Category Archives: Slow cooker

Easiest Ever Crockpot Sweet and Sour Meatballs

 

Sometimes you need to bring a dish to a potluck or birthday party. Or there’s a big game on and you’re hosting. Or maybe you just want to try something different for dinner, but don’t have the energy or time for something complicated.

Allow me to help!

This recipe for sweet and sour meatballs is a longtime classic in my family. There are only three ingredients, though one of them may be surprising to you. Trust me, the finished product is delicious!

Using a slow cooker makes this as simple as: pour, mix, turn on. Done.

Three ingredients sweet and sour meatballs

Ingredients:

  • 1 jar cocktail sauce
  • 1 bag mini meatballs
  • 1 ~12oz jar jelly (grape or blackberry work best)

Optional: You could add some vinegar for more tang, or some cayenne or other red pepper for a bigger bite.

sweet and sour crock pot meatballs

Step 1: Pour the meatballs in the crock pot. I poured them in right from frozen and it works just fine.

Step 2: Pour in the cocktail sauce & jam, and mix well. Turn to low for at least 4 hours, up to 12 hours.

sweet & sour meatballs in a slow cooker

You could serve these on buns, or with toothpicks, or on skewers like a kebab. The flavor is surprisingly complex for just two ingredients!

 

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How to: Cook Dried Beans in a Slow Cooker

 

One of my all-time-favorite money-saving appliances is the handy dandy slow cooker. It is amazing at taking tough (cheap) cuts of meats and slow cooking them to tasty perfection. It is great for making wicked frugal soups and stews. It makes dinner a breeze on crazy weeknights, keeping me from just ordering a pizza or take out. And it allows me to make staple items, like beans, for literally pennies per serving.

Beans aren’t usually listed on “top 10s” of superfoods, but I think they should be. There are so many kinds, black, pinto, navy, chickpea, green… And they are a fantastic source of protein for a very pocketbook-friendly price, I can usually find them about $1 per pound. And since beans plump when you cook them, you get much more than one pound out of that bag. If you find a good sale or buy in bulk, that price drops even lower. You can’t beat that in a can!

However, you also can’t beat the convenience of canned beans. Just sitting on a shelf, ready and waiting for a taco Tuesday or a last-minute decision to make minestrone. All you need is a can opener and you’re in business.

But you’re paying a premium for that convenience.

Someone else took the time to soak and cook dried beans ahead of time, and stick them in that can. They also may have chemicals or preservatives or flavorings or way too much sodium in the can. When you cook your own, you are in control of all these things.

So here’s the big secret: You can cook your own dried beans at home, with just a few minutes of effort, and have delicious beans ready to toss into whatever any time! For, like, a dollar!

Enter the slow cooker.

crock pot black beans with nori

Almost every Saturday, I toss a half pound or a pound of either black, navy, chickpeas, or pintos into a slow cooker with water to cover them, and let them soak overnight. Then on Sunday, I change the water and add some spices and let it simmer all day. The finished product gets canned, separated by cup into individual bags and frozen, or put in the refrigerator for use that week.

That way I have a stock of frozen beans ready at a moment’s notice, and fresh beans for recipes whenever I want! Hello, black bean and egg burritos, white chicken chili, tortilla soup, or red beans and rice anytime.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound beans
  • Water to cover
  • ~2tbsp vinegar (any kind)
  • Spices recommended: 2 bay leaves, 1 tsp fennel seed, onion, chili powder, or oregano. Choose 1-2 you like and see what happens
  • Optional: 1 strip of seaweed

Step 1: Cover your beans with water, and let soak 6 hours or overnight. Drain, and cover again. Cook on high for about 4-6 hours, or low for 8-10.

Slow cooker pinto beans canned

Step 2: You can keep the cooking liquid, or discard, up to you. I usually keep it, especially when canning or freezing the beans, and then drain just before using in recipes.

The beautiful thing is that now you have this super-cheap base to use to make your own refried beans, hummus, (did you know you can make hummus with black beans too!), vegetarian burger patties, or you can can them for later. (By the way, do use a pressure canner, or keep them in the refrigerator. We don’t want botulism now do we?)

 

Slow cooker dried beans

Slow cooker dried beans

Ingredients

  • 1 pound beans
  • Water to cover
  • ~2tbsp vinegar (any kind)
  • Spices recommended: 2 bay leaves, 1 tsp fennel seed, onion, chili powder, or oregano. Choose 1-2 you like and see what happens
  • Optional: 1 strip of seaweed

Instructions

  1. Cover your beans with water, and let soak 6 hours or overnight.
  2. Drain, and cover again.
  3. Cook on high for about 4-6 hours, or low for 8-10.
  4. You can keep the cooking liquid, or discard, up to you. I usually keep it, especially when canning or freezing the beans, and then drain just before using in recipes.
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Last Minute Apps & Snacks

 

So, rumor has it tonight is some big sportsball thing…

Just kidding, of course as an American I’m aware of what is basically a national holiday, the Super Bowl! This year we even get back Roman Numerals (remember those things from history class? dare you to remember what more than 3 letters stand for…)

SuperBowlLILogoThis is a little ironic for me this year, as I just moved from CT (New England) to NC (the South, like Atlanta). While I could root for either, I think I like the Falcons’ colors better TBH.

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Whether you’re hosting or attending a party, you may not have had time to fully prepare, or you may have realized you have way more guests than you have chicken wings. In that case, you could panic and spend this week’s paycheck at the deli or getting a pizza…

OR you could try any of these super-simple app and snack ideas, each guaranteed to cost <$10 and take minutes to put together! I know which one I’d go with.

*Twice baked potato skins: Rinse and poke holes in a dozen medium potatoes. Bake at 350 for 45 min – 1 hour, until soft. Cut in half, scoop out the insides into a bowl and mash with some cheese or milk. Load back into skins, top however you want, and bake open-faced for another 15- 20 minutes. You could even build a “pick-your-own-toppings” bar, or let them keep warm in the oven until needed.

*White bean dip: Open a can of white beans, drain. Puree in a blender, and add garlic salt and lemon juice to taste, slowly pour in olive oil until you get your desired consistency. Serve with pita chips and fresh veggies.

*Bruschetta: Slice Italian bread thinly, top with diced tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar. Bake at 350 for 15ish minutes, sprinkle with basil, parsley, and/or garlic salt.

*Mac-n-cheese bites: Make a box of mac n cheese, then scoop into a greased muffin tin. Sprinkle with bread crumbs or crushed crackers, bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes. Portion control!

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*Bacon-wrapped asparagus: Take slices of bacon and wrap around 2-3 bunched asparagus spears. Lay on a pan and bake in the oven at 350 for 20-30 minutes, until bacon is crispy but asparagus is soft.

*Football deviled eggs: Make deviled eggs as normal (hard-boil a dozen, cut in half, take out the yellows. Mash with some mayo and mustard, fill back into the white halves) but then make them cute with football “laces” made from chives, black olives, etc.

*Caprese salad: Super simple, just layer sliced fresh mozzarella and tomato with some basil leaves, drizzle with olive oil. Bonus points if you get baby mozarella and grape tomatoes and put them on a skewer!

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*Quesadillas! Who doesn’t love quesadillas, they are a perfect hand-held food. Just take 2 tortillas, fill as you like with beans, avocado, guac, hummus, any kind of cheese, and fry on both sides until golden. Slice into quarters and serve with dips and toppers.

*Crock Pot Meatballs! There are so many options, but the best ones are just toss-it-in-and-wait. Swedish Meatballs are a classic, of course you could do regular tomato sauce and serve with thick hoagie buns, or try sweet and sour for an Asian twist.

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*Loaded nacho bar: Open a bag of chips and dump into a big bowl. Line a table with smaller bowls of beans, salsa, guac, sour cream, sliced olives, shredded lettuce, cheese, etc and let your guests customize to their heart’s content.

*Black bean hummus: open and drain a can of black beans. In a blender, combine with a clove or 2 of garlic, 2 tbsp peanut butter (yup you read that right), and olive oil. Whir until smooth!

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*Spinach Artichoke Dip: there are so many variations, but I’d go for any crock pot version. This way you can toss all the ingredients in, turn it on high when you arrive, then by halftime that dip is ready to keep the party rockin when all the wings are gone

*Football pepperoni roll pinwheels: roll out a tortilla, cover with a thin layer of pizza sauce, mini pepperoni, and cheese. Roll tightly, press down to make an oval shape. Cut into slices, lay on the side, and draw football laces with mustard, sour cream or sliced pepperoni

*Football shaped fritter: these are the cutest darn things, and actually quite healthy! Don’t let the beer-chugging manic shushing everyone know there’s a serving of veggies in there

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*Classic cheese or veggie tray: if you have some carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, or radishes, just serve with some ranch dressing or any dip. And if you’ve a brick or chunks of random cheeses, now is a perfect excuse to lay them all out artfully and clean your fridge at the same time

Whatever you make or eat, make sure you enjoy the company. That’s what any party is really all about!

Slow Cooker Enchilada Casserole

 

Slow cookers are such a blessing to a busy cook! Whether you don’t like cooking, don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen, are feeding just one or an army, slow cookers can make healthy, quick meals a snap. With a small amount of planning, you can have dinner ready and cooking in 10 minutes or less before you run out the door, and come home to a hot, home-cooked meal at the end of the day.

Enchiladas are a favorite in my house, because they are customizable, economical, and delicious! Tortillas are cheap, and can even be made at home, corn or flour, for pennies. You can use chicken, beef, or keep it vegetarian with tofu or beans. And beans are great money savers! Especially if you buy dried, and cook them at home (another thing slow cookers are great at!).

Slow cooker enchiladas

In this recipe, I used burrito-sized flour tortillas, because they happen to be the exact size of my slow cooker. You can use smaller corn tortillas and layer them, or even roll individual enchiladas and pile them up in the sauce. Whatever makes you happy!

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Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground beef or turkey
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (or diced whole tomatoes)
  • 1 cup frozen corn (or canned)
  • 1 can black and/or pinto beans, drained
  • 3-4 tortillas
  • 1 jar enchilada sauce
  • Shredded cheese to taste

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Step 1: Brown your ground meat in a frying pan, and drain. Add the pepper and onion, saute until softened. You can add any spices you like here, such as cumin, taco seasoning, chili powder…

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Step 2: Spray the crock pot with cooking spray, if you like. Line the bottom with a tortilla.  Layer on the meat, tomatoes, corn, and beans. Top with sauce, cheese, and another tortilla.

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Step 3: Continue layering 2-3 times, until the crock is full. Top with some more cheese, and the enchilada sauce.

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Step 4: Set to low for 4-6 hours, or high for 1-2 hours. A programmable crock pot is best to ensure you don’t burn it. Cut yourself a nice slice, and enjoy!

 

Sidenote: If you don’t have a slow cooker, or just want to try something different, do the same thing but in a pie pan or 8×8 pan. Layer all the ingredients, cover with foil, and then bake at 350 for 1 – 1.5 hours. Still an enchilada casserole! You can also then freeze this for re-heating easily later.

Easy 10 minute minestrone

 

This recipe is a super simple one!  If all you want is a hot, fresh bowl of soup that tastes great and is also quite healthy, you have come to the right place. You can easily make this in a slow cooker on low all day, or boil it on the stove to have dinner in 10 minutes, your choice.

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Ingredients (for 4 servings):

  • 1 can pinto beans
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound small pasta
  • 1 potato, chopped small
  • 1 carrot, chopped small

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Step 1: Place all ingredients in a large pot, bring to a boil. Boil for 8-10 minutes, and serve! It is essentially ready when the potato and carrots and pasta are soft enough to eat.

 

One Week of Meals from One Pork Roast

 

Do you ever wish you had more time?  Do you feel like you spend too much time at the grocery store, or in the kitchen, or waiting for delivery? Does you bank account look emptier because of all the ordering out you do?  Do you want an easy way to make a week’s worth of homemade meals, for less than $100, with minimal prep and cook time from one grocery trip?

I thought so. Here is your answer!

This post is created to show you how to get a week’s worth of dinners (with some leftovers for lunches too) from a single 4 pound pork roast.  All recipes easily feed 2 adults, with many recipes making much more food for leftovers and re-make meals.

By planning ahead to use one main dish all throughout the week, you can get creative and ensure that none of your food dollars get wasted by literally throwing them away. You will save time throughout the week by not having to go to the grocery store to pick up “just one or two things” and not having to worry what to make for dinner, it’s already planned out. And you can eat healthy, whole food, home cooked meals all week long!

Here is the list of recipes you will be making if you follow this plan:

As far as cooking equipment, you will need at least a frying pan, and preferably a slow cooker. You can slow cook the pork in the oven, and make the casserole in the oven as well, but that requires slightly more hands-on time from you. The full grocery list can be found at the bottom of the post, and you can go to individual recipes by clicking on the links throughout.

The first thing you’re going to need to do is assess your pantry and freezer situation.  If you have plenty of Italian dressing, some frozen mixed veggies, noodles, and plenty of spices, you’re already halfway there on this week’s grocery list. Then make your list of what you still need to make the recipes, and head to the store.

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You will need to pick up a nice pork loin roast, or other pork roast. I recommend 3-5 pounds for 2 adults for one week’s worth of meals.  You can adjust to larger or smaller sizes if feeding a larger crowd, or just one, or if you wish to double recipes or omit certain recipes this week.

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Once you have your pork roast, use a sharp knife to cut 2-4 pork chops off the end. You can also ask your butcher to do so if you go to a regular grocery store. These pork chops can be frozen for later depending on when you want to make the Italian Pork Chops.

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Once you have your chops cut, take about 1 pound off the remaining roast. This will be diced up into cubes.  You can also freeze these chunks for later, depending on when you want to make the Pork Lo Mein Stir Fry.

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As for the remainder of the roast, put that guy into your crock pot.  This is gonna become one delicious, fall-apart pot of BBQ Pulled Pork. If you’re game, add a sliced onion and a can of beer, then cook on low for 8-10 hours or high at least 4 hours.

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Shred the pork roast with two forks.  I recommend removing half of the meat to a container in the refrigerator, and adding 1 cup BBQ sauce to the rest and cooking another hour on low.

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Now you have about a pound each of plain pulled pork and BBQ pulled pork! Plus 2-4 chops, and a pound of diced pork in the freezer. And that’s after less than an hour total of hands-on prep time.

Now you can use the shredded plain or BBQ pork for:

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Pulled Pork Burritoes (above) or Quesadillas:

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And slow cooker pork and rice and broccoli casserole:

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And the diced pork chunks for a delicious homemade lo mein:

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And the best part is, you can choose when to make these recipes and in what order, because the pork chops, diced pork, and shredded cooked pork all freeze very well. You can turn these into breakfast and lunch too, pulled pork omelettes are great, as are BBQ pulled pork sandwiches on nice thick buns.  Enjoy!

 

Full Grocery List

  • 1 4-5 pound pork roast
  • 1 cup Italian dressing
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • Frozen or fresh vegetables of your choice
  • 1 cup BBQ sauce (or more, to taste)
  • 1 package tortillas
  • ~1 cup white or brown rice
  • 1 can beans (black or pinto)
  • 1 package lo mein noodles
  • Soy sauce
  • Shredded cheese
  • Fresh or frozen broccoli
  • 1 cup milk (optional)
  • Burrito toppings – sour cream, guac, salsa, etc.

And seriously, that’s it! I guarantee you can buy all of these items for under $100 (at least everywhere I’ve lived from Colorado to Connecticut).

 

Also, if you’ve read this far and you’re curious, I also have a post explaining all the cuts of a pig. So next time you go to the store, you can know the difference between a rump roast, shoulder roast, and a loin. 🙂

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Pulled Pork Burritoes

 

Burritos are a staple in my house, I’d say we have them at least once a week if not more often.  They are just so simple to put together, yet always delicious and hit the spot.  You can use basically any meat you have, just add rice and beans to bulk it up, and whatever toppings you prefer.

These burritos use pulled pork, with or without BBQ sauce, of which you should have plenty if you’re doing One Week of Meals from One Pork Roast.  I would recommend the BBQ, but it is not required. And of course, always customize to your preferences.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 large tortilla
  • 1/2-1/4 cup pulled pork
  • 1/4 can pinto beans
  • 1/2 an avocado
  • 1/4 cup cooked rice
  • Sprinkle of shredded cheddar

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Step 1: Put the pork loin in a slow cooker with about 1/2 cup of liquid. You can use beer, cola, or stock.  Cook on low for about 8 hours, it won’t hurt to go a little shorter or longer. Shred the meat with 2 forks. If you want BBQ pulled pork, add 1-2 cups sauce and cook another hour.

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Step 2: Layer all your ingredients in the tortilla. Make sure there’s a good distribution so that once you roll it up, you get a little of everything in each bite!

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Step 3: The best way to roll is to flip 2 opposing sides in just about 2 inches. Fold the corners over on both sides.  Then take one open end and roll it towards the other, scooping the fillings under. Roll it tight, and enjoy!

 

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BBQ Pulled Pork Quesadillas

 

It’s no secret that I love my slow cooker. We’ve been through a lot together, at least 4 houses, half a decade, and many many delicious home cooked meals. And hopefully many more to come! One of my favorite meals for totally hands-off cooking that tastes magical is slow cooker pulled pork. A roast, an onion, some beer or broth and a little bit of time, and you have a delicious pot of meat that falls apart and tastes like you spent hours perfecting it.

BBQ Pulled Pork Quesadillas

As if barbeque pulled pork couldn’t get any better, here is another way to use that meaty, juicy goodness.  I love a classic BBQ pulled pork sandwich on a thick bun with heaps of shredded cheese, but you can only have so many in one week.  So after you’ve made a big tasty roast, save some for later, for this in particular!  Makes one huge quesadilla, enough for 2.

BBQ Pulled Pork Quesadillas

Ingredients:

  • 2 flour tortillas
  • 1/2 cup pulled pork
  • 4 tbsp cooked rice
  • 2 slices tomato (or 2 tbsp salsa)
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 4 tbsp pinto or black beans
  • Cooking spray
  • Shredded mixed cheese
  • Optional: sour cream or plain Greek yogurt

BBQ Pulled Pork Quesadillas

Step 1: Grease a large frying pan and heat it to medium high.  Lay out one tortilla, and layer on the pork, rice, beans, tomato, avocado, and some cheese. Cover with the other tortilla.

BBQ Pulled Pork Quesadillas

Step 2: Depending on the size of your pan, either transfer the whole tortilla, or cut into halves or quarters. Cook in the pan about 3-4 minutes, until brown and crispy. Carefully flip, and cook on the other side.

BBQ Pulled Pork Quesadillas

Step 3: Transfer to a plate, serve with sour cream or greek yogurt, more cheese and salsa.

 

 

BBQ Pulled Pork Quesadillas

BBQ Pulled Pork Quesadillas

Ingredients

  • 2 flour tortillas
  • 1/2 cup pulled pork
  • 4 tbsp cooked rice
  • 2 slices tomato (or 2 tbsp salsa)
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 4 tbsp pinto or black beans
  • Cooking spray
  • Shredded mixed cheese
  • Optional: sour cream or plain Greek yogurt

Instructions

  1. Grease a large frying pan and heat it to medium high. Lay out one tortilla, and layer on the pork, rice, beans, tomato, avocado, and some cheese. Cover with the other tortilla.
  2. Depending on the size of your pan, either transfer the whole tortilla, or cut into halves or quarters. Cook in the pan about 3-4 minutes, until brown and crispy. Carefully flip, and cook on the other side.
  3. Transfer to a plate, serve with sour cream or greek yogurt, more cheese and salsa.
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Slow Cooker Pork and Broccoli Rice Casserole

 

Sometimes, you just can’t. Can’t even. Can’t even think about running to the store, slaving over a hot stove, balancing a meal or a checkbook.

But your tummy is growling, your spouse is complaining, your kids are whining, your friends are coming over for dinner.

Enter the slow cooker.

It is a savior for anyone rushed for time (and who isn’t??) or tight on cash (can I get an AMEN!) or doesn’t love to cook (can’t say I feel it all the time, but there are days…) or lives alone, or feeds a family of ten, or… you get my point. I flipping love the things.

You can get a tiny 2 or 3 quart slow cooker for single or double cooking. You can get a giant 8 or 10 quart workhorse for crowds and big appetites, you can get multiple crocks in one base for buffet style hands off cooking. I kinda want one of those now… The point is, if you don’t have one you should get one!

This recipe is super simple, a classic favorite I pull out time and again.  I used pulled pork here because that is what I built into this week’s meal plan, but you could just as easily use shredded chicken, steak, tofu, etc.

Slow Cooker Pork and Broccoli Rice Casserole

It involves items I nearly always have around the house, including frozen veggies and brown rice.  Feel free to use white rice, or wild rice, or even crazy things like quinoa or couscous instead. You can also substitute any other frozen veggie you are partial to if broccoli just doesn’t do it for ya.  And if you’re feeling extra crazy and decadent, use milk instead of water, and toss on some shredded cheese at the end, just before serving.

Slow Cooker Pork and Broccoli Rice Casserole

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup shredded cooked pork
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 1/2 cups milk / water / broth
  • 2 cups frozen broccoli (or veggie of choice)

Optional: shredded cheese

Slow Cooker Pork and Broccoli Rice Casserole

Step 1: Put all the ingredients in the slow cooker.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours or more, or high for at least 2 hours (to thaw the veggies).  Alternatively, you could put this in a baking pan and bake at 350 for 2 hours (1 if you use fresh and not frozen veg).

 

 

What are your favorite slow cooker meals??

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Parsnip, Potato, & Leek Spring Soup

 

I don’t know about the weather elsewhere, but the weather here in Connecticut seems to be very bi-polar.  One day it is in the 50s and sunny, and I am getting cabin fever and want to plant everything in the seed catalog immediately, the next day we get almost a foot of snow dumped on us overnight.  What’s going on here?

I am so thankful that CT has some amazing farmers who have hoop houses, green houses, store rooms, and other ways of extending our crazy growing season, so that we are already getting some of the first tender crops of the springtime.  Though not quite yet asparagus season, we have access to several root crops (beets, parsnips, onions, potatoes, leeks…), winter squash, eggs & meats, and tender fresh greens (grown inside of course).

Spring Farmers Market Foods

Usually I plan the week’s meals before going to the store, but I decided to get crazy this week, and let the market make my meal plan.  Whatever was fresh and available, I will form the week’s meals around that.  This is one small step on my lifelong journey to be a locavore (to eat whole seasonal foods grown as close to me as possible as often as possible).

A big bag of fresh microgreens, spinach, and head lettuce means tons of fresh salads.  Healthy brown eggs means breakfasts, frittatas, and quiches.  CT grown oyster mushrooms may be grilled, sauteed, added to soups, or stir fried.  The fingerling potatoes will complement just about anything, and the beets too have many many options.

Soup spices whole

The first dish I decided to make (after a giant fresh greens salad, because I couldn’t wait and helped myself almost as soon as I got home) was a slow cooker soup.  I had obtained leeks, parsnips, and fingerling potatoes.  Combined with onions I had over-wintered, fresh ground spices, and canned turkey broth (from Thanksgiving!) it would be the perfect thing on a chilly snow-covered day.

Parsnip Potato Leek Soup Ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 1 large parsnip (or carrot)
  • 1 large leek
  • 3-5 small potatoes
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 2-3 cups bone broth, vegetable broth, or water
  • Optional spices: black pepper, fennel, cumin, sea salt, garlic

Spring soup in the crock pot

Step 1: If using fresh whole spices, grind them up in a coffee or spice grinder.  In a crock pot or small soup pot, add the broth.  Wash the outside of the produce, but leave the skin on.  Dice up the potatoes, parsnip, onion, and leek and add to the pot.  Add water to cover.

Step 2: Cook in crock pot on “high” for 4 hours or “low” for 6-8 hours, or bring to a boil on the stove, and simmer for 1-2 hours. Serve fresh with a drizzle of olive oil and maybe some thick bread or rolls.