The beauty of bulk
Bulk cooking (also known as batch processing or food prep) is the secret for almost all people I know who eat well and have mostly homemade food. When I hear “I’m too busy to cook” – it’s usually the truth. Most people don’t have time to shop, prep, and cook all their meals fresh daily with the hour+ that entails. But even though food doesn’t have to be your first priority every day, by making it a top priority on one day a week, you can stock and prepare enough food to get you through most meals.
For example, by cooking a batch of oatmeal on the weekend, and stocking up on berries and nuts, you can have breakfast ready every day in under 5 minutes. Spending some time to buy salad supplies and pre-packing containers (dressing on the side, of course – no soggy salads here!) could be lunch. My friend and fellow dietitian Amaris is the prep-ahead lunch salad queen, and makes a new round every week:
But when you want something savory, warm, and hearty, there’s no second to the slow cooker. This set-it-and-forget-it miracle of modern life is one of the most important (and yet often least expensive) appliances you can have in your kitchen, and it makes both bulk prep and weekday prep a breeze. Load it up, turn it on and in 5-7 hours you can fully cook a tender roast, a flavor-rich stew, or even a baked pasta dish.
To chili and beyond
Most people think of chili or other stews when they think about what they could make in a crock pot. But it can do so much more! Bone broth (or veggie broth) – sure! Lasagna? Done! Fajitas sans frying pan – so easy! Fresh bread, crunchy granola, and even snack mix? Absolutely. Your slow cooker should be in rotation to make something at least once a week.
Need more inspiration?
If you’re still not convinced that you need to get some slow cooking action into your routine, here are the some inspirational roundups to get your mouth watering and your menu plan rolling:
It’s time again for the RecipeRedux – a monthly link up of dietitians’ blogs, as we all focus in on a chosen food category! This time the theme is dehydrated food. I don’t own a dehydrator, and my oven leaves a lot to be desired, but last year I figured out how to use my slow cooker to make “fruit by the foot” and decided it was time for round 2.
One of the benefits of dehydrating is prolonged shelf life – removing water makes it less likely that many types of bacteria will grow. These fruit leathers could last weeks in the fridge in an airtight bag! They’re also much more portable; no bruising or smooshing to worry about.
A crock pot works surprisingly well as a dehydrator for purees. You can try this with many other fruit combos, just remember these two rules: 1) the lid must stay off for it to work this way and 2) only a thin amount of fruit can cover the bottom – ~1/4-1/2″ is ideal. My crock pot is a 6qt oval, so it has more floor space than smaller, circular ones.
Spicy Ginger Peach Fruit Chews
- 2 large peaches, pitted (skin on!)
- 1″ fresh ginger, peeled
- 1/2 jalapeno pepper, deseeded
Puree all ingredients in a blender. Coat crock pot with oil, pour in puree. Set on low for 10-11 hours, until fruit is fully dried. Peel out of pot, cut with a pizza wheel on a cutting board.
Click the frog for more amazing dehydrated recipes!
It’s crockpot recipe month with RecipeRedux – and the only guideline was “anything BUT casseroles,” so check the frog link below for more creative ideas.
Slow cookers are great for so many things beyond the tuna noodle, and the closest thing you’ll get to the food actually cooking itself. They don’t require as much energy as the whole oven, and can be filled in the kitchen and plugged in anywhere to free up counter space (a prime commodity in many DC area homes!). They’re cheap – I’ve even seen them sold in CVS for less than $20 – and easy to clean. Bottom line: if you don’t already own one, this fall is the time!
Onto the virtues of gummy candies…I love bears, worms, and fruit shapes alike. They’re my go-to movie theater treat, and have no redeemable nutritional qualities whatsoever. Of course, they’re fat-free – because they are 100% sugar (and syrups, dextrose, maltodextrin…) with artificial color, flavor, and some gelatin to hold it all together. I have them about 4 times a year (special treat!) but you can also use a slow cooker as a dehydrator to make a similar snack with nothing but fruit! This was my first experiment with pumpkin (I’ve also tried a banana-strawberry fruit by the foot!), and it worked well but was definitely better cut into small squares than strips.
This does take a long time to cook, but if you can make a smoothie and dump it into a crockpot, you can make these gummies!
Apple-Pumpkin Gummy Squares
- 2 medium apples, cored or with seeds removed
- 15 oz pumpkin puree
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 1 Tsp almond extract (optional)
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
Puree all ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Lightly oil a crockpot (mine is a 6-qt), pour in the mixture, and set on low for 12 hours (or until they are dried and slightly sticky to touch). Slice into squares with a pizza cutter. (You can toss them in cornstarch so they’re not as sticky, too!)