From the snowy, icy, car-jammed incident in the South last week to the piggy-backing snowstorms in the Northeast to the record snowfall amounts in the Midwest, there’s no doubt about it – it’s cold! Imagine ending your frosty commute home and stepping into your apartment foyer to the aroma of your favorite comfort food…. a hearty beef stew…. lasagna…. chicken and dumplings. If you have a slow cooker, then don’t just imagine it – prepare it!
A slow cooker is a terrific appliance. It won’t take up much space in your apartment kitchen, where cabinet and counter space is at a premium, and it makes cooking at home so much easier. Set it in the morning before you leave for work or school and it will be ready by the time you return in the evening – no having to cook after a long day. (And you won't have to hit the drive-through or order take-out.)
Do you live alone? That shouldn't stop you from using a slow cooker! Slow cookers range in size from a .65-quart mini to a five-quart family size. The mini is perfect for the single person, and you'll have leftovers for work the next day.
Did you know you can prepare baked potatoes in a slow cooker? Wrap a couple in aluminum foil and place them in the crockpot. Set it on low for eight hours. When you get home from work, you can stir-fry some veggies (such as broccoli and mushrooms) to use as a topping. Take the potatoes out and unwrap them, slit the tops, and add your veggies, sour cream or low-fat yogurt, etc.
It's easier than you think to make chicken and dumplings – especially with a handy slow cooker. Peel and chop a potato, slice up a couple of carrots, and chop up an onion. Put all of that in a slow-cooker and pour in some chicken broth (or water) and a can (or two) of cream of chicken soup. Cut up a couple of skinless, boneless chicken breasts and toss that in. Set it on low and leave for work. After eight hours, your chicken soup is ready to eat – unless you want dumplings. To make dumplings, use two cups of a baking mix (such as Bisquick) and mix it with 2/3 cup milk. Drop it by spoonfuls into the crockpot. Put the cover back on and wait about 20-30 minutes (until the biscuits look done).
Beef stew is even easier. Wash and quarter some red potatoes (no need to peel them first). Put them in the slow cooker. Take a package of stew meat and coat it with a mixture of flour, salt, and pepper. Add the beef on top of the potatoes. Toss in a can of diced tomatoes (14 oz.) and a couple cups of water. If you want, toss in some baby carrots. That's it! Set it on low and let it cook for eight hours.
Lasagna … in a crockpot? Why not? To make lasagna, you'll have to cook the beef first (over medium heat until no longer pink) and drain it. Add about 2/3 jar of pasta sauce to the beef. Then, mix together mozzarella and ricotta cheese in a bowl and add some salt and pepper. Spoon some of the cooked beef in the bottom of the crockpot. Put the lasagna noodles (uncooked – break them as needed to fit) on top of the beef. Top with some of the cheese mixture. Repeat, layering beef, noodles, and cheese. Top with extra pasta sauce and cover, cooking on low for five hours. Sprinkle it with parmesan cheese, cover it, and let it cook about 10-15 minutes more.
To make things even easier, try prepping on the weekend. Go to the store and gather all of the ingredients you'll need for several slow cooker recipes. Purchase some gallon-sized freezer bags. Chop up all of the veggies (per recipe) and put them in labeled freezer bags (label with the name of the dish, directions, and the date). If your recipe calls for sliced chicken, sausage, or beef, add that to the bag as well. Add any other ingredients, seal the bags, and put them in the freezer. The night before you want to make the recipe, take the bag out of the freezer and put it in the fridge so it can thaw. Before you leave for work, toss everything from the bag into the crockpot.
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