“Think about the slow cooker as an all-in-one cooking center,” says cookbook author Bruce Weinstein, who co-wrote 2014’s The Great American Slow Cooker Book with Mark Scarbrough .
“It’s a perfect item for simply heating up canned stuff too,” Weinstein added. “But the great thing about the slow cooker is that they can set it all up, even if it’s canned soup or canned chili, in the morning, and it’s ready when they get back from class anytime.”
Indeed, cookbook author Anupy Singla set off to university and graduate school armed with slow cookers in three sizes so she could cook the foods she loved. Singla, author of 2010’s The Indian Slow Cooker among other books, underscores the advantage that the appliance doesn’t require “a lot of hands-on time.”
Still, while Weinstein notes a slow cooker can double as an ice bucket in a pinch or an air freshener if you cook some cinnamon sticks on high, it has its limitations. Don’t expect browning or much precooking, Weinstein says, noting recipes should include ingredients “that are ready to go”. The freezer and fresh produce aisles are going to be the best place to shop, he added.
Now, you might not need three slow cookers, but even one can be amazingly versatile whether you use it in your room (check the dorm rules first) or in a communal kitchen. Here are a few ideas on how to use your slow cooker. Check out their cookbooks, or go online to find how-to info.
1. Oatmeal. Get breakfast going the night before, using 1 part steel-cut oats to 4 parts water. Cook for 6 hours on low. Sweeten with honey.
2. Soup. Throw 1 1/2 cups dried legumes (lentils, beans, etc.), 1/2 cup rice and/or grains or seeds (like quinoa), 2 cups chopped vegetables (onions, carrots, celery, tomato), 6 to 7 cups water, and salt and pepper to taste in a slow cooker. Cook on high for about 5 hours.
3. Pulled pork. Cook a boneless pork loin with a bottle of barbecue sauce for 8 hours on low. Get your friends to bring buns and plenty of napkins.
Get creative: you can even make Korean specialities with very little effort.
4. Bibimbap. Cook 2 cups brown rice in 3 1/2 cups hot water for 2 hours on high/ 6 hours on low. Stir in as much chili sauce as you like, kimchee if you have it, greens and veggies snagged from the dining hall salad bar, leftover cooked chicken, beef or pork, if you eat meat, and, an optional raw egg. Toss it all until well mixed.
5. Chili with franks. Heat three cans of chili in the slow cooker with three to four sliced hot dogs, 2 hours on high/ 6 on low. Top with grated cheese.
Spiced kidney beans. Put 3 cups dried kidney beans (rinsed) in a slow cooker. Add 1 onion chopped, 2 chopped tomatoes, minced ginger if you have it, 4 minced cloves garlic, 2 to 4 chopped chilies. Season with 4 whole cloves, 2 tablespoons salt, 1 tablespoon cumin seeds and 2 teaspoons each garam masala and turmeric powder. Cook on high for 12 hours, adding 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro about 5 minutes before the end of cooking.
7. Chocolate fondue. Melt chocolate squares in the slow cooker on low, for up to a few hours. Stir in enough milk to loosen the texture for dipping. Pair with cubed cake and chopped fruit.
And two bonus uses if this really is your only kitchen gadget:
- Coffee or tea. Machines kept at a low temperature setting of around 95 Celsius can be used to heat water for both drinks.
- Hard-boiled eggs. Fill cooker halfway with water, and set on high before going to bed. In the morning, water should be steaming hot. Add eggs, cook for 18 minutes.