Nicole Sparks and Jenna Marwitz are the Justin Biebers of the cooking world right now.
Thanks in large part to social media, in the span of about a year, the best friends have gone from harried Texas mothers who liked to use their slow cookers for fast and easy family dinners to the dynamic slow-cooking duo known around the Internet as the Crockin' Girls.
Sparks and Marwitz, who live in the tiny town of Early, just east of Brownwood, have more than 550,000 fans on their Facebook page, which launched Aug. 19, 2011. They have more than 5,000 followers on Twitter and 9,000 followers on Pinterest, and their YouTube videos can garner thousands of views.
More than 120,000 people are members of their interactive Crockin' Girls Club, which is free to join through their website, www.crockingirls.com.
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And with the recent release of their first cookbook, The Crockin' Girls Slow Cookin' Companion: Yummy Recipes From Family, Friends, and Our Crockin' Community (Five Star Institute, $32.95), the women are now popular cookbook authors, about to hit the road on a book tour. (No Fort Worth-area dates have been announced yet.)
We chatted by e-mail with the busy Sparks (who is married with kids ages 6 and 3) and Marwitz (married with a 3-year-old and 15-month-old) last week about their love of slow-cooking, favorite things to make and tips for those who want to rock the crock just like them.
How did you get started "crockin'"?
Sparks: My family has always used the slow cooker. As long as I can remember, my mom would put a roast on for Sunday lunch. Our Sunday routine was church, lunch together and then nap. When I went to college and moved into my apartment, my mom gave me her square West Bend slow cooker. I still have it, and it still works like a charm. It's at least as old as I am or older.
Marwitz: I always remember my mom cooking the usual roast or stew and loving that cozy feeling it brought when dinner time was not rushed and hectic. I can remember cooking in the slow cooker on those "ice days" we always have every winter that keep us around the house and out of school. However, it took on a new meaning when I had kids of my own and I discovered all of the recipes you can actually make in them!
What's your favorite thing to make in the slow cooker?
Sparks: I absolutely love food, so it's so hard for me to say what my favorite recipe is (sometimes depends on what I'm craving). My go-to recipe has to be meatball subs. I make my meatballs up ahead of time and freeze. Then I can add them to the slow cooker with my favorite marinara sauce when I don't have a dinner plan. This way all I have to pick up at the store is hoagie buns and cheese.
Marwitz: So many recipes, so little time! If I had to choose one recipe with a nice round personality, I would probably pick the shredded pork loin roast. It has so many "ahhhh" factors that it is definitely my go-to! Some of my favorite things about this recipe are that it makes a ton, it is simple, people rave about it, and I can sneak in the leftovers as "makeover meals" by serving it different ways. It is great on sandwiches, tacos with slaw, baked potatoes and nachos -- yum!
Do you ever have more than one crockpot going at once in the house?
Marwitz: I am definitely one to "crock" more than one thing at a time -- with a couple dozen slow cookers between us, Nicole and I could feed a large crowd. In fact, the last two nights our dinners have consisted of double-crockin' meals. One night we had gold medal ribs with potatoes and corn on the cob thrown in, and then a small slow cooker crockin' green bean casserole. Then tonight we had Kayla's enchilada casserole and another crock with some beans.
What's the most frequently asked slow-cooking question or request you get from people?
Sparks: ""What slow cooker do you like the best?" GE is my favorite.
(Kitchen Aid is Marwitz's favorite.)
What's next for the Crockin' Girls?
Sparks: We are about to start our book tour. We are always working on the development of new recipes. We engage with our faithful crockin' community on a daily basis.
The Crockin' Girls Slow Cookin' Companion includes about 165 recipes with full-color photos -- from breakfast casseroles, to dips for snacking, to meaty main courses and even dessert.
We tried three recipes: Mom's Italian beef, perfect for sandwiches on crusty bread; creamy, dreamy angel chicken; and the super hearty crockin' breakfast casserole. While all got good reviews in our household, we've gotten a demand for Mom's Italian beef to be made again soon.
The recipes don't note serving size or yield, but each can be adapted for the number of servings you wish to make. The authors say that almost every recipe is prepared in a 6-quart slow cooker, especially if the meal is for a family of four or more.
Nicole’s crockin’ breakfast casserole
Her family always asks for seconds (and thirds) when Sparks dishes up this slow-cooked sensation.
1 package frozen diced hash browns
1 pound breakfast sausage, slightly browned
1 package diced ham
2 cups fresh baby spinach
½ cup chopped fresh mushrooms
½ cup chopped onion
2 cups cheddar cheese
1 can Ro-Tel tomatoes
18 well-beaten eggs
Spray slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Layer half the hash browns; half the browned sausage; half the ham; all of the spinach, mushrooms and onion; and 1 cup cheese. Once again, layer hash browns, sausage and ham, then pour tomatoes over the top. Add eggs and top with remaining cheese. Cook on low for 8 hours.
— "The Crockin’ Girls Slow Cookin’ Companion"
Mom’s Italian beef
The tang of the jarred peppers mingled with the robust Italian spices will transport you to Italy and back — no airline tickets required.
1 sirloin-tip roast (size depends on the amount of people you will be feeding)
1 12-ounce can beer of your choosing
1 package Good Seasons Italian seasoning
2 jars pepperoncini (Use only the juice from the second jar, if desired.)
Place roast in the slow cooker. Pour beer over the roast and sprinkle Italian seasoning on top. Pour in one jar of peppers with juice. Cook on low 8-10 hours, or until beef falls apart. A few hours before serving, add juice from second jar of peppers. (You can add the peppers as well, but it will make the beef extremely spicy.) Serve with fresh roll-type bread.
— "The Crockin’ Girls Slow Cookin’ Companion"
When we took our first bite of contributor Kari Routledge’s creation, we had one word: heavenly!
4 to 6 boneless chicken breasts
¼ cup butter
½ package dry Italian salad dressing mix
1 can cream of mushroom soup
½ cup dry white wine
4 ounces cream cheese with onions and chives
1 box penne pasta
Chives, for garnish
1. Put all ingredients except pasta and chives in the slow cooker; cook on low for 7-8 hours.
2. When the chicken mixture is done, prepare penne pasta according to package directions and drain. Mix pasta with chicken. Serve in a large bowl with chives sprinkled on top.
— Submitted by Kari Routledge for "The Crockin’ Girls Slow Cookin’ Companion"