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 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.
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
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
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.