Week days are super busy, especially when the kids are in school. When we’re short on time the first thing that we seem to sacrifice is a quality family dinner, but this doesn’t need to be the case! By using a slow cooker you can save time in the kitchen and have dinner ready when you walk through the door.
So what do you need to get started?
First, you’ll want to decide what size of slow cooker you need, the most common size is 6.0 Quarts which is perfect for feeding the average size family, however larger and smaller slow cookers are available to suit your needs. If your work hours can vary and sometimes get you home later than expected, it may be worth investing in a digital slow cooker that will automatically shift to a warm setting once the food has finished cooking. Portability is also something to consider, do you attend a lot of potlucks and want to bring meals in the slow cooker? If so, be sure to look for a slow cooker with a carrying case to make travel easier.
Sometimes clean up from a meal can be even more daunting than making the meal in the first place. Not to worry, clean up from a slow cooker meal is simple! The stoneware is often removable and contains a non-stick coating to make cleaning a breeze. If you’re looking for an even simpler clean up, try using a slow cooker liner – this allows you to simply remove the liner and toss it when you are finished!
Not sure if slow cooking is for you? Here are some tips from Kitchen Expert Anna Olson that will have your family thinking you’ve become a gourmet chef!
1. Slow cooking is about more than just convenience! A slow cooker uses classic cooking techniques, braising and stewing, to tenderize tougher cuts of meat and really let flavours develop.
2. Spices grow in flavour the longer they cook (such as chili powder, cumin, paprika), where fresh herbs diminish (basil, dill, etc.). It’s best to opt for stemmy herbs like rosemary and thyme, which don’t lose their flavour, dried herbs are also a great option.
3. . While some recipes may be designed to use a frozen meat which thaws and cooks slowly throughout the day, only do this if the recipe specifies. Food safety is a factor, you want to make sure your food is thoroughly cooked and not sitting at an unsafe temperature for too long.
4. If adapting a stovetop recipe to a slow cooker, you’ll want to reduce your liquids by roughly 30%. This is because the lid and gentle heat reduces that natural evaporation process that occurs.
5. A slow cooker is a great way to cook lean! You can use lean cuts and trim away excess fat. No oil is needed at the bottom of the slow cooker basin, and if there is any fat after cooking, it floats to the top so it can be easily skimmed off.
Are you ready to put some sanity back into your weekday dinner routine? Below you’ll find 3 of our favourite slow cooker recipes from Kitchen Expert Anna Olson – be sure to try them out.
Be sure to tell us about your favourite recipes in the comment section below!
Slow Cooker Beef Ragout with Rigatoni
This slow cooker recipe makes a generous batch of beef ragout that is perfect to serve as a hearty pasta sauce, or as a stew over cooked potatoes.
Makes about 3 L (12 cups) of ragout
1-1/2 lbs (675 g) diced stewing beef
2 cups (500 mL) diced onion
1 cup (250 mL) coarsely grated carrots
1 cup (250 mL) diced celery
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 cup (250 mL) red wine
28 oz (796 mL) tin crushed tomatoes
Salt & pepper
Cooked rigatoni, for serving
Parmesan cheese, for serving
1. Place all of the ingredients into a slow cooker and stir well.
2. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to set the slow cooker so that it reaches and holds a simmer for 6 to 8 hours, until the beef is fork-tender.
3. Season to taste and serve over cooked rigatoni, topped with grated Parmesan cheese.
2 cups (500 mL) dried navy beans
1 lb (450 g) ground pork
28 oz tin ( 796 mL) diced tomatoes
2 medium onions, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tbsp (30 mL) chili powder
1 tbsp (15 mL) ground cumin
1 tbsp (15 mL) ground coriander
1/4 cup (60 mL) molasses
2 serrano or jalapeno peppers (whole)
2-1/2 cups (625 mL) chicken stock or water
Salt and pepper
Juice of 1 lime
1. Soak the navy beans overnight, refrigerated.
2. Rinse the beans and break up the ground pork. Add all the ingredients except salt, pepper, and lime juice to the slow cooker. Set the slow cooker for a minimum of 5 hours, up to 8 hours, following the manufacturer’s instructions to retain a gentle simmer.
3. When ready to serve, season to taste and stir in the lime juice.
Slow Cooker Moroccan Chicken Stew
This incredibly fragrant stew can also be prepared on the stove in a soup pot. Simply add an additional 11/2 cups (375 mL) of chicken stock to the recipe and simmer over medium-low heat for 11/2 to 2 hours.
Serves 4 to 6
Moroccan Spice Blend Ingredients:
2 tsp (10 mL) ground cumin
2 tsp (10 mL) ground coriander
1 tsp (5 mL) ground ginger
1 tsp (5 mL) sweet paprika
3/4 tsp (4 mL) ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp (4 mL) ground black pepper
1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground allspice
1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground cloves
Chicken Stew Ingredients:
28 oz (796 mL) 1 can diced tomatoes
1-1/2 cups (375 mL) chicken stock
1 small onion, peeled and diced into 1-inch pieces
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced into 1-inch pieces
1 medium parsnip, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 lemon, cut into quarters
1/2 cup (125 mL) raisins
2 tbsp (30 mL) honey
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil
2 lb (900 g) 1 chicken, cut into pieces (leave bones in)
19 oz (540 mL) 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cups (500 mL) fresh or frozen cauliflower florets
1. For the spice blend, stir all of the spices together and set aside, or store in an airtight container until ready to use.
2. Add the diced tomatoes, chicken stock, onion, carrots, parsnip, lemon, raisins, honey and bay leaves to the slow cooker and stir. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add olive oil. Toss the cut up chicken with the Moroccan Spice Blend to coat. Sear the chicken pieces until nicely browned and then add them to the slow cooker. Spoon a little of the vegetable mixture over top of the chicken then cook, covered, for 21/2 to 3 hours on the high setting or 5 to 6 hours on the low setting. Check that the internal temperature of the chicken (at the centre of the largest piece) reaches 180°F (82°C). Approximately 30 minutes before the dish is done, add chickpeas and cauliflower. Remove lemon wedges and bay leaves, then season to taste and serve. If you wish to thicken the sauce, whisk in 11/2 tbsp (22 mL) cornstarch mixed with 2 tbsp (30 mL) cold water and stir until a simmer is returned.
3. Plating suggestion: Serve this stew in a bowl over cooked couscous and sprinkle with toasted, sliced almonds.