Meal Planning Week 11 highlights the use of the slow cooker for almost all your dinner needs. From breakfast to side dishes and, of course, dinner you can make an easy meal without turning on the oven.
For Meal Planning Week 11 we are talking about slow cooking. You can easily cook delicious food in a slow cooker. Yes, from breakfast to dessert slow cookers and pressure cookers are an invaluable countertop appliance.
What is slow cooking?
It seems sort of obvious, isn’t it? It’s a dish that is slow cooked. Be it on the stove, in the oven, in a small appliance, or in an earthen pit, it is something cooked at a lower temperature for a long time. Typically, it’s over 3 hours and could be as long as 8 or 10 hours depending on what’s in the pot.
Slow cooking food has been around for thousands of years. Initially, our ancestors were searing foods on hot rocks in the fire. But the someone decided to dig a huge hole out of the ground. In that hole they placed rocks to maintain the heat of the charcoal and hot ash. They placed leaves on top of the charcoal and the meat on top of the leaves. Then covered the pit up and to allow the meat to roast low and slow in the pit.
We did this once when I want to camp. We roasted a whole pig in a pit. It was fun because we had to stay up all night and keep the area around the pit soaked with water to prevent any kind of fires that might start and brush or forest fire. We ran around the field and played. The camp counselors did the watering. It was the most tender and delicious pork I have ever had.
The vessel is important in slow cooking. It must be something that retains heat and distributes it as evenly as possible. The temperature must be consistent and radiate evenly throughout the pot. If you’re cooking something for hours on end and the bottom is hotter than the top, then the ingredients might burn. Not any good.
History of the slow cooker.
For Meal Planning Week 11 I thought I’d bring some history to this post. You know how much I like to educate myself, and my readers, on the history of recipes and appliances. This goes back to the slow cooking method we talked about earlier. The story goes that a man born in New Jersey to an immigrant family from Lithuania invented it. In Vilna, a neighboring city of Vilnus, Lithuania celebrated the Sabbath with a stew of meat, beans, and veggies.
This stew is prepared and placed in crocks which they took to the local bakery. You see where this is going? They placed the pots in the still warm ovens of the bakery. The cooling ovens would radiate even heat throughout cooking the stew called cholent.
Irving Nachumsohn (aka Naxon) wanted to bring this long-standing traditional way of cooking to the American public. He studied electrical engineering and became the first Jewish engineer at Western Electric. When he wasn’t working, he pursued his passion for inventing and even passed the patent bar exam himself, so he didn’t have to pay patent lawyers.
Before inventing the slow cooker, he also invented an electric frying pan and an early version of the lava lamp. He even created a telesign that laid the groundwork for scrolling news bars everywhere. But the slow cooker was the answer to eliminate the need for turning on the oven during hot summer months.
Invented in the 50’s the slow cooker didn’t skyrocket quickly. Eventually, Naxon sold his business to Rival Manufacturing. They took the idea and put it to the test. Initially called the Beanery, Rival took the idea and introduced the Crock Pot in Chicago in 1971. It flew off the shelves and went from $2M in sales in 1971 to a whopping $93M just four years later. Some of the success is attributed to the culture of the 70’s which consisted of several time saving technologies for the ever-growing working family.
With hearty meals like that Chicken Fricasse, roast pork, or Swiss steak, all you need is a nice salad like this one to round out the meal. Something light and easy to toss together to get some good veggies in before diving into comfort on a plate.
What are some benefits of slow cooking?
Slow cooking can save money. It is good for not so tender cuts of meat (aka cheap cuts). Pork shoulder, chicken thighs, and chuck roast are perfect cuts of meat for the slow cooker. They’re pretty budget friendly cuts of meat. I’ve cooked ribs and made killer pot roast from a chuck roast in a slow cooker. Slow cookers are also energy efficient saving you money on your utility bill.
It is convenient! With a little prep work, like we’ve been talking about in this series, you can prep the ingredients the night or two before, get up in the morning, and toss the ingredients in the slow cooker. Set it to low cook for 8 to 10 hours. Nothing beats walking into a house with the aroma of a slow simmered supper ready for you with little to no kitchen time. There are thousands of freezer meals you can prep beforehand. I’ve made a few, let them thaw in the slow cooker overnight, and started the slow cooker before work. It can’t get any easier than that.
Slow cooking extends the distribution of flavors. Not, everything doesn’t taste the same when you slow cook. Unless you over cook it, then yeah maybe. But the low and slow cooking method releases natural broth and nutrients from the meat (like collagen) which promotes strong bones and can reduce joint pain and inflammation.
Slow cookers are versatile! You can make almost any dish in there. Appetizers to breakfast, soups, entrees, and desserts. You can even cook up some cocktails like mulled wine in there, too! I have made bread and a breakfast pizza in mine.
How do you turn your recipes into a slow cooker recipe?
Timing is everything! Converting recipes to slow cooker is best for anything cooked in the oven 350 and under. Or ones that require sautéing on the stove or cook at a temp higher than 350 are not a good option.
The standard conversion is as follows:
15 to 30 minutes = 4 to 6 hours on low or 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours on high
35 to 45 minutes = 6 to 8 hours on low or 3 to 4 hours on high
50 minutes to 3 hours = 8 to 10 hours on low or 4 to 6 hours on high.
There is little to evaporation in the slow cooker, so it makes sense to use less liquid. The ingredients will make their own liquid as it cooks. So, it would be wise to use less liquid at the start. However, there are a few caveats.
First, if you’re using a larger cut of meat, like a pork shoulder, they will need a little more moisture on the front end to create the steam necessary to break down the larger cuts of meat. If rice or pasta is in the recipe. It will require additional liquid to cook properly. Finally, if the recipe doesn’t call for liquid, at least 1/2 cup of liquid will need to be added before setting the slow cooker. This will help create the initial steam needed to cook the food.
With everything cooking in the same place for a long period of time, keep an eye out on your stronger flavors. I tried coq au vin recently and it wasn’t the greatest. The wine flavor just overpowered everything! So, be diligent on what flavors you put in the slow cooker.
Something strong like cayenne or even chili powder can overpower a dish. For me, it used to be garlic. Anything with garlic was just unappealing to me in the slow cooker. I guess my palate has changed because I can tolerate garlic in the slow cooker now. Hence this slow cooker Tuscan garlic chicken.
Meal Planning Week 11 is not just about everyday meals. You can even use the slow cooker to prep or cook some of your holiday meals! If my breakfast pizza is simmering away, whip up a batch of these baked donuts while it’s cooking. It’s a great way to preheat the oven for the holiday feast that will be in there later.
Do not fill the slow cooker more than half to 3/4 full. Of course, I never fill mine more than half full anyway. And more than that and we’re swimming in whatever dish is in there. Heck, even at half full we’re still swimming in the food and will have plenty of leftovers.
Add the ingredients at the right time.
Treat your prep like you would for a stir-fry. Cut everything in almost the same size so it cooks evenly. And mine the cooking times for your ingredients. If the recipe calls for peppers and potatoes, then the potatoes need to go in first and the peppers much later in the cooking time. Putting them in for the full cooking times makes for mushy peppers. So not appealing.
Dairy curdles. If the converting recipes calls for dairy like milk or sour cream, add it at the last 30 to 60 minutes of cooking time. I usually combine the dairy with a thickener like flour or cornstarch. I started doing that with my Swedish meatballs and stroganoff recipes. It’s a game changer, I think, and perfect for the slow cooker. It can continue to cook, have the dairy, and thicken at all once.
While dinner is cooking, pop this cake into the oven. It takes 15 minutes of prep time. Then you pop it into the oven to cook for 55 minutes. Let it cool while the kids are finishing up their homework after dinner, or while the fam sits down to watch a little TV. Glaze and serve! The perfect way to finish off a slow cooker meal.
Did you know you can make desserts in the slow cooker? I don’t have any slow cooker dessert recipes to share for Meal Planning Week 11. But you could convert one of my bread puddings to a slow cooker recipe. There are countless cakes, crumbles, cobblers, and even fudge you can make in the slow cooker. Let your fingers do some work and hit up Pinterest or Google for some ideas.
This snack cake recipe is easy converted into a slow cooker recipe. Line the bottom of a slow cooker with buttered parchment. Prepare the cake batter per the directions. Pour into the liner of the slow cooker. Line the lid with paper towels (or a clean linen towel) and carefully place on top. This will absorb any extra steam that may escape and could make the cake wet.
Cook on high 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until a toothpick inserted in the center has just a few crumbs on it. I don’t like to have the toothpick completely clean because that might make the cake too dry. A few little crumbs are great because the cake will continue to cook as it cools.
Well, I hope I have given you some inspiration on digging out your slow cooker. It truly is versatile and budget friendly to use this small appliance at least once a week. I know I do. It stays on the counter all the time and I use it every week. Of course, mine is a multi-cooker and pressure cooks, sautés, roasts, air fries, etc.