The crock-pot is a versatile cooking vessel that seems to be just perfect for preparing meals in the wintertime. Not only is it easy to use, it makes prep time and clean-up a dream—especially for busy moms like myself who have a little one to keep up with.
Recipes utilizing the crock-pot are plentiful, but for my family the real test of a good recipe is are the ingredients affordable, and better yet, are they ingredients I already have on hand. So far I have found two recipes that have become my new “go-to” meals because of their ease in preparation, and they can feed three people for around $5.
Fans of Food Network programming are no doubt familiar with Sandra Lee, and although I’m not usually drawn to her recipes I recently caught an episode of “Semi-Homemade” in which she prepared “Mexijita Chicken” utilizing the slow cooker. The use of pinto beans immediately caught my attention. Beans are a staple in my household because of their versatility and their affordability, so I knew I had a couple of cans of pinto beans on hand. The only other ingredients I needed were Mexican tomatoes, fajita seasoning and chicken.
Before I go any further, I will admit that since I did not have all of the recommended ingredients, I made substitutions with what I had available. But I’m confident the results either way would be comparatively the same. So I substituted the tomatoes with a cup of hot salsa (because that is what I had on hand) and I just happened to find two pounds of chicken tenders on “Manager’s special” at the market so I substituted them for the whole chicken breasts. I also did not have the ready made packaged fajita spices so I used a tablespoon of chili powder, teaspoon of cumin, teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of pepper (since I was using hot salsa I backed off of the pepper), a half teaspoon of garlic powder, and a tablespoon of dried onions. I also served the finished product over rice instead of the vegetables because that is what I had it in the pantry.
So I suppose it begs the question, how can I review a recipe when I didn’t exactly follow the recipe? And I would have to refer back to my earlier point that the mark of a good recipe is can it translate to affordable and be used with items I already have on hand.
And even though I did make some detours I’m confident the end results for both would be similar. After combing the ingredients in the crock-pot and giving it four hours on the high setting, my end result was an absolutely delicious meal that my family of three was able to utilize for two days. It was incredibly flavorful (my version a bit on the spicy side since I used the hot salsa) and definitely fit into the category of Mexican comfort food by being a fajita and a bowl of chili all rolled into one bite.
The flavors married so beautifully, and the chicken was so tender that it was honestly hard to stop going back for seconds and thirds. The best part for me was when I totaled the cost of the ingredients it came to $5.76. Close enough to my dream budget that it will be something I make again, especially since I keep most of the ingredients (or their close cousins) on hand anyway.
With a new chicken recipe under my belt I turned my attention to beef. A cookbook called “The Stocked Kitchen” turned me on to the incredibly affordable beef cut called round steak (top and bottom) and I was determined to find a way to better utilize it. Beef and I have not been good friends over the years, and while my husband dreams of a tender, juicy, medium-rare cut of beef, his only options from me have either been something over-cooked, underdone, or something in the hamburger family.
But I came across a little gem of a recipe from Cooks.com that not only allowed me to feed my family affordably, but has redeemed me (if only slightly) in the world of beef.
Simply titled “Crock-pot Round Steak,” it only required three ingredients and six hours in the crock-pot. I did have to make a trip to the store to get the cream of mushroom soup and the onion soup mix, but when I returned home all I had to do was open the can/package, throw it in the crock-pot, lay in my round steak, and walk away. When my husband came home from work all I had to do was whip up some insanely good instant mashed potatoes (Idahoan Loaded Baked Potato) and spoon over the beef and subsequent gravy that was produced from the magic that happened in the crock-pot.
The beef was fall apart tender but I do caution the use of any other seasonings beside the primary ingredients. I did this meal twice and the first time I added just a pinch more salt than I should have because I felt the meat might have needed it—I was wrong.
Also, the second time I made this I had not been watching the clock and started it allowing only four hours of cook time. Four hours, in my crock-pot anyway, is not enough time to get the meat where you want it to be. So even though it is a simple dish, there are ways to go wrong with it.
The total for this meal was $6. 50, but that was because I used the instant mashed potatoes. Depending on what you serve with it, or the price of the beef, you could come out much cheaper.
Both of these recipes are worth a try, and if you don’t tell anyone how easy they are they will make you look like a rock star in the kitchen.