Slow-cooked Ragu

Slow-cooked ragu served over cheese-filled ravioli.

Slow-cooked ragu served over cheese-filled ravioli.

My slow cooker has been a life saver during the past couple of weeks.  I call it “Old Faithful” because I’ve had it for a long time and it just keeps on going and going, working for me, while I’m busy attending to other things.  On those days when I planned on baking several batches of cookies, I would get something started in the slow cooker early in the day, then not worry about dinner except for some finishing touches.

Maybe, like me, you’ve had some disappointments using a slow cooker.  Rather than getting an entree that’s luscious and tasty, it emerged rather tired, defeated and exhausted.  Unless you are following a recipe specially written for a slow cooker that can happen because of the added moisture that a slow cooker/crockpot produces.  Meat can also become dried out and stringy instead of tender due to overcooking.  So how do we solve those problems?   First I’ll talk about the four main ingredients, then I’ll give you a recipe for a well-seasoned meat sauce – a ragu- that you can use in a variety of ways.

1.  Meats:  For the slow cooker, select meats with a moderate amount of fat or internal marbling, such as chuck roast or pork shoulder.  For poultry that is immersed in liquid, try to keep cooking time to about 4 hours; longer than that you will get dry stringy remnants.

2.Vegetables:  Only hearty vegetables like root vegetables can survive 8 hours in a slow cooker and they need to be cut into large pieces, not bite-sized.  Place them in the bottom of the cooker with meat and sauce or liquids poured over the top.  Other vegetables, like tomatoes, will stew down nicely and become sauce-like.  Tender, more delicate vegetables like green beans, corn, squash, and greens should be added in the last 30 minutes of cooking time.

3.  Seasoning:  If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of oregano, use 2.  Slow cookers have a funny way of diluting flavor so you will need to add more at the start.  When converting a conventional recipe for the slow cooker, double the amount of herbs or spices you think you need, even ones that are intense, like crushed red pepper.

4.  Garnishes:   When something looks good, it seems to taste better, so sprinkling a fresh garnish onto a completed dish is an easy way to bring the meal to life.  Try using fresh herb leaves or sprigs, or ingredients with a crunch like bread crumb topping or crisp chips to contrast with the softer textures of the dish.

The recipe for this meaty sauce is great ladled over any kind of pasta.  I also use it when making lasagna, sometimes thinning it with traditional spaghetti sauce, and it makes the dish more hearty with veggies.  It makes a large quantity and leftovers freeze well.

SLOW-COOKED RAGU

Yield:  Makes about 12 ( 2/3) cup servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces pancetta, chopped.  Use bacon in a pinch.IMG_5942
  • 1 pound ground beef, 90% lean
  • 12 ounces ground pork
  • 1 (4-ounce) hot Italian sausage link, casing removed
  • 1 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 1  1/3 cup diced onion
  • 2/3 cup diced carrot
  • 2/3 cup celery
  • 1/4 cup unsalted tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups unsalted chicken stock
  • 1 (15-ounce) can unsalted crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. salt, divided
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf

Directions:

1.  Place pancetta or bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat;  cook 4 minutes or until beginning to brown, stirring occasionally.  Add ground beef;  cook 3 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble.  Place beef mixture in a 6-quart electric slow cooker.

Browning up the beef.

Browning up the beef with bacon.

2.  Return skillet to medium-high heat.  Add ground pork and sausage;  cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble.  Add pork mixture to slow cooker.

Browning the pork and sausage.

Browning the pork and sausage.

3.  Return skillet to medium-high heat once again.  Add oil and swirl to coat.  Add onion, carrot, and celery; sauté 4 minutes.

The big three:  onions, carrots and celery.

The big three: onions, carrots and celery.

Add tomato paste and garlic;  Cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add wine; bring to a boil.  Cook 2 minutes or until wine mostly evaporates, scraping pan to loosen browned bits.  Add chicken stock, tomatoes, 3/4 tsp. salt, pepper, and  bay leaf;  bring to a boil.  Carefully pour this mixture into slow cooker; cover and cook on LOW for 6 hours.  Discard bay leaf.  Stir in remaining 1/4 tsp. salt.

Everything together in the crock pot.

Everything together in the crock pot.

The hands-on time spent in the preparation of this sauce is about 30 minutes.  Then you will need a few minutes before dinner to cook up some pasta.   A great dinner without a lot of your time spent on preparation.  I hope you enjoy it.

Easy meal, yet so good!!

Easy meal, yet so good!!

SOURCE:   The Slow Cooker Recipe Book

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Slow-Cooker Turkey Chili

Slow Cooker Turkey Chili

Slow Cooker Turkey Chili

This morning was very chilly for mid-September,  and the prediction is for a cooler than average day.  So right away I am thinking about making chili in the slow cooker.  I’m always amazed at how quickly I adapt to the next season.  Even though I’m not ready to give up all that summer has to offer,  one cool morning, and I’m looking for a sweater or jacket and thinking about chili.  Go figure!

I do  know that there’s nothing quite so enticing than walking into the kitchen and taking in the tantalizing aroma of onions, garlic, and chili powder from a big pot of chili bubbling on the stove or in the crock pot.  Serving up steaming bowls of chili with all the fixings is fun and warming in the fall especially if you’ve been outdoors at a football game or other event in cool weather.

If you have ever worried that chili isn’t good for you,  stop worrying now.  There are a number of tricks you can do to keep it healthy but still hearty.   First, start with a lean meat, like chicken, turkey or lean beef;  second add at least 3 cups of fresh vegetables to boost fiber;  and third, be selective in your toppings, keeping to low-fat cheese and  sour cream,  good-fat avocado, and plenty of fresh options like scallions, radishes, jalapeños, onion, and cilantro.

IMG_5034

This recipe for turkey chili made in the crock pot incorporates all the “tricks” mentioned above.  It’s a meal we really enjoy and I like the simplicity of starting it in the morning and having a meal ready to put on the table except for cutting up a few garnishes at the last minute.

SLOW-COOKER TURKEY CHILI

Yield:   4 – 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1  1/4 pound lean ground turkeyIMG_5029
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 ( 1.25-oz. ) envelope chili seasoning mix
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels
  • 1 red or green bell pepper, chopped ( i omitted this)
  • 1 ( 28-oz ) can crushed tomatoes, or fresh tomatoes, in season
  • 1 ( 15-oz. ) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 ( 4-oz. ) can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Toppings to include any of: shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, finely chopped red onion, sliced jalapeños, radishes, or scallions

1.  Cook turkey in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring often with wooden spoon to crumble turkey.

Cooked and crumbled turkey with seasonings added.

Cooked and crumbled turkey with seasonings added.

Add chopped onions and garlic, cooking till softened.  Add contents of seasoning envelope and chicken broth.  Cook and stir about 2 minutes.

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2.  Spoon mixture into a 5 1/2 quart slow cooker;  stir in corn, and next 5 ingredients until well blended.

Everything mixed together in the crock pot.

Everything mixed together in the crock pot.

Cover and cook on LOW for 6 hours.   Serve with desired toppings.

Hearty, warming, just right on a cool day.

Hearty, warming, just right on a cool day.

SOURCE:  Southern Living Magazine

Slow Cooker Blade Steaks

Slow cooker blade steaks served with noodles and acorn squash.

Today was one of those days when I am very glad that I have a slow-cooker. Busy, Busy, Busy!  But I was still able to put an attractive and very tasty meal together and my husband and I really enjoyed it. The only time I spent on it was to saute the onions before putting everything in the crock pot early in the morning, and as the saying goes “set it and forget it”.

This recipe was originally  written using a pot roast which I often do make, but today I used blade steaks instead and got an extremely tender and flavorful result. You will note that the recipe calls for adding carrots and potato to the slow cooker with the meat, but for today I cooked some wide egg noodles to go with it.  The recipe produces a good quantity of gravy and so its good to have some thing that will go with the gravy like mashed potatoes or noodles.

To produce a successful meat in the slow cooker you need something to give lots of flavor;  in this case sun-dried tomatoes, herbs and garlic. You will also be using less liquid than oven or stovetop versions, but the moisture in the slow-cooker  plus meat juices will contribute to the gravy.

SLOW COOKER BLADE STEAKS

SERVINGS:   6-8

INGREDIENTS

  • 6-8 blade steaks, about 2 pounds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • cooking spray
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 cup fat-free, less sodium beef broth
  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup chopped, drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces

DIRECTIONS

1.  To prepare meat: sprinkle steaks evenly with salt and pepper.

2.  Spray the interior of the cooker insert with non-stick spray.  Place the meat in the cooker.

Blade steaks in the slow cooker insert.

3.  In a skillet, add olive oil, then onion and sauté 6-8 minutes or until lightly browned.  Add the broth and next ingredients through bay leaves.  Bring to a simmer.  Add the broth mixture to the slow cooker.  If using vegetables, arrange them around the meat.  Cover and cook 2 hours on HIGH, reduce heat to LOW and cook 4 hours more. Or start on LOW and cook 6-8 hours.

4.  To serve, remove bay leaves and discard,  serve with the gravy.

Blade Steaks with gravy , noodles and stuffed acorn squash.

SOURCE:  adapted from a recipe from  Cooking Light