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Slow cookers: What do you think

This may verge on sacrilegious for some of you, but are many of us actually using our slow cookers'.
I've had one for about 5 years and have really only used it a few times to make soup or chili.
My issue is that it doesn't really do a good job of chili since it doesn't reduce and honestly I don't see the benefit of taking 4 hours to cook a soup, perhaps if it could cook while I was at work but I doubt I would put a soup together in the morning.
I've also found that recipes usually call for either pre browning (which for me defeats the purpose of slow cooking since I have to dirty utensils and use active time to prep) or they use lots of prepared ingredients like canned soup.
I suppose I'm thinking I would like to get more use out of it and I like the concept of slow cooking, but is anyone out there really making it work, and if so how?

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  1. I've been using mine more and more. Twice a week I teach violin lessons, 4:30-6:30. I also work as a sub, and a musician in the schools, which is not on regular days, varying schedule. I will sometimes put something in the slow cooker around noon for later. It's not so much about dirtying fewer dishes/pots and pans, as it is about being able to leave the house with dinner cooking. Family can feed themselves if I'm not home. And don't get on my case (not the OP, but others out there) about my family needing me to feed them. Yes, they can cook. It's just that I work part-time, and my husband works full-time (actually has taken on an extra class so gets home later than usual), so I feel that I am the partner that can do the cooking. On the weekends, he does laundry.
    anyway, I like the convenience of starting dinner, then leaving, and having it ready when I get home on those late nights. Yes, I may have to wipe out a frying pan if I brown the meat, but that's not my issue. and yes, my husband pitches in on kitchen clean-up.
    As for prepared foods in recipes, well I don't use recipes. I mostly put in cuts of meat, a little water, some aromatics, and that's about it.

    5 Replies
    1. re: wyogal

      I think it's good to let the family cook. I can't wait until my kids are old enough to do it without lots of help and supervision! Raising kids who can take care of themselves means letting them do it. :) I can't believe you've gotten a hard time about that! I stay home, and my husband still cooks sometimes when I'm going to an evening meeting or have just had an unusually busy or overwhelming day. But I feel like you do, that I'm doing my part given the current situation. I love to cook, and we often cook together on weekends. It works for us.

      I just use my slow cooker to transport soups/stews to their destinations when I make them for a group meal. But I think it may be a way to let the kids be responsible for dinner and actually do most of the cooking while they're still too young to use the stove, sharp knives, etc., without me right there. They're so proud of themselves when they cook, and I'm getting tired of toast! ;)

      1. re: SAHCook

        Your point about raising kids who can take care of themselves and how you can't wait until your kids start cooking reminds me of a story I recently heard from my now 80 year old father. He was a depression kid and while his father mostly always had a job his mother got work cleaning office buildings in the evening. Since his mother left the house in the late afternoon, she would start dinner and let her boys finish cooking dinner for their father (and themselves of course). As they got older, the boys took over cooking the evening meal. When my father was drafted into the army in 1950 at some point the troops were asked if any of them knew how to cook. He raised his hand (I wonder how reluctantly, remember, never volunteer for anything in the army) and he was made a cook. He ended up being a cook and training other cooks that were sent to Korea while he stayed in Alabama. His cooking alibilty may have saved him from going to war in Korea.

        1. re: John E.

          What a great story! I bet your grandparents were so thankful they taught your dad that skill!

          1. re: SAHCook

            He told me about how he cooked on a big coal fired cast iron stove. He was a sergeant first class and was once assigned a private to assist him in the kitchen. The private had only one good arm, the other arm was a birth defect and was withered and pretty much useless. He asked the private how it was that he got drafted. It turns out the head of the local draft board did not like his father, so there was no way he was going to fail his physical. My dad went to the colonel and said that the private really could not help him much and maybe he ought to be sent home (how do you peel potatoes with one hand?). Anyway, my father was tight with the colonel and the private with the gimp arm got an honerable discharge and relieved of any military duty. The reason my dad was tight with the colonel is that my dad some how found out the colonel had a fondness for chicken livers. My dad would save them up until he had a quart or so of them then he would tell the colonel and the boss man would bring a six-pack of beer and my dad fried up the chicken livers and the two of them would eat them and drink beer. I suppose that might be another reason my dad did not have to go to Korea. He might not have had a high school diploma (he was expelled, that's another story) but his ma didn't raise no fool.

            1. re: John E.

              I love hearing others' stories, especially the ones that happened (at least in part!) before I was born. So many stories around food ... it's fascinating to me the role food plays in our experiences and relationships.

    2. Check out the thread in home cooking forum called Cooking From Slow Cooker Cookbooks.

      1. Oh baby, really? LOL. I have 4 slow cookers, different sizes (important to have the proper size for what you're cooking). I use 2-3 of them, at least 3-4 times each per week. Beans, soups, stews, sauces, pulled pork, stewed chicken, oatmeal, stock....

        I finally realized that the 4 qt size for 2 people, was too big except for stock or corned beef (your crockpot should be 3/4 to nearly full for best results). We're not always fans of reheating frozen dishes, and we didn't want to eat the same dish fresh for too long. So now I have a 2-cup and a 1.5 qt for smaller output.

        You can assemble ingredients and refrigerate in the crock the night before; pop into the base in the morning and let it bubble away on low until you get home. Chicken doesn't tolerate as long a cooking time as beef or pork do. Some recipes don't need browning at all (I made a beef-and-barley stew this week that was fab without browning). The richness and depth of flavor you get from a long slow simmer in the crockpot is worth a little prep time. :)

        The thread that rasputina refers to (slow cooker cookbook thread):
        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/829403

        "I want to love my slow cooker" thread:
        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/825408

        3 Replies
        1. re: DuchessNukem

          Thanks very much duchess (and all) your response was very helpful. Im a cookbook person so perhaps the cookbook thread will help.

          1. re: delys77

            I do hope you give the critter another chance. Honestly, I made some really crappy stuff in my big cooker back in the day, when I had under-filled it and the food got overcooked and uniformly ugly, brown and gooey; made me wonder why people bothered.

            Here's two variants on the no-browning beef-and-barley stew. I scaled down into 1.5 qt crock, with 8 oz beef, 1/3 c barley, dried thyme, and veggies that were on hand. :)

            http://www.whatmegansmaking.com/2012/...

            http://www.uaf.edu/files/ces/publicat...

            1. re: DuchessNukem

              Oh thanks very much Duchess, I think I will give them a try.

        2. Example....
          I have a bit of time between jobs right now, so threw a couple of small pork should roasts into the pot, with chunked tomatillos, a can of roasted green chilies, several chopped up anahiems, some onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, some cumin, a chicken boullion cube (Knorr), a couple of cilantro cubes (also knorr). When I get home later this afternoon, I'll take the pork out and use my immersion blender (because my husband doesn't like chunks), and pull the pork for tacos/burritos with green chili. I didn't brown the meat or saute anything, just dumped it altogether. Took about 5 minutes.

          3 Replies
            1. re: wyogal

              That sounds very tasty indeed, and it still works out ok without browning?

              1. re: delys77

                oh yeah, it's good! I took the meat out, pureed the green chili, took most of that out, put the meat back in. Now I have a pot of Amarillo (yellow, but turn white) beans (after a quick boil and rinse, put them in another cooker), a saucepan of green chili sauce, and a slowcooker of pulled pork. I got some queso fresco, and have flour and corn tortillas, and lettuce... Dinner!

            2. Sadly, I've never been able to adapt my routines to the needs of the slow cooker. Over the years, I've owned at least 5 of them and given away all but one. For one thing, I don't like to plan and assemble meals many hours in advance. For another, I'm out of the house for between 10 and 13 hours on workdays, so the newer slow cookers, paradoxically, cook too fast for me. (Yes, I know all about timers, keep-warm settings, and so forth, but the bottom line is that the food is going to be sitting there for a lot longer than I consider desirable.) But most importantly, there's nothing a slow cooker can do that my stovetop pressure cooker can't do just as well or better, in a fraction of the time, with no pre-planning necessary. I respect those who can make good use of their slow cookers; but I'm simply not cut out to be one of them.