Cooking for the Cooking-Inept: The Slow Cooker, Explained

If you want to cook your own food but lack culinary skills, try a slow cooker. STACK.com has the info and some sample recipes to help you get started.

Slow Cooker

When I was a senior in high school, I vowed to put on weight, which meant learning to cook. My skills progressed no further than boiling water and heating up store-bought breaded chicken breasts. I ate a box of pasta and two chicken breasts for dinner every night for months before I finally realized that I had, in fact, eaten the same meal every night.

So I did what any high schooler would do—I asked mom. She started to put out ingredients for me to cook in a Crock pot before she left for work and before I left for school. My first impression?

What the heck is a Crock pot? 

I wised up quickly. A Crock pot is a brand of electric slow cooker. You gather ingredients, drop them in the pot, turn it on and walk away. That's it.

I was hooked. This was cooking so simple even I could handle it. And the more I used the Crock pot, the more I realized you can make anything with it. Literally, anything. Slow cookers are considered ideal for stew and chili, but they're also capable of making cake, strawberry jam and hummus.

Those are just a few of the recipes prepared by Karen Petersen, an author and food blogger who set out to make a slow cooker recipe every day for a year. She chronicled her experience on the site 365daysofcrockpot.com, which is a great source of delightfully simple slow cooker recipes. Seriously, if you want something that tastes like it was hard to cook—but wasn't—check out her website.

"A slow cooker is perfect for those who want to make dinner before they leave for work or school in the morning," Peterson says. "It keeps food warm for as long as you want, which allows for flexibility with the timing of meals and when they will be served."

If you're a newbie to slow cooking and don't have a slow cooker, purchase one with a "keep warm" function. This means you don't actually have to be there when the timer goes off—your food will stop cooking, but it won't get cold.

Peterson offers three tips for novices:

  • Don't lift the lid. Slow cookers use steam that builds up in the pot to cook the food. Each time you lift the lid, steam escapes and adds about 20 minutes to the cooking time.
  • You don't need to stir. Since there is no direct heat source, there is no need to stir your dish unless a recipe specifically says to do so.
  • Cooking on high takes about half the time as cooking on low. So if a recipe says to cook on low for eight hours, you can speed up the process by cooking on high for four hours.

Here are three beginner meals from Peterson's site. You can find many, many more at 365daysofcrockpot.com.

Slow Cooker Honey Mustard Chicken

Nutritional Data Per Serving

  • Calories: 288.7
  • Protein: 29. 2 g
  • Fat: 11. 9 g
  • Carbs: 16.2 g

Recipe

Turkey and Black Bean Chili

Nutritional Data Per Serving

  • Calories: 302.7
  • Protein: 29.3 g
  • Fat: 9.9 g
  • Carbs: 44 g

Recipe

Southwest Meatballs (Chicken)

Nutritional Data Per Serving

  • Calories: 357.7
  • Protein: 29.8 g
  • Fat: 19.7 g
  • Carbs: 15.3 g

Recipe

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Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: PROTEIN | CALORIES | MEALS | CHICKEN | DINNER | RECIPES | CHILI