Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: The crockpot goes to work

cold-weather soups and stews can be made ahead in the slow cooker or crockpot

A crockpot or slow cooker is one of the best time-saving appliances in the kitchen. It’s great for beginning cooks because all you have to do is fill it and turn it on. Hours later, you come home to a house filled with wonderful smells and dinner ready for the table.

Experts recommend you do not put frozen foods in the crockpot.  All foods should be defrosted before cooking so the food temperature can reach 140 degrees as soon as possible. One hour on HIGH is equal to two hours on LOW.  Always remove cooked food from the crockpot or liner to cool before you refrigerate it as the liner is made of such thick material, the food won’t cool down quickly enough to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.

Winter is the perfect time for comforting stews made in a slow cooker and our first recipe is a rich, dark beef stew, chock-full of root vegetables and peas. Serve over mashed potatoes, or with crusty rolls for dipping in the sauce.  The chicken stew takes a mere 20 minutes of prep time and is a  hearty, stick-to-your-ribs slow-cooker gumbo.

Slow Cooker

Beef and Stout Stew

1-1/2 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 lb. carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 lb. parsnips, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

1 onion, chopped

2 bay leaves

1 tsp. dried thyme

3/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

3 lbs. (1.4 kg) stewing beef cubes

4 strips thick-sliced bacon, chopped

1-1/2 cups (375 mL) Stout beer

3/4 cup sodium-reduced beef broth

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup frozen peas

In slow cooker, combine potatoes, carrots, parsnips, celery, onion, bay leaves, thyme, salt and pepper. Top with beef and bacon. Whisk together stout, broth, 1/2 cup water and Worcestershire sauce; pour over beef. Cover and cook on low until beef and vegetables are tender, 7 to 8 hours. Discard bay leaves. Whisk flour with 1 cup of the cooking liquid until smooth; whisk into slow cooker. Stir in peas; cook, covered, on high until thickened, about 30 minutes.

Slow Cooker

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

4 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cubed

4 chorizo sausages or mild Italian sausages, sliced

2 onions, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

1 sweet red pepper, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. paprika

1 tsp. dried thyme

2 bay leaves

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

1/2 cup dry white wine or sodium-reduced chicken stock

1 can (28oz/796mL) diced tomatoes

3 tbsp. tomato paste

1 pkg. (250 g) frozen okra, thawed and sliced

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

In large skillet, heat half the oil over medium-high heat; brown chicken and sausages. Transfer to slow cooker. Drain any fat from pan. Add remaining oil to skillet; cook onions, celery, red pepper, garlic, paprika, thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper until lightly golden, about 8 minutes. Add to slow cooker. Add wine to skillet; bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Add to slow cooker. Add tomatoes, tomato paste and 1/2 cup water; cover and cook on low for 4 to 6 hours and chicken cubes are still whole. Discard bay leaves. Stir in okra and parsley; cover and cook on high for 15 minutes. Enjoy over rice or mashed potatoes.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist.