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Chef's Hat: Easy slow cooker meals are great for busy summer days

Summer is the ideal time to grill. But there are times when heating up the grill, cleaning the grate and standing over a hot grill do not seem to fit into the typical busy summer day.

A bag of boneless, skinless chicken breasts always comes in handy when thinking about a quick meal, especially if you are using a slow cooker. Simply place a few chicken breasts into the cooker, add some chicken broth and a few seasonings and in a few hours dinner is ready.

Chicken Caesar Sandwiches require a bottle of Caesar dressing, but if you prefer, or if you don't especially care for the taste of a Caesar salad, you can use a Parmesan or ranch dressing.

It isn't quite the same as grilling or smoking, but putting ribs into a slow cooker is a perfect method for cooking ribs. The slow cooking time breaks down the connective tissue so the meat becomes extremely tender. A quick glaze with your favorite barbecue sauce, followed by broiling the ribs for 3 to 4 minutes, gives the ribs a nice, finishing glaze.

It's important to remove the membrane off the ribs before seasoning and cooking. To remove: Simply slide a knife under the member and over the bone. Lift until the membrane is loosened. Grab the membrane with a paper towel and pull until it comes off. Sometimes it will come off in one piece, but you might have to pull it off in several pieces.

Ribs can be seasoned ahead of time and placed in the refrigerator. This can be done up to 24 hours in advance. After the membrane is removed, rub a slight coating of mustard on the ribs and then liberally apply dry rub on both sides of the ribs. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

With this much of the prep work done, it is easy enough to place the ribs in a slow cooker and then go off and enjoy the day without having to worry about cooking.

Too much going on this summer? Slow cookers are the perfect tool to create a great meal without spending a lot of time in the kitchen or standing around a grill. These easy recipes will quickly get you out of the kitchen and on to your summer adventures. Happy Eating!

Chicken Caesar Sandwiches

Adapted from delish.com

  • 2 cups Caesar salad dressing
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley or 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • Romaine lettuce leaves
  • Tomato slices
  • 4 Ciabatta rolls (or buns)

Place chicken in a 4-quart slow cooker. Add the chicken broth, water and lemon juice. Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Cook on low for 3 to 4 hours.

Remove the chicken from the slow cooker and shred the meat. Drain most of the liquid from the pan, reserve about ½ cup. Mix 1 1/2 cups of the Caeser dressing with the remaining liquid in the pan. Add the shredded chicken to the pan, sprinkle the parsley on top. Warm for 10 to 15 minutes, just until entire mixture is heated.

Toast or heat Ciabatta rolls (or buns). Top with pieces of romaine, a tomato slice, shredded chicken and Parmesan cheese. If desired, add a small amount of additional dressing on top. Place the top half on the sandwich and serve.

Coca-Cola Slow Cooker Ribs

  • Mustard
  • ½ cup rib rub (purchased from the store or make your own)
  • 1 can Coca-cola
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • ½ teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1 cup barbecue sauce
  • 2 racks baby back ribs (remove membrane)

Place the onion in the bottom of a slow cooker.

Spread a thin layer of mustard over the ribs and then sprinkle liberally with the rib rub. (This can be done ahead of time and then put the ribs in the refrigerator.) Cut the ribs into serving size portions and place into the slow cooker. Mix the coke with the liquid smoke and then pour over the ribs. Cook on low 6 to 8 hours.

Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Carefully place the ribs onto a cookie sheet. They will be very tender and falling apart. Pour the barbecue sauce over the ribs. Place in the oven under the broiler for 3 to 4 minutes, just until the barbecue sauce starts to get a glaze to it.

Dry Rib Rub

  • 3 teaspoons celery salt
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 3 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 tablespoons granulated garlic
  • 2 tablespoons granulated onion
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (add another tablespoon if you desire a sweeter rub)
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper

Mix all the ingredients together. Use immediately or store in an airtight container.

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