Can I share something with you? My slow cooker is my favourite kitchen appliance next to my espresso machine! My partner bought me a slow cooker last Christmas and after using it a few times I wish I had of bought one 25 years ago! Let me ask you, do you like things that are easy? What about cooking that’s,
- Made in one pot?
- Cooks without you have to be there?
- Easy to clean up?
- Cooks all by itself overnight or during the day — ready for dinner when you get home from work?
- All the above and healthy to boot?
I know I sound like a used car salesman at this point, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited or as pleased with a cooking appliance. Which is why I think you should rush out now and buy a slow cooker! I resisted buying a slow cooker for years. I didn't think I would use one because I went to chef school and know how to cook from scratch. In my experience working as a personal trainer and a cooking instructor, clients have told me things like:
- I don’t know how to cook
- I hate cooking
- I don't know how to organize well in the kitchen
Having a slow cooker solves so many of those challenges. All the ingredients go into the crock pot. You don’t have to worry about making a perfect cut for presentation (unless you want to). You can serve your meal straight from the pot and/or put it away in storage containers as part of you bulk meal planning of the week. There is no complicated part of the process. In fact, the only complicated thing might be how you ‘dress up’ your slow cooker meal on the plate before you put it on the table!
SLOW COOKER BASICS
Most slow cooker recipes have a limited number of ingredients. They need minimal preparation, and everything cooks in the one pot. Some recipes suggest browning beef before cooking, but It’s not essential. I’ve tried both methods and haven’t noticed much difference. To date I’ve made many recipes with the slow cooker: beef stews, beef roasts, whole roast chicken, and roast pork shoulder. The meat comes out richly flavoured and tender. This is because of the slow cooking time and you don't need to uncover the pot for the duration. No lifting the lid to stir or adjust the temperature. The meat bastes in it’s own juices as well as any of the liquids and flavourings from spices, herbs, onions, and vegetables.
BENEFITS OF USING A SLOW COOKER
- The meat comes out tender.
- It saves you time: put all the ingredients into a single pot, cover, and forget about it. No stirring, no scraping the bottom of the pot to make sure it’s not sticking.
- Convenience: turn it on in the morning (for dinner when you get home), or over night.
- Bulk Cooking: a 6-quart slow cooker can provide 6-10 servings.
- Frequency: prepare slow cooker recipes two to three times per week. This creates meal variety and more easy, healthy, home-cooked meals.
SLOW COOKER VARIABLES
Use less liquid (stock, wine, etc.) than you would for a stew or an oven roast. In fact you can cook a roast without additional liquid. Fat and moisture will cook out of the meal and the vegetables. The fattier the cut of meat, the more juice. I was surprised by the amount of juice when I made a dry roast recipe. The meat was moist and perfectly cooked. When adding spices use less. If you are using dried spices (like thyme, oregano, basil, bay leaves, etc.) you can probably use the same measures from a stove-top of oven-based recipe. If you are using fresh herbs, go easy! I used too many sprigs of fresh rosemary in one beef stew and it was so strong I could barely eat it! In another recipe I used one small jalapeño pepper, seeds included, and it was much too hot. Since then I’ve removed the seeds and got the flavour without the ‘heat’.
BUY A ‘SMART’ SLOW COOKER
I have the Hamilton Beach IntelliTime™ 6 Quart Slow Cooker. It takes the guesswork out of slow cooking altogether. You decide when you want your meal ready based on when you plan to turn it on. This is a huge convenience! For example, let's say the recipe calls for cooking on high for six hours. You need to start the slow cooker at 7:30 am before you go to work, which means the meal will be cooked at 1:30 pm. That’s not great if you don’t get home until 5 or 6 pm. Instead, if you know you’re going to be home by 6 pm, set the IntelliTime slow cooker for 10.5 hours (starts at 7:30 am and ends at 6 pm). This slow cooker adjusts the temperature based on the total cooking time. In this way, your meal isn’t over-cooked or dried out. The IntelliTime keeps the food warm at a low temperature once cooking is completed, which is perfect for those days when you’re running late. The result? If you get home later than expected your dinner is ready and still warm. Remove the lid, serve, sit, and enjoy your meal. Cooking a bulk meal doesn’t get any easier than this, and slow cookers are inexpensive to boot. Here are a couple of my slow cooker recipes to date:
Eat well to be well!
Darren creates healthy & easy recipes on his blog, EatMoveBe.com. He works as a personal trainer, a nutrition coach, and a private cooking instructor. Get a copy of his free eBook, Healthy Meals & Snacks.