Five vaguetarian slow cooker meals!

Being a “crunchy” mom can be challenging. Washing diapers every other day; taking multiple unpaid breaks from work for well over a year to pump milk; making a healthy breakfast and lunch every morning to send to daycare, rather than just letting a child eat the free, government-provided meals of chicken nuggets, fish sticks and the like; making a healthy dinner for the family almost every night instead of relying heavily on prepackaged or take-out meals: crunchy moms certainly don’t make the choices we do because they’re easy.

While making healthy and earth-friendly choices is important to me, but it can also be time-consuming. And time is something that is at a premium in my life, as this summer, I will be the working mom of two little ones, and I will continue to be our household’s #1 cooker, baker, cleaner-upper of everything, dish-washer, laundry-washer, etc. So, making dinner every single night will likely not be in the cards.

As a result, I’m presenting 10 recipes for slow-cooker freezer meals: dinners to prepare, freeze, and then toss in the slow-cooker several hours before dinnertime. Because I am not a die-hard vegetarian, there are meat-based recipes in the mix — these feature vension, which can easily be swapped out for any other meat you prefer, or omitted entirely. I have not made these recipes yet, I am simply providing them as a reference for you, and for myself! I’ve seen ideas like this on other blogs before, but usually with only 2 or 3 recipes, or broken links to recipes, neither of which are very helpful to me. Original sources for the recipes are provided, although I have tweaked most of the recipes featured below. Any feedback is most welcome!

Generally, for the recipes below, dump everything into gallon freezer bags, shake them up, seal, label and put in the freezer. To cook, take bags out of freezer and set on the counter for about 30 minutes, then dump contents of bag into your slow cooker. Cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 8 hours. See each recipe for specifics, as some have ingredients that are added at the end of the cooking time.

1. Stephanie’s Goulash

  • 3 cups chopped onions
  • 2.5 cups coarsely chopped bell peppers
  • 2 cups of carrots
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 pounds venison meat, cut into one inch cubes
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 4 teaspoons Hungarian paprika or regular paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4 cups hot cooked noodles
  • 1/2 dairy sour cream

Omit last two ingredients from freezer bags. Cook the noodles separately, the day of cooking, and garnish with sour cream.

2. Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili

  • 1 (19 ounce) can black bean soup
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can or jar chopped tomatoes in puree
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (16 ounce) can vegetarian baked beans
  • 1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained or 2 cups frozen corn

Combine all but last four ingredients in freezer bags. When the cook time is almost complete, add the last four ingredients to your slow cooker.

3. Chunky Corn Chowder

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 6 medium red potatoes, diced
  • 1 cup chopped baby carrots
  • 2 (15.25 ounce) cans whole kernel corn, drained or 4 cups frozen corn
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (or soy milk or other milk substitute)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup milk (or soy milk or other milk substitute)
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley

Combine all but last three ingredients in freezer bags. When cook time is almost complete, whisk together the flour and remaining 1/2 cup milk in a bowl. Stir the mixture into the soup, and continue to simmer until the soup has thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley before serving.

4. Slow Cooker Pepper Steak

  • 2 pounds venison, cut into 2 inch strips
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 large bell peppers, roughly chopped
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can or jar stewed tomatoes, with liquid
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cube beef bouillon or 3 tablespoons Better Than Bouillon
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Put all but last three ingredients into freezer bags. When putting the frozen ingredients into the slow cooker, mix the bouillon cube or alternative with hot water until dissolved, then mix in cornstarch until dissolved. Pour into the slow cooker with other ingredients.

5. Moroccan Stew

  • 2 pounds venison, cut into chunks
  • 2 large onions chopped
  • 1 can/1 cup chopped tomato
  • 2 cups carrots
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of red pepper
  • 1/2 cup of raisins
  • 2 cups vegetable broth

Combine everything except broth; add that the day you cook it. Serve with couscous.



The Ed Cooke Memorial Taco Feast

Each Christmas season, participants from all over the country gather in Michigan to celebrate an annual event, the Ed Cooke Memorial Taco Feast. As the name suggests, this tradition revolves around tacos, and was founded upon the late, great Ed Cooke’s affinity for tacos and his general zest for life.

If you haven’t heard of this Feast, that’s because all the participants are members of Ed Cooke’s family, by birth or by marriage. But the fact remains that 30 or more celebrants travel from across Michigan and from as far away as Florida, Iowa and even the United Arab Emirates each year to enjoy this event.

The Feast was established about 20 years ago, soon after my grandfather Ed Cooke succumbed to cancer. As the eldest grandchild, I am lucky enough to remember his warm, booming laugh, which once dominated similar taco-fests. In tribute to his hearty appetite, the Taco Feast began as a competition, the dubious title of “winner” going to whomever could put away the most tacos. Yet that focus has shifted over the years as grandchildren have grown up and the family itself has grown: With Ed’s six children and spouses, their children and spouses, and their children, the number of participants increases steadily! Minor tweaks to the Feast are continually introduced, such as the recent trend of the “older grandchildren” handling all the required chopping and shredding, and menu additions like vegetarian-friendly beans and chopped cilantro. However, the spirit of the Feast remains unchanged from year to year.

It may not be an internationally famous festival, but it’s a tradition that was created – and firmly remains – in Michigan, and one that is cherished by four generations of the Cooke family.