For the Love of My Slow Cooker

I know I am not the only one who comes home from work at the end of the day and dreads the question “what’s for dinner?” I mean, seriously, I’ve just used a good portion of my brain power at work and now you want me to figure out a meal too? Over the years, I’ve tried various methods for coping with the dinner question – weekly menus, batch prepping, tantrums – to name a few.

file7491346814461Given this, I’ve been learning to love my slow cooker more. True confession: I’ve had a difficult time trusting the slow cooker. I didn’t believe that it could make meals as tasty as those that I cooked on the stove top or in the oven. At first I would never use it unless I was home all day (which kind of defeats the purpose, no?) because I was worried about it getting too hot. I have now worked past those issues and find both joy and a small sense of liberation in using my slow cooker.

First (and this is no small thing), I can plan what will go in the slow cooker without the time pressure of needing to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes. Whether I plan and put something in overnight, or I prep and put it on in the morning before I walk out the door, I’m able to feel good about a well-planned and generally balanced meal that will be ready when I need it to be ready! Second, is there really anything better after a day of work than walking into your house greeted by the aroma of a delicious dinner, ready to serve?

One of my favorite slow cooker “tricks” is roasting a frozen chicken. Yup, that’s right! I often purchase whole, frozen pastured chicken from Walpole Valley Farms, but fail to thaw it in time for the meal I plan to make with it. I could not believe it possible that I could put a whole frozen chicken in my slow cooker early in the day and have it completely ready for dinner, but these instructions from “Health Starts in the Kitchen” work and I’ve done it several times. One caveat: slow cooker roasted chicken will not have crispy skin, so if you want that crispy skin you’ll need to brown it in the oven at the end.

A must-have for me as we move into cooler weather is baked russet potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, and winter squashes. When I get home from work in the evening, I generally do not have time to bake potatoes in time for dinner, but if I put them in the slow cooker in the morning, then VOILA, they are ready to have with dinner (YAY!).

Here are some super easy instructions for baking potatoes/sweet potatoes in your slow cooker – then all you need is something super tasty and nutritious for topping your potato. This Grilled Chipotle Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potato recipe is really delicious and would be a perfect use for those slow cooked potatoes (in my house, we use both russet and sweet potatoes for this recipe). With regard to the winter squash, I was again surprised that I cook an entire squash in the slow cooker without trying to hack through the hard flesh of the raw fruit to cut it up for baking. These two finds have been total game changers for me. I love delicious, healthy food, and I especially love simple preparation (which ensures that I actually make said delicious, healthy food).

There is no shortage of slow cooker recipes available on the internet. Of course, there are always the slow cooker staples, like chili or beef stew. I’ve found that for these kinds of dishes I much prefer to improvise than to follow a recipe, though there are PLENTY of recipes out there. The more things I try in my slow cooker, the more I consider buying a second one. So, try something…and let me know how it goes!

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