Adapting Slow-Cooker Meals for Your Family

We are officially Back to School---it started Monday. I've mentioned before that I am a meal planner, and the fall brings out a plethora of good intentions to eat wholesome family meals together each night, and share highlights of the day.

This year was no different. I had my menu planned out, and a shopping list ready to go.

But. This year I'm pregnant (baby girl #3!), and I have a new kindergartner. Which means that instead of going to the store while both girls were in school, I disinfected the blinds (that's totally normal... right?) and instead of going right after kindergarten let out, we both fell asleep on the couch during Arthur.

I may have even drooled a bit.

And all of a sudden it was time to get my third grader who had "so much homework, mom," and the store couldn't happen. So I made do. This is a variation of the Autumn Sausage Casserole that I made last year, but made with ingredients I had in the house. Other than the spices, the ingredients were all different.

But it still worked. Hopefully, this will provide 1) inspiration to re-purpose leftovers, and 2) encouragement to fool around with recipes/ingredients to suit your own family. If you don't like something listed in a particular recipe or don't have the ingredient in the house, tweak it! Cooking should be fun. When it isn't, that's when the pizza guy stops by, resulting in a tummy full of grease and a $30 bill.

The Ingredients.
adapted from Slow Cooker Autumn Sausage Casserole
serves 6

1 pound cooked meat. I used leftover teriyaki chicken and steak from the weekend barbecue, and about 15 meatballs (Coleman Natural, they're gluten free!)
3 cups already-cooked and somewhat crunchy brown rice (from 4 days ago)
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 box Hannah Montana cinnamon apples and raisins
1/2 apple, chopped, leftover from breakfast
2 ears of corn, kernels removed
1 cup frozen peas
1 handful wilted baby spinach
1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon all spice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (decreased from 1/2 tsp because of the seasoned apples and raisins)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup chicken broth

The Directions.

Use at least a 4 quart slow cooker. I used a 5.5 quart. Because there isn't much liquid in this dish, it's best to cook on low (unless you're using sausage. The sausage provides the right amount of oil and moisture, and cooking on high would work just fine if need-be). The only thing that needs to soften and cook is the raw onion. If you don't have at least 5 hours, pan fry the onion in some olive oil until it is soft and translucent.

Otherwise, toss everything into the slow cooker, and stir well to distribute the spices. Cook on low for 3-6 hours. If you're home to do so, stir an hour before serving.

The Verdict.

Last year we declared around the dinner table that this was just like eating a bowl full of fall. I'd agree. This has a wonderful homey flavor, and is kind of addicting. Adam and I kept sneaking spoonfuls out of the crock while we were doing the dishes. 3 out of the 4 of us had seconds. The other one had very little, declared she wasn't hungry, then asked for a peanut butter and honey sandwich 30 minutes later.

I think my head may have exploded. I'm not sure.

Happy September!
edited 9/7: Rachael used her slow cooker every day for a month, and logged her fantastic results!

other dishes you may like:
Maple Dijon Chicken
Azorean Spiced Beef Stew
Ropa Vieja
Sausage and Vegetable Medley
Meal Planning with the Slow Cooker

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Posted by: Stephanie O'Dea | A Year of Slow Cooking at September 02, 2009

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What they say about this article

  1. Anonymous9/02/2009

    This may be a dumb question but what is "Hannah Montana apples and raisins"? Whatever it is can something else be used in it's place?
    This recipe sounds wonderful!


  2. Hi Laura,

    The original recipe called for 2 diced apples, and some raisins. I had used the last apple at breakfast, and the only raisins I had in the house were in a box of dehydrated cinnamon apples and raisins. So I made do, which is what you should do, since chances are you don't have the exact ingredients I do!

    xoxo steph

  3. Congratulations on your pregnancy with Baby Girl No. 3.

  4. Sounds so yummy! Thanks for sharing, and congrats on Baby #3 on the way!

  5. Ginger9/02/2009

    I like it that you cook like this. I've always been so scared to mess with recipes, but through readinyg your site, I've gotten lots more adventurous. I've ordered the book!

  6. Kind of off topic here....but what are your top slow cooker books / resources you recommend. And yes, please feel free to self promote here too :-)

  7. I made your applesauce Chicken today and it was very good. Now how to use the left over chicken.I guess this recipe would do.

  8. Nice to see an ocassional random post! I was beginning to wonder if the family was still eating!

    Since your book is coming (faster! faster!) will you have a - what's it called when other bloggers review and fawn all over you - online party thing?

  9. You never know when your blinds will contract a deadly bacteria, then your kid will lick the blinds. Totally normal.

  10. Sounds yummy... I will give it a try... And congrats on the new baby!!!


  11. This is awesome. I'm so glad I stumbled on your blog - I think you are going to make my life so much easier this winter! I just need to buy a new slow-cooker since mine is so old that it only cooks on 'high' heat now.

    And Congratulations on baby girl #3!

  12. Sorry for a completely unrelated comment, but I've got a question about my crockpot. Ever since I made black beans in my crockpot one day, the inside has never seemed the same. It's almost as if some of the starch or something from the beans burned onto the side and bottom of the crockpot crock. Is there a good way to clean that off? I've been afraid to try anything too rough on it, because I don't want to scrub off the enamel or whatever it is inside, but it's driving me crazy. If it makes any difference, it's a rival brand crockpot.

  13. Hi tuxgirl,

    I've had that happen here and there too. I ignore it. Once you make something with some acidity (like a tomato-based chili or pasta sauce)it will disappear. It's still fine to use, and is clean.


  14. Hi! I came over by way of another blog and am totally impressed by yours. I've always wanted to read the words of someone who actually USES their slow cooker and shows how to make great food in it. I've put you in my favorites and hope my readers come over to take a look.

    Thanks for helping me to make some really great choices to spice up my meals. I've been stagnating lately and cooking the same things constantly. I swear by the slow cooker liners as it's the only thing I use in mine now.

    Great pictures; I'm enjoying everything you write about. Congratulations on the new baby.

  15. I just discovered your blog and I love it. I usually give my slow cooker collection (3 of various sizes) a break during the warmer months but you have inspired me to break it out more.

  16. YUM! And congrats on the baby girl!

  17. It's a great idea to learn to swap out ingredients for what you have on hand. It saves money when you don't run into the store for that $2 item and leave the store spending $20 on things that caught your eye.

    Congrats on expecting the new little girl!

  18. sounds yummy. I just tried the autumn sausage casserole last week, and it was a hit. i'll be makin it again! i also love to tweak recipes, which drives my husband crazy. he's always afraid it "won't work." but it usually does.

  19. I will be having this next week, with leftovers from Labor Day's cookout. Tuxgirl, if it's bugging you, just use a little baking soda & water. Will take bean gunk right off and won't damage your crock.

  20. Great site. Sorry I found you after your challenge but at least now I can go back and look at them all in one sitting or maybe a few. Congrats on your book.

  21. Hannah Montana apples and raisins! Ha! I love your creativity.

  22. Anonymous9/03/2009

    Thanks for this post! I often (usually?) do not follow recipes to the letter, usually because I don't have the ingredient in house or because one of the household hates one or more of the ingredients. For example, for the Thai Curry recipe, I never use sweet potato or eggplant, because one of us hates them, and the only other constant vegetable in the dish is onion. This past week, I used baby bok choi and orange cauliflower, because that's what I had in the refrigerator. It turns out just as Yummy.

    I also want to thank you for your blog. I found it last summer, and many of your recipes are in my regular meal rotation. This summer, I have mono (3 months and counting :( ) and we did takeout for the first couple of weeks, but after the plantive "Honey, we spent $150 on take out last week!" I knew I needed to cook. I've been using the slow cooker at least 5 times a week. It only takes 15 minutes of the 60 active minutes I can manage in a day to chop and throw things into the crock instead of 60-90 minutes that standing over the stove takes. Your blog has been a lifesaver!


  23. Anonymous9/03/2009

    I giggled a little bit when I saw Hannah Montana apples and raisins. And I actually knew exaclty what you were talking about.

  24. Thanks for the great new post. And congrats on GIRL #3!! I am 8 months preggers with our girl #3 and couldn't be happier. Husband has declared that he "has a harem!"

  25. I think I love you for using Hannah Montana ingredients. :) Because you know, some of us have to work with what we've got in the kitchen...and with kids, you know we're rockin' the Disney products. Thanks for the smile!

  26. Stephanie love your blog!!! I just posted my menu for tomorrow using your Slow Cooker Sausage & Vegetables Medley recipe. I hope that is ok with you ... I did include a link to your recipe itself, actually I have your blog as one of my fav recipe sites.
    Congratulations on your newest #3 girl! Stop by when you get a chance!

  27. Do they have to be "Hannah Montana Cinnamon apples and raisins," or would another pre-teen music star work? Just teasing, your casserole sounds delightful!

  28. Thanks for visiting and mentioning my slow-cooking month Stephanie! I actually did a slow-cooker demo at my church in May and we talked about your site. It went really well and I converted a few people to the wonders of slow cooking I think:)

  29. "Eatng a bowl full of fall" ... that does sound good! I love your message on adapting to what's on hand, too. That's how most cooking should be done. :-)


  30. We are all REALLY sick at my house and so what did I do, put something in my trusty crockpot for dinner...and I thought you would be so proud of me. :) I just have to say that I love your blog and check it often. I also just added you to my list of favorites on my parenting/family blog. You can take a peek if you like. --Sarah

  31. You must be the most wonderful cook! Congratulations on your new little girl to come!

  32. Hannah Montana apples and raisins??? Good lord, that girl does her marketing. I live in Latvia (Eastern Europe), where there is no such thing, so I suppose I will have to improvise. :)

  33. I LOL'd at the Hannah Montana Cinnamon Apples ingredient. I love this recipe. Making it this week and hoping that it summons fall. I'm sick of Summer in Southern Louisiana.