Kitchen Hacks: 10 tips for Slow Cooker Success

A few years ago Father Christmas kindly brought me a slow cooker. It sat unused for a few months because I didn’t think it would be that different to using my oven. How wrong was I? I’m now in love my slow cooker, I can throw a bunch of ingredients in, turn it on and then by teatime I’ve got a lovely meal to give my family.

My slow cooker is a very basic model, but that’s all I need. It turns cheap cuts of meat into fall-apart, tender meals my family love.  It costs much less to run than my oven and everything I put in there turns into a delicious cuddle of a meal.

Kitchen Hacks: 10 tips for Slow Cooker Success

Plus, and for me this is huge, I’m a vegetarian and I’ve discovered that cooking bland and boring quorn mince in the slow cooker makes it really delicious. I make all kinds of (quorn) mince meals in mine, from bolognaise to chilli and shepherd pie. Each and every time it’s delicious and I’ve served it to confirmed carnivores without complaint.

With a few years of slow cooking experience under my belt, today I’m sharing my tips for slow cooker success.

Pre-heat your slow cooker – like a pre-heated oven, a pre-heated slow cooker will speed up the cooking process. I like to switch it on so it’s warming while I’m preparing my meal to go in the cooker.

Prep the night before – if you’re planning on switching your slow cooker on in the morning before heading out to work, you can save time by doing all the prep you need the night before, then switch it on to cook as you’re leaving the house. I’ve seen lots of very organised people who prep a lot of slow cooker meals, put them in bags and freeze them, ready to be put in the slow cooker. I wish I was that organised!

Brown your meat – I often make stews in my slow cooker. It really lends itself to cooking cheaper cuts of meat, like shin of beef or oxtail. Before I put them in the pot, I usually brown my meat in a frying pan first. The second part of this tip is roll your meat in seasoned flour before you brown it; this will help to thicken the sauce while it’s cooking.

Cook some of your veg first – root vegetables are fine to go in raw, but I like to fry off onions, celery and mushrooms first. They can go in raw, but I think they give a better flavour if you have cooked them first.

Beware too much liquid – the slow cooker is not too great at thickening sauces on its own. Add just enough liquid when you’re cooking, you can always add more if it needs it.

Boil the kettle – Use hot liquids if you can to speed up cooking. If the recipe calls for stock, make sure it’s hot. This will save the slow cooker the effort of heating it up and hot liquids will speed up the cooking process.

Root veg at the bottom – if your recipe calls for root veg, it’s best to put it in the pot first, it’ll take some time to cook through until it’s tender, and the best way to do this is at the bottom of the cooker where the liquid is.

Leave it alone – it can be tempting when you’re cooking something which smells delicious to keep lifting the lid and taking a look. Every time you lift the lid the cooker will lose heat, this will add to your cooking time. It’s best to leave it and to check it and stir it only towards the end of the cooking time.

Best cooked low and slow – in my experience, slow cooker meals are best if they’ve been cooked on the low setting for longer. It’s tempting to whack things on high to get it to cook quicker, which is fine; but if you can, low and slow is best. One hour on high = two hours low.

Add fresh herbs right at the end – if your recipe calls for fresh herbs, add these at the very end. Dried herbs stand up remarkably well in the slow cooker, but fresh herbs will lose their vibrancy.

Those are my tips for slow cooker success. Have you got any tips you can add? Please comment below.

If you enjoyed this, you might like to try these slow cooker recipes:

Kitchen Hacks: 10 tips for Slow Cooker Success

Kitchen Hacks: 10 Savvy Ways to Cook Food Faster

During the week I find myself throwing meals together quite quickly. I like to cook as much as I can from scratch, but this can be time-consuming. In a push it can be tempting to pick up a ready meal or a takeaway, but if you’re savvy you can cook food faster. Over the years I’ve picked up a few habits to get meals to the table a bit quicker.

Kitchen Hacks: 10 Super Speedy Ways to Cook Food Faster

Today I’m sharing some of the ways I cook food faster.

1. Most frozen vegetables can be steamed in 3-4 minutes in the microwave, just throw it in a microwave proof dish, add a splash of water and put the lid loosely on top.

2. Likewise, fresh vegetables can be quickly cooked in the microwave. My son loves baby sweetcorn, so I add a splash of water and microwave them (and all kinds of other veg) until they’re cooked.

3. If you’re making a sausage sandwich, slice them length-ways first, flatten them out and they’ll cook in half the time.

4. If you’re using the oven, as soon as you start to prep your meal, put your oven on high, you can adjust the temperature later, you just need to get it preheated asap.

5. While I’m waiting for the oven to heat up, depending on what I’m cooking, I might defrost things in the microwave first. So things like oven chips I might defrost for 5 minutes to speed up the cooking process.

6. Same with pans. Boil the kettle and/or get a pan on asap. Don’t overdo the amount of water – it will boil faster and be less likely to boil over.

7. Prick potatoes with a fork, the heat will them penetrate better so they cook quicker.

8. Jacket potatoes are an easy, fairly healthy meal. They’re best done in the oven, but you can shave at least half an hour off the oven cooking time by cooking them in the microwave until they’re just cooked through, then put them in the oven so the skin crisps up and the potato goes fluffy on the inside.

9. Portion control – you’ll cook faster if you only cook just enough instead of too much. Learn to take things off the heat when they’re just done, especially if you’re holding them before serving, the internal heat will keep them cooking a little bit longer.

10. Slow cooking seems like the opposite of fast cooking, but if you’re organised you can throw a meal together in the morning, have it cook all day and it’s ready and waiting when you get home.

What are your super speedy cooking tips? I’d love you to share them in the comments.

If you found this helpful, you can find my 7 Time Saving Cheats for Busy Cooks here.

Kitchen Hacks: 10 Super Speedy Ways to Cook Food Faster

Kitchen Hacks: 7 Time Saving Cheats for Busy Cooks

I’m one of those cook-from-scratch types who cheats and feels no shame about it at all. I will happily spend hours watching over a bubbling stew, just don’t ask me to make some mash to go with it. I’ve been thinking about the kind of time saving cheats I use in my kitchen

I have certain rules for cheating which I’ve imposed on myself. For example, I won’t use a jar of pasta sauce, but I will use a jar of pesto. I can knock up a decent tomato pasta sauce in a few minutes; but pesto requires a blender, a garden full of basil and a whole load of ingredients I generally can’t be bothered with.

Kitchen Hacks: 7 Time Saving Cheats for Busy Cooks

I also have my ability (or rather lack of ability) to stand in the kitchen for hours prepping meals. I have a spinal injury, chronic pain and neurological problems which can make hours of prep intolerable for me. Sometimes my hands and arms can go numb too. The idea of peeling spuds with numb hands sets off a number of health and safety alarm bells in my head. Sometimes it’s just better to choose convenience over cut fingers. In short, there are some time saving cheats I’m prepared to forgive myself for, here are some of my favourite ones.

7 Time Saving Cheats for Busy Cooks

One – Frozen mashed potato. I first discovered frozen mash on a trip to Ikea and I’ve been buying it from supermarkets ever since. It costs around £1 a bag and each bag is enough for two meals for our 3 person family. It’s just frozen mashed potato with milk and a bit of seasoning. I usually add more milk and butter, a few minutes in the microwave and you’ve got beautiful, smooth, lump-free mash. There’s no going back to mashing my own from scratch now, and I’m not even sorry.

Two – Ready to roll pastry. I can and do make pastry from scratch when I want to and have the time, but the ready rolled stuff costs about £1 and saves about half an hour of prepping and cleaning up afterwards. If I’m throwing a quick pie or tart together, this is such a time saving ingredient. There’s no shame in using shop bought pastry, no shame at all!

Three – Lazy garlic/chilli/ginger etc. There’s no doubt that fresh is probably better in this case, but unless I’m doing serious batch cooking, then buying a whole bulb of garlic for one or two cloves is a bit wasteful. My garlic tends to start sprouting before I get round to using it all. Tubes or jars of ready crushed garlic, chilli or ginger are a great store-cupboard staple I wouldn’t be without.

Four – Frozen, ready prepared vegetables. Frozen veg has always lived in my freezer, but in recent years it’s taken a bit of a step forward. You can get ready chopped onion which saves you tears and oniony smelling fingers, I like frozen sliced mushrooms and frozen sliced peppers. They’re so handy if I’m making a quick pasta dish and need to up the veg content. My freezer is also always home to a bag of frozen cauliflower. The cauliflower makes a quick and hearty soup or gets thrown into macaroni cheese to make it more of a balanced meal.

I can also recommend frozen butternut squash pieces. Trying to cut a butternut squash is like trying to finely dice a brick, save yourself time and a trip to A&E by just buying it ready diced and frozen. It tastes no different but it is hard to find, so buy a couple of bags, you won’t regret it.

Cauliflower Cheese Soup

Five – Microwavable rice pouches. My husband makes beautiful rice, I don’t. I have given up trying and usually use boil in the bag rice; although I do flavour the cooking water with stock or turmeric. These days I always have a couple of microwavable pouches in the cupboard. They’re quite expensive and not as healthy as rice you’d cook yourself, but they’re really handy if you’re rubbish at cooking rice or need a speedy supper.

Six – Grated cheese. I use grated cheese a lot at home. You can buy ready grated cheese, but I find that it behaves a little differently to normal blocks of cheese. This is because it’s usually coated in starch to stop it clumping together. I do sometimes still buy it; but often I’ll buy a big block and run it through the grater setting on my food processor, box it up and use it when I need it. Sometimes I just grate by hand until I get bored, and put it in a box in the fridge until I need it.

Seven – Breadcrumbs are part of so many meals I cook. If I know I’ll be getting the food processor out for some batch cooking chopping, then a few days before I’ll buy a crusty loaf to go stale, chunk it up and whizz it in the food processor until it’s crumbs. I put the crumbs in a tub in the freezer, if you give it a shake every so often the crumbs should separate beautifully. You’ll have enough fresh breadcrumbs for a few months for almost no effort.

And if all else fails, order a takeaway! What are your time saving kitchen cheats? Do you worship at the altar of frozen mash too?

Kitchen Hacks: 7 Time Saving Cheats for Busy Cooks