There's a reason why there are so many books and blogs dedicated to the slow cooker -- it's basically a busy person's best friend. A staple of the kitchen, the slow cooker is perfect for keeping the heat down during those sizzling summer months and for creating the ultimate comfort food during the cold days of winter. The "set it and forget it" lifestyle is ideal for parents who have so much more to do during the day than spend hours of it in the kitchen preparing meals.
So how can you make the most of your Crock Pot and the like? Let us count the ways. If you thought you used your slow cooker a lot before, wait until you get a load of these hot tips.
Slow Cooker Solutions
A common complaint among slow cooker users is that on occasion everything that was thrown into the pot comes out tasting exactly the same. Up the flavor profile of whatever protein you're cooking by browning the meat prior to letting the machine do its thing. Yes, this is one extra step but the payoff is big. And if you're lucky enough to have a slow cooker that has a sauté function, you won't even need to dirty an extra pan.
If your biggest conundrum with your slow cooker has to do with creamy dishes curdling as they cook, like with creamy soups, simply add any dairy ingredients towards the end of the cooking time. You'll still get the great flavor you want without the unappealing texture.
Unfortunately, recipe ingredients don't just chop and dice themselves (unless you splurged and purchased them that way) and meal prep can take time. One great hack is to set aside a few hours to prepare meal kits (similar to the subscription types people pay a lot of money for). Go recipe by recipe and cut, chop, slice, and mix everything you'll need ahead of time, storing each meal in a large freezer bag. Then these "kits" can either slide into your fridge until needed, or hit the freezer for use at a later date.
Why Didn't I Think of That?
It's easy to think of your slow cooker as a one-trick pony -- a dinnertime savior that works hard all day to provide a meal for your family while you're at work, running errands, and chasing after kids. But as Food Network Canada points out, this beauty can also help you hit snooze on your alarm by working overnight to provide a warm breakfast in the morning. Take, for example, their Slow-Cooker Coconut Brown Rice Pudding recipe, which sounds simply divine. You can also set it overnight for breakfast casseroles or sweet stuff like Diethood's Crock Pot Creamy Banana French Toast (yum!).
When you want to cook everything at the same time, but don't necessarily want all of the ingredients to touch, there's a hack for that. And it's seriously so easy! Tip Hero suggests wrapping items in aluminum foil before adding them to the slow cooker. Your main dish and sides will cook at the same time without everything blending into one big pile of a meal.
You've made your meals, your tummy is full, and you're feeling good. Then you take a look over at your slow cooker and see the fallout from all of that deliciousness: The vessel requires a ton of scrubbing.
Here's the deal, you can largely avoid this travesty by using disposable slow cooker liners (available at just about any grocery store and online). The liners are perfectly safe for the heat generated by the machine and truly make cleanup a breeze. Try to find a liner like that for your regular old pots and pans -- not very likely.
If you find yourself out of disposable liners and are faced with baked on food, there's still a super simple way to make your slow cooker sparkle like new again. Fill the pot of the slow cooker with water, then very slowly sprinkle in anywhere from 1/2 cup to a cup of baking soda depending on the size of the vessel. Turn the slow cooker on to a low setting and allow it to work away for about four hours. When the timer goes off, allow the contents to cool. Afterwards you'll be able to easily scrub away any food that had previously been caked on to the bottom and sides of the pot. Easy peasy!