Saturday, August 27, 2011

Three Winning Crockpot Recipes

It's canning season, which means even though I'm cooking all day, I have very little time to cook dinner.  So, I've been using my crockpot for several meals each week and I've found three that are easy, inexpensive and delicious. 

The first is a variation on a recipe that was very, very salty the first time I made it.  So I changed it up a bit and omitted a second salty seasoning package.  If you like lots of salt, you can add in a package of Au Jus mix.

Cube Steaks with Gravy for the Crockpot
2 lbs. cube steaks
1 can Low-Sodium Golden Mushroom Soup, undiluted
1 can Low-Sodium French Onion Soup, undiluted
1 envelope Brown Gravy mix

Spray the interior of your crockpot with non-stick.  Lay the cube steaks in one layer, arranging to overlap as little as possible.

Combine soups and gravy mix in a small bowl.  Pour over.

Cover and cook on low 8 hours.  Very, very good served hot sandwich style on hearty white bread.

Chicken Cordon Bleu for the Crockpot
I made real chicken cordon bleu when I was young and insane childless in my early 20's.  It took forever to prepare, but was heaven to eat.  First you had to pound the chicken breasts very thin, then layer on ham and swiss cheese, then roll them up, bread them, saute them and finally bake them.  It took  F O R E V E R.  One day, I vowed never again!  However, every now and then I'd get a hankering and buy some frozen ones, hoping they'd satisfy.  Trust me, those little frozen bundles don't even come close. 

This recipe is even easier than the frozen ones, and far better all around.  It hits all the flavor and texture notes of the labor intensive version.  The chicken stays moist and tender, the cheese is melty, the ham is sweet and salty and the stuffing mix adds the crisp breading texture and flavor.  Best of all, this is a plop and cook meal.

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
6 slices deli ham, or sandwich slices
6 - 12 slices swiss cheese, enough to cover each breast
1 can low-sodium cream of chicken soup (the cheese, ham and stuffing mix are salty)
1 (6 oz.) box chicken stuffing mix
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted

Spray your crockpot with non-stick.
Combine milk and soup in a bowl.  Pour half into the bottom of the crockpot.  Add chicken in one layer, arranging to overlap as little as possible.
Place a slice of ham on each breast, then cheese.
Pour remaining soup mixture evenly over all.
Sprinkle evenly with stuffing mix.  If your mix comes with a seasoning packet, sprinkle it over.
Drizzle with melted butter.
Cover and cook on low 6 to 8 hours.  Note: any stuffing that falls into the gravy will soak it up.  If you like wet stuffing, you'll love it.  If not, don't spoon the gravy from the bottom of the pot over the stuffing when you serve it.

Beef Strogonoff for the Crockpot
If you've ever made strogonoff, you know it's easy but tricky and expensive.  The expensive part is the original recipe calls for beef tenderloin aka filet mignon.  The tricky part is getting the beef cooked just so.  Cook beef tenderloin too long and it gets dry and tough.  This recipe solves that with stew meat.  Stewing meat is a mixture of cuts, mostly chuck, which is very flavorful, but chewy.  The long, moist cooking makes stew beef nice and tender.  Like many of my recipes, this is one I found and changed to make better.  In this case, I added a tiny bit of bacon and browned the meat.  Doing this added tons of flavor without much expense or time.  I browned the beef the night before and refrigerated it.  The next morning, I just tossed everything in the cooker and turned it on.  If you're short on time, you can omit the browing step, but the flavor won't be as rich.  The sour cream is added at the end, without cooking, so it doesn't curdle.  I like it better without.

1 lb. beef stew meat, cut in about 1/2" chunks
salt and pepper
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup olive oil
2 strips bacon, diced (I cut my bacon with kitchen shears right into the pan)
1/4 cup water

1 can low-sodium Golden Mushroom soup, undiluted
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup sour cream, plain yogurt or cream cheese (optional)

Pat the beef dry with paper towels.  Season the flour with salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Add the beef and toss to coat.  Shake off excess flour from beef and throw away the extra flour.  The extra makes it easier to coat the beef.

Heat a large, high sided pan over medium heat.  I use my dutch oven - the high sides help trap the spatters. Add 1 - 2 tablespoons oil, enough to coat the bottom well, and allow to heat a few seconds.  Add the chopped bacon.  Cook and stir until bacon is almost crisp.  Remove it to a paper towel lined heat proof bowl with a slotted spoon.

Working in batches scatter some beef in the hot oil.   Don't crowd the pan.  Putting less meat in will let it brown faster.  It usually takes me 3 batches to brown up one pound of meat.  Cook without stirring for at least 3 minutes. Turn over a piece and see if it's browned, if it is, stir them all to brown the other side.  When both sides are browned, remove with slotted spoon to the paper towel lined bowl.  Add more oil to the pan if needed and brown up all the beef. 

After all the beef is browned, if there are any burnt patches are on the bottom of the pan, scrape them off and throw away or your gravy will taste burnt.  Add water to the pan and stir to scrape up all that browned goodness.  (The French call it fond, Emeril calls it The Love).  Remove the paper towel from the bowl and discard.   Add that browned lovely liquid to the beef in the bowl. It may have thickened a bit from the flour left in the pan, and that's ok.
At this point, you can cover and refrigerate the beef for later use.

The next morning:
Spray your crockpot with nonstick.  Combine all ingredients right in the crockpot.  Cover and cook on low 8 hours.
JUST BEFORE serving, quickly stir in the dairy.  Don't cook it or the dairy may curdle. 
Serve over hot cooked noodles.