The slow cooker is one of my favorite appliances. I like that I can leave it on while I'm out of the house, and if I'm an hour late getting home, it's no big deal. There is a wonderful sense of comfort in knowing your dinner is cooking at home. And if there's a delay and you need to keep things warm for another hour, you can just keep the slow cooker on "Low" for another hour. It's that simple!
At this time of year, it can especially come in handy to have dinner simmering in the slow cooker while you run holiday errands or take part in fun holiday activities.
And, in keeping with the holiday spirit, why not use your slow cooker to prepare some festive favorites? Some holiday flavors and colors that come to mind are:
- Orange and cranberry
- Apples and spices
- Green and red
- Meat, mashed potatoes, and gravy.
The four recipes below feature each of these combinations. With these fix-it-fast dishes, you can enjoy festive, homemade meals this holiday season while spending very little time in your kitchen. Gotta love that!
Orange Cranberry Chicken
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 serving lean meat and moderate-fat meat with 1 tsp. fat maximum.
This dish goes great with steamed brown rice.
1 tablespoon less-fat margarine
1/3 cup reduced-sugar orange marmalade
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth (if using broth powder, make it double strength by adding 1 cup of hot water to 2 teaspoons of broth powder)
6 skinless, boneless half breasts of chicken, cut into about 3 pieces each
- Add all ingredients except chicken to the slow cooker; stir well with spoon.
- Add the chicken breast pieces to the slow cooker, cover, and cook on HIGH for 3 hours or on LOW about 6 hours, or until chicken is cooked throughout.
- Serve chicken pieces with the orange cranberry sauce from the slow cooker.
Yield: 6 servings
Apple-Spiced Pork Roast
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 1/2 cups hearty stews, chili OR 1 portion frozen dinner, regular OR 1 serving lean meat and moderate-fat meat with sauce + 1 portion fresh fruit.
This dish works well with steamed yams or sweet potatoes. Any leftover sliced pork works well for sandwiches the next day, too.
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram (you can also substitute dried sage)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white or black pepper
2 1/3 to 2 1/2 pound pork sirloin tri-tip roast
1 cup spiced apple cider (bottled)
2 Fuji or Granny Smith apples, cored and cut into 3/4- inch pieces
1 large red onion, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, loosely packed
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons maple butter (you can substitute maple syrup)
2 tablespoons Wondra quick-mixing flour
- In a small bowl, mix together rosemary, thyme, marjoram, salt, and pepper. Rub the herb mixture all over the outside of the pork roast. Place in the slow cooker. Pour apple cider around the roast. Cover roast with apple pieces, then top apples with onion pieces. Sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon over the top of the apples and onions.
- Cover slow cooker and cook on LOW about 4-5 hours (a meat thermometer inserted into the center of roast should register 165 degrees). When cooked throughout, remove roast to serving platter.
- Turn slow cooker to HIGH. Add maple butter to a microwave-safe custard cup and microwave on HIGH for about 5 seconds to soften. Stir in Wondra flour (add a tablespoon of juice from slow cooker, if needed). Stir maple paste into the apple-onion-cider mixture in slow cooker. Cook for 30 minutes longer, or until thickened nicely. Meanwhile, after pork has cooled slightly (about 10 minutes), cover with foil to keep warm.
- Serve sliced pork roast with apple-onion sauce, and steamed yams if desired.
Yield: 6 servings
Slow Cooker Shepherd's Pie
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 portion frozen dinner regular OR 1 1/2 cups hearty stew OR 3/4 cup starchy foods without added fat + 1 serving lean meat without added fat + 1/2 cup vegetables without added fat.
6 cups cooked, peeled, hot, drained, potato quarters (if potatoes are large, cut into 6 or 8 pieces)
2 tablespoons whipped butter or less-fat margarine
6 tablespoons fat free half and half (or low fat milk)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups cooked lean meat of your choice, cut into bite-size pieces (roasted turkey, roast beef, etc.)
2 1/4 cups frozen mixed vegetables, lightly cooked or thawed (such as a blend of green beans, wax beans, and baby carrots)
10.5-ounce can condensed cream of celery soup (with around 4.5 grams fat per 1/2 cup serving)
1/3 cup fat free sour cream
4 green onions -- white and part of the green -- chopped
3/4 cup shredded reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese (optional)
- Add hot potatoes (from colander) directly to large mixing bowl. Add the whipped butter and fat free half-and-half, and beat on low until desired texture is achieved.
- Add salt and pepper to taste. Coat inside of the slow cooker with canola cooking spray and spread mashed potatoes in the bottom. Sprinkle black pepper over the top, if desired. Spread pieces of meat evenly over mashed potatoes. Top with mixed vegetables.
- Add condensed cream of celery soup to a 2-cup measure. Stir in sour cream and green onions. Spread mixture over the top of the vegetables in the slow cooler. Sprinkle with black pepper, if desired. Cover and cook on HIGH for 2 hours or LOW for 4 hours. Afterward, if you are using cheese, sprinkle it over the top and cook on HIGH until cheese is melted (about 20-30 minutes more.)
Yield: 4 servings
Per serving: 367 calories, 29 g protein, 46 g carbohydrate, 6.8 g fat, 1.1 g saturated fat, 61 mg cholesterol, 6 g fiber, 487 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 17%.
Chicken Pesto Potato with Red Pepper
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 1/2 cups hearty stews + 1/4 cup starchy foods without added fat OR 1 portion of regular frozen dinner OR 1 serving lean meat with 1 tsp fat + 3/4 cup starchy foods without added fat.
This recipe boasts the colors of Christmas - red and green.
4 skinless, boneless chicken half breasts
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Mrs. Dash Lemon Pepper seasoning (or Garlic & Herb flavor)
4-5 cups lightly cooked potato pieces (about 3 long potatoes, with skin, cut into 1-inch pieces and microwaved until just tender)
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
4 tablespoons prepared pesto (I like a brand found in the frozen pasta section)
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
- Start heating a large, nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Coat the outside of the chicken breasts with olive oil and add to the hot frying pan. Sprinkle Mrs. Dash seasoning over the chicken. When the bottom is nicely brown (about 2 minutes), flip chicken breasts over to brown other side (about 2 minutes).
- Add lightly cooked potato pieces to bottom of slow cooker. Pour in low-sodium chicken broth. Spread pesto evenly over the top, and sprinkle chopped red pepper over the top. Gently toss mixture. Lay browned chicken breasts over the top of the potato mixture. Cover and cook on HIGH for about 3 hours or LOW for about 6 hours.
Yield: 4 servings
Per serving: 390 calories, 32 g protein, 42 g carbohydrate, 10.5 g fat, 2.1 g saturated fat, 76 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 287 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 24%.