When Karen B. Petersen's (BS '02) husband took her on a cruise last year, he told her if she brought her crock pot, he was sailing without her.
That's because the Woods Cross, Utah, mother of two spent a year making 365 slow cooker recipes, one for every day of the year. She wrote a blog about slow cooking and included her recipes. She developed a following that at its peak topped 18,000. She also published a cookbook and appeared on several television shows.
"I don't really like cooking all that much, but with a husband and pre-schoolers, I figure meal preparation comes with the job," she says. "One day I thought I could save time if I used my crock pot. I tried the one recipe I had, which took about 20 minutes to prepare. It cooked all day, and my family really liked it."
Petersen decided to see if she could do it for a week, and when it was over, she challenged herself to do this for a year and then publish a cookbook.
"People have compared me to the movie 'Julie and Julia,' but I'm not any kind of a chef," she says. "I just found a way to save a lot of time and have a meal ready when my husband comes home."
She may not be a chef, but along the way she learned a lot of tricks. She says the amount of food put in a cooker is ideal if it uses two-thirds or three-fourths of the space. She learned when you cook roasts, you put the root vegetables—carrots, potatoes, onions—in the bottom because they cook more slowly than the roast. "Anything with fat is going to cook a lot quicker," she says. She also learned that spices enhance slow cooked foods and that cheap cuts of meat become so tender they fall off the bone.
Peterson says she didn't get tired of cooking, but she got tired of cooking different recipes every day, It became more fun when people discovered what she was doing. The television show "Good Things Utah" featured her on its show five times. She appeared on the Studio Five cooking segment and was highlighted in The Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune.
With every recipe she gave a star rating. Five stars meant the results were excellent, and one star earned a "don't ever make this again" ranking. Often a recipe would look good, but the taste did not match the look. She considers her seafood efforts less than stellar, and among her favorites are lime chicken and fettuccine and Thai chicken and noodles.
She likes the simplicity of a crock pot meal. It takes only minutes a day, and says, "I don't like to make a big deal out of something that is going to be consumed in five minutes. "
While Petersen says she is glad did the project, she says it overtook her life. "It was the planning, the blogging, taking pictures and downloading them" that consumed a lot of time. Yet this was a great way to be a stay-at-home mom and have a network of people who are there for you. They read
my blog and made comments, and I felt as if I had a lot of friends out there. "
Included below is one of her five-star recipes:
Slow Cooker Thai Peanut Chicken
12 oz linguine or fettuccine noodles, cooked and drained
2 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup peanut butter
1 cup chicken broth
1 lb chicken thigh tenders or boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 cup shredded zucchini
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 red pepper, cut into thin, long strips
1 tbsp lime juice
1 cup chopped cilantro, divided
chopped peanuts, for garnish
Add garlic, peanut butter, broth, chicken, zucchini, soy sauce, sugar, and red pepper to slow cooker. Stir to combine. Cook on low for 4-5 hours or on high for 2-3 hours. A half hour before you are going to serve, add in lime juice and 1/2 cup of cilantro. Serve over noodles and garnish with remaining cilantro and peanuts. Serves 4-6.