Do you like things that are easy?
How about cooking that’s easy? What about cooking that’s,
- Cooked in one pot?
- Easy to clean up?
- Cooks all by itself overnight, or cooked and warm, ready for dinner when you get home from work?
- All of the above and healthy at the same time?
Seriously — 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 new cooking appliance, as I have been with my new slow cooker.
I’ve resisted buying a slow cooker because I know how to cook and studied to be a chef. I can cook from scratch and always thought I’d never need or use a slow cooker. Thankfully, my partner surprised me with one for my birthday last November.
In my experience, many people tell me they don’t know how to cook, how to properly use a chef knife, or how to simply get started in the kitchen. One of my goals is to show people how easy it can be to cook, especially when you know the basics.
The beauty of using a slow cooker is that everything goes into the one pot. You don’t have to worry about making a perfect cut for presentation. All the ingredients go into a single pot and you can serve your meal immediately or save for leftovers as part of you bulk meal planning.
The most complicated part of the process might be how you ‘dress up’ your slow cooker dinner on the plate before you put it on the table.
Slow Cooker Basics
Most slow cooker recipes have a limited number of ingredients, require minimal preparation, and as mentioned, everything goes direct into the pot.
The exception might be when preparing a roast or a stew. In those cases it’s advantageous to brown the meat on all sides in a cast iron pan prior slow cooking. Browning the meat enhances the flavour, and it’s a standard cooking technique prior to roasting, braising or simmering. But guess what? It’s not essential.
To date I’ve made three recipes with the slow cooker: a beef stew, a beef roast, and a roast pork shoulder. I started with recipes that I found but I made some my own enhancements to the ingredients and directions — because that’s what I like to do and I like to experiment.
The meat in all of the dishes came out perfectly tender and flavored all the way through — succulent.
This is one of the major benefits of the slow cooker: cooking for a longer duration at a lower temperature evenly cooks the meat all the way through, makes the meat incredibly tender, and imparts the flavour of the seasonings and any vegetables in the pot into the meat.
The recipes I used produced about 8 to 10 servings. Note that these were large servings — my partner and I are very active and we can wolf down big meals. Depending on your appetite you may end up with more servings, so be prepared to store your meals in proper food storage containers.
Slow Cooker Meal Planning
A slow cooker is a big-time timesaver and a fantastic way to start simple bulk meal planning at home.
Here’s a suggestion. Decide on a slow cooker meal. Make your grocery list from the recipe and also buy two different types of vegetables that you can enjoy as sides with your meat meal. For example:
Starchy carbohydrates are up to you and are dependent on your health and fitness goals. Perhaps cook up a pot of quinoa or try my curried bulgur carrots pilaf.
You could also buy additional food supplies at the grocery to make a few salads. If you like canned tuna or salmon that works as the protein for the salad. Check out my spinach salad with salmon or tuna recipe.
Doing this shopping and preparation will give you a several meal options for the week that are a healthy balance of meat, vegetables, and optional starchy carbohydrates like brown rice, quinoa or a baked potato.
Preparing your slow cooker meal the night before
Prepare your vegetable side dishes that you chose and cook in the oven. While the veggies are cooking prepare the ingredients for the slow cooker and set it to cook overnight for 8-12 hours.
If you’re regularly too short on time to cook, but hungry for healthy home-cooked meals, you could always do another slow cooker recipe about two days later to provide more variety.
Slow cooker recipe resources
I prefer to offer my readers my own recipes and meal concoctions, but since I’ve only had the slow cooker for a couple of weeks, I’m following other recipes to see what I can cook and what suits my style. In the meantime, here are a couple of links for slow cooker recipes:
- Make Dinner Easy slow cooker recipes: This is a wonderful site, run by Crystal Maleski. You can learn a lot from what she has to offer.
- Hamilton Beach slow cooker recipes
- These are great tips from Bon Appétit on what not to do with a slow cooker: “How to Make the Worst Crock-Pot Meal Ever“
Buy a ‘Smart’ Slow Cooker
I have the Hamilton Beach IntelliTime™ 6 Quart Slow Cooker. It the guesswork out of slow cooking altogether. You decide when you want the slow cooker to be done based on when you plan to turn it on. This is a great convenience! Instead of having to program for 6-8 hours, and need be home to take out your meal, if you want you food ready for dinner this slow cooker adjust the temperature based on the duration.
For example, if the recipe calls for cooking on high for six hours and you want to start the slow cooker at 7:30 am before you go to work, that means the food will be done at 1:30 pm. However, you probably won’t be home until 5 or 6 pm earliest. If you know you’re going to be home by 6 pm, that means you set the IntelliTime slow cooker for 10.5 hours (start at 7:30 am and end at 6 pm). This slow cooker automatically lowers the temperature based on the total cooking time. In this way, your meal isn’t over-cooked or dried out. It will also keep the food warm at a very low temperature once the 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 perfectly cooked and still warm. Remove the lid, serve, sit down and enjoy your meal.
If you want to order a slow cooker online, here is a link to the Hamilton Beach 6 Quart Set ‘N Forget Programmable Slow Cooker on Amazon. It comes with a thermometer probe for meat that determines doneness.
Cooking a bulk meal doesn’t get any easier than this, and slow cookers are very inexpensive to boot.
Let me know how you make out. And if you already have a slow cooker, why not share one or two of your favourite recipes or tips? Drop me a note in the comments form below.
Eat. Move. Be.
© 2014 Darren Stehle. All Rights Reserved.