I was sitting with a client recently who wants to reduce the amount of meals that she either eats out or relies on convenience items. Her barriers are that she doesn't have kitchen skills, and is super busy. She doesn't want to waste her time, money, or food on a recipe that might not turn out well. She feels stuck.
But then, a glimmer of hope: she just purchased a slow cooker. This, my friends, is the answer to her problems. It also happens to be slow cooker season - soups, stews, casseroles, oh my. Very little is eaten raw this time of year, and most people are covering up their grills.
Slow Cookers Normally Assume Zero Kitchen Skills
As in, my two-year-old nephew could be your sous chef when you slow cook your meal. The most labor intensive part of the process is chopping. And, if you can't make that happen, you can often buy vegetables chopped from the grocery store. On a budget? Look for your vegetables already chopped in the frozen section.
If you can dump things into a bowl, you can make a homemade slow cooker meal.
Slow Cookers are Hands-Off
As I mentioned before, if you can dump ingredients, you can slow cook. I will add one more step - you must turn on the slow cooker. That is not a throw away comment, either. We've all been there, and had to order take-out, or just had cereal for dinner.
But once the slow cooker is turned on, you walk away and rarely have to do anything again until it's time to eat. Occasionally, recipes will call for an ingredient to be added with 15-30 minutes left in the cooking time. That's about as labor-intensive as you get.
Slow Cooking is Forgiving
The recipe says to cook for 6 hours. But you're going to be gone for 8 hours. No problem. The food will most likely taste exactly the same after 8 hours of cooking as it would after 6 hours. Your oven cannot say the same thing.
That said, if the recipe indicates a 2-4 hour cook time, and you've got a 16-hour day in front of you, don't leave that bad boy on the whole time. For you, a slow cooker that is programmable, or has multiple settings might be the best way to go. After the food is cooked, the slow cooker will usually move to a "keep warm" setting, which assures the meal will neither get overcooked nor give you food poisoning.
Another tip? You can cook things overnight. Most likely, your sleeping hours are less than the hours you're gone for the day. Make Tuesday's dinner on Monday night. No problem. Unless delicious aromas will give you insomnia, in which case I can't help you.
Slow Cooking is Versatile
Slow cookers can do more than just soups and stews. Apple butter, peach cobbler, triple chocolate brownies, homemade bread, steel-cut oats, and greek yogurt are just a few of the non-traditional things you can make with your slow cooker.
Your ingredients can be fresh or frozen. Sometimes I remember to thaw the chicken before I'm making a slow cooker recipe. Other times, I put them in frozen and just add an hour to the cook time. There's no need to thaw frozen vegetables, and you can easily mix and match fresh and frozen ingredients. Really, could it get easier?
Slow Cooker Recipes
Slow cooker recipes is a very popular Google search. As in, brace yourself for being totally overwhelmed. Let's go back to my new friend who is afraid of wasting time, money and food on recipes that don't turn out. She's also really likely to be completely overwhelmed as to where to start in her slow cooking adventures. Here are a few of my favorite slow cooking resources.
Better Homes and Gardens Fabulous 5-Ingredient Slow Cooker Recipes: This link relies heavily on convenience items, but still provides you some home cooked goodness. Try the Cha-Cha Corn Chowder.
Cooking Light’s 100+ Slow-Cooker Recipes: This is one of my go-to sites. The recipes are easily searchable, and you've got lots of options. While the recipes are usually lighter versions, they sometimes include additional prep or ingredients that not everyone keeps on hand. Try the Char Siu Pork Roast.
100 Days of No Processed Meals – Crock Pot Style: Another one of my new favorites. This site provides recipes that have minimally processed ingredients (think: canned beans are ok, condensed soups are not). Also, a focus on budget-friendly ideas. Try the Pumpkin Coconut Curried Black Beans & Rice.
Slow Cooker from Scratch: This site pulls from other food bloggers. Bringing you the highlights of the slow cooking recipes out there, with a special focus on cooking from scratch (similar to the no processed meals idea).
Slow Cooker Baked Potatoes
Is this even a recipe??? Yes, it is. Take medium-sized russet potatoes, poke a few holes in each. Wrap in foil. Place directly into the slow cooker. Do not add liquid. Cover. Cook on high for 2-4 hours, depending on the size of your potatoes. If they're really big guys, consider 6-8 hours.
I made these this week, and they were delicious! I loved that I didn't have to baby-sit the potatoes while they cooked. But they tasted much better than a microwaved "baked" potato. We topped them with meatballs, spinach, tomatoes and cheese for a delightful quick and easy Italian meal.