One of my favorite side dishes in polenta. Warm and creamy it is satisfying on its own and makes the perfect bed for soaking up rich sauces and stews. When dining out I will often select a dish simply because the main entree is accompanied by polenta. But despite my love of this dish, until recently I rarely cooked it at home. Why? After all making it is quite simple; all you really need is boiling water and cornmeal and a spoon for stirring. Lots of stirring. And that is why I tended to shy away from making homemade polenta. Try as I might; experimenting with temperature, cooking apparatus and spoon, my polenta would inevitably end up filled with unappetizing lumps. But then I broke out my slow cooker.
Yes, polenta made in a slow cooker. Really, nothing could be easier and best of all, there simply aren’t any lumps. I love it. This recipe is from William Sonoma and is everything a good polenta should be. It is rich and creamy and this version is studded with corn kernels. By topping it off with sautéed mushrooms you have a complete meal by itself. Or you can serve it along side your favorite meat dish that has lots of juice you want to sop up.
CREAMY HERBED POLENTA w/ MUSHROOMS
4 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 cup stone-ground polenta
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
3/4 pound brushed clean and quartered
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels
- In a slow cooker, stir together the stock, polenta, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the black pepper.
- Cover and cook on the low setting for 3 to 3 1⁄2 hours, stirring two or three times if possible. The liquid should be absorbed and the polenta should be thick and soft and no longer gritty.
- About 10 minutes before the polenta is ready, in a large, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter with the oil.
- Add the shallot and mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are tender and their liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the garlic and parsley, season with remaining salt and pepper, and cook for 1 minute more.
- About 5 minutes before the polenta is ready, stir in the oregano and thyme, Parmesan and corn kernels, then re-cover.
- Spoon the polenta into warm shallow bowls or a serving bowl and top with the mushroom mixture.
- Serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 6.
What is similar to pulled pork and reminiscent of barbecue chicken yet so much easier to make? Slow cooker sweet and sticky chicken! This recipe is from Macaroni & Cheesecake (if you haven’t checked out this food blog yet, do so since it is filled with a variety of great recipes) and is so easy to make that it is becoming one of my go-to weeknight meals.
Having recently rediscovered my trusty slow cooker I’ve been giving it a workout over the past few months. After all, what is easier than placing all of your ingredients in a pot, pushing a button then having dinner ready when you return home at the end of the day. And as I’ve been reminded, chicken, or any meat for that matter, that is cooked in the slow cooker comes out incredibly tender and juicy. It is also super easy to shred since it literally falls apart with the touch of a fork. You almost don’t need a sauce but this sauce is so delicious that you must use it. So break out your slow cooker, pull together all of your ingredients and return home to a meal your family will love. I served this on top of rice but I think garlic mashed potatoes or as a sandwich would also be good.
SLOW COOKER SWEET & STICKY CHICKEN
3 large chicken breasts
Salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup honey (preferably organic)
1/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more if you prefer your food spicier
4 teaspoons cornstarch
1/3 cup water
Rice, potatoes, or other starch for serving
- Generously sprinkle both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and place inside of your slow cooker.
- In a separate medium sized bowl, stir together the onion, garlic, honey, ketchup, soy sauce, olive oil, and red pepper flakes until fully incorporated. Pour into crock pot. Cook on high heat for 2 hours (or you can cook on low for 3 to 4 hours).
- When the chicken is done, move it to a large platter and using two forks, shred the meat into bite sized pieces. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and water until smooth and well blended. Add the mixture to the liquid in the slow cooker and stir well.
- Cook on high for10 minutes or until sauce has thickened.
- Return the chicken to the slow cooker and stir until the chicken is completely coated in the sauce.
Here is an easy recipe that celebrates the arrival of my coveted spice collection in our unaccompanied baggage shipment. Let me just say that cooking with just salt and pepper gets old fast. And knowing that my well stocked Penzey’s spice cabinet would be arriving shortly I abhorred the idea of buying poor, yet expensive, substitutes in the grocery store. Needless to say,I jumped on the first chance I had to use my spices once they arrived.
Because this meal is prepared in a crock pot essentially cooks itself. Meaning I put all the ingredients together in the morning and left for the day only to return with a complete dinner ready and waiting. (I had leftover brown rice from the previous night’s dinner so I was good to go).
CROCK POT FAJITA CHICKEN w/BLACK BEANS & RICE
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 14.5 ounce can black beans
1 small can minced jalapeno peppers
1 lime, cut in wedges
8 flour tortillas
2 cups cooked brown rice, for serving
- Combine the chili powder, salt, sugar, paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin, and garlic powder in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Evenly spread the can of black beans into the bottom of a crock pot insert. Sprinkle with the jalapenos over the top of the beans.
- Place the chicken over the top of the bean and jalapeno mixture then sprinkle the spice mixture over the top of the chicken.
- Cover the crock pot and cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 7-8 hours.
- When the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the crock pot and using two forks, shred the meat.
- Place the rice, beans, and chicken inside of the flour tortillas.
- Drizzle with lime juice if desired.
Winter weather brings out my cravings for hearty stews and casseroles and nothing makes them easier to prepare than a slow cooker. Simply put all of your ingredients in the pot in the morning, cover it, and let it do all of the work. You’ll return home at the end of the day to a dinner that is ready to eat.
These baked beans, courtesy of Simply Recipes, is hearty, satisfying, and the ultimate in comfort food. You do need to soak the beans overnight. Alternatively, you can bring the beans to a boil in a pot covered with two inches of water the let them soak for one hour before draining an proceeding with the recipe. Serve the beans as a side with meat or as an entree all on their own.
SLOW COOKED BOSTON BAKED BEANS
1 pound dry white beans
1/3 cup molasses
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 cups hot water
1/2 pound bacon, cut into 1/2-1 inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
- Place the beans in a large pot and cover with 2 inches of water. Soak overnight then drain.
- Mix the molasses, brown sugar, mustard and ground cloves in 3 cups of hot water.
- Line the bottom of a slow-cooker with half of the bacon. Add half of the drained beans, distributing evenly over the top of the bacon.
- Add all of the onions in a single layer then top with the remaining beans and bacon.
- Pour the molasses and water mixture over the top of the beans to just cover them,
- Cover and cook in a slow-cooker set on the low setting for 8 hours until the beans are tender. Check periodically to ensure that they are covered with water. Watch carefully since some beans will cook faster than others.
Serves: 5-6 as a main dish or 10-12 as a side
I’ve had a slow cooker for years but for some reason will go for months without using it. Maybe it is because it is usually hidden out of sight but once I do break it out I find myself wondering why I don’t use it more often. After all, cooking really doesn’t get much easier than placing all of your items in a pot, covering it, and allowing it to cook unattended all day. The slow and moist heat guarantees that even the toughest piece of meat comes out tender.
This pulled pork recipe comes from The Noble Pig. The soy sauce puts an Asian spin on a traditional vinegar based southern pulled pork. I simply put all of the ingredients into the slow cooker before leaving the house in the morning and return to the sweet aroma of a fully cooked dinner. You can serve it as a sandwich but I actually prefer it served over garlic mashed potatoes. It really doesn’t get any easier than this!
HONEY-SOY PULLED PORK
1 6-7 pound pork butt, fat trimmed
1 1/4 cups good tasting honey
1/2 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons dried basil leaves
3 tablespoons garlic, minced
1/4 cup cornstarch
- Trim the extra fat off of the pork and place the meat in a slow cooker.
- In a separate bowl combine the honey, soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, basil and garlic. Pour over the top of the meat.
- Set the slow cooker on low for 6 hours.
- When the meat is done, remove it from the base of the slow cooker and pour the sauce into a large Pyrex bowl. Let it sit for about 20 minutes then skim off any of the visible fat from the top.
- Pour the sauce into a sauce pan set over medium heat.
- Mix the cornstarch with 1/4 cup of water and add slowly into the sauce. Continue to stir, making sure there are no clumps. The sauce will thicken once the mixture is hot enough but make sure not to boil for longer than 1 minute otherwise the cornstarch will break down.
- Shred the meat with two forks and pour the sauce over the meat. Serve as is or onto of fresh rolls as a sandwich.