Slow cook your way to tasty, time-saving dishes

Here are a few time-saving crockpot dishes I’ve cooked up for my family that are perfect for helping those who could use a hand. They’re all relatively easy to throw together in the morning, so crunch time before I head off to work in the evenings isn’t so hectic.

These also work well if you’re bringing dinner to a friend or neighbor who is facing more than her share of challenges.

With crockpot cooking, it takes the same effort to cook for two families as it does for one — and you’ll feel fabulous helping someone in need.

These first two come from a great little magazine titled “Slow Cooker, Plus Casseroles, Soups and Stews.”

It’s from the editors of Good Housekeeping, Redbook and Country Living, and the 105 recipes therein have all been triple-tested at the Good Housekeeping Research Institute in the Hearst Tower in New York City.

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The magazine is priced at $9.99 and is on newsstands now through May 17.

8-Hour Coq au Vin

Here’s a fancy-sounding dish that will please your family or impress your guests:

Ingredients:

3 slices of bacon, cut crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces (make extra to munch on for breakfast)

10 ounces of mushrooms, each cut in half

2 cups frozen pearl onions

1 4-pound cut-up chicken, skin removed from all pieces except wings (I cut costs by using chicken thighs)

Salt and fresh ground pepper

1 medium onion, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup dry red wine

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 bay leaf

3/4 cup chicken broth

Directions:

In 12-inch nonstick skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until browned. With slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain; set aside.

Meanwhile, in 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine mushrooms and frozen pearl onions; set aside.

Sprinkle chicken pieces with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper. In skillet with bacon fat, cook chicken (in 2 batches, if necessary) over medium-high heat until browned, about 10 minutes. Place chicken over vegetables in slow cooker.

Discard drippings from skillet. Reduce heat to medium; add onion and carrot, and cook 2 minutes or until onion softens, stirring frequently. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute.

Add wine, tomato paste and bay leaf; heat to boiling, stirring to dissolve tomato paste. Pour wine mixture and broth over chicken pieces.

Cover slow cooker and cook as manufacturer directs, on low 8 hours or on high 4 hours.

To serve, discard bay leaf. With large spoon, transfer chicken and sauce to deep platter; sprinkle with bacon.

Slow-Cooker Latin Chicken with Black Beans and Sweet Potatoes

I love the flavors of cumin, cilantro and lime in this next meal-in-a-pot:

Ingredients:

3 pounds bone-in skinless chicken thighs

2 teaspoons ground cumin

Salt and fresh ground pepper

1 teaspoon smoked paprika, or about 1 tablespoon chopped chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (I had neither, so I used garden-variety paprika and a splash of liquid smoke)

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1 cups chicken broth

1/2 cup salsa

3 cloves garlic, crushed with press

2 cans (15 to 19 ounces each) black beans, rinsed and drained

2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled cut into 2-inch chunks

1 jarred roasted red pepper, cut into strips (1 cup)

1/3 cups loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Lime wedges

Directions:

Sprinkle chicken thighs with 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.

Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot; add chicken thighs and cook until well browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer chicken to plate. Remove skillet from heat.

In same skillet, combine smoked paprika, allspice, chicken broth, salsa, garlic and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin.

In 6-quart slow cooker, combine beans and sweet potatoes. Place chicken on top of potato mixture in slow cooker; pour broth mixture over chicken. Cover slow cooker with lid and cook as manufacturer directs, on low 8 hours or on high 4 hours.

With tongs or slotted spoon, remove chicken pieces to large platter. Gently stir roasted red pepper strips into potato mixture. Spoon mixture over chicken. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with lime wedges.

Chicken and Dumplings

And now for a down-home crockpot recipe, kicked up with a dash of herbs.

Ingredients:

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, halved

2 cans condensed cream of chicken soup

2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, diced

2 10-ounce cans refrigerated biscuit dough, torn into pieces

Handful of chopped fresh parsley

Dried rosemary and thyme, 1 1/2 teaspoons of each (or more to taste)

Fresh ground pepper

Directions:

Place all ingredients except dough in slow cooker. Fill with enough water (or chicken broth) to cover.

Cover and cook 5 to 6 hours.

Add dough pieces approximately 30 minutes before serving.

(And yes, I left out sage on purpose, simply because I don’t like it!)

The Cleanup

I’ve been using an effective and inexpensive detergent to clean up all those oily, baked-on messes: Ultra Palmolive Antibacterial Dish Liquid. A little goes a long way, with the sudsy bubbles lasting till I finish the job.

I often use it as hand soap when I’m scrubbing up after handling raw meat: It even cut the greasy goo clinging to my hands after I mixed meatloaf.

Ultra Palmolive retails for $1.99 per 10-ounce bottle, and it’s billed as the only dish liquid approved to kill 99.9 percent of E. coli, salmonella and staph on dishes and nonporous surfaces in 30 seconds. I’ll buy that.

To contact Lucy Baker, email lbaker@coxohio.com or call (937) 225-7434. To read more of her blogs,

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