Everyone knows that the slow cooker is the hero of winter cooking: soups, stews, and braises cooking gently all day and perfuming the house with comforting aromas. Whether it’s for chili night, pulled pork, or pot roast, slow cookers are in regular rotation all season long.
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But there are some uses for your slow cooker that you might not have thought of, all of which are also terrific winter cooking projects! Here are 5 creative uses for your slow cooker this chilly season.
Truly well-caramelized onions take much longer than most recipes acknowledge: up to 45 minutes or longer for a really rich deep brown. Who has time to baby the stove for that long? Enter the slow cooker. I make a big batch of caramelized onions in my slow cooker, portion them in half-cup zip-top bags, and stash them in the freezer so they’re ready to go for any recipe that calls for them.
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The world’s easiest dulce de leche or caramel just requires canned sweetened condensed milk, your slow cooker, and time. Even better, it cooks in the sealed can, so you can make several cans at once and always have them on hand when you need them! Here’s what to do: Remove the paper labels from your cans, place them in your slow cooker, cover with hot tap water by a couple of inches, and put the lid on the cooker. Set your slow cooker to low, and let it go for 8 hours for a golden caramel or 10 hours for a darker, richer caramel. Remove from the water and let cool to room temperature before opening. Do not open when hot, as the molten caramel is still under pressure and will explode (says someone who made this mistake once and had to remove caramel from all her cabinet fronts AND the ceiling).
Bones, vegetable scraps, water, and 8-10 hours on low will give you a rich stock that is ready to be strained and made into all sorts of soups, stews, or sauces. You can make any kind of stock you like: chicken, beef, even ham if you have a ham bone lying about. No need to skim or watch the stove; the gentle heat extracts all the flavor with none of the fuss. Freeze your strained stock for easy recipes all winter long.
Winter is a great time to have a hot hearty breakfast, but those tend to take more time than any of us have on a weekday. Enter overnight recipes for your slow cooker. From grits to oatmeal to hashed browns to a breakfast casserole or strat, you can pop breakfast in your slow cooker before bed and wake to a hot breakfast that will get you geared up for your day.
Next time you want to make a casserole, from mac and cheese to lasagna to enchiladas, reach for your slow cooker. You can assemble ahead right in the insert, and then heat to perfection without worrying about overcooking or burning. Perfect for those nights when you might need the kids to be able to feed themselves, or just want a simple dinner plan that you don’t have to monitor.