If you’re looking for a way to prepare simple, affordable meals at home, there’s one tool that’s a must-have in your kitchen: a slow cooker.
Using a slow cooker is a convenient way to prepare a mouth-watering meal with minimum effort. Just put all the ingredients in, set the desired cook time and get on with your day. Make fall-off-the-bone pork ribs, a soul-warming beef stew, chili con queso, juicy, tender barbecue chicken or even dessert! The options are endless.
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of using a slow cooker to prepare a meal is the easy cleanup. You won’t need to fill your sink with pots and pans to clean after dinner. Just take out the removable crock for quick and easy cleanup.
As with any kitchen tool, there are a number of options, from basic to high-tech, but even the most basic slow cookers can prepare a delicious meal. If you don’t already own one, buying a slow cooker isn’t a big investment—you can pick one up for under $40.
Get the most out of your slow cooker with these tips:
Plan ahead. Slow cooker meals are perfect for days when you’re running short on time and need a healthy “fast food” option. Prepare your meal the night before, put all the ingredients in the crock of your slow cooker, cover it and put it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, simply pull it out and set your slow cooker to the correct heat level.
To save even more time, plan and prep multiple meals at once, bag the ingredients and freeze them. When you’re short on time, just pull a freezer meal out, dump it into the slow cooker and walk away. In six to eight hours, you’ll have a meal that would make anyone think you’d been working in the kitchen all day.
Trim the fat. If you’re preparing a fatty cut of meat, trim most or all of the fat before putting it in your slow cooker to avoid a pool of grease in your food. To keep meat moist while it’s cooking, add a bit of beef or chicken stock. Just remember that liquid won’t evaporate like it would in the oven or on the stove top, so reduce any liquid in the recipe by about a third, or just enough to cover the contents of your slow cooker.
Go slow. If you’ve got the time, set your slow cooker on low and let the food gently cook over eight to ten hours. The slower your meal cooks, the more flavorful, juicy and tender it will be.
Simplify cleanup. To make cleanup even easier, purchase disposable slow cooker liners. Then all you’ll have to do is remove the liner, toss it in the trash and cleanup is done!
Ready to make an easy dinner? Pick up a slow cooker cookbook, look up some slow cooker recipes online or try this delicious chicken recipe.
Jalapeno Chicken Breasts
6 bone-in chicken breast halves, skinned
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup sliced pickled jalapeno chile pepper, drained
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold water
1 8-oz. package reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel), softened and cut into cubes
2 slices regular bacon or turkey bacon, crisp-cooked, drained and crumbled (optional)
Sprinkle chicken with chili powder and salt. Arrange chicken, bone sides down, in a 4 1/2- to 6-quart slow cooker. Pour broth and lemon juice around chicken. Top with drained jalapeno pepper.
Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 5 to 6 hours or on high-heat setting for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
Transfer chicken and jalapeno pepper to a serving platter, reserving cooking liquid. Cover chicken and keep warm.
If using low-heat setting, turn to high-heat setting. For sauce, in a small bowl, combine cornstarch and the water and stir into cooking liquid. Add cream cheese, whisking until combined. Cover and cook about 15 minutes more or until thickened. Serve chicken with sauce. If desired, sprinkle with bacon.