Top 5 slow cooker recipes

Does anyone else hear John Cusack in High Fidelity whispering in your ear about mix tapes? Okay, it’s just me. That’s okay–my dinner is already in the Crock Pot, which might give me time to go make a mix tape of my own (or maybe just go watch the movie).

Anyway, if you’re not using your slow cooker, I’m here to tell you that you should. I know, every recipe you see is full of cream-of-something soup and comes out looking like glop. I’ve tried my fair share of those, and to be honest, I’m still experimenting. But today I’m going to share my top five, never-fail slow cooker recipes. No, they’re not all one-pot dinners. A lot of times I find myself using the slow cooker to make components of meals so I don’t have to rely so much on canned goods that may have more sodium and additives than I’d like.

5. Overnight steel-cut oatmeal. 1 cup steel-cut oats, 4 cups water (or milk), a pinch of salt, any fruit or spices you like. Spray the slow cooker really well with cooking spray OR mix the ingredients in a heat safe bowl that fits inside the crock and pour enough water around it to come up about half the height of the bowl. Cook on low for 7 hours (if you use the bowl/water bath method, the timing is not so critical). In the morning, serve and add some toppings (I like brown sugar, chopped nuts and a drizzle of milk).

4. Chickpeas (or other beans). No soaking necessary, and great overnight. Rinse a 1-lb. bag of dried beans, dump in the crock with 8-10 cups of water. Cook on low 8-10 hours, or until beans are tender. Use some to make hummus or falafel and freeze the rest.

3. Pulled pork. No, it hasn’t been smoked for hours on a grill, but it’s awfully good. I like this recipe from Our Best Bites, but I like to add some cumin and use a splash of apple cider vinegar as the liquid. I cut the BBQ sauce with vinegar, too. Don’t forget the pickles and the slaw. This is great on a weeknight, and just as good for a party.

2. Overnight chicken broth. Chicken carcass and water. You can add some onion and vegetables if you like. Cook on low overnight. Strain and freeze. Free chicken broth, and you don’t even need a coupon.

1. Fauxtisserie Chicken. Every time there’s a good sale on whole chickens, I buy a couple and stick them in the freezer. This recipe is like Roast Chicken for Dummies, or at least for people who get home late from work/karate/piano lessons and need to eat RIGHT NOW. It’s also a great way to cook chicken that you want to use in another recipe. The meat falls right off the bone and is incredibly moist and juicy.

There you have it–my Top Five ways to use the slow cooker. Go forth and make your slow cooker work for you!

What’s  your Number One slow cooker recipe?


A big party doesn’t have to be a big headache

We hosted a potluck party over the weekend for about 40 people from the community chorus that I sing with. Though we intended to have the festivities in the back yard, it rained steadily all day long. Despite the deluge, everyone enjoyed catching up with friends and sharing good food, and the preparations were not that difficult or expensive. If you have the space at home, don’t be afraid to invite a crowd the next time you feel like celebrating!

Here are my top six tips for hosting a fuss-free party at home:

  • Keep it casual! If your budget won’t allow for a huge spread for 50+ people, plan a potluck. You can either assign groups of guests a category (side dish/appetizer/dessert), or just take your chances that you’ll have a good mix of dishes.
  • Borrow supplies from your friends and neighbors. We borrowed a tent and tables from a friend of the chorus, more tables and chairs from a neighbor, two beverage coolers from another neighbor, and buffet plates and flatware from yet another friend. My parents loaned us their slow cooker and chafing dish.
  • You don’t need to spend money or time on decorations (unless you really enjoy it!). We cut flowers and greenery from the garden and put them in glass jars for centerpieces. We used our regular, mismatched tablecloths to cover the folding tables–it looks homier than color-coordinated plastic table covers.
  • Choose a main dish that you can prepare ahead. Some people like to grill, but I think it’s difficult to coordinate for a large crowd. I made pulled pork a couple days ahead of time and kept it warm in several slow cookers during the party. Buns, cole slaw, pickles, and some homemade macaroni and cheese were my contributions. The slaw and mac-n-cheese were also easy to make ahead of time, so the day of the party I could focus on setting out all the supplies, and guests didn’t need to wait long for the food to be served.
  • Have separate stations for plates and utensils, food, and drinks. Don’t try to fit everything on one table–you’ll have a traffic jam when people try to serve themselves.
  • Designate areas for dirty dishes. Clearly label garbage and recycling containers, or bins for dishes and glasses. If you invite the right people, they may even load the dishwasher for you!

Have you hosted a large party at your house? What was the occasion?

Monday Menu: Vacation at the cottage

We don’t have a cozy little lake cottage, but maybe you do? We have a couple weeks free in August if you need someone to make it look lived in…

But seriously, sometimes the most frugal (and relaxing) family summer vacation option is renting or borrowing a cottage, cabin or condo for a week. It’s not an all-inclusive resort, but it does have a kitchen. With a little planning ahead, you can have easy, budget-friendly meals and not break the bank by eating out every night. Here are my top five tips for an easy week of home cooked meals on vacation:

1. Make a menu. Keep it simple. What are your family’s favorite–but easy–meals? Make ingredients work double duty whenever possible.

2. Make a couple of freezer meals ahead of time and bring them your cooler. If you have the space, bring your slow cooker.

3. Find out whether there’s a grill at your destination. Burgers, hotdogs, brats…and s’mores for dessert!

4. Don’t forget to stock supplies for easy breakfasts and lunches: cereal, muffins, sandwiches, yogurt, fruit.

5. Do plan a meal out if you can!

Monday: Arrival day…something quick for dinner! Pasta with cheese and pepper, salad.

Tuesday: Marinate some chicken in the morning…grill it in the evening. Make sure there are leftovers. Asian Cabbage Salad (make the dressing at home and bring it in a jar), maybe some oven fries.

Wednesday: Crockpot pulled pork sandwiches (make ahead, freeze, and reheat in the crockpot while you’re at the beach).

Thursday: No work: Leftover Asian Cabbage Salad with grilled chicken strips. If that’s too healthy, open a bag of chips. Maybe take 10 minutes and make some Fruit Crumble.

Friday: Grill again! Steak, hotdogs, maybe some fish? Potato salad would be nice (bring small new potatoes that don’t need peeling, add a mustardy vinaigrette). S’mores!

Last week on Home Baked

Empty the basket!


Monday Menu: The Grilling Edition


Do you like to cook when you’re on vacation?