Monday, September 15, 2014

Crockpot Cooking Without a Recipe

I've said it before, I'll say it again - my crockpot is one of my most used and favorite kitchen appliances.  Between running around with the kids and scattering to my own community and personal activities, we barely have time to eat - even less time to cook a decent meal.  So getting dinner cooked while I'm not even home is a masterful idea.

The wonderful part about crockpot cooking is that - although there are plenty plenty recipes and cookbooks out there - you really don't need a cookbook or a recipe, if you understand some basic requirements.
  • Liquid - there's got to be some liquid in the crockpot. It could be stock, juice, water, sauce, the fat cooking off the meat - but there has to be some liquid to keep the food from drying out.
  • Seasoning - the food is being slow-cooked, so there's time for the seasoning to melt into the food. Season generously, but not too heavy-handed.
  • Time - obviously, the whole point is cooking for the hours and hours you will be away.  There are times, too, when you will want to use it to keep food and beverages warm for serving, like for hot chocolate for a cookie party!
From there - be creative.

Meats of course are favorites for the crockpot.  Whatever you cook will become so tender and juicy. You can serve as is, straight from the pot, or continue to prepare the meat once cooked.  Chicken, whole or in pieces, is an easy meat to cook. Roast beef or pork is also easy; you can eat as is, or chop it after cooking for sandwich or taco filling.  I like to cook pork loin and then chop it up for bar-be-que.  A very convenient fact? It doesn't even have to be defrosted! Yes, you can throw frozen meat into the crockpot, turn it on low and come back hours later to a fork tender meal.

Grains, beans, and pastas can be cooked on their own or with your meat choice. These especially need enough liquid since they require a lot to cook to tender. Spaghetti is easier than you think and lasagna works well in the crockpot, too - the tomato sauce is your liquid. I've yet to cook overnight oatmeal, but have tasted it and that's really good.  I need a smaller crockpot, since my son and I are the only ones who like oatmeal.

Vegetables can also be cooked alone or thrown in with everything else. I've made some very tender collard greens in the crockpot.  You probably should reserve this for veggies that can withstand the long hours of cooking, nothing too tender.

You can cook all of these separately or throw everything in the pot together for an easy clean-up, easy serve one-pot meal.  A can or two of diced tomatoes or stock and you've got the base for a good stew. Pick up a loaf of Italian bread and a salad on your way home and voila! Dinner is served.

For the chicken meal pictured above: a pack of drumsticks (frozen!); salt, pepper, basil, paprika to season; 2 cans diced tomatoes in sauce + 6 hours in the crockpot while we were at church, a science fair, sorority meeting, and a basketball game.

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