With the days growing cooler and shorter, nothing is more appealing than coming home to a big, warm, bubbling evening meal. But really, who’s going to have it ready for you? Surprise: You will — thanks to one of the most useful and convenient kitchen appliances of all time: the slow cooker.
The beauty of a slow cooker is that it cooks gradually over low temperature so that nothing gets overdone. With only the slightest amount of forethought, that hearty, warming meal will be waiting to greet you at the end of the day. Honey, you’re home!
Consider these perks:
It’s a money saver. Tougher (and cheaper) meat is better for long, slow cooking than more expensive tender cuts. More fibrous cuts, such as chuck, shoulder, brisket, shank, round, rump and other stew meats are tailor-made for slow cooking. They become tender and have a wonderful, rich flavor.
You can’t go wrong. Unlike nearly every other method of cooking, the slow cooker makes it impossible to burn or overcook your food.
Cleanup is a cinch. Cooking in a slow cooker means you’ve got only one pot to wash when you’re done. And, because your food will never burn, there’s no need to soak the pot in soapy water until morning or tire yourself out scrubbing.
You can prepare practically anything. Not just for soups, stews and chilies, the slow cooker can be used to cook just about any meal, including breakfast. Put oatmeal in the pot before you go to bed, and you’ll have a steaming hot breakfast waiting for you when you rise.
Try these recipes to put your slow cooker to quick use:
Chicken and Shrimp Jambalaya by Beth Hensperger
Jambalaya is one of the classic dishes of New Orleans, but with such a long list of ingredients it can seem like a special occasion dish. Cooking up this Creole favorite in a slow cooker gives you that special occasion feeling without the special occasion effort.
Perfect Hominy-White Bean Chili by Robin Robertson
Chili made with red beans and beef is often considered the standard, but this white chili made with white beans and hominy (dried corn kernels) offers a unique and delicious take.
Chunky Pork Shoulder Ragu by Michelle Scicolone
Long-simmered, meaty pasta sauces are an undeniable favorite, and are equally delicious served over pasta and polenta.
Mushroom and Artichoke Lasagna by Judith Finlayson
Lasagna is a deceptively time-consuming dish, and midway through cooking we often wonder if there might be an easier way to get the cheesy, filling basked pasta we crave without all the work. Now there is.
Easiest Corn Chowder by Liana Krissoff
Creamy soups can often be labor intensive, requiring blenders and strainers and making a real mess. This soup is easy as can be, and only uses one pot.
French Onion Soup by Judith Finlayson
Onion soup with crunchy bread and melty cheese on top is the ideal fall treat, but usually involves hours of caramelizing onions. Cooking the onions in the slow cooker is an inventive and time-saving way of getting those great, rich flavors without all the work.
Bonus: Breakfast overnight
Old-fashioned Oatmeal by Liana Krissoff
Steel-cut oatmeal is a treat in the morning, but standing over the stove for 45 minutes after you’ve just woken up is anything but. The slow cooker makes the most important meal of the day the easiest meal, too.
Creamy Morning Millet With Apples by Judith Finlayson
Take a break from the humdrum of regular morning breakfasts and try something new … er, something really, really old: millet. One of the great ancient grains, millet is packed with protein and nutrients, which makes it a prefect way to start your day.
Breakfast Bread Pudding by Robin Robertson
If you love a hearty breakfast, then we’re talking to you. This bread pudding is made with French bread, apples, sausage (or soy sausage for vegetarians) and loads of spices to wake you up with a seriously solid meal.