Photo: StockFood, Getty Images.
The slow cooker is the Lazy Boy of kitchen appliances. With a little forethought and preparation, all you have to do is get the ingredients in the ceramic crock before lunchtime and turn it on. Give it no further thought, go about your day, and by dinnertime, you’ll have a fragrant, hot, homemade meal. But if you think dinner is all a slow cooker can do, you’re underestimating this amazing machine. These recipes are quick, simple, and satisfying ways to change up your slow cooker game.
The advantage of making dip in a slow cooker is that you can cook and serve it without dirtying a slew of dishes. If you really want to make it easy on yourself, you can even buy slow cooker liners so you won’t have to scrub the crock post-party. (You might still want to wash it, but you won’t have to hack away at any dried food bits.) To make a spinach artichoke dip, combine 1 14-ounce can of artichokes hearts (drained and chopped), 8 ounces fresh spinach leaves, 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, 6 ounces cubed low-fat cream cheese, 1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese, and 1 teaspoon minced garlic in crock. Pepper to taste. Cover and cook (right on your buffet table if you want to avoid having to move a hot slow cooker) on high for 2 hours. Once hot and bubbly, lower setting to warm and keep it that way until party’s end. Serve with toasted baguette slices.
The beauty of a slow cooker is the way it makes meat tender and juicy without constant vigilance. Bachelor Roast (a dish so named because its ease of preparation and minimal ingredients make it feasible for even a single man to pull off) is destined to become a staple of your slow cooker repertoire. To make, place a 4-pound beef roast in crock. Season with salt, pepper, and garlic as desired. Pour 14 ounces of ketchup and 12 ounces Coca-Cola over roast. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours. Meat is ready when it slides right off the bone.
Prefer pot roast? Place 5 cups vegetables (such as chopped onion, celery, potatoes, and carrots) and 3 pounds of chopped meat (sometimes sold as “stew meat”) in crock. In small bowl, combine 1 packet Mrs. Dash Pot Roast Seasoning Mix and 1 cup water; stir until uniform. Pour mixture over meat and vegetables. Cover and cook for 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high.
Fish is a high-maintenance entrée, but a slow cooker can make it less so. If you’re eating clean or just trying to get more Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, salmon is your go-to seafood. But no one wants to make one filet at a time. A slow cooker can accommodate up to 2 pounds at once. To make, line crock with parchment paper. Slice 1 lemon and place half of the slices on parchment paper in crock. Cut skin-on salmon into card deck-sized portions and season generously with salt and pepper. Place salmon on top of lemon slices (it’s OK to stack the portions), then top with remaining lemon slices. Pour 1 1/2 cups water into crock. Cover and cook on low 1 to 2 hours. Fish is done when internal temperature reaches 145 degrees at its thickest part. Lift up on edges of parchment paper to remove salmon from crock. Serve with dill sauce.
When the weather outside is frightful, it’s hard to get enthusiastic about a piece of cold, hard fruit. The slow cooker is perfect for turning edibles like apples into a caramelized, gooey treat (think pie filling without the crust). To make, peel and slice 4 apples into thin wedges (above photo shows chopped apples, which you could do instead of slices, but it’s more knife work for you). Place sliced or chopped apples in crock. Add 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup apple cider (or water), 1 tablespoon corn starch, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon to crock. Using hands or a large spoon, stir until apples are evenly coated. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours or on high for 2 hours. Serve on pancakes or waffles for breakfast or with a scoop of ice cream for dessert.
If you’re the kind of guy who claims he “doesn’t have time for breakfast”, the slow cooker will call you on that B.S. Oatmeal is a great day-starter, not just because of its health benefits but because it acts as a blank slate on which to create unlimited flavor combinations. To make basic slow cooker oatmeal, combine 6 cups milk, 1 1/2 cups steel-cut oats, 1/2 cup maple syrup, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon in crock; stir. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours. Top warm oatmeal with sliced bananas and nuts, stir in swirls of peanut butter and jelly, sprinkle with coconut flakes and chocolate chips, or add in whatever you wake up craving.
Incredible, but true: you can bake a cake in a slow cooker. Granted, it will take longer than it would in an oven, and you’ll still have to frost or glaze it afterwards, but if you have a short attention span and are worried about fucking up a special occasion, a slow cooker cake is the cautious way to go. One of the most popular combinations for slow cooker cake involves peanut butter and chocolate. This Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Swirl Cake concoction from Betty Crocker is downright drool-worthy.