One of the great things about cooking in a slow cooker is that there aren’t a ton of steps involved in most recipes. Just assemble your ingredients, toss them in, stir and cook for a couple hours or, in some cases, the better part of a day. The end result is often flavorful, tender, warm meals that can make you wax nostagic about meals your mom used to make. The crock pot is a common cooking method in the winter, filling the home with warmth and delicious smells.
The crock pot is also a low-waste cooking method that can be successful in turning tougher, cheaper pieces of meat into tender, flavorful entrees. If you’re a budget-conscious cook, you can reap even bigger savings by stockpiling coupons for items that work well in a slow cooker.
To help kick off your cooking, here are five simple recipes that are easily made.
1. Beef Stew
This recipe has infinite variations, but once you get the basics down you can add your own personal flair. To start, you’ll want about two pounds of beef roast, cut into cubes. Cut a few large carrots into chunks, slice up an onion and add four or five Russet potatoes. To bolster the flavor, add a can or two of condensed soup — your choice — as well as whatever seasonings you prefer, such as black pepper, salt or even some cayenne to add a little kick. Cook six or seven hours, then serve.
Much like beef stew, chili can be found in a number of forms. Here are the basics: Take one pound of browned hamburger or ground turkey and add it into the slow cooker. Add in a 20-ounce can of diced or crushed tomatoes — or, if you like it hot and tangy, a large jar of salsa. Add one diced onion and two to three cans of beans of your choice. Chili beans are common since, you know, you’re making chili, but kidney and black beans also work. Top off with seasonings — taco powder will give it a distinct Tex-Mex flavor — and cook for two to three hours before serving.
This Hungarian dish packs the flavor. Cut up one large onion, one bell pepper and two pounds of beef stew meat and add into the crock pot. Mix together a large can of diced tomatoes, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, caraway seeds and paprika, then bring to a simmer in a saucepan. One the sauce is heated, pour it over the veggies and meat and cook 4.5 hours on high, or 7.5 hours on low. Use cornstarch to thicken and sprinkle with parsley before serving.
4. Stuffed Bell Peppers
This one’s easy. Just cut off the top of a bell pepper — as many as you can fit into a crock pot — and fill it with a mixture of your favorite foods. Common ingredients include tomato paste, cheese, sour cream, diced veggies, ground beef or whatever else you want. Set the peppers in the crock pot and cook for two hours, then serve.
5. Honey Chicken and Dried Fruit
This meal is easily prepared and can be served over a bed or rice or egg noodles. Add and mix the following ingredients into a crock pot: eight boneless, skinless chicken thighs, one cup mixed dried fruit, 1/2 tsp. ground ginger, 1/2 cup honey, 1/3 cup chicken broth, one chopped onion and two tablespoons apple cider vinegar. Add salt and pepper seasoning to taste, then cook for nine hours before serving.
One nice thing about cooking in a crock pot is that it’s hard to screw up the meal. You have to overshoot by hours to actually burn the food, and there’s not much cooking know-how required to produce a quality meal. Plus, it’s often cheap and low-maintenance, and for anyone cooking on limited resources, you can’t do any better than that.