Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Top Tips for Using a Slow Cooker

My favorite cooking appliance in the kitchen is by far my slow cooker.  Whether you are a pregnant Mum at home with children, someone who works long hours, or just love to eat casseroles and soups, the slow cooker is for you.  I use mine probably a couple of times a week to cook anything from lamb to beef stew to soups to honey chicken to meatloaf.  It is the most versatile appliance, and there is nothing better than knowing your dinner is simmering away all day ready to dish up at dinnertime.  You can also use cheap cuts of meat that make your meals extremely budget friendly (as well as tastier than expensive cuts of meat!).  Please be aware that I am in no way a professional cook or trained chef... I'm sure some of them would disagree with my thoughts!  But having said that I thought I would share some of the things I have discovered through many years of trial and error with the slow cooker, and what works for me on a day to day basis.

  1. I never brown meat before placing in the slow cooker.  I really don't find it makes much difference to the end dish, and it sort of defeats the purpose of using the slow cooker in the first place.  By the time the meat bubbles away all day it develops a nice rich flavour and texture anyway.
  2. Slow cookers are VERY versatile and forgiving.  Don't be afraid to experiment with recipes or your own creations.  I find I can pretty much chuck in anything in the cupboard to cook and it works out fine.  The best combinations I like are meat + veggies + tomato of some sort (either tinned tomatoes or bottles of tomato based pasta sauces).  Then at the end you can even add sour cream or satay sauce for some different meal ideas.
  3. Always remember slow cookers produce a lot more liquid than other methods of cooking.  What this means is that you don't need to add much sauce or stock to begin with, and in fact your creation usually looks dry to begin with (unless making soup of course).  If your meal is too liquidy at the end, thicken with cornflour mixed in a little water.
  4. Things that need to cook quickly don't usually work very well in the slow cooker.  The best example of this is seafood - I haven't really found any recipes that I like with fish or seafood made in the slow cooker.
  5. The cheaper the cut of meat the better.  For example use chicken thighs, chuck steak, lamb shanks etc.  Expensive low fat cuts of meat can tend to turn out a bit dry and tasteless.
  6. Don't keep lifting the lid to stir the food or check on it.  You usually only need to stir once late in the afternoon.
  7. Always cook way more than you need - I like to have enough for 3 meals out of one slow cooker dish (one that night, one the next night, and one to put in the freezer).
  8. Loan some slow cooker cook books from the library, and photocopy some of the recipes that sound like they would suit you.  Then keep a folder of your favorites to have on hand for when life gets busy (and keep the basic ingredients in your pantry and fridge).
  9. Add any diary products a little while before serving, they only need to be warmed through not cooked.
  10. Then serve in a variety of ways - I find slow cooker meals all work well with either mash potato, rice, or lovely fresh crusty bread.

What are your favorite meals to cook in the slow cooker??

Some other posts you might enjoy:
Oh Baby
10 Things to do in the First Trimester
10 Things to do in the Second Trimester
What products do you really need for your newborn baby?
My top bathtime tips for a new baby
BubbaLog makes those first few weeks easy


Yvette @ Little Bento Blog said...

I love my slow cooker!! My best recipe is the Silverside/Corned Beef!! Its one of my biggest hits on the blog :)

Great tips!!

#TUST :)

Eleise Hale said...

I was just thinking about pulling out my slow cooker today. I have made the mistake in the past of using better cuts of steak and it is not quite the same.

Kell Kelly said...

I love my slow cooker!! I also use it a few times a week and coming into winter I can see it being used more. I love that once it's on you don't have to do anything and the smell that wafts around the house is to die for not to mention the taste after hours of cooking.
*I am a chef and I agree completely with you. Nothing beats a slow cooked meal :)

Janet Camilleri said...

Yes I'm a slow cooker fan too. Like you I agree that browning the meat first does defeat the purpose of it being easy and convenient!

Visiting via #TUST said...

Those are some great tips - thank you! I bought a new slow cooker a while ago as my original one was an engagement present and was too small for my family of five. The new slow cooker is much bigger. I really need to experiment a lot more with it and use it much more than I do. I do love the slow cooker and its so fab to pop it on and have dinner ready of an evening. I'd love to see some of your favourite slow cooker recipes!! Min xo

Annaleis Topham said...

Love my slow cooker! Don't love the blowflies that love to visit when I have it on.

Lydia C. Lee said...

My partner loves the slow cooker - I just love that it makes the house smell nice...perfect in winter!!

Alex Hadfield said...

Lately I've been using a tin of lentils (liquid too) instead of tinned tomatoes in my dishes. It makes the most tasty meals.

I brown my lamb shanks, I think they taste better.

Easy recipe - brown some lamb shanks, then brown onions, some carrot, tin of lentils, big bunch of chopped greens (spinach or endive), add a spoonful of oyster sauce. Yum!

Renee Wilson said...

Thanks for the tips. I just bought a slow cooker and the first meal I cooked hubby said it tasted tough. Maybe because I cooked the meat first?? I'm vego so I find it hard to tell when meat dishes are cooked right. Hopefully with your tips it will be a success next time.

JohBD said...

I love my slow cooker and usually use it over the weekend to make something delicious to have during the week. I love lamb shanks cooked this way, but I also used it to cook a beef ragout last week.

Motivating Mum said...

Great tips Monique! Now I just need to get my slow cooker replaced! Any tips on great brands to buy? x

Motivating Mum said...

Great tips Monique!