Crave: Taking things slow

photo by: Mother Earth News

As the leaves change color and the first day of fall looms on our calendars, our thoughts of food turn to dishes more suited to colder temperatures. One kitchen gadget that comes in handy during this time of year is the slow cooker.

In my kitchen cabinets you can find two slow cookers–a 31⁄2-quart and a 7-quart model–and I find myself constantly buying those small slow-cooker cookbooks you see while waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store.

What’s the allure of a slow cooker? Raw food is placed, seemingly at random, in the crock–although with some dishes that order is key to proper cooking – and all that’s left to do is place the lid on top, turn it on and walk away. I know, it’s not really that simple, but it sure feels like it is.

My favorite reason for using a slow cooker is that, after a long day at work, supper’s waiting when I get home.

Here are a few tips from the folks at Crock-Pot, the original slow cooker:

• If the crock and ingredients are placed in the refrigerator overnight, you’ll need to add cook time to ensure that the food reaches a safe temperature and is completely cooked.

• Fill your slow cooker half to three-quarters full for best results.

• Little evaporation takes place in a slow cooker, so if you use a stove-top recipe for soup, stew or sauce, reduce the amount of liquid. If it results in a thick product, liquid can be added later.

• No need to stir the food in a slow cooker unless the recipe specifically directs you to do so. Taking off the lid causes the slow cooker to lose heat, requiring additional cooking time.

• Don’t reheat food in a slow cooker. The crocks of most slow cookers are microwave and ovenproof.

• Pre-browning the meat is up to you. Browning or searing meat in a skillet can add flavor and melt off excess fat that can be drained before the meat is placed in the slow cooker. It does, however, add another step – and dirties more dishes – in the process.

Above all, enjoy the freedom your slow cooker offers. It’s a wonderful way to lessen the work and increase the enjoyment of your next meal.

Group Editor Jean Teller also appreciates the fact that using a slow cooker doesn’t require a lot of cleanup effort.

Slow Cooking Hamburger Soup

Tillie Kamieniecki, Clinton Township, Mich., requests good soup and slow-cooking recipes. Patricia Bowers, Rockingham, N.C., sends a hearty soup recipe for the slow cooker that sounds perfect for the cold winter ahead.


1 pound lean ground beef

1 cup thinly sliced carrots

1 cup sliced celery

1 package (1 ounce) dry onion soup mix

1 package (1 ounce) Italian salad dressing mix

1⁄4 teaspoon seasoned salt

1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper

3 cups boiling water

1 can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained

1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 cups cooked and drained macaroni

1⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


1. In large skillet over medium-high heat, brown ground beef for 6 to 8 minutes, or until no longer pink, stirring to break up meat. Drain well.

2. In slow cooker, place carrots and celery. Top with beef, soup mix, salad dressing mix, seasoned salt and pepper. Add water, tomatoes with juice, tomato sauce and soy sauce; mix well. Cover and cook on Low for 6 to 8 hours.

3. Stir in macaroni and Parmesan cheese. Cover and cook on high for 15 to 30 minutes, or until heated through. Sprinkle with parsley just before serving.

Homemade Potato Soup

Arlene Obermiller, Dannebrog, Neb., sends a good potato soup recipe.


6 potatoes, pared and cut into bite-sized pieces

2 onions, chopped

1 carrot, pared and sliced

1 stalk celery, sliced

5 chicken bouillon cubes

1 tablespoon parsley flakes

4 cups water

11⁄2 teaspoons salt

Pepper to taste

2 tablespoons butter

3 to 4 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled, optional

1 can (13 ounces) evaporated milk

Chopped chives


1. In slow cooker, place potatoes, onions, carrot, celery, bouillon cubes, parsley, water, salt, pepper, butter and bacon. Cover and cook on Low for 12 hours, or on High for 3 to 4 hours.

2. Stir in evaporated milk during the last hour. If desired, mash potatoes with a masher before serving. Serve topped with chopped chives.

Roast Tomato-Basil Soup

Rosemarie Hofstad, Fridley, Minn., offers an unusual recipe for the soup brigade.


2 cans (28 ounces each) peeled whole tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved

2 1⁄2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 cups chicken broth

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1⁄4 teaspoon ground allspice

1 can (5 ounces) evaporated milk

1⁄4 cup shredded fresh basil (about 10 large leaves)

Salt and black pepper to taste


1. Heat oven to 450°F.

2. Line baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange tomatoes on foil in a single layer. Sprinkle with brown sugar and top with onion. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until tomatoes look dry and light brown. Let tomatoes cool slightly, then chop finely.

3. Place tomato mixture, 3 cups reserved tomato liquid, broth, tomato paste and allspice in slow cooker. Mix well. Cover and cook on Low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours.

4. Add evaporated milk, basil, salt and pepper. Cook on High for an additional 30 minutes, or until hot. Yields 6 servings.

Hamburger Tater Tot Casserole

Sheri Siefert, Ontario, Calif., is looking for recipes using tater tots. Bobbie Jones, Trona, California, sends a really simple recipe.


Cook 1 pound hamburger until done. Add tater tots and cream of mushroom soup. Heat through. To make it even more delicious, add fresh mushrooms and sour cream, and heat through. I cook this in an electric fry pan. It’s fast and easy, and tastes great.

Taterburger Meal

Edith Bruck, Houston, sends a similar recipe, and adds a few more directions. She writes, “This recipe is delicious and doesn’t take much time to prepare. Just add salad and bread. You do not have to season. I sometimes sprinkle grated cheese over the top the last 15 minutes, but it’s not necessary. The meat with the soup makes its own gravy.”


1 pound ground beef or chuck, sirloin, etc.

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1⁄2 to 1 package frozen tater tots


1. Heat oven to 350°F.

2. In 9-by-5-inch or 9-by-6-inch dish, flatten ground beef on bottom. Spread soup over meat. Pack tater tots on top in a mound. Bake for 45 minutes, or until cooked through.

Cheeseburger Casserole with Tater Tots

Sarah Vaughan, Waterville, Maine, offers this version from


1 pound hamburger

1 onion, chopped

1 package tater tots

3⁄4 pound Colby cheese, grated

Salt and pepper

1 can tomato soup

1 can milk


1. Heat oven to 350°F.

2. In skillet, brown hamburger and onion.

3. Place half the tater tots in casserole dish. Cover with meat mixture and top with grated cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Combine soup and milk. Pour over ingredients in casserole, and cover with remaining tater tots. Bake for 1 1⁄2 hours, or until casserole is heated through.


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