The weather has sharply turned cold and the need for warmth is persistent. Over the past year, with limited kitchen space, I have found new value in my old crock pot. There is something so homey and nice about arriving home to a hot meal that’s ready to eat before you even take off your coat. Let’s talk about some ways to use the slow cooker that may be collecting dust on a shelf in your kitchen.
If you don’t own a crock pot/slow cooker, they are easy to find and inexpensive. Chances are there’s one waiting for you at your local thrift store. And though they cook for hours, they use relatively little electricity.
Any soup recipe can be converted for crock-pot cooking. I suggest sautéing some of the veggies in a pan before adding them to the pot, to wake up their flavors. In a seafood chowder, quickly sautéing the onions and celery will make it taste like a fresh-off-the-stove meal.
Let’s not forget chili! There is really no wrong way to do chili, and it’s a perfect fit for a slow-cooker meal. Simply dump your ingredients in and set the temp on low to create a delicious dinner that’s ready when you get home. Slow cooking allows plenty of time for the flavors to develop and mesh. Most soups and chilis actually taste best the day after they’re cooked, but crock-pot versions achieve the same blend of flavors during the cooking process
This year’s sportsball seasons have been strange, and it hasn’t been safe to throw sportsball parties, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the snacks. Chile con queso, spinach-and-artichoke dip, taco soup, ribs, and Swedish meatballs are all easy to make, and the slow cooker keeps them warm throughout the game. I’ve included my Bourbon BBQ Sauce recipe here, which I highly recommend using with slow-cooker ribs.
Bone broth and soup stocks are also easy to make in the slow cooker. This is a great way to make use of your veggie scraps and create nutrient-dense meals. Never throw away onion or garlic scraps. If you can’t get to making a stock at the time, bag and throw them in the freezer. Economy can be delicious!
The secret to good bone broth is to go low and slow, as boiling will make the broth bitter and kill nutrients. Once you’ve made your broth/stock, you can use it as the base for any number of soups in your crock pot — I’m thinking split pea this time of year. Beef stew is also amazing in a slow cooker, especially the rosemary, which is reluctant to give up its flavor during conventional cooking times and also gets woody if cooked too quickly.
You can find plenty of crock-pot recipes online, but don’t feel limited by those. Use your imagination and whatever’s left in the cupboard and fridge. With few exceptions, if an ingredient should be cooked, it can be slow cooked.
Bourbon BBQ Sauce
24 oz (~2 cups) Strained Tomatoes
¾ cup Bourbon Whiskey + ¼ cup
2 cups Onion
½ cup Garlic
6 Whole Chili Peppers
1/3 cup Honey or Maple Syrup (I used honey)
1/3 cup Brown or Coconut Sugar (I used coconut sugar)
2/3 cup Pineapple Juice
½ cup Apple Cider Vinegar
½ cup Soy Sauce
2 Tbsp Ginger Juice or Minced Raw Ginger
½ Tbsp Salt
½ Tbsp Pepper
3 Tbsp Smoked Paprika
1 ½ Tbsp Korean Chili Flakes (can substitute cayenne pepper)
1 Tbsp Allspice
½ Tbsp Cloves
½ Tbsp Cinnamon
Preheat pot; once hot, add a little olive oil to prevent sticking. Add chopped onion, garlic and chilies. Sauté for about a minute, then add ¾ cup whiskey. Cook about 10 minutes, then add the rest of the ingredients and remaining ¼ cup of whiskey. Bring to a simmer for 15 mins., then use immersion blender to smooth it out. For best results, chill overnight in the fridge to let the flavors merge. Enjoy!