10 unusual foods you can make in a slow cooker

slow cooker
CC BY 2.0 Janine

A slow cooker's work should not end with dinner. Put it to use for breakfast, snacks, and even desserts.

The time has come to realize your slow cooker’s true potential! All too often relegated to the kitchen cupboard on days when chili or stew aren't on the menu, this versatile tool can do so much more than most home cooks realize. Look at the following list of unusual things you can make with a slow cooker and learn how to use this device to your advantage. Become a better prepared, better organized, and more relaxed cook.

Please note: I have purposely omitted the usual uses (i.e. main course dinners) for a slow cooker because those are the ones that everyone already knows.

1. Cook dried beans

Dried beans reach their best consistency at low, steady heat – something that can be hard to achieve on a stovetop. Pre-soak beans or chickpeas overnight. Drain and dump into slow cooker, covering at least 2 inches with cold water. If you want some extra flavor, add a few springs of thyme, a chopped onion, 1-2 cloves garlic, and some freshly ground pepper. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. Check for doneness close to end of cooking time.

2. Make Greek yogurt

Homemade yogurt is easy to make, once you get the hang of it. It requires heating and cooling on the stove, and eventual mixing with a starter culture before a prolonged incubation at very low heat. You can use a slow cooker to do the initial heating and the incubation. After, the yogurt must be strained through cheesecloth to the desired consistency. Here is a recipe from Daring Gourmet for Greek yogurt.

3. Simmer stock

Instead of having to watch a simmering mega-pot of stock, toss your vegetable and meat scraps into the slow cooker. Cover with water, add some aromatics, and leave to simmer for hours. It will cook best if covered, but this will not allow evaporation, so do not expect a more concentrated stock; the flavor will be rich nonetheless.

4. Make vegetable side dishes

Slow cookers are usually thought of in terms of main dishes, but you can also prepare sides. Cook potatoes for mashing. Stew chunks of squash, pumpkin, and turnips for puréeing. Boil whole beets all day long, then peel and serve.

5. Dessert, anyone?

Yes, you can make dessert in a slow cooker! Try a recipe for rice pudding, which cooks best at low, slow heat (keep the lid ajar), or check out this delectable peach cobbler.

6. Make granola

This method is shockingly easy. Mix granola ingredients directly in the slow cooker and let ‘bake’ for several hours, lid ajar. Spread on a baking sheet to cool and crisp more quickly.

7. Make fruit butter

Apple butter is a delicious fall treat. With a slow cooker, it’s an easy treat to prepare and will make your house smell heavenly. Cook slices with spices all day long, then puree and put into jars. Recipe here from Brown-Eyed Baker.

8. Prepare homemade ketchup

Ditch the superfluous sugar and sodium with this delectable homemade version that uses a can of tomato puree and lots of spices. It stores and freezes well. Recipe from 100 Days of Real Food.

9. Make-ahead breakfast

Steel-cut oats are a morning favorite, but unless pre-soaked, can take forever to cook. Make them for weekday mornings by starting them the night before in a slow cooker. Cook with water, milk, or cream. Add spices like cinnamon and vanilla, nuts and chopped dried fruit.

10. Mull some cider

Something magical happens when you simmer cider with spices for a prolonged period of time – a job for which a slow cooker is perfectly suited. Only a shot of whiskey can make this autumnal treat even more perfect. See this recipe for Apple Whiskey Cider from Food52.

Tags: Cooking

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