I bought a slow cooker about eight years ago. In fact, that’s a lie, my husband bought it, he saw one in Tesco for €19.99 and brought it home. I was neutral about the whole thing. They weren’t nearly as fashionable then as they are these days. For about six years I’d take out the slow cooker once a year, cook something in it that just wouldn’t turn out as nice as it would have had I made it the “normal” way. I’d put the slow cooker back into the dusty part of the press and forget about it til the following winter when I’d read a magazine feature and try it one more time. It nearly got decluttered numerous times.
There were a few issues we had with the slow cooker. The biggest challenge for us was that most recipes were for a maximum of 8 hours, but we were out of the house for at least 10 hours per day, so there was no such thing as leaving the slow cooker on all day and coming in to cooked dinner. People suggested using timer plugs, but it just felt like it was over-complicating matters when I could just batchcook at the weekend and defrost and reheat dinners during the week. Much easier.
Then there was the whole idea of recipes for the slow cooker requiring me to brown the meat or sauté the vegetables first, sure what was the point in that, and using two pots, why not just cook the meal the pot that the frying off was being done it. Much easier.
However, this autumn something clicked. I had been using my slow cooker ALL WRONG. For me, the “leaving it on while I was at work” thing wasn’t going to work out but maybe the using it on a work from home day would. So I fried off my meat on my lunch-break and entrusted the dinner to the slow cooker for the next 4 hours (on high) while I worked. Eureka.
Then came a Saturday morning that we had a day out planned but I had mince that needed to be used that day. I fried off the mince, put it into the slow cooker and we went on our day out, and home to a piping hot chili con carne ready to be served with leftover rice and wraps.
It had won me over.
More work from home days produced slow cooker bolognese, half of which was then frozen for another day. I started to make soup in the slow cooker with whatever vegetables were in the fridge towards the end of the week. My finest hour was my slow cooker mulled wine on Christmas Eve, kept on the “Warm” setting until it was all gone.
So, brimming with enthusiasm I asked some blogger friends to tell me about their tried and trusted slow cooker wins. And now there aren’t enough work from home days left for us to try them all! My enthusiasm is at peak levels.
Before you start some tips- chicken breasts will dry out, chicken on the bone works better. If searing meat dusting it in cornflour helps thicken the sauce. Use less liquid than you normally would “the cooker thing makes sloppier dinners” according to my seven-year-old.
In a constant quest for inspiration I asked some fellow bloggers to share their favourite meals to cook in their slow cookers and they have come up with some beauties.
Bolognese – I used my usual recipe, but with less liquid, in this case I don’t add as much stock or wine. The flavours really blend well together. I leave it on low for about 6 hours
Casserole – It’s Just a Phase has also recently fallen back in love with her slow cooker and shares her Chicken Casserole
Bacon and Cabbage One Pot (!) I know it sounds so odd, but it’s been tried and tested and loved by It’s Just a Phase and Dairy Free Kids and is definitely next on my list of things to make, and to perfect in time for St Patrick’s Day
Sausage and Bean Chili from Kenmare Foodie looks absolutely gorgeous, one to try if you’re trying to impress with a slow cooked meal!
Meat Loaf which is one I hadn’t thought of is recommended by This Irish Family among others in her post on Easy Slow Cooker Meals the Kids will Love.
Pulled Pork – if the Pulled chicken isn’t for you try pulled pork instead- see The Chaos of Three’s recipe here
Curries and Bolognese feature in my favourites and The Two Darlings uses her slow cooker to make curries and bolognese and is a another big fan
Leanmeanmomma can be seen on her instagram getting great use out of her slow cooker and her Super Stew and One Pot Bacon and Cabbage both appear on her blog.
Life on Hushabye Farm made a really interesting looking Asian Pork dish (using Spice Bag Seasoning!) on her instagram stories last week
The Busy Mama’s Braised Blade Steak Casserole sounds like a perfect winter warmer using a cheaper cut of meat.
Other things: Emily from The Nest recommends making bone broth and stews, and even baked potatoes in hers.
What’s the secret to learning to love your Slow Cooker?
- Know it’s limitations
- Know the food won’t necessarily look as pretty
- Use less liquid
- Use it for what works for you
- Make sure to add lots of flavour
- Put root veg at the bottom to avoid carrots that have bite in them
- Fry off onions for the same reason
- Don’t expect it to be exactly the same as if cooked by your usual method
- If all else fails use it for the mulled wine at Christmas!
What’s your favourite slow cooker recipe? Or is this the year you dust it off and finally donate it?
I’m feeling inspired after all of these tips!