Hankering for a tasty, nutritious meal but simply don’t have the time to cook? The versatile slow cooker may just become your new favorite appliance in the kitchen.
There is no shortage of ways we cook our food. We roast, bake, grill, stir-fry, steam, and broil, just to mention a few. But what if we crave a healthy, home-cooked meal but are too short on time to prepare it after a long and exhausting day? Enter the slow cooker. This humble yet mighty apparatus will cook your food at either a low 190°F or a high 250°F over a 4 to 8-hour period, resulting in flavorful and nutritious one pot meals you can throw together ahead of time with minimal fuss. Slow cookers are best known for feeding families at dinnertime, but they can be used to prepare casseroles, soups, baked desserts, and dips as well.
Slow cooking is the essence of easy cooking
Ask any slow cooking enthusiast and they will tell you that the biggest draw of their trusty appliance is the convenience it provides. Healthy eating at home takes planning and effort, and finding the time to cook wholesome meals, particularly during the busy work week, is a common struggle. Slow cookers have programmable capabilities that allow you to simply prep a few fresh ingredients in the morning or the night before, throw them into the cooker, push a button, and have your meal cook itself. A slow cooked meal provides you and your family a delicious, nourishing dinner waiting for you to enjoy when you arrive home.
Nutrients are preserved during slow cooking
Applying heat to food in any manner has the potential to break down its nutrients, but slow cooking largely retains nutrients because foods are cooked at a lower temperature for a longer period of time. This actually preserves nutrients that may otherwise be lost when food is cooked quickly at high heat. Also, a slow cooker is a sealed system allowing just a minimal amount of evaporation to occur. This helps retain nutrients as well. Slow cooking your meals at home also leaves you in control of what goes into your food, making it easier to steer clear of harmful sodium, fat, and calories.
Slow-cooked meat tastes better
The slow cooker’s moist-retaining cooking technique results in more flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth tender meats. Even the toughest cuts of meat are softened after a low and slow cook, making them easier to eat and digest. What explains the superior taste of slow cooked meat? The answer lies with collagen, the stiff connective tissue protein found in meat that contributes to its texture and tenderness. When heated, collagen starts to break down and become gelatin, and the longer it cooks, the more tissue breaks down and the more tender the meat becomes. Slow cooking also provides food with an infusion of flavor due to the different herbs and seasonings mingling together for a longer period of time, lessening your need to add sauces and flavorings to your meal.
Tips for using a slow cooker
Size: If cooking for one or two, opt for the 2.5 to 3.5-qt. If cooking for a family of three to five, go for a 5 to 6-qt cooker. More than five people to feed? The 7 to 8-qt will work well. Slow cookers should be filled at least half full to two-thirds full while cooking for best results, so keep that in mind while shopping.
Liquids: Use about half the amount of liquid you would normally use in your recipe when slow cooking. One cup of liquid is generally adequate unless you are cooking pasta or rice. Heating liquids before adding them to the pot can help shave off around half an hour of cook time.
Vegetables: Most vegetables, especially hardy root vegetables like carrots, turnips, and potatoes, cook more slowly than meat and poultry in the slow cooker. Vegetables should be cut no larger than 1 inch thick and placed at the bottom of the pot for more even cooking. Quick-cooking vegetables like greens can be added in the last 20 to 30 minutes.
Meats: Searing meat before adding to the pot will add depth of flavor and drain extra fat before cooking. Leave the skin on chicken while cooking to keep from drying out. Chicken tends to cook faster than red meats. The best meats for slow cooking are stew meat, rump cuts, and shoulder cuts, as these all become tender and flavorful due to the breakdown of connective tissue during cooking.
Herbs and spices: Add ground, dried herbs and spices while assembling the ingredients in the pot before cooking, but reserve fresh herbs for the end of cooking to maintain flavor and color.
Southwest Shredded Chicken
This flavorful shredded chicken with corn, black beans, and tomatoes pairs perfectly with rice or tortillas and all your favorite taco fixings for an effortless weeknight meal.
24 oz chicken breast
14.4 oz can diced tomatoes with green chilies
15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
8 oz fresh or frozen corn
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
14.4 oz chicken broth
3 scallions, sliced
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp cumin
cayenne pepper, to taste
salt to taste
- Season chicken breast with salt and set aside.
- Mix together all other ingredients in the slow cooker and lay chicken breast on top.
- Cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 4 to 6 hours.
- Half an hour before serving, remove chicken and shred using a fork. Return shredded chicken to slow cooker and stir in. Taste and adjust for any additional seasonings needed.
Butternut Squash and Chickpea Coconut Curry
Nothing warms your belly like a steaming bowl of curry, especially when it features fiber-packed ingredients like butternut squash and chickpeas. Serve it with brown rice and a simple green salad for a filling, nutritious dinner.
2 1/2 cups diced butternut squash
1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
13.5 ounce can lite coconut milk
1 bunch of fresh spinach, rinsed and roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
1-2 large tomatoes, diced
3 cups vegetable broth or water
3 tablespoons yellow curry powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
handful of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1. Add all of the ingredients except for peas and spinach to the slow cooker.
2. Cook on high for 6 hours.
3. About 20-30 minutes before serving, stir in the peas and spinach.
4. If the sauce is too thin or watery, mix cornstarch and hot water and pour a tablespoon or two into the crock pot and simmer to thicken it up.