Slow cooking through the summer


NIOBRARA COUNTY – Summer temperatures have hit with a vengeance. We hit 90 Degrees before June. My house does not have air conditioning or even ceiling fans. My kitchen sits on the west side with virtually no air flow.

You can bet that when it is already 75 at 9 a.m. the last thing I want to do by 5 p.m. is cooking something in my kitchen. I also don’t want to feed my family a sandwich and salad every night since my husband still needs a good hot meal when he gets home. Between pool trips, bicycling, gardening and trips to the park I also don’t want to be slaving away during the day.

A great solution to my dinner quandary that yields great food, more time for summer activity, little cleanup and best of all, keeping the house cool is my slow cooker. However, I don’t want the same heavy rich foods that my family craves in the summer time. Here are some recipes that I turn to over and over again. They all receive strong reviews from my picky eaters, keep the dishes to a minimum and make a great option for those long, hot summer days. Serve them with a cool crisp green salad and that is all the family requires for a satisfying dinner.

As a side note for most of the recipes in this column, the beef is interchangeable with wild game. Our family tends to eat more elk and deer than beef so unless otherwise noted feel free to swap game in for the beef.

Crockpot Meatloaf

Yes, some would consider meatloaf a heavier dish, but we don’t actually fix it that often during the winter. I am more likely to make this awesome loaf during the summer when it makes great leftovers for sandwiches the next day. I cook the potatoes underneath the meatloaf and then mash them.

If your family is a gravy family I strongly recommend cheating and simply using the powdered gravy mix that comes in a packet or shaker container. It is yummy and fast without slaving over a stovetop.

Use one medium to large potato per person in the family. I use five potatoes which usually yields a few left overs. If you don’t like skins in your mashed potatoes then peel the potatoes but we do so I simply wash the potatoes and quarter them. Spray your slow cooker well and place potatoes in the bottom of the crockpot. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Pour 1/4 cup water into the slow cooker. 

Meatloaf

2 pounds ground beef (or 1-pound ground beef and 1-pound Italian sausage)

1 large yellow onion finely minced (divided)

2 boxes (6 oz each) dried stuffing mix (I like to use the savory herb variety)

1 1/3 cup milk

2 large eggs

2 Tablespoons ketchup glaze (see below)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Brown Sugar Ketchup Glaze

1 1/2 cups ketchup

1/4 cup light brown sugar

2 Tablespoons finely minced onion

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

In a small mixing bowl, mix all brown sugar ketchup glaze ingredients (reserving the rest of the minced onion for the meatloaf itself), stirring or whisking to combine well. Set aside.

Use a 6 quart or larger slow cooker. Tear off a large strip of aluminum foil (heavy duty works well) and double it over on itself. Make sure it is large enough to create “sides” around your meat loaf of at least 2 inches. Spray lightly with cooking spray.

In a large bowl. combine ground beef, remaining minced onion (from step 1), stuffing mix, milk, eggs, 2 Tbsp glaze, salt and pepper. Use your hands to mix until just combined (being careful not to over mix).

Shape into an oval-like shape and place on the foil. Top with 1/2 cup of the glaze, then place meatloaf on top of the potatoes in your slow cooker. Cover, and cook on LOW for 6 hours.

When finished cooking, carefully lift out the meatloaf, using the foil overhang, and place on a baking sheet. Top with 2/3 cup of the glaze and broil until glaze is sticky and bubbly.

Serve sliced, with remaining glaze sauce served on the side for drizzling.

You can either serve the potatoes as-is or turn them into mashed potatoes.

Slow cooker Greek
potatoes and chicken

I love the bright flavor that lemon brings to chicken and potatoes. This is a light but filling meal that my whole family (even the beef-eating husband) loves. Chicken thighs make this cheaper and tastier than chicken breasts.

2 lbs yellow potatoes, cut into large chunks (about 2-inches)

1/2 medium yellow onion, cut into chunks

5 cloves garlic, minced

2 1/2 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried rosemary, crushed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 lbs. bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, trimmed of excess skin

1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup chicken broth

3 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

2 tsp lemon zest, divided

3 Tbsp fresh parsley

Place potatoes and onions in an even layer in a sprayed 6-quart slow cooker. Pour in chicken broth. Sprinkle with half the garlic, half the oregano, half the basil and half the rosemary then season with salt and pepper. 

Heat oil in a large heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Working in two batches, dab skin side of half the chicken thighs dry with paper towels, season with salt and pepper then sear in pot, skin side down, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer chicken to slow cooker over potato layer. Repeat with remaining thighs.**If you want to skip this step that is fine. The chicken will not have that pretty brown crust on the skin but will still taste just fine.**

Slowly and evenly pour lemon juice over chicken thighs, then sprinkle in remaining half the garlic, oregano, rosemary and basil over chicken. Sprinkle 1 tsp lemon zest over chicken (reserve remaining 1 tsp in a container in refrigerator until ready to serve). 

Cover and cook on low heat 5 1/2 - 7 hours. Serve warm spooning some of the slow cooker juices over each serving, sprinkle with fresh parsley and remaining 1 tsp lemon zest. 

Slow cooker Mongolian Beef

My family really loves Asian food of all kinds. This slow cooker Mongolian beef is perfect with rice or lo mein noodles. I have a microwave pasta cooker and a microwave rice cooker I bought years ago which are great for using when you don’t even want to boil water in the house. This recipe is also great for feeding a crowd with dietary restrictions since it is gluten-free, dairy-free and nut-free though be sure to watch the ingredients in your soy sauce to make sure it is GF and nut free.

1 1/2 pounds flank steak thinly sliced against the grain (really you can use any steak you want. It is easier to slice if it is partially frozen).

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon minced ginger

1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup green onions cut into 1/2 inch pieces

Place the steak in a bowl with the cornstarch and toss to coat evenly.

Add the flank steak to the slow cooker.

Place the sesame oil, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, brown sugar and water in the slow cooker. Stir to coat the meat in the sauce.

Cover and cook on HIGH for 2-3 hours or LOW for 4-5 hours. 

Stir in the green onions, then serve.

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