Summer slow-cooker recipes leave you more time for enjoying yourself outdoors

Go with the slow

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Alyssa Cwanger, Post-Gazette
Caribbean Jerked Chicken blends such flavors as green onion, jalapenos, ginger, allspice, cinnamon and garlic.
By Amy McConnell Schaarsmith, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

When it comes to summertime dishes, most folks think of chilled salads and grilled burgers, steaks and veggies. Sometimes, though, home life is too hectic even for those simple solutions to that eternal, unshakable question: "What's for dinner?"

When you have kids, a spouse or a roommate coming and going between athletic events, camp, work, the gym and a world of other outdoor activities, grilled food quickly becomes shoe leather and most salads are laughably light. Enter the slow cooker of summer.

Now, this is not the first time we've written about summertime slow-cooker recipes -- not the first time this summer, even. (See "Slow & Easy: The crockpot need not be shelved in summer if you use a light and proper hand," May 14 in the Post-Gazette.) But frankly, so many readers told us they found that story useful that we thought we'd share some new summer slow-cooking recipes that recently arrived in the slow-cooking books "Not Your Mother's Slow-Cooker Cookbook," by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann ($16.95) and "Fresh From the Vegetarian Slow Cooker," by Robin Robertson ($14.95); both are from the Harvard Common Press.

And after all, with 80 percent of Americans now owning slow-cookers, who are we to ignore tasty recipes that fit the season?

A few of these recipes, such as Caribbean Jerked Chicken and Bell Peppers Stuffed with Coconut Rice and Mangoes, use tropical flavors that seem to fit with sultry weather, regardless of whether it's in Jamaica or Johnstown. A dessert, Lemon-Lime Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust, makes a satisfyingly cool dessert for a party or special family treat (plus, how fun is it to tell people you "baked" a cheesecake in a slow-cooker?) And another, Country Ribs with Onions, Apples and Sauerkraut, just looks too good not to try, regardless of the season.

All of these recipes, of course, have the same benefits of cool-weather slow-cooker dishes: They don't need much tending, they can be eaten at various times by various members of the family on busy nights, and most dirty only one pot (and maybe a cutting board and a knife).

All of which leaves you more time to swim, garden, hike, bike, climb, run, play or just flop down on your porch swing, sip a glass of lemonade and savor the summer.

CARIBBEAN JERKED CHICKEN

PG TESTED

Serve this with long-grain white rice, minced green onion and papaya slices.

Slow-cooker size: Medium or large round or oval.

Setting and cook time: Low for 5 to 6 hours.

  • 1/2 cup sliced green onions (white and some of the green, about 12)
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 jalapenos, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, to taste, pressed
  • 2 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 bone-in chicken thighs, with skin on, and 4 drum sticks

In a food processor, combine green onions, ginger, allspice, cinnamon, oil, jalapenos, black pepper, salt, red pepper flakes and garlic, and process until very finely chopped, almost smooth. Stir in the brown sugar, vinegar, orange juice, and Worcestershire to form a paste. Using a brush, apply the jerk sauce so it completely coats the chicken; use up all of the sauce.

Put a wire rack in the slow-cooker. (Tester didn't do this and recipe still came out fine.) Place the chicken on the rack. Cover and cook on low until chicken is tender and cooked through, 5 to 6 hours. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

-- "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook" by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann

COUNTRY RIBS WITH ONIONS, APPLES AND SAUERKRAUT

Do not buy canned or jarred sauerkraut; opt for the fresh kraut in bags, found in the deli section. Serve these ribs with mashed or boiled parsley potatoes, cranberry sauce and some creamy horseradish.

Slow-cooker size: Large round or oval.

Setting and cook time: Low for 8 to 9 hours.

  • 2 to 3 pounds country-style pork ribs
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 medium white onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 medium tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 pounds fresh sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1/2 cup apple juice or dry white wine
  • 1/4 beef or vegetable broth

Grease the bottom of the slow cooker with some butter or oil. Season ribs with salt and pepper. Layer in onions, apples, ribs and sauerkraut. Sprinkle with caraway seeds and pour over the juice and broth. Cover and cook on low until tender and meat starts to separate from bone, 8 to 9 hours. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

-- "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook"

BELL PEPPERS STUFFED WITH COCONUT RICE AND MANGOES

Slow-cooker size: 5 1/2 to 6 quarts.

Setting and cook time: Low for 4 hours.

  • 4 large green bell peppers
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 2 cups cooked jasmine or other long-grain rice
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup chopped unsalted dry-roasted cashews or peanuts
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh Thai basil or cilantro leaves
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ripe mango, peeled, halved, and halves cut away from the seed

Slice off the tops of the peppers and remove and discard seeds and membranes. Remove stems, chop pepper tops and set aside. Arrange peppers upright in a 5 1/2- to 6-quart slow-cooker.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and chopped pepper tops, cover and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

In a medium-size mixing bowl, combine onion mixture, rice, coconut, cashews or peanuts, basil or cilantro, lime juice and sugar, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Chop one-half of the mango and add to the stuffing. Mix well and spoon into pepper cavities, packing it lightly. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours, until the peppers are tender but still hold their shape.

Cut the remaining mango half into thin slices and use to garnish the peppers when ready to serve. Serves 4.

-- "Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker" by Robin Robertson

LEMON-LIME CHEESECAKE WITH GINGERSNAP CRUST

Slow-cooker size: 6-quart.

Setting and cook time: High for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

For crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups gingersnap crumbs
  • 1/4 cup margarine or butter, melted

For filling:

  • 8 ounces regular or tofu cream cheese
  • 12 ounces silken tofu, drained
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • Juice and chopped zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice and chopped zest of 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

For topping:

  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Place a rack or trivet in a 6-quart slow cooker. Pour about 1/2 inch boiling water in bottom of cooker, cover and turn the heat setting to high. Lightly oil 7-inch springform pan.

To make the crust, combine the gingersnap crumbs and margarine or butter in a medium-size mixing bowl, stirring with a fork to moisten. Pat the crumb mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan.

To make the filling, blend the cream cheese, tofu and sugar together until smooth. Blend in the lemon and lime juices and zest, vanilla and cornstarch until well combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared crust. Cover with aluminum foil, making several holes in the foil for steam to escape. Place the pan on the rack, cover and cook on high for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until firm.

Take the pan out of cooker, remove foil and let stand until cool. Chill completely before removing from pan.

To serve, remove sides of pan, using a knife to loosen if necessary. Sprinkle top of cheesecake with the toasted almonds.

Serves 8.

-- "Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker"


Food editor Amy McConnell Schaarsmith can be reached at aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1760.


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