Ode to a Slow Cooker

All I can think this morning is: God bless you, Slow Cooker.

Seriously.  This weekend would have been food mayhem if it were not for the magical gift to humankind that is the slow cooker.  I’ve had mine for not quite a year now, and it’s so battle-scarred that it looks like a relic from the ruins of some seriously technologically advanced foodie civilization of old.  After the abuse I put it through this weekend, I’m starting to understand why it looks so ratty.

On Friday night, J. returned from a three-day business trip, and I finally had a chance to catch my breath a bit.  While we chatted in the kitchen after putting the boys to bed, I poured 12 cups of homemade plain applesauce into the slow cooker and added sugar and spices, then set it to low.  The next morning, I was rewarded with the mesmerizing scent of apple butter — Slow Cooker Gift #1.  A quick puree rendered it ready for breakfast, and P. devoured it by the spoonful (forget spreading it on biscuits or anything else — he just kept licking it off and crying “More?  More?”).  L. wasn’t sure he wanted to try any, but it turned out that he was working on a 24-hour tummy bug, so I’m writing that off and plan to try again with him later this week.

The second the apple butter was ready, I poured a cup of it back into the bottom of the slow cooker and topped it off with a bottle of organic barbecue sauce (No, I didn’t make my own this time — even the RRG Mommy gets to take shortcuts now and again!).  Into the oven went a rack of baby back ribs, seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, and allspice; once they were seared on both sides, the ribs hit the sauce, and once again I turned the dial to “low.”  With dinner already on its way at 9:00 in the morning, I could head off to the Farmer’s Market, take the kids on a hayride, and spend the afternoon picking up all the miscellaneous odds and ends we needed at Target (where else do you go when you need pjs for the kids, shower cleaner, ginger ale for an upset tummy, and a new hamper?) without worrying about setting aside time in the kitchen.  I even had plenty of opportunity to bake up a quick pan of cornbread and roast some half-moons of acorn and dumpling squash with maple syrup before leaving the house at 5:00 for my choral dress rehearsal.  And miracle of miracles — Mommy actually got to eat, too!

When I got back to the house at 10:30 p.m., J. had cleaned out the slow cooker insert for me and, per my instructions, left it on the counter, ready to go again.  As soon as I’d kicked off my rehearsal shoes and slid into my trusty fuzzy slippers, I buried myself in the fridge and emerged with an armful of stock ingredients: a chicken carcass, carrots, celery, onions, and garlic.  Everything went into Old Reliable, along with 12 cups of water, before I dragged myself to bed.  On Sunday morning, through the haze of sleepiness, an oncoming fierce cold and/or sinus infection (still can’t quite tell), and worry over the approaching afternoon performance, I was gratified to have dinner already underway before I even groaned my way out of bed.  Straining chicken stock at 8:30 a.m. is more rewarding than I imagined it would be.

With the stock strained, cooled, and skimmed, I got working on the minimal chopping and stirring that was necessary to prep the Butternut Squash soup for dinner.  (The bright side of making dinner so early in the day for the second morning in a row was that I could use the steam from the soup pot as a therapeutic treatment for my aching sinuses.)  By the time I dashed out the door just after noon, clad in the requisite head-to-toe black for the concert, a survival kit of tea with honey, plenty of water, lozenges, tissues, and a Beethoven score under my arm, there was a pot of heavenly homemade soup calling my name.  When I dragged myself back home at 5:30, exhausted, triumphant, and aching from head to toe, I was overwhelmed with relief — I only had to heat up the soup and make some grilled cheese sandwiches to have dinner on the table for our ragged little clan.

It was the first real meal L. had eaten all weekend, but he sucked down a full bowl of soup (using a straw — he loses patience for spooning soup after a while, but he’ll drink gallons of it if you arm him with a bendy straw) and ate half a sandwich cheerfully.  I could almost see the color returning to his face with every sip.  My own weary bones melted under the spell of a warm, homemade meal at the end of a very long and busy weekend.  I have to admit that if it hadn’t been for the relentless service of the slow cooker, I’d have caved in and resorted to take-out at least once, but thankfully, that wasn’t necessary.  A little advance planning, and 32 hours of nearly continuous use, made Old Reliable the hero of the weekend.  Proving, yet again, that there’s more than one way to get everybody fed.


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15 Responses to Ode to a Slow Cooker

  1. Blanca says:

    over = oven

  2. Liz in Vermont says:

    Love the slow cooker. Thought it was old-fashioned when my mom gave me one years ago, but fell in love with it after making chili. Now I have a few sizes for making different things. The old ones that you retire can be used for stripping the paint off old hardware; just add water, dishwashing liquid, put the hardware in it, set on low, and in 12 hours the hinge or whatever will be clean.

  3. Kim B. says:

    I need to use my slow cooker more often . . . what’s your favorite slow cooker recipe? Or, better yet, what’s your kids’ favorite? 😉

    • Oh, such a tough question! I think the apple butter-barbecue ribs (or regular pork loin/pork shoulder) are one of the top choices in our house; we also really like to just do pot roast or barbecued chuck roast in the slow cooker. Another one the kids like is when I do a big slow cooker full of meatballs (turkey or whatever meat you like) in marinara sauce and use them for subs — it’s a fun dinner and they love the leftovers in their lunchboxes. We’ve done so many things in the slow cooker, and lots of more “adventurous” fare, but truthfully, I think the slow cooker is best when you stick with the classics.

      • Kim B. says:

        Agreed – the classics are the best in the slow cooker. My husband makes a delicious 3-bean chili w/ roasted red peppers in the slow cooker that my 18-month old just devours. The recipe is from the recipe book that came with the slow cooker, of all places. We’ve done ribs too, always tasty.

      • That chili sounds awesome! We love chili in the slow cooker too — forgot about that one. Also, we frequently make soft taco fillings in the slow cooker that we can just slip into tortillas with a few toppings when we get ready for dinner. Chicken, beef, beans, etc. all work great!

      • Blanca says:

        The meatballs, do you pre-cook them in the over before putting them in w/ the sauce or do you add them in raw w/ the sauce. I’ve done raw, but in the oven. I’ve noticed my MIL pre-cook them in the oven alone then throws them in the slow cooker w/ the sauce.

      • Hi Blanca! Answers to your questions: 1) I’ve done the meatballs both ways — pre-cook in the oven before putting in with sauce and putting directly into the sauce raw. The idea behind pre-cooking them is to seal the outside of the meatball and lock in the moisture, and I do think that’s the better way to go. However, I don’t always have time for that; they cook just fine when you put them in raw, and though they’re a little drier, because they cook in the sauce they’ll never be truly DRY, if you know what I mean. I just do as much as I have time to do, when it comes to the meatballs! 2) I’m posting the pot pie recipe this week. You’re not the only one who’s asking for it! Stay tuned for that one. 3) What do I do about days I don’t feel like eating/serving what I planned for that day? Funny, but it almost never happens. I mean, the sort of flippant answer is that I suck it up and get over it, but that’s not very helpful, is it? 🙂 What I find is that since I have ultimate control over the meal planning, I work enough variety into the whole picture that it’s rare for me to get a serious craving for any particular food; and absent a serious craving for something else, I’m easily content with whatever I’ve planned. It’s amazing how just having the structure and the peace of mind makes you more willing to stick with the plan and be happier with eating what’s around. However, the “fend night” Friday is important for this circumstance — if I run out of time due to a crazy scheduling disaster and can’t cook what we’ve planned, or if I get sick and don’t want to cook, period, or whatever…we look around and see if the “fend night” can be moved up. If we have enough leftovers or other sort of “backup” foods in the house that everyone can eat without my involvement, then we’ll do that and I’ll move the whole meal plan for the week around to adjust. Does that make sense? But honestly…it’s rare. I look at it like: I’m not playing short order cook for anybody else in the house, so I have to live by that, too — I can’t just make the plans according to my whims and preferences. If they have to eat what’s planned, so do I!

      • Blanca says:

        Also, about the leftovers. Do you simply use them for lunches? Sometimes we will have leftovers that will last for days. I’ll do one lunch with leftovers of the night before, but don’t like to make them eat the same everyday until it’s gone. There are times I can get creative and do something else with the leftovers…but it depends on what it is. So more times than not, it goes to waste after it’s been eaten a few times. I’m thinking to myself now: I should freeze the leftovers after packing the lunches! HELLO! Well, my point was with a planned meal for a month, for someone like me, I’d have leftover mania! So I could technically get away w/ not cooking a meal a day or two in the same week bcs of leftovers. I have very picky eaters. So if they don’t like the meal it won’t get eaten. I don’t want to be a short-order cook either, but if the majority or half of the family doesn’t like an igredient in the meal it will go to waste. I hate it, believe me. For the days I want fish, I make it for just me and the little one bcs both my husband and oldest will not touch seafood. I love fish and I’m very thankful that my little one does, too. So any way, this dish I make for her and me and we eat it for lunch when no one is home, but us. Tostadas I absolutely love, but my husband hates beans, avocado, cream…pretty much everything that goes in a tostada. So this I make on weekends when he’s out of town or if I don’t care what he eats that night. He’s so basic that it’s difficult. The man can live on cereal, oranges, apples and grapes. He’s from the northeast, but is the most pickiest eater I’ve ever seen!! My oldest who grew up on fast food when I was younger has even come around and eats veggies with me…even ones I don’t care for like celery. He does love chicken pot pie and for the most part if there’s no avocado, beans, or cauliflower he’ll fight through it and eat it. Speaking of pies… I would loooove to learn how to make the turkey pies from the farms in MA. We all look forward to them when we’re up there!

      • Blanca, as far as leftovers: We have sort of gotten things to a science in terms of how much of anything I’ll cook, but here are the strategies. 1) Lunches, but I do reinvent them so that we’re not eating the same old thing over and over (for example, chicken becomes a wrap one day, a pizza topping the next, a quesadilla filling another day…). 2) Freeze, for sure — especially things like chili, spaghetti sauce, soups, etc. 3) Re-use in other dinners. If I make spaghetti sauce one night, it’s not only getting eaten in lunches or frozen, but it’s probably going to make an appearance somewhere else on the dinner menu — like we’ll have my hubby’s favorite chicken with goat cheese and marinara sauce, or I’ll make pizzas, or I’ll use it as a base for a soup or stew. 4) “Fend nights.” That’s the night where we just clean out the fridge, eat what’s left, make salads or sandwiches or frittatas or whatever we can with odds and ends.
        I’d say you have some meal planning challenges, for sure! I think planning to have leftovers and NOT cook for a day or two in the week is a great strategy and very smart, especially if you know you’ll have lots of food left. But it sounds, too, like you need to be planning for yourself and your kids, and let your hubby do as he pleases. If he’s not going to eat anything but cereal, then fine. You cook what you and your kids will enjoy, and what you know they should eat to be healthy; he’ll either get with the program or not. If I were you, I’d start with planning a week at a time and see how that goes…then two weeks, when you’ve figured out how a week works for you. It may be good to re-evaluate how much you’re actually making, too. We have lots of leftovers, but nothing that ever lasts more than a couple of days at the most. It sounds like you might need to cut some of your recipes in half and only cook small portions to be sure that you’re not wasting things that your family won’t eat again. Not everyone is cool with eating leftovers!

      • Blanca says:


      • Oh, and what’s in those turkey pies? Are they just like a pot pie, or what?

      • Blanca says:

        Thanks! I appreciate your advice. I’ve told him many times if he doesn’t like what I’m cooking he can eat something else. The bad thing with that is that I don’t want the little ones to think it’s OK to pass on momma’s meal and eat what daddy is eating. Right now, she hasn’t caught on, but it won’t be too long now.

        The turkey pie seems to me that it’s made with the farm’s turkey and homemade gravy–nothing else inside. Very tender turkey and juicy. You can add veggies or starches on the side. But it is darn good!!

      • Have you told him specifically that you’re concerned your daughter will start refusing her meal to eat what he has? I agree, that’s always something to keep in mind when you’re trying to instill the “we eat as a family” rule.

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