Slow Cooker Secrets
Illustration by Daniel Vasconcellos, vasky.com.
This easy-to-use appliance will save you time & money
Using a slow cooker holds fond memories for me. I’ve been cooking with one for years. When my kids were little, we even had a couple of slow cooker traditions. One required whoever got the bay leaf so common in slow cooker recipes to sing a song.
Besides memories of my kids’ younger years and the fact that it does a good job cooking food, I love the slow cooker for its ability to save time, money and my sanity. Here’s how the slow cooker comes to the rescue.
Gets you through the witching hour
It’s that time of day when you’re trying to fix dinner but everything is working against you. Everyone is hungry and cranky. The baby cries, the phone rings, the dog barks, the kids fight, something spills or breaks, and you want to pull your hair out. You can avoid all that. Really. Do the food preparation in the morning or even the night before. Set it to cook in the slow cooker early in the day, and when the witching hour hits, you will be prepared with a hot meal all ready to go. If the afternoon is a better time for you to cook, that can work, too. Using the high setting means most recipes are done in four hours. Start your meal at 2 p.m. and have it done at 6 p.m.
Combines parts of a meal
Slow cookers are good at cooking everything together, such as meat, potatoes and vegetables, but even if you only combine two, you save time. Cook meat and potatoes in the slow cooker and all you have to do is cook a veggie at dinner time or pull out the bagged salad. You could also cook the meat and vegetables and only have a pot of rice or quinoa to cook at dinner time.
Cooks the meat fast
Meat usually takes the longest time to cook. Even if you don’t have time to prepare multiple parts of a meal, you can at least throw in some water and meat and let it cook. Dress it up a little before serving. Or, if you have an extra minute, instead of adding water, dump in gluten-free BBQ sauce, marinade or salad dressing before turning on the pot.
Keeps you out of the drive-thru
When you know after-school activities will have you running around with no time to cook, plan ahead and put dinner in the slow cooker. It’s healthier than the drive thru and cheaper than eating at a restaurant.
Saves money on cooked chicken
Gluten-free rotisserie chicken can be an easy fast meal. But with a little planning, you can purchase a whole chicken and cook it in the slow cooker for less money. You can also buy a chicken that is larger than store-bought rotisserie chickens and have leftovers for the next night’s soup or salad.
Saves money on meat
Meat that might normally be tough turns out tender in the slow cooker. This allows you to buy less-expensive cuts.
Saves time cleaning up
Combining parts of a meal in one pot means fewer dirty dishes. For easier clean up, grease the crock or spray it with non-stick gluten-free cooking spray before adding food. If food does stick, let the crock soak. Adding a little cream of tartar to the water will help to loosen the food.
Cooks large quantities for freezing
I recommend a 6-quart slow cooker even if you don’t have a large family. It gives you room to cook a whole chicken or large roast. When making other recipes, like stew or chili, freeze the leftovers for an easy meal to be eaten another night or for lunches. Freezer cooking is a great way to save time. You can also buy and do the prep work for two meals but freeze the ingredients for one before cooking. Then it’s ready to go into the slow cooker whenever you need it.
Uses less energy
A slow cooker uses less energy than traditional methods of cooking, saving you money. In the summer, when you don’t want to turn on the oven and heat up your house, put dinner in the slow cooker and set it in the garage or on a covered porch to cook. Despite what you might think, the slow cooker is not just for winter meals. It’s also great for making BBQ sandwich meat or sloppy Joes.
Many slow cooker meals are naturally gluten free or only require the substitution of rice flour and gluten-free versions of ingredients such as soy sauce. You can find a large variety of recipes to suit your tastes online or in cookbooks. If your slow cooker hasn’t seen the light in a few years, try pulling it out and giving it a second chance. I bet you’ll find that it can deliver a delicious meal while saving you time and money.
Linda Etherton has been gluten free since 2000 when she was diagnosed with celiac disease. She shares gluten-free recipes, menu plans and tips at GlutenFreeHomemaker.com.