Fifty Two Shades of Shay: The Slow Cooker

Other than my coffee pot, the most used small appliance in my house is the slow cooker.  I used to be one of those people that only pulled my slow cooker out during the fall and winter but now I’ve learned, the slow cooker is actually a perfect year around tool in the kitchen.  It is such a time save for busy families!  Trust me, read a few of my tips and I think I’ll have you rethinking that old crock pot too.
First though…what kind of slow cooker do you need???
My slow cooker was a wedding gift (10 years ago!) and it is used at least 2 (if not 3) times a week.  A good slow cooker will last you years and years!  Here are my tips:
1. Buy a slow cooker that is oval and not round.  You need one that will fit longer cuts of meats (like roasts and briskets) and long spaghetti noodles.  Round slow cookers just aren’t as functional.
2. Buy a slow cooker with a high, low and keep warm setting.  You’ll be amazed at how much use you can get out of a slow cooker with all 3 settings (sometimes, you have all day to cook, sometimes, just a few hours, and sometimes, you just need to keep your food warm until serving).
3. For dips and small appetizers, use a small slow cooker.  Don’t try and make a dip in a large slow cooker.  Your slow cooker needs to be at least half full before using it…and a dip won’t do that in a large slow cooker.
4. To me, a  6 to 7 quart slow cooker is ideal for dinners.
Here are some slow cookers that I like right now…
You will have this Calphalon Slow Cooker for years and years.  It’s functional and digital and perfect for busy families!
This slow cooker is really affordable and also digital.  Plus, it comes with a little mini dipper for sauces and sides.
Your slow cooker doesn’t have to be pricey or fancy…just oval and with settings.  Don’t over-think it!
Now…my favorite slow cooker tips…
1. Always use a slow cooker liner.  Always.  Every time.  Never forget.  They’re sold next to the foil and Ziploc bags in the grocery store.  They usually come 5 to a box.  These babies will save you so much time and effort!  Cleanup is a BREEZE if you use a liner.  Always, always, always use one!
I buy these…right next to my Saran Wrap and such.
2. Always brown your beef before placing it the slow cooker (yes, Mom, I’m talking to you!).  Browning your meat beforehand adds so much more flavor and depth to the entire dish.  It just takes a few minutes because you’re not cooking it all the way through, you’re just browning it, so do it!  Chicken breasts do not require cooking beforehand but any ground meat (beef, chicken or turkey) or large roast or brisket does.
3. Add something fresh to your slow cooker meal when you’re done.  I always add some fresh herbs, chopped green onions, cheese, sour cream…something fresh to the top.  Just a little something fresh wakens the dish up and gives the whole slow cooker meal an extra oomph! 
4.  And my very favorite tip…cook chicken in the slow cooker during the day to be used in other recipes at night.  So many recipes call for cooked and shredded chicken (sandwiches, pastas, casseroles, tostadas, etc.), but who has time to come home from work and poach chicken and then prepare the meal?  Not me!  I cook my chicken in the slow cooker with water or chicken stock on low all day and then when I’m ready to make dinner, I pull it out, shred it and I’m ready to go.  Such a HUGE time saver!  Plus, your chicken will be so tender and moist because it’s been poaching in the slow cooker all day long.  You will love me for this tip!
Now, you know I wouldn’t have a slow cooker post without some yummy slow cooker recipes, right?!  Here are a few of my faves…and they’re not all dinners…
Overnight Oatmeal  is perfect for busy families!  You let the oatmeal cook all night while you’re sleeping and then when you wake up, breakfast is ready!

Maple and Oatmeal Baked Apples are either a yummy breakfast or yummy dessert!  They’re simple and delicious!

BBQ Green Beans is a staple at my family’s gatherings!  You will have a hard time going back to boring old plain green beans after trying these!

Buffalo Chicken Tostadas are quick and simple…perfect for busy weeknights!

Beef Stroganoff in the slow cooker makes my heart happy!  It’s warm and cozy and perfect for cold nights.

Fiesta Chicken with Rice is such a simple way to get dinner on the table.  Dinner doesn’t have to be fancy to be delicious!

Whether you have a big family or small…single or not, you should invest in a slow cooker.  Nothing is better (especially during the cold days of fall and winter) than coming home and smelling your yummy supper bubbling away.

For a complete list of all of my slow cooker recipes, click here.

And what’s the perfect ending to a slow cooker meal?  How about my Halloween Oreo Cupcakes

There is an Oreo at the bottom of each cupcake.  You’re welcome.

Next week, Fifty Two Shades of Shay is all about scarves.  (You knew that was coming, right?!?!)

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  • MorganizewithMe October 15, 2013 at 10:09 am

    I am like you, using my crock pot more and more! Great tips and thanks to you, I now use the liners. They are such a time saver!

  • Sheaffer {Pinterest Told Me To} October 15, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Buffalo Chicken Tostadas? WHAT? How in the word have I missed these before? They look sooooooooooooo good!

  • Meagan @ The Clanahan Fam October 15, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Love, love, love my slow cooker. Just like you, I used to be only a fall/winter girl but this summer I used it all the time too. It's the only way I can keep myself sane and get dinner on the table at a reasonable time for the family!

  • Meagan @ The Clanahan Fam October 15, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Love, love, love my slow cooker. Just like you, I used to be only a fall/winter girl but this summer I used it all the time too. It's the only way I can keep myself sane and get dinner on the table at a reasonable time for the family!

  • aprilparrish October 15, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Great post! I work in the evenings so I always try to have something for the hubby to prepare for supper. We are in a rut with the same old crock pot recipes…these recipes will definitely help!!!

  • jen October 15, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    I LOVE a slow cooker too!!! Great recipes!!!

  • Sabrina October 15, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    I'm a single girl with no kids & I LOVE LOVE LOVE my slow cooker. There is nothing better than putting dinner on in the morning and coming home to it being ready. Plus, because it's just me I can eat on a big pot of soup for several meals! It's GENIUS. The slow-cooker really is my BFF.

  • Lauren Nelson October 15, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    These are all great tips! I love to shred chicken from the slow cooker and use it all week in different dishes! The best thing about the cookers is that they are great for moms and working ladies that don't always have the energy to cook in the evenings (like me!)! Can't wait to try some of those recipes!

  • Jamie K. October 15, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Thank you for sharing!! So funny because not even 10 minutes before I read your post I was talking to a friend about crockpot meals, liners etc!! I didn't know about liners until she told me then we both just read your post giggling šŸ™‚

  • Colleen Sullivan October 15, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    I love to use our slow cooker too. It was a wedding gift and I think it is the most used gift we received for our wedding. And I completely agree that you MUST add something fresh to whatever you cook in the slow cooker to make it a great meal. Some people say they don't like meals made in the slow cooker, but I think that's the problem, they don't add something fresh to it in the end! Looking forward to your scarf post!

  • Erin Stinson October 15, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    I love these ideas! I plan on trying out all these recipes, and I am definitely going to run out and get those liners, because I hate cleaning the mess after a slow cooker meal! You make me WANT to cook and that's not an easy thing to accomplish.

    Also, I'm so excited to hear that Sean and Catherine have set a wedding date! And it's going to be live!!! You're an old pro at doing live tv after GMT. I hope you can share some of the fun with your readers, and if not, I guess we'll all tune in to ABC and watch the magical event unfold!

  • Katriel-Maria Berbert October 15, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    I love the slow cooker! I ran out of liners this week and it broke my heart. I'm following the "Paleo" diet right now where my food choices are limited so preparing ahead of time is a must, so I've been throwing chicken, salsa, and veggies in the slow cooker at night before I go to bed and then eating some for breakfast and eating some for snacks as well.

  • Amy October 15, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    I have to say I hate the crock pot liners. It may be all in my head, but I think it makes the food taste different when I use them. Instead of using them, I spray my pot with Pam and then cook my meal. It makes cleaning it super easy!

  • Alice October 15, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    I also use my slow cooker at least 3 times a week. It is perfect for us because of football practice. Dinner is ready to eat when my kids come home from school and then we can head out the door! Thanks for your tips.

  • Mary C. October 15, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    I too really enjoy my slow cooker. I am a mom to 6 kids ages 11-2 yrs and there are days when it is a real life saver. I have enjoyed reading your blog for the last 6 months or so. It is now part of my morning routine. I too love to cook meals for my family and collect cookbooks. My favorite slow cooker cookbook hands down is this one: http://deseretbook.com/365-Days-Slow-Cooking-Cookbook-Karen-Bellessa-Petersen/i/5077267

  • Jodi October 15, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    I love getting new slow cooker recipes. I feel like I only really have a handful of successful recipes. I have Slow Cooker Monday in our house because who wants to cook on a Monday? Thanks for the new recipes to try! Also, love those slow cooker liners! They are a must!

  • Jaren October 15, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    Great tip to brown your met! I totally agree! And cooking chicken in the slow cooker to use in other recipes seriously changed how I looked at all recipes requiring cooked chicken! Thanks Shay!

  • Kristin's Chronicles October 15, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    The liners have CHANGED. MY. LIFE.
    Cleaning a slower cooker is the worst!!!

  • Candice Kelley October 15, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    Love this post! The slow cooker is definitely a necessity for fall/winter!

  • kristinwithani October 15, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    My cooking life changed last year when I discovered using the dough hook in my Kitchenaid to shred crock pot chicken. Brilliant! Was it you who posted about that? I don't even know but I love doing it.

  • Narci October 15, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    I heart my slow cooker–cooking chicken during the day that I will need to use for a recipe that night has been such a treasure and time saver! Thank you so much!! šŸ™‚

  • Tara G. October 15, 2013 at 11:12 pm

    For 2.5 years I kicked myself for not taking my crock pot overseas and just taking my chances with a transformer! It was like Christmas when I got it back! I make spaghetti squash in mine today and it turned out fantastic!

  • Lori October 16, 2013 at 12:41 am

    I used to swear by those liners, until someone told me that I'm heating plastic into my food. So now, I just spray the pan with PAM before I use it.

  • Lori October 16, 2013 at 12:43 am

    I used to swear by those liners until a friend mentioned that I'm basically heating plastic into my food. So now I just spray with PAM first. It definitely helps with the clean up and I feel better about not using the plastic.

  • Sandy Portis October 16, 2013 at 1:53 am

    My crockpot is round. I think I have had it since my single days. I always manage to fit my meat in it. Funny I have a friend with all of your requirements. She has to be super careful with hers because it tends to run too hot. On another note, I put a whole chicken my crock pot a few weeks ago. I did finish it up for about 20 minutes in the oven to crisp up the skin. It was so good.

  • James October 18, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    Great post!

    I recommend checking out http://bestslowcooker.us before purchasing any slow cooker. Great reviews as well as great articles. What else can you ask for šŸ™‚

  • roma sharma October 15, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Great recipes. They all look good. Slow cookers are the best when it comes to a perfect cooking. They are cheap and easily available online.
    Slow Cooker Liners usa

  • Taylor Murphy July 22, 2016 at 9:32 am

    When you say chicken….can this be chicken breast??

    • Mix and Match Mama July 22, 2016 at 10:53 am

      That’s almost all I ever use!!