I love my slow cooker. My mam gave it to me years ago as it was a spare one in the house and I was on for using it. It’s really versatile and it isn’t just for cooking endless supplies of casseroles; you can cook almost anything in a slow cooker: meat joints, soups, mulled wine, cake, takeaway-style grub… The list goes on.
At this time of year a lot of people are eager to try to eat healthier, or at least have more control over what they eat, and I think using a slow cooker is a great way to do this. For me, however, it’s not so much about the healthiness aspect of it, but more about how much time using a slow cooker frees up. It just takes a few minutes preparation for the majority of recipes, and when you come home from work, your dinner is already cooked!
Choosing a Slow Cooker
Slow cookers come in various sizes. My one is a small-sized cooker at about 1.5 litres. That said, it still makes enough nosh for two large meals, or two regular meals and a lunch. You can get bigger ones at 3.5 litres and 5 litres and so on which are great for families or even catering for a group of friends.
When getting a slow cooker, make sure it at least has two temperature settings: low and high. A third medium setting is great, too, but don’t get one that’s simply on or off, with no control of temperature. If you can get a slow cooker with a timer that’s also a great addition, but you can also just use a timer plug that goes into your wall socket (this is what I do).
You don’t have to spend big money on a slow cooker at all. In fact, they’re surprisingly inexpensive, even for a decent one. Anything from €20 to €50 I reckon should be good for the vast majority of people, depending on what size they want, etc. You can pick them up in Argos, but if you don’t feel like walking to a store you can check out slow cookers on Amazon.
Cooking with Slow Cookers: Sausage & Bean Casserole
It’s beyond easy. With some recipes you’ll need to do a little bit of preparation before or some extra cooking after, but for most of them you literally chuck the ingredients into the cooker and turn it on, and that’s it. My favourite recipe is sausage and bean casserole because it’s both easy and delicious. I like to add a bit of heat to it with chilli and pepper, but you can play with this as much as you want. Casseroles and stews are very easy in a slow cooker so you’ll find loads of recipes for them, but do remember that you can cook lots of different styles in a slow cooker.
Here’s my recipe.
- 6 sausages
- 1 tin of baked beans
- Half tin of chopped tomatoes
- Handful of chopped baby potatoes
- Half a chopped onion
- Crushed black pepper, basil, chilli flakes, cumin – to taste, or about half a teaspoon of each
- Lightly fry the sausages on a pan until they’re slightly browned. Allow them to cool and cut them in half
- Place the potatoes in the slow cooker first (i.e. on the bottom), followed by the onions and then the chopped sausages.
- Next, add in the seasoning, herbs, and chilli, if desired.
- Add the beans and tomatoes.
- Cook on high for about four hours.
- As it cooks, taste the casserole to see if it needs any changes with regards to chilli or herbs. Add extra as needed. When the potatoes are cooked and edible, the casserole is done. Enjoy!
I’m always on the lookout for a nice slow cooker recipe, so here are a few that I’ve come across recently that I like.
Cashew Chicken: I’m a big fan of Chinese style food and this one was delicious. The chicken is wonderfully sticky with a nice sweet and sour taste to it. I’ll definitely make this again, but next time I’ll add some chopped pineapple towards the end of cooking to increase the sweetness a bit more. Read the recipe here: http://therecipecritic.com/2012/07/slow-cooker-cashew-chicken/
French Onion Soup: I made this recently and it was very tasty and very easy to make. It takes a little preparation in that you need to gently fry the onions on a pan first before adding them to the slow cooker. Make sure you make your bread croutons topped with cheese! The recipe I used was modified from this one: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/3020694/french-onion-soup. I prepared the onions in a pan, but then transferred them and the stock and the other ingredients to the slow cooker and let them do their thing for a few hours.
General Tso’s Chicken: Again, this is a Chinese-style dish that I’m eager to try. I haven’t made it yet, but it comes highly recommended from my friend Katia who loved it so much she put it on her website! Looking at the ingredients I think this will give a deliciously fruity yet savoury meal that will leave your mouth watering. Check out the recipe at http://www.recessionbites.ie/2015/06/08/chicken-for-tso/
Like all cooking, make sure you play with recipes and try out new things when working with your slow cooker. Don’t be afraid to experiment! Start off with a few recipes to allow you get used to your new toy and so you can see and taste how the ingredients work together and mingle. Once you have a feel for how all the magic happens you’ll be well on your way to making some exquisite dishes!