Nesting Series #3: The Essential Slow Cooker
I would have never guessed I'd have the time for another lengthy blog, but since I'm still waiting on Baby Brother, here it is...
When I think about one of the ways I've survived pregnancy #2 and a toddler, I have to give props to the slow cooker. Now, at first I was a little reluctant to use it because I really love the process of cooking. I like the chopping, the sauteing, the simmering. You know, the process. The slow cooker doesn't exactly have much process, but it does have convenience. I have discovered the Cooking Light Slow Cooker Cookbook and I love it! The recipes are really, really good and I can feel good about eating them since they use fresh ingredients and are lower in calories and fat.
Jason wakes up for work at 5:30am, so since I'm up early too, I assemble the entire dinner before Alex even wakes up. The only work that's left to do is turn on the cooker. Blissfully simple!
Here are three of my favorite recipes...
Thai Style Pork
We love the chance to get a little ethnic flair with dinner. This Thai pork is almost as good as take out!
2 lbs boneless pork loin, cut into 4 pieces, trimmed
2 cups julienne-cut red bell pepper
1/4 C teriyaki sauce
2 Tblsp rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 tsp crushed red pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 C creamy peanut butter
6 cups hot cooked rice - brown, or basmati
1/2 C. chopped green onions
2 Tblsp chopped dry roasted peanuts
1. Place pork, bell pepper, and next 4 ingredients in a 4-qt slow cooker. Cover and cook on HIGH for 1 hour, reduce heat to LOW, and cook 6 hours (can be a few hours longer if necessary). Remove pork from cooker and coarsely chop. Add peanut butter to cooking liquid, stir well. Stir in pork.
2. Serve over rice in individual bowls and top with onions and peanuts. Garnish with a lime wedge for a real Thai taste and look.
Per serving: Calories 412, Fat 13.6g, Protein 29g
Barley, Black Bean, and Corn Burritos
A meatless burrito using a super good-for-you grain...without losing the great Mexican taste.
1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (10 oz) can diced tomatoes and green chilies, undrained (I use Mexican Rotel tomatoes)
1 C uncooked pearl barley
2 C vegetable broth (about 1 can)
3/4 C frozen whole kernel corn
1/4 C chopped green onions
1 Tblsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground red pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 C chopped fresh cilantro
18 tortillas (whole grain, corn, or flour)
Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Light sour cream
1. Place first 11 ingredients in a 3 or 4-qt slow cooker, stir well. Cover and cook on low for 4-5 hours or until the barley is tender. Stir in cilantro.
2. Heat the tortillas according to the package directions. Spoon barley and bean filling into them and top with cheese, sour cream, and salsa. Yum!
Calories: 402, Fat: 8.5g, Protein: 16g (may vary depending on how much cheese and sour cream you use!)
Pesto Lasagna with Spinach and Mushrooms
This one takes a little more preparation on the front side, but it is SO good. You'd never guess that lasagna could be so good in the slow cooker. This is a great vegetarian meal.
4 C. torn fresh spinach
2 C. sliced cremini mushrooms
1/2 C. commercial pesto
3/4 C shredded part-skim mozzarella
3/4 C. shredded provolone (OR, substitute about 1.5 cups of an Italian shredded cheese mixture to keep from buying two different shredded cheeses)
1 (15 oz) carton fat-free ricotta cheese
1 large egg, slightly beaten
3/4 C. shredded parmesan cheese, divided
1 (26 oz) jar basil tomato pasta sauce
1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
1 (8 oz) package precooked lasagna noodles
1. Steam spinach, covered, 3 minutes or until it wilts. Drain, squeeze dry, and coarsely chop. Combine spinach, mushrooms, and pesto in a medium bowl and set aside.
2. Combine mozzarella, provolone, ricotta and egg in a medium bow, stirring well. Stir in 1/4 c. parmesan cheese and set aside. Combine pasta sauce and tomato sauce in a medium bowl.
3. Spray slow cooker with cooking spray. Spread 1 C. pasta sauce mixture in the bottom of the cooker. Arrange 3 noodles over pasta sauce mix, and top with 1 C. cheese mixture and 1 C. spinach mixture. Repeat layers once, ending with spinach mix. Arrange 3 noodles over the mixture, top with remaining cheese mixture, and 1 C. pasta sauce mix. Place 3 noodles over sauce mix; spread remaining sauce mixture over noodles. Sprinkle with remaining parmesan cheese. Cover and cook on low 5 hours or until done.
Calories 398, Fat 18g, Protein 22g
NOTE: I use whole wheat lasagna noodles and they work great. The key is to cook them beforehand for about 3/4 of the time suggested on the box. Then rinse them in cold water and pat them dry. It adds an extra step, but they are healthier and easier to handle when they are flimsy instead of dry.