An Ode to the Slow Cooker
Because all good things take time.
I like to consider myself an advocate for: eating ice cream between your waffles on a Saturday morning, recycling and composting, and making the most of the slow cooker. That’s right, the slow cooker. With all of the publicity surrounding Instant Pots nowadays (paparazzi, PLEASE), the slow cooker has been moved to the tops of cabinets, left to collect dust like poor Wheezy from Toy Story.
But, I, being the old-fashioned, back-to-basics kind of person I am, believe there is no better kitchen tool than the slow cooker. I mean, it actually does your job for you. Besides the putting of ingredients into the bowl and the turning on of said bowl, the slow cooker does it all. After you perform your minimal tasks, you can walk away...and come back in a few hours to your meal, fully prepared and ready for eating.
Growing up, the slow cooker was a staple in my household. With two parents working full time and three extremely active kiddos, having a nutritious dinner on the table was imperative, but often difficult to execute. The slow cooker, however, changed the game. We’d fill the versatile machine with ingredients for everything from soup to lasagna, letting flavors meld and ingredients tenderize all day while we were at our respective institutions. By the end of the day (that time when you’d rather voluntarily sit in traffic than have to cook dinner), our meal would be ready for enjoyment. It’s a simple calculation that makes nothing but sense: slow cooker + ingredients = low-lift dinner ready immediately after a long day at the office.
So, if you’re willing to kick it with the classics like me, then break out the old slow cooker; we know you still have at least one (my family has THREE—absurd). It’s perfect for the summer when you can’t bear to stand over the hot stove or grill; it’s also easy to clean up and store. Now, without further ado, I present to you a selection of slow cooker recipes to jumpstart your oldest, most trusted pal (*camera zooms out* *credits roll in* *Randy Newman sings us out with You’ve Got a Friend in Me*).
For me, Friday nights are for sitting in bed and watching Heathers for about the millionth time. And you better bet there are snacks: Pirate’s Booty and peanut M&M’s or popcorn and peanut M&M’s. Imagine how spectacular a night it would be, though, if I had this Slow Cooker Spinach Dip to enjoy with some warm pita (and peanut M&M’s— that part is non-negotiable). It’s comforting, quick to make and, most importantly, eatable in bed, making it the ultimate Friday night snack. It’s a beautiful, cheesy, indulgent marriage of smoked mozzarella, parmesan, cream cheese, spinach, artichoke hearts and garlic. And, thanks to your handy dandy slow cooker, all you have to do is mix the ingredients up, turn the machine on high for two hours and mentally prepare yourself for the flavor expedition you’re about to embark on.
The day my mom discovered pulled pork was the single happiest day of her life (forget her wedding and the days her three children were born). It led her on a spiritual journey to perfecting the pulled pork sandwich: the perfect coleslaw, the perfect bun, the perfect barbecue sauce. Still in high school at the time, I was subjected to eating the obscene amount of test kitchen recipes she played around with (she has since moved onto conquering the chocolate chip cookie, so: more enjoyable, but have been on a sugar high since February). Because of my familiar past with pulled pork, I now consider myself an expert in the stuff and this Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches recipe is, in fact, the real deal. But don’t just take my word for it! Go out and try it for yourself; maybe you too will begin a journey of self-discovery and pulled pork obsession.
I’m a terribly predictable creature of habit. Perhaps it’s my OCD, perhaps it’s my sheer inability to get my creativity flowing in the morning, perhaps I’m lazier than I think I am! Whatever it may be, the heart of the matter is that every morning I eat oatmeal (cooked with a bit of vanilla extract, nutmeg and cinnamon because I’m a ~fancy~ gal) and a diced granny smith apple. It’s a constant in my life that keeps me grounded, but also occasionally makes me late. You see, I choose to make it in the morning (so it’s hot and delicious when I enjoy it, of course), but I’m almost always running late (another terribly predictable habit of mine!) and this oatmeal spectacle pushes me even further behind schedule. Luckily, the Oatmeal Gods are looking down on me and threw this Slow Cooker Irish Oats recipe in my path. A make-ahead, heat-up-in-a-matter-of-minutes recipe, this peachy, blueberry-y, almondy, coconuty oatmeal is anything but predictable.
A fun fact about me: I am very German. And the proof is in my last name (Lechleider, pronounced Lek-lie-dur). It was almost proof in my first name, too, but my parents opted for Tessa instead of Greta (a serious debate they were having—little Greta Lechleider, imagine that!). My German roots are also present within my diet and have been since my early childhood. To start: sauerkraut. I’m obsessed with the stuff! To finish: bratwurst, spatzle, kartoffelpuffer, knockwurst. These dishes have consistently dotted our table over the years. My favorite, though, is a dish like no other: Sauerbraten, or German pot roast. A delicious melody of beef brisket, homemade beef broth, carrots, celery and leeks, this Slow Cooked Sauerbraten is seared then slow cooked until tender and juicy. Serve the meat and veggies alongside one another for a little bit of bliss. Give this recipe a go and be sure to channel your inner Greta Lechleider in the process!
Shirley Temple sings of bons-bons playing on some beach near Peppermint Bay. Apparently, there are lemonade stands everywhere and you’re just chilling on a chocolate bar. But, if I may share my thoughts, I don’t particularly want to be hanging out on a chocolate bar. They melt pretty easily, get super sticky and would be extremely ineffective in drying me off after I go for a quick swim in Peppermint Bay. Actually, the more I think about it, the less appealing Peppermint Bay and the beach are starting to sound in general. Instead, I’d rather sit somewhere in Central Park with these Slow Cooker Chocolate Candies. Luckily for all of us, this recipe couldn’t be simpler, thanks to the slow cooker (are you sensing a pattern yet?). Layer the peanuts, dark chocolate, chocolate chips and almond bark in the pot. Turn on low for three hours. Come back, stir it all together, spoon into individual cups and chill until firm. Then take them wherever you want, be it Central Park with me or that beach near Peppermint Bay with your good pal Shirley.
My favorite hour of the day is dinnertime, or as I like to call it, Taco Time. Whether they’re fish, veggie, chicken, turkey, beef or pork tacos, I’m all about it. That’s why, when I read this Slow Cooker Pork Tacos recipe, my jaw hit the ground. Three words for you: ancho, pasilla, chipotles (in adobo). I’m sitting at my desk thinking about the ways in which these peppers would work together, exchanging their spice and smoke and flavor, and my mouth is watering (definitely having a Pavolv’s dog kind of moment over here). As I continue through the recipe, a marbled pork shoulder enters the scene and gets coated in this pepper mixture, then set in the slow cooker for about five hours (*swoons*). And, as if this weren’t enough, the meat is shredded, only to be paired with any toppings of your choice (may I suggest diced mango and a bit of avocado crema?). It doesn’t get better than this, baby!
The slow cooker's ability to cook dinner while you're away at work is only one of its many merits. Breakfast, lunch, dessert, party food and even holiday gifts are made infinitely easier when left to the gentle heat of a slow cooker.