Sunday, November 6, 2011

My Best Friend, the Slow Cooker

It's fall, and that means it's slow cooker season!  Really all year is slow cooker season at my house, because it's a good way to make a real meal without having a lot of time.  Working, teaching dance class, and attending dance practice take up a lot of my time.  Add in Jeff's band practice and gigs, and were left with so little time for "real meals."  As it is, most nights we don't eat until 9:00.  The slow cooker allows me to make something up in the morning or, even better, the night before, and then just let it go all day.  It also makes me smile at work to know that there's something warm waiting for me at home.

It works in the summer too, but soups, stews, and fall off the bone meats just aren't what I crave on a 90 degree night.  I will use the slow cooker in the summer, but not ever week like I can in the fall and winter.

This summer I purchased a new slow cooker/rice cooker/pressure cooker.  I have not used the pressure cooker feature yet, because I am definitely afraid of exploding my kitchen, but the slow cooker has a few features that I am pretty pleased with.

The first is the delay start feature. When I'm going to be gone for 10 hours, and my recipe only has to cook for 8 hours, I'd rather it sit on the counter for two before cooking than warm for two hours before I eat it.  Yes, you do have to be careful using a delay start on a slow cooker.  The book is FULL of warnings:  ONLY use the delay start for vegetable based dishes, not meat!

Yeah, I don't follow that rule.

I mean, there's a difference between letting meat sit in a hot car for a few hours, and letting taking it out of the fridge and putting it on the counter for a few hours.  Plus, it's not like the meat isn't getting cooked through!

The other feature that I love is the brown feature.  The point of the brown feature is to allow you to brown any meat you might be using, or to cook onions, or whatever, all without getting another pan dirty.  You just put it in the pot, brown it up, and add the rest of your ingredients on top.  This does work pretty well, although I find it annoying to stir whatever I'm browning because it's not a pan - it's a great big pot.  This also means that my batches have to be smaller to avoid crowding, which means it takes longer.  Depending on what I'm doing (for example, browning  a lot of meat for a beef stew), it can make more sense to just wash the additional pan.

What the browning feature does work really well for, though, is for thickening a sauce after cooking.  I feel like slow cooking always creates a thinner broth than braising in the oven.  So, after cooking, I can turn on the "brown" feature and it will bring to a boil, reduce, and thicken whatever I've made.

This was both easy and delicious.  And it heated up amazingly for lunch.  Overall, a high success and I will be making it again!

Baked Potato Soup:

I did sort of a "half assed" job of peeling the potatoes, getting most but not all of the peel.  This, first, allowed me to peel the potatoes a lot faster.  It also left a little bit of peel in the soup, which I think added to the flavor and texture:

  • 1/4 cup butter (L)  
  • 1 large onion, chopped (L) 
  •  3 garlic cloves, minced (L)  
  • 6 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2 -inch cubes (L)
  • 4 cups chicken broth (L)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup cream (L)
  • 1 cup sour cream (L)  
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (L)
  • 1/4 cup cubed ham (L)
  •  3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives (L*)
  • cheese, for sprinkling(L) 
In a sauce pan or, if you're extra fancy in your crock pot on the brown setting, melt butter, and saute onions until soft.  Add garlic and cook one more minute.  Either turn off brown setting, or transfer onion mixture to the crock pot, and add potatoes and chicken broth, and season with salt and pepper.  Cook on low for 8 hours.

Meanwhile, combine cream, sour cream, shredded cheese, and ham.

After the 8 hours have passed, blend partially using an immersion blender, or transfer to a blender and blend partially so there are still some chunks left.  Stir in combined ingredients, and heat until warmed again.  Top with chives, shredded cheese, and a dollop of sour cream


  1. Kate, your soup sounds wonderful! I'd love to hear more about your slow cooker and the meals you cook in it.

    I love my crock pot and use it very often...but I also have a fabulous Stoneware crock called a Deep Covered Baker (for oven or microwave) from The Pampered Chef that I use several times a week. The meals I make take 29min or less (we beat Rachel Ray by a minute =-} )

    For days that I didn't have time to get my crock pot started in the a.m. and want to throw together a quick meal that is delicious, nutritious, and usually costs about $2/serving for 6 servings, my Deep Covered Baker is my go-to pot!

    I'm anxious to try this and other recipes of yours in my DCB!
    -Traci ( posted as anonymous cuz I don't think I have any of the accounts it offered me...)

  2. I could possibly dispute that one can cook a "real meal" (just) in a slow cooker. Well, not what I would class as a real meal anyway.

  3. This recipe also sounds yummy.

    I also have a combo rice cooker/slow cooker that I got last year for Christmas. Doesn't pressure cook though. I personally prefer to leave it on warm for those extra hours as opposed to delaying starting like I used to. When we're eating really late, I just turn the thing back on high for a half-hour or so to warm things back up.

    I used to put an external timer on mine because I didn't have a fancy one. Then if we didn't get home when planned, we ran a serious risk of the food being overcooked. Or if I automatically turned it off at a certain time, it was cold. Plus I can make 6 hour recipes now! (Being gone for 10 hours a day makes those kinds of recipes near impossible, as I'm sure you know.)

    Amateur Cook: Anything that has meat, veggies and potatoes counts as a real meal. It's called a "Casserole". And to busy people, the slow cooker is a lifesaver! Saves us eating a lot of take-out. :P

  4. Hey "Amature Cook": In the words of Barney Stinson, Challenge... (wait for it...) ACCEPTED!