Crock Pot Dinner Ideas

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After a long day at work or school, there's nothing better than coming home to the aroma of a home-cooked meal. With a slow-cooker you can toss some meat, vegetables, seasonings and liquid into the pot before you leave in the morning, and come home eight hours later to a ready-to-eat meal. A crock does more than just roasts and stews -- it's a versatile tool that saves you both time and money in the kitchen.

Inexpensive One-Dish Meals

Because slow cookers use low heat and moisture to cook food, they are ideal for cooking inexpensive cuts of meat, such as brisket or pork shoulder. Even the toughest piece of meat turns out tender and flavorful from the slow cooker. Cooking with the slow cooker also helps you get more bang for your buck, as the low temperature prevents the meat from shrinking as much as it would roasting in the oven. Add meat to the slow cooker on top of chopped potatoes, onions and carrots, with a cup or two of water or broth. Add dried seasoning mix or fresh herbs and spices and set the cooker on low.

Adapt Favorite Recipes

While dozens of cookbooks and websites feature recipes specifically slow cookers, you can often adapt your favorite oven recipes. Brown ground meat, chicken or sausage before putting it in the crock, and reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by half. If the recipe calls for dairy products, add them to the pot during the last 30 to 60 minutes of cooking to prevent them from breaking down during the cooking process; the same applies for tender vegetables, such as broccoli, peas or green beans. Stir creamy dressing into the cooking liquids when the dish is complete. For a crisp, browned top on casseroles, remove the lid for the last 20 minutes of cooking.

Cook in Batches

Use your slow cooker to cook meat to use in multiple meals throughout the week. For example, cook two or three pounds of boneless chicken thighs or breasts with your favorite marinade or salsa. Chop or shred the cooked chicken and use it to top salads, or add it to pasta. Add shredded chicken cooked in salsa to tacos, or make quesadillas with beans, shredded cheese and tortillas. Freeze any unused portions for a quick and easy meal later.

Beans and Stock

While you can cook an entire dinner in one pot with your slow cooker, you can also use it to make ingredients that form a base for other meals. Cook some inexpensive dried beans to add to other recipes. Boil dried beans on top of the stove and then put the beans and the cooking water in the slow cooker. Cook the beans on low for 8 to 12 hours, and then use the in soups or stews or freeze them for future use. A slow cooker is also useful for making homemade stock. Try cooking the leftover ham hock from your Sunday dinner in water or broth; add a sliced onion, dried seasoning mix or salt and pepper and a bay leaf for extra flavor. Cook the stock overnight on low, remove the bone and strain the liquid for a flavorful base for soup.