Warm up a January night


Our old friend the crock pot can save a lot of hot-stove hours. Start out the new year by resolving to use it more often, perhaps for making this pared-down version of the fancy French dish Beef Bourguignon.

Our old friend the crock pot can save a lot of hot-stove hours. Start out the new year by resolving to use it more often, perhaps for making this pared-down version of the fancy French dish Beef Bourguignon.
Photo by: theviewfromgreatisland.com


A sausage and pepper breakfast casserole, served above with sriracha sauce, adds a kick to the morning.

A sausage and pepper breakfast casserole, served above with sriracha sauce, adds a kick to the morning.
Photo by: neighborfoodblog.com


This slow cooker fudgy peanut butter cake only takes about 10 minutes of prep time and an hour and a half cooking time.

This slow cooker fudgy peanut butter cake only takes about 10 minutes of prep time and an hour and a half cooking time.
Photo by: tasteofhome.com



Jan Swoope



The thermometer has been on a joy ride the past few days, but one thing we know: real cold will return. On a chilly, damp January night, there's just something cozy about a slow cooker supper. This appliance can do the heavy lifting on meaty main dishes, casseroles, soups, stews, pasta and desserts year-round, but it always feels right to revisit crock pot recipes this time of year. Yes, instant pots are faster, but if you're into putting ingredients "on" before you leave for work (or extended play) and like being greeted by delicious aromas and ready-to-eat meals when you get home, the tried-and-true crock pot is a good friend to keep around.  


A few useful tips from foodnetwork.com and quickanddirty.com can boost success with this magical helper:  


n Start with the right cuts: Our slow cookers make chuck roasts, short ribs, pork shoulders and other fatty, tougher meats tender with moist, low heat. Leaner cuts like pork tenderloin tend to dry out. Dark meat chicken -- thighs, drumsticks, etc. -- will remain juicier than white meat breasts.  


n For goodness sakes, keep the lid closed. Every peek you take during cooking will add another 15-20 minutes of cooking time. Curb that urge to stir. (Slow cookers work by running at low temps; the heat accumulates because it's trapped inside by the lid. Lift the lid and the heat has to build the heat back up.) 


n For even cooking, ingredients should be cut into similar-sized pieces. Firm root veggies, like potatoes and carrots, should go on the bottom, with meat sitting on top. (If there's a sauce or other part of the recipe with multiple elements, mix it before adding to the slow cooker so that flavors will be distributed well.) 


n Don't put frozen ingredients into a slow cooker. Thaw everything before adding them to the pot. 


n Sear meat on the stovetop first to seal in juices and optimize flavor. 


n Add dairy and herbs at the end. Milk, yogurt, sour cream and other dairy foods can curdle in the slow cooker, so incorporate them in the last 15 minutes of recipe cook time. (A squeeze of lemon juice or the addition of fresh, chopped herbs can brighten the final dish.)  


I actually excavated my crock pot from pantry storage Sunday night, percolating with an idea for a New Year's Eve celebration. If your crock pot has been pushed to the back of a cabinet, make it a resolution to retrieve it and put it to work. Here's to a year of less "slaving over a hot stove."  






(A pared down version of the fancy French dish) 


Serves 4-6  




2 tablespoons olive oil 


2 pounds stewing beef, cut in large chunks 


1 teaspoon salt 


1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper 


2 tablespoon flour (leave out for gluten free) 


1 bunch fresh thyme, tied in a bundle (reserve some leaves for garnish) 


1/2 cup cognac 


2 cups beef stock or broth 


2 cups red wine (Burgundy, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir) 


1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste (I like the kind in the tube) 


4 cloves garlic, crushed 


1 yellow onion, peeled, halved, and sliced 


3 carrots, peeled and cut in 1 inch pieces 


1 pound small white skinned potatoes, left whole if small, or cut in large chunks 


8 ounces (give or take) mushrooms, dusted off and halved 


1 bag frozen pearl onions 


Splash of red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar 




  • Browning the meat is an optional step, but if you have time, I like to do it. Skip this step if you like. Heat oil in large heavy saute pan or stock pot. Toss meat with the salt, pepper, and flour, When oil is nice and hot, brown meat, in 2 batches, until browned on all sides, about 6 minutes per batch. Put meat in bottom of your slow cooker and top with bundle of thyme. 


  • Turn off heat and add the cognac to the pan, and scrape up all brown bits as the liquid bubbles. Add the wine and beef stock and continue stirring until you've gotten all of the good stuff off the bottom and sides of the pan, put it back on the heat if necessary. Stir in tomato paste. 


  • Add garlic, carrots, onion, potatoes, mushrooms and pearl onions to slow cooker. Add the liquid from the pan to slow cooker and give everything a gentle stir to get it settled. 


  • Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours. 


  • At the end of cooking, remove the bundle of thyme and taste to check seasonings. I like to add a splash of vinegar at this point, add it according to taste. If you want a thicker sauce, stir in a knob of butter coated with flour, or sprinkle in some Wondra flour and stir well. Use corn or potato starch for gluten free. 


  • Serve the stew with a sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves. 


    NOTE: There is a lot of alcohol in this dish, and while most of it does cook out, there will be some remaining, so save this for the adults. The potatoes are not normally included in Bourguignon, but I added them to round out the stew as a complete meal. No use in using the slow cooker if you have to make a side dish. 


    (Source: Sue at theviewfromgreatisland.com) 








    1 pound roll breakfast sausage 


    1/2 yellow onion, chopped 


    15 ounces (1/2 bag) frozen hash browns 


    1 bell pepper (I used a mix of red and orange), chopped 


    1 4-ounce can diced green chilies 


    2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese 


    1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro 


    12 eggs 


    1 cup milk 


    1/2 teaspoon salt 


    1/4 teaspoon black pepper 


    1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 


    Salsa or sriracha, for serving 




  • Add sausage and onion to a large skillet. Cook over medium heat, breaking up sausage with a spatula, until no pink remains. Drain any excess fat from the skillet. 


  • Grease a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker. Add half the frozen hash browns to bottom of skillet. Spread half of sausage and onion mixture on top. Top with half the peppers, half the green chilies, and half the cheese. Repeat layers with the remaining hash browns, sausage, peppers, chilies, and cheese. Sprinkle with cilantro. 


  • In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Pour mixture into crock pot. 


  • Cook on low for 7-8 hours or until eggs are set and temperature registers 160 degrees in the center. There will likely be liquid around the edges of the casserole once it's done. Use a paper towel to sop up any extra liquid before serving. Serve with salsa or sriracha, if desired. 


    (Source: Courtney at neighborfoodblog.com) 






    Prep time: 10 minutes 


    Cook time: 1 1/2 hours 


    Makes 4 servings 




    1/3 cup whole milk 


    1/4 cup peanut butter 


    1 tablespoon canola oil 


    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 


    3/4 cup sugar, divided 


    1/2 cup all-purpose flour 


    3/4 teaspoon baking powder 


    2 tablespoons baking cocoa 


    1 cup boiling water 


    Vanilla ice cream 




  • In a large bowl, beat the milk, peanut butter, oil and vanilla until well blended. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar, flour and baking powder; gradually beat into milk mixture until blended. Spread into a 1-1/2-qt. slow cooker coated with cooking spray. 


  • In a small bowl, combine cocoa and remaining sugar; stir in boiling water. Pour into slow cooker (do not stir). 


  • Cover and cook on high until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 1-1/2-2 hours. Serve warm with ice cream. 


    Note: Reduced-fat peanut butter is not recommended for this recipe. 


    (Source: tasteofhome.com) 






    Prep time: 30 minutes 


    Total time: 3 hours + standing 


    Makes 8 servings 




    1 pound ground chicken or beef 


    2 teaspoons canola oil 


    1-3/4 cups sliced fresh mushrooms 


    1 medium onion, chopped 


    2 medium carrots, chopped 


    2 garlic cloves, minced 


    2 teaspoons Italian seasoning 


    3/4 teaspoon salt 


    1/2 teaspoon pepper 


    1/2 cup white wine or chicken broth 


    1 cup half-and-half cream 


    4 ounces cream cheese, softened 


    1 cup shredded white cheddar cheese 


    1 cup shredded Gouda cheese 


    1 large egg, beaten 


    1-1/2 cups (12 ounces) 2% cottage cheese 


    1/4 cup minced fresh basil or 4 teaspoons dried basil 


    9 no-cook lasagna noodles 


    4 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese 


    Additional minced fresh basil, optional 




  • Fold two 18-inch square pieces of heavy-duty foil into thirds. Crisscross strips and place on bottom and up sides of a 6-qt. slow cooker. Coat strips with cooking spray. 


  • In a 6-quart stockpot, cook chicken over medium heat until no longer pink, 6-8 minutes, breaking into crumbles; drain. Set chicken aside. 


  • In same pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, onion and carrots; cook and stir just until tender, 6-8 minutes. Add garlic, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper; cook 1 minute longer. Stir in wine. Bring to a boil; cook until liquid is reduced by half, 4-5 minutes. Stir in cream, cream cheese, cheddar and Gouda cheeses. Return chicken to pot. In a large bowl, combine egg, cottage cheese and basil. 


  • Spread 1 cup meat mixture into slow cooker. Layer with 3 noodles (breaking noodles as necessary to fit), 1 cup meat mixture, 1/2 cup cottage cheese mixture and 1 cup mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers twice. Top with remaining meat mixture and cheese. Cook, covered, on low until noodles are tender, 3-4 hours. Remove slow cooker insert and let stand 30 minutes. If desired, sprinkle with additional basil. 


    Nutrition facts: 1 slice: 603 calories, 35g fat (19g saturated fat), 165mg cholesterol, 1086mg sodium, 28g carbohydrate (7g sugars, 2g fiber), 40g protein. 


    (Source: Suzanne Smith, Bluffton, Indiana; tasteofhome.com)


  • Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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