Slow Cooker Secrets

Illustration by Daniel Vasconcellos,

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

Gifts from the Kitchen to Save Your Sanity and Your Wallet

Illustration by Daniel Vasconcellos,


Holiday gifts from your kitchen can save you from mall madness. With a single trip to the supermarket, a stop or two in the craft store, and perhaps some online ordering, you’ll be able to create delicious, personal presents that won’t sit unopened in the closet. And your wallet will be a little fatter, too.

These homemade pantry-inspired gifts are gluten free, but they look and taste good enough for anyone. Presentation is important, too. Look for packaging options at craft and dollar stores and online.*

Sweet and Salty Snack Mix

This snack mix satisfies all your cravings. Kids and adults love it.

Make: Combine 5 quarts plain popped popcorn, 15 ounces EnviroKidz Gorilla Munch and 15 ounces corn chips. Melt two bags (12 ounces each) of white candy morsels and drizzle over the mix, tossing to coat. Spread out on baking sheets and cool.

Wrap: Pack the snack mix in sealed or tied plastic bags or containers to keep it fresh, then put the bag inside a large tin. To make a complete movie night gift, add a popcorn bowl, a DVD or a Red Box gift card (you can order these at and print them yourself).

 Candied Nuts

Sugar and cinnamon is a tried and true flavor combination, but you can also find recipes that use herbs and hot spices at sites such as

Make: Whisk together 1 egg white with 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add 3 cups almonds or pecans and stir to coat. Mix together ¼ cup sugar, ¼ cup brown sugar, ½ teaspoon salt and

1½ teaspoons cinnamon. Add to the nuts and stir. Spread in a greased jelly roll pan and bake at 250° F for 75 minutes. Stir every half hour. Nuts will be dry when done. Cool in the pan.

Wrap: Cellophane party bags work well for individual-sized gifts. Package a larger amount in a closed plastic bag inside a tin, box or gift bag. Varying amounts can go directly into canning jars with lids. Add a small serving dish to round out the gift.

 Dipped Peppermint Sticks

Old-fashioned red and white peppermint sticks are especially festive when dipped in chocolate and rolled in sprinkles or nuts. Since big gluten-free pretzel rods are tough to find or make, peppermint sticks are a good substitute. You can also make this recipe using Glutino pretzel sticks, but the small sticks take a little more time.

Make: Melt white candy wafers according to package instructions. Dip about half a peppermint stick in the coating and then spoon white or colored nonpareils or nuts over the coated end. Lay on a wax paper-lined baking sheet and let cool.

Wrap: Place in a cellophane party bag, fold over the top of the bag and staple a rectangular piece of red card stock over it. Or place inside a wide-mouth jar with a lid and add red and white ribbon. You can also wrap the peppermint sticks individually for a particularly special presentation. Use the plastic sleeves made for pretzels and sold in craft and confectionary stores and tie the end with ribbon, twine or baker’s string.

 Seasoning Mixes

Onion Garlic Pepper, a simple seasoning mix that can be used on just about anything, makes a great savory gift. You’ll also find numerous recipes for homemade taco, chili and stew mixes with a simple Internet search. You can also make seasoned salt, meat rubs or mulling spices.

Make: Combine 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 tablespoon ground pepper and 1½ tablespoons garlic powder.

Wrap: You can buy spice shaker jars at a reasonable price from Then print and apply labels with the ingredients and suggested uses. Dress the jars up with a ribbon or baker’s string and a tiny bell. If you’re giving a larger quantity, 4- or 8-ounce canning jars are perfect.

 Almond and Cherry Clusters

Festive and tasty, these treats are very easy to make.

Make: Mix 2 cups whole almonds (preferably toasted in the oven) and 1 cup dried cherries. Melt 12 ounces of chocolate chips and pour over the nut mix. Stir to coat. Drop spoonfuls onto a wax paper-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with a little sea salt and unsweetened shredded coconut. Chill and then transfer to a container.

Wrap: Put the clusters in cupcake liners and package them in a small bakery box. Punch four holes on both sides of each corner of the box and lace a ribbon through the ends, finishing with a bow. For nut lovers, pair with candied nuts; for chocolate lovers, pair with truffles.


*Check labels on all ingredients to make sure they are gluten free.


Linda Etherton has been gluten free since she was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2000. She shares gluten-free recipes, menu plans and tips at