Slow cookers are one of those appliances that most people seem to own, but only use for a handful of dishes, primarily of the chili or pot roast variety. There's nothing wrong with that, I love crock pot roasts and chili. There is something beautiful about being able to fill the slow cooker with ingredients, and then basically leave it alone most of the day, ending up with something really yummy later on.
But years of working in the grocery business has taught me that a lot of people just don't know how to cook much of anything anymore, having grown up into adults that eat out most evenings. It's weird that I get asked questions like how to boil water (yes, that's been asked of me a few times) or how to grill a steak (for the record, putting it in a pan and applying heat usually does the trick) by grownups as often as I do, but it happens.
And one of the things I get asked the most is for recipes to make in a slow cooker. It seems like a lot of people get them as gifts and don't know what to do with one. I'm not sure what the deal is, but slow cookers are an object of mystery to many people I talk to.
Generally, I tell them to just search the Internet, because it's full of crock pot recipes of every conceivable variety. But being as cooler weather might be making an appearance in our area at some point soon, I thought I'd share a few favorite slow cooker ideas I've run across over the last few years.
4. Awesome 15 Bean Soup Stew
This one is super easy and something I developed back in my "starving to death musician" period. You take one of those bags of 15 bean soup - basically a bunch of different types of dry beans, and a weird flavor packet that seems to be mostly salt and pork dust. I throw that pack away immediately. Pour the beans in the slow cooker, then I fill it with cheap beer (always available in abundance back in the starving musician days), a little water, some canned jalapeño slices, salt and pepper, a sliced onion, and some kind of smoked pork - a couple of smoked ham hocks are ideal. Then I set the slow cooker on its lowest heat and longest cooking time, and let it go for as long as 10 hours. It creates an exceptionally filling and savory bean stew. Starving musician approved!
3. Bread or brownies
Yes, you can bake bread in a crock pot. In fact, there are tons of people making all sorts of baked goods in these things. Everything from sour dough bread to brownies, slow cookers are extremely flexible cooking tools once you break free from the idea that they're only good for making stews or roasts.
I found that bread recipes in a crock pot are all relatively simple, but you'll have to experiment to get it down. Just load a large slow cooker with enough prepared bread dough to make a loaf, and put the dough in there with a hand towel on top of it to soak up excess moisture. Cook on high for around two and a half hours. The bread isn't "beautiful", but it tastes just fine. This is one of the best bread recipes I stumbled across.
This brownie cake recipe is one provided by the folks at Betty Crocker, and it's delicious.
You'll need a box of Betty Crocker fudge brownie mix, 4 eggs, 1/2 cup melted butter, and 1 pouch of Betty Crocker chocolate chip cookie mix.
From the Betty Crocker site:
Spray 4 1/2-quart slow cooker with baking spray with flour.
In large bowl, mix brownie mix with 1/4 cup of the melted butter and 2 of the eggs.
In another large bowl, mix chocolate chip cookie mix, remaining 1/4 cup melted butter and remaining 2 eggs.
Drop alternate spoonfuls of the brownie and chocolate chip cookie batters into slow cooker.
Cover; cook on High heat setting 2 to 3 hours or until cake is set in center. To serve, spoon cake from slow cooker, and top with scoops of ice cream.
Yep. I don't even have a sweet tooth, and this makes my stomach growl. 2. Chicken Broccoli and Rice Surprise
This is one of those recipes that I've seen a bunch of variations on over the years, but its easy and a good one. I got the original from the Campbell's Soup site, and I love it.
You'll need roughly 2 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breasts, but I've also made this using about half breasts and half boneless skinless thighs, and that works out fine too. You'll also need around 1-1/2 cups uncooked rice, two cans of the 10 3/4 ounce condensed cream of chicken soup, or one can of that and another of cream of mushroom. Also get a bag of frozen broccoli and a bag of sliced frozen carrots, and two cups of some kind of shredded cheddar cheese. I like a sharp cheddar best, but some people prefer a milder cheese. Finally you'll need a can of chicken broth or stock.
After spraying the crock pot with vegetable cooking spray, layer the rice, chicken, one cup of the cheese, the veggies, the soups, and then the final cup of cheddar. Then you pour the broth around the edges of this layered masterpiece, and don't stir anything. Cover and cook on low for about 6-7 hours. It's delicious. 1. Ham and Cheese Scalloped Potatoes
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This one was also starving musician approved, because it was easy and cheap, like we were.
Take two to three pounds of peeled, sliced potatoes, and place them in the crock pot. Take approximately 1-1/2 pounds of diced cooked ham, about a cup of shredded cheddar, a chopped onion, 1 can of that trusty condensed cream of mushroom soup, and a half cup of water. Mix all of that, adding salt and pepper as desired, and then pour it over the potatoes. Cook on high for about four hours, and it's just great.
A person can make almost anything in a slow cooker, and they are a great way to cook a hearty filling meal early in the day. They allow a person to walk away from that job and still get great results. There are even people out there using slow cookers to make candles and crayons. People do weird things with these inexpensive cooking devices.
I don't intend these ideas to be considered culinary gold by others, but they are yummy and simple. Anyone reading this on the Internet can find countless recipes using slow cookers to prepare an almost limitless variety of foods.