Even I, as a totally abnormal student (we had a house party last Friday, and I played drinking games with a cup of tea…I will add I am taking part in Sober October!), will admit this is an odd post for what is essentially a student lifestyle blog. However I cannot post most of my favourite recipes without proclaiming love for the kitchen gadget that helps me create them, so for the time being we are going to indulge my middle-aged infatuation and talk slow cookers. Or crockpots for those who use that term.
I have no idea where my love for the slow cooker came from. My mum has certainly never used one. My maternal grandmother did…and thats exactly why my mum doesn’t. She is THAT bad a cook that she managed to both dry out the meat and make a watery sauce in a slow cooker. I still shudder with the memories. But for some reason I decided, whilst preparing for university all those months ago, that it would be an essential piece of kit. I was right, and I am SO glad I got one. So glad, in fact, that I now have two…
Slow Cooker Beef Stew (with mashed potatoes and two types of cabbage)
So, why do I love a slow cooker so much. I’ve decided to write you a list! And here it is:
- Convenience – it means I can fit meal preparation in whenever I’m free, and not have to worry about making a full meal when I get in just before 7.
- Health/Diet – its a lot easier to hide vegetables when they are soft from slow cooking, so I always get a few extra portions in.
- Cost – they make the most of cheap ingredients (including cheaper, tougher cuts of meat, as the slow cooking process renders down the fats and makes them soft) and are also low on electricity usage. Its much better to cook a slow for 8 hours in a slow cooker than in the over!
- Smell – you will walk in to the most delicious smell of cooking food.
- Cooking dried beans & pulses – I’m becoming a huge eater of these, but having to boil and simmer for a long period of time puts me right off. The slow cooker takes this annoyance away, and makes them a lot more convenient. I will say that I would never cook kidney beans in this way, as they can be toxic without a proper boiling (I always rely on the canned varieties of these!).
- Cooking with my Tomato-Free Substitutes. I buy these occasionally, but they are thick and dry out easily, so rather than using several jars (as they are expensive) it works well to slow cook the meals using them, and this saves me money. I rather prefer how mince turns out in the slow cooker, although the preparation is actually quite labour intensive.
- Ease of cooking. Mince type meals aside, I find that it is oh-so-easy to chuck this into my slow cooker, turn it on and go. I’m looking into a timer attachment to make this even better, and easier to work around my very awkward lecture timetable.
Student to student, I recommend one with a maximum of a 1.5 litre capacity. In general I can get two portions of a chunkier stew in this, or 3-4 portions of a mince mixture. Really anything bigger would be far too big, and my freezer would be more jam packed than it already is. It’s bad enough chiselling away to get into my drawer now, so more food would NOT be a good idea! If you are bigger family, or even cooking for two people with bigger appetites I would go for around a 3 litre one. I’m already planning to grab a 6l one when I start a family, and that’s a LONG time away. I currently have two of this cooker, and I really recommend it for the excellent price, compactibility, and the wonderful temperature control (so many smaller ones just have ‘off’ or ‘on’).
I also have another list to share with you, this time of tips on how to get the best out of your slow cooker:
- You don’t always have to precook ingredients and brown meat. It doesn’t hurt the dish to do so, and in some cases it does look a little better if you do, but its not necessary.
- If cooking with mince, brown off first, drain off the oil AND blot any grease with loads of kitchen paper. I didn’t do this step once, and the spooned off a whole cup full of oil off the finished dish. It kind of put me off!
- Cut vegetables into as even pieces as possible.
- For cooking dried beans – rinse the beans under the cold tap to get rid of any dust and grit, and add to slow cooker with approx 3x their volume of water. Cover and turn onto low, and cook for around 8 hours. Halfway through add some seasoning – I tend to go for vegetable stock, onion and garlic. If I’m cooking black beans to refry, I’ll start adding paprika and cumin at this point too. Don’t add salt or seasoning too early as the beans won’t soften.
- If you are adapting a regular recipe, just use about 1/3 of the amount of liquid, but try to keep proportions of liquid the same.
- If you do end up with something that is too watery, cornflour is your friend. Mix to a paste in a mug with some cold water, and slowly add to the slow cooker whilst stirring constantly. Stir regular, with the heat on high and lid off, until ready to serve. I like to ‘cook out’ my cornflour for around half an hour for the best texture.
- I find I always have to add more seasoning to slow cooked meals, particularly spices. But obviously taste and do so to your own preference.
- I prefer my meals to be serve with fresh vegetables, so will always do a pan of those alongside.
- To clean your slow cooker, empty it (after cooling), freezing any leftovers, squirt in some washing-up liquid, add boiling water and soak overnight. It should come off easily when you wash up the next day.
So, there’s my preliminary list of slow cooking tips. I will add more periodically when I come across them. As part of my Student’s Survival Menu I am planning on publishing a lot of recipes in the next few weeks, and quite a few will be made in a slow cooker (though they can be adapted to ‘normal’ cooking methods), so please do keep an eye on my blog for these.
Does anyone own a slow cooker? What’s your favourite recipe?