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Simple Slow Cook Basics for the Busy Professional

Black beans, rice, cheese, avocado! Beans prepared in slow cooker.

Black beans, rice, cheese, avocado! Beans prepared in slow cooker.

Debunking the Mystique of Slow Cookers

Fooooood!  I love food! Paired with good company, time, and wine- there is nothing better.  In the busyness of our lives we tend to eat out of convenience secondary to time constraints and often sacrifice quality and taste.  Finding ways to simplify food prep without sacrificing time, quality, or taste is important to me.  I use my slow cooker at least once a week all year round.  I have a variety of bean/lentils dishes that I make.  With the aid of built in timers, I love coming home to ready food! 

Winter is the Perfect Time

It is cold.  Winter is the perfect time to keep the slower cooker on the counter and have run-on slow cooker deliciousness all week long.  I needed to get together some good options for variety.  In walks a coworker with Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications Soups and Stews.  Yes!  It was just the nudge that I needed.  The issue is quite elaborate complete with awesome pictures.  However, complexity can stun me to inaction.  As always, I will break things down into manageable parts.

Slow Cooker Staple One:

Find your slow cooker.  You know you have one!  If you do not-  I have a basic Crock Pot.   Dual setting, timer and a warmer is all I need.   Mine is well worn but still functioning! 

Slow Cooker Staple Two:

Basic dry ingredients to have on hand. 

Bare minimum: Bay leaf, sea salt, and black pepper

More complex flavors:  thyme, sage, basil, or parsley

Spice lover:  Chili powder, ginger, curry, or turmeric

Spicy lover: cayenne pepper or top with hot sauce of choice. 

Thickening agents: flour or corn starch.  Pureed cooked veggies are a suitable alternative but it's not exactly a dry ingredient.   

Slow Cooker Staple Three:

Chop bulk celery, onion, carrots, and garlic and divide into freezer bags. Toss into freezer and use a bag for additional slow cooker recipe as needed

Slow Cooker Staple Four:

Broth.  Easy fix.  Organic Better than Bouillon.  It is available in vegetable, chicken and beef.  Add to filtered water.  Done.  There are also ready cartons of broth and/or stock available.

Broth is easy to make but if you don’t have it on hand it adds a layer of complexity when I would like you to throw contents in the crockpot and walk away.

Making a homemade chicken bone broth is so easy, however.  Chicken bones plus a bag of "staple three", filtered water ,and a bay leaf in a slow cooker on low overnight.  This step is worth it.

Slow Cooker Staple Four:

Choose your meat.   

My house favorites are lamb meatballs, chicken, and shrimp dumplings.  I am going to add gnocchi and chicken sausage to the list of things to try in a slow cooker.

Slow Cooker Staple Five:

Frozen bags of pearls onions, corn, and spinach are winners and great adds for taste and or color.

Slow Cooker Staple Six:

Refrigerator staples. Heavy creams, lemons, and limes.  Lemon and lime juices add a layer of flavor in many types of soups.  

Heavy cream is a great add to any non-citrus soup for a creamy spin.  (Citrus and cream tend to curdle)

Slow Cooker Staple Seven:

Pantry staples

Have a variety of dried beans and split peas or canned beans.  Dried beans need to be prepped and soaked overnight adding a layer of complexity that needs be thought out in advance of throwing things in crock pot, but worth it.  Simply soak beans overnight in filtered water.  Drain and rinse in the morning.

Canned diced tomatoes.  Organic Tomatoes Diced and No salt added.  I have found a decent option at Trader Joe’s.  Canned goods.  Not my favorite options due to high in hidden sodium content.   But by the mere fact that we are talking cans- we are talking preservatives.  If sodium is not used then another preservative is used.  Across the board, I am not a fan of preservatives unless we are talking natural ones like sea salt, lime/lemon juice, or vinegar.  Seems to be more pervasive in the canned food category, although present in most prepared food

Slow Cooker Creativity

Putting it all together.  Get creative. 

Fill your slow cooker midway with broth/filtered water and bouillon, sectioned carrots/celery/onion, protein of choice, and a bay leaf.  Choose your setting and set the timer.

Experiment with flavors and season based on your taste buds except hold the salt for the final finish.  FYI: things like Meatballs, gnocchi, dumplings, and such are late additions in the final cooking moments.  Otherwise, they may fall apart into your broth.  Finish with salt and pepper and ladle into a bowl over rice, noodles, or zucchini noodles.

There are few things that can go wrong and those are usually human error like- not turning on the crockpot, not correctly setting the timer, not adding enough water, or forgetting to add ingredients to the slow cooker.  I have come home to uncooked and dried out food in the slow cooker.  It is the pits.  Double check that the timer is set and there enough fluids before leaving the house.  If you are unfamiliar with the timing and such, experiment on a day when you are around the house and get the gist of things.

It is super easy to get a warm, satisfying, and wonderfully nutritious meal that is ready to eat after a long day.