Eat Better and Cheaper with Fewer Dirty Dishes

slow cooking ingredients

Everybody is feeling the ‘credit crunch’ and there are fears that people will be forced to buy cheaper and less healthy food as a result. But there are ways that we can all use the current energy and cash crunch to improve our diets and save both costs and energy.

Slow cooking saves you time, money and energy

Fast food is energy and packaging intensive – the energy used to precook and process foods, packaged them and then transport them is considerably more than we would use is we bought fresh local food and prepared it ourselves. In autumn most of us will discover that local fresh fall food is probably some green and many root vegetables, and many of us won’t be familiar with cooking methods to make many of these crops into tasty dishes.

Enter the crock pot – a slow cooker that usually consists of a electric element that surrounds a ceramic cooking dish and lid. It offers a way of cooking dense foods slowly without supervision and without using the energy that ovens and hobs require. Most vegetable only or meat and vegetable combinations can be left to cook for eight to 10 hours because the meal won’t burn if left longer than expected and you don’t have to worry about the electricity bill because crock pots are very economical: low wattage equipment running for an extended period costs less than high wattage equipment used for a short time.

There are other advantages: foods, especially cheaper cuts of meat, that are cooked slowly are more tender; the one-stage preparation system means that working parents can prepare a meal in the morning and come home to find it cooked in the evening; in summer the food cooks but the chef doesn’t, as a crock pot doesn’t heat the kitchen in the way that other cooking methods do and best of all, at the end of the cooking time there’s just the ceramic pot and lid to wash – less dirty dishes.

Some crock pot tips

Heat the pot according to the manufacturer’s instructions and prepare the food according to your recipe before adding ingredients to the cooker – some meats (like poultry) must be heated thoroughly before slow cooking and pulses should be boiled to ensure toxins are destroyed.

Don’t be tempted to lift the lid! It adds 20 minutes to the cooking time whenever you do.

Sauces will not thicken in a slow cooker so you may wish to add cream or cornflour for the last hour of cooking time to make them more substantial

Crock Pot Autumn Stew

You can vary the ingredients in this meal according to what is cheap and good in your locality – if you can’t get squash try potatoes, sweet potatoes or rutabaga. You can also use lima or pinto beans instead of garbanzos

  • 2 cups cubed butternut squash
  • 2 cups chopped carrots
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped zucchini
  • 2 (14 oz.) cans chopped tomatoes
  • 15 oz. can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 14 oz. can vegetable broth or home-made vegetable stock
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Herbs and seasoning to suit your family.

Add all the ingredients to a four quart slow cooker and mix well to combine. Cover and cook on low for 7 to 9 hours or until vegetables are tender. Sprinkle with cheese before serving with crusty bread.

Slow cooker photograph courtesy of lindyireland at Flickr under a Creative Commons Licence

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14 thoughts on “Eat Better and Cheaper with Fewer Dirty Dishes”

  1. Excellent story–I’m a HUGE fan of cooking with the crockpot but have always wondered if it was a better way of cooking vs traditional cooking on the stove/oven. And I can’t wait to try out the recipe. Thanks for the great story.

  2. Great idea and the recipe sounds great! I don’t have a crock pot, but in the scheme of things, they seem like a really good investment in both time and money.

  3. Thanks Aimee and Jaynee, I’m glad to have pleased you and Carla, ask for a crock pot for Christmas;, you’ll have saved a fortune in energy costs by the following Thanksgiving!

  4. Great recipe that I am looking forwadr to trying out. I am having a Pampered Chef cookery show this friday so I will be hoping to earn enough points as the hostess to get a crock pot or equivalent. I have quite a few friends coming over so it should be a good fun evening – eating, drinking and learning cookery tips!

  5. Great thoughts on nutrition. It is very difficult to educate people on how to maximize their money and time available to provide healthy food for themselves and their families. Courses or public education on real life budgeting and planning is missing from our modern culture. The truth is that nutritious food, no matter how simple, feeds the brain as well as the stomach and makes us healthier, happier, and better able to cope with the stresses life can throw at us.

  6. Shirley, that’s a really interesting point – my teenage son’s best friend stood in my kitchen and took pictures on his mobile phone of me making bread: he had never seen bread dough except in a pizza restaurant. When I got him to knead it and make his own plaited loaf he was so thrilled he took it to show his girlfriend. That’s really rather sad, isn’t it? But it’s encouraging how little it takes to get people interested in good food …

  7. The credit crunch is not good news but it’s making people think more about waste, which is a good thing. We’ve become a society that feeds our bins better than ourselves. Research shows that most households waste at least £400 a year by throwing out food – not just peelings but food that they haven’t had to time to eat before it’s gone off or because they’ve cooked too much. I think we can all learn how to make delicious food out of leftovers or food that may be slightly past its best. I’ve set up a to share recipes and tips that help us waste less food. As well as being bad for our pockets, it’s bad news for the environment because food creates the greenhouse gas methane when it breaks down in landfills.

  8. I have never thought of purchasing a slow cooker but you have made me change my mind – anything that helps to make my life easier with the kids, house and job is a good thing.

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