Slow Cookers to the Rescue

We admit it. We’ve been slow to warm up to the notion of slow cookers.

In our younger days, we considered slow cookers to be cheating. Back then, you would just dump ingredients into a clunky Crock-Pot, turn it on, and walk away. (We also, admittedly, weren’t too keen on devoting kitchen counter space to an unsightly machine that seemed good for not much but stew—and lots of it.) In time, though, life got busy, and we got wise. Long, slow weeknight braises dined on over late-night TV turned into the stuff of rush-hour-traffic daydreams. Leisurely trips through the aisles of the grocery store for inspiration were replaced by frantic hustles to grab just what we need for our standby 30-minute recipes. So somewhere between cello practice and the dentist’s office, we begrudgingly decided it was time for a little help, though we weren’t willing to sacrifice our self-dignity—or our supper.

Enter—rather, re-enter—the slow cooker, which in the meantime had become smarter, savvier, a heck of a lot sleeker, and capable of searing and simmering as well as just making stew. Seems we’ve both grown up. And we intend to make up for lost time—ours and yours. In our newly found spare moments, we’ve been tweaking our most tried-and-true recipes—think crisp-at-the-edges carnitas, sure-to-impress coq au vin and, yes, husband-pleasing cider baked beans—in an attempt to perfect them for the slow cooker. And we think you’re gonna like what we’ve found.

No need to worry, there’s plenty of actual cooking left, so you won’t lose your touch—or your bragging rights. Because each slow cooker looks distinctly different from the next, and behaves in similar random fashion, from the behemoth you inherited from your mother-in-law to that sleek stainless steel number that practically programs itself, we’ve left you a little latitude, a little room to exert an executive chef’s dictatorial authority, when making these recipes. You reserve the right to determine whether or not to first sear the meat on the stovetop, to cut back a little on the liquid or reduce it later, and so on. Or you can simply dispense with indecision and follow our straightforward instructions, which worked flawlessly for us.

Do we still consider slow cooker cooking cheating? Not exactly. We instead consider it to be an occasional exercise in excellent time management. The happy consequence? On those nights when you barely have time to breathe, you can still have a homemade dinner on the table in far less time than it takes to toss together even our quickest stovetop suppers. If you think a harried Tuesday night isn’t necessarily the best time to attempt a brisket to brag about, think again.

Is it taking the easy way out? Yup. But it’s hardly cheating. See for yourself.

Quick Glance Slow Cooker Recipe List

Carnitas | Mexican Braised and Fried Pork
Slow Cooker Chicken Stock
Braised Chicken with Tomatillos
Slow Cooker Barbacoa Tacos
Appalachian Cider Baked Beans
Bacon Jam
Star Anise and Ginger Braised Chicken
Coq au Vin
Smoked Paprika and Chickpea Soup
Pappardelle with Amazing Slow-Cooked Meat
Coca Cola Brisket
Smoky Chipotle Vegetarian Chili

Comments

  1. I have nothing but good to say about slow cookers. Slow cooking, whether in a “Crock pot,” a low oven, or an ancient pot buried in coals, is a long-standing and well-regarded method for creating wonderful flavors. Not to mention the convenience. I’d much rather be able to leave home for errands than to tend a slow-cooking pot for hours on end. Thanks for bringing a positive light to these very useful appliances.

  2. What a great post about the pleasures of a slow cooker. I still recall my first one, an orange- and brown-striped round beauty that I used in the swinging ’80s. I love my slow cooker even more now. I prep most of the ingredients the night before and sauté the last bits in the morning before I toss it all together, click the switch, and go. When I arrive home in the late afternoon, it’s as if someone has been cooking all day! When I discovered Laura Frankel’s cookbook on Jewish slow cooking, I resolved to think and cook out of the box in categories like appetizers and breakfast. For kosher keepers, a cookbook on the subject that’s essential and that I highly recommend is the one by the executive chef at Wolfgang Puck’s KOSHER resto at the Spertus Museum in Chicago.

    1. Liz, terrifically helpful information, many, many thanks for sharing. Tell us, if you could make just one thing in your slow cooker for the rest of your life, what would it be?

      1. As much as I love exploring and writing about new twists on kosher friendly foods, I would resort to my roots and slow cook a garlicky brisket with rosemary and plenty of red wine!

  3. I’m glad to see some great slow cooker recipes. I use my Crock Pot at least once a week and make a variety of entrees (it is a great sanity saver, as Lindsay points out, when you can’t be everywhere at once). I can’t remember the last time I made a soup or stew in mine, since I always seem to have something else cooking, to the point that you made about soups have moved to the stove top! Looking forward to trying some of the new ideas.

      1. Hi Renee, one of the more unusual cold-weather items I like to make is a ham (I always use leftovers) and potato dish with a cheddar and white sauce with dijon mustard that cooks into the ingredients that is crazy good. When the green chilis are ripe in the fall, I always fix a green chili pork roast that falls apart and is perfect on warm tortillas. Then there is the Greek chicken pieces cooked with garlic, oregano, and potatoes that I serve with feta and fresh radishes and parsley. And of course we have to have our roasted beast with root vegetables :-) I could go on and on (as you can tell), but will spare you for now. Thanks for asking and I look forward to some more intriging receipes to come from here.

  4. I’m still using an avocado Crock Pot that was given to me at my wedding in 1974 & hate to use it because the crock can’t be removed so it’s a pain to wash. I’ve also got a tiny Crock Pot for dips, and recently bought an oval 5-quart slow cooker which is still in the box. I’ve been looking for a recipe to christen it. You’ve given me some options.

    1. Ah, avocado green from the ’70s. We know that color well, Martha. Lovely to hear we were able to be of use. Look forward hearing which recipes become regulars in your rotation.

  5. I love my slow cookers! Yes, that was plural. One I use every time I make spiced cider and it keeps it nice and warm without boiling or burning it. The other is an oval shape and I love it for stews, soups, etc. I often brown the meat first–but there is nothing like walking into a home that smells wonderful and dinner already cooking!

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