Learning how to use a slow cooker
the question is: to be used in conjunction with a slow cooker, does a recipe have to be specifically "formulated" for the slow cooker?. do i need to look for recipes specifically intended for slow cooking? what makes a recipe suitable for a slow cooker??
Recipes that cook low and slow are best to adapt to a slow cooker. You can really adapt most soups, stews, chili to the crockpot. Also recipes like pot roast or brisket etc are great to adapt.
There are books that address this, maybe check your local library? When they first came out, this was a hot topic.
I cook almost anything and everything in my slow cooker. I have three toddlers and just don't have the ability to stand at the stove for 20-30 minutes just before dinner. It takes some time to learn your slow cooker and how long different meats or beans takes. Even chicken breasts can be done well in a slow cooker (and come out with the same consistency as baked chicken) if you cook it for the right time.
I have learned mainly by looking up recipes and the rest is trial and error. I also adapt a ton of baked or stove top recipes, usually all you have to do is add a bit of broth or wine.
I agree totally with nat8199. I have 4 young kids and work full time so the SC is a lifesaver for me. As long as you have a bit of liquid and/or enough fat on the meat you are using, you can cook anything. They even have recipes for sweets like cake and puddings. I've even cooked baked dishes like my hot Reuben dip and crab dip in the SC and then just kept it on warm. You don't get the even golden brown, but nobody cares!
As foodie06 said, soups, stews, chili, and pot roast are perfect for the slow cooker.
Keep in mind, however, that many recipes were created back when slow cookers cooked at a lower temperature. FDA regulations required the manufacturers to up the temperature for LOW (even though no one was sickened at the lower temps). It was a pre-CYA move. Any slow cooker sold in the last 15 years or so are made to cook at a slightly higher temp.
Having said that, more of the newer slow cookers now have a timer and a "keep warm" setting, so you can set the cooker to be done in 6-7 hours (instead of the time the recipe originally called for, say 9-10 hours), and let it keep warm until you get home.
I've personally not done chicken in my slow cookers, since I have an older model (more than 30 years old) and I'm not home to start the cookers at a later time.
But it's *great* for chicken stock as well. Toss in the chicken bones/carcass, add some mirepoix, a bag of a few cracked peppercorns, thyme, and a bay leaf, cover with water, and let it go for 24 hours. Strain it well into a large bowl, let it cool down in the fridge for 24 hours, and then skim off the fat cap on top, and you've got nice deep, rich chicken stock for your freezer.
In a slow cooker, liquids don't evaporate as much so it accumulates. It has to be adjusted by about 1-2 cups. Until you're more experienced w/ one, use slow cooker recipes. There are a lot of bad slow cooker recipes--in fact, I'd say the majority are. Look for ones that use meat w/ connective tissue/fat (dark meat chicken, chuck roast, pork shoulder, short ribs, etc.) if you want meat. Make sure to sear it first. Dump and go don't generally work. It is more time consuming, imo, to use a crock pot but it's a perfect cooking vehicle if you're leaving the house and want to come home to a meal.