Friday, October 28, 2016

Three Slow Cooker Meals to Make Your Weekend a Breeze

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Usually, I do recipes on Sundays - it's an old tradition on the blog, and a good fit for a day when lots of readers are spending most of their time offline. But I wanted to tackle food today, because I'm going to give you the easiest weekend menu ever. Okay, ordering out would be easier. But this is a lot cheaper.

Recently, our stove stopped working. Ross and I were getting a good head of indignation up, because it wasn't that old, until he pulled it away from the wall and we discovered... mice had gnawed away part of the cord and casing the stove plugged into. The very old cord and casing, as it turned out, when the electrician came over to take a look. The electrical conduit for the oven begins in the cellar, disappears into the horrible crawlspace beneath the kitchen, and somewhere mysteriously changes into an entirely different cord. Rewiring it may involve removing and then rebuilding part of our back foundation wall, (ah, the joys of 200 year old houses!) so while we're waiting for that to happen, I've been cooking dinner daily in the crockpot. As a result, I've been planning menus ahead in a more organized fashion, since my default "Let's just boil some pasta," is a lot more time consuming now.

Here's one shopping list for Borscht, BBQ Beef and Rice and Corn Chowder for your weekend (with leftovers for lunches!)

3-4 pounds of chuck, the cheapest pot-roast grade you can find
5 pounds red potatoes
Three onions (but just get a bag)
5 or 6 beets
3 green peppers
Pre-minced garlic (I love this stuff. It saves so much time spent fiddling with papery cloves)
1 can tomato paste
1 28oz can diced tomatoes
Bag of rice
1 box each beef broth and chicken broth (I look for the low- or no-sodium versions)
16 oz bag of frozen corn OR one can each corn niblets and cream-style corn
Sour cream
The little bitty carton of whipping cream

I'm going to assume you have the pantry basics: flour, spices, etc. When you get home, cut the beef into thirds. 2/3 goes into the freezer for the BBQ Beef and Rice, the remaining 1/3 you dice into bite-sized bits for the Borscht. These are recipes for four, so adjust to your family size accordingly.


1 lb stew beef, diced into bite-sized pieces
5-6 beets, peeled and sliced
4-6 potatoes, diced
1 c sliced carrots
1 onion, finely diced
1 t minced garlic

Toss it all in the slow cooker with a bay leaf. Then whisk together

2 c beef broth
1 can tomato paste
6 T red wine vinegar
3 T brown sugar
1 T dried parsley
1-2 t dried dill weed (I used seeds for a more robust flavor)

Pour the liquid over the meat and veg. Cook on low 8 hours or on high 4 hours. In the last 2 (low) or 1 (high) hour, add in 3 c shredded cabbage. You can also substitute kale.  Serve with dollops of sour cream. Don't tell the kids they're eating beets until afterwards.

Corn Chowder

I adapted a recipe from Damn Delicious, and it really is. The author of the site, Chungah Rhee, has some wonderful crockpot cookery ideas!

24 oz potatoes, diced (is what the original calls for. I basically fill my slow cooker about 2/3 with potatoes and call it good. My family really loves potatoes.)
16 oz bag of frozen corn or canned corn niblets
1/2 onion, diced fine
1t minced garlic

Toss the veggies with at least 3 T flour; you will need more if you use as many taters as I do. They should all be lightly dusted. Sprinkle with

1t thyme
1t oregano

Add 6 cups of chicken broth. Cook on low for 6-7 hours or on high for 3-4. Add 2 T butter and 1/4 c whipping cream and serve. (Rhee points out the soup freezes well if you don't add the dairy products, so I gave every bowl a pat of butter and a splash of cream before ladling in the soup. She was right, it DID freeze well for later lunches.)

BBQ Beef and Rice

2 lbs chuck
2 onions, sliced
3 green peppers sliced into strips

Put the beef, onions and peppers into the slow cooker and generously cover with your favorite BBQ sauce. Cook on low 8 hours or on high 4 hours. 2 hours before serving, add 1 c rice and 1 1/2 c beef broth (I like to use a mix of water and broth.) You can bulk it up with more rice - I usually do. Just keep the proportion of 1 c rice to 1 1/2 c liquid the same.

You'll see I don't have any directions about adding salt in any of these recipes. Two reasons: 1) Ross has high blood pressure, and we're trying to go as low sodium as possible and 2) I've noticed the slow cooker intensifies flavor, so what salt is already in processed food (the canned corn, the tomato paste, etc.) really comes out. Please season to your taste (and blood pressure!)

Okay, dear readers, what are you going to do with all the time you'll save cooking this weekend?


  1. Oh, goodness, having no stove certainly makes mealtime an adventure . . . the little beady-eyed things sure do love chomping up wires, don’t they? [Around here, it’s not the stove that’s endangered, it’s poor Miss Phebe who had all her ignition wires chomped to bits by the beady-eyed critters.]

    The recipes sound so delicious I can’t decide which one to try first. Thanks for sharing them.
    What will I do with all the time I’ll save this weekend? Well, there’s this stack of books I’m trying to read . . . .

  2. Julia: We had only 2 inches of snow fall last night, so I am definitely thinking of making warm, comforting foods. I have no slow cooker, but the soups sound yummy. And I did not know you could make borscht with beef, and I love beets, so I would try and make this one first.

    I am still am planning to read 3-4 mystery books this weekend. The TBR mountain keeps growing and growing no matter how fast I read!

    Hope with your stove/wiring issues get fixed soon!

  3. SNOW! Yow.

    I'm off to Maryland today--to have a signing tomorrow with Nora Roberts. SAY NO MORE--I am thrilled! xxoxo

    Off to the airport..

  4. Hank: Have a safe flight and great day signing in MD tomorrow.

    Good news: snow has melted. Bad news: black ice on the roads. Even as a non-driver, I wince when I see on the morning news that a bus has slid into a ditch.

  5. What great fall recipes. I wonder if you could add chicken to the corn chowder. Chicken corn chowder is my son's favorite canned soup. I would think you could add diced chicken near the end. I haven't done a lot of crock pot cooking, but I have wanted to, and these seems like a good (easy!) way to get started. Thank you, Julia!

    And oh, those pesky little critters. We have had trouble with them, too. They gnawed through a pipe under the sink, but no wire damage. Yet. *fingers crossed* What a nuisance. I hope you get your stove back soon!

  6. I don't think the kids would go for borsct or corn chowder, but bbq beef - yeah.

    I should do one of these since The Hubby may be gone for much of Saturday to Sunday. Think of the writing I could get done...

  7. Julia, with two cats in the house, we finally are free of our fall/winter little visitors, but I sympathize. Especially the 'old house' part. It's always something, my mom would say.

    Alas, my 'old' crockpot is defunct, but three new reasons now to go out and invest in a new one. My college roommate's mom used to home-can borscht with beef. Beef and veg courtesy of the farm, too--so I can't wait to try this recipe! MaryC, I'm sure you could add chicken to the chowder for a tasty variation. When I make it, I think I'll have sliced green onions and crumbled bacon for toppers. And my youngest nephew loves anything made with rice--so I foresee many happy meals--thanks, Julia. And free time? Trying to get back to William Kent Krueger's latest...

  8. I have never had a slow cooker, but I can see that might be something I need to change. I DO make a borscht very similar to yours (from the NY Times recipe for cabbage and beet borscht). It's the vinegar and brown sugar and little bit of tomato that make the taste pop, and it's got to be served topped with DOLLOPS of sour cream and handfuls of fresh dill. In fact, I think I have some in my freezer right now...

    I think we should have a chili cook-off one day here on Jungle Red.

  9. Mary C, I just made some white chicken chili in a crockpot a couple of weeks ago, mostly because I had bought (and thawed) six boneless, skinless chicken breasts, and my husband decided we needed chicken with skin for the grill. So I made chicken chili in one pot with two of the breasts, and stewed four breasts in chicken broth in the other one.

    Chicken breasts cooked for a long time like this can be shredded with two forks, no dicing necessary, so I would add a boneless breast at the beginning, not the end, of the cooking time of your chicken corn chowder. Gosh, that sounds good.

    Ooh, a chili cook-off! I'm in. It's on my go-to list of wintertime foods for busy days. I don't usually make it in a crockpot, but maybe I will next time.

    We have a big landscaping project, building a dry streambed to control water away from getting into the basement. Now that the mold is gone, I want it to stay gone! So I'm sure some chicken corn chowder in the pot when we're done for the day will be welcome. Thanks, Julia!

  10. Julua, you have more than your share of household emergencies. You poor thing. Sending hugs
    Wow, Hank... With Nira Riberts, big time!
    And I have a slow cooker at the back of a cabinet but have used it maybe once. I'm going to try again with this.

  11. Every one of those looks like a winner to me--and thanks for the low-sodium versions! I don't have a slow cooker either. Do you think I could simmer in a pot on the stove?

    We have a big mice problem in CT--every once in while Yoda will dispense with one, but only at his whim. One year they ate through all the wiring in my CAR. We noticed the smell of gas and the garage figured out what had happened. Expensive all the way around!

    1. Lucy, anything you can do in a slow cooker you can do in an oven. Try 200-225 egress for 4-5 hours. Or lower for longer.

  12. Julia, those all look fabulous! What is that saying about necessity being the mother of invention?

    Now that I live in a tindominium (too long to explain), I've had to get very creative and ended up buying a multi-tasking sll-purpose machine that is actually pretty amazing. Here's a recipe I came up with when the weather turned chilly:

    Cape Cod Sirloin Pork Roast:
    3 1/2 lb sirloin pork roast, bone in, apply salt and pepper and brown on on all sides on high in stove top. Remove roast after browned. Lower stove top to low. Add two sliced onions, a package of sliced mushrooms, a small bag of fresh cranberries, and two apples peeled and chopped. Cook until all ingredients have softened. I added apple cider to moisten as needed while they were cooking. I placed the pork roast on top of the mixture with a cup of the apple cider. I placed some fresh thyme and chopped fresh sage leaves on top of the roast, covered and roasted at 350 for about an hour and a quarter. Served with fingerling potatoes. Dee-lish! The roast was tender and moist and the gravy/juice was wonderful. You can adjust how sweet/tart you like it by adding apples or decreasing cranberries. I'm sure you could add other ingredients to accomplish this too. Did this in the 4 in 1 Ninja cooker.

  13. Thanks for these recipes! I'm always looking for new slow cooker meals.

  14. Why thank you for simplifying my weekend, Julia and Michele!

    I love my crock pot, especially on raw, rainy days like today. Hallie, you really should consider getting one. The new generation of crock pots are so much better than the old ones.

    It is so great for chili (and I love the idea of a JR chili cookoff), but also slow braise chicken dishes, soups.

    I love, love, love coming inside after outdoor weekend chores or a beach walk to the scent of a nice meal filling my kitchen.

  15. We were on a slow cooker roll this week too! It seemed perfect as we're having our first cool snap here in Florida. I'm looking forward to more slow cooking over the winter. And you can't beat the smell of the house!

  16. Julia, I so hate the mice coming in when fall arrives. Fall is my favorite season, except for that problem. We don't have that many (or I may be in denial), but I have plenty of traps out to make myself feel better. I've caught one so far, hoping it's the one that made me scream when I walked in the kitchen one morning and it went scampering down from my toaster to the floor. That toaster was, well, toast. I now clean out the toaster every day, which I'm hoping helps. And, of course, there was a major counter scrubbing that day.

    I keep meaning to make use of my slow cooker, so maybe your recipes will inspire me. My main meal for it is a nice rump roast with carrots and potatoes, and after the initial meal, I make a beef stew with the leftovers, adding some corn, onion, mushrooms, and lima beans (I know the lima beans will send some of your heads spinning. Hahaha!). I did try a chicken dish that I need to look up again, as it was quite tasty.

  17. The frustrating thing about the mice eating our cord? We have TWO (2) cats. Ross says we need to cut their meal quantities in half to encourage them to get on the ball.

    The silver lining of the stove being out is that it's forced me to go looking for these great recipes. We'd gotten in the rut of the same two meals in the slow cooker - chili and beef stew. Stepping out of the old comfortable zone has been nice - as has been the fact that with a crockpot, the meal clean-up is a third of what it is when I'm using pots, skillets, a casserole dish, etc.

    The third good thing about it? If you live in an area where electricity is costly, the crockpot will save you money.

  18. Michele: your sirloin roast recipe sounds delicious! I'll add it to my list.

    And Mary Sutton: I didn't tell my kids it was borscht. I called it "Russian Beef Stew" and they gobbled it down.

  19. These sound great...I love using my slow cooker.

  20. Thank you, FChurch and Karen - I will definitely try it adding chicken at the beginning. And Karen, I'd love it if you shared your white chili recipe. It sounds yummy!

    Michele, your recipe sounds delicious as well. I take it you're a fellow Cape Codder?

    I'm loving all these crock-pot ideas. Such a perfect time of year for them - so cold and dark today!

  21. Julia, I have lovely Le Creuset--a braiser and a Dutch oven--so am a big fan of stove top slow cooking, but I still use my slow cooker often. You are so right about the clean up, and all your recipes sound wonderful. I think I'd add chicken to the corn chowder, too. I wonder if hubby would eat the borscht...

    Our beady-eyed critters are the BIGGER sized ones. A couple of years ago they chewed through the wiring to our air conditioning compressor. Now, that was an expensive fix, but probably not as bad as your foundation. So sorry you are having to deal with all these domestic crises. We want you to WRITE!

  22. MaryC, I got the recipe at one of the cooking websites, but changed it to suit my own ingredients. It called for more beans, but I only had one can, so I instead added a can of artichoke hearts, quartered. By the time I get done throwing things together, I can't remember how I even made it. But there are tons of good recipes online. Look for one that has white beans, a can of green chilies, and sour cream. That seems to be the winning combination. I added cilantro and chopped tomatoes one night, and it was divine.

  23. Here's the basic recipe I used:

  24. What's the best slow cooker? The last time I had an in-home ability evaluation, the social worker brought me a crockpot. The first time I used it I burned my arm when it touched against the outside of the pot. I'd like to try again but not if they all get that hot on the outside.