Crock Pot Cooking: Tips and techniques for creating one-pot meals

Rival Crock Pot

Rival Crock Pot

The convenience of crock pots for me is that it’s a one-pot dish. You throw it all in to cook in the morning and by dinnertime (when everyone is melting down and you’re exhausted) dinner is ready.

However, this means that I have a hard time finding crock pot recipes that I will actually make. Most recipes that I come across require cooking the meat beforehand. Frankly, I’ve never understood that. If I wanted to cook the meat in the skillet, then I would cook the meat in the skillet and not cook it first so that then it could cook in the crock pot all day. So, if it requires cooking meat or sauteing beforehand then it’s pretty likely that it’s not going to make it to my dinner table. I do have a few recipes that I’ve used and liked (click here and scroll down to see a recommendation for my favorite little crock pot book). But, most of the time I end up modifying a recipe that I’ve used before or just making one up as I go along  based on what I have on hand.

So, here are some tips on coming up with your own crock pot meals.

Crock Pot Cooking Tips and Techniques:

  • Meat: If cooking meat with the bones in season with basic spices – salt, pepper and garlic (whole cloves with the skins on, read more about that here), cover with liquid so that you can use all the yummy bone broth. Visit the Pantry for directions on how to turn your homemade broth into bullion cubes.
  • Veggies: If cooking only veggies (like baked potatoes, mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes – read my other crock pot cooking article – click the Crock Pot Cooking category in the sidebar – for directions on how to cook these in your crock pot), then only add enough water to just cover the bottom of your crock pot by about one inch. You don’t want then to turn to mush. Since a crock pot is a sealed cooking system the veggies will cook with their own liquid and so it needs very little liquid added.
  • One-Pot Meals: These are my favorite meals to cook in my crock pot. If cooking meat and vegetables together put the meat on the bottom, especially if it contains bones. Add water, but just enough to barely come to the top of the meat. If adding veggies, add whole vegetables (i.e. whole potatoes) or large chunks if possible so that they are easy to remove whole. If adding rice, add extra liquid but only about half as much as what is the package directions say. And add a little bit of oil/fat to keep the rice from sticking to itself and the sides of the crock pot as it cooks. Always cook meals with rice on the low setting otherwise it can burn or stick on the sides of the crock pot.
  • Sauces and Stews: These are usually the chop it all up, toss it all in, stir and put the lid on kind of meals. However, I recently found a easy way to convert those “cook the meat first” recipes so that you can avoid cooking the meat first in a separate pan. Recently as I was in a make-it-up-as-I-go mode, I turned my crock pot on high, drizzled a little olive oil in the bottom and put my chopped meat in (Italian sausage in this case). This allowed the meat to start browning for about a half hour or so until I got all my veggies washed and chopped. So, I started washing and chopping and would occasionally give the meat a little stir. Just before I added all my veggies, I added a heaping tablespoon of flour which then absorbed all the fat from the meat and olive oil. This became my roux and will automatically thicken your sauce or stew as it cooks. I was very excited about this method as I’ve always hated having to thicken crock pot dishes at the end of cooking. If you can’t start with a roux as I did, then you can also dissolve a little corn starch in cold water and pour that in your crock pot at the end of the cooking period, stir and let it cook about five minutes longer to thicken.
  • Beverages/Desserts: These can be very yummy in the crockpot. Cobblers, bread pudding, apple butter, hot cider or hot chocolate. Usually they only need a few hours too cook at the most. If you’ve never cooked these in the crock pot I think it’s best to follow a recipe the first time and then improvise after that if you want to. For recipes that use milk or cream always cook on low or add during the last hour of cooking to avoid scalding the milk.

Crock Pot Meal: Sausage Stew

I invented a yummy sausage stew this week. Here’s the recipe.

Note: This recipe is for an 8-quart crock pot or two 4-quart crock pots. Adjust for your crock pot size.

7.29.13 048drizzle of olive oil
2 lbs. Italian sausage (sweet or spicy)
4 potatoes, peeled and cubed
6-8 carrots peeled and sliced
1/2 lb. fresh green beans, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
half of a large yellow onion, chopped
one head of garlic, minced
one can tomato paste
heaping tbls. flour
salt and pepper to taste
water (fill halfway up the crock pot)

Turn the crock pot on high and let it begin to warm.  Drizzle some olive oil in the bottom of the crock pot. Add your sausage removing the casings and cutting into chunks with kitchen shears. Let the meat begin to brown while you chop your veggies.

When you are done chopping your vegetables, sprinkle salt, pepper and a tablespoon of flour in the sausage. Stir until the flour has disappeared by absorbing the oil. This is a roux and will thicken the stew for you.

Now throw in all your chopped veggies, and fill the crock pot half way up with water. Put the lid on. Cook on high for four hours or low for 6-8 hours.

Enjoy! Mmmm.

Crock Pot Cooking: baked and mashed potatoes

I love my little red crock pots.

I love my little red crock pots.

I’ve been cooking my baked potatoes in my crock pot for the last year. It was a great discovery for me as I can throw them in early in the afternoon while the kids are napping and know that they will get done in time for dinner. And I don’t have to heat up the house by turning the oven on. And my latest discovery is mashed potatoes. Sounds strange for crock pot cooking I know, but it works great and I find it more convenient than using the stove. Tips and directions are on the Cookstove. Click on the link and then scroll down.