Slow cooking is very quickly gaining a reputation as an efficient and easy way to make delicious, nutritious meals, but there’s also a wealth of untapped potential to be found in every pot! Jams, baking, even soaps and lotions, your slow cooker is capable of so much more than just whipping up delicious dinners. But before we start getting crafty, how exactly does a slow cooker work and what does that mean for its crafting potential?
Slow cookers are like a delicious layer cake of cooking technology, designed specifically to be able to cook things both quickly or over long periods of time without dirtying a single pot or the stove. Invented initially by a good Jewish boy to help his mother prepare their Sabbath meal – no working on the Sabbath means no cooking either – the slow cooker has since become a standard piece of equipment in American home kitchens, enabling families to sit down to a delicious dinner with limited effort on the part of the chef. They consist of three parts: the cooking vessel, a thin liner with a heating element, and finally the base.
The cooking vessel is the innermost layer and the part which actually comes in contact with the food you’re preparing. Most are made of ceramic or stone, but some models can found with aluminum or other metal vessels; these are lighter and easier to maneuver but don’t retain heat as well their heavier counterparts. The next layer, the liner, mostly serves to protect the electronic components housed within the base. This is the part of the slow cooker which actually heats up as well – there’s a thin band around the base which heats the bottom and sides of the cooking vessel, cooking the food within. The final base layer is the outermost part of the slow cooker and will usually have dials, buttons, or even digital screens that allow you to control both the cooking temperature and the cooking time. Most slow cookers will have low, medium, and high heat settings, though some may only come with low and high. Your slow cooker should also come with a lid; this is vital to maintaining a steady temperature as well as to achieving a temperature high enough to kill off any and all bacteria.
As slow cookers have moved into the future, so has the creativity of the people who use them – here are four of our favorite funky uses you might not have thought of for yours!
Homemade Jams, Butters, & Preserves
There are a million recipes out there for all the wonderful, savory dishes you can make with a slow cooker, but have you ever considered the sweets? More specifically, have you ever considered delicious, fresh jams and preserves made easily in your own kitchen? Typically, jam making is an intensive, time-consuming task which, while fun and well-worth the payoff, is not something most of us can commit to doing regularly. Enter the slow cooker! Next time you have an abundance of fresh fruit, try making it into the world’s easiest slow cooker jam. Simply fill your cooker with the fruit of your choice and add sugar, lemon juice, and fruit pectin; then set the heat to low for two and half hours, stirring only twice in that time, before removing the lid and cranking the heat up to high for an additional three hours. This process also works beautifully for things like apple or pumpkin butters which require well over six hours to cook and a great deal of babysitting– yikes! Instead, fill your slow cooker with sliced, peeled apples and a teaspoon or two of cinnamon, set it on low, and let the whole thing go for ten hours or until the apple butter is dark brown and thick. Instead of slaving over a stove, you can enjoy fresh, delicious fruit spreads anytime and all of them made in your own home with half the effort!
Love custards but hate dealing with a water bath? Craving brownies but don’t want to turn on the oven? Craving baked goods in general but don’t HAVE an oven? Never fear, your slow cooker is here! Yes, you can 100% use your slow cooker as a means for baking things, though there are a few things to consider first. Number one, make sure you line your slow cooker for ease of removal – many baked goods like brownies or even pies will be impossible to lift out of your cooking vessel without something to grab. Many companies which make things like aluminum foil and plastic wrap also produce slow cooker liners; these are handy for keeping clean-up to minimum any old time, but they become a must when baking. Second, if you’re trying to get a good crisp on something like a pizza or, well, a crisp, remove the lid for the last hour or so of cooking. This prevents steam from becoming trapped and making your food soggy. And finally, if you’re going to be serving straight from your slow cooker, pick cutting utensils that won’t scratch your cooking vessel. Silicone or plastic knives are going to be gentle on the coating or finish on your stoneware and will also be easier to maneuver in a space like a slow cooker pot.
DIY Candle Making
Scented candles have become quite the hot commodity these days, but they can unfortunately be quite expensive if you want to get high quality, non-toxic ones. Making candles is an easy enough process, but it’s extremely messy, not to mention time consuming – enter slow cooker candles! These candles are stress-free to make and far cheaper than store-bought scented candles of the same quality, making them the perfect party favor or gift. You’ll need cotton candle wicks, bamboo skewers, mason jars, soy wax, and a few essential oils for scent. Simply fill each mason jar with wax flakes and place them into a slow cooker filled with a couple inches of water. Set the slow cooker to high and let the wax melt down, this will take about two hours; when it’s fully melted, add more wax until you reach your desired fill level, mixing with a bamboo skewer to combine the solid and melted wax, then let the candles sit an additional half an hour. Using a potholder, remove each jar from the slow cooker and add five to ten drops of an essential oil to each one – the number of drops you add will translate to how strongly scented your candles become, so add more or less based on your preference! Mix these in thoroughly and let your candles sit for about ten minutes before inserting your wicks. If you lay a bamboo skewer across the top of each jar, you can rest the wick against it to keep it straight; alternatively, tie a small piece of string around the wick before inserting it, then secure the string to the sides of the jar to keep the wick at attention. The candles should harden completely overnight, leaving you with gorgeous, all natural, hand-made candles!
Homemade Lotion Bars
Who knew that high quality products were so easy to make in a slow cooker? These lotion bars are ridiculously easy to make, completely all-natural, and make awesome budget-friendly gifts! As with slow cooker baking, you’ll definitely want to have something to line your slow-cooker with unless you enjoy scraping out wax. Simply mix equal parts beeswax beads, shea butter, and coconut oil with two tablespoons of vitamin E oil, then heat on high for about one hour or until the bees wax has completely melted and everything has combined. Ladle your lotion soup into a muffin tin lined with cupcake cups, filling each cup about a quarter of the way full. You can add a few drops of essential oils at this point to give each bar a different scent as well, or mix in a teaspoon of edible glitter for some fun sparkles. Let the lotion bars set in the fridge for about fifteen to twenty minutes, and they’re ready to use!
Slow cookers are ridiculously versatile – whether it’s preparing all manner of meals, baking no-fuss desserts, or even making all-natural gifts of unbeatable quality, there’s really no limit to what you can do! And this week at Oliver’s, we’ve got everything you need to take full advantage of your slow-cooker, with 20% off Oliver’ Own herbs and spices and a whole bunch of deals on everything you need to get cooking like a pro! Slow cooking, that is.