We are Famous!

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We are famous! Or at least my kids think. My oldest son asked me if I get to meet Guy Fieri. My youngest son told me I should start charging friends when they come over for dinner.

I am thrilled to tell you that Chile Pepper Magazine will be featuring Dinner Is A Crock in this month’s issue! You can find a print copy or digital copy online from www.chilepepper.com.

Welcome to my new fans! Please peruse the recipe index and pick a few new recipes to try. My go-to favorites include crockpot vegetarian lasagna and my monthly do of crockpot caramelized onions.

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, start thinking about what dishes you can cook in your crockpot and free up space in your oven for that bird! Try crockpot green bean casserole or crockpot spicy apple sauce as fabulous new side dishes.

New recipes coming soon! Stay tuned!

Crock Pot Spaghetti Squash

crock pot spaghetti squashI was walking through the produce aisle this week and excited to see all of the fall produce slowly emerging as the weather starts the cool and the crock pot starts to heat. With squash of every size and variety piled up like presents under a tree, I started loading my cart with butternut, acorn, and spaghetti squash. But the tipping tower of treasures presents a second issue– how do you prepare and cook these ridiculous looking vegetables?  As with most foods that I don’t want to fret about, I make them in my crock pot!

If you haven’t ever experienced spaghetti squash, you are about to be delighted. I’m pretty sure it’s the best diet food ever since it’s low in calorie, gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo-friendly, vegan, vegetarian, nut-free, guilt-free, and packed with nutrients and flavor. But what intrigues me most about this cavern of goodness is the bizarre pasta like consistency of the meaty threads.

Here’s the prep: waaaaaash the squaaaaaash. I love that you just sounded that out. Seriously though, this thing it going to sit in it’s entirety in your crock pot all day, let’s not harbor fugitives like bugs or germs.  Then take a sharp knife and stab the squash 5-6 times so that the heat and moisture can seep in and out to cook the flesh. Yes, it’s a vegetable, but I think you can use words like meaty and flesh to describe never-living creatures, too.

Put the 4 lb squash and 2 cups of water  in your crock pot for 6 hours on low. When it’s done, the squash will deflate a bit and be awkward to lift out. Watch out– it’s HOT and full of juices. Let it cool a bit before you handle it. You will need to cut the spaghetti squash in half and scoop out the seeds inside (Throw the seeds away. This is not a pumpkin.)

Use a fork to shred the cooked pasta-like fresh from inside the squash. Once you have scraped it out, throw out the skins. Much like pasta, this is now a wonderful blank slate to begin preparing a delicious dish!  Here are a couple ideas to choose from as far as fun flavors to add into your spaghetti squash:

  • Add 1 tablespoon butter, 1 teaspoon minced garlic and 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese.
  • Add 1 cup alfredo sauce, 1 lb. browned ground beef and a can of stewed mushrooms.  Oh look- beef stroganoff!
  • Top it with crock pot chicken cacciatore for a low-fat, low-carb hearty dinner.  (Yes, this requires two crock pots.)
  • Add a scoop of crock pot caramelized onions and some cubed mozzarella cheese. French onion spaghetti squash!

Trying a new vegetable dish  is no longer a challenge or a disappointing dinner. Enjoy your local seasonal vegetables in these new and exciting ways.

Crock Pot Strawberry Jam

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I cleaned out my refrigerator yesterday because I was certain there were a couple meals left to cook before I needed to go grocery shopping again. I realized that I had two lbs of strawberries that were ripe and ready… and starting to get a little soft.

I’ve been dabbling with the idea of learning to do canning, but either didn’t have the supplies on hand or just wasn’t ready to make the mess, so I haven’t done jam yet.

I figured out, it’s much easier just to cook it down into jam in the crock pot and then eat it up instead of going through the hassle of canning! My recipe was quick, easy and I bet you even have all the ingredients on hand.

Apples contain a natural pectin which works to thicken up the jam a bit, but this recipe will not give you a solid product. It’s a great consistency to spread on toast, dribble on waffles or use to top ice cream or angel food cake.

2 lbs strawberries, cut the tops off first
3 cups white sugar
1 medium apple, cored, peeled and sliced
2 lemons, just the juice

Put all ingredients in the crock pot on high for three hours. Turn off; use a hand blender to puree the jam. Carefully, put into glass mason jars or plastic containers and let cool for one hour. Then, put lids on and store in refrigerator. Enjoy!

Crock Pot Hot and Sour soup

I had three reasons for creating crock pot hot and sour soup this week…

1. Chinese New Year was on Monday and I forgot to order takeout.

2.  I’ve been trying to do at least one meatless meal each week.

3. Hot and sour soup is amazing for clearing up a stuffy nose and a winter cold!

As with all my soups, I like more “stuff” than “broth” so my hot and sour soup is more crowded that what you get at a Chinese restaurant, but I think you’ll like this as a full meal and not just an appetizer. Plus, it can be made completely vegetarian and I think it’s gluten-free, so this is a great dish if you are cooking for people with food limitations.

If you didn’t get a chance to celebrate the Chinese New Year either, then whip up a quick batch of this hot and sour soup to start the year out like a fire-breathing dragon! (but you don’t need to make it that spicy if you don’t want!)

3 oz.  shiitake mushrooms (I bought a 6 oz. jar of mushrooms in liquid and used half)

2 cups baby carrots, quartered

3 medium green onions, sliced

3 cups bok choy, chopped

4 c. low-sodium chicken broth

1/3 c. rice vinegar

1 T. soy sauce

1 t. ground ginger

1 t. sesame oil

2 t. sriracha sauce (Asian red pepper sauce, also sometimes called rooster sauce)

1 package extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into half-inch cubes

Put all ingredients EXCEPT TOFU into crock pot and stir into mixed. Cook on high for 3-4 hours (or until carrots are soft enough) then add cubed tofu and cook for one more hour.

Crock Pot Dirty Rice

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Do you ever stock up on meat when it’s on sale and freeze it, only to then have to come up with a meal that specifically uses that “great deal” before it gets freezer burnt?! Yeah, that’s what I’m going through today. I thawed out a package of sweet italian ground sausage. I’m sure I bought it with some sort of intention…. but then it got buried in the freezer under half a dozen packages of frozen vegetables. After making winter vegetable soup, I found my meat stash and now had to face the task of figuring out what to make with the ground sausage.

Normally, you can substitute ground sausage in most ground beef or ground turkey recipes. It makes great chili, an incredible lasagna and even is creative in meatloaf. But I wanted to work on a recipe that truly highlighted the spices of the sweet italian sausage. You can use any variety of sausage, just understand that the flavors will ultimately completely change up the overall dish– so if you want hot sausage or you want to un-case a beer bratwurst, that’s totally fine. You can play with the flavors by changing up your meat selection– or using up something you find in the bottom of your freezer!  

So tonight, we’re having crock pot dirty rice. I love that this dish uses the word “dirty”, but it’s so true. This is the antithesis of steamed, white rice. It muddles together all the flavors from the spicy meat and the sweet vegetables and somehow the tomato paste marries it all together. Yes, that’s what this is– a “dirty” “marriage” of flavors. Ha! I hope you enjoy this classic spicy one-pot meal and that it warms up your winter night.

1 lb sausage, crumbled and browned

3 cups water

1 cup uncooked long grain rice

1/2 large onion, finely chopped

1/2 large red bell pepper, finely chopped Read more

Crock Pot Sweet Potato Soup

I’ve always been a fan of our grill… really, for two reasons. 1. In the summertime, it’s a great way to eat healthy and not heat up the kitchen and 2. when we grill, my husband is usually the one cooking!  Since it’s been such a mild winter, we’ve been taking advantage of the unseasonably warm evenings and grilling our food. But since local produce isn’t as plentiful in January, I’ve been getting creative.

So I’ve been grilling sweet potatoes. Sure, they get their glory at Thanksgiving when they are smothered and covered by marshmallows or syrup or sugar. Sometimes they even make a repeat performance at Christmas or Easter or Passover, but my new absolute favorite way to eat a sweet potato is by grilling it to perfection.

It’s so easy, let me tell you the few easy steps… Wash your sweet potatoes. Poke fork holes all over. Wrap sweet potato in aluminum foil. Grill on med-high heat for one hour, turning the sweet potato halfway through. That’s it! When the sweet vibrant goodness is done, it will be easy to squeeze the flesh with tongs. Please be cautious though, sometimes the sweet juices will run out of the foil (and I don’t want you to get burned).

So a couple nights ago, I grilled five sweet potatoes. I figured we would eat the leftovers so I made a couple extra. And these extra potatoes became the inspiration for tonight’s new recipe! With a few ingredients I already had on hand, I was able to literally “whip together” this amazing meal. This crock pot sweet potato soup is thick and hearty and even though soup might not be fresh and exciting for a winter meal, adding in the flavor from the grill really makes a difference. 

2 medium sweet potatoes, already cooked in grill or oven, cooled and then skinned

3 c. chicken broth

1/2 c. caramelized onions

1/4 t. nutmeg

1/4 t. chili powder

1/4 t. celery seed

1/4 t. curry powder

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 c. heavy cream

Put all ingredients (except heavy cream) in crock pot, stir and then cook on low for 3-4 hours. Use a hand blender and puree mixture until smooth, then stir in heavy cream. Serve hot with a tiny sprinkle of nutmeg or curry on top.

Crock Pot Pork Chops in Spaghetti Sauce

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This is such an easy recipe, I’m almost ashamed to post it. But it made the best spaghetti sauce I’ve EVER tasted. Honestly, I considered licking the pot. I always try to “amp up” store-bought spaghetti sauce and this is now my favorite way to do it. This might just revolutionize pasta night at your house too. 

I used bone-in pork chops because I think they have great texture and just the right amount of fat. By searing them first, you keep the moistness in the meat, but by prolonging the cooking process and finishing them in the crock pot, the meat becomes so tender, it will literally fall off the bone and you can cut it with a fork. 

The leftover sauce in the crock pot can be used on the meat, the pasta, on garlic bread… or cook a little extra and then freeze the pork-infused sauce for another dinner. Seriously… sometimes I even impress myself.  This sauce is now a new family favorite after just one meal.  Enjoy!

1.5-2 lbs bone-in pork chops

2 T. olive oil

3 cups spaghetti sauce (traditional style)

1 lb box thin spaghetti

Heat oil in flat skillet. Cook pork chops for 4-5 minutes on each side or until brown sear forms. Pour half of the spaghetti sauce into crock pot, put pork chops onto sauce and then cover them with remaining sauce. Cook on high for four hours or until meat is soft enough that it pulls away easily from the bone. Cook pasta according to package directions. Serve meat with pasta and cover both with sauce.

Crock Pot Barbecue Beer Chicken

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One of our local organic grocery stores ran a deal last month for free boneless, skinless chicken breasts so I made the trip and bought the meat. I brought it home and stuck it in the freezer and the pretty brown paper has been staring at me every day since then. You’ve read in my other posts that I’m not a huge fan of plain chicken breasts, but it was such a good deal, I couldn’t pass it up.

Living in North Carolina, barbecue here is done two different ways– sloppy, smokey and sweet OR vinegar-based and tart. I’m more a fan of the first, so it’s easy to go out and buy a barbecue dinner, but even more difficult to find a good bottled sauce to use at home. I’ve tried A BUNCH of store-bought sauces and have found a few favorites.

My #1 choice above all else is Montgomery Inn Barbecue Sauce, from Cincinnati, Ohio. It isn’t distributed everywhere, but you can buy it online. It’s smokey and just the right thickness and I love it on the meat on the grill or in the crock pot.

I also recently discovered Budweiser’s Sweet Barbecue Sauce. It’s sweet and sticky, but great flavor for pulled chicken sandwiches. I added some additional flavors in today’s meal, but this sauce was delicious.

Make this recipe and then serve it on warmed sesame buns or in a wrap with some shredded cheddar cheese. You can vary the flavors by switching out what kind of beer and what kind of barbecue sauce you choose to use.  Enjoy!

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast

1/2 c. caramelized onions

6 oz. beer (your choice!)

1 bottle barbecue sauce (your choice again!)

Put chicken in crock pot and pour beer over meat. Add caramelized onions on top of meat. Cook on low for 6 hours. Use a baster and remove the excess liquid from the pot and then shred the meat with a couple of forks. If cooked properly, the meat should fall apart very easily. Pour enough barbecue sauce over the meat that it coats it well but isn’t soupy. (You can always add more, you can’t really get it back out!) Cook on low for one additional hour.

Crock Pot Caramelized Onions

I can’t believe I haven’t published this recipe for you yet! I make this once a month and then use it in other dishes. This is so easy and tasty and lasts for up to a month in the refrigerator– unless you are like me and use it all up first! Three pounds of onions fits in a one quart plastic container when cooked. Make sure the lid shuts air tight (tupperware, rubbermaid, gladware, mason jars, etc.). 

Suggested uses for caramelized onions: put a scoop in any dish that you usually would use fresh chopped onions, like meatloaf, hamburgers or potato soup) or make it into super easy french onion soup– put a scoop in a bowl, cover with beef broth. Then put a crostini on top and some cheese and broil until cheese is melted. Seriously– french onion soup in five minutes or less!

You will save so much time if you take 8 hours and make this in advance. Enjoy the extra time and the extra flavor!

3 lb. yellow onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick

1 stick butter

Put onion slices into the crock pot. Put one stick butter on top. Cook on low for 7-8 hours. Cool. Store in airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Crock Pot Turkey Pot Roast

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This afternoon, I went with my family to an apple orchard to pick fresh, local produce to enjoy. It felt organic. Not in the “lacking chemicals and pesticides” way, but in the “feeling connected to the earth and supporting something good”. My kids loved picking the fruit and sampling all the different kinds of apples.  I am eager to make my escalloped apples recipe as soon as possible.

 But the best part of the day was coming home to dinner already made and a very hungry family to feed!

One of my favorite meals to cook and eat is pot roast– meat, potatoes, carrots, celery, onions… all the basics. It’s so filling and full of great nutrients. One crock pot is a whole meal. But sometimes I like to vary it up a little.  I made a very similar recipe today, but instead of beef, I used three turkey legs as our protein.

The meat becomes so tender it falls off the bone. I used whole carrots because they make such a nice presentation and Read more

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