It doesn't matter if we have been out all day and returning home or perhaps home after a busy day, the meal all cooked and ready to serve is just the nicest thing.
Everyone loves the aroma of hot food as they walk in. What a welcome home and it builds anticipation of a wonderful meal.
When my children were babies I was a single Mum. I noticed right away four or five in the afternoon babies were grizzly, I was tired, feeding would be difficult and it all came when I needed to start cooking dinner. There were times when cooking then was hard.
Later this time became busy with baths and bed time, homework, after school activities and tired and hungry children. Five o'clock seems to be the time for everything!
If you are working outside the home you are heading home after five. I can't imagine then also having to face decisions about dinner, cooking and cleaning up. Plus everything else...
Whether its tiredness or too many things happening someone at home cooking your dinner is just a dream come true.
Knowing dinner is beautiful and will be ready has another effect. You are not stressing about it. You are free to talk with the family, help with homework, relax and chat or take a soak in the bath if you want. You are also not running to the grocery store and trying to work out what to cook for dinner or tempted to grab takeaway. None of these things enter your head. This is a money saver and time saver. And massive stress saver.
If this sounds perfect to you then you can start a new life next week and have your dinner cooked and ready and avoid the five o'clock crazy hour forever.
You just need a crock pot/ slow cooker. And you don't need to use it everyday. It will provide extra meals that are not recognisable as repeats or left overs. And you will have lunches you could take to work or send with the kids to school. It will save you so much... cooking, time, money, stress and worry.
There are lots of things that just taste better after long slow cooking. Soups, casseroles, roasts, curries and so many things develop beautiful flavours over time. Even inexpensive meats become glorious when slow cooked. Lamb shanks fall off the bone. It is really divine.
But more... you are not standing at the stove, you are off doing things you need to be doing.
An abundance of soup or meat from last night also gives you tomorrows lunch or perhaps another dinner in a night or two. And many casseroles turn out to be perfect tender filling for golden flaky pies. Suddenly you are famous for your pies.
All of my recipes are designed to get you going and to increase your confidence to cook meals your family will love. In reality you can cook almost anything and so many things you didn't think you had time to cook!
Much of it can be pre prepared, specials can be taken advantage of. I decide much of my menu from marked down meat and amazing vegie specials. These go straight into the crock pot or I freeze ready to go.
Even times I am having a summer BBQ or entertaining the crock pot might be full of sides, like baked potatoes or corn on the cob or a lovely bread to serve hot. Or a hot desert to serve later.
Another huge advantage is saving energy. Here in South Australia power is very expensive. Last summer I stopped using my oven altogether in an experiment. I used either the crock pot, the BBQ or we had cold meals. Our electricity bill was $400 cheaper for the quarter. Yes $400. And since I have found the same and compared the bills. It has been my oven eating the power.
In summer keeping the house cool is another issue. The oven just heats up the kitchen which is the last thing you need on a really hot day. On those days I usually serve cold meat and salads. Other times I have used the crock pot and it does not heat up the house. I will cook a piece of meat and use it in wraps, or serve salads with it. Wonderful. The house stays much cooler.
You can make beautiful baby food. I worked out that my crock pot full of pumpkin to puree or apples or pears.... results in pureed baby food that in the store would cost $77 to buy. The ingredients to make would be well under $7 so lets just say that is abut $70 saving every time you do it! Isn't that crazy?
You can also stew your fruit. Apples let go long enough turn pink. I used to add sago and the girls loved this for desert and eat it cold the following days. The scent of quinces cooking as they turned pink was another lovely one. Stewed fruit hot in winter or cold in summer is just yummy!
Your crock pot is your trusty helper there to serve you. It will make meals while you are busy or while you sleep. What could be better?
Lets get started!
I have several crock pots. They are inexpensive to buy and I have some from op shops too. If you have never used one a really good way to start is to make your favourite soup. Whatever recipe you love. If it is a blended soup you will blend it at the end of the day. Use less water than you normally would but otherwise just pop everything you normally would put in, get it started in the morning and let it go all day. You have no stirring or checking, you just come home to cooked soup. If using vegies that you would normally cut up small don't both just throw in big chunks and save yourself the bother.
Most recipes you love can be used. Less water is usually the key. I only add water to soups. Or around corned beef. Nothing else! As moisture doesn't escape so things are more moist than you might first expect. And most meats and vegies are moist, it is surprising how much moisture comes out of things. For flavour or gravy you can use all kinds of things from balsamic vinegar, cranberry sauce, tomato paste, a tin of soup, mint jelly... think of all the flavoursome "liquids" that go with the combination you are using. ie I think Pork.... goes with apples... Lamb goes with mint jelly... chicken goes with cranberry... beef goes with tomato... whatever you think are combinations you love! What else goes? Mushrooms go nicely with beef or chicken. So you could use mushrooms, mushroom soup, a tin or dry... and so on. Apples to go with pork could be whole apples, diced apples, a tin of apples... It is very flexible!
Now my husband said to me that he didn't like crock pot meals. He said they are "too creamy" so somewhere along the line someone had cooked him something he didn't like much and he doesn't like creamy meals. End of story. I just took it as a challenge. I soon knew he loves curries. And I am not a curry maker. So I bought curry bases in the supermarket and went from there. We had butter chicken and I did sides of Nann bread and raita and little salads in pretty bowls and rice. And beef Korma and Tikka Masala and he thought it was all so fabulous. It was all in my crockpot. Then I did a lamb leg and loads of vegies with a rich gravy, and then lamb shanks with tomato and red wine... well it was an easy conversion!
Your best bet is going to be cooking things your family really loves. I am all for trying new things, introducing more things, packing in a lot of vegies and making things healthy. But start off with things you know they are going to love. I don't mind a bit if you use flavour bases from the supermarket or stock or a can of soup. I am a country style cook. I cook rustic wholesome food. I understand country flavours and my priority is to cook wholesome meals and for us to eat a lot of vegetables everyday. I like us to have seven or so serves of vegies. Everyday. I like to have meals on hand for when I am sick. I get migraines and I factor that in. I always keep meals in the freezer and soup in case anyone is sick. But I don't know how to balance the flavour of a curry and feel intimidated by that. So I buy lovely curry sauces and use them. They have all turned out so well. These do not have to be especially for the crock pot. I keep some on hand. My Mum has abundant mint in her garden so I learned to pick a bunch, blend into yoghurt and add a dash of cumin so I have a raita to serve with curries. This is yum and I love it! What I am saving is it is ok to improvise,substitute, experiment, cheat and learn. We are all learning. And even if we use something like a flavour base or can of soup, over all that meal is still likely to be much healthier than take away.
Left over vegetables and a chicken carcass can be put on in the evening and let go over night. While you are sleeping you are cleverly making wonderful stock.
You could make a thick heartt soup and in the morning fill the thermos with this and send these to work or to school on cold days.
Getting set up.
Having a few basic things ready to go is going to help. Things that you do not want to "stew" will need to be placed on something to raise them off the base of your crock pot. Simple things like egg rings will work. I would do this with a pot roast chicken, for instance. I like to have some cake airers that are just the right size for this. And some casserole dishes to insert that are just the right size. These will be for cakes, custards, creme caramel etc that need to be placed into a water bath for divine results! So see what you have and then see what you can find. I make a template of the base of each crock pot and keep that in my purse. This way I have perfectly sized things when I need them.
My most often used inserts are a vegetable steamer thingy that I sit over the top of other ingredients to cook peas or other vegies that I might want separate...
This is kind of collapsible and fits a variety of things. Other ones are the old triangle shaped inserts with holes through them. They will work fine.
Non stick baking paper is another essential. With something like a cake or loaf of bread you might rather use a tin inside the crock pot. Otherwise you can line the crock pot dish with baking paper and place it directly in. I just find that makes things easier to lift out. Also you can use baking paper to create layers or "pockets" to separate sections of food from one another.
Next is oven bags. These come in different sizes. These make it possible to have vegies cooking in one bag and baked apples in another all that the same time.
Then you need cake tins, casserole dishes, ramekins etc that sit nicely inside your crock pot. These casserole dishes fit in just right for individual baked custards where you are sitting them into a water bath so they cook like velvet...
Or this larger baking dish for custard, creme caramel, rice pudding...
Filling the bottom of the crock pit with water and sitting these in is much safer than juggling a tray of boiling water in a baking pan in the oven. When making something like this I will put a tea towel under the lid so there are no drips. I would do that too for cakes, breads etc. Anything where you don't want condensation dripping back into food.
Here I have just used a foil tray for my meatloaf and surrounded my vegies around that. I would put a couple of desert spoons of water in the bottom and that is it. Toward the end I might add grated cheese over my cauliflower ... or perhaps pour over a sauce.
The other thing to have is a stick blender. To puree soup or vegies I blend it right there in the cooker. Quick and easy.
After you have used the crock pot it is easy to clean. Fill it with water and let it sit. If it is really dirty with stuck on food add some fabric softener or a dish washer tablet and let it soak. You can even run it a while and let this brew do it's thing. It will clean so easily after that.
Next in this series I will start on recipes. They are my tried and tested ones. But whatever recipes are your families most loved recipes they will work. It is easy to adapt and things you never feel you have the time for now you will cook all the time!
Also the large amounts you can cook lead to other meals. I will show you how a chicken casserole will be just that on night one and the left overs can become a family chicken pie, individual pies to freeze or a version of a Shepherds Pie with mashed potato over the top. The crock pot gives you the most tender pie fillings ever!
You can make baked custards, creme caramel, scrolls, bread, anything! All without worrying about stirring, burning etc. You can put things in before bed time and wake up to cooked breakfast on a cold morning.
People also seem to think things all need to be casseroles or stews or soup. But you can separate layers or sections so that different components never even touch each other.
You can also divide your meal so one side is main and another side is desert.
Things like boiled puddings or steamed puddings are easy as you never have to worry about them boiling dry.
I will leave it there for today. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find inserts and accessories that fit your crock pot so that you can make all kinds of new things as we go along.
Have a really good week! We have a fresh new moth ahead of us! xxx