If you love cooking, there’s nothing better than being in your kitchen and preparing a beautiful, elaborate meal. After a long day at work, cooking can be a wonderful way to slow down and refresh your mind and body. Sometimes, though, we just don’t have time to juilenne the veggies, braise the meat, caramelize the onions, or reduce the wine sauce. On busy days like these, the slow cooker is your best friend in the kitchen. And don’t worry; the days of prepackaged crockpot casseroles are long over. With these 10 amazing slow-cooked dishes, you can enjoy the same gourmet taste without the effort.
1. Meatball Sliders
Required ingredients: red onion, frozen cooked Italian meatballs, jar of marinara sauce, balsamic vinegar, crushed red pepper, cheese, Roma tomatoes, slider buns
Combine the chopped red onions, meatballs, pasta sauce, vinegar and red pepper in a slow cooker. Cook covered on low for about five hours or on high for about two hours. Once cooked, stir the mixture evenly, and serve on a bun with cheese and tomato. For a zestier taste, top the meatball with fresh Italian spices like oregano, thyme, or basil.
This dish is perfect as an appetizer for a party or a small dish for a potluck. The slow-cooked meat is tender and juicy, and it pairs perfectly with a lightly toasted slider bun. Try using Hawaiian rolls as the bun for a sweet and savory taste.
2. Moist and Tender Turkey Breast
Required ingredients: bone-in turkey breast, fresh rosemary, garlic cloves, water, brown sugar, black pepper, salt
Place the turkey, garlic, and rosemary in the slow cooker, and cover with water. Sprinkle the sugar, salt, and pepper on top. Cook covered on low for four to six hours. Use a meat thermometer to determine when the turkey has been safely cooked, reaching at least 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
The best part about this recipe is that it yields enough juicy, slow-cooked turkey to feed the whole family, with leftovers to spare. Serve with blanched green beans and cornbread for a southern-style Thanksgiving feel, or make a sandwich with ciabatta and whole dijon mustard for a gourmet deli dish.
3. Creamy Chicken Wild Rice Soup
Required ingredients: uncooked wild rice, skinless chicken breast, onions, celery, carrots, garlic, bay leaves, chicken broth, seasoning blend, butter, all-purpose flour, milk
Add the rice, chicken, chicken broth and water to the slow cooker, along with minced garlic, bay leaves, and chopped onions, celery, and carrots. Cook on high for about two hours or low for about six hours. Remove the chicken, shred it, and allow the rest of the soup to cook for another two hours. Right before serving, melt butter and flour together, and mix in the slow cooker to thicken the soup. Throw in the shredded chicken and add salt and pepper.
This recipe is unbelievably smooth and creamy, making it perfect for a cold or rainy day. This soup packs a nutritional punch, too; the veggies add a nutrient-rich boost to the heathy fiber of the wild rice and the protein of the chicken.
4. Paula Deen Crockpot Mac and Cheese
Required Ingredients: uncooked macaroni, butter, cheddar cheese, eggs, sour cream, condensed cheddar cheese soup, whole milk, dry mustard, salt and pepper
To prepare, boil the macaroni according to the package instructions, and stir together the butter and cheese in a saucepan. Combine all these ingredients into the slow cooker, stirring to mix well. Cook on low for about two and half hours.
This recipe requires a little preparation before throwing everything into the slow cooker, but the extra step is worth it. The macaroni and cheese is rich and creamy, with a sharp bite from the cheddar cheese. If you don’t like cheddar, substitute for a milder cheese. To make the dish healthier, add some broccoli, spinach, or kale to the slow cooker for some greens.
5. Slow-Cooked Vegetarian Chili with Sweet Potatoes
Required Ingredients: red onion, bell pepper, garlic cloves, chili powder, cumin, cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt and pepper, can of tomatoes, can of black beans, can of kidney beans, sweet potato, sour cream
Add all ingredients to the slow cooker, including the liquid from the canned tomatoes and beans. Cook for about eight hours on low or five on high. Serve with sour cream and any garnishes you like.
Chili is one dish that is made to be slow-cooked, allowing the spices to blend together. Requiring no preparation at all, this recipe yields a thick, mildly spicy vegetarian chili. The secret ingredient? Cocoa powder! The cocoa powder adds a subtle, complex flavor that balances the spices well. Serve with cheese or fresh green onions for extra flavor.
6. Maple Bourbon Baked Beans
Required Ingredients: dry navy beans, bourbon, maple syrup, barbeque sauce, brown sugar, water, ketchup, mustard, molasses, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce
Soak the beans overnight before cooking, rinse them well, and cook them for about 45 minutes on low in the slow cooker. Then add all of the ingredients to the beans, cover, and cook on low heat for around 12 hours. Depending on how thick you like the sauce, change the heat to the high setting or cook for a few more hours.
This recipe will work for any diet in your family—it’s vegan, low sodium, and gluten free! Be sure to substitute the Worcestershire sauce for soy sauce if you want it to be vegan. Because you can change the cooking time and setting, the beans are sure to be the perfect texture for your taste. The sweet and tangy sauce plays on traditional Southern barbeque ingredients for a uniquely zesty flavor.
7. Slow-Cooker Lasagna
Required Ingredients: Italian sausage, onion, tomato sauce, dried basil, salt, mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, uncooked lasagna noodles
Lightly cook the sausage, onion, tomato sauce, basil, and salt in a saucepan. In the slow cooker, layer the sausage mixture with the lasagna noodles and a mixture of the three cheeses. Cook cover on low for about six hours. Sprinkle extra mozzarella cheese on top right before serving.
Lasagna is another traditional dish that’s easy in a slow cooker. Substitute the Italian sausage with chicken or turkey for a lighter meal, and add carrots, zucchini, or squash for extra nutrients.
8. Barley, Black Bean, and Corn Burritos
Required Ingredients: For filling: uncooked barley, frozen corn, can of black beans, can of tomatoes, green onions, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, red pepper; For burrito and garnish: fresh cilantro, cheese, lettuce, tortillas, sour cream, salsa
Add all of the ingredients required for the filling to the slow cooker, and cook on low for about four hours. Fill tortillas with the cooked filling, and top with garnishes like cilantro, lettuce, cheese, and sour cream. Serve with a side of salsa.
These vegetarian burritos are full of healthy ingredients. Lightly toasted tortillas and leaf lettuce provide a great crunch to the cheesy and flavorful filling. Drizzle the filling with fresh lime juice for a bite, or serve with guacamole for extra creaminess. Serve the filling cold with tortilla chips for a fun dip.
9. Easy Homemade Greek Yogurt
Required Ingredients: whole milk, plain yogurt that contains live cultures
Cook the milk in a slow cooker on high until it reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn the slow cooker off, let the milk cool for a couple of hours, and stir in the yogurt. Wrap the slow cooker in a towel, and let it sit overnight at room temperature. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth until it reaches the consistency you like.
Who knew you can make your own Greek yogurt in a slow cooker? This surprising recipe is easy to make and cheaper than buying yogurt from the store. For safety, be sure to use a food thermometer to ensure that your yogurt reaches the correct temperature. The yogurt will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks. Serve this creamy yogurt with granola, fruit, or spices for a great breakfast or snack.
10. Slow Cooker Chocolate Candy
Required Ingredients: roasted peanuts, sweet chocolate, semisweet chocolate chips, almond bark
Layer the ingredients in a slow cooker without stirring, and cook on low for about three hours. After cooking, stir the mixture, and drop into cupcake pan liners. Let the candies cool in the fridge, and remove them from the liners before serving.
These bite-sized chocolate candies are excellent as party favors or arranged on a small dessert plate. The rich chocolate and crunchy peanuts combine well, and you can add nearly any ingredient for a customized gourmet dish.
If you’re in a hurry but don’t want to pull out the slow cooker, try these simple and delicious veggie-packed pasta recipes!
Featured photo credit: Luca Nebuloni via flickr.com