My Kitchen Remodel Saga And My Slow Cooker Favorites…

The saga of the kitchen, dining room, living room and den flooring projects continues and prevents me from posting some new recipes. I’ve lived through this many times before and even recognize the many ebbs and flows of this type of process. We are definitely in the “frustrated” stage of the project. The whole house is in disarray and will be for a few more weeks (the hardwood floor goes down next week) and it’s at this stage that you long for a clean, organized home.

I liken these types of projects to giving birth. Once the baby arrives you forget about all the pain and rejoice in the outcome. I am so waiting for that time. Before I go into some of my favorite slow cooker recipes I thought I’d share a few pictures of my kitchen to give you some perspective of what I am currently going through.

The picture below gives you somewhat of an idea of what the kitchen looked like when we moved in. Not bad you might say, but there were definitely some challenges. The gas cook top was not what was originally there. When buying a condo I told my husband I would not even consider one that did not have a gas stove. I’ve been a gas girl all my life and know that most if not all professional chefs cook with gas so there was no room for negotiation there.

We took out the cooktop you see in the picture below to install the gas cooktop in the picture above (the gas cooktop was the one the builder took out and replaced with the electric cooktop when doing the remodel). Our condo had been previously owned but purchased back by the builder and converted to the model for the development. (the development was done in two phases and our condo was in one of the first phase buildings). “Upgraded” appliances were installed as part of the conversion. I say upgraded in parenthesis because the new appliances were actually not very good and my husband and I wound up replacing all of them except the refrigerator. I also found it interesting that the electric cooktop they originally installed looked like Mickey Mouse, my bizarre sense of humor.

The original electric cooktop that was in our kitchen

The original kitchen design called for the cooktop and oven to be separate. You can see a small portion of the original oven on the far right of the very first picture above (note the stainless outline at the bottom far right of the picture). The problem with having the oven located there was the thermostat for our heating and cooling system was on the wall directly opposite the oven. Using the oven had a direct effect on the thermostat and we certainly didn’t want that. So we decided to eliminate the cooktop and separate oven combination and get a stove with an oven (see the picture below), install it in the space where the cooktop was (requiring removing the cabinets underneath) and adding cabinet space where the oven had been. It worked out great.

After that, the final problem we wanted to resolve was the engineered wood flooring (you can see it on the bottom of the first picture above). It really doesn’t look that bad in the picture but it was cheap stuff, scratched easily and was hard to clean. Both my husband and I have had wood floors in our previous kitchens and always wound up replacing them with tile. Tile is more durable and easily stands up to the wear and tear of work done in a kitchen. Just be careful not to drop your wine glasses, though. Tile is not forgiving in that regard.

So at this point the tile is laid and setting for a day before doing the grout. My husband does excellent work and is a perfectionist so the work sometimes is painstakingly slow. In the end I know I will be so pleased but in the interim living in a war zone has its ups and downs.

Where my stove/oven used to be

waiting for grout

The one thing we’ve already noticed is the tile is brightening up the kitchen. With the dark cabinets and the dark floor the kitchen was a pretty dark place. The tile is changing all that and brightening it up considerably.

And so, because of all this, once again I do not have a new recipe to share this week. But the good news is I have so many recipes amassed from the many years of doing this blog that I can share some of my recipes that have not seen the light of day for quite some time.

This week I decided to focus on some of my personal favorite slow cooker recipes. Over the years I’ve learned that slow cookers are actually very versatile. Years ago when I would make something in a slow cooker (or crock pots as we used to call it then) my food would come out bland and overcooked. Now I’ve mastered some techniques that have helped me create some wonderful slow cooker dishes. Those are the ones I want to share with you today.

So let’s talk slow cooker favorites…

I’ve chosen these particular recipes because they are easy, impressive and your guests (or family for that matter) will never think they were made in a slow cooker.

  1. SLOW COOKER GROUND BEEF STEW: I really like this recipe because the end result is a thick and luscious stew. The secret is using a large amount of tomato paste. For a 15 ounce can of tomato sauce I recommend using an entire 6 ounce can of tomato paste. For this recipe you want the sauce to be really thick before the stew starts to cook. If the sauce still looks a little thin after mixing the sauce and paste I recommend adding more tomato paste. Don’t be afraid if you think it’s too thick. The residual fat from the browned ground beef will loosen up the sauce in the cooking process but not to the point of making it runny. The consistency of this stew is similar to a nice thick chili. And the flavor of this stew is fabulous. I assure you, this recipe can easily become a family staple.

2. CREAMY MEATBALL AND TORTELLINI SOUP: Years ago I never would have thought of making soup in a slow cooker. But actually it is a perfect tool for making soup. This was the recipe where I learned I can vary my temperatures during the cooking process versus just cooking a recipe on low or high all the time. I made sausage meatballs for this recipe but if you don’t want to take the time to remove the casings and shape the meatballs you can just cut the sausage up in links and throw it in that way. This is a great dish for a chilly night. Serve with a salad and some crusty bread and you have one heck of a meal that takes virtually no effort at all to make.

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3. SLOW COOKER TURKEY AND DUMPLINGS: Remember when you only used to have turkey around the holidays? I happen to love turkey and so I try to find as many ways of serving it all year round. I used turkey tenderloins in this recipe, cooking them whole and then shredding them. The surprise ingredient is refrigerated biscuits that I cut up and used as the dumplings. This is a flavorful and hearty dish and a great way to incorporate turkey more routinely into your meal plans.

4. JAMBALAYA: This was my breakthrough recipe using a slow cooker. From past experience, this was the first time that I made something in the slow cooker that didn’t look or taste like mush. If you are inclined to try any of these recipes, I would start with this one. This is a traditional chop and drop slow cooker recipe. The difference is you don’t add all of the ingredients at once so everything is cooked properly but not overcooked. My husband and I absolutely love this recipe and I am sure you will too.

5. SLOW COOKER COUNTRY STYLE PORK RIBS: I have been making this recipe for years. It is definitely a recipe for someone who is just learning to cook as it is, if you follow the instructions, absolutely foolproof. The sauce is rich and thick and the pork is fall-off-the-bone delicious. You can serve this with rice or potatoes and a vegetable of your choice and have a superb meal. If you want a great recipe that is a complete no brainer, this is the one for you.

And there you have it – the saga of my kitchen remodel coupled with my favorite slow cooker recipes. I’m not sure if I will be able to post a new recipe next week, but I certainly hope to. If not, I will share some of my former recipes that have not surfaced for a long time and probably something sweet versus savory. We’ll just have to see how it goes. Thanks for hanging in there with me. Next stop, doing the grout and the hardwood floor installation in the rest of the condo!

 

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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