Today is my very first post that was by reader request! Reader Monica (okay she's also my friend in real life, as I think all of my readers are!) requested that I write a post on tips, tricks, and favorite recipes for the slow cooker. For those of you that have followed the blog for a long time, you know I've done lots of slow cooker recipes, mostly from Betty Crocker's 300 Calorie Cook Book: 300 Tasty Meals for Eating Healthy Every Day.
-Don't open up your slow cooker to check on the progress - to much heat escapes. Every time you do this, it can add 20 minutes of additional cooking time!
-Things on the bottom cook faster.
-Veggies take longer to cook than meat, therefore, you usually want to layer veggies underneath meat.
-Liquid doesn't boil away in a slow cooker, so don't add extra water/liquids!
-Condensation will form on the lid, so be careful of that when opening the slow cooker! Life the lid straight up to avoid making a mess :-)
-Although it's best to just follow directions, in general, 1 hour on high = 2 hours on low.
-It's totally safe to leave your slow cooker on unattended. So, put everything in your slow cooker before work, turn it on, leave, and come home to a fully cooked dinner. Hooray! My slow cooker is programmable - it has a timer and a "warm" setting, which I find really useful.
-If you are in the market for a slow cooker, definitely get one where the liner/pot can come out and is washable and preferably can go in the dishwasher. Because that thing can be a pain to clean!
-Be careful with seafood. Usually you add it just for the last 30 minutes. Shrimp, for instance, can get rubbery if cooked too long.
Although I have many slow cooker recipes that I love, one of my favorite things to do with my slow cooker is to make a chili or soup out of whatever is lying around the house. A few weeks ago, I added celery, onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, kidney beans, baked beans, broth, and spices to the slow cooker and let it go for 6-8 hours on low. I had a great chunky vegetarian bean chili at the end! Try any combination of veggies and beans with some broth to make a great soup or chili! If you need some recipe inspiration, I'd recommend this if you like garbanzo beans, this if you like all sorts of beans and want a home-style feel, and this if you are looking for a spicy black bean soup type of thing!
For those of you looking for a more concrete recipe, here are a few of my favorites:-Indian Cauliflower Stew: a great vegetarian stew
-Cous-Cous Stuffed Peppers: seriously one of the best things ever.
-Barbeque Baked Beans with Turkey Sausage: an easy family-favorite
-Mediterranean Bulgur and Lentils: a favorite of my Duke friends - but I use quinoa instead of bulgur and crumbled goat cheese instead of feta (to meet the dietary restrictions of my friends - but I'm sure following the recipe would be equally delicious).
-Jambalaya: who doesn't love jambalaya? just don't overcook the shrimp :-)
I hope all of you with slow cookers enjoy some good winter chilis & soups! Also, although I haven't tried them yet in my slow cooker, I know meatballs and mulled wine are fun party foods for slow cookers! Happy cooking!