The onset of colder weather can prompt a number of foodie casualties: iced coffee, gelato and other summer fare just doesn’t seem as appealing.
But there is a bright side to the gray skies of the season: you can finally designate a countertop spot for your slow cooker until spring.
We’ve waxed poetic about the slow cooker before; it’s a great method for cooking a wide variety of foods, and in particular, turning cheap and tough cuts of meat into a scrumptious meal.
There’s also an added advantage to this “set-it-and-forget it” style of cooking: you can come home or wake up to a hot meal that’s ready to go with minimal active participation necessary.
So, just how versatile is a slow cooker?
We asked chefs, food bloggers and other experts for their best inexpensive slow cooker recipes.
Do you have a personal favorite? Add it in the comments below!
There is no need for an expensive bread machine. Just whip out your slow cooker for hot, fresh homemade bread.
Fast Slow-Cooked Applesauce
Fall is apple season and this recipe is a great way to use any bruised or leftover fruit you might have. “Any variety works great,” says Holly Wolf, chief marketing officer of Conestoga Bank.
To make, peel, core and quarter enough apples to fill the slow cooker. Sprinkle with cinnamon or other spices that you enjoy, like nutmeg or cloves. Cover and let cook for 4 hours on high. Stir until smooth.
“You’ve got fresh applesauce that’s inexpensive, doesn’t include sugar and freezes beautifully,” she says.
Overnight Apple Butter With Bourbon
“It’s like applesauce for grown-ups,” says Jenn Erikson of Rook No. 17 of this slow-cooked apple preserve. Her serving suggestions: drizzle on ice cream, include alongside pork chops, or spread on top of plain old toast.
Split Pea Soup
Megan Beyer-Ventura, a co-owner of EndlessPaws.com, a pet-sitting service in New Jersey, makes a slow-cooked split pea and turkey bacon soup.
To make, cut up half a large sweet onion, 7 carrots, 3 stalks of celery, and a pound of turkey bacon. (Or if you prefer, add a leftover pork bone).
Put all ingredients into crock pot and pour two 1-pound bags of dried green split peas on top. Fill with just enough water to cover a half-inch above the level of the peas.
Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. Salt and pepper to taste.
Lemony Lamb Shanks
Turn inexpensive lamb shanks into a centerpiece meal with this slow-cooked lamb recipe from Anne Maxfield of Accidental-Locavore.com. “The house just smells so good when you walk in at the end of the day,” she says.
Slow-Cooker Rocky Road Cake
Karen Hoxmeier, founder of MyBargainBuddy.com, made this recipe last week. We’re willing to forgive her for not providing samples because she sent the recipe instead.
Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together one package of German chocolate cake mix, one package instant chocolate pudding, three eggs, one cup of light sour cream, one-third cup of melted butter, one teaspoon vanilla, and one and one-quarter cups milk.
Pour the batter into a lightly greased slow cooker.
Cook two cups milk in a saucepan over medium heat and stir often until bubbles appear, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Sprinkle a packet of chocolate cook-and-serve pudding mix over batter.
Pour hot milk over pudding. Cover and cook on low for three and a half hours.
Meanwhile, toast a half-cup chopped nuts on a cookie sheet in a 350-degree oven. Turn off slow cooker. Sprinkle cake with nuts, a cup and a half of mini marshmallows, and a cup semisweet chocolate chips.
Let stand 15 minutes or until marshmallows are slightly melted. Spoon into dessert dishes.
Frugal Foodie makes a weekly batch of this slow cooker oatmeal. Left to cook overnight, it’s a perfect way to start the morning.
Sa-Weet Sweet Potatoes
“I had no idea I could cook potatoes in a slow cooker,” says Dr. Jennifer Hanes, a board certified emergency and forensic physician based in Austin, Texas. She came up with this tasty and low-fat sweet potato recipe.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.