Today I’ve got a big batch of marinara sauce simmering away in the Crock-Pot. I love making large quantities of marinara sauce—it’s a great way to use up random cans of tomatoes, wilting herbs and veggies that have been lost for a while in the crisper. Here’s the non-recipe recipe:
Crock-Pot Marinara Sauce
canned tomatoes of any sort: diced tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, whole tomatoes, fire-roasted tomatoes, whatever you’ve got
veggies: chopped carrots, celery, and onions
herbs and spices: lots of garlic, parsley, basil, bay leaves, oregano, red pepper flakes, fresh ground pepper an salt to taste
If you want to make to make a lot of sauce, fill your slow cooker almost to the top with tomatoes. Then toss in your chopped veggies, herbs and spices. Pour in a nice glug of olive oil, because a little fat always makes things taste good. Cook on low all day. Before serving, I pureé everything with an immersion blender because I like a smooth sauce. But make your sauce any way you like it. Add whatever spices and veggies you have on hand (mushrooms, sweet bell peppers, a little spinach, etc.). Chunky, spicy, peppery: marinara made from scratch is all good.
If you get home from work at 6:3opm, it’s a given that the kids will be ravenous. That means dinner needs to made FAST. The solution: Crock-Pot Cheaterpants Ramen Noodle Soup. This is my totally inauthentic version of ramen noodle soup. Real ramen noodle soup is made with glorious broth in which chicken, beef or pork bones have been simmered with secret aromatic spices for a gazillion hours. My Crock-Pot Cheaterpants Ramen Noodle Soup is made with this stuff:
I love Better Than Bouillon Roasted Chicken Base, because you always need chicken broth but you don’t always have a chicken carcass hanging out in the fridge. Dried shitake mushrooms and soy sauce will add some serious umami to the broth. Did I just same “umami”? Damn straight I did. Ramen noodle soup has gotta have umami. A few shakes of toasted sesame oil before serving the soup will add richness and will approximate some of the glistening fattiness you’d get with a good meat stock. Did I just say “glistening fattiness”?
Crock-Pot Cheaterpants Ramen Noodle Soup
8 cups water
7 teaspoons chicken base or cubes of bouillon
2 tablespoons soy sauce
crushed garlic, lots
minced or grated ginger, lots
big handful of rinsed dried shitake mushrooms
about a cup of shredded cabbage (optional)
Ramen Noodle Soup Add-ins
boiled ramen noodles
sliced spinach, kale or bok choy
sliced sugar snap or snow peas
wakame seaweed, soaked and rinsed
some sort of protein: tofu cubes, edamame, thinly sliced pork roast, grilled chicken, etc.
fried eggs or not-too hard boiled eggs
white or yellow miso to taste
roasted sesame oil
Throw your broth ingredients into the Crock-Pot. Cook on low all day or on high for 3–4 hours. When you are ready to serve the soup, start a pot of water to boil the ramen noodles. Slice up your veggies and throw them into the Crock-Pot; they will get heated through, but will still be nice and crisp. If you want to make miso ramen, add in a few tablespoons of miso paste (go easy, as miso is very salty) to the broth and stir it in well. If you’re feeling ambitious, quickly fry some eggs (I like sunny side up with nice, runny yolks). When the noodles are boiled, drain and put a nice pile of noodles in the serving bowls. Place your protein of choice on top of the noodles. Spoon on the warm broth, slide your fried eggs on top and shake on a little sesame oil and Sriracha if you like some heat. If you work fast, dinner will be on the table in 15 minutes and you’ll feel like a ramen rock star.
Top o’ the mornin’ to ya. It’s St. Paddy’s Day, so naturally my Crock-Pot has a gorgeous hunk o’ corned beef brisket in it. In about 8 or 9 hours, it should be cooked to perfection. I think I might do something radical for dinner: serve the corned beef with roasted veggies (cauliflower, sweet potatoes and carrots), sautéed greens (kale and spinach, instead of cabbage), and mashed potatoes (perhaps with some parmesan and a teensy bit of yogurt for tartness). It’s not exactly traditional, but I’m not super crazy about the boiled veggie part of boiled dinner. There I said it. Sorry, Mom.
I love cooking beans in the Crock-pot. It couldn’t be easier: wash a pound of dried beans, put them in the pot, cover with about an inch of water (stick your finger in the water to guesstimate), throw in a tablespoon of salt and a bay leaf if you have it, set to low and walk away. Six, eight, ten hours later, the beans will be ready. The longer they cook, the softer they’ll get. I left this pot cooking all day and ended up mashing the beans to make the most delicious “refried” beans ever. Perfect for taco night. Everything you’ve heard about beans is a lie: they don’t need to be soaked and you can add salt at the beginning and they’ll still soften up. The only beans that don’t work well in the Crock-pot are kidney beans, which should always be boiled first due to some toxin thing that can potentially cause major gastrointestinal distress, or so I’ve heard. Black beans, pinto beans, and garbanzo beans all cook up nicely in the slow cooker.
Today, I’ve got some lamb bolognese sauce—also know less pretentiously as meat sauce—in the Crock-Pot. Here’s how to make it:
Totally Non-Authentic Crock-Pot Bolognese
1 lb. ground meat of your choice
1 medium diced onion
minced garlic (as much as you like)
28oz. can of crushed tomatoes
1 jar of your favorite pasta sauce
splash of milk, half and half, or cream if you’re feeling decadent
spices: oregano, basil, crushed red pepper, fresh ground pepper, bay leaves etc.
a handful of fresh basil if you have it
Unfortunately, this is not a recipe you can just dump in the slow cooker. You’ve got to brown that meat first, and you might as well cook the onions and garlic with it. When the meat is nicely browned, add a splash of milk or cream and let it cook down a bit. I’m not sure why, but it makes a meat sauce taste really good. Add the browned meat, can of crushed tomatoes, jar of pasta sauce and spices/herbs of your choice. Cook on high if you only have a couple of hours. Cook on low if you plan to leave it for most of the day. Serve it on pasta and freeze the rest. It’s also really great in lasagne. If you’re veggie, you can substitute tempeh, but it’s definitely not as rich.
I love my Crock-Pot. It often saves my sanity at the end of a busy day that includes rushing around like a maniac in the morning, biking to school with the kids, teaching demanding college students, shuttling kids around to assorted lessons, and then bringing home said kids—who are especially ravenous after all that activity.
Since I use it almost every week, I have decided to introduce a new What’s in my Crock-Pot?feature to Love and Lunch. I’ll be sharing some of my favorite kid-friendly slow cooker recipes. Today, it’s turkey picadillo from Martha Rose Shulman at the NY Times. I browned the onions and meat before throwing everything in the Crock-Pot to simmer on low for several hours. Oh, and I added kale, because I add kale to everything.