Casseroles are not something to be messed with, in the opinion of Bob Ward, who both reads the News and works in its marketing department, after last week’s reporting on updated casseroles.
Bob expressed complete admiration for the tuna noodle casserole, and though he felt it needed no updating, was glad it was getting some attention.
“Hot tuna is not so popular here in the South,” said Bob, “but in the ‘I states,’ Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, it’s a big deal. A buffet table can be full of rectangular dishes as far as the eye can see.”
They are called ‘home dishes’ not casseroles, Bob points out.
Here in this part of the world, Bob went on to say, there are some casserole dishes, but they’re punctuated with an awful lot of crock pots.
Bob is correct, and it’s time to show some love for the humble crock pot. It’s an amazing invention. Throw some stuff in it in the morning, set it on low and go off to work. You’ll open your front door after a long day at the salt mines to the wonderful aroma of soup or stew or pot roast or whatever you threw in it earlier that day.
But a slow cooker is more than a way to simmer a pot of beans or soup without supervision. It’s capable of simmering a whole lot more things without supervision, and when pressed, can do a fair impersonation of baking.
A lot of ethnic and regional foods respond well to the crock pot treatment. It’s probably not very authentic, but sometimes authenticity is not at the top of the list of requirements when you need to get something on the table on a weekday. You can make some lo mein in your slow cooker, and since authenticity has been eliminated from the equation, you can just use regular old spaghetti noodles if you don’t feel up to a quest for lo mein noodles.
And speaking of spaghetti, spaghetti and meatballs is a great trick in a slow cooker. You don’t even have to boil the noodles in a separate pot. Just throw them in there.
It’s even possible to bake bread in a slow cooker. The low temperature will let it rise and then cook with no attention. A great trick to know if you’ve got a lasagna in the oven and want some bread to go with it. Or if you’re lucky enough to have two crock pots, then you’ve got one for bread and one for spaghetti and meatballs.
Even dessert can find its place in a crock pot. Yes, you can bake a cake in a crock pot, but there’s no real reason to do that unless your oven is on the fritz. Apple cobbler, on the other hand, is another story. Although, to be truthful, the following recipe is not really a cobbler. Here in the South, home of the cobbler, everyone knows a cobbler must have some kind of dough/bread component. A pie dough crust, either on top or top and bottom, or at least some biscuits on top or dumplings inside. That’s a cobbler.
The recipe that follows dumps some cake mix and butter on top of fruit, which is not a cobbler. Everyone should know that. Elsewhere, it’s maybe a crumble or a Betty or a buckle, but here, that’s a dump cake. Which is not to say it’s not a good use for your crock pot. Just don’t call it a cobbler.
Slow Cooker Lo Mein
Spaghetti noodles are called for to simplify shopping. If you have a ready source of lo mein noodles, or prefer ramen, udon, or another type of pasta, go ahead, it’s completely up to you.
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder
3 cups broccoli florets
2 carrots, julienned
2 stalks celery, diced
1 cup snow peas
1 (5-oz.) can sliced water chestnuts, drained
1 pound spaghetti
For the sauce:
1/3 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. brown sugar, packed
1 tbsp. sambal oelek (ground fresh chile paste), or more, to taste
1 tbsp. oyster sauce
1 tbsp. freshly grated ginger
1 tsp. sesame oil
Whisk together soy sauce, garlic, brown sugar, sambal oelek, oyster sauce, ginger and sesame oil in the slow cooker. Add pork shoulder, then cover and cook on low heat for 7-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours. Remove pork shoulder from the slow cooker and shred the meat before returning to the pot with the juices. Stir in broccoli, carrots, celery, snow peas and chestnuts. Cover and cook on high heat for 15-30 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Cook pasta according to package instructions; drain well. Serve pasta immediately, topped with pork mixture.
Slow Cooker Honey BBQ Beef Brisket
1 medium-large beef brisket (about 5 pounds)
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
Honey bbq sauce:
½ cup ketchup
½ cup molasses
4 tbsp. honey
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. garlic powder
⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp. cold water + 1 tbsp. cornstarch
Lightly grease your slow cooker and place brisket inside. Whisk together sauce ingredients in a small bowl, set aside. Stir together seasonings and rub all over brisket. Pour sauce over brisket, cover and cook on low for 10 hours. Pour liquid from the slow cooker into a large sauce pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir cornstarch into cold water until dissolved, then pour into sauce pan. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir until sauce is thickened. Remove from heat. Shred beef with two forks and pour sauce back into the slow cooker, give it a good stir and serve hot.
Slow Cooker Chicken Fajitas
2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1 (14.5 oz) can petite diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 red, 1 orange and 1 green bell pepper, julienned
1 large yellow onion, halved and sliced
4 cloves garlic , minced
2 1/2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. paprika
3/4 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp. honey
Flour tortillas , sour cream, cilantro, salsa, guacamole, Monterrey jack or cheddar cheese
Pour half of the canned tomatoes into the bottom of a slow cooker and spread into an even layer. Top with half of the peppers and half of the onions. Sprinkle garlic in. Top with chicken breasts. In a bowl whisk together chili powder, cumin, paprika, coriander, salt and pepper. Evenly sprinkle half of the seasoning over chicken breasts then flip chicken and sprinkle in remainder. Top with remaining half of the tomatoes, then layer in remaining peppers and onions. Cover and cook on High heat 3 – 4 hours or low heat 6 – 8 hours, until chicken has cooked through and veggies are tender (note that if you want to be able to cut chicken into strips cook more near lesser time on High or Low, otherwise it will probably just shred, which is also fine). Remove chicken, and cut into strips, or shred. Ladle out 1 cup of the broth in slow cooker (mostly tomato liquid) and discard. In a small bowl whisk together lime juice and honey and add to slow cooker along with chicken and season with additional salt to taste, if desired. Gently toss. Sere warm in warmed tortillas with sour cream and optional guacamole, cheese and salsa.
Slow Cooker Spaghetti and Meatballs
12 oz. spaghetti noodles, broken in half
grated Parmesan cheese
fresh basil or thyme for garnish (optional)
1 pound lean ground beef
⅓ cup panko bread crumbs
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
1 -24 oz. jar marinara sauce
⅓ cup packed fresh basil, finely chopped
1 tbsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
In a medium bowl combine ground beef, egg, breadcrumbs, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper. Mix with your hands until mixture is blended. Form mixture into 12 balls. Set aside. In a greased slow cooker, combine marinara sauce, basil, garlic, and Italian seasoning and stir. Arrange meatballs on top of sauce. Cover and cook for 3-4 hours on high or 6 hours on low. Uncover and use a fork or tongs to transfer meatballs to a plate. Add noodles to slow cooker making sure the noodles are covered by the sauce. Return meatballs to slow cooker. Cover and cook on high 15-25 minutes until noodles are softened. Give it a stir, then top with fresh basil or thyme and grated parmesan cheese. Serve hot.
Herbed Crock Pot Bread
2 1/2 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour, more may be needed
1 cup warm water
1 packet instant yeast (2-¼ tsp.)
2 tbsp. honey
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. fresh thyme or rosemary
In a mixer using the dough hook, place the warm water, 1 teaspoon sugar, and the yeast. Mix lightly and cover for 5 minutes for yeast to activate. When the mixture starts to bubble, add the rest of the ingredients. Mix on medium speed for 5-6 minutes or until dough becomes soft and elastic. Shape into a loaf and sprinkle salt on top (optional if you like a salty taste). Line slow cooker with parchment paper. Place dough inside and cover. Cook on High for 1 hour to 1 hour and a half. Check the bottom to see if the bread is completely cooked (bottom should be browned). Place the loaf of bread under the broiler for 2-3 minutes to brown (optional).
Slow Cooker Apple (not quite a) Cobbler
6 cups peeled and sliced apples
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon, divided
1/4 tsp. allspice
1 box yellow cake mix
8 tbsp. (1 stick) butter, melted
Spray your slow cooker insert with cooking spray. Add apples to slow cooker. Add brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and allspice. Stir. Sprinkle cake mix on top of apples. Sprinkle remaining cinnamon on top and drizzle evenly with butter. Cover and cook on High for 2 1/2 hours to 3 hours.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.