Crockpot Band Wagon

Everytime I hear someone talking about crock pot meals, I think to myself "hm, you must be really good at Pinterest." It's not that I find anything wrong with crock pot meals. On the contrary, I think they're delicious and every time I make one I think to myself "I've GOT to do this more often".

The problem is that I'm a bad planner when it comes to dinner. I'm normally walking home with Chewie as I think to myself "what am I going to make for dinner?" So the idea of cooking 8 hours in advance is kind of mind blowing for me.

But, in an effort to fulfill my Mom's New Year's resolution of trying one new recipe a week, I decided to see if I could make crock pots work for my style. Here is my style: I am not an advanced cooker. Nor am I particuarly "advanced in skill" at cooking either. I have a few healthy standbys that I've got down to a science (stir fry, healthy nachos-- yes, you can make nacho's healthy enough for dinner, I swear), but I find cooking from a recipe to be way too time-consuming most times. I can do it, and I'm actually a pretty decent cook when I have the time. But on a week night, if it were socially acceptable to live off of recipes similar to those found in "a man, a plan, and a can" (and I wouldn't die from sodium overdose), I would.

Given my cooking limitations/preferences, here were my requirements for this exercise:

  • Minimum ingredients. I didn't count spices, but beyond spices, I was aiming for under 5 ingredients per recipe.

  • Dairy Free

  • Healthy. By this, I mean both low in bad fats/calories, but also low in preservatives. So although tempting, the "frito pie" recipes and "condensed soup caserole" dishes were out.

  • All ingredients had to be able to be purchased from my neighborhood "fancy" grocery store. I may try this again with Peapod, but with a project like this, I had to go when the moment struck, so that meant I was limited by my corner bodega. (I should note, our corner grocery store is not anything close to a bodega but rather a really fancy/schmancy city grocery store, but still, limited in its options).

  • Freezable.

I tried three different recipes and made two of each. Because, if I was going through the trouble of all of this, I wanted to have a lot of food as a result. Although, I have to confess, I did not think about the possibility that if this went poorly, I would have a lof crappy soup on my hands. Luckily the end result has been far from crappy.

Here are the recipes I used, so you can truly see when I say easy, I mean "easy enough for Leslie to do, so I can clearly tackle this":

Creamy Farmhouse Chicken and Garden Soup

1/2 package of frozen pepper stir-fry veggie mix

1 cup frozen corn

1 medium zucchini sliced

2 bone-in chicken thighs (or I used 4 bone-out and it turned out just fine)

1/2 teaspoon garlic

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1 cup half-and-half (or I used almond milk)

1/2 cup frozen green peas

2 tablespoons of chopped parsley

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon salt

4-6 cups of chicken broth

Combine all ingredients except the chicken broth and milk. Freeze. When you want to eat, unthaw in the fridge the night before. Then pour everything into the crock pot (this time WITH the liquids) and cook for 8 hours on low. Boom. Dinner.

Pumpkin and Butternut Beef Stew

2 pounds of cubed stew meat

4 cups cubed butternut squash (highly recommend the precut version, because ain't nobody got time to peel a squash)

1 medium onion chooped

1 tbsp sage

1 tsp thyme

1 bay leaf

1 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 cup pureed pumpkin (Aka PUMPKIN ALL OF THE THINGS!)

sal to taste

1 tbsp butter

3.5 cups beef stock

Combine all ingredients except the beef stock and freeze. Thaw the night before. Dump in crock pot with the beef stock. 6 hours on low. Enjoy this squashtastic medley that is fall in a crock pot.

Bean Stew

6 cups chicken or veggie stock

1 cup dry beans

2 medium carrots peeled and diced

1 small onion diced

2 celery stalks diced

3 tablespoons uncooked white rice

2 tablespoons garlic

1 tesaspoon herbs de Provennce or dried thyme

salt and pepper to taste.

Combine all ingredients except the stock and freeze. Thaw the night before. Dump in the crock pot with the stock. 8 hours on low. Serve. Then watch your toddler throw beans on the floor.

So how did it go? Surprisingly awesome. I had all 6 meals (2 of each) made in under an hour, which means if I was going for sainthood, I could potentially do this during a nap.

This was my grocery haul. Pretty basic, but turns out, it's enough to do the job.

My success in this project directly hinged on having this squash pre-peeled and cubed. WOULD NOT have happened without it.

Hot tip: write on the bags first. It's hard to write on beans. And include what else you need and for how long so you don't have to dig up the recipes again.

Here's my stack of finished product. The final product is deceptively simple but deceptively tasty. Also, please don't judge the rest of my freezer.

So yeah, I might be a crockpot convert. I'll let you know if/when this happens again and if I start regularly cooking on a large long term scale. Now, my dinner concerns only involve trying to remember to take the bag out of the freezer two days ahead of time. And for me, let's be real, that's still going to be a struggle.


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