What's the secret to great slow cooker recipes?
It's getting to that time of year again when the evenings are all about curling up on the sofa with a comforting bowl of something hot. It’s also when slow cookers are retrieved from the back of the cupboard, dusted down and put to good use.
So what to cook in your slow cooker? They really come into their own when cooking cheap cuts of meat: think shoulder of pork, lamb neck and chicken thighs, the liquid in the pot becomes steam, condenses on the lid and drops back into the pot, creating deliciously moist and tender meat. A long, slow cooking time is also perfect for cooking dried lentils or beans.
The downside? Well, they might not be as economical in terms of energy as people think and without the direct heat to get some caramelisation going on, food can sometimes come out a bit, well, bland. You can overcome this by using plenty of aromatics for flavour: onions, garlic and hardier herbs such as rosemary, thyme and bay leaves, then finish off a dish with fresh herbs such as parsley. Try draining off the liquid for a stew and thickening it on the hob with a little flour. Head over to Mumsnet for lots more tips. There's also a wealth of advice on the BBC Food messageboard.
To adapt a recipe for a slow cooker, you’ll need to lengthen the cooking time (check the manufacturer's guidelines on your slow cooker) and generally add a little less liquid. Below are some of our favourite slow cooker recipes:
Simply tip all the ingredients into a slow cooker and cook on high for 6-8 hours (or until the barley is soft) for this cheap and cheerful Scotch broth.
Jools’s favourite beef stew
We love Jamie Oliver’s beef stew finished off with a sprinkle of lemon zest and rosemary.
Boston baked beans
These Boston baked beans from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall are great on toast. Boil the soaked beans for 10 minutes, then add them to the slow cooker with the remaining ingredients and cook on high for 6-8 hours.
Ginger-glazed pork hocks
Ham hocks are cheap as chips to buy and delicious when braised in the slow-cooker. This recipe finishes them in the oven with a sticky glaze. Serve with mounds of mashed potato.
This curry is bursting with flavour and if you slow-cook the lamb you'll make it meltingly tender.
If you're having a party this Christmas, try making mulled wine in the slow-cooker. Add all the ingredients to the slow cooker, switch it on, and it will keep at the perfect temperature all night.
For comfort food heaven, try this no-fuss rice pudding. Grease the slow cooker with a little butter, add all of the ingredients and stir together, then cook on high for 2-3 hours.
Perfect for Halloween parties – the slow cooker will keep your chocolate silkily smooth. Make the sugar syrup in a saucepan then add it to the slow cooker with the chocolate and golden syrup. Cook on high until the chocolate has melted and formed a smooth sauce.
For a super easy chicken stock, chuck all the ingredients into a slow cooker and cook on high for eight hours.
Get more tips on cooking food on a budget.
What do you cook in your slow cooker? What are your tips for getting the most out of one?
Rachel Manley works on the BBC Food website.