Top 5 slow cooker recipes

Does anyone else hear John Cusack in High Fidelity whispering in your ear about mix tapes? Okay, it’s just me. That’s okay–my dinner is already in the Crock Pot, which might give me time to go make a mix tape of my own (or maybe just go watch the movie).

Anyway, if you’re not using your slow cooker, I’m here to tell you that you should. I know, every recipe you see is full of cream-of-something soup and comes out looking like glop. I’ve tried my fair share of those, and to be honest, I’m still experimenting. But today I’m going to share my top five, never-fail slow cooker recipes. No, they’re not all one-pot dinners. A lot of times I find myself using the slow cooker to make components of meals so I don’t have to rely so much on canned goods that may have more sodium and additives than I’d like.

5. Overnight steel-cut oatmeal. 1 cup steel-cut oats, 4 cups water (or milk), a pinch of salt, any fruit or spices you like. Spray the slow cooker really well with cooking spray OR mix the ingredients in a heat safe bowl that fits inside the crock and pour enough water around it to come up about half the height of the bowl. Cook on low for 7 hours (if you use the bowl/water bath method, the timing is not so critical). In the morning, serve and add some toppings (I like brown sugar, chopped nuts and a drizzle of milk).

4. Chickpeas (or other beans). No soaking necessary, and great overnight. Rinse a 1-lb. bag of dried beans, dump in the crock with 8-10 cups of water. Cook on low 8-10 hours, or until beans are tender. Use some to make hummus or falafel and freeze the rest.

3. Pulled pork. No, it hasn’t been smoked for hours on a grill, but it’s awfully good. I like this recipe from Our Best Bites, but I like to add some cumin and use a splash of apple cider vinegar as the liquid. I cut the BBQ sauce with vinegar, too. Don’t forget the pickles and the slaw. This is great on a weeknight, and just as good for a party.

2. Overnight chicken broth. Chicken carcass and water. You can add some onion and vegetables if you like. Cook on low overnight. Strain and freeze. Free chicken broth, and you don’t even need a coupon.

1. Fauxtisserie Chicken. Every time there’s a good sale on whole chickens, I buy a couple and stick them in the freezer. This recipe is like Roast Chicken for Dummies, or at least for people who get home late from work/karate/piano lessons and need to eat RIGHT NOW. It’s also a great way to cook chicken that you want to use in another recipe. The meat falls right off the bone and is incredibly moist and juicy.

There you have it–my Top Five ways to use the slow cooker. Go forth and make your slow cooker work for you!

What’s  your Number One slow cooker recipe?

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Hummus

We’re watching the first season of Mad Men these days (don’t spoil it, friends), and just saw the episode where Pete Campbell exchanges a wedding gift–a ceramic  lettuce leaf and red pepper atrocity of a “chip and dip”–for a shotgun. Now how will they serve the sour cream and onion dip?

While it’s hard to beat a good sour cream and onion dip (with a bag of Ruffles), it’s not exactly a snack I’d feel good about offering on a regular basis. Enter the bowl of hummus. I’m sure hummus was unheard of by most people in the Mad Men days, but now it’s everywhere, and every grocery store has competing brands and multiple flavors. Roasted garlic! Red pepper! Mild! Spicy!

Hummus, pita chips and baby carrots was standard fare at playgroup gatherings when my kids were toddlers. My kids still love hummus, and we do, too. I like to make my own, because it’s easy and significantly cheaper, especially when I start with dried chickpeas instead of canned (though canned work perfectly fine). I also know exactly what’s in it, and can season it to our taste.

I usually cook beans in the slow cooker, preferably overnight. It takes about one minute of prep, and the next morning you can let it cool and divide the cooked beans into containers to freeze or use right away. It takes half of a one-pound bag of dried chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) for a single batch of hummus. No need to soak ahead of time, either–10 hours on low and they are just right.

Some people prefer to remove the skins, but I find it an unnecessary step.

Rinse 1 lb. dried chickpeas, and put them in a slow cooker with 8 cups of cold water and 1 Tbsp. kosher salt. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours, until the chickpeas are tender. Use about half of the cooked chickpeas for the following recipe. Freeze the rest or make falafel to go with the hummus!

Hummus

3 cups cooked chickpeas

3/4 cup-1 cup cooking liquid or water

juice of one lemon

1/2 cup tahini

2 garlic cloves warmed in 2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. ground cumin

1/4 cup fresh parsley

salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to the bowl of a food processor (start with the smaller amount of liquid and add more if necessary) and process until smooth (or leave it a little chunky if you prefer). Taste and adjust the seasoning.