Slow cooker recipes for busy Chicago moms

Four meals that may save your sanity this month


 
 

Vanessa Druckman

 
Vegetarian Butternut Squash Soup

NOTE: Roasting the butternut squash in the oven is what makes this recipe so incredibly good. The squash caramelizes and everyone licks the bowl clean. Yes, this is an extra step, but it's well worth it. My advice? Caramelize a few trays of butternut squash and freeze a bunch in bags. Then you can throw them in pasta, serve them as a side, and use them for this soup.

Ingredients:

  • 2 butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 2-inch pieces
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 4 carrots, diced coarsely, or ¾ cups mini carrots
  • 1 small onion, diced coarsely
  • 2 celery stalks, diced coarsely
  • 2 apples, peeled and cut into coarse chunks
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp. salted butter
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2) Peel and cut the butternut squash into large chunks, leaving out any seeds. Put pieces into a gallon Ziploc bag. Pour in olive oil and maple syrup and rub well to cover each piece with the liquids. Open the bag and pour onto either two Pyrex dishes or a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil.

3) Roast for 45 minutes to an hour, until squash is soft when pierced with a fork.

4) In a frying pan, melt the butter. Add diced carrots, onions and celery and cook over medium to low heat until soft, about 8 minutes.

5) Cut and peel apples into chunks.

6) Place the squash, apples and sauteed vegetables into the slow cooker. Add cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Cover with vegetable stock.

7) Set the slow cooker to high and cook for at least two hours, and up to six.

8) Puree soup with hand mixer or in a blender. This keeps in the fridge for up to five days. It's a great diet dish on its own, but divine with a dollop of sour cream.

Sweet Potato and Sausage Stew

Ingredients:

  • 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 cups of vegetable stock
  • 2 kielbasa sausages or 4 chicken sausages
  • 1 can of roasted tomatoes with chiles
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ancho chili powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil

Directions:

1) Peel and dice the sweet potatoes into large, equal dice of 1 inch. Mince the garlic and onion.

2) Set a frying pan over medium heat and pour in olive oil, garlic and onion. Saute until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. Add the spices and saute for another minute, filling the house with warm enticing smells.

3) To keep things simple, I use pre-cooked kielbasa for this recipe. Cut the sausage into 1-inch rounds. If using sausage that was not pre-cooked, such as chicken sausage, cook it thoroughly in a separate pan.

4) Place the pan-fried vegetables in the slow cooker. Add the sweet potatoes and the canned tomatoes. Stir well. Add the sausage and stir again. Add the vegetable stock and stir again. Set the slow cooker to high and cook for at least two hours until the sweet potatoes are easily pierced with a fork.

5) Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed.

Pumpkin Turkey Chili

This soup should be served hot and will keep in the fridge for two to three days.

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ pounds lean turkey meat
  • 1 ½ onions, chopped finely
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
  • 4 carrots, diced
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon (or substitute ancho chili powder)
  • 2 cans chopped tomatoes
  • 1 can stewed tomatoes
  • 2 cans red beans
  • 1 can great northern beans
  • 1 can corn
  • 1 can pumpkin
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

1) In a large frying pan, melt butter. Add onions and garlic. Saute until soft and translucent. Add the carrots and saute for two minutes.

2) Add the turkey, crumbling into tiny pieces. Saute until cooked through. Season with cinnamon.

3) Add the canned pumpkin and mix thoroughly.

4) Transfer to a slow cooker.

5) Add the canned tomatoes and stir to break up tomatoes.

6) Drain and rinse canned beans. Add to the pot. Stir and season with salt and pepper.

7) Cook on high for two hours.

8) Add canned corn and cook for five minutes.

9) Serve with cream cheese.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

NOTE: Don't be daunted by the prep; this is the dish that made me fall in love with my husband.

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
  • ¾ cups white wine
  • 2 Vidalia onions, finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and finely diced
  • 2 green peppers, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 16-ounce bottle Russian Dressing
  • 1 large jar (18 ounce) apricot jam
  • 1 tsp. ancho chili powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil

Directions:

1) In a large frying pan, heat olive oil. Place as much of the chicken in the pan as you can to cover the bottom. Brown the chicken on both sides, about four minutes each. Repeat for any additional pieces of chicken. Set aside.

2) Dice the onion and garlic, add ancho chili powder and saute in the chicken juices until translucent and soft.

3) Pour white wine in the pan. With a wooden spoon, get all the caramelized bits of chicken and onion off the pan. Bring wine to a boil and reduce by half, about 3 minutes.

4) Add carrots and green pepper and saute for a minute.

5) Pour all the contents of the frying pan into the slow cooker. Add the chicken, pour the Russian Dressing and apricot jam on top. Stir well.

6) Cover the slow cooker and set on high. Cook for at least three to four hours.

You can serve the dish immediately or reheat with some rice or couscous.

If my slow cooker were a man, I would marry it. When I walk in from the cold, surrounded by hungry kids, and this cheap and simple appliance greets me with the aroma of a ready-made dinner, I have been known to bend down and kiss it. My slow cooker is my right hand, my secret weapon in the daily fight to get family together around the dinner table.

Without it, we might starve.

I don't believe in just dumping ingredients into a slow cooker. Taking an extra 5 to 10 minutes to sear meat and vegetables before turning on the slow cooker will improve the flavor of your dishes dramatically. A few years ago, I purchased a multi-function slow cooker that allows me to sear food before setting it to slow cook. Pure genius. Everything stays in one pot and there's less to clean, but the same results can be achieved if you have a traditional slow cooker and a frying pan. You'll just have an extra pot to clean.

From the moment the kids get out of school, life is a whirlwind of activities. Let your slow cooker do the heavy lifting by cooking while you run around. Whether you're craving a bowl of golden vegetable soup or a hearty pumpkin chili, your slow cooker can deliver a delicious dinner on even the busiest nights.

Vegetarian Butternut Squash Soup

NOTE: Roasting the butternut squash in the oven is what makes this recipe so incredibly good. The squash caramelizes and everyone licks the bowl clean. Yes, this is an extra step, but it's well worth it. My advice? Caramelize a few trays of butternut squash and freeze a bunch in bags. Then you can throw them in pasta, serve them as a side, and use them for this soup.

Ingredients:

  • 2 butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 2-inch pieces
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 4 carrots, diced coarsely, or ¾ cups mini carrots
  • 1 small onion, diced coarsely
  • 2 celery stalks, diced coarsely
  • 2 apples, peeled and cut into coarse chunks
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp. salted butter
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2) Peel and cut the butternut squash into large chunks, leaving out any seeds. Put pieces into a gallon Ziploc bag. Pour in olive oil and maple syrup and rub well to cover each piece with the liquids. Open the bag and pour onto either two Pyrex dishes or a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil.

3) Roast for 45 minutes to an hour, until squash is soft when pierced with a fork.

4) In a frying pan, melt the butter. Add diced carrots, onions and celery and cook over medium to low heat until soft, about 8 minutes.

5) Cut and peel apples into chunks.

6) Place the squash, apples and sauteed vegetables into the slow cooker. Add cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Cover with vegetable stock.

7) Set the slow cooker to high and cook for at least two hours, and up to six.

8) Puree soup with hand mixer or in a blender. This keeps in the fridge for up to five days. It's a great diet dish on its own, but divine with a dollop of sour cream.

Sweet Potato and Sausage Stew

Ingredients:

  • 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 cups of vegetable stock
  • 2 kielbasa sausages or 4 chicken sausages
  • 1 can of roasted tomatoes with chiles
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ancho chili powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil

Directions:

1) Peel and dice the sweet potatoes into large, equal dice of 1 inch. Mince the garlic and onion.

2) Set a frying pan over medium heat and pour in olive oil, garlic and onion. Saute until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. Add the spices and saute for another minute, filling the house with warm enticing smells.

3) To keep things simple, I use pre-cooked kielbasa for this recipe. Cut the sausage into 1-inch rounds. If using sausage that was not pre-cooked, such as chicken sausage, cook it thoroughly in a separate pan.

4) Place the pan-fried vegetables in the slow cooker. Add the sweet potatoes and the canned tomatoes. Stir well. Add the sausage and stir again. Add the vegetable stock and stir again. Set the slow cooker to high and cook for at least two hours until the sweet potatoes are easily pierced with a fork.

5) Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed.

Pumpkin Turkey Chili

This soup should be served hot and will keep in the fridge for two to three days.

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ pounds lean turkey meat
  • 1 ½ onions, chopped finely
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
  • 4 carrots, diced
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon (or substitute ancho chili powder)
  • 2 cans chopped tomatoes
  • 1 can stewed tomatoes
  • 2 cans red beans
  • 1 can great northern beans
  • 1 can corn
  • 1 can pumpkin
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

1) In a large frying pan, melt butter. Add onions and garlic. Saute until soft and translucent. Add the carrots and saute for two minutes.

2) Add the turkey, crumbling into tiny pieces. Saute until cooked through. Season with cinnamon.

3) Add the canned pumpkin and mix thoroughly.

4) Transfer to a slow cooker.

5) Add the canned tomatoes and stir to break up tomatoes.

6) Drain and rinse canned beans. Add to the pot. Stir and season with salt and pepper.

7) Cook on high for two hours.

8) Add canned corn and cook for five minutes.

9) Serve with cream cheese.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

NOTE: Don't be daunted by the prep; this is the dish that made me fall in love with my husband.

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
  • ¾ cups white wine
  • 2 Vidalia onions, finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and finely diced
  • 2 green peppers, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 16-ounce bottle Russian Dressing
  • 1 large jar (18 ounce) apricot jam
  • 1 tsp. ancho chili powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil

Directions:

1) In a large frying pan, heat olive oil. Place as much of the chicken in the pan as you can to cover the bottom. Brown the chicken on both sides, about four minutes each. Repeat for any additional pieces of chicken. Set aside.

2) Dice the onion and garlic, add ancho chili powder and saute in the chicken juices until translucent and soft.

3) Pour white wine in the pan. With a wooden spoon, get all the caramelized bits of chicken and onion off the pan. Bring wine to a boil and reduce by half, about 3 minutes.

4) Add carrots and green pepper and saute for a minute.

5) Pour all the contents of the frying pan into the slow cooker. Add the chicken, pour the Russian Dressing and apricot jam on top. Stir well.

6) Cover the slow cooker and set on high. Cook for at least three to four hours.

You can serve the dish immediately or reheat with some rice or couscous.

 
 







 
 
 
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