Ask Chef hosch and Ann
Q: Chef, do you have any tips or recipes for crock pot cooking? Do you recommend making soup in the crock pot?
A: Cooking soup in the crock pot is a great way to eat healthy on hectic days. A short amount of prep time in the morning can prevent a trip to the fast food drive thru after a long, busy day at work.
There are recipes specifically designed for the crock pot but most recipes can be adapted to crock pot cooking. Following are a few crock pot cooking basics.
Some ingredients benefit from longer cooking times and should be added to the pot in the beginning. Hearty vegetables such as onions, potatoes, carrots, winter squashes, tomatoes and celery require longer cooking times. Lean meats such as shoulder and rump roasts, whole chicken and chicken parts should be added in the beginning.
Softer vegetables like peas, corn and spinach should be added at the end of cooking, about an hour before serving.
Noodles and other grains can be added slightly cooked or even uncooked but remember they will soak up liquid as they cook. A good rule of thumb is to add 1/4 cup extra liquid per 1/4 cup uncooked rice, and use long grain converted rice for the best results. For long-cooking recipes, add cooked rice shortly before serving.
Milk, yogurt, sour cream and cream cheese should be added at the end. If these ingredients are added too early they will curdle.
Whole herbs release their flavors gradually so they are good choices for crock pot cooking.
Try to cut all ingredients about the same size so they cook at the same rate.
Since there is very little evaporation in crock pot cooking, reduce the liquid in a standard, on the stovetop soup recipe. If there is too much broth at the end of cooking, remove the lid and simmer for the last 30 minutes.
Place the ingredients that require longer cooking times at the bottom of the slow cooker. Meats and potatoes should be arranged on the bottom or sides of the pot so they will have more direct contact with the heat.
With some recipes you can skip browning or searing the meat and vegetables without affecting the flavor of the end product but for other dishes (especially soup) it is a necessary step. Always saute the onions, carrots and celery before mixing with other ingredients in the crock pot. Stew meat should be seared. Ground meat for chili should always be browned and never just mixed in with the other ingredients.
Two hearty soups that work very well in a crock pot are bean soup and chili. Slow cooking brings out the flavor in both of these recipes. Serve with a salad and crusty bread and dinner is on the table in no time. Corn bread is also a great accompaniment with chili or bean soup. You can make a big batch and freeze it for those occasions you have limited time to prepare dinner.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different kinds of beans. There are many varieties of beans, all with subtle differences in flavor and consistency. Beans are high in protein, high in fiber and other nutrients. Canned beans are consistent in quality but lacking a bit in flavor and texture. Canned beans tend to break down during long cooking in the crock pot. I recommend using dried beans. You should plan to soak the beans overnight. Popular beans for soup are northern, cannellini, navy or lima. Don’t forget that lentils and split peas, also members of the legume family, make great soups, too. Following is one of my favorite recipes for bean soup. I use a smoked turkey leg for that smoky flavor without all the added fat of a ham hock.
Crock pot bean soup
3/4 cup dried beans
1 large onion
5 large stalks of celery
3 large carrots
1 smoked turkey leg
The night before, dice the celery, carrots and onions. Saute until tender crisp. Cover the beans with water in a bowl or pan. Add the celery, carrots and onions and soak overnight. In the morning, pour the beans and remaining liquid in the crock pot. Add the smoked turkey leg and water. The water level should be 2 inches above the beans. Cook for at least 4 hours on high or 5 hours on low. Soup is done when the beans are soft.
Chili is another versatile, satisfying meal in a bowl. Chili isn’t limited to just ground beef, either. Stew meat and chicken are both alternatives to ground meat. Dark or red kidney beans, pinto beans and even chick peas go well in chili. Chili can run the gamut from very hot and spicy to sweet and mild.
Adapt the recipe to your family’s preferences. The following recipe for chili tends to be a bit spicy, the way my family prefers it. This recipe calls for ground meat.
Crock pot spicy chili
1 pound lean ground beef, bison or turkey
1 large green pepper
1 large onion
15 ounce can tomato sauce
29 ounce can diced tomatoes
15 ounce can kidney beans
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon curry
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons of your favorite hot sauce
Dice the pepper and onion. Brown pepper, onion, ground meat and 1 tablespoon of the chili powder in a skillet. You can prepare the ground meat the night before to save time in the morning if you prefer. Add meat mixture and the remaining ingredients to crock pot. Cook at least 3 hours on low.
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