Slow cookers built their reputation on rib-sticking meals to ward off a cold winter’s night. But today, savvy local cooks like Jenn Bare are turning to these kitchen workhorses to take the edge off of hot summer nights.
“The slow cooker can change with the season, and more important, make it easy to cook all summer without standing in front of a hot oven or grill,” says Bare, a Scottsdale mom and cookbook author.
A former ambassador for Crock-Pot, Bare began dabbling a decade ago with slow cooker recipes while traveling internationally for work.
“I could make meals for my husband when I was gone, and for us when I came home,” says Bare, who received her MBA from Arizona State University. After her daughter Bali (now 9) was born, she added family-friendly creations to her repertoire.
Bare eventually branded herself Crock-Pot Girl, and in 2011 began sharing her recipes and tips on her website getcrocked.com. Between that and her two recent Get Crocked cookbooks, “Slow Cooker 5 Ingredient Favorites” and “Slow Cooker Soups & Stews,” she proves that slow cookers can be as versatile as they are convenient.
The key for summer is lightening up flavors to appeal to appetites zapped by 100-degree days with in-season ingredients — from berries to corn and tomatoes.
Whether for a family dinner or pool party, Bare creates summer dishes that run from traditional to ethnic, from fried chicken and macaroni and cheese to curried quinoa and vegetables or pork carnitas. She also brings the slow cooker to the breakfast table with a summer vegetable frittata and to dessert with a classic rhubarb crisp.
“There’s really very little you can’t do in a slow cooker,” said Bare, an expert at replicating restaurant favorites in her slow cooker.
Her slow-cooker meals also help stretch the family food budget. The long, moist cooking tenderizes cheaper cuts of meat, from pork shoulder to chuck roasts and whole chickens.
Her recipes tap into modern sensibilities, but the purpose of slow-cooker meals has remained the same since debuting in the 1970s as a bean cooker. The motto of the trademarked Crock-Pot — “Cooks all day while the cook’s away” — still hits the mark with busy families, Bare says.
Another benefit is that slow cooking appeals to the novice cook, requiring entry-level cooking skills. Prep ingredients, add them to the slow cooker and press start. A few recipes, however, do require more work, such as browning beef and sautéing chicken.
Slow cookers are also kid-friendly, and Bare encourages parents to include kids in the simple preparations, from measuring spices to adding ingredients into the pot.
“My kids are like others. They are more likely to eat what they help make,” says Bare, who is also mom to 3-year-old son Maverick.
When grilling this summer, Bare advises turning to the slow cooker for side dishes such as corn on the cob. Simply wrap each ear in aluminum foil, place in the slow cooker, cover and cook on high for two hours.
When using a slow cooker, Bare offers the following advice:
• Cut food into uniform-size pieces to make sure the ingredients cook evenly. Place slow-cooking root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and turnips at the bottom of the crock.
• Herbs such as parsley, basil and cilantro lose their potency quickly in a slow cooker. To bring out their flavors, stir in during the last few minutes of cooking.
• Timing matters. The lid traps steam and prevents liquid from evaporating, which dilutes flavors if cooked too long.
• Don’t peek. Lifting the lid and peeking slows down the cooking. Every look adds 15-20 minutes of cooking time.
• For healthier meals, trim fat. When possible, remove chicken skin, too.
• Avoid overcrowding. Fill the crock halfway to two-thirds full.
• Use fresh ingredients. Take advantage of the summer harvest with vegetarian meals, from ratatouille to asparagus and fennel risotto.
• Visit getcrocked.com for more summer favorites.
3 summer recipes from Crock-Pot Girl Jenn Bare
BBQ Chicken Sliders
- 4 chicken breasts, skin removed
- 1½ cups favorite barbecue sauce
- ½ cup tangy Italian dressing
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar (optional)
Place chicken into the crock and top with barbecue sauce, dressing and sugar. Cover and cook on high heat for 4 hours. Remove and allow to cool slightly before shredding. Return to pot to keep warm. Stir before serving. Place equal amounts on four hamburger buns or, for sliders, on eight Hawaiian slider rolls. Makes 4 servings.
Mixed Berry Fruit Punch
- 3 cups frozen mixed berries
- Juice of 1 lemon, plus slices to garnish
- ½ cup sugar or ¼ cup honey
- Filtered water
- Lime slices to garnish
Place the frozen mixed berries in a slow cooker. Pour lemon juice over the berries, and add sugar or honey. Cover with filtered water until the slow cooker is 1/3 cup full. Cover and cook on high heat for 2 hours. Whisk fruit punch to make sure sugar and honey is dissolved. Strain the fruit punch into a pitcher and refrigerate. Serve over ice with lemon and lime slices to garnish. Makes 10-12 servings.
- 5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1 tablespoon flax seeds
- ¼ cup slivered almonds
- ¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds
- ¼ cup unsweetened shredded coconut (optional)
- ½ cup raisins, dried cranberries or chocolate chips
- ¾ cup honey
- ¼ cup butter, melted
Add all dry ingredients to slow cooker. In a small bowl, mix together honey and butter. Pour honey-butter mixture over dry ingredients. Toss to coat well. Cover slow cooker, keeping lid cracked to allow steam to escape. Cook on high for 2 hours, stirring often to prevent burning. Spread granola out on cooking sheets to cool. Store in an airtight container. Makes 21 servings.