Slow-cooker meals are the name of the game if you're a working mom, like I am. Through the years I've learned to improvise cookbook meals, but in this case, I've created my own style of stuffed peppers that I'm proud to say might be among the tastiest "Crock Pot'' meals I've had the pleasure of tasting.
And even better, it's a favorite for the family.
Stuffed peppers are a great main dish because they include a meat and vegetable all in one item and usually are sufficient as a meal. A potato - mashed or baked - goes well if you choose, or just a salad is fine too, depending on how hungry everyone is or how much of a hurry you are in.
Tribune Chronicle / Brenda Linert
Don’t spend all day in front of the stove. Stuffed peppers in a slow cooker make for an easy meal that doesn’t look that way.
Through the years, I've tweaked my recipe many times, and I continue to do that almost every time I cook the meal, but the basics always remain the same.
The main thing to remember about slow cookers is they seal in the juices. So, to avoid the meal becoming too watery, I began stirring in a small can of tomato paste, along with the other tomato-based ingredients, and I add no extra water to the pot. By the time the meal is done simmering, the paste is dissolved into a savory, thick sauce.
Try to avoid the urge to open the lid for a peek because this allows the steam and heat to escape, and it requires more time for the heat to build up again.
Slow-cooked stuffed peppers
1 to 1 1/2 pounds of low-fat ground beef
3/4 cup of instant white rice, uncooked
5 medium sized green peppers, cored
1 teaspoon oregano
pinch of rosemary
1 can tomato soup
1 can petite-cut diced tomatoes, undrained
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1/4 cup ketchup
In a large bowl, mix well the ground beef, uncooked rice, egg and black pepper. Spoon the mixture into the washed and cored green peppers, filling each about half-way. Lay the peppers on their sides into the slow cooker. Pour in the four canned tomato-based ingredients and add the ketchup. Also add oregano and rosemary to the pot.
Close the slow cooker lid and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.
Another key to this meal is to lay the peppers sideways in the pot, allowing the juices to flow easily in and out of the shells. This ensures the ground beef cooks thoroughly and marinates during the cooking time.
I choose peppers that aren't too large, otherwise you find yourself using quite a bit of ground beef. Five medium-sized peppers generally take about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef. I also am always sure to use a high-grade, low-fat ground beef to ensure a healthy meal.
When coring the peppers, I remove the tops completely and discard them. Be sure to shave out the center, being careful to remove all the seeds.
When filling the peppers, I spoon in enough ground beef mixture to fill each pepper only about half-way. As the peppers cook, the ground beef and rice will expand to fill more of the shell.
Prep time is quick and easy. I usually allow myself about a half-hour in the morning to prepare the peppers, pop them into the slow cooker and head off to work. By the time I get home in the evening, they are yummy and ready to eat.
Overall, the meal is quick and easy. Yet it looks and tastes to all those who partake that I have spent the entire day in front of the stove in the kitchen.