Crock Pot Love

{Sorry about the formatting issues . . . I’m learning that and Safari don’t always get along, and often do things like delete returns and the like. Trouble shooting has proved most troublesome! Hope it’s readable. Please advise though, if it’s not!}

I love my crock pot. I should say, crock pots.

Meet my team:

The 15+ year old "Tiny", and the sleek, newer "Big Bertha"

Tiny-I have a four-quart slow cooker that we received as a wedding gift 15+ years ago, complete with a “retro” flower design I am sure they haven’t updated since the late 1960s. It is decidely old-school with one switch for OFF-LOW-HIGH and has truly been a work horse through the years for me.

Big Bertha-Last year, I upsized with the purchase of a six-quart slow cooker, that we quickly dubbed Big Bertha. It required me to clear out substantial shelf space in my pantry to store it, but it’s worth it. (For those of you who’ve seen my kitchen–it’s tiny. My pantry is actually the downstairs laundry room, which my husband spruced up with some great built in shelving a few years back to accommodate this head chef’s storage needs.) Big Bertha’s got all the bells and whistles with digital readouts, a programmable setting so that you set the cooking time and then it switches to the handy warming setting.

Why do I love my crockpots? I love coming home from a busy day and there is dinner, nearly ready for us on the counter, prepped hours ago, when things didn’t seem so chaotic. I love the way it makes the house smell. I love how it gently warms the kitchen. When I am out and about for the evening, I love being able to say to my husband, “Don’t worry–dinner is in the crockpot.”

I found myself in a terrific rut, though, of cooking the same recipes over and over again. And really, how many times can you serve Split Pea Soup or Barbecued Pork in one soccer season?

My dreams for the perfect slow cooker recipe:

  • Visually attractive–avoiding the monochromatic mush that many recipes tend to end with
  • Healthier–some vegetarian entrees perhaps, and less emphasis on the “can of this, and a can of that”
  • A pleasant texture–too many recipes I tried ended with over cooked chicken. Other times I’ve found some items just go funky in the slow cooker. Tortillas–ugh, don’t bother!
  • Variety–I’d love a pile of recipes that are family approved to break up the monotony!
I continue to hunt and gather tasty recipes that meet the above criteria, but in the meantime, here are few recipes and resources I have found.
My tried and trues:
  • Split Pea Soup (print the PDF)–a well-loved family recipe. I copied this from my mom on to a now splattered recipe card when I left home.
  • Thai Style Pork  from Cooking Light
  • Meatballs and Marinara-not glamorous, but it works: a bag of frozen meatballs from TJs (large turkey, or smaller beef ones), with a jar of marinara. Combine and but on low for 4 to 6 hours (longer if using the larger meatballs).
Newer to me:
  • African Peanut Chicken “Delicious & Dependable Slow Cooker Recipes created for America’s Kitchens” by Judith Finlayson via
  • Refried Beans Without the Refry  from I cut way down on the pepper and jalapeno and I usually make it with a mix of water and chicken broth, but you could easily make it vegetarian by just using water. This website allows for easy conversions if you want to adjust the quantity you’re making.
Vegetarian Entree Options
We are trying to do more vegetarian entrees at our house, but I always think of crockpot as a “meat” cooker. Of course there are lots of vegetarian chilis and soups out there to try, but I found some interesting looking ones at Savvy Vegetarian. I have tried Quinoa Corn Chowder which both my husband I really liked, although the kids were so-so on it. I will be certainly trying to sell it again though. I have also made the Barley Lentil soup recipe from this site. My only modification on this one was to add the zucchini in the last hour or so to prevent it from getting too mushy. Another option would be to quickly steam the diced zucchini and add it just before serving. It was delicious, and even better I think the next day as leftovers.
New resources
I think more and more great crock pot cookbooks are coming on the scene these days, but one that has been a great find for me is the Slow Cooker Revolution, recently published from America’s Test Kitchen, the team behind the PBS show, and publications like Cooks’ Illustrated (I am an admitted junky of that one!). It is packed with tips on how to improve the look and taste of the food. Examples of tips include:
  • Wrapping chicken in foil so that it slows the cooking and doesn’t dry out
  • Using tapioca to help sauces thicken
  • Crisping up tortillas before you put them in the slow cooker
  • Adding more delicate vegetables at the end to prevent over cooking
So far we have all enjoyed the Cassoulet, which had lots of components, but was delicious and certainly company worthy. The Spicy Ground Beef Taco Filling, turned out fine after I ratcheted back the spice level for the kids and it made large portion. Admittedly, I think I dirtied more pans on that one than I would have making it on the stove, but it’s good to know I could do it in a slow cooker. Dirty dishes aside, the kids did love it, and I’ve got a portion in the freezer for another use in the coming weeks maybe even for the enchilada recipe from the cookbook. I also made the Chicken Curry In a Hurry, which was really tasty and well received, especially after cutting the curry powder in 1/2 and omitting the jalapeno. Yes, I know, the spice-averse crowd does live large around here!
Things to try
A friend tipped me off to the cookbook, Indian Slow Cooker, that I’d love to check out. I know my husband and I would love it, though the kids are, as I like to say, “still learning to like” Indian cooking. I’m also looking forward to trying a French Toast casserole for brunch from the Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook.
Would love to hear about any slow cooker recipes that have been deemed great at your house! 


8 comments on “Crock Pot Love

  1. Colline says:

    I enjoy crock pots as the meal can gently cook while I do something else. And the vegetables somehow stay whole – a mystery to me. I am now going to try making soups in it – specifically the split pea soup 🙂

  2. Barb says:

    Hi! We have tried the African peanut chicken, it is yummy over brown rice 🙂 Question about the split pea soup….have you ever had trouble getting the split peas to “mush” (for lack of a better word)? I have tried your mom’s recipe multiple times and it NEVER works out for me! I even had your mom try it in my slow cooker and she had the same problem….the slow cooker cooks everything else perfectly. Perhaps I need to give up and upgrade the old clunker 🙂

  3. Betsy says:

    Do you know about this nice lady:

  4. Hi Lorna, thanks for the mention! Appreciate it. I thought your post came out fine. Blogs are supposed to be so user friendly (not)! Kids don’t seem to go for quinoa so much, but my grandkids willingly eat quinoa red lentil stew made in the crockpot. Thanks for all the crockpot tips and links. 🙂

  5. Lorna says:

    Thanks, Judith! I will check out your quinoa suggestion!

  6. Lorna says:

    Barb, bummer on the soup failure. Have you tried it on high? Maybe try it in a friend’s slow cooker to determine if it is really your crockpot. You can always do it on the stove; I think the cook time is around 2-3 hours of simmering. Not quite as delightful as fix it and forget it, however! 🙂

  7. Lorna says:

    Betsy–that site is truly amazing; what an endeavor that is! I have tried a couple from there, but was underwhelmed with my picks. Surely a great resources though and worth another look. What have you liked from there?

  8. Betsy says:

    Obama’s chili was interestingly good, McCains ribs weren’t bad (this was about when I found her so those were the first 2 I tried.) We make a taco filling from her. I’ve tried a couple of her things that end up too blobish and grey, but those two were hits. In fact I think I’ll put those on the rotation this month!

    Can’t wait to try some of your hints.

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