Crock Pot Buddies – Easy Peasy Perfect Pot Roast Recipe

It was like two brains (or more accurately our stomachs!) that were thinking alike last week.  My cooking-partner in crime Cristina over at Central Jersey Working Moms posted on her Facebook fan page some crock post recipes she found on Real Simple magazine that she was itching to try.  On that very same day I was trying out this crock pot recipe for pot roast…..and the two of us decided to bring back our Thursday Crock Pot Buddies Recipe Hop for the winter season!

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Crock Pot Buddies – MacGyver Meal

If it’s Thursday, it’s time for Crock Pot Buddies with me and my cooking-partner-in-crime Cristina over at centraljerseyworkingmoms.com!  Have you tried any of our Crock Pot recipes yet?  How did it turn out? Please make sure to comment below to let me know how it went, or if you have any tips/suggestions for the recipe.    This week Cristina’s serving up a tasty Mexican meal, Good Ole Chicken Soup and me, well, as you’ll see it was a work in progress!

 After a long and chilly, but fortunately un-snowy season, Spring officially sprung this past Tuesday.  Right on cue, the weather started cooperating here in the Northeast (NJ to be specific) and it’s been sunny and unseasonably warm, with temperatures more like summer than spring.   And I’ve been totally taken over by the Spring Cleaning Fairy!  In the past few days I’ve already packed up my sweaters, put away the family’s wool coats and even swapped out all the kidlets long-sleeved tops for short-sleeved fare.  Now that the closets were in shape for Spring, next up was tackling the freezer to use up and clean out what’s been hibernating up there for nearly half a year.   So this week’s recipe is called the MacGyver Meal because I took what I found in my freezer and along with some staple ingredients and turned it into not one, but two meals.

In the depths of my freezer I found some sweet Italian turkey sausage and some breasts of chicken. I always have cans of tomatoes on hand in the pantry and looking inside the fridge; I discovered I had the holy trinity of root vegetables – onions, carrots and celery.  I immediately started thinking I could turn this into a sort of Primavera.  The best part would be that I would cook once and eat twice out of this crock-pottery, with two different meal options.

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Crock Pot Buddies – Pork Ribs In Tomato Sauce

If it’s Thursday, you know it is time for Crock Pot Buddies!  This is now week five for me and my cooking-partner-in-crime Cristina over at centraljerseyworkingmoms.com!  Did any of you try my Lip-Smack-A-Luscious Pot Roast recipe from last week?  If so, please be sure to let me know either via comments here or my Facebook page. This week Cristina is serving up pulled pork and not to be outdone, I’m sharing my recipe for Pork Ribs in Tomato Sauce.

On our trip last week to Texas to visit with family we had lunch one day at the Rib Tickler where I ate some awesome BBQ ribs.  I had ½ a rack and sucked those bones dry, I didn’t even share one bite with the Hubs or kidlets.  Now that we’ve come back home to New Jersey, I still had a hankering for ribs and decided that I would make some for dinner, but with an Italian twist.  Instead of predictably slow cooking them smothered in barbeque sauce or with sauerkraut and apples, why not try cooking ribs in a thick and hearty tomato sauce?  Pork ribs are perfect to make “Italian style.”  Slow cooking the pork ribs is a perfect way to infuse tomato sauce with incredible meat flavor.

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Crock Pot Buddies – Lip-Smack-A-Luscious Pot Roast!

Yay!  It’s our four week anniversary for me and my Crock Pot Buddy, Cristina over at centraljerseyworkingmoms.com!  Have you tried any of our previous recipes?  If so, please be sure to let us know either via comments here or our Facebook pages. This week, we both tried completely different recipes.  This week Cristina made Golden Honey Chicken, and well, you’ll have to read her post to see how it turned out!  As for me, I’m featuring my favorite go-to Crock Pot meals, my Lip-Smack-A-Luscious Pot Roast!

I hope you have enjoyed the recipes I’ve shared here the past few weeks, but I have to admit, they aren’t 100% my own creations.  I like to think I am a decent cook, but I am not quite Julia Child – yet!  The recipes that I’ve featured so far came from various cook books or websites, but I’ve altered them to either fit my own personal cooking style, fine-tuned to suit my family’s own personal tastes, or even re-imagined because they had ingredients that were either weird or too fattening!  However, this recipe is one that I totally claim as my own.  It is not written down somewhere on a recipe card or nicely typed out on a sheet of paper, it’s one that sits up in my brain, stowed away in my mental recipe filing cabinet.  It is a recipe that I have perfected with lots of trial and error, and let me tell you, some of those errors were not pretty or delicious.  I’ve incorporated cooking techniques and “secrets” that I’ve picked up from other recipes that for some reason seemed right to use here, so you’ll just have to trust me on it.

This recipe didn’t have a name until I had to give it one for this post.  Personally, I think the first step to any great meal, is to give it a just the right name.  When the Hubs ate this meal the last time I made it (I usually make it once a month), he told me how tasty it was and smacked his lips.  Now I know he was just teasing me, but that little sound just stuck out in my head – and hence, the name Lip-Smack-A-Luscious Pot Roast!  The next step to any successful meal is to make sure it is tasty.  This means the right balance of seasonings, spices, and our good friends, salt & pepper.  That was going to be hard, since when I make this recipe I season it according to what I call that my old Italian cooking technique — my own gut.   I had no measurements for ANYTHING. So the last time I made it, I actually took what I did freestyle, via my gut, and placed them into various measuring spoons & cups in order to get right seasoning proportions for you.

So when you read the ingredients and directions, you’re going to scratch your head and say what’s up with the cornstarch/flour/butter concoction when you’re browning the meat?  Remember what I said earlier about trusting me, you need to here. This is an essential step, because most times when I brown the meat can get tough on the outside and not always caramelize enough.  So to protect the meat and get it to brown a little better I lightly floured it and then seared it off.  It worked great for actually browning the meat, but left the dish with a heavy, cakey-kind of taste and texture. I had thought about using cornstarch, but since it is a pure starch I thought it would form a sort of paste or gel on the meat, ick.  Then I saw on some cooking show about mixing flour AND cornstarch together along with some unsalted butter.  Apparently each ingredient tempers the effect of the other — with flour in the mix, the cornstarch is sufficiently diluted by the protein in the flour to prevent it from forming a paste, whereas the flour is diluted enough that it doesn’t cause the crust to become bready. It also helps to thicken up the juices in the dish and makes a nice sauce that isn’t runny.  I know, it’s a lot of chemistry for a meal, but I’m telling you this works – and not only for meat that you have to brown, but also for chicken, lamb and veal!

Now if you have a hi-tech crock-pot like mine where you can actually sauté in the pot itself, you can brown the meat in it. If you don’t, I recommend that you use a heavy duty frying pan.  It helps distribute the heat more evenly and allows you to get a better crust on your meat.  Italian Seasoning works great to flavor the recipe but if you don’t have that concoction on hand I have listed the spices out individually. So here it is, in all its glory:

Lip-Smack-A-Luscious Pot Roast
Prep Time:  20 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6 people
Slow Cook Time:  3 1/2 to 4 Hours on HIGH or 8 Hours on LOW

Ingredients:

3lb beef chuck roast
1 1/2 large onion (I like to use a sweet onion for this), quartered
1 1/2 cups baby carrots (or use 4 carrot stalks cut into thirds)
1 cup mushrooms, caps only, cut in half, any variety
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 13 oz can of stewed tomatoes
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (or A1 Steak sauce)
2 tsp tomato paste
1 ½ cups beef broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ tsp coarse salt
¼ tsp ground pepper
1 ¼ Tbsp of Italian seasoning
Or:

  • ½ tsp dried basil
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp dried crushed rosemary
  • ½ tsp dried cilantro or parsley
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • ½ tsp dried marjoram
  • ½ tsp dried sage

1 large or 2 medium bay leaf

Directions:

1.  Cut vegetables into roughly the same size, aiming for them to be 1 inch cubed.

2.  Whisk butter, flour, cornstarch and some ground black pepper together in a small bowl.  Lightly brush the top side of the beef chuck roast with half of butter mixture.  Place meat in meat in slow cooker on “sauté” setting to brown or in frying pan, with the coated side down and brown until crust forms, about 3 to 4 minutes.  While side one is browning, lightly brush the remaining butter mixture on side two of the meat.  Flip the meat to brown the other side, again 3 to 4 minutes until meat browns & crust forms.

3.  Switch crock pot from sauté and/or turn switch to slow cooker setting.

4.  Combine beef broth, stewed tomatoes, tomato paste & all seasonings to crockpot, stir.

5.  Add in meat and surround with all the cut vegetables.

6.  Cook for 3 1/2 to 4 Hours on HIGH or 8 Hours on LOW

7.  Salt & pepper to taste.

Please link up below your favorite Crock Pot recipe – and don’t forget to share your shortcuts or improvements to your dish!  Remember, there’s always time for a home cooked meal with your crock pot!

Crock Pot Buddies – Loaded Baked Potato Soup

For this week’s Crock Pot Buddies Link-Up, my partner-in-cooking Cristina from centraljerseyworkingmoms.com and I decided that we’d both prepare the same recipe.  Cristina likes to joke that I have the “Cadillac” of all crock-pots with my multi-setting, hi-tech Cuisinart Multicooker, while she’s totally old-school, with a classic style crock-pot with just two settings.   Cristina had a recipe in mind – Crock Pot Style Loaded Baked Potato Soup.  Though I’m not a huge fan of potato soup, it looked easy enough and figured I should open myself up to new meals, so I agreed.

Now, we both were making the same recipe, but would one of us have an advantage over the other?  I have to say I got a little nervous. What if my hi-tech wonder wasn’t up to the challenge?  Would my own cooking skills (I know, it’s a crock pot – you basically toss and go, but go with me here) be up to par with Cristina’s?  We’re both Italian by heritage, and we can debate for hours over each other’s Sunday sauce, but maybe she has an ace up her sleeve, like she’s a culinary institute graduate and just not telling me!  You can read Cristina’s take on this week’s recipe by clicking here – but only when you’re done reading & sharing your recipe with me first, OKAY!

I originally planned to make this recipe this past Monday, until I realized you actually have to peel the potatoes for this dish. Prepping spuds while my kidlets ran around the living room on top of the time I still needed to pull myself together for work was not a smart way to start the week.   Plus, I had the wrong kind of potatoes! I needed Russet but only had Red Bliss on hand. So Monday night the hubs was sent out to the local supermarket to pick up baking potatoes, garlic, a pint of heavy cream and some sour cream, none of which I had.   Note to self:  make sure to read weekly Crock Pot Buddies recipe in advance and add those items to Sunday grocery shopping list!

As you might remember from last week, my crock pot is a whopping 7 quart one and most recipes out there are written only for 4 – 5 Qt ones, so I have to make adjustments to accommodate that…and I do it all by that old Italian cooking technique – my gut.  So not scientific at all, and I can’t give you exact amounts for increasing to a larger crock-pot, but as the hubs said to me – why not just double the recipe?  Well, duh, that would be too easy, wouldn’t it. ;)  Anyway, our local grocery didn’t have large baking potatoes, so the hubs brought home a 5 lb bag – and I wound up just using all of that for this.

Do you know what it’s like to peel five pounds of potatoes?  I felt like I was on KP duty.

My sink with all the potato peels – I felt like I was in the Navy and on KP duty

Potatoes, peeled – now I cut up one large onion, garlic, added butter (I used unsalted), salt/pepper and chicken stock.  I had originally planned to make this totally vegetarian, but alas, as I was putting everything together, I realized I had no vegetable stock in the house and the hubs certainly wasn’t up for another supermarket run – so chicken stock would work fine.

All the nicely peeled and chopped potatoes, minced garlic, onion, butter, salt & pepper

I came home that night and it looked a little like mush, but don’t fear, it is supposed to look that way. Remember, those potatoes had cooked for eight hours after all!  I took my potato masher and mashed all that goodness up.  I added some “taco” flavored shredded cheese and only about ½ the amount of heavy cream.  I stirred it up, ladled it into bowls for the hubs & me, put a little dollop of reduced fat sour cream and sprinkled with some chives.

Here’s what my final result – and please keep in mind, I’m no food stylist! I was a little nervous by the lack of spices in this dish, but it was PLENTY flavorful.  The potatoes really break down nicely and release all of their goodness, combined with the garlic & onion.  It really did taste like a baked potato, only in a liquid form.  My main suggestion – plus that of my #1 food critic, the hubs – was that my version wasn’t “soupy” enough.  It was pretty thick and hearty.  Next time I’ll make sure to add a bit more stock to it to thin it out a bit.  I’m sure you can add carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, or even meat to it, just like an actual baked potato. Mmmm-next time, bacon!   I had enough left over to store some in an airtight container and pull out for dinner one day next week when I don’t have the time or inclination to make dinner.

So here’s the actual recipe and instructions.  All these measurements are for a 4-5 Qt slow cooker…

Crock Pot Style Loaded Baked Potato Soup
Prep time: 15 minutes
Serves: 6 to 8 people; 2 cup serving each
Slow Cook Time:  4 hours on HIGH or 8 hours on LOW

Ingredients:
6 large baking potatoes , peeled, cut in 1/2 -inch cubes
1 large onion , chopped
1 quart chicken broth
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup butter
2 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup cream or 1 cup half-and-half cream
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Optional ingredients:
1 cup sour cream (optional)
8 slices bacon , fried & crumbled
cheese , for sprinkling

Directions:

1.     Combine first seven ingredients in a large crock pot; cover and cook on HIGH for 4 hours or LOW for 8 hours.  The potatoes should be tender.

2.     Mash mixture until potatoes are coarsely chopped and soupy is slightly thickened.

3.     Stir in cream, cheese and chives.

4.     Optional ingredients – Top with sour cream, sprinkle with bacon and more cheese.

Please link up below your favorite Crock Pot recipe – and don’t forget to share your shortcuts or improvements to the dish!  Remember, there’s always time for a home cooked meal with your crock pot!