In late October, my microwave broke. I use my microwave heavily, for everything from thawing meat that I forgot to pull out of the freezer, to cooking rice or oatmeal or steamed veggies, to reheating leftovers. My kids play multiple sports, my husband and I joined an adult soccer league, and we’re busy with work and family, so FAST is imperative when it comes to meals in our house.
That’s why, when my microwave broke, I turned to my slow cooker. I know, I know, it says SLOW right in the name of the appliance. But it has been a lifesaver. (Side note: a replacement microwave was tricky, because we needed a model with a ventilation fan and it had to fit specific dimensions. Between the holidays and other variables, it took a long time to find one. It’s coming today. Four months later. Anyway.)
A slow cooker won’t thaw the meat I forgot to pull out, but I can actually skip that step and put frozen meat or veggies directly into the slow cooker. (If you can’t get the plastic off, soak the entire package in warm water for ten minutes. That’s usually enough to loosen it up enough to peel off.)
A slow cooker won’t cook my rice or oatmeal in less than ten minutes. But I can add the rice uncooked, with the appropriate amount of water, along with the other ingredients and cook it all at once. (This won’t work if you have kids that don’t like their food “touching.”) A slow cooker with a timer is a great way to wake up to steel cut oats, my husband’s favorite breakfast. They take 30 minutes on the stove top, but since my crockpot has a timer, he can dump the water and oats in the night before, set the timer, and wake up to a healthy and hot breakfast. (This won’t work if you make your oats with milk. My advice is to make them with water and add milk right before you eat them.)
Some slow cookers come with side dish inserts, or have a divided pot, so you can steam your veggies while your main dish cooks. Or you can make a vegetarian meal on one side and a meal with meat on the other.
I also use my slow cooker to make chicken stock, applesauce and tomato sauce. Just dump in the ingredients, put on the lid and press go.
Slow cookers can help stretch your food budget too. Cheaper cuts of meat tend to be tougher, but are a wonderful option for slow cookers. The extended cooking time really tenderizes all cuts of meat.
Try this recipe for one of my favorite slow cooker recipes!
SLOW COOKER PEPPER STEAK
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 10-12 hours
Yield: 6 servings
2 pounds stew meat or any cut of meat you prefer, in slices or cubes
One large green pepper, seeded and sliced
2 cans sliced water chestnuts, drained
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 32-ounce bottle tomato juice (the reduced sodium version is fine)
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
Place the meat in the bottom of the crockpot and sprinkle with the flour. Pour the hoisin sauce
over the meat and mix. The flour and sauce should make a paste.
Add the water chestnuts, green pepper, mushrooms and onion to the pot and pour the tomato
juice over top. Stir to combine. Cover and cook on low for at least 8 hours. Serve over rice.
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