I first bought a slow cooker after our first experience butchering a steer at home. Unfortunately, we didn't know that we should try not to stress the animal before the butcher came, we weren't horrible to him, but we did keep him in a small pen by himself overnight so we were ready for the butcher. This change in routine meant that the meat was incredibly tough and the only way to eat it was to slow cook most of it.
(I have learnt a lot and written a lot about butchering since then, see more posts here)
That was about 10 years ago, and since then I've had the slow cooker going most weeks, for casseroles, curries, roasts and stock. Its turned out to be a very convenient way to cook, even if the meat isn't tough. And I have mostly used it to cook meat, apart from the occasional soup (and even soap!).
I also like to use other "low and slow" cooking methods to release the flavour - the solar oven and our new off-set smoker.
But what about vegetables....?
When I was sent a review copy of the book Modern Slow Cooker: 85 vegetarian and vegan recipes to make your life easy (affiliate link) by the wonderful Alyce Alexandra (find her on Instagram here), I was surprised so see it was all vegetable-based recipes, no meat at all. I have a few different slow cooker recipe books, and they are all meat-based.
You know that I raise and eat meat here on our property, but I also grow and eat a lot of vegetables, and I'm always looking for different ways to cook them. I can always add meat to a vegetarian recipe, but most "meat" recipes are a bit low on vegetables for my liking.
I also liked the section on sweets and cleaning recipes! I've never thought to use my slow cooker to make pudding.
How to use a slow cooker
The book starts with some really good information for anyone new to slow cooking and a few tips that I hadn't considered - I didn't know that you don't have to fill your slow cooker. And some that I've learnt the hard way - don't put frozen bones or stock into a hot slow cooker (I cracked the dish and had to buy a new one). Also stick blenders are wonderful companions to slow cookers, I use mine to whiz up the sauces and soaps directly in the pot.
The biggest advantage of the slow cooker is you can safely leave it running for hours even if you're not home, or while you're asleep. You can cook bulk meals to be reheated during the week, or to cater for large group. I don't think it saves time overall, but it does move the prep time to earlier in the day (or sometimes I cut up everything the evening before and throw it all into the slow cooker before leaving for work), or even earlier in the week (we often do a bulk meal on Sundays to heat up throughout the week).
What's different about this book?
- I did not realise that you could cook potatoes in a slow cooker - this book includes recipes for jacket potatoes, mashed potatoes and roast potatoes! We don't eat much potato because I can't be bothered waiting for them to cook when I'm hungry for dinner, so this is an excellent solution.
- I had a lot of tomatoes when this book arrived, so I tried the tomato pasta sauce - I added eggplant and capsicum (also from my garden) and beef stock (because I put that in everything) - and ate it with beef meatballs instead of pasta - yummy! (if you eat pasta, this recipe adds it directly to the sauce, which would save a pot, I didn't know you could do that!).
- I also had a lot of zucchinis, so I made the zucchini pasta sauce with rice noodles, cauliflower, mushrooms and cheese. It is a great way to use up a zucchini glut.
- The sweets section was interesting, particularly the concept of using the slow cooker as a water bath to cook puddings. I tried the custard jars (added Lindt chocolate, and swapped coconut milk for the cream) they were very delicious - only problem was finding jars in my collection that fitted in the slow cooker with the lid on (tip - check the jars fit before you add the custard mixture!).
- The Mexican spice mix is similar to the mix I've been using for ages, and its so much better than buying packets just to make tacos!
- And I love the citrus cleaner idea, I've been making similar, but just leaving at room temp for weeks - heating in the slow cooker will speed up the process if you've run out and need to make more.
Overall this book is great for anyone who likes to eat vegetables and puddings (vegetarians, vegans and everyone else included!). It has practical tips to get you started and delicious, easy-to-follow recipes with ingredients you will likely have at home (or in the garden!).
Do you use a slow cooker? Any tips?