Saturday, March 10, 2012

CrockPot Cooking

Sometimes I think that I should be a different, better version mom than the one I am. I want to be the mom that coupons every week, the one that makes her own laundry detergent & cleans the bathrooms every week with homemade cleaners. But that's just not me. I've come to the realization that every person needs to find their own balance. I try to buy fragrance & dye free soaps, but I don't necessarily get the organic ones. I try to buy healthy foods w/real food ingredients, but if my kid eats a few chicken nuggets or a poptart once in awhile, I'm not going to sweat it. The point is to figure out what homemade/healthy tasks bring you joy and (to some extent) let the rest of it go.

One thing that often brings me joy is cooking. Unfortunately with a very curious two year old & an also curious 8 mo old, I don't always have the time or patience to cook a healthy dinner. I love the idea of using the crockpot. I can prep ahead then I don't have to freak out when 5 o'clock rolls around, the kids are going nuts, & dinner needs to be ready in an hour. The thing is, I leave for work before 6 every morning & I'm just not going to get up early to prep the crockpot. Sorry, that might make me a bad mom or lazy or something, but I'm just not going to do it. Then I usually get home around noon. Lunch time for the kids then nap-time. They're usually not settled for naps until 1 or 2pm (and need virtually constant attention until then) which doesn't leave enough time for the crockpot to do it's thing (especially after I do the prep).

I recently joined pinterest and found a couple pins that explain how to do once-a-month cooking. If you chop & drop all your veggies, add your meat & seasonings, then you just freeze your bags of food. Boom. When I get home from work, pull out a bag, dump it in the crock pot & add some liquid (usually chicken stock) and we're good to go.

Today I prepped & froze 9 bags of food for the crockpot! I did my grocery shopping yesterday & wrote the labels for the bags. Today I finished by lunchtime! I had somethings already on hand (butternut squash, chicken-purchased at Harris Teeter, 6 chicken leg quarters for $3.25, celery, curry paste, seasonings) and when I went shopping I bought more than just supplies for this (fresh fruit, snacks for James' pre-school class, etc). Even so, I only spent $75!

I made Mediterranean Stew, Chicken Curry, Creamy Chicken & Mushrooms, Chicken Stew with Herb Dumplings, Butternut Squash Soup, Cauliflower Bisque, & Tomato Basil soup.

I got most of the recipes from my Rival Crockpot Simple 1-2-3 Slow Cooker Recipes cookbook & one (Butternut Squash Soup) from The Chicken Curry was all me, so I'll give you that recipe & my general method :).

Start by preparing your workspace. Pull out bowls for all your vegetables & gather all of the fresh vegetables. One at a time, prep each of your vegetables (e.g. peel & slice all the carrots; then peel & dice your potatoes, etc).

Next gather all of your seasonings.

Finally, I pulled out my blender. I took the top & bottom off so I was left with just the glass. I fitted my gallon-size freezer bag in the blender w/the top of the bag folded over the top of the blender. This provided a nearly perfect space to fill my bags mess-free (I say nearly perfect because some of my bags were too full & I had to take them out of the blender to fit everything). First I added my vegetables, then I added any liquid I was freezing (I think that just applied to the Tomato Basil soup where I had to add some of the liquid from the canned tomatoes), then seasonings, & finally the meat. Then I double bagged everything & layered it in my freezer. Easy Peasy.

Finished Product!

One other note about Crock-Pot recipes. A lot of them call for certain cuts of meat or certain vegetables. Most of the time it's not a problem to substitute things out to accommodate what you already have on hand. For instance: if a recipe calls for chicken breast cut into 1-inch cubes and all you have is drumsticks or chicken leg quarters, no worries. Just stick it on the bottom (so it's covered & surrounded by the heat), cook it for awhile, then pull it out, shred it, & replace it. More than anything, make sure it's cooked all the way. The good news is that you really can't overcook anything. It might get extra mushy, but eh, it's the crockpot, it's probably already mushy. Also, I wasn't planning to put eggplant or zucchini in this recipe when I started, but I had some leftover from the Mediterranean Stew so I figured, Why Not? No reason to let that go to waste!

Crockpot Curry with Chicken

1 16oz pkg frozen cauliflower
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups sliced carrot
1 cup celery
1/2 cup green beans
1 cup eggplant, 1-in cubes
1 sliced zucchini
1 tbsp minced garlic (or 1 clove minced garlic)
2 tbsp Patak's Mild Curry Paste (this is a paste of the basic curry spices, I found it at my local Harris Teeter supermarket)
1 chicken leg quarter
1 can of coconut milk
1 cup chicken broth

Put all of your veggies in a gallon size bag, add garlic & curry paste. I kept my chicken in a separate bag because it wouldn't fit.

Day of: dump bag into crockpot, add broth & coconut milk. Cook on Hi 4-5 hrs or Lo 8-10. Serve it over rice or with Naan.

On each bag, I wrote the name of the recipe, any instructions, and the date. "Chicken Curry. Add 1 can coconut milk + 1 c. chicken broth. Hi 4-5 Lo 8-10. Serve w/rice or naan. 3-10-12"

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