But the book is more than that—it’s slow cooker recipes and OTHER one-pot solutions, such as those you can make in a skillet. They, too, are dinnertime heroes.
Brunmeier knows a few things about getting good food on the table fast, as she’s got experience as a working mom of now mostly grown men. (I’ve only got two boys and they’re not grown yet, so, props to you, Valerie, cause dang, they can eat!)
WHAT ONE-POT MEALS ARE IN THIS COOKBOOK?
I’ve got my eye on the Chicken Parmesan Meatball Subs, which can simmer away while you’re working. The slow-cooked Short Rib Ragu looks ideal for a cold night, and the Sausage and Sweet Potato Breakfast Burrito Bowls (say that three times fast!) will make an appearance at the table, too.
The book includes 75 recipes altogether, with sides, dinner rolls (yes!), desserts, chilis, soups, pasta, rice, and more.
WHAT IS CHEESY TACO PASTA SKILLET?
This Cheesy Taco Pasta Skillet combines the flavors of tacos with the delivery system of pasta, in just one dish. It uses ground beef, a special seasoning mix with cumin, chili powder, paprika, and others—it’s Brunmeier’s own recipe that she makes up ahead of time.
And because pasta takes well to many flavors, we get a marriage of two foods that just works—along with two cheeses, cheddar and Monterey jack, that play well together, too.
A DINNER MADE FROM PANTRY STAPLES
A well-stocked pantry makes this meal a snap, too—it requires a lot of staples such as canned beans, tomatoes, stock, and pasta. The recipe includes her own Flavor Fiesta Taco Seasoning mix, which you can put together in a jiffy if you’ve got a well-stocked spice rack. You can substitute this for another taco seasoning of your choice, but if you put hers together it will yield more than you need, so you’ll have some for future meals. Score!
Q&A WITH AUTHOR VALERIE BRUNMEIER
Tell me why you wrote this book—how’s your book different from other slow cooker and one-pot cookbooks?
Slow cooker and one-pot meals were my solution to having a home cooked meal on nights when we got home very late after water polo games and other after-school activities. They are the most requested recipes I get from my readers on Valerie’s Kitchen and I wanted to write a cookbook that would be a resource for busy home cooks. I think this book contains recipes that will appeal to all tastes and ages, from the kiddos all the way up to Grandma and Grandpa.
Tacos and pasta are both great dinner templates—it’s a wonder you don’t see more Tex-Mex flavors in pasta! Tell me about how this one came about?
Mexican-inspired dishes are BIG in our house. I can always fall back on tacos or burrito bowls any night of the week and make everyone very happy. So I’ve experimented over time incorporating these ingredients into all kinds of dishes and this one-pot, easy-peasy pasta dish is a great one when you have zero time for prep in the morning. It’s hearty, satisfying, and a fun twist on pasta.
What recipe challenged you the most to get it to work, and you’re so proud that you did?
Most of the recipes in this cookbook are based on decades of experience, and I felt confident of the result even before the recipe testing began. But, I really challenged myself with desserts. I adapted an old, beloved recipe for Lemon-Blueberry Bread for the slow cooker and after a long bout of recipe testing, I was so happy with the result that I ended up including three quick bread recipes in the book.
The Sweet Spiced Cocktail Nuts were also a revelation. These are the kind of recipes that really showcase the versatility of a slow cooker.
Do you have any tips on how to prepare staples such as beans, rice, and so forth in the slow cooker?
I could talk about beans all day! (I’m weird that way.) Timing is crucial. Canned beans are already cooked and have no business being in a slow cooker for 6 to 8 hours. They should be added during the last 30 to 60 minutes of the cook time so that they will retain their flavor and texture. This is the same for other items like softer veggies and fresh herbs.
I feel like every cookbook author has that one recipe in their cookbook that they know isn’t going to be super popular, but they loved it so much that they just couldn’t bear to cut it. What is that recipe for you?
Oh, good question! That’s going to be the Chicken Tikka Masala with Cauliflower and Red Bell Pepper. My boys love curries so I’ve developed a bunch of different curry-based recipes over the years and we absolutely love them. Although this recipe may seem unfamiliar or exotic to some, it’s actually such a down-home, comforting family meal.
What do you think would surprise people the most about these recipes?
I think a lot of people have the misconception that slow cooker meals are flavorless. I am on a mission to prove that with the proper ingredients and a variety of spices you can create incredibly flavorful dishes with your slow cooker! I’ve included the recipes for four of my favorite spice mixes that are incorporated throughout the book in some of the slow cooker and one-pot recipes.
What became the most-washed kitchen tool or utensil while testing the recipes for this cookbook?
Can I say my slow cooker? Actually, any of my six slow cookers. Yes, I own six slow cookers and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
What recipes do you still have on regular rotation in your kitchen, even now that the book is done?
So many! Just two months ago we moved from California to Oregon and almost immediately upon arrival in our new house I started cooking from the cookbook. I did the Big Batch Bolognese, used half for a big pasta meal that night, and froze the other half for a super quick and easy future meal. Many of the recipes in the book are great freezer meals.
For Super Bowl last year I did the Meaty Queso Dip and the Asian Sesame Party Meatballs – both are huge family favorites. Other recipes on regular rotation are the Veggie Packed Meatloaf with BBQ Glaze, 20-Minute Egg Roll Lettuce Wraps, Game Day Beer Chili, Chicken Parmesan Meatballs Subs, and the Loaded Chicken and Veggie Fajitas.
What top secrets can you share about using slow cookers?
Using the right ingredients and adding them at the right time is what I stress the most. I give specific brand recommendations in the ingredient lists [in the cookbook] and detailed instructions so that your result will be as close as possible to mine. Dealing properly with condensation in recipes for baked goods and other items like cocktail nuts and snack mixes is also key to the success of a recipe.
FIVE MORE SKILLET RECIPES TO LOVE
Valerie Brunmeier’s Cheesy Taco Pasta Skillet Recipe
From Valerie: This is hands-down one of the quickest, easiest recipes in my collection. It’s a variation of a casserole I’ve made for ages that I’ve modified to take place all in one pan in about 30 minutes from start to finish. The familiar Mexican flavors make it a great family-friendly choice. Instead of purchasing a packet of taco seasoning from the grocery store, make a batch of my homemade mix and keep it on hand for all your Mexican-inspired dishes
Reprinted with permission from The Foolproof Family Slow Cooker by Valerie Brunmeier, Page Street Publishing Co. 2019
For the Flavor Fiesta Taco Seasoning:
- 1/4 cup chili powder
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons finely ground sea salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste (I used a pinch)
For the cheesy taco pasta skillet:
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons Flavor Fiesta Taco Seasoning Mix
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
- 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 (15.5-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 (4-ounce) can mild diced green chiles
- 8 ounces uncooked short dry pasta like fusilli, rotelli, elbows or penne
- 1 cup frozen corn
- 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheeses, divided
For the garnish:
- 1/4 cup sliced black olives
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 3 green onions, thinly sliced
- Sour cream
1 Assemble the seasoning mix: Combine the chili powder, cumin, paprika, sea salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, and chili flakes in a small bowl.
Note: This will make more than you need for this recipe. Store leftovers in a covered glass jar.
2 Cook the ground beef with onions and garlic: Place a large deep skillet or sauté pan with a lid over medium heat and add the ground beef, onion, and garlic. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring to break up the meat, until browned. Drain off as much of the excess grease from the skillet as possible and return it to the heat.
3 Season and simmer: Add the fiesta taco seasoning mix and stir to combine it well with the beef. Add the broth, tomatoes, tomato sauce, black beans, chiles, and pasta. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook for 15 minutes.
3 Add the corn and simmer: Remove the cover, stir in the corn, and simmer for an additional 3 to 4 minutes, until the sauce has been mostly absorbed.
4 Stir in the cheeses: Turn the heat off and stir in half of the Monterey jack and cheddar cheeses. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and cover the skillet for 2 to 3 minutes, until the cheese has melted. Top with the black olives, cilantro, and green onions.
5 Garnish and serve: Garnish individual servings with sour cream, if desired. The pasta will keep for 3 to 4 days in the fridge in a covered container.
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