Using A Slow Cooker

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Now the weather has turned cooler and I have been featuring slow cooker recipes on the blog, I have had a number of questions about using a slow cooker. So here are some things I think are helpful to know about slow cookers.

Slow cookers don’t always mean less work.

The first thing you should know about slow cookers is that they don’t always mean less work! I was given a slow cooker as a wedding gift. For the first 10 years I think I would have been lucky to use it 10 times. The reason being is I thought to use the slow cooker, I could just chuck everything in and turn it on, then walk away. That of course not the reality of a slow cooker. Most recipes actually require you to brown at least the meat before hand.

Once I worked out the other advantages of using a slow cooker, I am now using it a number of times each month!

The taste

The taste of a meal cooked in a slow cooker is significantly enhanced. The longer cooking times allows for greater diffusion of flavors in many recipes. As a low temperature is used, there is not the loss of moisture that occurs with other methods, meaning the food stays moist. To me this is a significant benefit. If like me you use cheaper meats for stew, casseroles and mince, the long cooking process tenderizes the meat, giving it a much better texture and taste.

The slow cooker spaghetti bolognese recipe I shared a couple of weeks ago, is the perfect example of this. It takes me much longer to cook, than my usual quick fix spag bol, but the flavour and tenderness of the meat is so much nicer.

The convenience

This is the main reason I use the slow cooker. I can get the meal ready earlier in the morning when the younger kids are in a fresher state to entertain themselves while I cook and it will be ready at the end of the day. So when we come in from after school activities, everything is set for serving up dinner. We get to eat earlier and meal time is much more enjoyable.

What to look for in a slow cooker

Slow Cooker Round
My slow cooker is 14 years old and it still works a treat. It is a 4 litre cooker with only a low/high switch. Most new slow cookers have more heat settings than this now. I think the two most important things to look for in a slow cooker are:

  • Size – how many are in your family? If you have 3 or more kids I wouldn’t get anything smaller than a 4 litre.
  • Shape – You can now get oval as well as round slow cookers. If you think you will also cook cakes and puddings that require you to put a tin inside the cooker, then obviously you will need to go for round. If you are more likely to use it more for roasts, then you might want to think about getting an oval shaped slow cooker. I do cook roasts in our round slow cooker, however I always have to attack the meat with a hack saw first, so it will fit in!

My Slow Cooker Recipes

In the April Planning With Kids Newsletter, I compiled the best of the slow cooker recipes from the blog. You can see it here or you can use the slow cooker tag to navigate the blog.

Our Family Menu Plan for this week.

Baking: Didn’t actually get around to baking this last week so will try again – Butter Cake

Monday: Beef Stir Fry

Tuesday: Fried Rice

Wednesday: Left Overs

Thursday: Slow Cooker Satay

Friday: Homemade Pizza

Saturday: Chicken Wings, Corn and Baked Potatoes

Sunday: Slow Cooker Roast Beef

If you are looking for further recipe inspiration, check out my complete list of Family Friendly Recipes. All of these recipes are in the database of the Planning With Kids Free Menu Planner. You can use the menu planner to plan a week of meals for your family and then print out the associated shopping list.

Comments

  1. says

    I love our slow cooker, we have a big one that I purchased when I thought I would be using it to cook meals for the whole family. The reality is that Heidi simply wont eat food that touches and Annie does not like meals with meat in it, so really I could have gotten a smaller sized slow cooker for just husband and myself.

    That said apple butter made in the slow cooker is always popular at our place. I’ve got the recipe on my blog somewhere. I can also make delicious home made chicken stock in the slow cooker that is handy to freeze in 1-2 cup portions for later use.

  2. says

    Love, love, love my slow cooker! I actually have two, having bought one years ago and then I qualified for one at a party-plan party I had :-) So I investigated slow cooker desserts…now I can have dinner and dessert cooking early in the day, all ready for the evening!

    I will definitely be checking out your slow cooker recipes, that satay one sounds delicious!

  3. says

    I love my slowcooker, so much so I have 2! One for the meat dishes and another for the vegie and dessert things we do. Come in handy at Christmas time for my baked potatoes. I just wrapped them in foil and popped in the slow cooker. Saved room in the oven.

    I actually don’t bother with the pre browning or anything. I do the dump and forget every time. I know others that are the same. Not sure if the stuff needs to be brown but we have never bothered . Your spag bol recipe? I just chucked everything in and it turned out beautifully.

    • says

      I am really starting to think I need to get another slow cooker after reading all the comments! Thanks for the tip about the spag bol, I might just try that next time.

  4. says

    My slow cooker died and I didn’t replace it, because I can’t get over the one issue I have with them – after smelling the food all day, I have zero appetite for it at dinner and never enjoyed the meal!

    When do you grocery shop vs meal plan? I plan the day before or day of shopping, and I like to do it before the weekend so that we are stocked with the spesh stuff for the weekend. I notice a lot of monday meal planners on the internet and it makes me curious … we have no self control to leave a packet of biscuits untouched for when we are lounging around on a Sunday LOL

    • says

      We do actually meal plan from Saturday to Friday each week. I plan monthly, do a big shop online monthly, meat shop monthly and my husband does fruit and veg market each Saturday morning. I do it Monday to Sunday on the blog as it an easier framework for readers to follow.

      As for the biscuits, I don’t actually buy any! I do bake weekly though so it does indeed require self control so there is enough supply for lunches. Quite often I will bake twice a week thought to make this happen.

  5. says

    I love your slow cooker for the convenience of preparing the meal earlier in the day. I like having the 4 – 6 o’clock timeslot free to play with my little girl while we wait for Daddy to come home, rather than trying to get tea ready at this time. I’ve really been enjoying you sharing your slow cooker recipes with us all.

  6. says

    I have a slow cooker and love it. I usually use it a couple times a week. It helps so much to have the evening meal cooking ahead of time and cuts down on the evening chaos.

  7. says

    Being inspired by this site I have just purchased a slow cooker and loving it. It has really helped to calm our house down at dinner time, much less stress. Our cooker has a browning feature so you can brown the meat in the cooker before adding the rest of the ingredients – brilliant!

  8. Allison says

    I recently purchased the new Breville with the easy sear and finally I am a slow cooker convert (after throwing my old one in the bin last year, complete with meal still in it!!!). It is a big 7 litres which means I am cooking one meal for now and one or two for the freezer. Much of the time I leave ingredients like beens, snow peas etc out until I reheat so that they are still crisp and fresh when the meal is served. Having meals ready to go for nights where we are late home from sports is fantastic and means we are more inclined to have a healthier meal!
    I am super excited to go home to my lamb shanks tonight and am making Shephards Pie for later in the week with the left overs. I often put my slow cooker on when I get home from work at 5pm and get a step ahead for the next day or later in the week. This is also good for people who might be nervous about leaving the cooker on while they are at work for the day.
    I have used a number of your slow cooker recipes and have a few on the list for the next few weeks too – thanks for sharing!!!

    • says

      A pleasure to share! As my comment above, this searing function on the new slow cookers sound so good. Incentive to say and get another one I think!

  9. says

    Snap! My slow cooker is on today and I feel like a domestic goddess. Well, I will when I come in from swimming and dinner is practically done. Then just to whip up some sweet potato mash in my Thermomix (another great kitchen time saver!). Easy winter dinner.

    • says

      Ooh you have a Thermomix, I have heard great things about this little number. Never seen it in action though, so should get myself off to one of those parties and check it out. Sweet potato mash – love it!

  10. says

    Have just popped a beef strog in my slow cooker. Will be checking out your other recipes next. Hey I just read in youR fabulous book about how your other half cooks a meal on the weekend. Mine has just started to do this as well. Do you have some easy, male friendly (non cooking male that is) recipes that you could share? He’s learnign spaghetti now …. he has zero enthusiasm for cooking – but yay for him giving it a go!!

    • says

      Hi Caz,

      On pg 47 of the book you will see a list of meals my hubby can cook. He can cook the stuff listed for the 10-12 year old and the next section for the “non cook” partner. It is not an extensive list and it has taken a number of years to build it up, but I am always grateful for the night off from cooking!

      Nic

  11. says

    Once I lived in a share house with NO STOVE OR OVEN. For a food lover like me it was torture. A slow cooker (plus electric frypan) was such a lifesaver. I found I could make so much in it I never thought possible!

  12. says

    Thank you so much for this information. I was one of the ones asking all kinds of questions.

    For anyone else interested there is a little write up on slow cookers in this month’s issue of Super Food Ideas magazine. One point they made is that your slow cooker should always be half to two-thirds full to avoid over cooking. So bigger isn’t necessarily better.

  13. says

    I bought my first slow cooker last year and love it. I bought one which you can take the pot out and use on the stove top and find this great for browning things before they go in the slow cooker – if I had to use a separate pan (and then clean it) I don’t think I would use it so much. I have been working my way through you recipes and your satay is now a regular in our house!

  14. says

    I know so many people who SWEAR by slow cookers. I’m so tempted to get one, but my main issue is lack of space. I just don’t know if I can squeeze in another gadget!

    I think I’ll give it some careful thought again though. Maybe clean out my kitchen cupboards!

  15. says

    I love my slowcoooker and always use it on the days I am working as I can prepare it before work and am happy to leave it going all day. I haven’t been very adventurous with my recipes though and tend to do the same things so will definately have a go at some of the other recipes you have suggested.

  16. Rebecca says

    If I don’t have a slow cooker can I still cook your slow cooker recipes? They look so fabulous that I want to give some a try.

    • says

      Most you should be able to. Beef strog, beef satay, beef curry etc, you could do in the oven for 1.5 – 2 hours on about 180 degrees celcius. The soups, you could just cook on the stove top.

  17. says

    what a great post and what great comments – i’m now tempted to get a second crockpot for desserts and investigate some recipes, and i’ll be looking for a replacement with the sear setting :)

    my original UK crockpot is tiny compared to my enormous N American version, but now i can cook a whole rack of ribs with beans, tomatoes, onions etc underneath – we eat the ribs with some of the beans plus mashed potato, then the remaining beans are frozen in batches for soups, pancake stuffing, quick pie fillings and so on. ratatouille also works well, and uses up those ‘questionable’ vegetables left over in the salad drawer which are too floppy to present as a side dish.

    my slow cooker should be on today but i forgot to defrost :(
    and we’re also getting cool weather here (where is our summer???)

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