Slow Cooker Baked Beans

I’ve tried a few different recipes for baked beans in the past. They were all disappointing – mainly, they had no flavor. Another gripe that I had – so many traditional recipes for baked beans go in the oven. Sure, they are baked beans, and that’s fine and all, but baked beans are almost always made in the summer, the absolute last time when you want to run the oven for several hours.

Two years ago I looked for a recipe that went in a slow cooker instead of the oven, to make it friendlier for summer cooking. Since it went into a slow cooker, it didn’t make sense to start with precooked cans of beans (another thing that irked me – why cook something precooked for 2-3 hours?!), so I tried to find one that took dried.

Dear reader, I finally found a good recipe. It used dried beans, in a slow cooker. Still, I am a lazy cook most days these days, so I’ve simplified it. The original recipe has you soak the beans overnight before cooking them; I don’t, in favor of cooking the beans a little longer. (My slow cooker cooks beans well even without soaking, so soak yours in advance if you’re concerned that yours won’t.) The recipe takes bacon, which if I use, I make a point to cook some for breakfast a few days in advance and make extra. Original preparation has you cook onion and celery in the bacon grease before making the beans; this is definitely tasty, but I now eschew this extra preparation in favor of tossing all the ingredients into the slow cooker and letting it cook without any extra intervention. I’ve also cut the recipe in half, which still yields 10 servings.

These beans taste mostly of… baked beans, a nicely classic flavor. Too often previous recipes have promised flavors that they don’t provide or that are too subtle. These baked beans are pretty balanced but tend toward sweet, so I may cut back on the brown sugar when I make it next. I can’t promise I won’t tinker with it, but I am pretty satisfied with it and have made it several times as it is.

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Slow Cooker Chicken Chili

Cooking is much easier with a one-year old than it was with a baby. It got better when she was able to sit upright and play with toys or watch me from her high chair. Now that she can toddle into and out of the kitchen, I can get much more done!

Still, I prefer to cook things that require minimal effort and time, things that I don’t have to focus on. This usually means using my slow cooker. Deb at Smitten Kitchen posted the perfect recipe earlier this year – a chicken chili made entirely in the slow cooker. No soaking beans. No browning meat.

I love this recipe. I just throw all the ingredients in the crockpot and let it cook until dinner. I only have to cut up an onion and a jalapeno (if I use a whole pepper instead of chili or pepper flakes, which I usually don’t). I don’t cut up my chicken first; after 10 hours in the slow cooker, I easily break it up with a sturdy serving spoon. And this chili even turns out if I forget that I’m out of onions when I make it (oops).

This was a great chili and a perfect slow cooker meal. It was delicious and not too spicy (as long as I added the amount of jalapeno I wanted). As a chili, it’s hearty and healthy. This is way, way better any of my attempts to make a chili with ground turkey. This recipe is not as tomatoey as when I make a chili on the stove, but that’s not a big deal. Leftovers are great. And my one-year-old absolutely devours it, meal after meal.

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Pepper Pork Chops

In December I tried Alton Brown’s Pepper Pork Chops in the slow cooker. I liked them (a fair amount, in fact) but never got around to writing about them, unfortunately.

Now that it’s January and I feel lacking in inspiration, I thought I would give them another try. After all, if I make a recipe I like, I really should blog about it, shouldn’t I?

Here’s my version – Continue reading Pepper Pork Chops

Slow Cooker Applesauce

I know I’m not alone in buying produce and not being able to eat it all while it’s still perfect. Recently, I have been notoriously bad for buying bags of apples – with every intention of eating them regularly – and letting them languish in a bowl on the dining table. Sure, we eat a few of them. I like dicing them and cooking them in a skillet with a tiny bit of brown sugar and cinnamon, then putting them over pancakes or just eating them as a side dish.

That leaves the other 8 or so that we haven’t eaten.

Applesauce is the perfect thing to make with old-ish apples, and it’s the perfect thing to make in a slow cooker. I think you’d have to work hard to overcook the apples. They gently steam and break down. You don’t have to do any work after you peel and cut them – and an apple peeler/corer makes this so much easier as to be practically no work at all. (My friend Kate got me one similar to this years ago, and I rediscovered it this year. It’s amazing!)

Also, you don’t have to add sugar to it. You pay a premium at the grocery store for no-sugar-added applesauce. I find that if I buy a jar of applesauce, I’m never in the mood for it and forget to eat it. Not so with this stuff. When I make applesauce, it disappears from my fridge within two days.

Slow Cooker Applesauce

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337: Southwestern Bean and Barley Soup

Southwestern Bean and Barley Soup was a part of a recipe section from Eating Well magazine on food gifts that you could make. Before I made the soup mix to give to other people, I had to try it myself.

The soup mix was simple to make. It was layers of oregano (mine was Mexican oregano), cumin, and chili powder, with layers of black beans, barley, Northern Beans, and kidney beans. You can make the soup on the stove or in a crockpot. I decided to do the crockpot variation, because it’s easiest. You toss onion (I didn’t have fresh, so I used 1 cup frozen onion), carrots, celery, soup mix, 4 cups broth (or bouillon, like I used), and 2 cups water in the (6-quart) crockpot. Cook it on low for 7-8 hours, or cook it on high for 4 like I did.

Southwestern Bean and Barley Soup

This was pretty good. The recipe suggests garnishes of lime and cilantro, but I liked it better without them. The soup was hearty. It’s definitely a good winter soup with the beans and barley. I liked it just as it was, but you could add some shredded meat to it if you wanted. It probably would be good with a little cheese on it (if you liked cheese). This was a good soup, so I gave it as gifts this year. Hopefully they all like it as much as Alex and I did.

319: Overnight Apple Butter

I like making apple butter about once a year, so I decided to try the recipe for Overnight Apple Butter. It was a Cooking Light recipe, but I had some qualms about the quantity of sugar and honey that went into it. I generally like no-sugar-added apple butter, but this definitely wasn’t going to be that.

This recipe cooked in a slow cooker for 10 hours, and then cooked another 1 1/2 hours. I knew I wouldn’t have time to take care of the recipe in morning during that break, or even get the ingredients ready in morning. I prepped all the ingredients, put them in the slow cooker crock, and kept it in the fridge overnight until I could let it cook all day long.

After it cooked for 10 hours, I was supposed to put the mixture through a sieve. This was a messy process that took a lot longer than I thought it should have. I put it through a mesh basket, and this ended up taking 15 minutes. Part of this may have been because I’d left the skins on the apples, but I’m not entirely sure it would have been faster if I’d peeled them.

After I’d strained the mixture, I poured it all back into the crock pot and cooked it for another hour and a half. I didn’t stir it at all in the meantime, even though the recipe says to. I let it cool for a little while and then spooned it into jars.

Overnight Apple Butter

This was pretty good, but much sweeter than I’m used to. I expected it to be sweet from all the honey and brown sugar the recipe called for, but I usually buy no-sugar-added apple butter. The flavor was definitely very rich, and the apple butter was very thick. I liked the amount of spice in the recipe.

I liked this, but I think this recipe could use some changes. When I try this again, I will start by cutting the amount of sugar and honey by at least half, because I really did find it too sweet. I may peel the apples, but only so that I don’t have to worry about pieces of apple peel when I put the mixture into my blender or use my immersion blender instead of straining the apple butter. By cutting back on the sugar, I’ll make the recipe much, much healthier, and by blending the apple butter I’ll make the recipe a lot easier.

269: Slow Cooker Moroccan Brisket with Red Onions and Apricots

With my final piece of brisket, I made Slow Cooker Moroccan Brisket with Red Onions and Apricots. It sounded different, and potentially good. I bought a red onion and parsnips to put in this dish. The night before I made this, I prepared the vegetables and brisket, arranging them in the slow cooker as directed and sticking it in the fridge overnight. The next morning, I added the dried apricots, combined and added the red wine, beef broth, and honey, and set the crockpot to cook for 8 hours. It didn’t specify a size of crockpot, so I used my 6-quart slow cooker rather than my smaller one because it had a programmable timer. However, the liquid did not cover the beef, and the apricots that peeked above the liquid were scorched.

I was pretty disappointed in this dish. It tasted sweet… and that was about it. I don’t know if it’s because the spice rub on the beef wasn’t able to mingle with the cooking liquid because I used a large crockpot. The parsnips and onions all tasted the same, and the apricots tasted like everything else, but sweeter. Alex had other leftovers for the week, so I ate this for lunch twice, and it didn’t get any better. Now and then I got hints of the spice rub when I ate the brisket, but otherwise it was just overly sweet. I ate it, but only because I didn’t want it to go to waste (and I was sick, so I didn’t particularly care what I ate). I’m labeling this as FAIL because I did actually throw out part of my leftovers. The only good thing I can say about this recipe is that it yields a solid 4 meal-size servings. I don’t think this recipe is worth giving a try without adding more spice and cutting down on the sweetness, but I disliked this so much that I don’t want to bother figuring out how to fix it.

265: Southwestern Pulled Brisket

With my 3-pound piece of brisket, I decided to make Southwestern Pulled Brisket. As I started to get this ready, I was disappointed to see that the instructions didn’t tell me to just toss everything in the crockpot. First you sear the brisket in a skillet, so that you can then saute onions, garlic, and spices in the drippings. You add apple cider vinegar to the onions and cook until the liquid is evaporated. You combine the mixture with water, tomatoes, 1-2 chipotles in adobo sauce (I actually just used about a tablespoon of chipotles in adobo sauce that I blended a while ago, so I don’t know how many chiles that is), bay leaves, and molasses (I used mild molasses).

Although the instructions didn’t say to, I marinated this overnight so I wouldn’t have to get it ready in morning. It cooked for about 9 hours the next day. I pulled the beef from the liquid to remove all the fat and shred the meat.

Southwestern Pulled Brisket

This was pretty good. It was a little spicy, and sweeter than I’d expected. The onions and tomatoes really cooked down, because there was only liquid left in the crockpot. I think that overall this had a good flavor. The beef was very tender. I’m not sure if I’ll make this recipe or not, because I think I prefer my beef to be less sweet. If I do make it again, I may try the original recipe from Food Network, which calls for less molasses.

264: Slow Cooker Barbecue Brisket

I bought a brisket at the Meat Salesroom, and wasn’t sure what to do with it except that I knew I wanted to put it in the slow cooker. In the course of looking up recipes, I came across not one but three that I wanted to make. I was afraid of having too many leftovers of any given thing, so I decided the prudent thing to do would be to divide the 6.5 pound brisket into 3 pieces.

The first recipe that I decided to make was Slow Cooker Barbecue Brisket. I like barbecue (I think I have to, having grown up in the South), but I also have to be in the mood for it. I didn’t want to be eating it for days. I saved the larger pieces for the other two recipes I decided to make (Southwestern Pulled Brisket, which was okay, and Slow Cooker Moroccan Brisket, which I do not recommend), and scaled down the barbecue recipe.

The recipe called for 5.5 pounds of beef, and I was using roughly 1.5 pounds. Technically, I should have made 3/11 of the recipe… so I just quartered the ingredients and made my measurements a little on the heavy side. I combined all the ingredients in my (3-quart?) slow cookerand let it marinate overnight. It cooked the next day for about 9 hours.

Slow Cooker Barbecue Brisket

This was really very tasty. It’s difficult to go wrong with barbecue sauce, and it had a little extra flavor from the extra spices. The brisket was very tender and pulled apart pretty easily, even though I sliced it so we could eat it. I’d definitely do something like this again to make pulled beef barbecue.

24: Fragrant Chicken Curry

I love using my crockpot, particularly on Mondays when I get home a little late, and just don’t want to cook because it’s a Monday. It means I have to get up a little earlier to make sure I get food in there, but it really doesn’t take that long, particularly when I consider how long it takes to make something fast once I get home from work.

Today I came home to Fragrant Chicken Curry, an Indian (-inspired) chicken and lentil dish. I can’t attest to how Indian or authentic it is. It was in the Slow Cooker Recipe Book, one of many cookbooks I bought for 4.99 at Borders or Barnes & Noble and which vary in quality. I chose this recipe because I had some spinach that I wanted to use in my crockpot, and I want to wait to find a really good Chicken Saag recipe.

The chicken breasts were frozen when I put it in the slow-cooker, so I doubled the amount of lentils (plain ol’ lentils, nothing special or particular), liquid, and seasoning to make sure that the poultry was submerged. I left it on low all-day, rather than cooking it on high for 5 hours. I added spinach when I got home, but I forgot about the cilantro until I looked up the recipe online just now.

Fragrant Chicken Curry

I definitely needed more chicken in it (my fault there), and it definitely needed the cilantro to perk it up. I really hoped that the flavors would be a little brighter. I think that ultimately I miss the ginger flavor, among others, that I think should be in here. It’s possible that I’ll like it more when I have the leftovers for lunch tomorrow, since I added extra cilantro to them. It’s not bad, but I don’t think I’ll be making this again.