Busy day slow-cooked dinners

The end of summer brings more than cooler weather. It also brings busy schedules. Between work and taxiing kids to and from after-school activities, there’s not much time for preparing dinner. Now, more than ever, is the time to put the trusty slow cooker to work so that meals will be ready when your hungry gang is.

The key to slow cooker meals is planning ahead. Choose the recipe, gather the ingredients and do any thawing, cubing and chopping the night before. If there is a sauce, mix that up, too, if possible, and place in the refrigerator so that in the morning you can simply dump, set, and go.

A can opener and a few staple ingredients is all that’s needed for a cheesy enchilada casserole packed with Mexican flavor. Or try Homestyle Potato Soup, a meal-in-a-bowl made with packaged potatoes, is great served with crusty bread and lots of butter.

And here’s a great idea for sandwich night (we all have them, don’t we?): Wow the family with tasty Cola Beef Barbecue that has simmered all day in a flavor-packed broth. Served with fries or chips, these sandwiches are sure to be a favorite.

Slow Cooker

Enchilada Casserole

3 T. chopped green chiles, divided

3/4 cup chunky salsa

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 (15.5-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 (11-ounce) can yellow corn with red and green bell peppers

1 (10-ounce) can enchilada sauce

1 (8 1/2 -ounce) package corn muffin mix

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 T. chopped roasted red bell peppers

1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Sour cream

Directions: In 3 1/2 -quart slow cooker, stir together 2 tablespoons green chiles, salsa, cilantro, beans, corn and enchilada sauce. Cover and cook on LOW 4 hours.

In mixing bowl stir together muffin mix, eggs, 1 tablespoon green chiles and roasted red peppers. Spoon batter evenly over bean mixture in slow cooker, cover and cook another 1 hour and 20 minutes, or till cornbread is done.

Sprinkle cheese over cornbread. Cover and cook 5 to 10 minutes or till cheese is melted. Serve with sour cream, if desired. Serves 6.

Homestyle Potato Soup

1 (14-ounce) can chicken broth

1 (20-ounce) package refrigerated or frozen (thawed) diced potatoes with onion

4 green onions, coarsely chopped

3 T. butter, cut into small pieces

3/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Directions: In 4-quart slow cooker stir together broth, potatoes, green onions, butter, salt, pepper and garlic. Cover and cook on LOW 5 hours or till vegetables are tender. Increase temperature to HIGH.

In bowl, whisk together flour and milk till smooth. Stir into soup; cover and cook 30 minutes or till thickened, stirring twice. To serve, ladle into bowls and top each serving with cheese. Makes 5 1/2 cups soup.

Cola Beef Barbecue Sandwiches

1 (2 1/2-pound) boneless chuck roast, trimmed of fat

2 medium onions, chopped

1 (12-ounce) can cola beverage (1 1/2 cups)

1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce

1 1/2 T. apple cider vinegar

1 1/2 tsps. beef bouillon granules

3/4 tsp. dry mustard

3/4 tsp. ground chili powder

1/4 to 1/2 tsp. ground red pepper

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup ketchup

1 T. butter

Directions: Place roast in 4-quart slow cooker; add onions.

In deep bowl, combine cola, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, bouillon, dry mustard, chili powder, red pepper and garlic. Reserve 1 cup of sauce, cover and chill. Pour remaining sauce over the roast. Cover and cook on HIGH 1 hour, reduce to LOW and cook another 8 hours or till roast is very tender (can be cooked on HIGH setting 6 hours).

Remove roast and onions from cooker with slotted spoon. Shred meat with two forks (reserve meat juices from slow cooker for another use, if desired).

Combine reserved 1 cup sauce, ketchup, butter and shredded beef in slow cooker; cook on HIGH setting till thoroughly heated, stirring often. Serve on round rolls. Serves 6.