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Cooking In Real Time: 'Tis The Season To Cook Ahead

Two flexible recipes to suit your schedule: slow-cooker pork chops and flexible cranberry chicken.

This is the season when the demands on your time increase exponentially, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa—or no holiday at all! 

The week after Thanksgiving seems to be a good time to take a deep culinary breath, while we finish up our creatively-doctored leftovers and before we start preparing holiday meals. 

It’s a great time to cook ahead, throw some meals together and freeze them.  You can dump them in the slow cooker in the morning on your way out the door. Then that unexpected overtime, extra choir practice, shopping trip—or anything else unexpected—won’t mean a stop at the drive-thru!

These recipes are quick to put together and have short ingredient lists. And, because they aren’t typical holiday foods, they give our taste buds a little kick! 

Slow Cooker Pork Chops

¼ cup dark brown sugar

¼ tsp. ground ginger AND black pepper

1/3 cup low sodium, high-quality soy sauce (Kikkoman’s is excellent!)

1/3 cup ketchup

Dash of hot sauce (any kind)

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 onion, chopped (any color)

4 center-cut bone-in chops, ¾-inch to 1-inch thick

In a gallon zip bag, add brown sugar, ginger, pepper, soy sauce, ketchup and a dash of hot sauce. Squeeze the air out of the bag, zip shut and massage the bag until all the ingredients are mixed and the sugar is dissolved. 

Mince garlic cloves or put through a press and add to bag. Add the chopped onion and the raw pork chops. Massage the bag until the chops are coated with sauce. 

Squeeze out the air, place the bag into another zip bag and freeze. This recipe doubles easily.

To cook your chops, coat the crock of your slow cooker with cooking spray. Empty the zip bag of frozen ingredients into the slow cooker and cook on low for seven to nine hours. If your chops aren’t as thick or if your ingredients aren’t frozen, cook on low four to six hours only. 

Flexible Cranberry Chicken

1 can cranberry sauce (not jellied)

¼ cup mild olive oil or melted butter

½ cup orange juice

2 Tbsp. high-quality soy sauce, such as Kikkoman’s

¼ Tsp. cinnamon

1 pound skinless chicken thighs or quarters, bone-in 

In a gallon zip bag, add cranberry sauce, oil, orange juice, soy sauce and cinnamon. Squeeze the air out of the bag, zip shut, and massage the bag until all the ingredients are mixed. 

Add the chicken and massage the bag until the chicken is coated with the sauce. Squeeze out the air, double-bag the chicken and freeze. 

To cook the chicken in the slow cooker, coat the Crockpot with cooking spray. Empty the bag of frozen ingredients into the slow cooker and cook on low for six to nine hours. 

To cook in the oven, thaw the bag overnight in the refrigerator. Coat a 9-by-9-inch baking pan with cooking spray and bake covered in a preheated 350º oven for 15 minutes. Remove the cover and bake another five to 10 minutes, until chicken juices run clear.    

For both of these recipes, for thicker sauce, make a slurry of 1 Tbsp. cornstarch and 2 Tbsp. chicken stock or water. Make sure it’s well mixed and add to the slow cooker for the last hour or so.  

If you can’t wait a half hour, pour the sauce from the Crockpot into a pan. Mix in your cornstarch slurry and cook for five minutes on medium, stirring constantly.  Pour the sauce over your meat and serve.

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