I’ve been trying to make dinners that are quick and tasty. With two teenage boys always having to go somewhere in a hurry after school or after dinner, I need nutritious, quick meals. (By the way, these guys are always famished, and they love Mexican food.) In the past I’ve made chicken cutlets, chicken tenders, and chicken breasts in many, many ways because they’re quick. Or we eat out, usually fast food, which I want to stop doing. I find it too expensive and we order too much junk when we’re hungry.But I’m tired of chicken, and I don’t know if pork is the answer. I’m not even sure that my teenagers will like it. What can I do with pork that I haven’t tried before? Help! I need an extra pair of hands.
—Kerry Ann Cranston,Delta, Iowa
Kerry, you may not know this, but the biggest challenge for busy families everywhere is exactly the same as yours: “What’s for dinner, and how quickly can I make it?” I can offer some assistance with the use of a valuable kitchen tool.
Seldom used, my humble, round, brown Crock Pot sat on my garage shelf collecting dust for years. It was an unattractive vessel, even for a pot. But today’s high-tech programmable wonder is a sophisticated and reliable appliance. I’m talking about the modern slow cooker. This appliance can be your biggest help at dinnertime, and you may even have one in your kitchen already. Even inexpensive slow cookers don’t need to be supervised thanks to their time and temperature controls, and I’m told they take about as much energy to run as a light bulb left on all day.
With today’s crazy busy lives, everyone should own a slow cooker—maybe even two!
I’ve loved my slow cooker even before it had a removable liner. (You’ll see why this is a huge plus later.) I found it so useful for making long, slow-cooked dinners and preparing meals for company that I wrote The Slow Cook Gourmet. Just as the title implies, it’s intended just for slow cookers. Granted, the dishes have an international theme, and they’re written for the experienced cook. Still, the steps are clear and easy to follow. And the recipes are uniquely fabulous, in my opinion.
In my cookbook, you’ll find an original fifty-five-year old recipe for Cuban Pork (from the glamorous Trader Vic’s in Puerto Rico). It’s to die for, and there’s a bonus: leftover pork in a Cubano sandwich tastes like no other leftover food I’ve ever had.
The idea of a one-pot meal that cooks all day isn’t new. It’s in our collective pioneer memory, and you can happily revive it.
With that said, perhaps the hardest part of utilizing the slow cooker is making it a habit. So, Kerry, get out that slow cooker tucked away in your pantry, check out the settings, make it your friend, and find a spot for it on your counter! Don’t store it away in some cupboard.
Here’s how to begin:
Once you know what recipe you want to make, set up your slow cooker the night before.Place the meat (it doesn’t even have to be defrosted) and the sauce or liquid in the (removable) liner and store in the fridge overnight.In the morning, pop it back into the jacket and turn on the slow cooker.
This takes a little planning the night before, but it will take only five minutes the following morning. You’ll be out the door pronto. And at the end of the day, you’ll come back to the aroma of good home cooking. There’s nothing so satisfying—I know you can relate to that!
Preparing some dishes over the weekend is also a great solution to weeknight dilemmas. Ask your boys for menu suggestions. As you know, half the battle is figuring out your shopping list. Read on for some great slow cooker ideas.
Green chili made with cubed pork shoulder (an economic cut) is the first dish I suggest you make. You can shred any leftover meat and use it to make the best pork tacos. I’ve included a very easy recipe below.
Another magnificent dish for the slow cooker is thick-cut chuck pot roast with carrots, potatoes, and brown gravy. This dish in all its glory makes a good dinner for Saturday night or for serving to company. You can use the leftovers to make beef fajitas. Just add some fajita spices, peppers, and onions, and you have a Mexican meal in no time at all. (But that’s another post.)
Pork tenderloins and thin-cut pork chops (boneless or bone-in) are just two cuts of “the other white meat.” They’re as versatile as boneless, skinless chicken breasts and cutlets, and they cook just as quickly. Anything you can make with chicken tenders you can make with pork tenderloins. Your recipe repertoire has just doubled, and you can have weeknight dinners on the table in fifteen minutes. Hooray!
You can use the first recipe below to make Classic Green Chili the first night and a taco bar the second night—sure to please hungry growing boys. The second recipe for pork medallions is a stovetop rather than a slow cooker recipe, and it’s suited for an elegant dinner party.
Classic Green Chili for the Slow Cooker
Adapted for the slow cooker from Creme de Colorado Cookbook by the Junior League of Denver. You can get two separate dinners from this wonderful dish. Serve the Classic Green Chili the first night, and the second night shred the pork and make a taco bar—all you can eat for hungry boys.
1 (4 lb.) pork shoulder, cubed, OR 3½ lbs. boneless country style ribs, cubed
1–2 teaspoons sea salt and black pepper
2 (8 oz.) cans diced green chilies, mild to hot (your choice)
2 large onions, diced
1 (10 oz.) can Rotel-style tomatoes with green chilies OR 1 (14 oz.) can petite-diced fire-roasted tomatoes
1 quart homemade chicken or vegetable stock
3–4 tablespoons (or 1 packet) taco seasoning
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
Cilantro, chopped (for garnish
- Place meat in the slow cooker. Rub all over with salt and black pepper.
- Add green chilies, onions, and tomatoes.Place on the lowest level of your refrigerator overnight, uncovered.
- Next morning, place the liner back in the slow cooker. Turn to the low setting.
- Add stock, seasonings, and garlic. Stir well before covering.
- Cook for 8 hours (or until you arrive home). Check liquid level and add stock if necessary. The chili will be thick, but you can thin it to the consistency you prefer. Remove meat to a platter only if you plan on shredding it for tacos.
- To serve: ladle the green chili along with pork chunks in large bowls and serve with warm tortillas. For the second dinner, shred the remaining pork and make a taco bar with all the usual accompaniments. Your boys will love it, I’m sure.
Pork Medallions with Marsala and Mushrooms
This dish makes an elegant feast for four. Fresh baby peas sprinkled with sliced almonds is a good accompaniment. You can also use the pork medallions to make Wiener Schnitzel. Pound the medallions thin, like cutlets. Fry them up in a butter-oil mixture in your skillet for a few minutes. A side dish of red cabbage and fried onions with some applesauce completes this fifteen-minute Austrian favorite.
1 pork tenderloin (about 3 lbs.) or 2 pork tenderloins (about 1½ lbs. each), cut into 1½-inch medallions (makes about 16 medallions) Course kosher salt and coarse black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 lb. white button or brown cremini mushrooms, quartered or cut into half-inch slices
1 cup Marsala wine (not from the supermarket)
1 cup veal or vegetable stock
½ cup heavy cream
Buttered egg noodles, for serving
Italian parsley, freshly chopped (for garnish)
- Flatten the medallions slightly with your hand.
- Season with kosher salt and black pepper.
- Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet set over medium-high heat.
- Brown pork for 2 minutes on each side (do not overcook). Remove to a plate and keep warm.
- Add mushrooms to skillet and stir until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Don’t rush the mushrooms—and don’t salt them. Make sure they’re browned on both sides.
- Pour in the Marsala and broth and stir to deglaze the pan. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes on medium heat. Add the cream and stir well. Place medallions back in the skillet and heat thoroughly.
- Serve over buttered noodles with chopped parsley sprinkled on top.
Chef’s Tip:This dish is elegant and sophisticated, yet it doesn’t take longer than fifteen minutes from start to serve. If you wish, you can make this dish without the wine by increasing the stock to two cups.You may make the buttered noodles in advance. Place them in a covered casserole dish and keep warm in a 200°F oven.
Image from iStock/mrakor.