Sharing a meal with family and friends is one of life’s greatest joys, but too often the pressure of preparing food overshadows that pleasure. Whether inexperience in the kitchen or a busy schedule is the source of culinary anxiety, the slow cooker is the kitchen’s secret to stress-free, mess-free cooking.
When slow cookers made their debut on the cooking scene in 1940, they were a modern way for Jewish women to uphold the practice of resting on the Sabbath. From that point on and for much of their history, slow cookers have been portrayed as a friend to the working woman, claiming that women could provide for their families both in and out of the kitchen. This theme especially took off during the 1970s as more women entered the workforce.
Today, the market for these easy to use kitchen appliances has grown past its original targets to attract a much wider audience, most notably sports fans. Football is like a religion for many Southerners, and game day is sacred. Although it was only a cosmetic change, adding NFL team logos to Crock-Pot®’s slow cookers branded them as the ideal way to feed a game day crowd while still enjoying a day of rest. As the slow cooker’s popularity and customer base have grown, so has the variety of food prepared in the slow cooker.
The slow cooker, no longer limited to soups and stews, makes a way for both the cooking novice and the busy chef to easily prepare meals for every occasion. Using the slow cooker streamlines cooking, but there are a few tips to keep in mind to avoid common pitfalls. Beginning with the appliance itself, Columbia entrepreneur and former owner of Mary and Martha’s Kitchen Shop, Bev Tuller, recommends the All-Clad slow cooker or slow cookers with a removable ceramic pot insert. She also says there are many pots available that have timers to ensure that food does not overcook.
Slow cooker liners are another of Bev’s favorite tricks. Clean up is simple with these plastic inserts, especially when preparing the slow cooker candy she tried recently. The recipe for this simple, chocolaty treat is included.
Once the cooking supplies are in order, it’s important to pay attention to the two keys of creating a successful slow cooker dish: preparation and timing. Because the slow cooker does most of the work, these are really the only aspects that the cook can control. All too often the “dump and go” method with slow cooking can lead to a mushy and bland culinary experience. Instead, prepare ingredients by properly seasoning and slicing them before adding them to the pot.
When cooking meat, sear it in a pan on the stove before adding it to the slow cooker. This creates a more dynamic flavor and texture. Avoid overcooking vegetables and grains by adding them at different times. Just as you would not cook grains, meat and vegetables in the exact same way on the stovetop, so you should not cook all of these ingredients the same way in the slow cooker. Meat and sturdy vegetables like potatoes and carrots can cook for longer, while more delicate vegetables such as yellow squash and zucchini should only cook for about an hour. The slow cooker takes much of the technique out of cooking, but preparing the ingredients and timing the additions properly ensure that ingredients retain their character and work together to form a complete dish. The recipes below show these tips in action and explore the variety of slow cooker possibilities.
Use the breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes and even enjoy the ones for dessert!
Springtime French Toast
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
16 ounces blackberries
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 loaf of bread, sliced
Lemon Glaze (recipe included)
Whisk butter and sugar with four blackberries until the mixture turns purple. Add milk, eggs, cinnamon, cardamom and a dash of vanilla, whisking until eggs are well incorporated. Place bread in a four-quart slow cooker so that slices are perpendicular to the bottom of the pot — think columns, not layers. Add the remaining blackberries, making sure that some get in between the slices of bread. Pour the milk mixture over the bread. Cook on high for two hours. Just before serving, prepare the lemon glaze by mixing all ingredients. Remove slices from the slow cooker and drizzle glaze over the French toast. Garnish with fresh blackberries and a sprinkling of powdered sugar.
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon lemon zest
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Garden Fresh Breakfast Casserole
1 large bag frozen hash browns
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 bell pepper, diced
2 cups raw spinach
1/2 onion, diced
16 ounces regular breakfast sausage, cooked
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon oregano
Using a six-quart slow cooker, cover the bottom of the pot with half of the hash browns. Sprinkle 1 cup cheese over the hash browns. Layer bell pepper, spinach, onions and breakfast sausage on top of the cheese. Sprinkle another cup of cheese on top of the breakfast sausage. Add the remaining hash browns and top with the final cup of cheese. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, milk, salt, pepper and oregano until light yellow and frothy. Pour egg mixture over the other ingredients. Cook on low for 8 hours.
Philly Cheese Steak
1 1/2 pounds steak
2 green bell peppers, sliced
1 onion, sliced
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 cups beef broth
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
6 hoagie rolls
6 to 12 slices provolone cheese
Place the raw steak in the freezer for 30 to 40 minutes. This helps the steak firm up so that it is easy to slice thinly. Slice steak, onion and bell pepper into 1/2 inch strips. Season the steak with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning. Place steak on the bottom of a four-quart slow cooker and layer the vegetables on top. Combine beef broth with Worcestershire sauce and pour over the vegetables and steak. Cook on low for six hours.
When ready to serve, preheat oven to 400 F. Slice hoagie rolls 3/4 of the way through and lay them face up in the oven to toast. Once the bread is toasted, remove from oven and assemble sandwiches. Fill with meat and vegetables, and place a slice or two of provolone on top of the sandwich. Return sandwiches to the 400 F oven until cheese is melted.
Fill a small cup with the liquid left in the bottom of the pot for a dipping sauce.
Sweet and Spicy Vegetarian Grain Bowl
1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 3/4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 orange, zested and juiced
1 cup kale, thinly sliced
Spicy Roasted Chickpeas (recipe included)
Combine quinoa, olive oil, apricots, orange juice, 1 tablespoon of orange zest and kale in a four-quart slow cooker. Pour broth over the quinoa and cook for 5 hours on low. Before serving, toss with Spicy Roasted Chickpeas. Top the dish with the remaining orange zest.
Spicy Roasted Chickpeas
1 (12-ounce) can of chickpeas
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Combine all ingredients to coat chickpeas in spices. Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 400 F for 20 minutes. Stir chickpeas and bake for 10 more minutes.
Classic Brown Sugar Ham
For an especially tender centerpiece for Easter lunch, look to the slow cooker for your ham preparation. This method allows the meat to retain more of its moisture than cooking in the oven and is easy to customize for any season. This is a basic recipe, and a simple variation. Be sure to save any leftovers for the jambalaya slow cooker recipe!
1 (9-pound) bone-in spiral cut ham
2 cups brown sugar, separated
Coat the bottom of a six-quart slow cooker with 1 cup of brown sugar. Place the ham cut side down in the pot. Rub the remaining cup of brown sugar over the entire ham. Cook on low for at least four hours. If the ham does not fit perfectly inside the pot, cover the slow cooker with foil.
Citrus Spiced Ham
1 (9-pound) bone-in spiral cut ham
2 cups brown sugar, separated
1/2 cup apple cider
1 orange, juiced
1 orange, sliced into 5 discs
15 whole cloves
Follow directions for classic brown sugar ham. Combine apple juice and juice from the orange and pour over the ham. Stick three cloves in each slice of orange and arrange the oranges around the ham. Orange slices can also be placed in-between the slices of ham to help with the distribution of flavor. Cook on low for four hours.
The South championed the one pot meal long before it became a trendy way of simple cooking. Meals like gumbo and jambalaya are historic Southern staples, and these classics can easily be made in a slow cooker.
2 pounds chicken breast
6 Andouille sausages, each cut into 6 discs
1 1/2 cup ham, diced
5 stalks celery, diced
1 green pepper, diced
2 shallots, sliced thinly
1 (12-ounce) can diced tomatoes
Creole Seasoning (recipe included)
Place chicken breasts on the bottom of a six-quart slow cooker, layer Andouille sausage and diced ham on top of the chicken. Layer diced celery, green pepper and shallots on top of the meat. Do not stir. Pour can of diced tomato over the vegetables. Sprinkle Creole Seasoning over the ingredients in the pot. Cook on low for eight hours. Remove chicken breast and shred. Return chicken to the pot. Add broth and rice, and stir ingredients. Cook on low for two more hours. Stir shrimp into the jambalaya just before serving. Garnish with green onions.
4 cups chicken broth
3 cups rice
2 cups boiled shrimp
Simple does not have to mean boring. A little extra preparation work turns these simple ingredients into a flavorful and healthy meal.
14 garlic cloves
10 tablespoons butter, separated
3 pounds chicken breast
1/2 cup broth
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 cups yellow squash, sliced
4 cups zucchini, sliced
1 Vidalia onion, sliced
Crush six garlic cloves. Place 3 tablespoons butter and crushed garlic in a saucepan and melt butter over medium heat. When the butter has melted and garlic cloves are slightly browned, remove garlic from the pan and set aside. Increase heat to high and add chicken breasts. Sear on both sides but do not cook through. Remove chicken from the pan and lower heat. Dice the remaining garlic cloves. In the same pan, combine remaining diced garlic, butter, broth, salt, pepper and oregano. Over medium heat, warm the broth mixture until simmering. Continue to simmer for five minutes. Place the seared chicken in a six-quart slow cooker and pour broth mixture over the chicken. Cook on low for five hours. Season squash, zucchini and onion with salt and pepper. Add the vegetables to the slow cooker. Cook for one more hour.
Vanilla Lavender Pear Cake
3 Bosc pears
5 cups water
3 bags lavender tea
2 cups sugar
Vanilla cake batter, prepared. (Either a box recipe or your personal from scratch recipe will work.)
Do not use a plastic liner for this recipe. Spray a circular four-quart slow cooker liberally with cooking spray. Peel pears and cut off the bottom to create a flat base. Heat water, tea, sugar and pears in a pot over medium-high heat. Simmer pears for about 30 minutes or until tender. Remove pears from water and cool to room temperature. Pour cake batter into slow cooker. Place pears standing up in the batter. The tops of the pears should poke out of the top of the batter. Cook on high for three hours. Remove the ceramic insert from the slow cooker and allow the cake to cool for 30 minutes. Carefully remove cake from the pot by running a knife along the edge and lifting it out using a spatula. Dust with powdered sugar and garnish with springs of lavender.
Slow Cooker Candy
(submitted by Bev Tuller)
32 ounces dry roasted peanuts
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 ounces sweet German chocolate
32 ounces white chocolate
Layer peanuts and chocolate in a six-quart slow cooker as listed. Do not stir. Cook on low for 90 minutes. Once the chocolate has softened, stir ingredients together, ensuring that all of the peanuts are coated. Using a spoon, drop clusters onto parchment paper to cool and harden. Before the chocolate has dried, add a dash of sprinkles on top.
Lemon Tilapia with Strawberry Salsa
8 ounces raw tilapia
1 lemon, thinly sliced
Strawberry Salsa (recipe included)
Lay the tilapia fillets on a large piece of foil. Lightly season both sides of the fillet with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Place one layer of lemon slices on top of the fillet. Fold the foil around the fillet, covering and sealing the meat with the seasonings. Place in the bottom of a four-quart slow cooker. Cook on high for 90 minutes.
1 cup of fresh strawberries, diced
1 avocado, diced
1/3 cup of Vidalia onion, diced
1/2 lemon, juiced
Salt, pepper and cumin to taste
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
Just before serving, prepare the salsa by tossing all ingredients together. Serve the fish on top of a fresh leaf of butter lettuce and garnish with the strawberry salsa.
Low Country Boil
Some dishes are better if the ingredients have time to get acquainted with one another and mingle over a hot flame. Leaving the stove top on all day can be dangerous though, so the slow cooker is a great alternative. Make a smaller batch of this carefree summer meal using a six-quart slow cooker.
6 cups chicken broth
Old Bay Seasoning
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 whole stalks of celery, or 1/2 tablespoon celery salt
1 pound red potatoes, quartered
1 lemon, halved
2 Vidalia onions, quartered
1 pound kielbasa sausage, sliced into 2 inch discs
3 ears of corn, cut into 3 pieces
2 pounds raw shrimp in shells
Place chicken broth, seasoning, crushed garlic cloves, celery stalks and potatoes in the slow cooker. Cut lemon in half and squeeze juice into the cooker. Place the juiced lemon into the cooker with the potatoes. Cook on low for 4 hours. Remove celery stalks, crushed garlic and lemon from the pot. Add the onions, sausage and corn. Cook for another 2 hours. Increase heat to high and add shrimp. Cook until the shrimp are pink. Keep an eye on the pot at this point, if the shrimp are overcooked they will become tough. Drain liquid and serve.
Zesty Chicken Soup
3 chicken breasts
6 cups chicken broth
1 jalapeño, seeds removed, diced
1 lime, juiced
1 Vidalia onion, chopped
1 can of diced tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 ears of corn, shucked and corn sliced from the ear
Season the chicken breasts with salt, pepper and cumin. Place in the bottom of a six-quart slow cooker. Pour lime juice over the chicken. Add the jalapeño, Vidalia onion, garlic and tomatoes to the slow cooker. Pour the chicken broth over the chicken. Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 7 hours. Remove the chicken to shred. Place the shredded chicken back in the slow cooker and add the corn. Stir the soup and cook for 30 minutes on low. Serve with cilantro and sliced avocado.
Beer Cheese Dip
Low maintenance slow cooker dips are perfect for the busy host. With minimal effort, guests are impressed with this super easy pub favorite.
16 ounces cheddar cheese
8 ounces mozzarella cheese
8 ounces cream cheese
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 cup beer
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons garlic powder
In a four-quart slow cooker, combine all ingredients. Cook on low for 1 hour. Stir ingredients every 10 minutes. Spoon the dip into a serving bowl and serve warm with pretzels.