Real food in a slow cooker

Jun 07 2013 0 Comments Tags: Nourishing Traditions, real food, slow cooker, stock

My slow cooker has become one the most useful tools in my kitchen for producing real food that is also tasty and cheap.  I use the slow cooker most often for four different dishes:

Making Stock
I used to think making stock was too hard.  And when I read Nourishing Traditions it sounded ever more difficult because the recommendation was to cook the stock for 12-24 hours, rather than just 2-3 hours I had read before.  I couldn't figure out how to make stock for that long.  Then I saw on a blog somewhere that I could use my slow cooker (sorry I can't link back, I forget where now, but this is another good example).  I felt so stupid that I didn't think of this myself!!  It is so easy and you don't have to worry about burning the house down.  I keep bones and vege scraps in a bag in the freezer and when I start to run low on stock (or if we cook a roast chicken), I'll load up the slow cooker with everything from the freezer, add a carrot, onion, anything excess from the garden, lots of herbs, pepper corns and some apple cider vinegar to release all the minerals.  Fill up the slow cooker with water and leave for up to 24 hours.  Then I just strain out the liquid into a large pot or container and let it cool in the fridge and then into smaller containers (usually old butter containers) and into the freezer.

We originally bought the slow cooker after we had a steer killed and the meat was rather tough.  The slow cooker is very useful for cooking cheaper cuts of meat until they are tender.  I use it to cook cuts like round, chuck, even rump and y-bone.  I also cook any of the older hens or roosters when we cull them.  The young ones are nice as roast meat, but the older ones are better as casserole.  My basic recipe is to brown the meat in a separate pan and put the cooked meat in the slow cooker.  Then I will fry onions and garlic and maybe sliced carrot, celery, or any other vege that we have in excess.  When they are wilted, I add stock and wine, bring to the boil and tip that into the slow cooker.  Then I add a few herbs, usually thyme, oregano and rosemary.  That will cook for 6-8 hours and be lovely and tender.  Before serving, I stir in some flour mixed in water to thicken the sauce, and any green leafy veges and some chopped parsley.  This is a good way to use up leftovers and scraps of veges as well as cheaper cuts of meat.  I will usually start a casserole in the morning before work (sometimes chop things up the night before, so its just a matter of throwing it all in the pan and then into the slow cooker), and its ready for dinner when we get home.

If you need a proper recipe, there's a good one here.

Summer Pot Roast
In summer, when its 30degC in the house, turning on the oven is not an attractive idea, so I tend to cook a roast in the slow cooker or the Webber BBQ.  The slow cooker is great for "pot roasts", especially rolled rib roast, but any cut of roast can be cooked like this.  I just use pretty much the same method as for the casserole, except I fish out the roast before thickening the sauce.

I didn't have a photo of soup, so here's "rendering fat" instead!

I like to make soup, but I don't like to be stuck at home minding it while it cooks.  If I make the soup in the slow cooker, I know it won't stick to the bottom, and I can leave the house without worrying about leaving the soup on the gas burner.  The soup generally doesn't need as long to cook as the casserole or roast, so I don't leave it while we're at work, but I do leave it for a few hours while doing other chores.

Do you use a slow cooker?  Any tips?

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