This feature comes to you courtesy of PlayPennies mum Nicki Broadley. She sent me a whole pile of slow cooker easy recipes, to sell me on the idea that it was one of the best money saving devices any frugal parent can have. The truth is, I don't have a slow cooker, also called a Crock Pot in the US (derived from the most well known brand). So I just had to have a closer look.
And the first question I needed to answer was - what on earth is a slow cooker?
What is it?
A slow cooker is a device that sits on your worktop. Food, and other stuff (more on this below), goes in a bowl inside the cooker. It then cooks the food at a really low heat for a long time. Anywhere from three to 12 hours. Which, might sound a faff, but according to the parents I’ve spoken to, is about the easiest way to cook large amounts of food for a hungry family.
There’s no stirring involved. It won’t boil dry or burn. You put all the food in, and then just leave it. Go out for the day, and you come back to a delicious meal.
Shade works fulltime during the day, while her husband works at night. “Honestly this is just brilliant. I set it all up in the morning. I come home to a cooked meal, the other half has a hot meal when he gets home from the school run.”
Save on energy
A slow cooker uses on average about 300W of power (see consumer report Which?) to cook food. This is about the same as three lightbulbs. To do a roast in a slow cooker (yes! you can roast in a slow cooker) uses about 246W. Whereas the same done in a conventional oven uses 700W.
Kara explains that “I have a meter for the electricity and the gas, so can see exactly how much I’m using. The days that I use the slow cooker knocks about a third off my usage. Especially during the winter when I’m making a lot of heartier meals like stews and casseroles”.
Save on the food bill
One of the really big selling points of slow cookers is that they can make the best use of very cheap cuts of meat. By cooking at such low temperatures over a long period of time, the fibres in these cheap cuts break down. The result is tender and succulent, not to mention tasty. Spend £5 on a kilo of braising steak at Tesco instead of £10.80 on a kilo of fillet steak, for example.
Experiment with some of the really cheapest cuts of meat, some that you may not even have seen before. Like mutton shoulder (also called clod of mutton), beef shin, and ox cheek. I’d definitely like to have a try of that last one. I adore ox tail, but find it is relatively expensive at £6 a kilo for the amount of meat you get (in the meat to bone ratio). Generally, the tougher the meat the more it will benefit from slow cooking.
Now you’re not going to find these on supermarket shelves, so it is time to locate a butchers! The best way to find a good one is to ask around. Alternatively, try Which? Local (registration is free) to find one near you recommended by other Which subscribers.
Nigel uses his to get a lot of vegetables into the kids that they wouldn’t normally eat. “What goes into the pot with the meat are lots of legumes and pulses. Once it is served up with rice, the kids [aged 2 and 5] happily eat it with the meat because all the flavours are blended in together.”
What to buy?
It isn't as expensive as you might think. The Argos Value Slow Cooker costs less than a tenner. Argos also has the Breville 3.5 Litre Slow Cooker for £15.99, marked down from £39.99. Which? Magazine has put slow cookers through its rigorous testing procedures. You need to be a subscriber to look at the reviews and see the best buys, but a one month online trial will only cost you £1.
What to do with your slow cooker once you have it! Slow cookers are also used for making puddings, and for jam making. Ellie told me that "Last year we went picking blackberries from the brambles in the local parks. I used the slow cooker to make jam over night. So much less mess than when we used pots!"
Website Crockpot365 has a whole list of money saving ideas for your slow cooker, including making yoghurt, recycling crayons and making playdough. Both subjects we've covered here too (although not with a slow cooker!). To find out more about making your own playdough read Homemade - The Best Save? And for some crafty recycling ideas for your crayons read Bargain Party Bags.
There's tons of recipe ideas online but nothing beats just asking your friends and family. Everyone will have a favourite. You'll be suprised. My best mate has given me a whole pile of West Indian inspired recipes to try out. The long list of recipes that Nicki sent me is an email forward that does the rounds now and again of her family and friends. They all add to it.
So tell us - what do you do with your slow cooker?
TOPICS: Fitness and Diet