The white blanket of fog that has settled on the Valley has given me free reign to wallow in all the things I enjoy most about being cozy: relaxing near the heater; snuggling under a blanket; eating casseroles and soups.
Bring on the slow cooker!
The function of the slow cooker (aka Crock-Pot) is pure genius: dump some prepared food in the cooker, turn it on — and while you’re busy shuttling the kids to school, slaving away at work, battling rush-hour traffic and ferrying the kids back home — this magic little pot has slowly cooked an entire glorious meal. To paraphrase, dinner is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. Delightful.
Not sure you’re up for it? Don’t let the past fool you. If you’re thinking of the old, plastic-lidded, calico-printed pots of yore, think again. Today’s cookers have come a long way since those earlier, behemoth, single-setting versions. Now crafted with stainless steel and sporting glass lids, today’s versions come in varying sizes, styles and have better heating control options. There’s even a contraption that has three slow cookers on one heating element (which I always see for sale circa the Super Bowl).
Never used one? Consider the following:
•Using a slow cooker saves money.
The very nature of a slow cooker means you’ll be slow-cooking food at an even temperature for a set amount of time. This method of cooking is best for certain tougher meats — which are usually less expensive cuts, like chuck roasts and pork shoulders. And while these cuts of meat tend to be higher in fat than others, you can usually skim the fat out of the pot before serving.
By preparing and freezing slow cooker meals ahead of time (explained next), you’ll be able to buy many ingredients in bulk. Family packs of meat, for example, are always less expensive than their smaller-portioned counterparts.
Chances are, your favorite slow cooker recipe will involve peeling, chopping and measuring. While there’s no way around doing the prep work, you can mitigate some of the time involved by getting your own assembly line going. For example, make four batches of your recipe, placing each batch in its own plastic zipper bag or freezable container. Pop those in the freezer, and you’ll have four slow cooker meals ready for cooking. Prepare and freeze a few different recipes ahead of time, and dinner planning for a whole month just got a lot easier.
As for cooking, simply defrost your prepared meal in the fridge overnight. The next morning, empty the bag or container into the slow cooker for cooking.
•Slow cookers aren’t just for stew anymore.
There are literally hundreds of slow-cooker recipes online for all kinds of cooking. Sure, soups, stews, casseroles and pulled/shredded meats are standards, but consider using your slow cooker for baking breads and cakes, or making jams. Some even use slow cookers use for sous-vide cooking.
•Use your pot wisely.
Be sure not to put too much food into your slow cooker at once; foods won’t cook properly if the pot if overfilled. A pot one-half to two-thirds full is ideal.