You’re busy, but you’ve got a hungry family to feed. After investing in a slow cooker, you’ve mastered the idea of “set it and forget it” and your beloved appliance has basically become a member of the family (at least in my household it has).
No matter how many times your slow cooker saves the day, the list of hacks continues to grow—leaving you with even more time throughout the day to get things done.
5 Simple Prep Tips & Shortcuts
Simply tossing ingredients into the slow cooker, setting the timer and walking out the door will get the job done but there are a few tips and tricks to really make your dishes shine.
- Browning does not happen in a slow cooker, browning meats and poultry before adding to slow cooker adds flavor and color to the final dish.
- Sautéing harder vegetables, such as onions, garlic, carrots and celery, before adding to a slow cooker can improve overall flavor and texture. Do this in a separate pan on the stove or directly in a slow cooker at high heat.
- Convert standard recipes to use in your slow cooker by reducing the amount of liquid since slow cookers retain moisture with less evaporation. If there is too much liquid at the end of cooking, remove lid and turn temperature to high to reduce excess liquid.
- Cook grains separately when you want a firmer texture in the finished dish. Toward the end of cooking, add pre-cooked quinoa, rice or pasta.
- Add fresh herbs, nuts and seeds toward the end of cooking for best flavor and texture contrast.
4 Homemade Spice Blends
Slow cooker meals are meant to be convenient. In addition to stocking up on canned beans, grains and broths, keep your own pre-made seasonings on hand by combining your favorite dried spices and herbs. When it’s time to cook, use one of the following four blends with fresh ingredients for winning meals.
1. Mexican Blend: 2 tsp. chili powder + 1 Tbsp. ground cumin + 1 tsp. granulated garlic + 1 tsp. onion powder + 2 tsp. oregano + 1 tsp. paprika + 1 tsp. salt + 1/2 tsp. black pepper
Quick meal tip: combine with 2 lbs. ground meat and 1 cup tomato puree
Quick meal tip: Combine with 1 lb. cubed boneless chicken thighs or add to a rice dish
Quick meal tip: Place 1-2 Tbsp. mixture in paper coffee filter or piece of reusable cheesecloth and tie with string to form a bouquet. Add package to stews and soups. Remove at the end of cooking.
Quick meal tip: Use to make a Mediterranean-style chicken dish with mushrooms and artichokes or with eggplant and summer squash stew
5 Savory Slow Cooker Recipes
For meal inspiration, here are my top five favorite slow cooker recipes for the family:
1. Chicken Tikka Masala
Method: Trim, season and brown chicken. Brown onions and garlic. In slow cooker, combine browned chicken, onions, garlic and tikka masala sauce. Add yogurt toward end of cooking. Garnish with scallions, cilantro and toasted cashews.
2. Mediterranean Lentil Sauce
Method: Soak lentils overnight; drain. Sauté onions, garlic and mushrooms. In slow cooker, combine lentils, sautéed vegetables, chopped olives, dry Italian herb seasoning and tomato purée. Serve over pasta, cauliflower rice, or grilled fish and garnish with chopped parsley.
3. Savory Breakfast Congee
Method: Soak and drain short grain brown rice. In slow cooker, combine rice, bone broth or vegetable broth, chopped fresh ginger, tamari or coconut aminos. Toward end of cooking, add shredded chicken and veggies like sliced snow peas and broccoli. Garnish with minced scallions, toasted sesame seeds and sea vegetable seasoning.
4. Barbecue Shredded Pork
Method: Trim, season and brown boneless pork shoulder. In slow cooker, combine browned pork shoulder, barbecue sauce and a splash apple cider vinegar. Remove cooked pork shoulder and shred or chop, return to slow cooker. Garnish with sliced avocado, tortilla shells or your favorite gluten-free wraps, shredded cheese, shredded lettuce or sauerkraut.
5. Collard Greens & Beans
Method: Destem and cut collard greens. Sauté onion and garlic. In slow cooking, combine onions, garlic, collard greens, bone broth or vegetable broth and minced beef or turkey jerky. Drain and rinse cannellini beans; add toward end of cooking. Serve with Sriracha.