My dinnertime secret weapon

This is the post where I battle fast food, take out and the family dinner with one awesome kitchen appliance. I think one of the biggest challenges of having an active family is figuring out how to feed them all a reasonably healthy dinner, but not all at the same time. When Dad is working late, Kid 1 has a 5:30 PM advisory meeting, Kid 2 has a 7:30 PM skate, and Kid 3, well, who the heck knows where Kid 3 is–work, maybe?– the idea of family dinner where everyone sits around the table and shares stories of their day while eating a healthy, balanced home-cooked meal is mostly just a fantasy. But that doesn’t mean that the healthy, balanced, home-cooked part is out the window.

slow cookerSay hello to my little friend
The Crock Pot®, or slow cooker as it is generically called, is the busy family’s best friend. You can go gourmet chef crazy with it, or follow a few easy dump recipes, and end up with a delicious dinner that’s ready to eat when, well, whenever someone is ready to eat. If you think you don’t have time to prepare a slow cooker dinner, think of the time you spend making the trip to the fast food or take out place. And think of the money. And the health benefits (or lack thereof). Now go buy a can opener and a slow cooker and stop whining.

Cheap cooking
One of the benefits of the slow cooker is that you can take a cheaper cut of meat and cook it slowly over low heat so that it’s tender and delicious. I get pork shoulder or chuck roast, both low fat and inexpensive cuts, and use them to make a fantastic pulled pork or Italian beef. Another benefit is that you can cook up a giant vat of goodness, serve some now and freeze the rest for leftovers later, and save time and money. One of my favorite cookbooks for that is the Cook Once, Eat Twice from Better Homes and Gardens. It gives you a main recipe to make for one night, then a tasty way to use the leftovers for dinner another night. The biggest problem we have is the Cook Once part is usually so yummy we don’t have anything left over for the Eat Twice part.

Ready when you are
Most slow cooker recipes cook 4-6 or 6-8 hours, depending on the recipe and temperature setting. Take just 15 minutes in the morning to get it going, then it’s ready when you get home. If you have early practices or activities, kids can help themselves when they get home from school. Serve the family members in attendance, then turn it down to the warm setting and it will still be hot later when the rest of the family gets home. Also great for the days when your teenage son eats dinner before practice, and then again a few hours later after practice.

Great Recipes
My best source for recipes is Search under slow cooker for hundreds of ideas, shopping lists, ratings, and tips. It’s my go-to source. I also visit my local library and check out some cook books, which is how I originally discovered the Cook One, Eat Twice book. Take home a few for a test cook, then buy the ones you really like. And of course, the Internet is full of slow cooker recipes. How to Use Your Slow Cooker Like a Pro has good tips, especially if you don’t need a huge vat of food.

Some people think slow cookers are old fashioned and lacking in modern appeal. If you are on a mission to take sexy back, this article from Oregon Live might just do the trick. And it’s got some great recipes to try out.

Trophy Mom Slow Cooker tips

  • If I were buying a slow cooker today, I’d get the programmable kind. Sometimes I leave early and 8+ hours is too long, even on the low setting. It would be nice to have it programmed to go down to warm.
  • Get the kind that has the removable cooking pot. It is so much easier to clean when you can pull that out and let it soak.
  • Get a glass lid so you can see what’s going on in there. Removing the lid lets out the heat so it will take longer to cook for every time you take a peek.
  • Spray the inside with PAM before cooking.
  • Never put your slow cooker near anything meltable or flammable. I melted a bread wrapper to my crock pot once and learned that lesson.

Dining Table Ping Pong
So, in the perfect world of my fantasy, we’d all sit down to dinner at the same time, use good manners and share our day, and then my kids would be less likely to use drugs and get kicked out of school. There is definite value to that. But for many of us, that’s not likely to happen more than a few nights a week, or ever, if your dining room table has been commandeered as a ping pong table. So we aim for easy, healthy dinners and do the bonding in the car, where the kids are my captives and must listen to my music and answer my probing questions about school, friends, teammates and life. Ahh, ha ha ha ha!
So, here are a few of my favorite recipes to get you started. Give them a whirl and leave a post with your slow cooker experiences, or how you manage dinners.

9 Comments on “My dinnertime secret weapon”

  1. Dirk Hoag says:

    Outstanding suggestion – we break our crock pot out on rare occasion, but with our kids turning 10, 10 & 9 this month we’re starting to get into that phase where people are getting pulled in different directions after school.

    My favorite crock pot tip is to take a pot roast and sear it on high heat on all sides for a few minutes on the stove before putting it in the crock pot. The outside gets a little bit of char going on, and the searing keeps the inside from drying out as easily.

    • Dirk,
      That’s a great tip. When I make stew, I brown the beef for a couple minutes before I put it in the crock pot. It does help keep the flavor in and keeps it from drying out. During our busy season, which seems to be 9 months of the year, I cook in the crock pot 2-3 nights a week.

  2. Pam says:

    I could never live without my crockpot! I have learned how to adapt non-crockpot recipes to use in the crockpot. For Christmas my mother bought me a programmable pressure cooker that has the option of using it as a slow cooker.

    • Pam,
      I didn’t even know they still made pressure cookers. What kind of things do you make in it?

      • julie t. says:

        I have a pressure cook it and LOVE it. I can make beef stew in 30 minutes. The kind that tastes like it’s been cooking all day. Also have made indian butter chicken in there…and pretty much anything that normally takes hours to cook. (ie tough cuts of meat, beans, etc). My brother makes corned beef briskets in his. 🙂

      • Julie,
        I am going to have to check that pressure cooker thing out. Sounds like a resurgence of pressure cookers is happening.

      • julie t. says:

        This is the one I have. It’s really great. Takes a few times of using it to get the hang of closing it correctly. I had some frustrations the first time or two…but now I know the trick of the little “release” button…it works perfectly.

      • Pam says:

        Well, so far I’ve make nothing in it. I scared to death to use it. My mom used to have stove top pressure cooker and I remember we always had to tip toe in kitchen. The one she bought me is an elcectric. I decided to keep it since it I can use it as a slow cooker until I get up the nerve to use it for pressure cooking. She used to make soups, stews, beans, roasts and pepper steak (yuk). You can even cook rice in it. I had did a search online and there are alot of recipes for it.

  3. Michele says:

    Make sure to check out the recipes! The Italian Beef recipe is incredibly easy to make a delicious!

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