Buy a Slow Cooker for Cheap, Easy Dinners

Buy a slow cooker for efficient and easy home cooking!

Why buy a slow cooker?

It's perfectly possible to cook food with the aid of a couple of light bulbs and a well-insulated box. The experiment was shown on British TV (The Human Power Station, BBC HD, December 2009). A chicken was well-cooked this way in an hour and a half! (If you want to catch the footage, most of it is on Youtube.)

The easy - but slightly cooler - equivalent is to cook with a slow cooker. Slow cookery is quite simple and also quite eco-friendly if done right.

Here's a page about how to choose and buy a slow cooker, with a little bit about slow cookery - all from a green living perspective.

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Slow cooker advantages

A slow cooker can be a great time and even money-saving device. If you have a busy lifestyle, you can spend just a few minutes loading up the slow cooker with goodies to eat later, secure in the knowledge that it will cook steadily for hours without the risk of crater-izing your food!

Slow cookery is really very simple and many recipes can be quickly adapted for use in a slow cooker.

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Time and money savings

From a green living perspective slow cookers have much to recommend them.

Yes, they use electricity but the wattage used is quite low and provided that you are not leaving them on for unnecessary hours, they can be reasonably frugal. Mine runs at 200 watts. As it saves on expensive bottled gas, in our household it's a boon. It also saves some in wasted food. When you are busy trying to do several things at once, it can be so easy to burn the dinner!

Of course, if you are lucky enough to get some or all your energy from renewable sources, the green credentials are even better.

No burning!

It's hard to burn food in a slow cooker.

When you cook on top of the hob you cannot leave food unattended for more than a moment or two. Because the heat source is at the bottom of the pan there is a strong possibility that you will burn your food if you leave it unattended or unstirred for more than a few minutes. This is so, even if you have added plenty of liquid.

A slow cooker cooks from all around, so, provided that you add enough water to start with you are very unlikely to burn food. Of course, you can still overcook food if you leave the cooker on for too long. The temperatures which are used by slow cookers are less than boiling point, so even over-cooking takes quite some time.

Less burnt food equals less wasted money.

Take-away temptation

If you replace one or two take-away dinners a week with home cooked food, your slow cooker will pay for itself in no time. Or even if you replace supermarket ready meals with home-cooked food, you will save money.

You can also tackle some of those money-saving recipes that you keep meaning to try. Bean and pulse dishes* do well in a slow cooker. So does anything that you might cook in a Dutch oven or casserole.

* See below for important safety advice on cooking pulses.

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What to look for in a slow cooker

If you needed convincing to buy a slow cooker, then all the above points should help sway you. Here's a bit about what to look for when you buy a slow cooker for your family.

A slow cooker is quite a simple piece of kit. There is usually a ceramic cooking pot housed inside a metal container. The metal outer shell has heating elements running through it. This means that the food in the ceramic pot is heated from all directions (except from above). The cooker plugs into the mains and takes the temperature in the cooking vessel to just under boiling point. At this temperature food will cook thoroughly, safely and economically.

A well-fitting toughened-glass lid completes the device.

The ceramic pot can be lifted out for washing. If the metal work needs cleaning a simple wipe with a damp cloth when the machine is off is usually enough.

There is a choice between round and oval slow cookers. Oval slow cookers are a better buy if you plan to use your slow cooker for roasting. Round slow cookers tend to be cheaper.

You place your food - and required amount of liquid - into the pot and simply switch it on. There is usually a choice of settings for very slow cookery or less slow cookery, depending upon the dish and when you want it to be ready.


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Cheap cuts

Like the pressure cooker, a slow cooker enables us to get the best out of cheap cuts of meat. Long slow cooking leads to meat which is tender and succulent. Many meat dishes benefit from this kind of approach.

Wild meat such as partridge and rabbit can be cooked in a slow cooker with benefit.

Slow cookers and energy use

If you normally use an electric oven the energy usage is likely to be far lower when you use a slow cooker. According to the consumer group "Which" an average slow cooker will used 240 watts to cook a meal compared to over 700 watts for a conventional oven.

Follow instructions

Provided that you use your slow cooker correctly, it should cook your food cheaply and effectively.

It's important to follow instructions carefully, especially to begin with until you get the hang of using a slow cooker for your meals.

You can't hurry it!

If you want a meal by a certain time it is vital that you plan ahead. Once your slow cooker is going there is nothing that can be done to hurry it up. Most have several settings so that you can cook faster or slower - but even the fast settings are slow by normal standards.

If you find you have miss-timed your dinner and it's important to be out of the house... then you will just have to transfer the contents of the slow cooker into an ordinary pan, or even use a microwave.

Read about slow cooking

Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking is good on using your slow cooker effectively. It has some great ideas for soups, meats, appetizers, dips, and desserts - you name it!

Almost everything is possible with a reasonably good quality slow cooker (or crock pot). If you are planning to buy a slow cooker in the near future, this book will inspire you!

Auto-cook

If you want to buy a slow cooker that's a bit more sophisticated, some of the pricier slow cookers have an auto-cook setting. This starts the dish at a higher temperature and then reduces the heat for the duration of the cooking. This results in especially tender and well-cooked food.

Even a very basic model should provide good value. If you do buy a slow cooker make sure that it is as environmentally friendly as possible - not just landfill fodder! Keep any guarantees and documentation in case it does not come up to expectations, of course.

I've been using my slow cooker for a few months now. I haven't quite got around to many of the possibilities yet - but I've used it enough to be glad that I finally decided to buy a slow cooker for the family. This is one purchase that is definitely not redundant in our house. I'm particularly impressed with the fact that it can take only a very few minutes to load it up with goodies - and then a few hours later you have a piping hot meal, ready to go!

Safety note

Dried beans should be soaked and then cooked in boiling water before using them in a slow cooker.

The temperature in a slow cooker when it is cooking is just not high enough to kill off all the toxins found in some dried beans and pulses.

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Easy Dutch oven recipes

Cooking with a pressure cooker

The best cookware for green living



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