Crock Pot, slow cooker, electric dutch oven — no matter what you call it there is no denying that this is one kitchen appliance we all need. If you disagree with me then you have obviously never used one. Bust open that graduation or wedding gift and give it a try. There are companies and whole websites based on the wonder that is a slow cooker. There is a reason for that.
Whether you are a busy working person or you just like coming home to a completed meal, there are about one hundred ways to use a Crock Pot. I mean, you can make cake in it. Cake!
Somehow a few years ago they began to get a bad rap and I think that came from the "I don't know how to cook and I know nothing about food but I am going to judge" crowd. I distinctly remember doing a cooking segment on Fox59 three years ago and the first tweet I read after we wrapped was a critique of my use of a Crock Pot.I think the intent of that comment was to make me feel like I wasn't "really cooking" and was employing the "set it and forget it" method of cooking.
So what? There is a magic in placing a hunk of meat in the slow cooker, adding spices, stock, vegetables and simply placing on the lid. Who cares if I prepared dinner that way? Is it any less creative that standing over a stock pot and watching it cook all day? No, it is not.
The fact remains that many people, those with mad cooking skills as well as the novice home cooks, rely on the slow cooker to just get dinner on the table most nights. There is no shame in that and frankly, I have messed up more than my share of slow cooked delights. Adding in dairy when I shouldn't have, cooking with rice or pasta, and not adding enough liquid are common pitfalls in using a slow cooker. My go-to resources for crockin' culinary know-how are America's Test Kitchen and Recipes that Crock. Both dot coms are great resources for the home cook that wants to use this small appliance and not waste time or money on bad results. Not to mention they've got some handy recipes.
Here are a few tips before you get started: be sure your bird is well thawed. This may seem like common sense but I have realized that common sense is not always so common. Next, just as you would treat a bird destined for the oven, season it inside and out. The reason should be clear. You don't just season one side of a hamburger patty do you? Lastly, to avoid dried out breast meat start the bird breast side down. Then with one hour left, carefully flip the bird to allow the skin to crisp a bit.
Reserve your liquid from your finished product. When the turkey is fully cooked, remove and allow to rest before slicing into it. Pour the remaining liquid through a strainer and reserve two cups. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a skillet, whisk in two tablespoons of flour and blend in the reserved liquid. Whisk together on medium heat until you have a nice gravy. You can do this. Taste it to see if you want to add a bit of coarse salt or fresh pepper. Serve with the meat.
Slow Cooked Turkey Breast
• 1 5-6 pound turkey breast: thawed, rinsed and patted dry with a paper towel
• 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, very soft (alternately you can use 2 tablespoons of olive oil if you prefer)
• 1 teaspoon dried minced onion
• 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
• 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
• 1/2 teaspoon paprika
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/3 teaspoon fresh black pepper
• 1 teaspoon citrus zest (I use lemon or orange)
• 1/2 to 3/4 cup chicken stock (depends on size of breast)
Combine spice mixture in a small bowl.
Rub inside and outside of breast with butter or olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with spice mixture inside and out. Place, breast side down, in a 6 quart (minimum size) slow cooker. Pour in the chicken stock. Place lid in with a good seal.
Do not lift lid as it cooks.
With one hour left, flip the turkey (or chicken) over so the breast is facing up. This gives the skin time to crisp up a bit. Cook on low: 6 hours (check it at 5 hours) high: 4 hours (check it at 3 hours)
Times are an estimate based on Crock Pot size. Cooking times may vary if you lift the lid too much and if your bird was completely thawed out. Please use a meat thermometer to measure for doneness. Turkey is cooked when thermometer reaches 165 degrees internally.
I have quite literally made this dish the last 11 years and every year it gets better and better. Sometimes I use apple cider, other times I add a shot or two of bourbon. Even better — apple brandy.
No matter what you choose to add to this recipe just know that it is virtually fail-proof. Peel your sweet potatoes and core your apples, lay out your ingredients and pre-heat the oven. This will take a bit of the stress out of cooking- being prepared. Being organized. This is a recipe that anyone can make and will most certainly make your guests happy.
Once complete you could toss on a handful of chopped nuts like pecans or walnuts to give it a bit of crunch. You may even think this dessert tastes like more of a dessert than a side. That's OK. I would tend to agree.
But you know what? It is a hell of a lot better than dumping a can of canned yams in a dish and topping it with Stay-Puft marshmallows. Again, no judgement. But in the time that you open cans and such you can peel a sweet potato and slice it into submission. Trust me, your diners will thank you.
Candied Sweet Potatoes & Apples
• 2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices
• 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
• 1/2 cup apple cider (I use cider; it is just not the same at all with apple juice)
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 2 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 3 large apples (Braeburn, Jonagold, Gala or other firm yet sweet apple) cored and cut into 1/2 inch rings
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Combine brown sugar and the next 4 ingredients in a small saucepan.
Bring to a light boil and simmer for 10 minutes until thickened.
Remove from heat and add the vanilla.
While the mixture is cooking peel and slice your sweet potatoes and core and slice your apples.
Layer the sweet potato and apple slices in your desired fashion in a buttered 9x13 baking dish.
Pour the glaze evenly over the slices.
Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees for 1 hour.
Make sure to baste with the glaze liquid after 30 minutes and in the last 5 minutes to make a nice candied crunch on top.
Add a handful of chopped pecans and dried cranberries to the top as garnish if you want to.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
— HEATHER TALLMAN