Let’s face it. Making dinner is the last thing most of us want to do at the end of a long day. But there’s help out there, in the form of a magical kitchen appliance you’re probably not using often enough: your slow cooker.
Here are five slow cooker recipes your whole family will love.
This recipe doesn’t get much easier. Choose your preferred roast (pork, beef or lamb) and your favorite herbs or spices (rosemary, oregano or cumin), and mix them with a bit of onions and water in your slow cooker. Serve this tender roast with your favorite vegetable side dish.
The trick to a flavorful minestrone soup is to toss in a few Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds into the pot. So make sure to save those scraps (and keep them in your freezer until you’re ready for soup) when the cheese is all gone.
This sweet and creamy soup is perfect as a first course, or served as a lighter meal alongside a green salad. Best served in the fall and winter, take advantage of butternut squash and apples when they are at their sweetest.
Unlike most slow cooker recipes, this meal doesn’t need to simmer all day while you’re at work. This is the perfect hands-off meal to let cook while you’re unwinding from work or school. Prepare the chicken ahead of time, then cook everything together when you get home.
A whole chicken is simmered slowly in broth or wine and a mixture of vegetables, while you’re out of the house for the day. You can eat the chicken straight from the slow cooker, or mix the leftovers into soup, casseroles, potpies or any of your other favorite chicken recipes.
Tips for slow cooking
Even though using a slow cooker doesn’t get much easier, here are a few tips and tricks to ensure a perfect meal each and every time.
This is especially important for busy families. If you want (or need) to do as little work in the morning as possible before you head out the door, prepare your ingredients the night before. Cut, chop, trim and measure any ingredients (meats, vegetables, grains, sauces, etc.) and place them in separate containers in the refrigerator. In the morning, simply grab your prepped food and add them to your slow cooker in the appropriate order.
If that still takes too much precious evening time, consider spending a weekend day assembling ingredients in bulk and freezing them for later use. You’ll love how much time you save simply defrosting the next night’s meal before pouring it into the slow cooker on your way out the door.
Sometimes cheaper is better (for meat, that is)
Invest in a good-quality slow cooker, but go ahead and use the cheaper cuts of meat. These cuts, like pork shoulder and short ribs, have more fat than leaner cuts, such as pork tenderloin and chicken breasts. The slow and low cooking process will break down those tougher cuts, while the fat keeps everything moist.
More work for more flavor?
Some slow cooker users insist that you must brown your meat (in a sauté pan or the oven) before placing it in your slow cooker. True, browning the meat will give it a more complex flavor (as long as you remember to also deglaze the pan and add that extra liquid to the slow cooker, too). But, it also means one more pot to dirty and a little extra effort. So, if you have the time, go ahead and give your meat a hearty sear. If you just want to head out the door as fast as you can, don’t worry about it.
If you want perfectly cooked potatoes, falling off the fork meat, and broccoli with a bit of bite, then the order you place your ingredients in the slow cooker is important. Put ingredients that take longer to cook (root vegetables, tough cuts of meat, etc.) in the bottom of the pot. This way, they are closer to the heating element and will cook fully. If you have more tender vegetables, place them in the slow cooker last, so they stay the furthest from the heat and stay crisper a little longer.
Less is more
Try not to fill your slow cooker more than two-thirds full. Stuffing it with ingredients to the top means that food will steam instead of simmer. This results in meals with less flavor and longer cooking times.
The final touch
Add ingredients that are sensitive to heat, like dairy products and fresh herbs, during the last 15 to 30 minutes of cooking so they don’t breakdown, discolor or curdle throughout the day.
It’s not just for dinner
Most of us use our slow cookers as a quick and easy way to get dinner on the table. But, you can cook breakfast, dessert, breads, jam, stock, and even yogurt in your slow cooker.
Editor's note: This article was sponsored by New Seasons Market.