Slow cooking is one of my favorite ways to cook (my slow cooking story here). It’s healthy, allows me to get on with my day while my food cooks, the meals take next to no time to prepare, and you can use cheap cuts of meat that come out tasting divine.
Slow cooking is as simple as tossing some meat and vegetables into the pot, adding enough stock to cover all your ingredients, seasoning with a few herbs and spices, and then leaving for 4-8 hours. It really is that easy. Then, when the time is up, you can enjoy a healthy and delicious meal.
I’ve got lots of slow cooker recipes to share with you – each one tried, tested, and certified delicious – but in this article, I want to share some tips to make slow cooking even easier.
1. Oil your slow cooker before use – despite the slow, low cooking process, food can still stick to your cooking pot, especially if you leave it on for a little too long and the ingredients dry out a bit. This might not adversely affect the taste, but it does make your slow cooker much harder to clean.
Prevent this problem by wiping or spraying the sides of your slow cooker with a thin coating of oil. I use coconut oil, but butter and olive oil will work just as well. There is no need to use ladles of the stuff; just a very light greasing will do the job.
2. Use a plug-in timer – some slow cookers are programmable so you can set their start and finish time. This makes planning your meals a cinch as you just need to load up the ingredients, punch a few buttons, and leave your cooker to work its magic. Some slow cookers can even be controlled via a smartphone app. But what if you own an older, simpler, analog slow cooker? Does this mean you have to be there to turn your machine on and off? Not necessarily.
You can use a timer plug to control your slow cooker – the sort that has a clock on it, and where you push small buttons in or out to dictate how long the timer runs for. Plug your timer into a kitchen socket and your slow cooker into the timer to convert your analog cooker into a programmable one.
3. Make cleaning easy with boiling water – once you have emptied your slow cooker, you may find that some food residue has stuck to the bottom and sides, even if you used the oil trick outlined before. If you let your cooker cool, this residue can be very hard to remove.
Make life easier by turning your cooker to low or warm, and partially filling it with boiling water. Add some dish detergent too. Pop the lid on and leave it alone while you eat your meal and, on your return, you should find that the food has loosened and you can clean it easily.
4. Cook your food in layers – some foods take longer to cook than others. For example, potatoes and other tough starches take longer to cook than meat, and watery vegetables take the least time of all. If you try and cook all these different things at the same time and temperature, you run the risk of overcooking some ingredients and undercooking others.
Fix this problem by putting your food into the pot in layers. Your cooker is warmer at the bottom than it is at the top. Put potatoes and starchy vegetables at the bottom, then add less starchy vegetables and meat and finally put your watery vegetables such as zucchini and squash at the top.
5. Save time by prepping in advance – if you are going to set your slow cooker working in the morning so you can come home to a cooked dinner, make the process quicker and easier by prepping your ingredients the night before. Chop the vegetables, dice the meat, mix the seasoning, soak any beans or pulses, so you can just toss it all in the pot as you head out the door. That way, even if you end up oversleeping or otherwise find yourself short of time, your dinner will still be perfect.
6. Speed up the cooking process – slow cooking is meant to be slow! But, you can save yourself an hour of cooking time by boiling any liquids and then adding them to an already warm pot. I also make sure my pot is on high while I do my preparation so that it’s all ready to go as soon as I’ve put the ingredients in. If you are using frozen ingredients, pop them in a colander and run them under hot water before adding them to your pot. This will take even more time of the total cooking duration.
7. Make your breakfast the night before – how many times have you gone to bed with the intention of having a warming, filling, healthy breakfast and then woken up late and had to grab a takeout muffin or donut instead, completely running the start of your day.
Don’t let this happen again – cook your breakfast in your slow cooker!
Here’s how to do it: take one cup of oatmeal and two cups of milk or water. Put them in a heat-proof bowl and stir. Sweeten to taste using maple syrup, dried fruit, chopped banana or raw honey. Add some chopped pecans for extra flavor. Next, put some water into your slow cooker so that, when you put the oatmeal bowl into it, the water comes about half way up the side. Place a saucer or plate over your oatmeal to keep any water out. Put the lid on your slow cooker, turn it on to low and leave it until the morning. Simple!
Put these tips into action, and I’m sure you’ll love your slow cooker even more than you do already.
Not got a slow cooker yet? Check out my article How to find the best slow cooker for you and let me guide you through the process of buying one.