If your family doesn’t own a slow cooker, please please please go to Wal-Mart or Target or Kohl’s or any store you like and pick one up. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive; mine has 1 knob that offers Low, High, and Warm settings, and that’s all I need. It will take a huge burden off your shoulders to get home from work and have dinner simmering away once or twice a week. Even if I didn’t work full time I’d still own one and use it regularly.
A lot of people connect slow cooker meals to cold weather, but I use mine all year long. In the summer months I usually stick to cooking bigger, tougher cuts of meat for barbecue, sandwiches, and fresh tacos. The big guns come out in the winter: chili, beef stew, chicken and dumplings, soups, beef stroganoff, meatballs and marinara, old fashioned pot roast… I could go on and on. If I’m using my slow cooker for a weeknight dinner I do all of my prep the night before so all I have to do the next morning is take the insert out of the fridge, plug it in, and head to work. There is NOTHING better than coming home to a warm house that smells like home-cooked food… The dog and cat certainly have sweet (er, savory?) dreams on those days.
Since there are countless recipes out there I won’t waste your time or mine reciting a bunch of them, but I will share a few techniques that will allow you to turn a couple types of meat into several different meals. ALL are perfect for freezing too, so don’t hesitate to make a lot! My two favorite meats to cook in my cooker are CHUCK ROAST and PORK SHOULDER. Both are relatively inexpensive hunks of meat that require slow cooking to get tender. And you get a lot of bang for your buck.
For either one, simply put it in the slow cooker with some salt and pepper, sliced onions, sliced peppers, garlic, and a little liquid (water, broth, wine, whatever). Turn it to low and let it go; when you get home from work it will be fork tender and ready to use in one of these (or a million other) ways:
- Spicy shredded beef: mix cooked shredded beef with some jarred jalapenos (I like the vinegary kick) and use for tacos or beef ‘n cheddar sandwiches.
- Quick stroganoff: mix cooked shredded beef with sautéed mushrooms and some sour cream thinned out with fresh beef broth or the juice from the slow cooker (skim off any fat). Play with the liquid and sour cream until you get the consistency you like and serve it over buttered egg noodles.
- Pork barbecue: mixed cooked shredded pork with your favorite barbecue sauce (homemade or bottled – homemade is so easy and so much better in my opinion) and serve on warm rolls with coleslaw.
- Green chili verde: mix cooked shredded pork with salsa verde (bottled or make your own, but bottled is easier on a weeknight), pickled jalapenos if you like it spicy, frozen sweet corn, fresh cilantro, and a few dashes of cumin. I like it a little on the thicker side, served over rice, but you can thin it out with a little broth or water. You can also bulk it up with some canned, rinsed white beans.
The same techniques can also be used with slow cooked chicken if you like; cook a whole bird or the individual pieces the same way.
There is one slow cooker recipe I MUST share because I never in a million years thought would work: crock pot bread. I got this recipe from @yummly on Twitter and tried it out yesterday; I was pleasantly surprised and re-tweeted the recipe (see what you’re missing if you don’t follow @mommybanter on Twitter?) Now, this only takes about 2.5 hours to cook so you need to be home to turn off the slow cooker, or if you have a fancy one with a timer that’s good too. I think this is definitely something you can play around with and come up with some different versions; I immediately thought cinnamon swirl…
1 tbsp yeast
¼ cup warm water
1 cup warm milk (I used 1% but I’m sure any kind will work)
½ cup rolled oats
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp honey
1 beaten egg
¼ wheat germ (ummm, don’t keep this on hand so I left it out)
2¾ cups whole wheat flour (I used 50/50 whole wheat and all purpose because I ran out of wheat)
- Turn slow cooker to HIGH to pre-heat. Grease a deep metal or glass bowl (I used a medium sized Pyrex souffle dish)
- Dissolve yeast in warm water, then combine with milk, oats, salt, oil, honey, egg, and wheat germ (if you use it)
- Add flour, turn onto the counter or cutting board, and knead until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes). The dough is STICKY at first so flour the surface and your hands pretty well. It will tighten up after a few minutes, but don’t over-knead it!
- Put dough ball in the greased bowl and cover loosely (!!) with foil
- Lay a trivet in the bottom of the slow cooker or wad up a few pieces of tin foil and put them on the bottom, along with ½ cup water. The key is to keep the bowl with the dough in it off the bottom of the slow cooker; I used the balled up foil method.
- Cover the cooker and let it cook for 2.5-3 hours. I peeked after 2.5 hours and mine was firm to the touch so I took it out, but every slow cooker is different.
The bread turned out crispy on the edges and soft in the middle, but I can definitely see how it could dry out if left in the slow cooker too long, so just be aware of that as time ticks on. I put it under the broiler for a couple of minutes to crisp up the top too. It went really well with my first batch of homemade fall chili. Happy slow cooking!