Slow Cooker Turkey Or Pork And Stuffing…

If you’re like me you have a taste for turkey and stuffing far beyond Thanksgiving. But who wants to buy a big old bird all the time and roast it in the oven? There’s got to be a better way. Guess what, I found it!

More and more I am becoming adept at using a slow cooker. That means I’m not using it simply to drop something in and cook it until it’s beaten into submission. A slow cooker is a valuable tool but if you don’t use it properly it can create meals that are virtually tasteless.

This recipe, I guarantee you, has tons of flavor. It also has its traditional aspects and its unique aspects and I will discuss those in my lessons learned. I started out by using a bone in turkey breast for this recipe and decided the next time I made it I would try a boneless pork roast. Guess what? Both ways it was fabulous! So let’s talk slow cooker turkey or pork roast and stuffing…

Lesson Learned 1 – How to prepare the stuffing: I used a box of stove stop stuffing for these recipes (one designed to be used with turkey and one designed for pork) so it already had the seasonings I needed in it but you can also use just a plain stuffing mix. If so, you will need to add some poultry seasoning and dried sage. I also added some sliced onions, sliced mushrooms and diced celery to boost the flavor of the stuffing mix when I made the turkey and substituted sliced apples for the mushrooms when making the pork, but you don’t have to. I’ll put both versions in the recipe below and you can chose whatever method suits you.

The first time I made this most of the stuffing was soft except for the very bottom. I stirred everything together after it was all cooked and it turned out ok. The second time I made this I added a cup of chicken broth to the stuffing mix and it turned out perfectly. Since you put the soup/gravy mixture on top of the meat, it does not totally reach all of the stuffing. And since a turkey breast doesn’t have a lot of fat to begin with you need the moistness of the chicken broth to get the desired consistency of the stuffing. I also added carrots on top of the stuffing in both recipes and they turned out perfectly. The pork roast had a little more fat so that also helped to keep the stuffing moist.

Onions And Celery Added To The Stuffing

Stuffing With Mushrooms And Carrots For The Turkey

Carrots and Apples for the Pork Roast

Lesson Learned 2 – Spray the crock with cooking spray: After the long hours of slow cooking the stuffing will stick to the crock if you don’t spray it. Make sure you spray the crock with cooking spray before adding the stuffing. You’ll be glad you did at both serving and clean up time.

Season Each Layer

Lesson Learned – Season each layer: Slow cooking requires careful seasoning so food does not come out tasting bland. Remember to season each layer with salt and pepper as you prepare the slow cooker.

Lesson Learned 4 – What kind of turkey to use: I am fortunate to have a grocery store that cuts half turkey breasts on the bone and sells them fresh. This works so well in this recipe. When I first made it I was surprised at the moistness of the turkey breast. My husband loved it.

You can use a boneless breast as well. You really shouldn’t use more than a 3 pound turkey breast for this recipe. If you do, you will need to cook it longer. If you buy the breast frozen be sure to thaw it before putting it in the slow cooker. For 4 people, 2 1/2 – 3 pounds is perfect. You may even have some leftovers. The breast pictured below is on the bone and 2 1/2 pounds.

Lesson Learned 5 – What kind of pork roast to use: I used a 2 1/4 pound boneless pork roast for this recipe. Make sure when you put it in the slow cooker you put it fat side up. That way the fat will drip down onto the stuffing and vegetables. I also seasoned the pork roast with fresh lemon thyme. I didn’t need to do that when I made this recipe with a turkey breast.

Lesson Learned 6 – Combine turkey gravy or pork gravy and mushroom soup for a delightful sauce: I found combining gravies with the soup created a surprisingly flavorful sauce to put over the meat. When I made the turkey I used a cream of mushroom soup. When I made the pork I used a cremini mushroom bisque soup. Both were great, although in hindsight I preferred the mushroom bisque over the cream of mushroom.

Gravy/Soup Mixture

I started out by making a packet of McCormick gravy on the stove and combined it with a can of mushroom soup. You can used jarred gravy as well. The combination tasted divine and gave flavorful moisture to the meat as it cooked.

If I was having a small gathering at Thanksgiving I would consider either one of these for dinner. They were unbelievably good and super simple to make. This is also a great recipe for having turkey and stuffing whenever you want it. Turkey is not just for Thanksgiving anymore.

Lesson Learned 7 – Both versions of this recipe results in super moist and tender meat: I have to say I was surprised at how moist and tender both the turkey and the pork tasted. I cooked both for 5 hours on low and both turned out perfectly. Once again I want to make it clear that you need to know your slow cooker. Also, to ensure the turkey and pork are cooked, you need to adhere to the weights I have given you. If you choose to cook something a little larger you will want to add a little more time to the cooking process.

Try this recipe combo and let me know what you think. They are becoming staples in our home!

Juicy And Tender Roast Turkey

Juicy And Tender Roast Pork

Slow Cooker Turkey Or Pork and Stuffing...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 – 2 1/4 – 2 1/2 pound turkey breast, bone in preferable or,

1 – 2 1/4 – 2 1/2 boneless pork roast

I – 6 oz. box of Stove Top Stuffing (chicken or pork variety)

I cup cremini mushrooms, sliced thick (can use for either chicken or pork)

1 large stalk of celery, diced

1 small onion, diced

1 small granny smith apple peeled and sliced (for a pork roast)

4 carrots, peeled and sliced into 2 inch logs

1 cup chicken broth

2 Tbs butter, melted

I packet McCormick turkey or pork gravy

1 10.75 oz. can of mushroom bisque soup

Kosher Salt

Freshly Cracked Black Pepper

Fresh Lemon Thyme (pork roast)

Cooking Spray

DIRECTIONS:

Prepare gravy mix according to package instructions. Once the gravy has somewhat cooled add the mushroom soup to the gravy and stir until combined. Set aside.

Spray the crock of the slow cooker with cooking spray. Mix onion, celery, dressing mix, chicken broth and butter until combined. Spread on the bottom of the slow cooker. Add the mushrooms, carrots and apple (pork roast recipe) on top of the stuffing.

Place the turkey or pork roast on top of the stuffing and vegetables. Season with salt and pepper. If making the pork roast, strip lemon thyme leaves from the stalks and season the top of the pork roast. (You can add remaining stalks around the pork to season the stuffing and veggies – just remember to pull them out before serving).

Pour the gravy/soup mixture over the meat. Cover and cook for 5 hours on low.

Roast Turkey

Roast Pork

 

 

 

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Creamy Meatball and Tortellini Soup…

Is there anything as comforting as a hot hearty bowl of soup on a cold winter day? Enjoying a piping hot bowl of soup with some crusty bread when the weather outside is cold and snowy – well that to me defines food for the soul.

In the past, the only homemade soup I ever made was my mother’s chicken soup. I never thought about making any others. Then two years ago when I had a tomato crop that was just unheard of and left me tomatoes coming out of my ears, I tried to make homemade tomato soup. And it was fabulous. So I invested in an immersion blender and made homemade broccoli cheddar soup. And the rest is history. I love making homemade soups.

Add the evaporated milk and spinach

Prior to this recipe all my soups were made on the stove top. This time I decided to make soup in the slow cooker. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I am getting more adventurous with my slow cooker, trying things with it that I’d never done before with it. So why not try to make some soup?The basis for this recipe I saw on Facebook and thought, wow this sounds and looks delicious. So I made it (with a few of my own tweeks). All I can say is this one is divine.

So let’s talk creamy meatball and tortellini soup…

Veggies Cut Into Chunky PiecesLesson Learned 1 – It bears repeating, cut your veggies into chunky pieces: Because you cook for extended periods of time in a slow cooker your veggies can break down if you don’t cut them chunky. You want to see and taste your veggies. So don’t be afraid to cut them into chunky pieces. They will cook I promise you.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use different settings to get different results: Sounds pretty logical doesn’t it. But I used to be a one size fits all girl when it came to slow cooker settings. If I started on low, I stayed on low. And the same for high. But I found you can be more creative with recipes when you vary your settings during the cooking process. For this recipe I cooked the basic parts of it, veggies, meatballs and broth, for 6 hours on low. During the last hour I set it on high. I added the evaporated milk, thickener and tortellini and let that cook for 45 minutes on high. Then I added the spinach and let it cook on high for another 15-20 minutes. Everything cooked perfectly.

Italian Sausage MeatballsLesson Learned 3 – Don’t be afraid to be creative: Originally I was going to add chunks of sausage links to the recipe but my husband has a hard time with the casings. So I removed the casings and formed portions of the meat into meatballs. That worked just fine. I also used sweet Italian sausage in my recipe but you can use hot Italian sausage and give the soup a little more kick if you like. You can also use ground beef, but I think the seasonings in Italian sausage give more zip to the flavor of the soup.

This soup tastes absolutely divine. Your should really try this. I guarantee you will love it! You betcha can make this!

CREAMY MEATBALL AND TORTELLINI SOUP...

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

Creamy Meatball And Tortellini Soup1 pound Italian sausage (ground or links cut into chunks)

1 onion, diced

2 thick carrots cut into 1/2 inch circles

2 stalks of celery cut into chunks

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1 Tbs. Italian seasoning

2 tsp. chicken bouillon powder

1/2 tsp. salt

4 cups chicken broth

1/4 cornstarch

1/4 cup water

1 12-ounce package of cheese tortellini

3 12-ounce cans of evaporated milk

4 cups baby spinach with stems removed

DIRECTIONS:

Form the Italian sausage into 1 inch meatballs. Place the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, italian seasoning, bouillon powder, salt and meatballs into a 6 quart slow cooker. Pour in the chicken broth. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours.

Mix together thoroughly the cornstarch and water. Combine cornstarch mixture with the evaporated milk. Add the evaporated milk to the slow cooker, stir to combine and cook on high for 45 minutes. Add the spinach leaves and stir to combine. Cook for an additional 15-20 minutes on high.

Serve immediately with crusty bread.

Veggies and Meatballs in the slow cooker

 Add the chicken broth

Creamy Meatball And Tortellini Soup

Creamy Meatball And Tortellini Soup

Slow Cooker Turkey and Dumplings…

We are still in the midst of a major kitchen renovation and although I have a brand new stove sometimes it’s just easier to throw things into a slow cooker and let it do all the work. And that’s what I did the other night.

I am particularly proud of this recipe for a variety of reasons but mainly because this was the first time I actually experimented with a process in a slow cooker and it turned out great. In the past I had been the type of slow cooker girl that would never open the slow cooker during the cooking process. But I found that you can and still achieve great results, probably even better results if you are not afraid to walk on the wild side.

By itself, this recipe is pretty traditional using canned soup for the liquid that braises the meat. But by thickening the soup with some flour and water it made the juices turn into a thick creamy gravy. The other trick I used was taking store bought biscuits in a can and using them for the dumplings. I just cut them up and put them in the slow cooker for the last hour. They cooked to a perfect dumpling consistency much to my surprise.

So let’s talk slow cooker turkey with dumplings…

Lesson Learned 1 – Use flour and water to thicken your sauce: At the 4 hour mark I took out the turkey tenderloins to shred them. I noticed that the liquid in the slow cooker was very thin. Right before I added the meat back in I mixed together about 2 tablespoons of flour with about 1/8 cup water and stirred it into the liquid. Then I added back the shredded meat and the biscuits, stirred the mixture, covered the slow cooker and cooked the turkey and dumplings for another hour. The result was fabulous. I guarantee you I would not have gotten such a thick sauce had I not added the flour and water.

Slow Cooker Turkey And Dumplings

One clarifying point – it is extremely important that you mix the flour and water together thoroughly before adding it to the juices. I normally mix flour and water in a glass measuring cup. Once I think I’ve gotten the mixture correct I put my finger in and scrape it along the bottom of the glass. If I can feel any clumps of flour at all I continue mixing until they are all gone. That is very important. You don’t want to wind up with a clump of flour in your gravy.

Lesson Learned 2 – Adding whole garlic cloves to the slow cooker: I discovered that if you add whole garlic cloves at the beginning of the slow cooking process you infuse garlic into your ingredients. And, since slow cooking on average takes 4-6 hours, the garlic literally breaks down into the food so there is no worry of biting into a garlic clove. And if by chance a clove survives, it would be nice and tender, just as if you had roasted it. It’s a great trick to use in a slow cooker.

The VeggiesLesson Learned 3 – Cut large slices of your veggies: Whenever I slow cook I always cut my veggies on the larger side. I find that after cooking for 4-8 hours I’m left with veggies that still have texture and flavor versus veggies that have been completely broken down by the long cooking process.

Lesson Learned 4 – Using refrigerated biscuits for your dumplings: What a great surprise this was. I took butter flavored refrigerator biscuits, flattened them out with the palm of my hand and cut them into slices. I added them during the last hour of cooking and voila, I wound up with dumplings. This is a great trick. Try it!

Refrigerated Biscuits Cut Into Strips

I am really excited about this recipe on a variety of levels. First, it tasted great. Second, it looked great (remember you eat with your eyes first). Third, I experimented with some new techniques and they worked out fabulously. You’ve got to try this one. You will love it!

SLOW COOKER TURKEY AND DUMPLINGS...

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 large onion, cut into quarters and separated

4 carrots, cut diagonally in 2 inch slices

2 large garlic cloves, whole

2 large turkey tenderloins

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 can cream of celery soup

1 Tbs. flat leaf parsley, chopped

1 Tbs. poultry seasoning

2 cups chicken stock

1 cup frozen peas

1 can refrigerated biscuits, separated, flattened and cut into slices

2 Tbs. flour

1/8 cup water

Salt and pepper, to taste

Flat leaf parsley for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Line the bottom of the slow cooker with the onion slices, carrots and garlic. Place the turkey tenderloins on top of the vegetables. Salt and pepper the ingredients.

In a small bowl, combine thoroughly the soups, parsley and poultry season. Spread over the tenderloins. Pour the stock over the top of the tenderloins. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours.

At the 4 hour mark, remove the tenderloins and cover the slow cooker. Shred the tenderloins using two forks. Open the refrigerated biscuits. Flatten each one with the palm of your hand and cut them into slices. (depending on the length of each slice you can also cut the slices once again in half). Mix together thoroughly the flour and water.

Uncover the slow cooker. Pour in the flour/water mixture and stir until combined in the liquid. Add back the shredded turkey and sliced biscuits. Gently stir to break up the biscuits. Cook for another hour on high, adding the frozen peas during the last 15 minutes of the cooking process.

Turkey Tenderloins

Turkey Tenderloins

Gravy Mixture

Gravy Mixture

Cover With Soup Mixture

Cover With Soup Mixture

Slow Cooker Turkey With Dumplings

Slow Cooker Turkey And Dumplings

Serving Suggestion

Serving Suggestion

Crock Pot Turkey And Dumplings

 

Slow Cooker Chicken Stew…

It’s rainy, damp and dreary. The high temperature today will only be in the upper 60’s. Fall is definitely in the air. And when Fall rolls around, my thoughts turn to slow cooker and oven meals. Nothing beats the smell of a great meal permeating the house on a cool, crisp Fall day. So out came the slow cooker and this delicious recipe.

I’m not one for adding canned soup to a slow cooker recipe but I have to admit I was in a hurry so the can of cream of chicken soup was a life saver. There is nothing earth shattering about this recipe. It is basic, simple but very flavorful and it definitely hits the spot on a cool Fall day. And if you’re a novice cook looking to make an impression in the kitchen, this recipe if full proof. The slow cooker does all the work for you. Serve this creamy delight with a side salad and some crusty bread or fresh baked dinner rolls and you’ll have a fabulous meal.

So let’s talk slow cooker chicken stew…

Slow Cooker Chicken StesLesson Learned 1 – Do not overcook this one: So many slow cooker recipes call for 4 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low. And with that rule of thumb, quite often you get bland, overcooked dried out food. Only cook this recipe for a maximum of 6 hours on low. I recommend 5 hours. I cooked mine for 4 1/2 hours on low and the last half hour on high (I will explain why in my next lessons learned).

Get to know your slow cooker and its default temperature settings. Some slow cookers have higher default settings than others. The last thing you want to do is the have this stew boiling for 5 hours. This recipe can be done in as little as 4 hours on low. It depends on how big you cut up your chicken. I cut mine up into 1 1/2 inch cubes and they turned out great in the 5 hour timeframe. If you have smaller pieces, 4 hours will be just fine. Don’t be afraid of that.

Stew SauceLesson Learned 2 – Don’t put all of your vegetables in the slow cooker at the beginning: Get to know your veggies. Some veggies will get annihilated if you put them in at the beginning and cook them for 5 hours. I always put in my carrots (and I cut them chunky) potatoes, onions and celery first. With less hearty vegetables I add them during the last half hour. This time I chose to add green beans, but you can do asparagus or zucchini squash or any vegetable that you want to turn out crisp tender. My green beans turned out a perfect crisp tender which is exactly how I like them. And I only added them during the last half hour of cooking. The key was I turned the slow cooker to high for the last half hour and that did the trick. (NOTE: Put frozen vegetables in during the last half hour as well).img_2623

This recipe admittedly is very basic but can be a show stopper for the novice cook, and after all that is cook I am trying to help. But even if you’re not a novice, this recipe is a great one to have in your back pocket when you need an easy but great tasting meal. Enjoy!

SLOW COOKER CHICKEN STEW...

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Slow Cooker Chicken StewINGREDIENTS:

2-3 boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into large bite sized pieces

1 Tbs. butter, melted

1 large onion cut into large cubes

8-10 small yukon gold potatoes, halved

4 thick carrots peeled and cut into 2 inch logs

1/2 cup diced celery

1 cup fresh string beans, cleaned and trimmed

1 (10 3/4 oz.) can cream of chicken soup

1/2 cup of milk

1/2 cup sour cream

1 packet ranch dressing mix

Salt and pepper to taste

Flat leaf parsley for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Coat onion, potatoes, celery and carrots with melted butter and place in the bottom of the slow cooker. Add the chicken. Salt and pepper the meat and vegetables.

Mix together the soup, milk, sour cream and ranch dressing mix. Spread evenly on top of the meat and vegetables. Cover the slow cooker and cook on low for 4 1/2 hours. Remove the top of the slow cooker and quickly stir the stew. Add the green beans, cover and cook on high for and additional 1/2 hour.

Serve in a bowl or over fresh baked dinner rolls and with a side salad.

Slow Cooker Chicken Stew

 Slow Cooker Chicken Stew

Slow Cooker Honey Garlic Chicken…

I think I have a love/hate relationship with slow cookers. The concept of the slow cooker is undeniably fabulous – put something in the pot when you leave the house in the morning and voila, when you come home from work, you have a meal ready to go. The challenge is to find or create slow cooker recipes that in the end not only produce a meal but a flavorful one, one that is not cooked to the Peter Principal of bland. I’ve tried many variations of slow cooker recipes and have only a few that I think I’ve perfected. This is one of them.

What I’ve found with a slow cooker is if you vary what you are slow cooking with either other ingredients not in the slow cooker or ingredients that you put in the slow cooker near the end of the cooking process you’ll get a much better outcome. So is the case with this recipe.

So let’s talk slow cooker honey garlic chicken…

Browned Chicken ThighsLesson Learned 1 – The best type of chicken to use and how to prepare it: For this recipe and for most slow cooker recipes involving chicken, I use chicken thighs. I recommend using bone in, skin on chicken thighs for this particular recipe. Slow cooking tends to take the moisture out of chicken and by using these types of chicken thighs you protect yourself against getting dried out, bland chicken. I recommend searing the thighs briefly over a very hot heat, preferably in a cast iron skillet, before putting them into the slow cooker. Then after the meal is prepared, I recommend putting the chicken under the broiler just briefly the crisp up the exterior skin a little. As I mentioned earlier, I think the process of slow cooking is merely a part of the cooking process and not the entire thing. By searing and then briefly putting the chicken under the broiler at the end, you’ll wind up with a juicier, more flavorful outcome.

all-clad-6.5-qt.-slow-cookerLesson Learned 2 – Get to know how your slow cooker cooks: All slow cookers are not created equal. Some have higher default temperature settings than others. I have an All-Clad slow cooker and I love it, but I’ve learned over time that I can lessen the cooking time on my chicken recipes and they turn out better. Many of the recipes I read from which I based this one called for the cooking time to be 7-8 hours on low. In my experience and with my slow cooker I know I can cook chicken for 6 hours on low and I wind up with chicken that is cooked through but doesn’t taste like chalk. Especially with this recipe where you open the slow cooker twice during the cooking process to baste and to add the haricot vert. So be aware, you may have a few disappointments before perfecting recipes in your slow cooker. But there is nothing like the convenience of a slow cooker and once you find your groove with yours, you will love it!

Lesson Learned 3 – Ingredients to add at the end of the cooking process: In this recipe you add the haricot vert (green beans) during the last half hour of cooking. At the time I added them, I also scooped some of the sauce over the chicken just to add a little more moisture to it. (I also basted the chicken with the sauce about half way through the cooking process). By adding the green beans at the end they turned out crisp tender and were delightful. Put in only the amount you intend to have for that meal. If you have leftovers, cook a fresh bunch of beans at that time.

Also, if you want crisp tender onions you can add frozen pearl onions in with the haricot vert during the last thirty minutes.

Slow Cooker Honey Garlic ChickenCertain ingredients only take a short amount of time in the slow cooker (like beans, shrimp, frozen okra) but others take the full cooking time (like carrots, potatoes and onions). The ones you cook the entire time should always be cut into large chunks so they don’t fall apart at the end. The ones you put in for a short time can go in as is.

I think you’ll like this recipe. It definitely is easy and with a few simple tricks you can achieve great flavor as well. Try it and tell me what you think!

Slow Cooker Honey Garlic Chicken…

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS

8 bone in, skin on chicken thighs

baby new potatoes (or red potatoes quartered)

baby carrots (or 4-5 large carrots cut into chunks)

1 large sweet onion, quartered (or frozen pearl onions)

haricot vert (thin green beans), enough for your initial serving

1 Tbs. butter

1 Tbs. garlic infused olive oil (you can use plain olive oil)

1 1/2 cups low sodium soy sauce

1 1/2 cups clover honey

3/4 cup ketchup

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 tsp. dried basil

1 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (you can add more if you want it spicier)

Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS

In a cast iron skillet, heat the butter and olive oil until the butter is melted. Pat dry the chicken thighs and season them with salt and pepper. Place them skin side down into the hot pan. Sear them until light golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove the chicken thighs from the pan and set aside.

Whisk together the soy sauce, honey, ketchup, garlic, basil, oregano and red pepper flakes. Place the potatoes, carrots and onions (if using frozen pearl onions, add them during the last 30 minutes of cooking time) in the slow cooker. Season with salt and pepper. Place the chicken thighs on top of the vegetables. Pour the soy sauce mixture over the chicken and vegetables. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours (this time depends on your slow cooker and its default temperatures). Half way through the cooking process baste the chicken with the soy sauce mixture.

One half hour before serving add the green beans and baste the chicken again (add the frozen pearl onions at this time). If desired, before serving, place the chicken thighs on a baking sheet and put them under the broiler for approximately three minutes. Serve immediately.

Ingredients ready for slow cooking

Ingredients ready for slow cooking

IMG_9344

Slow Cooker Jambalaya…

It was the very first recipe blog I wrote a couple of years ago, just something I wanted to share because I thought it was so good. I never thought it would morph into chronicling my journey about learning my way around a kitchen. I never imagined being adept in the kitchen as something that would interest me. I used to think is was too cliche. A few years later I recognize what an art cooking is and success can be tenuous. Like any well developed skill, it takes passion, time, practice and perseverance. For me, the passion came about rather quickly and my blog shares the lessons I’ve learned over time with practice and perseverance.

Jambalaya Ingredients

Jambalaya Ingredients

That being said, let me reintroduce this slow cooker jambalaya recipe since, in my estimation, it is one of the best slow cooker recipes ever! Last time I just posted a picture of the recipe. This time I will add pictures I took while making it, my rating and lessons learned as they are equally if not more important and a printable version of the recipe itself.

We’ve discussed before the benefits and challenges of cooking in a slow cooker. I guarantee you with this recipe the only challenge you’ll have will be fine tuning the cooking time for your particular slow cooker and your part of the country. More and more I realize that my high altitude challenge is not the norm for most, so I will talk about how to do this recipe from the perspective of what works for me. I don’t think altitude plays a factor in this one at all. What will play a factor is the default temperature settings of your slow cooker. That being said, this recipe holds up well to the slow cooking process, has some nice kick to it and makes great leftovers as well.

RATING: A++++++++++++ I cannot say enough about this recipe. It is so easy and really retains its flavor during the slow cooking process. Many times people complain about slow cooker recipes being bland and lacking flavor. Not this one. Try it – I just know it will become a go-to slow cooker recipe!

Cut Veggies Into Large Chunks

Cut Veggies Into Large Chunks

Lesson Learned 1: VEGETABLES IN A SLOW COOKER: You have to learn what vegetables hold up well during a lengthy cooking process and which ones should be added at a later time. I am still playing around with how do to this. When I made it I put in the onions, peppers, and celery at the very beginning. Next time I think I’ll just start off with the onions and celery. Let’s face it, the celery will not be crisp tender but I think it’s main function is to add flavor to the sauce. Onions, if you cut them large enough, will hold up and also add to the flavor during the longer cooking process. If you add peppers at the beginning, cut them in large chunks otherwise they will become mush. Next time I’m considering adding the peppers during the last hour of cooking to help them retain more body.

LESSON LEARNED 2: CUTTING THE MEAT – It’s important not to cut the meat too small or to large for this recipe. I use a German sausage in this recipe and I cut the links into two inch pieces. I use chicken thighs for this recipe (they tend not to dry out in a slow cooker) and cut them into large bite-size chunks.

Add Sausage and Chicken To The Veggies

Add Sausage and Chicken To The Veggies

LESSON LEARNED: COOKING TIME – The original recipe I used called for the traditional 6-8 hours on low and 4-6 hours on high. My advice is never ever cook this recipe for 8 hours regardless of altitude. Your vegetables will be soggy and your meat dry. Once I made that mistake I decided to change the cooking time to 6 hours on low. Even that produced dried out chicken. Now I cook it for 5 hours on low (the last half hour I raise the temperature to high) and that seems to work well. The sausage is cooked through and the chicken is not dried out. Again, this will depend on the type of slow cooker you have and its default settings for low and high.

LESSON LEARNED 4: SHRIMP – Only put in as much shrimp as you plan to serve immediately. If you save cooked shrimp in the leftovers, chances are they will get tough when you reheat them.  It is better to add fresh shrimp during the last 10 minutes of the reheating process for your leftovers. That way the shrimp stays fresh and tender.

Add Okra and Shrimp During The Last Half Hour

Add Okra and Shrimp During The Last Half Hour

LESSON LEARNED 5: ADDING THE OKRA AND SHRIMP – I add the frozen okra and shrimp during the last half hour of the cooking process and for that half hour I change the slow cooker setting to high. The okra comes out crisp tender and the shrimp is cooked perfectly.

Slow Cooker Jambalaya

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

4-5 chicken thighs (depending on size)

8 oz. uncooked sausage (I prefer a German-style sausage)

1 large sweet pepper

2-3 stalks of celery (depending on size)

1/2 of a large onion

1-  14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes

1 – 10 oz. can of diced tomatoes with green chiles (I use the mild version)

2 TBS. quick cooking tapioca

2 TBS. dried basil

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)

6 – 12 large shrimp (depending on many you will be serving – I usually plan on 3 per person)

2 cups of frozen cut okra

DIRECTIONS:

Prepare the vegetables cutting the onions and peppers into large chunks. The celery can be cut in thin slices. Cut the sausage into links of approximately 2 inches. Cut chicken thighs into large bite-sized chunks. Thaw shrimp if frozen. Keep cool in refrigerator once thawed.

Layer the vegetables in the bottom of the slow cooker. Add the sausage and chicken. Stir to combine.

Mix together both cans of diced tomatoes, tapioca, basil, and cayenne pepper. Pour on top of the vegetable and meat mixture.

During the last half hour of cooking time, add the okra and shrimp and stir. Change the slow cooker temperature to high and cook for additional half hour. Serve immediately.

 

Slow Cooker Jambalaya

Slow Cooker Jambalaya

Slow Cooker Country Style Pork Ribs…

I just love the slow cooker, don’t you? All the work is done up front and that allows you to be about your day knowing that you will still have a good meal for dinner with minimal work needed when you get home. But the slow cooker can also produce bland, mushy food. You need to know what adapts itself well to slow cooking and the correct cooking time for every recipe. I’ve found over the years that the biggest mistake I’ve made with a slow cooker is cooking something too long.

Layer the Vegetables On The Bottom of the Slow Cooker

Layer the Vegetables On The Bottom of the Slow Cooker

The beauty of this recipe is that it truly takes 8 hours to cook. You often see slow cooker recipes that say to set the timer on low for 8-10 hours or high for 4-6 hours. Don’t be fooled. Two extra hours can make a big difference. So I will warn you up front – be prepared to have a few slow cooker failures until you get the hang of your machine and the appropriate cooking time needed for a particular recipe. Unfortunately, it’s just a reality when using a slow cooker.

This recipe is another one of my favorite go-to slow cooker recipes. These fall off the bone ribs get their down-home flavor from vegetable juice, molasses and seasonings. It also takes very little prep to get this going and so it’s great for one of those crazy busy days. The basis of this recipe came from a Better Homes and Gardens magazine I purchased in 2005. I’ve adapted it over the years and am sharing my version of it. I’ve never had a failure with this recipe, even when I made it for the first time. So I feel pretty confident that you will have the same success I did. Enjoy!

Place the Ribs On Top of the Vegetables

Place the Ribs On Top of the Vegetables

RATING: A. This recipe is so easy and the sauce is very flavorful. You can serve this with just about anything. Quite often I will get some of the pre-made mashed potatoes, heat them in the microwave and serve them with the ribs and a steamed vegetable. The sauce makes a great gravy for the mashed potatoes. You can also serve this over rice as well.  I’ve never made this with pasta. The recipe may be too robust for pasta but give it a try if you’re a pasta lover.

Lesson Learned 1: Make sure to set aside a cup of sauce at the beginning to serve over the ribs when they are done. You can use the sauce that is in the slow cooker if you forget but the reserved sauce gets much thicker when you heat it on the stove and has less grease. I think you’ll find that extra step more than worth it.

Lesson Learned 2: I love this recipe because it uses a whole can of tomato paste. I hate it when you are asked to put in a few tablespoons of tomato paste into a recipe and wind up having a half-used can sitting in your refrigerator until you throw it out. I know you can purchase tomato paste in a tube, but sometimes I have difficulty finding it in the store or they’re out of them. This way you have no worries, you use the entire can.

Cover With The Vegetable Juice Mixture

Cover With The Vegetable Juice Mixture

Lesson Learned 3: Vegetables can always be tricky in a slow cooker as they can disintegrate or become overly mushy if you don’t prepare them correctly. Make sure to cut the onion into large rings. I usually cut the rings almost an inch thick and then cut the rings in half length-wise before separating them. Onions should always be cut rather thick if you are putting them in a slow cooker. The same applies to the carrots. Cutting them into large logs helps them stand up better to the slow cooking process.

This also applies to the mushrooms. Since you are putting them in for only one half hour you don’t need to cut them overly thick. But only put them in for a half hour. That way your mushrooms will have a perfect consistency. If you put them in at the beginning they will become way too mushy.

Lesson Learned 4: Make sure you rub the thyme and rosemary into your palm to break up the dried seasonings and release some of the natural oils before you add them to the vegetable juice mixture. That will provide greater depth of flavor to the sauce.

Lesson Learned 5: You can use just about any type of vinegar you have on hand for this recipe. I normally use red wine vinegar, but plain white vinegar or any other type will work just as well.

Lesson Learned 6: Spray a measuring cup with cooking spray before you measure out the molasses. That way when you pour the molasses it will come out easily and quickly. (This is a great tip when using an ingredient like molasses or honey)

Lesson Learned 7: Never lift the lid during the cooking process. The only time the lid can be lifted is when you add the mushrooms. If you lift the lid during any other point, you will throw off the cooking time and will be faced with adding more time to the process.

Add The Mushrooms During the Last Half Hour

Add The Mushrooms During the Last Half Hour

Slow Cooker Country Style Pork Ribs

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

3 pounds pork country-style ribs (don’t use baby back ribs for this recipe)

1 large onion sliced into thick rings

4 large carrots cut into one 2 inch logs

3 cups of vegetable juice

1 can of tomato paste

1/2 cup of molasses

6 TB. vinegar (I use red wine vinegar for this)

2 tsp. dried mustard

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp. dried thyme

1/8 tsp. dried rosemary

8 oz. baby portobella mushrooms, sliced.

DIRECTIONS:

Slice onion into thick rings and separate. Peel and cut carrots into 2 inch logs. Place them in the slow cooker. Remove any excess fat from the ribs and place on top of the onions and carrots.

In a medium size bowl stir together vegetable juice, tomato paste, molasses, vinegar, dry mustard, salt, and pepper. Rub the seasonings in your hand to release the natural oils, add to the mixture and combine. Reserve one cup of the vegetable juice mixture for sauce, cover and refrigerate it. Pour remaining mixture over the ribs and onions covering completely.

Cover and cook on low for eight hours. During the last half hour of cooking, add the sliced mushrooms and stir mixture to combine. Meanwhile on the stove put the reserved sauce in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Once the mixture comes to a boil, lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Cover the ribs with the sauce when serving.

Serve with rice, mashed potatoes or pasta and the vegetable of your choice.

Serving suggestion: Over Rice

Serving Suggestion: Over Rice

Slow Cooker Red Wine Beef Stew…

I’ve been making beef stew for years and have experimented making it in a variety of ways. I’ve tried low and slow on the stovetop, low and slow in the oven using enameled cast iron and low and slow in the slow cooker. After many years and many iterations I’ve finally decided on the process and the recipe. And the winner is (drum roll) slow cooker red wine beef stew.

The Basic Ingredients

The Basic Ingredients

The keys to success in this recipe, and virtually any recipe in a slow cooker, is having a good slow cooker (and understanding its temperature controls), knowing the appropriate cooking time and making sure that the ingredients can withstand the cooking process.

Where this recipe is concerned, I have finally figured out how to make it flavorful and tender but not mushy. So here is my rating and lessons learned:

Rating: A+++++ Believe me, those pluses have only been earned over time. I’ve had a variety of failures over the years, namely tough meat, mushy vegetables and bland flavor. Hopefully my recipe and lessons learned will help you avoid years of trial and error in making easy and delicious beef stew in your slow cooker.

Lesson Learned 1: To brown or not to brown the meat and veggies before putting them in the slow cooker, that is the question. I have done them both ways. I’ve come to the conclusion that pre-browning is not necessary for this recipe to be eye as well as palate appealing (as seen in the final picture below). So save some time and skip that part.

Cut the vegetables into large chunks...

Cut the vegetables into large chunks…

Lesson Learned 2: Cutting the vegetables and potatoes to the appropriate size is important. Since you will cook this for 8 hours you need to cut the vegetables and potatoes in big chunks. I used one very large sweet onion cut in half and then into thirds separating the layers, the thickest carrots I could find, cutting them into two inch logs, and new red potatoes about two inches in diameter cut in half. If you’re not sure, err on cutting the pieces larger instead of smaller. All of these ingredients cut to large sizes will hold up nicely to this cooking process.

Lesson Learned 3: Buy a tough cut of meat like a chuck or eye of round roast and cut it into pieces yourself. If you purchase pre-cut “beef stew” meat, the pieces can vary in size and result in some being tough after cooking while others mushy. By cutting the meat yourself you save money and get evenly sized pieces. I usually cut the meat into 2 inch cubes. I find that to be the best for the 8 hour cooking process.

Red Wine Sauce

Red Wine Sauce Flecked with Instant Tapioca

Lesson Learned 4: Use red wine to flavor the cooking sauce. Not only will you have delightful smells in your house all day long but it goes a long way in adding flavor to the sauce. I used two cans of golden mushroom soup as the base and red wine is a perfect compliment to that. I normally fill one of the empty cans to the top with merlot and mix it with the undiluted soup. A little more or less won’t matter and it’s a great opportunity to take a sip yourself. After all, it’s five o’clock somewhere, right?

Lesson Learned 5: Here’s a great tip to use in all your slow cooker sauces. A perfect ingredient for thickening sauces in slow cookers is instant tapioca. I use two heaping tablespoons of it in the mixture and it yields a sauce that has body to it. This is a great trick to keep in your back pocket.

Lesson Learned 6: Not all vegetables are created equal. I used to think that I needed to put all the ingredients into the slow cooker at the beginning, and I happen to like mushrooms and peas in my beef stew. Well, if you add those at the beginning I guarantee you they will be mush by the end of 8 hours. Another trick I learned was to add these two ingredients 1/2 hour before the end of the cooking process. That way they will cook to just the right consistency.

bs6Lesson Learned 7: This lesson I just learned when making the recipe the other day. I had some asparagus spears in my refrigerator that I needed to use. I also threw them in with the mushrooms and the peas and they turned out perfectly, crisp tender. So if you have any of the more delicate veggies that you want to use, just pop them in during the last half hour and they will be perfect. I also threw in some fresh thyme at the end and it stood up well.

I’ve gotten this recipe to the point that it is my favorite beef stew recipe and it could not be easier to make. The bulk of the time is in the prep and I don’t know about you but there is something very comforting to me about slicing, dicing, mincing and chopping. Serve this in a crock style bowl with some garlic bread and a salad and you have one of the all time great comfort food meals.

Slow Cooker Red Wine Beef Stew

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 4 lb. chuck roast

8 large carrots

8 large baby red potatoes (2 inches in diameter)

1 large sweet onion

8 ounces baby portobella mushrooms

2 cans golden mushroom soup

1 cup frozen petite sweet peas

Additional vegetables as desired (cooking times may vary see below)

2 TBS of worcestershire sauce

1 cup dry red wine, preferably merlot

2 TBS. instant tapioca, heaping

2 TBS dried thyme

2 TBS fresh thyme

Salt and Pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Cut the roast into 2 inch square cubes, set aside. Peel and cut the onion in half and cut the halves into thirds. Separate the layers and put into the slow cooker. Peel carrots and cut into 2 inch lengths, place into slow cooker. Wash the potatoes and cut them into halves, place in slow cooker. Season this layer with salt, pepper and dried thyme.

Place meat on top of the vegetables. Season with salt, pepper and thyme.

Mix together two cans of golden mushroom soup, add 1 can (about one cup more or less, no need to be exact) of merlot and mix until combined and smooth. Add 1 TBS of dried thyme, the worcestershire sauce and tapioca. Mix until combined. Pour over the meat and vegetables making sure they are completely covered. Cover and set the slow cooker on low for 8 hours.

Slice the mushrooms into 1/2 inch thick slices. Remove the leaves from the fresh thyme and chop. (For this recipe I used some asparagus I had in the refrigerator. I simply chopped off the woody stems and added them with all of these ingredients). Remove the cover from the slow cooker and add the peas, mushrooms, (asparagus), and fresh thyme. Stir until combined. Cook for an additional half hour.

Serve in a crock style bowl with a green salad and garlic bread.

Slow Cooker Red Wine Beef Stew

Slow Cooker Red Wine Beef Stew

Slow Cooker Italian Chicken With A Twist…

Every once in a while, a friend will email or text me and asks about a recipe or shares one of theirs.  Such was the case  the other day when a former student messaged me on Facebook and asked if I “crock pot.” Do I crock pot? Heck yes. I love my crock pot. As a matter of fact I am probably a crock pot snob because I tend to call it a slow cooker. But call it what you will, it is a tremendous tool in the kitchen for busy families. Set it and forget it – I like that mantra.

But the slow cooker can also be a challenge. For all it’s benefits it has its downsides, mostly based in producing flavorless overcooked meals for the sake of convenience. That’s why it’s important to know your slow cooker and to understand its low and high temperatures. Not all slow cookers are created equal and it seems that over the years, at least in my experience, the temperature for the low setting has gotten higher and higher to the point that in some slow cookers it actually boils food – and that produces disaster.

IMG_5722I have an All Clad 6.5 slow cooker with a ceramic insert. Good Housekeeping reviews tend to consistently rate it as one of their top choices, especially from the standpoint of not drying out food (which tends to be the result of too high temperatures combined with too long of a cooking time). I’ll warn you now, it is an expensive piece of equipment averaging about $180 but to me it was worth the investment. Rarely do I dry out food in my slow cooker unless I cook it too long. There are other more reasonably priced top rated slow cookers out there. I would suggest doing a little research and reading reviews to determine which one fits your lifestyle and budget.

Here’s the ultimate slow cooker challenge – figuring out the correct cooking time for a specific recipe. Don’t you just love recipes that say “cook on low for 6-8 hours.” Well, what is it, six hours, seven hours, eight hours? There is a big difference between cooking something for six or eight hours. But unfortunately more often than not that is for the cook to figure out.

I’ve also found that cooking chicken is probably the biggest challenge, especially white meat chicken as it has much less fat than dark meat and can dry out faster. I’ve learned over the years that less tends to mean more when it comes to cooking white meat chicken in the slow cooker. I never cook it for eight hours, NEVER. And depending on the size and thickness of the pieces it tends to be between 5-6 that I get my best results. Normally I have to try a recipe once and from there I make an educated estimate for the next try in the slow cooker.

And so it happened with the recipe that I’m sharing today. It came from my former student Jenny who I referenced earlier in this blog. It is a traditional slow cooker recipe that uses soup as the base for its liquid but the combination of ingredients gives a sauce that is to die for. This is definitely not a low calorie recipe, but a great go-to comfort food recipe to keep in your repertoire. Jenny’s sister Shelly joined in our recipe conversation the other day and made a few suggestions that I found helpful and that added depth to the recipe. I’m calling this recipe “Slow Cooker Italian Chicken with a Twist” as it does not look or taste like a traditional Italian dish that tends to be tomato based. There are no tomatoes in this recipe but it has huge flavor. So here’s my rating and lessons learned:

Rating: A – a great comfort food recipe and the sauce is to die for!

Lesson Learned 1: I cooked boneless skin-on breasts for 5 1/2 hours. Next time I will only cook them for 5. They were just on the borderline of being a little dry, but they were not dried out.  If I had used dark meat 5 1/2 hours would have been fine.

Lesson Learned 2: Either spray or grease the crock for this recipe. The creaminess of the sauce can cause some browning especially around the edges. I used a slight brush of olive oil in my ceramic crock and it cleaned up beautifully. I’m not a big fan of cooking sprays but I am sure they work as well.

Lesson Learned 3: This is a lesson in progress as I haven’t figured it out yet. In the picture below you can see little flecks of the chive and onion cream cheese – I would have preferred it to be completely melted and am not sure why it didn’t. Maybe it was the fact that I used a reduced fat cream cheese, but I’m not sure. It certainly did not affect the flavor at all but I’m not sure why it didn’t melt completely. (we figured it out – the butter, cream cheese and soup need to be melted together in a pot over a low heat before combining with the wine and italian dressing mixture – thanks Shelly).

Lesson Learned 4: Shelly suggested serving this over rigatoni so that the creamy deliciousness of the sauce could permeate the inside and the outside of the pasta. I served it that way and I totally agree – use rigatoni.

Lesson Learned 5: I added some sliced baby portobello mushrooms during the last half hour of cooking. That way they cook but don’t disintegrate. I also served it with some sliced green onion on top for color, but you could use italian parsley as well. It needs a little color for serving.

ITALIAN CHICKEN WITH A TWIST RECIPE (courtesy of Jenny and Shelly)

Slow Cooker Italian Chicken With A Twist

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS:

6 boneless chicken breasts

1 stick of butter at room temperature (I used a half stick and, in my opinion, it was more than enough)

2 packages of dry italian dressing mix

2 cans of GOLDEN mushroom soup

1 cup dry white wine

1 8 oz container of chive and onion cream cheese at room temperature

2 cups sliced baby portobello mushrooms

Cooked rigatoni pasta

Green onions or italian parsley for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

Mix together the wine and italian dressing mix. Combine butter, mushroom soup and cream cheese in a pot and heat slightly until melted. Add white wine and italian dressing mixture to soup mixture.  Lightly grease with olive oil or spray the crock with cooking spray before adding ingredients. Place the chicken breasts in the crock and cover with prepared sauce. Cover and cook on low for 5 hours. Add mushrooms and cook for an additional 30 minutes. Serve over rigatoni. Garnish with green onion or italian parsley.

NOTE: It’s best to cook this according to your slow cooker and its temperatures. The next time I make this recipe I will only cook it for 5 hours total. Each slow cooker can be different. And as always, resist the temptation to lift the lid. When you do that it slows down the cooking process and you need to add extra time to make up for your curiosity.

Slow Cooker Italian Chicken  With A Twist

Slow Cooker Italian Chicken With A Twist

Who’d Of Thought…

Some sort of meat, potatoes, peas or corn (always overcooked) and some lettuce with Catalina or Thousand Island Dressing – that was basically the food I grew up on. We never had rice, pizza, lamb or zucchini much less any type of ethnic food other than Polish or Lithuanian dishes. Heck, I never even knew other ethnic dishes existed until I was much older. And of course there were no spices and hardly ever any onions, my father thought he couldn’t tolerate them. And definitely never any garlic – my father was sure it was the bane of any stomach issues he would experience – “They must have put garlic in it!” is what he used to say. My palate was basically remedial-to-none for a very long time and my cooking skills were absolutely zilch. My mother never liked to cook so I guess the thought never occurred to her that I should learn or that she should be the one to teach me.

Early on in my working career I worked a later shift, 1:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m., so when I got married my husband took on most of the cooking chores. He being the oldest of five children was a great cook and he introduced me to many of the types of foods that I thought I hated but truly enjoy today – brussels sprouts, butternut squash, eggplant and avocado just to name of few. He introduced me to foods of various ethnicities but even with that I could not eat refried beans for many years – it looked like baby poop to me. It wound up that he did most of the cooking and my culinary prowess for many years consisted of Christmas cookies and scrambled eggs and bacon. I could also make a mean pot of coffee but that was basically it.

Fast forward to today and my sojourn into the cooking realm has done a complete 180. It all started innocently enough with a luncheon conversation with a friend. Somehow the subject turned to television viewing habits and she informed me that she was a Food Network junkie. I almost fell on the floor laughing. After all who could spend any amount of time watching people cook – how ridiculous. Then one Saturday morning for a lark I turned on my television and cranked up the Food Network. Rachel Ray was doing 30 Minute Meals. OK, I said to myself, it should take about 30 seconds before I grab for the remote.

To my amazement I didn’t. I actually found the subject matter interesting. After Rachel there was semi-homemade with Sandra Lee, then Ina Garten, Robin Miller and Giada DeLaurentis. Before I knew it I was hooked. Week after week I would watch and in the process began to learn all the things that normally get passed down from mother to daughter (I still love you, mom, don’t worry!).  Things like how to cut an avocado, how to sear meat, the importance of letting roasts rest, the best way to dice an onion, how to make a roux, the delights of a gratin, perfect pastry dough, how to make risotto, knife handling skills, the marvels of the crock pot – this whole new world opened up to me. And as my interest grew so did my culinary skills. From roasting to grilling, sauteing, braising, slow cooking – whatever the process would be – I was eager to learn it and eager to master it. Who’d of ever thought I’d be cooking with capers or creme fraiche. Ever hear of tahini paste? Neither did I until I made my own homemade hummus. I never knew panko bread crumbs or okra existed  – I do now. Make your own pesto – why sure, but what is it?  I know now and I make it now. It’s a whole new world.

For Christmas my husband gave me a gift certificate for cooking classes. I took the first one a few weeks ago. It was fabulous – I learned a lot and found out that I also knew a lot. But the greatest part of all was when I was leaving to take the class. My husband remarked as I walked out the door, “I hope you can teach them something.” I then new I had arrived.

In the spirit of sharing I will share one of my favorite new recipes. Make it – you won’t regret it!

Crock Pot Jambalaya