Monday, February 1

Slow cooker success stories

In response to my piece about the ease of slow cookers, one reader asked what some of my recipes were. I decided it was easier to do a post than explain it all in the comments. So here are a list of some of my favorite recipes.

Mom's recipes

This set of entrees comes from my mom's repertoire. These are some of the main dishes I ate growing up. Good stuff: tasty, hearty and easy to reheat!

Spaghetti Sauce

I grew up on this stuff. Not only is it cheaper than the stuff that comes in a jar, it's a lot healthier. Most store sauces have a lot of added sugar.

12 oz tomato paste
28 oz crushed/pureed tomato
Pinch of brown sugar
3 tsp garlic
3 tsp black pepper
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp basil
2 tsp red pepper
1/2 lb browned ground beef (optional)

If you're feeding more than one person, you may want to double the recipe. (Doubled recipes used to fill up our slow cooker, which was about 4 quarts.) Be sure to adjust the spices to your taste. Personally, I use a lot more garlic and pepper than this recipe calls for. I like my sauce to have a definite bite.


  • If whole tomatoes are on sale, use them instead; you can puree in blender or put through a food mill.
  • You don't need to use ground beef. Add some chicken or turkey -- or just make it without meat at all.
  • I like to add pesto.
  • Use the sauce for more than just pasta: cut up some bread and put the sauce in a bowl to dip; make marinara sandwiches; bread some chicken breasts and top with Parmesan cheese and this sauce.


2 cans pinto, kidney or white beans (mix varieties for more interesting chili)
1 15-ounce can diced or pureed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
2 tsp oregano
3.5 tsp paprika
3.5 tsp black pepper
3.5 tsp powdered garlic
3.5 tsp cayenne
1/4 to 1/2 lb ground beef

The beef will need to be browned before you can put it in. (Consider adding a little onion while you do this.)

Throw it all in a slow cooker; once it boils, let it simmer for at least half an hour. I'd recommend an hour or more to give the flavors a chance to meld, but half an hour is technically enough. If you're in a huge hurry after work, bring it to a boil on the stove and then put it in the slow cooker, where it can simmer while you relax and maybe have a small snack.


  • The meat doesn't have to be ground beef. You can cut up some leftover chicken, turkey or beef.
  • Pork 'n' beans are often loss leaders; you can rinse them off and use them instead of pricier canned beans.
  • If you have time use dry beans, which are even cheaper: Put 1 and 1/2 cups of them in the slow cooker with several cups of water and simmer for a couple of hours or until they taste soft enough for you (add more water if necessary); drain and put them back in the slow cooker with the above ingredients.
  • If whole tomatoes are on sale, use them instead; you can puree in blender or put through a food mill.
  • To make this stretch further -- or for a vegetarian option -- serve this over rice. (Rice + beans = protein.)
  • My mom often tears off a piece of tortilla and scoops up her bites that way. This really stretches the dish -- and it's actually kind of a fun way to eat.

Tim's favorite way to eat chili is to add equal measures salsa and BBQ sauce. It may sound a little strange (and it definitely adds calories!) but it's really delicious.

Bean Soup

2 cups Great Northern beans (or pintos, or whatever you like)
Chopped onion to taste
1 carrot, grated
A couple of smoked neck bones, a ham hock or some leftover ham
Black pepper
Garlic or other spices if you want

Simmer it all in the slow cooker until the beans are soft enough for you. Because the meats are pretty salty, you may not need to add any additional salt. You can put these things into the slow cooker on "low" when you leave for work and it'll be done when you get home. Or put it in on "high" when you get home from work and it'll be ready to put in the fridge before you go to bed.

This is fabulous for cold winter days. Bean soup is mushy and thick. It's one of the best comfort foods I know.

Mexican Chicken

2 chicken breasts
1 cup salsa
1 cup water
1/2 packet taco seasoning
Handful of grated cheese (optional)

This isn't traditionally a slow cooker recipe. Usually, you brown cut-up chicken in a pan, then add the salsa, water and taco seasoning. Bring it to a low boil for a couple of minutes, until the sauce thickens up just a little. For extra thickener, grated cheese is excellent.


  • If you want to make this a slow cooker recipe, cut up two chicken breasts. Put the salsa, water and taco seasoning in the slow cooker. Stir until they mix and then add the chicken. Cook on low for 4-5 hours.
  • If you need to be gone longer than that, put frozen, whole chicken breasts into the slow cooker. After 6-8 hours, the chicken will be cooked and tender. You can then reach into the slow cooker with a knife and cut the breasts into pieces. If you use this method, you may need to add extra salsa/water/taco seasoning, as the mix may have cooked down too far. Use your own judgment.
  • If whole chickens are on sale that week, consider baking one the night before. Then you can cut off pieces to throw in the sauce, either that night or the next day. If you use a whole chicken, double the salsa, water and taco seasoning.
  • Not as cost effective, but in the past, Tim and I have bought a cooked chicken at the grocery store. This was usually when we were tired and already hungry.

Beans & Rice

Okay, this isn't a slow cooker recipe at all. But it's quick, easy and filling. Once the rice is done, the dish takes about 5 minutes to make.

2 cans beans
1 can corn
1.5 cups rice
Black pepper
Red pepper
Grated cheese (optional)

Start the rice cooking. Open the beans and corn. Throw these into a colander and rinse off. If you're going to use cheese, grate it while the rice is still cooking.

Once the rice is done, put it in a large bowl. (Be sure there is room to mix, or it will get messy.) Pour about a cup of salsa over the rice. Mix the two until all the rice is covered. Toss in beans and corn. Mix thoroughly. Then shake in black pepper, red pepper and garlic to taste. Be sure to stir these in thoroughly.

If you are using cheese, sprinkle it in now, while the rice is still hot. This way, it will melt as you stir it in.

You can roll this up in a tortilla and eat it like a burrito. Or, as I prefer, eat it like a dip, with tortilla chips.

Internet Recipes

This set of meals are ones I found online and have had success with. Depending on how many leftovers you want, you should experiment with increasing or decreasing the amounts.

Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches

This was the first slow cooker recipe I tried down here in Arizona. It was a rousing success! Also, it's surprisingly fun to shred chicken with forks. (The meat gets so tender, it's really no work at all.)


  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1 (17.5 fluid ounce) bottle buffalo wing sauce, divided
  • 1/2 (1 ounce) package dry ranch salad dressing mix
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 6 hoagie rolls, split lengthwise


  1. Place the chicken breasts into a slow cooker, and pour in 3/4 of the wing sauce and the ranch dressing mix. Cover, and cook on Low for 6 to 7 hours.
  2. Once the chicken has cooked, add the butter, and shred the meat finely with two forks. Pile the meat onto the hoagie rolls, and splash with the remaining buffalo wing sauce to serve.


  • We didn't have buffalo wing sauce, and I had no desire to go out and buy some. It's easy enough to find buffalo recipes on the web. It basically boils down to hot sauce and butter. I chose a slightly more complicated one was very happy with it.
  • I prefer blue cheese with buffalo chicken, so I picked up some $1 dressing on sale. This was also cheaper than the ranch mix, which runs between $3-5.
  • Hoagie rolls can be costly, and a nearby store had a sale on $1 hamburger buns. It was probably a little messier, but still tasty. We put two on a plate at a time. There were no leftovers.
  • If you're out of bread, or just want to make life easier on yourself, you can just serve the chicken breasts by themselves. I would definitely put some dressing on the side, though.

Garlic Brown Sugar Chicken


Chicken pieces-enough to feed your family-legs, thighs etc.
1 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup vinegar
1/4 cup lemon-line soda
2-3 Tbls. minced garlic
2 Tbls. soy sauce
1 tsp. pepper


Place chicken in crockpot. Mix all remaining ingredients and pour over chicken. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Serve over rice or noodles. You can thicken the juices after cooking with a little cornstarch. If using cayenne pepper, it gives dish a Szechwan flavor.

This. Is. Amazing.

I served it over rice. I cannot recommend highly enough that you use the cayenne pepper. I was so glad that I did. It was delicious!

And I would definitely recommend the corn starch. I thought not thickening the sauce would help it go farther; but it just meant it was a little runny.

Lemon Pepper Chicken


5 boneless skinless chicken breasts (or any chicken pieces)
Lemon Pepper seasoning
2 tbsp. melted or squeeze margarine


Put chicken in slow cooker/Crock Pot. Sprinkle generously with seasoning. Pour margarine over chicken. Cook on low for 10 hrs. or on high for 6 hrs.


  • We didn't have lemon pepper. So I just used lemon juice and black pepper. I added a little garlic, too, as memory serves. We were both very happy with the result.
  • The cooking times seem long to me. I can't remember if I let it cook for the whole 6 hours or not. Usually, chicken is done after 3-4 hours on high. Consider trying this dish when you have the time to keep an eye on it.

Homemade Applesauce

4 large apples
Juice from 1 lemon
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup water


Peel and core apples. Slice into quarters. Put them in the crock pot, then add lemon juice and water. Pour in vanilla, cinnamon and brown sugar.

Cook on low for 4-6 hours. Once apples are super tender, mash with potato masher or large fork.

This comes from Stephanie over at A Year of Slow Cooking. I absolutely love it. The first time around, I used the applesauce to make the Applesauce Chicken from her book, Make It Fast, Cook It Slow. That was also a great recipe, but I don't feel comfortable reprinting it here. (The applesauce recipe only appears because it's available on her blog.)

Point is, this is great stuff! A few days ago, I made a huge batch, thanks to an apple sale at a local market. (Three pounds of apples were 99 cents. So my 3-4 quarts' worth of applesauce cost under $3.) The sauce may be a little lumpier than the stuff in a jar. But it's delicious and, frankly, it makes the stuff feel more substantial.


  • Like Stephanie, I used imitation vanilla. It's much cheaper.
  • Rather than quarter them, I used an apple slicer, which will core the apple for you. I toss the cores in a bag and the apple slices in a large bowl. Once I'm ready to peel, I just grab a piece from the bowl. The peels go into the bag, along with the cores. The apple slice gets thrown into the slow cooker. It's nice and efficient.
  • You can use just about any kind of apple. Most people who have made their own, though, advise you to steer clear of Red Delicious. Otherwise, anything is fair game. Just make sure you only buy apples that are on sale. Otherwise, you're not really saving any money.
  • If you have a potato masher, that would probably be best. Like Stephanie, I mashed my apples with a large fork. It was relatively easy, but I can't help thinking a masher would have been best.
  • Just an FYI: When you first dump everything in, there will be almost no juice. Don't panic. The juice seeps out from the apples as they cook. By the midway mark, the apples will be just about covered by juices.

My recipes

I have started experimenting with my own recipes. I personally thought they were pretty tasty, but I'm still perfecting them.

Lime(ade) chicken

3-4 chicken breasts (mine were frozen)
Limeade concentrate
Lime juice
Lemon juice
Black powder
Sugar (optional)

We had a can of limeade concentrate sitting around. So I threw it into a bowl and let it thaw. To that, I added a couple drops of lemon juice, 10-20 drops of lime juice (Tim really likes his lime) and liberal shakes of black pepper and garlic powder. You may want to add a pinch of sugar.

I took out 4 frozen chicken breasts and placed them in our 6-quart slow cooker. I poured about half of the mix over the chicken, then turned the breasts over and poured the rest on. I set the slow cooker on high. At the 3-hour mark, I flipped the breasts to be sure both sides cooked in the juices.

My one problem here was that there wasn't quite enough juice. I think next time, I'll add a cup or two of water. It shouldn't hurt the recipe. It may actually help cut the citrus taste just a bit. As it was, the citrus tang was good. But it was a little stronger than I had intended.

Jalapeno Lime Soup

32 oz chicken broth
1/3 cup lime juice
2 chicken breasts
2 cans of beans
1/2 bag frozen vegetables
2 tbsp diced jalapenos
1/8 tsp salt
5-6 drops of hot sauce
Black pepper

The only work you need to do is to cut up the chicken breasts and to drain the beans. Otherwise, throw everything in and cook for about 4 hours on high or 6 hours on low.

Both of us were very happy with the result. Tim and I both finished off our bowls pretty quickly. The lime was more obvious than it is in a lot lime dishes. But it was far from overpowering. Still, depending on your own lime-leanings, you can adjust the amount of juice used.

I count this dish as a success, but I think the recipe could still use some tweaking. I'll list my thoughts down below. But if anyone has any suggestions, feel free to leave a comment.

Possible tweaks

  • I had originally intended to use sliced jalapenos. Personally, I thought they'd be aesthetically pleasing. Also, having the seeds would have changed the flavor a bit. Probably in a good way. (So long as I was moderate in my use.) Unfortunately, Tim had already diced all the peppers, so I went with what we had. Next time, I'm going to be sure to used sliced ones.
  • I would like a slightly different color for the broth. Maybe that sounds odd, but the pale color just did nothing for me. I think I'm too used to tomato-based dishes. They're colorful, as well as tasty. I actually considered adding salsa, but decided to wait until next time.
  • We used large frozen vegetables. (The same ones as the limeade chicken above.) Smaller ones might have made it more colorful and added a little more substance to the soup. As it was, I felt there was too much broth, even with the beans and veggies added.
  • I used black beans, but next time I might try a mix. Again, it's mainly an issue of aesthetics. But I think I'll at least try kidney beans, since they're larger and a slightly different texture than black beans.
  • I may add rice next time. I've seen recipes that include wild rice, so I just need to find out if regular rice requires any different steps. An added bonus: With the rice and beans forming a protein, you could potentially skip the chicken. That makes the dish easier and cheaper.
  • Finally, and most obviously, I could just use less broth. If I used just half a carton, I could always add more later. I guess I just prefer to make hearty soups riddled with ingredients -- especially ones high in fiber.

Cooking with a slow cooker

I just wanted to make a few notes about cooking with a slow cooker:

Which size to buy

We have a 7 quart slow cooker that we got for our wedding. I think the smallest I ever used held about 4 quarts. I wouldn't recommend going any smaller than that, especially for your first one. Later, you can always scoop up some deals, since the smaller ones go on sale all the time.

What to look for in a slow cooker

Beyond size, there are a few other items to consider when buying a slow cooker. The biggest factor for me -- and I cannot stress this enough -- is whether the stoneware is removable. If it's not, don't bother.

When the stoneware isn't removable, this means you have to wash the damn thing by hand and make sure the cord stays dry at the same time. Pay a little more and get convenience!

You should also figure out whether you want one with a timer. I know a lot of people love this feature. And if you're gone most of the day, this can be a way to ensure that your meals don't get overcooked. The ones with timers are only $10 or so more, by and large. So it may be a worthwhile investment.

Should you buy multiple slow cookers?

If you're just starting out, I say stick with just one. If and when you get into the slow-cooker groove, extras could be useful. Even then it's hardly necessary. It's mostly a matter of convenience.

I'm considering getting one more. Having a backup would make life easier. I wouldn't worry so much about immediately cleaning the stoneware after a meal. As it is, if I want to cook consecutive nights, I have to make sure the stoneware goes through the dishwasher that night. Otherwise, it won't be clean and dry when I need to start the next meal.

But there is another alternative: liners. These bags line the stoneware while you cook. I should warn you: they don't always work. Sometimes, I tear a small hole in the bag when I'm cutting up the chicken. Other times, the bags just leak. But the liners have definitely helped me avoid washing the slow cooker every time I use it.

If you have any other questions that spring to mind, or if you want to share your own recipes, go ahead and leave a comment below!


Anonymous Erin (Travel, Eat, Repeat) said...

I LOVE my slow cooker, especially for soups. It's so easy just to throw random ingredients in a pot with some water and leave it to cook while at work or running errands.

February 1, 2010 at 7:10 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I researched slow cookers, I read that they cook best when at least half full. For me, cooking for just myself, that meant a 4 qt. cooker. Two quarts of chili, stew, whatever, is quite a lot for one person.

February 2, 2010 at 4:17 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A week ago I made white chili in my crockpot and I used dry great northern beans. The recipe said it was ok to use dry beans as long as they were on high at least 4-6 hours. They were on high for 10 hours and they were STILL too firm. Grrrrrr... of course it was a night when I had company and I was so embarrassed. Shoulda known not to try a new recipe when I was having people over!

February 4, 2010 at 3:39 AM


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