Cool and convenient, the slow cooker is perfect for preparing warm-weather meals.
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
Is your slow cooker gathering dust this summer? While many slow cooker recipes - soups, stews, and so forth - seem more appropriate for cold weather, the slow cooker is actually a great choice for summer meals. Not only do they save money and time, slow cookers save energy. They don't give off much heat beyond the actual pot, thus helping to keep your kitchen (and you) cool.
Armed with some summer-friendly slow cooker recipes, you can enjoy convenient slow cooker meals all season long. Here are four reasons to use your slow cooker this summer:
- You Name It, It Cooks It. Slow cookers don't just cook up entrees; you can make appetizers, side dishes, and desserts with surprising success. You'll find a variety of recipes below to add to your slow cooker recipe collection.
- It Turns Lean Meat Tender. The slow cooker cooks food slowly at a low temperature -- generally between 170 and 280 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Donna Falconnier, MS, RD, with the University of Illinois Extension. Because of this, leaner cuts of meat become more tender -- and shrink less.
- It's Great for Parties. It's so convenient to bring your dish right in the slow cooker to parties and barbecues. The slow cooker keeps the food at the right temperature, and you can serve it straight from the pot. Just plug it in, and your dish is ready to serve when everyone is ready to eat.
- It's Cost-Effective and Energy Efficient.The slow cooker is a small but mighty appliance. "Cooking with a small appliance, such as a Crock-Pot slow cooker, saves energy without compromising taste," says Merideth McNally, spokesperson for the Crock-Pot brand of slow cookers. According to 2006 data from the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, using a slow cooker at 200 degrees for 7 hours costs about 9 cents, while using an electric oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour costs some 25 cents and a convection oven at 325-degrees for 45 minutes costs at least 18 cents.
Healthy Summer Slow Cooker Recipes
Ready to try some summer slow cooking? Here are five slow cooker recipes to get you started.
Lime Cilantro Chicken
This recipe works great for chicken that you use for quesadillas or nachos, or you can simply serve the chicken with cooked brown rice and vegetables. If you only have two hours, cut each chicken breast into about 4 pieces and cook on HIGH in slow cooker. The chicken should be cooked throughout in about two hours.
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup nonalcoholic or light beer
1 teaspoon minced or chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, packed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Coat the chicken breasts with olive oil and place in the slow cooker.
- In small bowl, combine lime juice, beer, garlic, cilantro, salt and pepper. Spoon mixture evenly over the chicken breasts.
- Cook chicken on LOW for 6-8 hours or HIGH for 3-4 hours. Slice or shred chicken as desired and use as filling for quesadillas or nachos.
Yield: Makes 4 servings
Nutrition Information: Per serving: 163 calories, 25 g protein, 2 g carbohydrate, 6 g fat, 1.3 g saturated fat, 95 mg cholesterol, 0 g fiber, 685 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 33%.
Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
If you like pulled pork sandwiches, you'll love this recipe, which yields BBQ sauce-soaked pork that's ready when you step in the door after work.
2 pork tenderloins (about 1.5 pounds)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (or 1/2 teaspoon garlic seasoning blend like Mrs. Dash Garlic & Herb)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 large sweet or yellow onion, chopped
3/4 cup bottled barbecue sauce (your choice)
1/2 cup non-alcoholic amber beer or light beer
- Coat the inside of the slow cooker with canola cooking spray. Place the pork tenderloins in bottom of slow cooker and sprinkle garlic, salt and pepper evenly over the top.
- Sprinkle chopped onions over pork and top that with barbecue sauce and beer. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours. Shred pork with a fork and stir to combine all ingredients.
- Serve the pork filling on a whole grain bun or roll.
Yield: Makes about 6 servings
Nutrition Information: Per serving: 150 calories, 23 g protein, 6 g carbohydrate, 3.5 g fat, 1.2 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 0.5 g fiber, 780 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 21%.
Vegetarian Enchilada Crock Pot Casserole
8 corn tortillas
Canola cooking spray
12 ounce package Morning Star Meal Starters Grillers Recipe Crumbles (Veggie Crumbles) or similar soy product that mimics cooked ground beef, thawed
24 ounces bottled or canned enchilada sauce
2 cups shredded reduced fat cheddar and jack cheese blend
2-4 ounce can sliced black olives, drained (optional)
1 cup fat-free sour cream
6 green onions, the white and part of the green, chopped
1 avocado, thinly sliced (optional)
- Begin heating a medium nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat.
- Coat both sides of a corn tortilla with canola cooking spray and place in the pan. When both sides are lightly browned, remove from pan and repeat this step with the remaining tortillas. Cut each of the tortillas into 4 wedges.
- In medium bowl, combine veggie crumbles with enchilada sauce.
- Layer wedges from two tortillas (8 wedges) in slow cooker and spread one-fourth of the enchilada mixture over the top. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese over the top, along with some of the black olives, if desired.
- Repeat until you have made 4 layers and used up all of the ingredients. Cook on HIGH for 1-2 hours or LOW for 2-4 hours.
- Right before serving, spread fat-free sour cream over the top of the enchilada casserole and sprinkle with chopped green onions and avocado slices, if desired.
Yield: Makes about 6 servings
Nutrition Information: Per serving: 316 calories, 22 g protein, 30 g carbohydrate, 12 g fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 22 mg cholesterol, 5.5 g fiber, 998 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 34%.
Slow Cooker Skillet Rosemary Potatoes
This dish is two side dishes in one (potatoes and carrots). Throw some lean meat or fish on the grill and dinner is done.
7 cups quartered medium sized red potatoes (about 8 potatoes)
1 sweet or yellow onion, coarsely cut into chunks
2 cups baby carrots
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary, packed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
- In large bowl, combine potato wedges, onions, carrots, olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper until vegetables are evenly coated with oil and seasonings.
- Coat inside of slow cooker with olive oil cooking spray. Spoon the potato mixture inside, drizzling any oil or seasoning in bottom of the bowl over the top.
- Cook on HIGH for 3-4 hours or LOW for 6-8 hours.
Yield: Makes 6-8 servings
Nutrition Information: Per serving: 191 calories, 5 g protein, 35 g carbohydrate, 3.7 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 3.5 g fiber, 167 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 17%.
Crock Pot Chocolate Kahlua Cake
This moist cake is amazing served warm straight from the slow cooker, along with a small scoop of light vanilla bean ice cream.
1 box (18.25 ounce) devil's food cake mix
1 cup fat-free sour cream
1 cup 1% low-fat milk (or use nonfat or 2% milk)
2 large eggs, a higher omega-3 brand if available
2 egg whites or 1/4 cup egg substitute
3/4 cup Kahlua liqueur (or similar)
- Coat inside of slow cooker with canola cooking spray.
- In large mixing bowl, combine cake mix, sour cream, milk, eggs, egg whites, and Kahlua by beating on medium for about a minute.
- Pour cake batter into prepared slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours or on HIGH for 3-4 hours.
- Cut cake into about 16 wedges. Serve each slice with a small scoop of light vanilla bean ice cream (using a cookie dough scoop), if desired.
Yield: Makes 16 servings
Nutrition Information: Per serving: 210 calories, 4 g protein, 33 g carbohydrate, 5.5 g fat, 1.4 g saturated fat, 29 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber, 314 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 23%.
3 Slow Cooker Food Safety Tips
Food safety is a special concern in the summer, when warmer temperatures can speed bacteria growth. To make sure your slow cooker meal is safe, follow these three tips:
1. Get It Hot. In order to avoid possible food poisoning, foods in your slow cooker need to reach 140 degrees quickly, notes Kay Lovett, MEd, an educator with the University of Minnesota Extension office. To ensure this happens, Lovett recommends beginning with thawed foods, as frozen or partially frozen food will take much longer to reach this temperature. If you want to heat up the crock contents right away, turn your slow cooker to HIGH for the first hour, then bring it down to LOW to finish the cooking.
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2. Store Leftovers Correctly. Remove leftover food from the slow cooker right after the meal and store in shallow containers in the refrigerator (to get the food to a cooler temperature, where bacteria is less likely to multiply).
3. Keep a Lid on It. "Keep the lid on the pot," says Lovett. "Each time you peek, you lose heat and lower the temperature of the food in the slow cooker." Remove the lid only to check for doneness, stir, or add an ingredient toward the end of cooking.
Medically Reviewed July 28, 2008.
Kay Lovett, MEd, extension educator, University of Minnesota Extension Office.
Merideth McNally, spokesperson, Crock-Pot.
Donna Falconnier, MS, RD, nutrition and wellness educator, University of Illinois Extension Office.
Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative web site: "How to Control Your Electric Bill."
Progress Energy web site.
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