A Naturopath, many years ago, gave me a fabulous piece of advice when I was a time-poor, stressed out Junior in a Melbourne architecture firm. GET A SLOW COOKER.
Now fast forward 10 years, as a mother, and a business owner, I’ve got more need for it than ever! I paid $40 for my 6L cooker, and have owned it for who knows how long! Slow cookers & crock pots fortunately, don’t break the bank and the benefits of slow cooking meals, especially as our Autumn turns to Winter, are well worth the investment.
5 great reasons to own a slow cooker...
Long & slow cooked meats make them super tender (think of your favourite lamb shanks!) which means you can opt for the cheapest cuts at the butcher. Bone-in meats also tend to be cheaper but they're perfect for slow cooking as the meat literally falls off, and you get the nutrients from the bone leaching into the liquid. Cheap & bone-in meats ALSO mean you can opt for those free-range/pasture-fed or organic meats that may normally be out of your budget.
You don’t even need meat; a slow cooked Vegetable & Chickpea Curry is just DIVINE and takes even less time than slow cooked beef or lamb. Beans and legumes are an excellent source of minerals and protein, and a long cook time helps to break down the phytates (nutrient-blocking compounds) making their nutrition much more bioavailable!
Keep your recipes super simple; a meat, loads of veg (pretty much anything goes), herbs, stock, and you can beef it up further (and inexpensively) with beans/legumes/wholegrains (such as lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, or barley). You’ll find yourself with (literally) days worth of nutritious food.
This is HUGE for me. The hours between 4pm & 7pm every day are “the witching hour”, when I’m not only tired AF, but juggling a grizzly child who needs entertaining, dinner, and a bath. The LAST thing I feel like doing during that, is making a healthy dinner for me. Glass of wine, anyone!?
However Elodie has great energy and entertains herself in the mornings, and THIS is the time to set up my dinner. Brown-off some meat, roughly chop up some veggies, throw it all in the cooker, and by 6 or 7pm the house smells like roast or curry and you have dinner without the effort, at a time when you not only need maximum nutrition but minimal cooking. When I was working in the corporate world before I opened a yoga studio, I'd pop my slow cooker on low at 7am, and when I got home at 7pm, I could sit straight down to dinner. It also stopped me grabbing takeaway on the way home because I had already lost my energy to cook. Uh-mazing right?!
Slow cooked casseroles are also a great choice if you're having people over for dinner and you know that juggling the prep for multiple serves & side dishes isn't going to be great for your sanity, but you still want to create something delicious and heartfelt for your guests.
Bulk cooking equals convenience. You can scale a slow cooker recipe up or down depending on how many you're feeding (personally I just make as much as the slow cooker can hold!)
Sure, dinner is sorted... but so is your lunch tomorrow. And tomorrows dinner. Do you have people coming over for dinner at short notice? Grab a few serves of stew out of the freezer and thaw it in the slow cooker on low. Maybe you know someone who just had a baby? Help a sister out and deliver some casserole to her! Slow-cooked meals & stews are perfect for freezing, packing in take-to-work portions, or simply leave in the fridge for tomorrow’s lunch and dinner…. AND at a fraction of the price (and time) of cooking a new meal or buying lunch at the cafe. Enough said.
Some essential nutrients are termed “water soluble” such as B vitamins. That means we require water to take them up in our body. Unfortunately this also means that cooking them in water (like boiling the humble broccoli) leaches those nutrients out. Not so for slow-cookers because (like soup) we consume the lot, liquid included. Any nutrients that are leached from bone, joints, grains, or veg, remain in the broth itself.
Slow cooking also doesn't subject the ingredients to blasts of high frying heat that can denature/breakdown some nutrients. I like to think of slow-cooked meals and stews as the “green smoothie” of the dinner world. They’re easy to make, and a great way to pack maximum nutrients into minimum consumption. Just look at all those vegetables and you have an opportunity to embrace the variety thats so often lacking. We're creatures of habit... if we usually buy the same 3 vegetable types in every food shop, its a chance to expand your options, tastebuds, and of course, the key to good nutrition is variety.
It also enables us to explore more plant-based sources of iron, fibre, and protein, which is not only better for the environment and your digestive system, but the slow cooking process helps make these nutrients in lentils, beans, and grains, more available to digest.
5. BONE BROTH and BABY FOOD.
Delicious warming bone broth! Have you heard of this wonderful food? Bone broth is made by cooking the bones and joints of your leftovers (or simply buy chuck bones & bird frames from the butcher). I save our leftover meat bones in the freezer, add in some fresh butcher store bones, and then cook them in batches. They’re cooked in water (plus garlic/ginger) for 24-30 hours in a slow cooker – which if you’re doing in a stovetop pot is not only risky (you cant leave it unattended while you go out!) but is a lot less economical on gas/electricity than a slow cooker.
At the end of this long cook time, the smaller bones have vapourised and the larger bones are soft enough that they crumble beneath your nail. All those incredible minerals & gelatin are now in the liquid, which is then strained. Liquid gold, that is! I add bone broth to my soups & curries for flavour (and nutrients) and I also drink it on its own, heated to steaming hot first thing in the morning, with salt & pepper and a squeeze of lemon. I will save the full nutrition spiel for another post, but suffice to say, you need bone broth in your life (especially in winter) if you are feeling run down, have digestive upsets, or are prone to getting sick.
Baby food? Yes! Slow-cooked meals are flavoursome and nutritious and importantly, whether you’re at puree or mash stage, they convert really well to meals for your little one. The vegetables, meat or any legumes are lovely and soft for developing palates. Depending on what stage Elodie was at during her weaning I'd either serve up a little stew with her pasta shapes to be eaten with her chubby little fingers, so she can pick out pieces of meat, carrot, broccoli trees, pasta etc. Or I might even sprinkle in a little cheese, mash it with the back of a fork and shovel it in. This also means its easy to share your dinner or lunch, which in my experience means fussy-britches is more enthusiastic to eat because it comes from Mum's plate, not hers. Go figure.
Do give slow cooking a go, and aim for just one batch a week. You'll be surprised at how easy it is, and the stress it takes out of preparing just 5-6 less meals a week (thats over 20 meals a month you don't have to cook!). Ive even included my easy starter recipe below.
3 large sprigs rosemary (plus any other herbs you fancy - I also use liberal amounts of turmeric)
2 garlic cloves (smashed to release the oils)
1 large tin crushed tomatoes
1 small jar of tomato paste
1/2 celery bunch
1 brown onion
1 small broccoli
3 silver beet or kale leaves
Salt & pepper
*Vegetable amounts are a rough guide
Brown off the meat in a frypan for 1-2 minutes. You don't want to COOK the meat, just sear a few edges
Roughly chop the vegetables. Keep them chunky
Combine all ingredients in crockpot/slowcooker and add enough water to cover the vegetables
Put the lid on and cook! If you're cooking for 6 hours or less, aim for a high setting. Longer than 6 hours, use the low setting. You can use a fork to test the softness of the meat. If its still tough, give it another 1-2 hours.
This post is supported by Midland Gate - There's no taste like Midland Gate.