Don’t worry, be happy: Finding happiness in a cooking pot

Pictured is Amy’s recipe for a French Dip sandwich that uses beef roast and Provolone cheese and is cooked in a Crock Pot. The reserved juices it’s cooked are used for dipping.

A crock-pot, the classic slow cooker, allows the cook to prepare a meal in one pot and then simply walk away—no stress cooking. The simplicity of the crock-pot is its design. The ceramic pot heats to about 200 degrees and maintains a constant heat throughout the cooking process. Slow cooking food helps to retain flavor and moisture, and because you can put all of the ingredients in one pot, this makes for quick and easy preparation. My favorite crock-pot is a programmable 6-quart model with locking lid handles, and, although I also own an Instant Pot, I prefer my crock-pots for weekly meal planning. Some tips concerning your crock-pot: try not to remove the lid during the cooking process as this adds 20 additional minutes to the cooking time; if the vent hole is allowing too much steam to escape, use foil or parchment paper to cover the top of the pot and then put the lid back on; and lightly grease the entire pot with cooking oil or a non-stick spray before adding ingredients. Everyone has a favorite crock-pot recipe, from casseroles and chuck roasts to soups and dips, and despite the fact that these same recipes could be prepared on the stovetop or in the oven, there is something magical about slow cooking. We find freedom in using the crock-pot: we can leave home for the day, go to work, or spend time focusing on other tasks or chores knowing that our next meal will be waiting on us when we are ready.

French Dip Sandwiches

• 1 (3-4 lb.) beef roast

• 2 cups beef broth

• ½ cup soy sauce

• ½ tsp. black pepper

• 1 TBSP. minced onion

• 1 tsp. garlic powder

• 1 tsp. dried thyme

• 6-8 Hoagie rolls

• Provolone cheese slices

Trim the roast, if needed, and place in a lightly greased crock-pot. Combine the beef broth, soy sauce, black pepper, onion, garlic powder, and thyme; pour over the roast. Cook on low for 7-8 hours or until tender. Remove the roast and shred with a fork. Serve on sandwich rolls with melted Provolone cheese. Use the reserved juices for dipping.

Southwest Salsa Chicken

• 2 lbs. boneless chicken breasts

• 1 (24 oz.) jar salsa

• 1 (1.25 oz) packet taco seasoning

• 1 tsp. onion powder

• 2 TBSP. fresh chopped cilantro

• Juice of 1 lime

• Flour or corn tortillas

• Serve with any of the following: chopped avocado, crumbled queso fresco, black beans, or cheddar cheese

Lightly grease a crock-pot with cooking spray. Season chicken with salt and pepper and place in crock-pot. Stir together the salsa, taco seasoning, and onion powder; pour over the chicken and turn to coat. Cook on low for 7-9 hours, until chicken is fork tender. Stir in the lime juice and cilantro. Shred with two forks and serve with warm tortillas.

Chicken and Lettuce Wraps

• 4 large boneless chicken breasts

• ½ cup soy sauce

• ½ cup honey

• 1 TBSP. minced garlic

• 1 TBSP. sesame oil

• 1 TBSP. rice vinegar

• 1/8 tsp. of ground ginger

• Salt and pepper to taste

• 3 green onions, sliced

• Butter lettuce leaves, washed and patted dry

In a bowl, stir together soy sauce, honey, garlic, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and ginger. Place the chicken breasts in the crock-pot and pour the sauce over. Cook on high for 3 hours or low 6-7 hours. Remove the chicken from slow cooker and shred with a fork; use a food processor or the flat beater on mixer to finish the process. Return to pot and stir to coat in the sauce. Stir in onion and salt and pepper to taste; heat for 5 minutes. Spoon the chicken filling into each lettuce leaf. Can serve with diced water chestnuts, brown or white rice, or chow mein noodles.

Layered Pasta Bake

• 1 ½ lbs. ground beef

• ½ TBSP. dried minced onion

• 1 green bell pepper (optional)

• 16 oz. rotini pasta, cooked al dente

• 32-36 oz. prepared spaghetti sauce

• 3 cups Mozzarella cheese, shredded

• 1 (6 oz.) package sliced pepperoni

• Parmesan cheese

Boil the noodles 6-7 minutes but do not overcook. Brown the ground beef, minced onion, and optional bell pepper. Drain. Layer about half of the sauce in the bottom of the crock-pot, add half of the noodles to the top of the sauce, then sprinkle half of the ground beef on top; sprinkle half of the cheese to the top and then arrange half of the pepperoni slices on top of the cheese. Repeat the layers. Cook on low for 2-3 hours. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

— Amy Fischer lives in Fort Payne, Alabama, and is a Southern food enthusiast who loves to spend time in the kitchen creating tasty recipes. You can contact her at facebook.com/MySouthernTable.

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