Slow cookers have been popular in America (where they are also known as “crock pots”, after the Crock-Pot® brand) for ages. They used to be popular here, too – and from what I can gather, are gaining in popularity once again.
For the uninitiated, this is why slow cookers are great:
- They save time. You pile your ingredients in the slow cooker before work, turn it on – and come home in the evening to a yummy stew, all cooked and ready to go.
- They are easy to use. See above.
- They save on washing up. Generally, washing up = one chopping board, one kitchen knife and a good wipe around the inside of the slow cooker.
- They reduce food waste. No need to let those squooshy tomatoes or that stray courgette go to mush – chuck them in the pot.
- (Drumroll) They save money! They don’t use as much energy as an oven or electric hob. I have been making frugal-but-fabulous dinners with cheap ingredients including root vegetables, tinned tomatoes (value range), dried pulses, herbs from the garden and lots of crusty bread.
Today is a case in point. We haven’t done our January supermarket shop yet, partly because all the snow up here in North Yorkshire has made it difficult to get around and partly because, like most people, we are el skinto this month following the excesses of Christmas. So we’ve been making do with our dwindling food stocks. Open the fridge or the cupboard door and there isn’t much to look at but right now, bubbling away as I write, is a stew made from the following:
- vegetable stock
- chopped onion
- a sweet potato
- tin of tomatoes
- tin of haricot beans
- chopped celery
- clove of garlic
- splash of red wine
- half a packet of frozen haddock from the depths of the freezer
I’ve written that like a recipe; it’s not really a proper recipe, but I love how I can throw all these odds and ends into the slow cooker, wave my magic spoon and turn them into a top dinner…
Buying a slow cooker
You have two options: you can buy one or find one. The thing is, slow cookers appear to have been an ubiquitious wedding gift in the 1970s and early 1980s. Now, of course, loads of them are gracing dusty attics across the land. They need rescuing! If you’re in your late twenties or thirties, your parents almost certainly have one tucked away somewhere.
My mum ended up with two, so she gave me the smaller one: a glazed brown ceramic model that screams Life On Mars. The first time I plugged it in I was worried that it would blow up while I was at work – but meh, it’s fine.
If you end up buying one, it doesn’t have to be expensive. There are some pricey models out there but let’s face it: it’s a pot with a plug. You don’t really need the bells and whistles. Lakeland does a small slow cooker for £19.99 (1.5 litres). At the time of writing, Argos is selling family-sized slow cookers at half-price: the Morphy Richards cooker pictured above, which holds a whopping 6.5 litres, has been reduced from £49.99 to £23.99. It also sells a budget model for £9.79 (2 litres).
I got a slow cooker recipe book for Christmas (thanks Mumsy) and I’m looking forward to working through it – so you’ll be hearing more from me on this subject!
In the meantime, if you’re looking for recipes, check out Squawkfox’s excellent selection. I’ve made all of the vegetarian ones, and they are uniformly excellent.