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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Happy Thanksgiving: A Gratitude List

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.  It’s a time for the 3 Fs: family, friends and food. I also love a good parade and I’ve only ever missed seeing one Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade when The Hubs & I were returning from our honeymoon eight years ago!

It is also a day that is devoted to deep thankfulness.  I try to be thankful on a daily basis – for both the big and little things in life, but I know it is easy to take the everyday things for granted, that is until we don’t have them so readily.  I learned that lesson in spades with Hurricane Sandy a few weeks back, with no heat, no hot water or electricity.  It really made me think how fortunate and blessed I am.Continue reading ⇒

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.

Sausage & chicken browning in my crock-potContinue reading ⇒

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!

 

Crock Pot Buddies – Recipe Blog Hop

One of the daily stresses that is part of being a working mom is “What are we going to eat for dinner?”  After working a full day, coming home and cooking a meal is not something I look forward to or necessarily want to deal with.  Ideally I want to relax and hang with the kidlets, since I haven’t seen them all day, but until I get my own live-in chef, it’s either me or the Hubs preparing the family meals.

During the summer it’s easy to just toss something on the grill. It’s quick  and we can play outside with the kids until the meal is ready.  The grill is still an option for the winter since we have a gas line connected to it, but I’m not a big fan of going out into the freezing cold to take care of the food!  During the wintertime, I usually rely on my handy-dandy friend, the crock-pot. Before I go to work, I toss everything in, set it to cook for x-amount of hours and when we get home, not only does the house smells amazing, a hot meal is awaiting us.  And since it’s all cooked in one pot, it reduces the after meal mess!

Ah, the much maligned Crock-Pot; along with its groovy cousins Presto Burger and Mr. Coffee, it seems like no 1970s or 80s kitchen was without one (usually in “lovely” Harvest Gold or Avocado Green!). We got our first crock-pot when we were married eight years ago; it was one of those perfect wedding registry gifts.  It wasn’t all that high tech and didn’t have too many settings. In fact, it only had two: high or low.  One feature which I always wished for was an option to sauté in the pot itself.   For pot-roasts, chicken and sausage recipes – I always wound up having to brown them in a separate frying pan on the stove before putting them in the pot to cook.  So now instead of just cooking with and cleaning a crock-pot, I also had to scrub a frying pan, often washing away the best flavor from the bits on the bottom of the pan.

I was convinced that there had to be a crock-pot out there that was a little more versatile.  So I went online and did some research on the new slow cookers out there.  I was amazed at all of the options now out there.  There are models that not only sauté, but steam cook, have multiple temperature settings and even ones that you can actually also use on a stove top.

I eventually settled on what I think is the Cadillac of slow cookers-the Cuisinart Multicooker.  I was so giddy that I used it the first day I got it.

Full disclosure: This is not my kitchen, I wish mine looked that good & stylized!  This is the actual photo ad for the Cusinart Multicooker

To christen my new crock-pot I selected a  fairly simple recipe in a slow cooker magazine, Chicken and Portobellos with Mustard Cream.  I browned the chicken in the crock-pot and then with just the touch of a button, switched over to a roast setting and added my wet ingredients.  In three hours, I had some flavorful chicken, but it was a little dry. Turns out that most slow cooker recipes are made for 5-quart cookers and mine is a whopping 7-quarts, so all my important cooking liquid evaporated away to keep the chicken moist.   Note to self – going forward I would have to make liquid adjustments to most recipes to accommodate my humongous crock-pot.

Actually browning the chicken in my new hi-tech slow-cooker

Anyway, it was still was a tasty meal, one that we’ve already had more than once.  Here’s the original recipe – for a 5 Qt Crock Pot:

Chicken and Portobellos with Mustard Cream
Prep time:  15 minutes
Slow Cook Time:  5 to 6 hours on low OR 2 ½ – 3 hours on high

Ingredients:
3    Large, fresh Portobello mushroom caps, sliced
2     Cloves of garlic
3 ½ to 4 Pounds of meaty chicken pieces (breasts, thighs & drumsticks), skinned
2    Teaspoons of dried rosemary, crushed
½   Teaspoon of Kosher salt
¼   Teaspoon of fresh ground pepper
¼   Cup of chicken broth (fresh, canned or bullion cube)
¼   Cup of dry white wine (either cooking or table wine)
2    Cups of shredded romaine lettuce
½    Cup sour cream
1    Tablespoon country Dijon-style mustard (grainy mustard)

Directions:

1.    Sprinkle chicken with dried rosemary, salt & pepper and lightly brown chicken pieces in slow cooker set on “sauté” or in a separate frying pan.

2.    In a 4-to-5-quart slow cooker combine mushrooms and garlic. Place browned chicken in cooker. Pour broth and wine over chicken.

3.    Cover and cook on either low heat setting for 5 to 6 hours or high setting for 2 ½ -3 hours.

4.    Transfer chicken to a cutting board and pull meat apart into shreds discarding any bones. Line a serving platter with washed and shredded romaine lettuce; top with the shredded chicken.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the mushrooms from the cooker and place on top of chicken.  Discard the remaining cooking liquid.

5.    For mustard cream, in a small serving bowl, combine the sour cream with the country Dijon-style mustard.  Serve chicken and mushrooms with mustard cream, and if you have some fresh rosemary sprigs, you can garnish with that.

It’s only been a few weeks since I got my new slow cooker and I’ve made at least one meal a week in it – usually doubling the recipe so I have some extra to tuck away in the freezer for one of those “uh-oh” nights where I don’t have anything on hand for dinner.   I’ve done chicken, pot roast, and even spare ribs with sauce.  They’ve all come out yummy and I’m ready to get more adventurous with the meals….and I’m looking to you to help me out.

What are some of your favorite slow cooker recipes?

Beginning this week and for every following Thursday, my friend and fellow mommy blogger Cristina from centraljerseyworkingmoms.com will share with you a crock pot recipe that we have actually cooked for our family.  Sometimes they will be different recipes, like this week, or others it will be the same one – just our different takes on it.  We know first hand, how busy a mother’s day can be whether she works in a traditional office or at home.  With some simple and quick preparation, we hope to help you pull together one meal you know your family will love.

I hope that you’ll enjoy with new weekly feature and join us in sharing your favorite recipes in the Mr. Linky feature below – feel free to share both your tasty recipes and even some of the disasters!