found online… of course I tweaked them a bit, as is my tendency.  Hope you like them!

Asian Winter Vegetable Stew for the Crockpot – serves 4-6

4 large potatoes, or a two pound bag of mini-potatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks

1 small bag of baby carrots, about 2 cups

1 small onion, chopped

1 package of dried Asian mushrooms – available in the produce or Asian section at most grocery stores.

3 cloves garlic, minced

1-2 tsp. chopped ginger

1 cup tomato sauce

1/4 cup natural-style peanut butter – natural (100% peanuts) kinds are better for cooking salty dishes since they have no added sugar….

2 T soy sauce

1 cup water or broth

If you have time, sauté the onion in a skillet with a little olive oil, but it’s fine if you just throw it in, too.  Otherwise, add all vegetables, including mushrooms, into the crockpot.

Whisk together remaining ingredients to make the sauce, and pour over the veggies.

Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours.  If you want to add a little more protein, stir in a can of chickpeas or black beans, or get adventurous with some firm tofu cubes.

Slow Cooker Wild Rice and Vegetable Bake – serves 4 as a main course or 8 as a side dish

1 1/2 cup wild rice rinsed

2 lb butternut squash – peel your own and cube, or use frozen or pre-chopped cubes

1 onion, chopped

1 lb fresh button mushrooms, halved

1 cup carrots

6 cup vegetable stock or broth prepared with vegetable bouillon cubes

3T fresh lemon juice

2 T butter or light olive oil

1 T fresh marjoram leaves chopped or 1 tsp dried marjoram

Salt (optional), to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/2 cup dried cherries, apricots, cranberries or golden raisins,

Put rice in a 5-quart or larger slow cooker (if using a 3 1/2- to 4-quart cooker, cut recipe in half).

Add squash, onion, mushrooms and carrots. Pour in stock and lemon juice. Dot with butter or drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle on marjoram, salt and pepper. Do not stir. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours.

Stir in dried fruit a half hour before serving. Cook covered until rice is done.

Apple Pork Roast

Here’s a way to get some vitamins and fibre into the vegetable-challenged people in your life, whoever they may be…

3-4 lb pork loin roast

Salt & pepper

4 apples, peeled and quartered

2 cups baby carrots

1 cup sliced parsnips (optional)

1/4 cup apple juice

3 tbsp. brown sugar

1 tsp ground ginger

Place apple quarters on the bottom of the crock, and then place roast on top. Place carrots and parsnips around the roast.  Sprinkle all with salt and pepper. Combine apple juice, sugar & ginger. Spoon the glaze over the roast, covering entire top. Cover & cook on LOW 10-12 hrs. Remove the roast – the apples will be more like applesauce, but when you stir the glaze into it, it will thicken into a nice sauce for the vegetables.  Serve with rice.  You can use the leftover pork roast by shredding and mixing with BBQ sauce.

Crockpot freezer kits, part two….

A few weeks ago, I posted about crockpot kits for the freezer, and a few folks on Twitter really took it on board! Now they’re asking for more recipes, so I thought I would share a few more kits…

Beef stew…. In the dry bag: carrots, mushrooms, onions, celery. In the wet bag: stew beef, beef broth, garlic, herbs, Worcestershire sauce. Add some potatoes when starting the crock, and stir in some frozen peas right before serving. For a creamy stew, add a can of cream of mushroom soup

Asian chicken thighs…. In the dry bag: carrots, chopped cabbage, onion. In the wet bag: boneless skinless chicken thighs, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, rice wine vinegar, brown sugar, hot sauce (optional). If you have some, stir in some bean sprouts and bell peppers right before serving, and serve with rice or noodles. This one is also nice with a couple of pork tenderloins

Chicken cacciatore…. In the dry bag: onion, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini. In the wet bag: boneless skinless chicken thighs, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes (optional), garlic, basil, a pinch of rosemary, salt and pepper. Add a sprinkle of crushes chiles if you like it spicy! Serve with pasta and top with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

Crockpot Kits for the Freezer

So you want to use your crockpot, but mornings are just too busy to be messing around with chopping veggies and dealing with raw meat.  Here’s your solution!

I make these crockpot kits for my clients, and they just love them.  Just about any crockpot recipe can be prepared this way.  Just be sure to keep the potatoes out of the freezer and in the cupboard until they are going into the crock, and keep the liquid with the meat, not the veggies.

You can even do several at once, and that way you can chop up lots of onions and celery and stuff and make an assembly line.  To make the process even more streamlined, do it as soon as you get home from the grocery store so that you don’t need to unpack and store the groceries you need for the recipes.  Kids can help with the squishing around of the sauce and the filling of the bags.

Here’s a recipe I use often, here at home and also for my clients.

Freezer to Crockpot BBQ Chicken Stew

You will need two large freezer bags

Into the first freezer bag, place:

One to two cups of baby carrots

One onion, sliced or diced

Three stalks of celery, sliced or diced

Into the second freezer bag, place:

¼ cup of your favourite BBQ sauce

½ a can of tomato paste

¼ cup red wine or apple cider vinegar, or other mild vinegar

2 tbsp. brown sugar

1-2 cloves of garlic

A dash or two of hot sauce (optional)

Close the bag and squish these ingredients around until well mixed.

Open the bag back up and add:

1.5 – 2 pounds skinless chicken thighs* (boneless or bone-in both work well)

* Don’t be tempted to use boneless skinless chicken breast cubes.  They can get quite mushy and shredded if crock-potted too long

Re-close the bag and squish the sauce all over the chicken.  Open the corner of the bag and push out all the air.  Fold the top over and place the chicken bag inside the vegetable bag, on top of the vegetables.  Label and freeze for up to two months.

To use, you’ll also need:

One bag of tiny potatoes to keep in the cupboard – or cut regular potatoes into medium chunks to put into the crock

Move the bag from the freezer to the fridge the night before so you don’t have to wrestle with a big chunk of frozen meat in the morning.  Open the bag and remove the chicken bag, keeping it closed.  Pour the veggies into the bottom of the crock.  Add the potatoes now.  Open the chicken bag and pour chicken and liquid over the vegetables.  Poke everything around until there is an even layer of chicken over an even layer of veggies.

Cook on low for 8-10 hours, then serve.  For a creamier stew, gently stir in a can of cream of mushroom soup or some sour cream just before serving.

Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker

I’ve raved about Beth Hensperger’s crockpot cookbook series “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker” – and she also writes about bread machines and rice cookers!  Apparently she’s a gadget girl…

Her 2007 book, about using the crockpot for entertaining, really intrigued me, so I got it out of the library.  There are some very fancy-looking recipes in there, for when you want to impress the boss or a date with a lovely dinner party. But there are also lots of tips for using the slow cooker to help with a traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, freeing up stove elements and oven space that are at a premium when you’re making a large meal.

Sometimes you need a nice dinner on a busy day – an old friend just passing through town, on a Tuesday night or something.  This is the perfect time to use the crockpot.

The book also shows us how to think “outside the crock” – to use the crockpot as a punchbowl, a fondue pot, a gravy boat, a bread oven, plus many other innovative functions.

Here’s a recipe with two inventive techniques for the slow cooker…

New-Orleans Style Vanilla Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce

6-7 cups crumbled stale bread

¾ cup dark raisins

¾ cup shredded coconut

¾ cup chopped pecans

4 cups (1L) whole milk

1 ¾ cups sugar

3 large eggs

½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled

1 tsp. each cinnamon and nutmeg (or use Epicure’s Apple Pie spice blend)

2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract (Epicure’s, if you have it)

Coat the inside of the crock with butter-flavoured non-stick spray

Place the bread, raisins, coconut and pecans in the crock.

In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, sugar, eggs, melted butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla extract until smooth.

Pour over the bread mixture in the crock and push the bread down to moisten evenly.

Cover and cook on HIGH until puffed, and a knife comes out clean, about 2 ½ hours.

Remove lid and cook on HIGH for another 15 minutes.

Pudding should cool a bit before serving, and can be served at room temperature.

Whisky sauce

½ cup (1 stick) butter

1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar (icing sugar)

2 large egg yolks

¼ to 1/3 cup of bourbon or scotch

Place the butter and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

Let the butter melt, then whisk until smooth.  Beat in the egg yolks.

Remove from heat, and slowly beat in the bourbon.  The sauce will thicken as it cools.

You can keep it warm in a small slow cooker, on LOW, until you are ready to serve.

Give your Crockpot a second chance!

Sometimes when I talk to people about crockpot cooking, they say they’ve tried it, but haven’t liked the results. I was stunned by this at first – I love my slow cooker…. Then I dug a little deeper to find out what was going on with these people who didn’t like crockpot food.

I asked them what they didn’t like, and they told me that they followed the recipes, but came home to a pot full of brown mush, and the meat and veggies all tasted the same.  Further investigation revealed that these unsuccessful crockpotters were the ones who needed easy food the most – they worked very long hours.  Specifically, they were out of their homes for more than ten hours a day.  Ten hours is just too long for all but the hardiest of slow cooker recipes or largest cuts of meat.  But what to do?

Here are a few of tips for frustrated long-working crockpot users.

First is the strategy I first heard referred to as the “hobo pack”.  If you’ve made stew and your vegetables have turned into an applesauce-like mush in the slow cooker, this technique might work for you.  Place the meat in the bottom of the cooker, along with any liquid called for in the recipe.  Then place your vegetables on a sheet of aluminum foil and wrap them into a packet.  Place the packet on top of the meat, then put the lid on.  When you want to serve the stew, tumble the veggies out of the foil into the meat and sauce, and stir.

Or you can get a “smarter” slow cooker.  Newer models have timers that move from “cook” to “warm” after the allotted amount of cooking time.  They’ll keep the food warm without overcooking it.

A cheaper fix would be to use an electrical timer to turn the crockpot on later in the day.  Use the same kind of timer that you put on your lights when you go on vacation and try to fool burglars with.  Set it to turn on at 10 or 11 AM, and when you get home at 6:00PM, you’ll have gotten your eight hours on low like the recipe calls for.

Experienced ten-hour crockpotters suggest refrigerating the ingredients and the crock before they go into the slow cooker, or even slightly freezing meat if it doesn’t need to be browned.  This will keep the ingredients from sitting at room temperature before cooking begins – they’ll stay cold until it’s time for them to start cooking when the timer turns on.

If you’ve tried slow cooking and have been less than thrilled with the results, I hope these tips will encourage you to try again.