Operation Crockpot Part 2: Lessons Learned

February 25, 2012 In the Kitchen 39

A little over a month ago I announced my intentions to use my kitchen gadgets in 2012. I have so many cool things in the kitchen but many of them I don’t utilize as much as I could or should. First up was the crockpot.

This post is Part Two of Two – Lessons Learned. Part One contains The Meals.

Personal Crockpot Revelations
• The crockpot can be used for so much more than just cooking pot roast! And more than stew!
• Cooking meats in the crockpot, even for really extended periods of time, result in such tender and yummy meat.
• Crockpots are better for main dishes rather than desserts, at least based on this month long experiment. But I’m bound and determined to keep trying!
• Nothing smells as good as something cooking in the crockpot all day (or night).
• The cook times are still somewhat of an issue for me (being gone for hours during the day and not eating until late), but weekend cooking for the weekdays helps a lot.
• Using the crockpot is a great way to cook a huge meal and freeze half for later.
• If a recipe says to line the bottom of crockpot with parchment paper, don’t use wax ;)
• I’ve said it before, but using the crockpot still requires work—it’s just a matter of when you do that work.

Crockpot Tips and Tricks
• Read the entire recipe before doing anything else. Otherwise you might be surprised by some prep cooking. Yes, you can fix and forget with the crockpot, but you still have to fix! And sometimes there are steps at the end as well.
• If you plan to start the crockpot in the morning, assemble your ingredients and chop any vegetables the night before.
• If cooking something like bread, strata, or cake, use parchment paper to line the bottom of the crockpot. Determine the size by placing the crockpot on top of the parchment paper and outlining the parchment around the bottom of the pot with pencil. Then fold in half and cut your circle/oval.
• Line the rim of your crockpot/lid with papertowel to catch any condensation from dropping in the dish when lifting the lid (more useful when cooking items that are more solid like cakes).
• I haven’t tried but I’ve heard that outlet timers work in a pinch if you need to delay start your crockpot.
• Crockpot liners do wonders for a quick cleanup. Like seriously miraculous inventions.
• No matter how tempted you are, don’t lift the crockpot lid unless you have to—it will add time to your cooking.
• Try cooking the meal overnight and reheat when you’re reading to eat again—this achieves that “second day” taste without having to wait two nights.
• If your recipe made ten billion servings or you’re just cooking for one or two, freeze half of it now to eat later.

What tips and tricks for the crockpot do you have to share?

So where do I go from here?
Even though my Operation Use My Crockpot has come to a close, I still have so many things that I want to try in the crockpot! Both SuziQ and Allie recommended a pork tenderloin recipe I want to try; CJ gave me directions to crockpot Swiss Steak; I want to continue to experiment with steel cut oat recipes for breakfast, I’d love to make some pasta sauce to then keep on hand in the freezer. There are oodles of recipes online and even a few more that I have bookmarked in my cookbooks. Several of you mention adding red wine to your pot roasts, something that I’ve never tried but sounds so delicious. And then I’d like to try making my brisket recipe with half the liquid I normally use (in other words what the original recipe for the oven calls for). I’d also like to try some side dishes and maybe even some warm beverages!

And I still have questions and things to learn!
• How do I translate a recipe I would normally cook in the oven to the slow cooker?
• Do I really need to brown the meat before tossing into the crockpot (which I typically don’t do), or is this just for coloring and to drain a bit of fat?
• I was taught that I need a lot of liquid to cook in the crockpot—I’ve always drowned my meats in liquid but maybe I don’t need to?

Next month’s Operation Use My Kitchen Gadgets will be…..

Food Processor!

I actually just purchased my food processor a few months ago when I started making Elle’s baby food. The blender wasn’t cutting it and the actual appliances for making baby food are a joke (way too freaking small!).  So, I use my food processor for…making baby food. And that’s it.

What do you use your food processor for? I know people LOVE these appliances but other than chopping veggies (can I chop more than one kind at a time?) and possibly making bread crumbs or grating cheese (I usually buy the pre-grated cheese), I’m not sure how to really utilize this machine. Since Elle will probably be off the purees in a few months, I want to avoid letting this appliance collect dust.

I’ll be back with a full report of Operation Use My…Food Processor on March 31st. Anyone want to join me? I can promise lots of tweets. ;)

And make sure to tune in next Saturday as Scott and I have gone crazy and will be going au natural for the month of March!

Every weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  “Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs.”  Hope you’ll join the fun!

39 Responses to “Operation Crockpot Part 2: Lessons Learned”

  1. Heather

    I use my food processor for making salsa, bread, and uh, that’s about it. BUT they are huge pluses. It’s great for chopping up all the salsa ingredients and mixing them up for me.

    I’ve really enjoyed your crock pot posts. I hope you will occasionally update us on your continuing adventures!

    Also, whenever I use the crock pot for something I would cook in the oven, I pretty much consider the crock pot an oven and act accordingly. There’s probably a better, more standard way to do it, but so far, it’s worked for me!

  2. Beth F

    I couldn’t make pesto without it! I use it mix some doughs and I have lots of disks for grating and slicing — perfect for large-scale cooking, making slaws, prepping foods for freezing.

  3. bermudaonion

    You definitely have to do prep work if you make a meal in a crock pot. I made chili in mine the other day and had to brown the meat on the stove. Nothing major, but it did add to the prep time.

    I rarely use my food processors – I have two a large one and a small one. :(

  4. JoAnn

    I really need to try those crock pot liners! Do you have a favorite website for crockpot recipes? I’m always looking for new ones. Red wine adds great flavor to chicken cacciatore.. one of my favorite crockpot meals.

  5. Rikki

    This is great! I ad a few crockpot posts for weekend cooking last year when I decided to buy one and have still a lot to learn. Love your crockpot “series”.

  6. Heather @ Book Addiction

    The only actual “thing” I have made in my food processor is salsa. But I’ve seen recipes for pesto and different spreads like flavored mayos, butters, etc. that you can do in the food processor. I’m interested to see what you come up with!

  7. Trish

    *Heather – You use the food processor to make the bread dough? I’m hoping that as we get into canning (this fall) that I’ll continue to use the food processor more.
    I use my food processor for making salsa, bread, and uh, that’s about it. BUT they are huge pluses. It’s great for chopping up all the salsa ingredients and mixing them up for me. Thanks for the tip about crockpot to oven. I wasn’t sure how to adjust the time and any liquids!

    *rhapsodyinbooks – Yes! I used parchment paper for the coffee cake and should have for the strata! Makes taking out easier but also the cleanup.

    *Beth F – I know you’re a big fan of the food processor so I’ll probably be tweeting you throughout the month. Ha! ;) Pesto is one of those things that I’m not sure if Scott can have as the basil is raw. Need to experiment as I love it! So far I have just one disk but I’ll look into more if I’m really using the machine!

    *bermudaonion – I do think that people think you can throw stuff into the crockpot and just walk away. Sometimes that’s the case but not always!!

    *JoAnn – My friend suggested the liners and it was an amazing tip! Though might get kind of pricey if you use your crockpot a lot. I don’t have any specific websites for the crockpot–haven’t we talked you into joining Pinterest?! Rhapsody/Jill has pinned all sorts of crockpot recipes on there. ;)

    *Rikki – I never realized how versatile the crockpot can be–who knew that you could use it to cook dessert! I’ll have to go through your archives to see if there are any yummy crockpot recipes to borrow! ;)

    *Heather/Book Addict – I didn’t even think about butter or mayo in the food processor! Great idea! I also want to try pesto and maybe bread crumbs as well.

  8. Peppermint Ph.D.

    I chop almost everything in my food processor…I have a couple of picky eaters in my house and if they can “see” green stuff or onions in whatever it is we’re eating, they won’t eat it. I probably am puree’ing stuff for my 17 year old still :)
    I missed your crock-pot series but am going back now to see what I missed…I love my crock-pot! Looking forward to trying some of your recipes :)

  9. Lisa

    I always brown roasts, I like the outside to not be squishy and soft, the caramelization adds a different taste.

    I don’t have a big food processor. I do have a tiny little one, maybe 2 cups?, that I make bread crumbs in all the time. I’m thinking about trying salsa verde with it too.

  10. (Diane) bookchickdi

    I always brown meats before putting in the crockpot too, I like a crisp outside. I don’t use my food processor as much as I used to, but when I did use it, it was for chopping and mixing dips mostly. I also liked it for mixing dough and cakes.

  11. Jeane

    I didn’t know about crockpot liners. Sounds useful! I use my food processor a lot- for making bread crumbs, or babyfood mostly so far… and salsa.

  12. Vicki

    I like my crockpot so much because all you have to do is add the ingredients, set the timer and in 7-8 hours dinner is ready. For that reason I make lots of chicken recipes in it, but not to many with hamburger. It kinda defeats the purpose of dump it in and forget it.

    I don’t own a food processor, but have been looking at them lately. I think it might be time to get one.

  13. Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)

    I’m with Vicki, I do more chicken that red meat recipes in the crock pot because I hate browning stuff ahead of time. I did make sloppy joes once that turned out really good! I didn’t know about crock pot liners either… those sound awesome!

  14. Belle Wong

    I really need to pull out the crockpot and give it a try. It sounds like a great way to have dinner made on the nights Ward’s teaching!

    I just asked Ward what he uses the food processor for (he seems to have it out a lot). He says: making pasta, fish cakes, seitan.

  15. Chinoiseries

    “Nothing smells as good as something cooking in the crockpot all day (or night)” Oh noes, I’d be thinking about food all day (and night) xD

    Also, I can’t wait for your next Operation Use My… kicks off! I hardly use my food processor and would love to see what you’ll do with yours!

  16. Margot

    I’m looking forward to your food processor experiment. I’m in the market for a larger one so I’m very interested in what you do.

  17. Joy Weese Moll

    Mostly, I use my food processor for pesto in the late summer and fall when I have lots of basil on hand. I used to make pie crust in it (using a method in Julia Child’s Way to Cook). I occasionally use it to puree ingredients going into soup. I’ve never used it for chopping vegetables because I never got the knack of chopping, not pureeing. I’m looking forward to how your project goes. I have a lot to learn even though I’ve owned my food processor for something like 25 years (There are bits and pieces falling off that I have to insert into place to run the thing, but it still runs!)

  18. Kailana

    You can buy LINERS! How the heck did I miss that! I HATE washing my crock pot. I had a bigger one and I kept dropping it in the sink while trying to get it clean and then this wave of icky water would result in me a bit damp… Anyway, I must look into liners.

  19. Allie

    I’m making my first Crock-Pot Pot Roast tomorrow, inspired by you! I keep seeing commercials for the liners…I should pick some up!

    I have used my food processor only a couple times. I used it to chop and combine things for a veggie stuffing for fish and to make the mixture for Oreo truffles. I’d be happy to pass along both recipes if you want them! :) And I can’t wait to see what you do with your food processor this month!

  20. Kristen M.

    To answer one of your questions, I always thought you needed liquid for crockpot meats too but I have a kalua pork recipe (like Hawaiian bbq style) that is literally just a pork roast rubbed with sea salt and liquid smoke and that’s it. I was terrified the first time I put it in the crock but it was amazing! The juices and the fat from the roast make plenty of liquid on their own.

    And I’m excited to see what you do with your food processor! I have a mini one right now that I just use for herbs and pesto and such but am thinking of buying a big one soon. Martha uses one every once in a while for certain cookies (shortbreads, I think) and I always feel like I can’t make those kinds without it!

  21. Brittanie

    I got a big food processor for Christmas. I have been wanting one for a long time. So far I have only used it to make almond butter and grate vegetables. I want to make mayo in it today. I tried twice to make mayo in the blender yesterday and failed for both times which is weird because my first two times were okay. :)

  22. Christine

    Oh yay! I love that your food processor is up next! I bought one as a birthday gift to myself maybe seven years ago or so and don’t know how I lived without it. I use it so often that it is one of only two appliances I leave out on the counter. [The other is the coffee pot and it might get put away since I kicked the coffee addiction last month.]

    I use my food processor for making pesto, homemade breadcrumbs, pureed soups, sometimes I put my tomato sauce through if I don’t want it chunky, pie dough, chopping nuts, making nut butters [peanut butter, almond butter, etc.]. I can’t wait to see what you make!

    ps. FYI, in all the canning books and websites I have read, it is not recommended that you use the food processor to process fruit for jam. You may want to look into that before you start canning later in the year. :)

  23. Christine

    OhI I forgot I also use the grating attachment to grate onion and potatoes for latkes, large quantities of cheese, cabbage for slaw [although I actually prefer shredding cabbage on a cutting board with a knife]…

    My food processor also has a dough attachment, but I’ve never used it. I make homemade bread so rarely, that when I do I savor the experience of doing it all by hand.

  24. Jenny Girl

    Yea for the crockpot! Great tips from your experiences too.
    Food processor…some soups, cookie dough with the chopping blade, and I can;t think of anything else. Looking forward to your posts on that and what’s this natural thing? If it’s what I think it is, bravo sister!

  25. Anna

    I loved your posts on the crock pot! I really need to get a new one and actually use it. I also want to get a food processor. Can you tell that I really need to update my kitchen??

  26. Trish

    *Peppermint PhD – LOL! My daycare provider used to make baby food for the kids she watched and also slip some of that baby food into her teenage kids’ food. Ha!! I guess it makes it easy for kids to eat greens and onions without too much protest! :)

    *Lisa – I’ve never thought about the outside of roasts being squishy! Will have to pay attention next time. I have a little food processor as well that I use to chop onion or garlic sometimes (if I’m feeling lazy). Really want to make bread crumbs!

    *Diane/ Bookchickdi – I’ve never thought to mix cakes in the food processor! I usually use my stand mixer for things like that but it’s such a pain to clean–even though the food processor has more parts it’s easier to take apart and quickly clean.

    *Carol/Always Thyme – How can you go wrong with wine or beer and meat? ;)

    *Jeane – Yes! Crockpot liners can be a lifesaver. Though I guess it just depends on if you want to spend the money on them…

    *Vicki – Interesting about making more chicken than meat! I’ve never used hamburger in the crockpot but I do typically make more beef recipes than chicken. Definitely learning more, though!

    *Kim – I have never browned red meat ahead of time and have always had good resulst. I think it might just be for color and to drain some fat. I’ve heard to lock in flavor but I’m not sure I agree. Sloppy joes sounds Awesome!!

    *Belle Wong – Fish cakes! What a great idea of the food processor! And yes, crockpot would be really helpful for evenings when you’re short on hands in the kitchen.

    *Chinoiseries – LOL!! Having a yummy smelling house isn’t that bad is it? ;)

    *Peggy Ann – Hope you found something useful here!

    *Margot – Already have so many ideas for the FP–now just the time to experiment. ;)

  27. Trish

    *Diane/Bibliophile – Hope you enjoy your crockpot!! If you ever want to troubleshoot–let me know. ;)

    *Joy Weese Moll – I have trouble using the food processor for pulsing/chopping rather than pureeing! Will definitely have to experiment more with this to see what works. And I definitely want to try pie crust in the food processor! I’ve done it once before during a cooking class but haven’t tried it since. FP seems so much easier to clean than my clunky KitchenAid mixer.

    *Kailana – Next time I head to the grocery I’ll get the skinny on the crockpot liners. Not sure how expensive they were as an employee found them and brought them to me. And I know what you mean about washing–I always end up with a completely wet midsection when doing dishes for some reason. ;)

    *Allie – I can’t wait to hear how your roast turned out! Veggie stuffing for fish?! And oreo truffles?! Both of those sound amazing. Are the oreo truffles like oreo balls? I’ve only attempted them once but they fell apart so quickly!!

    *Kristen M – I’m definitely going to have to look more into this liquid business! Seems like the steam in the crockpot provides a lot of the moisture you need (including any juices from the meat). Bet your pork is really yummy with some pineapple! ;) Re Shortbread – I learned how to make shortbread in the food processor. I look forward to testing this out again now that I have one of my own!! For the herbs do you use to mince them rather than chopping by hand?

    *Brittanie – Almond butter?! YUM!! We definitely want to try mayo in the food processor as well–strange that yours didn’t turn out in the blender. I’ve actually had very little luck with my blender and have only used it a handful of times (can count on one hand) in the past six years!

    *Samantha – I’m hoping to learn lots about food processors this month–definitely want to better utilize mine!

    *Christine – I have a grating attachment but haven’t used it yet–so scared! And I’m not sure what the dough attachment looks like! Think my model is a pretty basic one. Thank you for all the tips on how you use your processor!! Peanut butter, yum. :) And thanks for the canning tip. I hadn’t heard that–wonder why you shouldn’t use the processor for canning?

    *Jenny Girl – I’m definitely going to attempt making dough with the food processor! And yes, I do think that “going natural” is what you think it is! ;) Hope to have a post for Next Saturday pending Scott’s cooperation/help. Ha!

    *Anna – I just got a new crockpot for Christmas and it’s been awesome! Gave the old one to my stepsister in college. Ha! ;) Updating the kitchen is always fun!

  28. Christine

    Trish, now I’m feeling silly because I can barely find anything online about recommending you NOT use your food processor to process fruit for jam. Maybe it was just in the canning books I’ve read.. but I did find one website that said using a processor won’t provide the proper consistency of jam. That it would be too runny. Perhaps processing the fruit causes the fruit to release too much moisture because there is a lot of surface area of the fruit exposed when it is chopped up with blades. I’m not really sure.

    I don’t use commercial pectin when I make jam–just fruit, sugar and lemon juice, so my jam tends to be softer than commercial jams or jams made with pectin anyway. Maybe it doesn’t make as much a difference if you use the processor or not if you use the pectin. We’ll have to revisit this in jam season. Maybe make a batch both ways– with and without food processor–and see?

    • Trish

      Thanks for getting back to me Christine. I do have a canning book at home and have been meaning to look through it but I’ve been so busy with other things lately. After your comment I was worried it might be a food safety issue–probably immediately thought that because I use the food processor to puree all of the baby food. But I do agree about the consistency. I’m grateful that the babe is now at an age where she can chew any chunks of carrot that are stray in her puree. Ha!!

  29. Couscous & Consciousness

    My crockpot has spent the last few months tucked away at the back of my cupboard, but now that summer is drawing to a close here I can tell that it won’t be too much longer before the crockpot is back in regular use making lots of soups and stews.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. To answer you question about Cookbook Sundays – no, you don’t have to post on a Sunday. The linky is open all week, so you can post any day you like.

    Sue :-)

  30. Care

    Yikes, has it really been this long since I stopped by? Feels like I missed something. Guess I’m still buried in Chocolate Molten Lava Cake – seriously, I need to throw it out!

    Ok, I use my FP for pesto and for hummus. and anything a recipe says ‘get out your food processor’!!

    Cheers!

  31. Melissa (Avid Reader)

    I’m so glad your crock pot experiment went well! I seriously use mine all the time. I didn’t know you could use parchment paper, I’ll have to try that. I only use my food processor to make bread crumbs, which is not that often. So I’ll be looking forward to seeing what new uses you find!

  32. Lisa

    Excellent tips for the crockpot – I’m right now thinking that I need to try some rice pudding in my crockpot overnight tonight and see how that works. I’ve always used my double boiler but even that takes a couple of hours to really get finished. Can’t wait to see if you can talk me into buying a new food processor!

  33. Michelle

    Parchmant paper and wax paper are NOT interchangable. I learned that the hard way :/

    I have found that browning the meat before cooking in the crock pot makes the meat juicier (is that a word?) and if you season, it keeps that flavor better.

    I was going to tell you for your food processor, you have make ground meat. I have never tried it, but I have heard of people putting meat into the proccessor and grinding it up. That way you know what is going into your ground hamburger, sausage or turkey. If you try that, let me know how it works out for you!

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