Prepare easy meals in slow cooker on busy days

Photo by Ann Cipperly

By Ann Cipperly

With the weather finally turning cooler, thoughts turn to heartier meals. Since fall is a busy time with many activities and meetings, I find using a slow cooker helps to have dinner ready with little effort. Before leaving the house in the morning, I simply put the ingredients in a slow cooker (crock-pot) to simmer all day while I am running errands and attending meetings.

This past week my cousin from Pensacola came for a visit. Since I knew I had a busy morning, I put ingredients for the Tuscan Chicken Soup in a slow cooker while I was sipping coffee. I worked at the computer for a few hours until she arrived at lunchtime.

The Tuscan Chicken Soup dish had cooked for about five hours and was ready to serve for lunch. The soup is low fat with chicken, onions, tomatoes, celery, white beans and chicken broth. Instead of chicken breasts, I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I took the thighs out of the soup to chop and placed the chunks back in the soup for serving.

I have been using chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts more lately since often the breast meat can be tough and dry. If you use the large chicken breasts, be sure to cut them into two or three pieces before adding to the soup mixture.

Along with a slow cooker, I have been relying on an Instant Pot these days for quick meals. My niece, Amanda Sanders Wunderlich, who lives in Birmingham, shared with me how much she is enjoying her Instant Pot. A graduate of Auburn’s restaurant and hotel program, Amanda is an excellent cook (seems to be a cooking gene in our family). She was a fabulous pastry chef before she had five children.

Amanda home schools and finds the Instant Pot allows her to prepare meals quickly for her family.

Since she highly recommended it, I decided to invest in an Instant Pot. Not only is it a safe pressure cooker, it is a slow cooker with a browning feature. Foods can be browned in the stainless steel insert, which saves time. The insert goes in the dishwasher, which also saves clean up time.

After a hectic day, I have been able to cook baking potatoes in ten minutes and prepare a whole chicken in eight minutes per pound. A cookbook comes with the Instant Pot. Before trying it, I looked on YouTube to see how cooks were using it.

If you are thinking of getting a slow cooker or replacing an older one, the Instant Pot might be a good choice, but check it out first. If you don’t have a slow cooker and want to prepare the recipes featured today, most all of them would work in a large Dutch oven. Be sure it is tightly covered, and bake at 325 for about four hours or until the meat is tender. Send an e-mail if you have questions.

Every time I make the Slow Cooker Roast and Gravy recipe I think of BJ Horn, who was a wonderful, beloved Opelikan. I am running the recipe again in her memory. When it first ran, she contacted me to say how much she liked the recipe. I was not surprised because BJ was so thoughtful and kind to everyone.

Look over the following recipes and a couple to your menus this coming week.

Ann Cipperly can be reached at


Slow Cooker Roast and Gravy
I am running this recipe again in memory of beloved BJ Horn, as it was one of hr favorites.
Sirloin tip roast or chuck roast
1 can golden mushroom soup
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can French onion soup
Brown roast in small amount of oil. Remove roast; add about ¼ cup water. Bring to a boil and simmer a minute or so to loosen brown bits on bottom of pan. Combine soups in a bowl; add drippings from pan. Place roast in a slow cooker. Pour soup mixture over roast. Cook all day on low in slow cooker or until roast is tender. Can cook on high for about four hours or until roast is tender. Serve with mashed potatoes.
Oven Method
Prepare as above and bake in a Dutch oven, tightly covered, at 325 degrees for 4 hours or until roast is tender.

Slow Cooker Tuscan Chicken Soup
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
Salt and pepper
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups diced carrots
1 1/2 cups diced celery
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
Two (15 oz.) cans white beans, rinsed and drained
15 oz. can diced tomatoes
32 oz. container chicken broth (use less for a thicker soup)
1 tsp. oregano, optional
Season chicken with salt and pepper. Place chicken, carrots, celery, onion and garlic in slow cooker. Add white beans, tomatoes and desired amount of chicken broth (use less for a thicker soup). Add oregano, if using.
Stir ingredients, cover and cook on high for 4-5 hours or on low 6-8 hours until chicken is cooked and tender.
Remove chicken and cut into chunks; return to soup. Season with additional salt and pepper if needed.
Freezes well.

Instant Pot Whole Chicken and Stock
Amanda Sanders Wunderlich
I have cooked the chicken without stuffing the cavity. I just season it well with salt, pepper and paprika under the skin and inside and outside the chicken. I use an instant read thermometer to make sure it is done.
The chicken is tender and flavorful, so it is great by itself or used in other recipes. Then I use the chicken carcass to make stock in the instant pot. Put the bones back in with any juices, add water, some vegetables and salt. Set it for 30 minutes on high pressure. You can cook it longer, if desired.
3-5 lb. whole chicken
Coarse kosher salt
Coarse black pepper
2 Tbsp. oil
Fresh parsley
Half of lemon
3 garlic cloves
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
Remove giblets from cavity of chicken. Salt and pepper inside and outside of chicken.
Using the sauté function in an Instant Pot, heat oil until rippling and hot. Place chicken, breast-side down, in the hot oil. Let it brown for 5-6 minutes. Carefully remove chicken from pot and put parsley, lemon and clove inside cavity.
Place chicken breast-side up into the pressure cooker and add broth.
Select manual on the Instant Pot, and set appropriate time for high pressure, about 8 minutes per pound of chicken (a 5-pound chicken will cook for 40 minutes).
When finished, push cancel button. Let pressure cooker naturally release for 15 minutes, then quick release remaining pressure. If chicken does not register 165 degrees at the thickest part, secure the lid and bring it up to high pressure again for a few minutes.

Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes
Amanda Sanders Wunderlich
5 lb. russet potatoes
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup whipping cream
Additional 1/2 cup cream or 1/2 cup sour cream
Salt and black pepper
Chives, if desired
Cut each potato in half. Place rack in an Instant Pot and place potatoes on top. Add water.
Secure lid on pot according to directions and cook on high pressure for 12 minutes. When finished, quick release steam and open pot.
Heat butter in microwave until melted. Stir in 1/2 cup cream.
Use dish towel or paper towels to squeeze potato out of the skin into a bowl. Using a mixer, beat potatoes; add butter and cream. Add either additional 1/2 cup cream or sour cream, a little at a time until desired consistency. Add 1-2 tsp. salt to taste and black pepper. Top with chives, if desired. Serves 8 to 10.

Beef Provencal Stew
Debbie Sanders
Adapted from Weight Watchers
1 lb. London broil, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 spray cooking spray
1 small uncooked onion, chopped, optional
2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves, garlic cloves, minced
2 large uncooked carrots, sliced
1/2 cup celery, sliced
1 cup green beans, cut (fresh or frozen)
15 oz. canned pinto beans, drained and rinsed, divided
1 1/2 cups canned beef broth, divided
14 1/2 oz. canned crushed tomatoes
1/2 tsp. dried oregano, crushed
1/4 tsp. dried thyme, crushed
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. coarse black pepper
Spray slow cooker (5-quart) with cooking spray. Place beef cubes in bottom of slow cooker.
Coat a 12-inch nonstick skillet with cooking spray. Add mushrooms and garlic (and onion, if desired); sauté over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Layer over beef in slow cooker.
Place half of beans in slow cooker; place remaining beans in a blender. Add 1/2 cup of broth to blender and puree; spoon mixture into slow cooker. Add remaining broth, tomatoes, celery, green beans, oregano, dried thyme, salt and pepper to slow cooker.
Cover slow cooker and cook on high setting for 4 hours until vegetables are tender and beef is cooked through.
Serve with crusty bread, cornbread or a baked potato.

Crock-Pot Pork Roast
Janet Morehouse
3-4 lb. pork roast
Salt and pepper
½ cup butter
8 oz. fresh sliced mushrooms
1 onion, diced
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 cup water
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup cooking sherry
Roll roast in flour and salt and pepper. Melt butter in roasting pan. Brown roast in butter. Place roast in crock-pot.
Sauté mushrooms and onions in remaining butter. Remove from pan and put in crock-pot with roast.
Put bouillon cubes and water in pan with remaining butter. Bring to a boil. Add flour and sherry with a wire whisk to get lumps out of flour. Cook just enough to get a smooth consistency. Pour over roast.
Cook on low 7-9 hours. Serve with mushrooms in the drippings.

Slow Cooker Shredded Barbecue Chicken
Dr. Ellen Royal
1 1/2 lb. skinned and boned chicken thighs
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup ketchup
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. yellow mustard
1 tsp. ground red pepper
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
Brown chicken on each side in oil in skillet on medium-high heat. Place in 4-qt. slow cooker.
Combine remaining ingredients; pour over chicken. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour. Reduce heat and cook 5 to 6 hours.
Remove chicken; shred. Return chicken to sauce.
Spoon chicken and sauce onto buns and top with dill pickle slices, if desired. Makes 6 serving.

Crock-Pot Chicken Cacciatore
Heather Cummings
8 chicken tenders (or 4 boneless breasts)
1/2 small onion, diced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 small can tomato sauce
1 small can mushrooms, drained
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. basil
2 bay leaves
Combine all ingredients in crock-pot and cook on high 4-5 hours or on low 6-8 hours. Serve over thin spaghetti and top with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Crock-Pot Barbecue Boston Butt
Becky Stillwell
Boston butt
1 can regular Coca Cola (cannot be diet)
1 bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce
Pour can of cola in crock-pot. Place Boston butt that has been salted into pot. Cover with a bottle of barbecue sauce. Cook on low about 12 hours.

Crock-Pot Chicken in Creamy Sauce
Ann Renfro Smith
8 oz. cream cheese
1 cup white wine or chicken broth
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 jar/can sliced mushrooms
1/2 stick real butter
1 pkg. zesty Italian dressing mix
8 boneless chicken breasts
Soften cream cheese; combine with remaining ingredients, adding chicken last. Put into crock-pot.  Turn on high for 30 minutes, and then to low for 7 to 8 hours.  Serve over egg noodles or rice.

Crock-Pot Roast with New Potatoes and Baby Carrots
Becky Brown
Beef chuck roast
New potatoes
Baby carrots
Beef chuck roast
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can beef broth
1 envelope Lipton onion soup mix
Layer onions, potatoes and carrots in bottom of crock-pot. Put roast on top of vegetables.
Mix together mushroom soup, beef broth and onion soup mix. Pour over roast. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Can omit potatoes and serve over rice.
Betty’s Homemade Crock-Pot Chili
Betty Traylor
2 Tbsp. oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 lb. ground round
Sauté onion in oil; add ground round and brown. Drain off liquid.
Add 1 pkg. McCormick’s Mild Chili Mix and 1 pkg. McCormick’s Hot Chili Mix.
Add 28 oz. can tomatoes with juice.
Add can of light kidney beans, do not drain.
Add 15. oz. can pinto beans, remove pork piece, do not drain.
Add 15 oz. can tomato sauce.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Simmer chili approximately 10 minutes, and then put in crock-pot on low. Serve with crackers and cornbread.
2 cups White Lily self-rising corn meal
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, enough to make batter thin
1/4 cup margarine, melted
1 egg
Mix together and bake as directed on back of corn meal package.

Savory Pot Roast in a Crock-Pot
Frances Blackburn
Pickle juice is the secret ingredient.
1 beef roast (to fit in crock-pot)
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 pkg. dry mushroom, onion or celery soup or Italian dressings mix
1/2 -1 cup pickle juice (sweet is best)
Place roast in crock-pot; sprinkle soup mix and Worcestershire over the roast. Pour pickle juice over all. If you don’t have pickle juice, mix vinegar, 2 tsp. sugar, salt and pepper together, and pour over all, allowing dry soup mix to wash down sides of roast.
Cook roast all-day or overnight (at least 6 hours, depending on the size of the roast). Roast should be very tender. Use the remaining liquid over rice or potatoes or as a base for gravy.

Crock-Pot Chalupa Dinner Bowl
Laura McKay
1 lb. dried pinto beans
3 1/2 lb. bone-in pork loin roast
2 (4 oz.) cans chopped green chilies
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin
32 oz. box chicken broth
10 oz. can diced tomatoes and green chilies with lime juice and cilantro
8 taco salad shells or regular taco shells (hard or soft)
Toppings, shredded Monterey jack cheese, sour cream, avocado or any taco salad topping
Rinse and sort beans according to package directions.  Place pinto beans in a 6-quart slow cooker; add roast and next 6 ingredients.  Pour chicken broth evenly over top of roast.
Cover and cook on high 1 hour; reduce to low and cook 9 hours.  Or, cover and cook on high 6 hours.
Remove bones and fat from roast; pull roast into large pieces with 2 forks.  Stir in diced tomatoes and green chilies.  Cook, uncovered, on high 1 more hour or until liquid is slightly thickened.
Heat taco salad shells according to package directions; place shredded lettuce evenly into shells. Spoon about 1 cup pork and bean mixture into each shell using a slotted spoon.  Serve with desired toppings.

Crock-Pot Ribs
4 lb. ribs, cut to fit in slow cooker
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. vinegar
Salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder to taste
1 bottle Sweet Baby Rays barbecue sauce or barbecue of choice
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
Place ribs in crock-pot. Mix all ingredients; pour over ribs, turning to coat. Set slow cooker on low and cook 6-8 hours until ribs are tender.

Crock-Pot Honey Sesame Chicken
4-5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Salt and pepper
1 cup honey
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup diced onion
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
Sesame seeds
Place chicken thighs in crock-pot; sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides.
Combine honey, soy sauce, ketchup, oil, garlic, onion and red pepper flakes. Stir to combine well. Pour over chicken.
Cook on low for 3-4 hours or high for 2-3 hours. When cooked, remove chicken and cut into chunks. Combine small amount of cornstarch in water and whisk in crock-pot to thicken sauce.
Place chicken back; stir to coat in sauce.
Serve hot over rice, and sprinkle some sesame seeds on top.

Crock-Pot Cubed Steak with Gravy
1 can cream of chicken soup, undiluted
1 can French onion soup, undiluted
1 pkg. au jus gravy mix
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 -2 lb. cubed steak
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
3 Tbsp. cold water
In the bottom of a 6-quart slow cooker, combine cream of chicken soup, French Onion soup, packet of au jus and water. Stir well.
Place cubed steak in gravy mixture. Cook steak on low for 6-8 hours.
To thicken gravy, whisk together cornstarch and cold water. Whisk mixture into crock-pot.
Turn setting to high and cook for 30 minutes or until gravy is thickened.


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