Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Slow cooking, spicy soups for Christmas Eve supper

12/24/08 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

The day before Christmas is one of the busiest days of the year.  With Christmas day nipping at our heels, there’s still much to do. Even if the house is clean, the shopping done and the packages all wrapped and under the tree, the kitchen calls. And if you’re the chief cook and bottle-washer at your house the last 24 hours are especially crazy-making.

In the midst of pie baking and cookie frosting we often eat junk food the night before the big event. But you can put together a quick healthy meal if you use your Crock-Pot or slow cooker. Assemble your recipe in the morning and let the slow cooker do the work for you.

Getting organized is simple. Check your ingredients list and set them all out on the countertop before you begin. Now is not the time to be snobbish and think that you have to make everything from scratch. Gather up those frozen or canned items from your cupboard and freezer and put them to work by combining them into a guilt-free tasty meal.

As soon as you get the main dish cooking, assemble a crisp green salad. Top the greens with shredded carrots, sliced cucumbers, green onions and a few black olives. Cover and refrigerate until dinnertime. That night serve everything with store bought French bread and you’ve got a meal fit for a king.

Most slow cooker recipes say that you do not have to brown meat or sauté vegetables. I disagree. Ground beef should always be lightly browned and drained well. In fact, I always brown beef products when using them in soups and stews.

I also briefly sauté onions, celery and carrots before simmering them with the recipe ingredients. The resulting product from this sweating procedure is much more flavorful than if added raw. This mixture is called a “mire poi” or equal parts carrots, celery with twice as much onion. It can be used as a flavor base for a myriad of dishes.

Slow cookers do have limitations. It is generally okay to simmer meats and sauces all day but you may have to add extra spices before serving. Remember to cook chicken pieces at low heat or they become too soft if cooked too long on high heat. A whole chicken will retain its shape and flavor nicely but at the end of the cooking process, I often brown mine in the oven to intensify the flavor.

Some foods will retain their texture and color best if added in the last hour of cooking. I always precook noodles and rice, adding them about 30 minutes before serving. Otherwise they turn to mush. Broccoli, in my opinion, should never be cooked in a slow cooker. It develops a very strong taste and turns a really ugly green.

Of course, the holidays are not the only time to use your slow cooker. If you’ve kept the cookbooks that came with yours, you’ll find lots of interesting ideas. But be careful. Depending on your taste buds, some recipes are more appetizing than others.

My first Crock-Pot cookbook from the 1960s has some recipes that never saw the light of day at our house: a spinach casserole with cottage cheese never made the cut; neither did a macaroni, mushroom soup, chipped beef and hard boiled egg casserole. Ugh.

We often eat something spicy and not too heavy the night before holiday meals. The following recipes will fit the bill nicely. I’ve added the macaroni and cheese for the kids among us. Enjoy!

Taco Soup with Black Beans
“Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook”

1 lb ground beef, browned and drained
28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
15 ounce can corn, undrained
15 ounce can black beans, undrained
15 ounce can red kidney beans, undrained
1 envelope dry Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing Mix
1 envelope dry taco seasoning
1 small onion, chopped

Combine all ingredients, cover, and cook on low 4-6 hours.
Serve with shredded cheese, sour cream, and tortilla or corn chips.

Spicy Chicken Soup

1 cup diced onion
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon oil
3 cups cooked chicken or turkey, diced
1/2 package dry taco seasoning mix
2 cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can pinto beans, drained
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 can diced green chilis, drained
2 cans chicken broth
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Cook onion and garlic in oil until tender. Place in slow cooker with remainder of ingredients and cook on low. If the broth is too thin, mix cornstarch with water; add to soup and bring to boil. Just before serving, add a dash of hot sauce. Serves four.

All-Day Macaroni and Cheese

8 ounces cooked and drained elbow macaroni
12 ounces evaporated milk
1-1/2 cups milk (not skim)
2 eggs
4 cups cheddar cheese, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1/2-teaspoon black pepper

Coat slow cooker with non-stick vegetable spray. Place the macaroni in the cooker. Mix the milks and eggs together; add 3 cups of the cheese and pour over the macaroni. Pour the mixture over the macaroni and mix well. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cover and cook on LOW 5-6 hours. Do not remove the cover or stir until the mixture is firm and golden around the edges. Serves 4

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare. Contact her at 942-1317 or email

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