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You know the words! Every year around this time, I want to scream and shout when I bring out my secret trick: my slow cooker.

This thing is simply THE FREAKING BOMBDIZZLE.

Seriously, whoever invented this: thank you.

I am so excited to get started using it this Fall and Winter. Last year, Emily and I bought a book at Ikea called 100 One Pot Meals.

I have flagged about 25-30 pages so far.  Many things are great about one pot meals, oh let me count the ways:

-You have very little prep
-Don’t have to stay in the kitchen
-Can start it before you go to bed, it’s done in the morning
-Can start before you leave for work, it’s done right when you get home from work
-You can eat from the same meal for at least 4 sittings
-The leftovers for lunch at work only require 1 tupperware dish
-Barely any clean up for the KP (Kitchen Patrol) duty person
-Flavors get better as days go on
-You can take to a friend’s house or event
-The warmth can help you stay cozy even if you’re cutting back on heating -the house
-It’s a great excuse to have friends over, without a bunch of labor
-It tasts so good when it touches the lips

So, if you’re not convinced yet, then I’m wasting my time with you. If you ARE convinced, GREAT! Welcome to the cult. Please no recording devices. 🙂

I am going to start making these cheap, easy and dilicious meals soon, and will of course share with you my recipes (or lack thereof), thoughts, results, and ideas, along with pictures. Lots of pictures.

But since I haven’t done one yet, I wanted to show you what someone else has done to get this party started:

Hearty slow cooker meal of beef stew with mushrooms served over mashed potatoes.

Slow-braised Beef Stew with Mushrooms

From Sunset Magazine

Makes 6 to 8 servings

4  pounds  boned, fat-trimmed beef short ribs or chuck
1  orange (2 1/2 in. wide), rinsed
1  onion (about 8 oz.), peeled and finely chopped
About 1 cup fat-skimmed beef or chicken broth
1  cup  dry red wine
1/2  cup  port or cream sherry
1/4  cup  balsamic vinegar
2  tablespoons  soy sauce
1  teaspoon  dried thyme or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
3  or 4 very thin slices (quarter size) peeled fresh ginger
1/2  teaspoon  Chinese five spice
1  pound mushrooms (1- to 1 1/2-in.-wide caps)
2  tablespoons  butter or olive oil
2  tablespoons  cornstarch
Salt and pepper
1/4  cup  chopped fresh chives or green onions

1. Rinse meat; cut into 3- to 4-inch lengths (for chuck, about 1 in. thick and 1 1/2 in. wide) and place in a 5- to 6-quart slow-cooker.

2. With a vegetable peeler, pare orange part of peel from orange and sliver it; save orange for other uses. In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart pan, combine peel, onion, 1 cup broth, wine, port, vinegar, soy sauce, thyme, ginger, and five spice. Bring to a boil over high heat. Pour liquid over meat. Turn slow-cooker to high, cover, and cook until meat is very tender when pierced, 5 to 6 hours.

3. Rinse and drain mushrooms; trim off and discard stem ends. Cut mushrooms in half lengthwise and place in a 10- to 12-inch frying pan; add butter.

4. Skim off and discard fat from liquid in slow-cooker. Ladle 1 cup liquid into pan with mushrooms. Stir mushrooms often over high heat until liquid has evaporated and mushrooms are lightly browned, 13 to 17 minutes.

5. With a slotted spoon, lift meat from juices in slow-cooker and lay in a single layer in a shallow casserole (about 9 by 13 in.). Pour mushrooms over meat. Bake in a 375° regular or convection oven until meat is sizzling and browned, 12 to 15 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, measure remaining liquid from slow-cooker. If less than 2 cups, add beef broth to make 2 cups, pour into a 2- to 3-quart pan, and bring to a boil over high heat; if there is more, pour into pan and boil, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 2 cups, 8 to 12 minutes. In a small bowl, mix cornstarch with 1/4 cup water. Pour into boiling liquid and stir until thickened, about 30 seconds. Pour evenly over meat and mix gently to blend with liquid in casserole, adding salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with chives.

Don’t confuse beef short ribs with back ribs cut from the beef loin. If you don’t have a slow-cooker, put meat in a 2-inch-deep, 4- to 5-quart baking pan (about 9 by 13 in.); heat liquids and flavorings (step 2), pour over meat, and seal with foil. Bake in a 350° oven until meat is very tender when pierced, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. After 1 hour, check liquid and add water up to original level. Reseal pan with foil and return to oven; after 30 more minutes, check and adjust liquid level again. When meat is tender, continue with step 3; leave meat in pan, draining off liquid, or transfer to a casserole. You can make this dish up to 2 days ahead; let cool, then cover and chill. Bake, covered, in a 350° oven until meat is hot, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve stew with hot cooked rice or mashed potatoes.

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