I love my slow cooker. I can’t remember why I finally decided to buy one, but once I discovered how versatile and easy my slow cooker is, I never looked back. I didn’t grow up with memories of a crock of soup simmering away on the counter, or the aroma of slow cooked pork filling the kitchen, and now that I have them, I don’t know how people do without those smells.
While I was working full time and going to school, the biggest advantage of my cooker was the time savings. Because of food intolerances I have to make pretty much everything I eat. This, of course, rules out grabbing food at a fast food place because I didn’t feel like packing a lunch. Since sandwiches don’t really work, and a girl can only eat so many salads, I started making my own microwave meals on the weekend using my slow cooker and lots of plastic containers. It’s a very simple formula:
Basic slow cooker recipe
Fill the crock ¾ with assorted veggies
Add a chunk of meat
Add spices, garlic, salt and pepper
Cook all day, or all night on low
Divide it up into containers
That’s it. Healthy, fast, inexpensive, and easy. I would do these three or four times on the weekend using different combinations of vegetables, and usually chicken.
Great for tough cuts of meat
That was great for the weekend meals, but now that I’m really living lean, it’s even better. Now I go to the store, buy the cheapest cut of meat I can on sale, and cook it in the cooker overnight. I don’t care how tough your starting piece of meat was; 10 hours on low heat makes everything tender.
I just slow cooked a roast, had several tender “roast” beef sandwiches (rice cakes) and chopped the rest back into the crock with carrots, celery, onions and vegetable stock. So it will be….what? Ten meals for under $10? Not too bad.
A cheaper option still are the bean meals.
Credit: http://www.stockfreeimages.com/Soak your beans overnight, throw them in the cooker with water and cook all day, add some onion and tomato and cook all night. Even you’re feeling decadent – add bacon. For spicier beans, add peppers, for something closer to baked beans, add brown sugar or molasses. (You can search baked bean recipes, find what you like then cook it in your crock instead of the oven.)
Even on-sale salmon, which is on the edge of edibility, becomes glorious curried salmon by putting it in the slow cooker in which you’ve already overnighted coconut milk and curry flavor. Add green onions and your salmon, cook for an hour or two until the salmon is flaky, stir it all together and serve over rice. Instant exotic cuisine!
Save the bones from roast chicken, cook them in water all day and you have broth for soup. Same for bones from beef.
One of my favorite recipes:
slice 1 green, 1 red, and 1 orange pepper into your crock
add ¼ of an onion sliced or chopped
add 1 or 2 cloves of garlic
cut a zucchini into long quarters and slice these into the crock
sprinkle with pepper and a no-salt herbal mix like Mrs Dash
set two chicken breasts on top of the veggies
Turn your cooker on to low and let it cook for about eight hours
Yes, the veggies will be mush, that’s part of what you get with a slow cooker, but the chicken should be cooked through. Check it by slicing it open to see if it’s pink inside.
Remove the chicken, pull the bones off if there are any and chop the chicken breasts into chunks. Return the chicken chunks to your crock and mix everything together.
Scoop out the food with a slotted spoon – you want to keep the juice – and put it in a bowl.
Pour the juice into a measuring cup and add water to equal two cups if necessary. Use this to cook a cup of rice. You can cook more rice if you want, just add more water (or chicken broth if you have it).
Return the chicken and veggies to the crock to keep warm while the rice is cooking. Now would be the time to add salt if needed.
Serve the veggies spooned over the rice. Kind of like a stir fry that you didn’t need to stir!
A few notes:
A slow cooker is not the place to cook rice. It gets to be kind of like a thick paste, although it tastes ok. I prefer to cook the rice separately for a more palatable meal.
The choice of chicken breasts is not arbitrary; it’s a low fat meat and cooks well with steam. If you prefer a fattier piece of poultry such as thighs, you will want to remove the skin and trim off as much visible fat as you can. This isn’t about health, it’s because the grease from the cooking meat has nowhere to go except into your vegetables, and it’s easy to get too much. Your veggies become greasy rather than tasty. By using lean meat you can control the flavors better.
When using chicken thighs I normally bake them first to get rid of most of the fat, then serve the vegetables with a thigh on the side. Defeats the ‘one pot’ idea, but it’s still quick and easy since baking only requires two steps; put them in the oven, take them out of the oven.
The same basic process applies when using beef, except I tend to use more root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes. If you want to add tomatoes, make sure they aren’t near the meat. Acidic foods (like tomatoes) cause meats to be tough when they cook, which defeats the whole point of the slow cooker.
I’ve only used pork a few times this way; I don’t think the flavor and juice it creates is really all that good. Instead, cook your pork in the crock to make it tender, then remove it and add barbecue sauce or whatever flavorings you’d like. Another option is to cook the pork, take it out and keep it in the frig while you cook the vegetables, then add the cooked pork back in. This keeps you from having to deal with the weird flavored juice, and provides at least some chance of having crunchy vegetables.