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4 easy crock-pot recipes that are perfect for any occasion 4 Easy Crock-Pot Recipes That Are Perfect For Any Occasion 1x1

4 Easy Crock-Pot Recipes That Are Perfect For Any Occasion

Crock-Pots have gotten a bad rap in recent years, thanks in part to some of the seriously retro recipes that used to be par for the course in vintage Crock-Pot cookbooks (think such delicacies as Hot Dog…Perfection!, Stuffed Beef Heart, and Rice ’N Clams).

But slow-cooking expert Stephanie O’Dea thinks this reputation isn’t entirely deserved. The New York Times best-selling author is a massive fan of cooking with Crock-Pots, if you couldn’t tell from the titles of some of her books: 365 Slow Cooker Suppers, Make It Fast, Cook It Slow, and Five Ingredients or Less Slow Cooker Cookbook.

O’Dea explains:  

I think that people think of old school methods when they think of slow cooking, when recipes would call for a can of Campbell’s soup and a packet of dry soup mix. But the new school methods are all about clean healthy food and ingredients. You can make healthy food in the slow cooker and you aren’t losing any ingredients. Everything is contained. For example, you can make a roast chicken in the slow cooker and you don’t even have to add any extra liquid or salt, just your favorite seasonings.

The hands-off nature of slow cooking also appeals to O’Dea. As she notes, “Slow cookers are great because you can taste and stir as you go, thanks to its long cooking time. You can be absent minded with a slow cooker and not worry about leaving it alone. If you’re having a dinner party you can make your meal ahead of time and then enjoy a glass of wine and relax.”

In other words, it’s time to let your Crock-Pot do the work so you can spend more time relaxing and doing the things you love. So let’s get started!

The Difference Between a Crock-Pot and a Slow Cooker

Essentially, both appliances are slow cookers; Crock-Pot is a specific brand of slow cooker. Both appliances have the same function: They use moist heat to cook food (and drinks!) over a prolonged period using different heat settings. Crock-Pots have three settings: low (200° F), high (300° F), and warm (which isn’t a cooking setting, it literally just keeps everything warm), whereas slow cookers can have up to five different heat settings.

Crock-Pots and slow cookers are both made up of a ceramic cooking vessel, a heating element, and a glass lid; Crock-Pots heat from all sides, and slow cookers heat from the bottom element only. The appliances, however, are similar enough that they can be used interchangeably.

General Tips for Cooking With a Crock-Pot

  • Cook onions and garlic in a skillet before adding them to the Crock-Pot with the rest of the ingredients to prevent overwhelming the recipe with an acrid and sulfuric flavor.
  • Sarah Olson, author of The Magical Slow Cooker: Recipes for Busy Moms and the creator of the blog The Magical Slow Cooker, says, “I like to add the dairy products such as cream cheese or heavy cream at the end of the cooking time to prevent curdling.”
  • Don’t overfill your Crock-Pot. Aim for half or two-thirds full at most.
  • When trying out a new Crock-Pot recipe for the first time, have a trial run while you’re in the house. This way you can periodically check that the suggested time and temperature are appropriate for your appliance.

Some Unexpected Crock-Pot Ideas

One of O’Dea’s favorite Crock-Pot dishes is fish in parchment, which she says “cooks up beautifully in the slow cooker!” She is also a big fan of making baked mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes in her trusty Crock-Pot.

Olson loves to make salsa in her slow cooker: “I add Roma tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, and canned tomatoes to my slow cooker. After those veggies are cooked and tender I add them to a blender with cilantro and seasonings. It always surprises people when they try my salsa that it was made in the slow cooker.”

What Not to Cook in a Crock-Pot

Crock-Pots can do a lot. But for reasons of taste, texture, and even safety, there are still several foods that you shouldn’t use.

O’Dea cautions against cooking hard boiled eggs in the Crock-Pot: “Hard boiled eggs do not work. You end up with a stinky mess in the kitchen!”

Olson doesn’t cook kidney beans in the Crock-Pot, as “they have a toxin in them that slow cooking doesn’t remove.”

In general, uncooked ground beef shouldn’t be added directly to a Crock-Pot because it can clump together. However, O’Dea notes that for some recipes (such as meatloaf), this can be a desirable result.

Rice or pasta aren’t ideal for the Crock-Pot, Olson notes: “The slow cooker doesn’t get hot enough to ‘boil’ these ingredients and can leave them chalky and mushy. I often use parboiled rice such as Minute brand rice, which does very well in the slow cooker.”

It’s also important to avoid overcooking meat in the slow cooker. Chicken is especially prone to becoming stringy if cooked for longer than 6 hours. Tougher cuts of meat, such as the pork used to make pulled pork, are fine if cooked for a prolonged period.

What You Should Cook in a Crock-Pot

Slow Cooker Overnight Oats

Steel cut oats have a lot going for them as a breakfast food; with their pleasantly chewy texture, high protein and fiber count, and low glycemic index, they’re a surefire winner in terms of staying satiated and energized until lunch time. The only problem is that steel cut oats take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes to cook on the stove, an amount of time that isn’t always practical first thing in the morning.

These overnight steel cut oats come together in a matter of minutes, because your slow cooker does the work while you sleep. Waking up to the smell of cinnamon-spiced oats has never been easier; all you need to do is pick out your favorite toppings!

Note: Slow cooker oats are very sticky and have the potential to burn around the edges if cooked too long or at too high a temperature. These problems can be prevented by coating the sides and bottom of the slow cooker with a very liberal application of nonstick cooking spray. If possible, give the oats a trial run on a day that you can keep a careful watch to determine the best total cooking time so that you can accurately calibrate the settings when using the slow cooker overnight.

Yields:

4–6 servings

Ingredients:

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 cup steel cut oats
  • 3 cups water
  • 1½ cups whole milk (or your favorite dairy-free milk)
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp. ground flaxseed meal (optional)*
  • 2 Tbsp. hemp seeds (optional)*
  • 2 Tbsp. chia seeds (optional)*

*These seeds aren’t necessary, but they add an extra-chewy texture along with fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants.

Topping Inspiration:

Brown sugar, maple syrup, shredded coconut, dried fruit, cooked apple or pear slices, honey, candied ginger, cream, walnuts, almonds, applesauce, and any other favorite oatmeal toppings

Special equipment:

  • Slow cooker
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Spatula

Method:

  1. Measure and pour all ingredients directly into the slow cooker.
  2. Mix gently with a spatula until combined.
  3. Place the lid on the slow cooker and set for 7 hours on low or 4 hours on high.

In the morning, add your favorite toppings and enjoy!

This recipe can also be portioned out and stored in the fridge (up to a week) or freezer (up to 3 months). Add a tablespoon or two of milk or cream and defrost in the microwave before serving.

Crock-Pot Vegan Butternut Squash and Barley Risotto

Cooking rice in the Crock-Pot can lead to a mushy mess—the total opposite texture of perfectly cooked risotto. Fortunately, barley can be used in place of the rice and will remain al dente (“to the tooth”) even after being cooked for several hours. The butternut squash begins to break down and gives the faux risotto a velvety texture in place of cream or cheese (in fact, this recipe will please even the most obstinate omnivores).

This vegan risotto is best served fresh from the Crock-Pot. Leftovers can be reheated in the microwave, but they won’t have the same creamy texture as before. Don’t skip stirring in the sherry vinegar at the end; it’s the secret ingredient that makes this recipe pop!

Yields:

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1½ cups pot barley
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 shallots, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups butternut squash, diced (frozen is fine)
  • 1 tsp. dried sage
  • 4–5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tsp. sherry vinegar
  • Fresh parsley, finely chopped (for garnish)

Special equipment:

  • Crock-Pot
  • Sharp chef’s knife
  • Cutting board
  • Skillet
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Wooden or silicone long-handled spoon

Method:

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the shallots until translucent. Stir in the garlic and butternut squash. Continue to cook for 6 to 8 minutes or until softened. Set aside.
  2. Generously spray the sides and bottom of the Crock-Pot with nonstick cooking spray.
  3. Add the pre-cooked shallots, garlic, and butternut squash to the Crock-Pot, then the pot barley, sage, thyme, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and vegetable broth.
  4. Set the Crock-Pot to cook on low heat for 8 hours. If you can, give the risotto a few stirs as it’s cooking to prevent sticking.
  5. Check on the risotto in the last hour; it may not need the full cooking time. Ideally, the vegetable stock will have been absorbed and the barley will be soft but still slightly chewy.
  6. Remove the woody fresh thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Stir in the sherry vinegar and taste, adjusting seasonings as needed.
  7. Serve butternut squash barley risotto while piping hot, garnished with fresh parsley.

Crock-Pot Vegetarian Chili

Fans of vegetarian chili will be overjoyed by how easily this homemade Crock-Pot version comes together. This recipe makes a large amount, making it ideal for leftovers and batch cooking. Serve this chili with traditional toppings, use it to top baked sweet potatoes, or make a healthier version of chili cheese fries using baked potato wedges.

This vegetarian chili can be portioned out and frozen for up to 3 months; just make sure the chili comes to room temperature before transferring to the freezer.

Yields:

8–10 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 small cooking onion
  • 4–5 cloves of garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. chili powder
  • ¼ tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbsp. dried cumin
  • 1 or 2 jalapeño peppers (remove seeds and white pith for less heat)
  • 1 serrano chili
  • 1 small zucchini sliced into quarter moon–shaped pieces
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 medium-sized sweet potato or yam, peeled and diced
  • 1 15-oz can kidney beans*
  • 1 15-oz can pinto beans*
  • 2 28-oz cans diced tomatoes
  • 1½ cups tomato juice
  • Kosher salt, to taste

*Alternatively, you can use 4 cups total of cooked, dried beans.

Optional toppings:

Greek yogurt or sour cream, guacamole, salsa, shredded cheese

Special equipment:

  • Crock-Pot
  • Sharp chef’s knife
  • Cutting board
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Skillet
  • Wooden or silicone long-handled spoon

Method:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, adding the onion, garlic, chili powder, cinnamon, unsweetened cocoa powder, and cumin. Sauté for 8 to 10 minutes or until the onion has softened and become translucent. Set aside.
  2. Add all of the remaining ingredients to the Crock-Pot with the exception of the kosher salt. Heat on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours until the chili has thickened and all of the ingredients are fully cooked.
  3. Taste the chili to check seasoning, adding kosher salt as needed.
  4. Serve the chili immediately, topping with any or all of the suggestions above. This chili can be stored in the fridge for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

Crock-Pot Hot Chocolate

This recipe for Crock-Pot hot chocolate is perfect for cozy days and chilly nights, and it’s simple enough for aspiring young chefs to make with minimal supervision. This hot chocolate might not be considered virtuous (it is, after all, largely made of cream and chocolate chips), but its creamy richness makes it a memorable once-in-a-while treat.

Looking for more hot chocolate variations? White, dark, and mint chocolate chips (or a combination) can be subbed for the milk chocolate chips. If serving this to adults, the addition of Bailey’s or Irish whiskey will make sipping on this hot chocolate a heavenly experience. Don’t skip the pinch of salt when following this recipe as it enhances the sweet chocolate flavors in the hot chocolate.

Yields:

8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 6 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups milk chocolate chips
  • 1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise or 1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Optional toppings:

Whipped cream, marshmallows, chocolate chips, crushed candy canes

Special equipment:

  • Crock-Pot
  • Measuring cups
  • Can opener
  • Paring knife
  • Small cutting board
  • Ladle
  • Mugs

Method:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in the Crock-Pot except for the vanilla bean—if using; otherwise add the pure vanilla extract here. Stir well to combine.
  2. Using a paring knife, scrape the little black seeds in the vanilla bean onto a small cutting board and then add them to the Crock-Pot.
  3. Set the Crock-Pot to low and cook for 2 hours, stirring occasionally so that all the ingredients melt together. Once the hot chocolate is ready, change the Crock-Pot setting to warm until it’s ready to be served.
  4. Ladle the hot chocolate into mugs and add any or all of the suggested toppings.

Crock-Pots are here to stay.

Consider your Crock-Pot your new best friend in the kitchen. Once you begin exploring all of the different uses for this simple appliance, you’ll find yourself wondering how you ever managed without one.

With all the extra time you have now that you don’t have to stand by the stove, you can check out O’Dea’s and Olson’s books for Crock-Pot inspiration or peruse any of the dozens of food blogs dedicated entirely to the slow-cooking lifestyle.


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