Crock-pot meals and the crock-pot itself did not grace our kitchen while I was growing up. My mother hated cooking; in fact, other than breakfast items like pancakes, French toast, and waffles, she does pretty much anything to avoid cooking even to this day.
I held the title as the pickiest eater among my extended family; I existed on the two pasta meals my mom made (lasagna and spaghetti and meatballs,) Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, or meat, mashed potatoes (never baked and the potatoes had to be whipped with egg beaters to avoid any sort of lumpy potato texture,) and canned corn or carrots- with absolutely no touching amongst any of the foods. I can recall when, at a family Thanksgiving, my grandmother put sliced carrots from the garden on my ice cream as a joke. My soup repertoire was limited to Campbell’s Tomato Soup, and the occasional cup of broth made with a chicken or beef bouillon cube. I ordered salads at restaurants with, “Only the lettuce, please.” I would take jelly and butter sandwiches to school for lunch. That’s right, jelly and butter.
Fast forward to my adult years, becoming a parent, and adopting a more evolved food palate.
The elemental shift into fall has me craving all of the comfort things. The scents, the textures and the colors of the season feel like a warm, cozy blanket. I have a deep affection for the traditions of this season: apple picking, visiting pumpkin patches, decorating with oranges and reds, and arranging gourds, cornstalks, and mums.
There isn’t much about fall that I don’t love, but the return of hearty, homemade crock-pot meals certainly ranks up there.
Hearty and homemade doesn’t necessarily have to equate, however, to complex and time-consuming.
I had never used a crock-pot until I met my husband when I was twenty-eight. Among his many qualities, the fact that he owned a crock-pot was beyond endearing. However, it wasn’t something that I inherently knew how to use.
Thank goodness for Pinterest.
We have three daughters who, thankfully, did not inherit my eating habits. I’m not in the short-order cook business when it comes to family meals, but I’m also not aspiring to be the next Pioneer Woman. I try to maintain the very delicate balance of finding foods that everyone will like while staying out of the meal planning rut. It’s a bonus when that helps me to stay ahead of the game when I prepare double batches of the family favorites so that there are leftovers for lunches. We have definitely gotten our money’s worth out of our Thermos containers.
I find that crock-pot meals also give me more time in the evenings; with the meal preparations done in advance, I typically have a slower, more relaxed evening. Crock-pot meals also help out during seasons of extracurricular activities; when you’re transporting kids in the evenings, coming home to a delicious-smelling kitchen and warm homemade meal eases the meal-time stress.
I’ve compiled a list of our go-to soup and crock-pot recipes below. I usually serve any of these meals listed below with a side of dinner rolls, garlic bread or breadsticks.
Easy Chicken Noodle Soup
Emilie’s Notes: Adapted from allrecipes.com. I use grilled chicken for this recipe, which adds to the overall flavor, and I also add the noodles after about 10 minutes of cooking, as I find that the noodles cook much faster than the carrots.
• 1 tablespoon butter
• ½ cup chopped onion
• ½ cup chopped celery
• 4 (14.5 ounce) cans chicken broth
• 1 (14.5 ounce) can vegetable broth
• ½ lb cooked, chopped chicken breast
• 1 ½ cups egg noodles
• 1 cup sliced carrots
• ½ teaspoon dried basil
• ½ teaspoon dried oregano
• Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter. Cook the onion and celery in the butter until just tender, about 5 minutes. Pour in chicken and vegetable broths and stir in chicken, noodles, carrots, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes before serving.
Panera’s Cheddar Broccoli Soup
Emilie’s Notes: While there are many sources for this recipe, I adapted mine from The Girl Who Ate Everything. I skip adding carrots; I’m a cheddar broccoli soup purist.
• 1 tablespoon melted butter
• ½ medium chopped onion
• ¼ cup melted butter
• ¼ cup flour
• 2 cups half-and-half cream
• 2 cups chicken stock
• ½ lb fresh broccoli (about 3 cups), chopped into bite-size pieces
• 1 cup carrot, julienned (can buy matchstick carrots in the produce section)
• ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
• 8 ounces (2 cups) grated sharp cheddar cheese
• Salt and pepper to taste
1. Sauté onion in 1 tablespoon of butter. Set aside.
2. Cook the 1/4 cup melted butter and flour using a whisk over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Stir constantly and add the half & half.
3. Add the chicken stock and simmer for about 10 minutes.
4. Add the broccoli, carrots and reserved onions. Cook over low heat 20-25 minutes.
5. Add salt and pepper. You can leave the soup chunky or blend about 1 cup of the soup and stir it in for a smoother soup. Return to low heat and add the cheese. If your heat is too high, your soup can get grainy. Stir in the nutmeg.
Loaded Baked Potato Soup
Emilie’s Note: Adapted from The Disney Chef. I just use 8 potatoes of the same variety.
• 1 pound bacon, roughly chopped
• 1 medium yellow onion, diced
• 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
• ¾ cup diced celery
• 4 large Russet potatoes, peeled and diced
• 4 medium red potatoes, diced
• ¼ cup flour
• 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 4 cups heavy whipping cream
Optional garnishes: chopped chives, bacon bits, sour cream, shredded cheddar, and Monterey Jack cheese
1. In a 6- to 8-quart stockpot over medium heat, fry bacon until crisp.
2. Remove bacon and drain on paper towels, reserving half for garnish. In bacon fat, cook onions, carrots, and celery until the onions are translucent. Add potatoes and cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Whisk in flour and stir constantly over low heat until the flour is cooked and the mixture has thickened slightly, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add chicken stock and half of the bacon. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Over medium-high heat, bring the soup to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. Mash some of the potatoes for thicker, creamier texture. Add whipping cream and simmer for 5 minutes.
5. Adjust thickness by adding water or stock. Soup should have a creamy consistency.
6. Season to taste, and garnish with toppings.
Cooks’ notes: Soak diced potatoes in cold water until ready to use to keep them from turning brown. To make bacon easier to chop, lightly freeze.
Olive Garden Knock Off Zuppa Toscana Soup
Emilie’s Note: Adapted from The Whicker Basket Catering Co. I typically skip the red pepper flakes, as my daughters dislike them.
• 3 cans chicken broth
• 2 cups whipping cream
• red pepper flakes (to taste)
• 1-2 cups kale, chopped
• 3-4 potatoes, sliced thin
• 1 lb mild Italian sausage, cooked
• Salt and pepper to taste
Place all ingredients inside slow cooker/crock pot. Cook on high 3-4 hours.
Easy Beef Stew
Emilie’s note: Adapted from allrecipes.com. I buy pre-cut beef stew meat, as well as add more potatoes, more carrots, and a bit more beef broth than this recipe calls for.
• 2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch pieces
• 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 teaspoon paprika
• 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
• 1 onion, chopped
• 1 ½ cups beef broth
• 3 potatoes, diced
• 4 carrots, sliced
• 1 stalk celery, chopped
1. Place meat in slow cooker. In a small bowl mix together the flour, salt, and pepper; pour over meat, and stir to coat meat with flour mixture. Stir in the garlic, bay leaf, paprika, Worcestershire sauce, onion, beef broth, potatoes, carrots, and celery.
2. Cover, and cook on Low setting for 10 to 12 hours, or on High setting for 4 to 6 hours
Slow Cooker Garlic Parmesan Chicken
Emilie’s Notes: Adapted from letsdishrecipes.com.
• 4 chicken breasts
• 1 teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon black pepper
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 20 whole cloves garlic, peeled
• 1 ½ cups chicken broth, divided
• 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
• 1 tablespoon cornstarch
• 1 tablespoon water
• ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
• ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1. Spray slow cooker with cooking spray.
2. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sear chicken breasts on both sides until golden brown. Arrange the chicken in single layer in bottom of slow cooker.
3. Add garlic cloves to the same skillet, and cook until just golden. Carefully add 1/2 cup of broth to the skillet and scrape up any browned bits from bottom. Simmer for 1 minute.
4. Pour the garlic mixture into the slow cooker. Add the remaining broth and stir gently to combine. Add thyme sprigs. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours.
5. Twenty minutes before serving, whisk together the cornstarch and water. Remove the chicken from the slow cooker to a plate. Stir the cornstarch mixture, Parmesan cheese and whipping cream into the liquid in slow cooker.
6. Return the chicken to the slow cooker. Cover and cook 20-30 minutes longer, or until sauce is thickened.
7. Serve over cooked pasta and garnish with parsley and additional Parmesan cheese.
There are many versions of these recipes, and each could be tweaked in a variety of ways to work for your family. I hope that you are enticed to try your hand at preparing one, or more, and that you’ll be able to add to your own bag of tricks. If you do, please let me know!