When the temperatures drop outside, it’s tempting to reach for rich, cheesy comfort food that may be unhealthy. But recipes that warm your insides don’t have to require hours of labor or put a damper on a healthy lifestyle. Escape chilly nights by coming home to delicious slow cooker recipes. Follow these tips for a perfect meal every time.
Slow cookers come in a range of sizes, so check recipes for the recommended size or consider halving or doubling a recipe to better suit your slow cooker. If the slow cooker is overfilled or underfilled your meal may not cook properly. Most recipes generally call for a five- or six-quart slow cooker, but you may need a bigger one if you’re feeding a large family or want leftovers.
Don’t overfill your slow cooker: Fill no more than two-thirds to make sure your meal finishes on time and to prevent food-safety hazards.
Keep The Lid On
Resist the urge to check on and smell your meal: Opening the lid lets the heat escape and slows cooking time. Every peek adds about 15 to 20 minutes of cooking time. Check for doneness about 30 to 45 minutes before the cooking time is up. Avoid stirring; it’s not necessary in a slow cooker.
The purpose of a slow cooker is to throw all the ingredients together in the morning and forget about it until it’s ready for dinner. Plan your meal the night before by shopping for every ingredient in the recipe and prepping if necessary. Chop vegetables, trim meat, and measure out other ingredients the night before. Refrigerate ingredients in separate containers then add them to the cooker in the morning. Don’t refrigerate anything in the slow cooker because it will take too long to heat.
If you won’t be home by the time it’s done, make sure your cooker has a warm setting to switch to when cooking is done.
Brown to Boost Flavor
Maximize flavor by browning meat in a skillet before adding it to the cooker. It’s not necessary if you’re in a hurry, but seared meat adds a richer flavor. Sautéd vegetables also add more flavor. Deglaze the pan with liquid and scrape up any brown bits to add to the cooker. If you want a thicker sauce, dredge the meat with flour before browning.
Avoid Safety Hazards
Slow cookers stay at a low temperature for several hours, which is how they achieve a flavorful, delicious meal, but there is a potential for food safety hazards. Temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit are in the danger zone because bacteria can thrive. To avoid the danger zone, never add frozen ingredients, and keep all ingredients refrigerated until time to use. Slow cookers usually have a low and a high setting. If you’re using the low setting, simmer liquids before adding to speed up the heating process. If you’re using a large hunk of meat or whole chicken, cut it into smaller pieces to allow it to cook through.
Choose the Right Cut
Leaner cuts may dry out in the low heat. Look for fatty and tough meats such as chuck roasts, short ribs, pork shoulders, and lamb shanks. The low heat melts the fat and breaks down the connective tissue to tenderize less expensive cuts of meat. Dark meat chicken is juicier than white breasts. If you want a silky sauce, trim excess fat to avoid greasy liquid.
Don’t Add Too Much Liquor
Adding wine to meat dishes is usually a win. But because slow cookers use a lid to trap in heat, the alcohol doesn’t reduce as it would with high heat on the stove. If your recipe calls for wine or liquor, keep it to a small splash to avoid an off putting alcohol taste. Or use it to deglaze the pan after browning meat and then add it to the slow cooker.
Clean Every Bit of Grime
It’s fairly easy to clean the slow cooker insert. But if grime is burnt on, add a squirt of dish liquid and fill the insert with water. Cover and turn on low for two to three hours. Let the water cool, remove the insert, and then wipe away the grime.
Healthy and Comforting Slow Cooker Recipes
1 lb Great Northern beans, dry
2 ribs of celery, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 Tbsp fennel seeds
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
6 Tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese
Combine beans, celery, onion, carrots, fennel seeds, oregano, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes plus 5 cups of cold water in a 3-quart slow cooker. Cook on high for 5 hours. Add enough water, about 2 to 4 cups, to achieve desired thickness. Stir in salt and pepper to taste. Top each serving with Parmesan cheese.
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes
2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 cups fresh spinach, packed
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until they begin to brown. Add garlic, ginger, ground coriander, coriander seeds, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add balsamic vinegar and tomatoes. Bring the mixture to a boil. Spread the chickpeas in the bottom of a slow cooker. Pour the tomato mixture over chickpeas and stir well. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours. Just before serving, stir in spinach. Serve as a side or over rice.
1 14.5-oz. can no-salt-added tomatoes, undrained
½ cup finely chopped onion
1 medium rib of celery, sliced crosswise
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
2 oz. smoked ham, all visible fat discarded, finely chopped
2 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried oregano
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp cayenne
1 dried bay leaf
8 oz. raw medium shrimp, peeled, rinsed, and patted dry
1 cup cut okra
1 cup uncooked instant brown rice
¼ cup snipped fresh parsley
In the slow cooker, stir together the tomatoes with liquid, 1 cup of water, onion, celery, bell pepper, ham, parsley, oregano, garlic, thyme, cayenne, and bay leaf. Cook, covered, on low for 5 to 6 hours or on high 2½ to 3 hours, or until vegetables are tender. If using the low setting, change it to high. Quickly stir in shrimp, okra, and rice then re-cover. Cook for 30 minutes or until the rice is tender. Discard the bay leaf. Serve with the fresh parsley.
1¾ cups sliced onion
2 cups baby carrots
6 small round red potatoes, cut into ¼-inch slices
½ cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
½ cup dry white wine
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp minced garlic
¾ tsp salt, divided
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 tsp paprika
6 bone-in skinless chicken thighs
1 tsp olive oil
Place onion in a 6-quart slow cooker coated with cooking spray. Top with carrots and potatoes. Combine broth, wine, thyme, garlic, ½ tsp salt, and ¼ tsp pepper. Pour over vegetables. Combine paprika, remaining ¼ tsp salt, and remaining ¼ tsp pepper. Rub over chicken. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned. Arrange chicken on top of vegetables. Cover and cook on low for 3 ½ hours or until chicken is done and vegetables are tender. Garnish with additional thyme, if desired.
2 Tbsp steak seasoning
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp dried rosemary
1 3-pound chuck roast
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 stalks celery, cut into large chunks
1 cup beef broth
1 Tbsp cornstarch
Combine steak seasoning, salt, thyme, and rosemary in a small bowl. Coat both sides of meat with olive oil; sprinkle on one-third of the seasoning on each side. Sear both sides of the meat in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Transfer roast to slow cooker. Place the vegetables in a large bowl and drizzle with a little olive oil to coat. Sprinkle on the remaining seasoning mix. Add the vegetables to the same skillet and sauté for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to slow cooker. Pour in beef broth and cover. Cook on low for 9 hours or on high for 6 hours. Using a turkey baster, retrieve most of the cooking juices from the slow cooker. Transfer juices to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Whisk together cornstarch with a little water. Blend into the pan juices while whisking. Bring back to a simmer until thickened. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Serve roast and vegetables with gravy.
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 onion, chopped
4-6 garlic cloves, chopped
72 oz. whole canned tomatoes with juices or 6-pounds fresh tomatoes, chopped
14 oz. roasted red peppers in water
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
¼ cup fresh basil
1-2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
Add everything to the slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours. Blend in batches with a blender or use an immersion blender. Season liberally with salt and pepper. For a creamy tomato soup, stir in ½ cup half and half before blending.