I was never big on slow cookers. I mean, my parents had one when I was a kid, and sometimes we’d make meatballs in it. They bought two big ones for when they host our big New Years Day party, and they cook ham and keilbasa in them. But that was the only time we ever dug them out.
Even at my house, my roommate bought one and hardly ever used it. Again, it would be hauled out to make meatballs, and that was pretty much it. Why does everyone seem to want to make meatballs the second a crock pot is in the room?
Well, that roommate moved back home at the end of the summer this year, and had to pack all of his things into his car for the cross-country trip. He left behind anything he decided was a non-essential to him. So, while he made room for his pizza stone, he decided to leave the slow cooker behind, giving it to me.
And now I am in love.
It started with a can of refried beans, some chicken, and a very busy week. The boyfriend was working extra and in class, I had picked up some extra shifts, had a tonne of housework to catch up on, and had scored some interviews with a few temp agencies in town. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of coming home at 9:30pm after a closing shift, just to stand in the kitchen over a hot stove and make a whole meal. So, I started throwing random things into the slow cooker that seemed like they’d work well together. I took a large can of refried beans, some chopped chicken breast, a can of green chillies, a can of corn, a bunch of hot spices, and some rice and just threw it all in there on low while I was at work.
This was probably the best dinner I have ever made in my life, mainly because it was delicious and I didn’t have to really cook it.
Next, I tried a bunch of beef, some mushrooms, and broccoli.Then I just Googled “broccoli beef slow cooker” and started browsing. I somewhat followed this recipe with a few changes to it. I added all my veggies in the slow cooker right from the start. I also served it over egg noodles instead of rice. But again, an amazing yet simple meal.
I’m now becoming obsessed with my crock pot. I use it at least once a week. This makes me a large and easy meal on Monday nights, and gives me plenty of leftovers. This week I made beef stew, and had enough left over to have it for dinner last night and lunch today! Since I used fresh ingredients, it took me a bit longer to prep than usual (peeling carrots and potatoes is not something I’m particularly quick at). But still, I didn’t have to stand over the stove, keep an eye on anything, or even do anything more than make crescent rolls once the lid was sealed shut and the cooker turned on.
I’ve found that anything can be made in the slow cooker. Thanks to BuzzFeed and Google, I have about 97 million slow cooker recipes to choose from, too! So here’s a few tips on how to get the most out of your slow cooker.
- trim as much of the fat off your meats as possible, and remove the skin from poultry. Leaving the fat on just makes it melt into your food. While that sounds utterly delicious sometimes, it leaves a runny and greasy mess both in your food and on your dishes.
- if you’re using seafood, don’t add it in until the last hour of cooking. Putting it in there for hours at a time will just make it come out rubbery.
- don’t throw in frozen meat. It will take longer to cook, and your sauces will turn out watered down.
- don’t lift the lid unless a recipe tells you too! The whole point of the slow cooker is that it traps in the heat. Opening the lid lets that heat out. And once it’s out, it adds another 20-30 minutes on to your cook time. So only open it if you’re using a recipe that tells you to (since it will have that built right into the cook time).
- using cheap cuts of meat works best. They tend to have less fat, they’re cheap (which is always a good thing!), and they absorb more of the flavour.
- cooking for 1 hour on high is the equivalent of cooking for 2 hours on low. Keep that in mind if you’re trying to cook things a bit faster, or slower.
- unless a recipe tells you otherwise, don’t add anything dairy until the last 30-45 minutes. Putting dairy in there for hours at a time will cause it to curdle, which is just nasty and totally unappetizing.
- if you’re using fresh carrots and potatoes (like in my stew) and don’t want them coming out hard or crunchy, put them on the bottom of the pot. This will help them cook all the way through so you get a nice event texture that doesn’t feel raw.
- if there’s too much liquid in the pot when your food is done, or your sauces didn’t thicken right, there’s a few things you can try. Cook it on high for 30 minutes with the lid off. This lets some of the liquid steam off. You could also try adding flour, corn starch, or potato flakes to your sauce. It will help thicken your sauce without loosing any to steam.
- only fill the pot 1/2 to 2/3 of the way. NEVER fill it right to the top! Filling it up all the way increases your cook time a lot, and can damage some cookers.
So why not try out a slow cooker? There are some fantastic models out there that are cheap. You can also usually find older models in thrift stores (just be sure to check the cord for shorts). Even if you don’t use it weekly like I like to, you’ll be sure to get some fantastic meals out of it, sunshine!