If you've only been using your slow cooker for stews and chili, get ready for a whole new world of delicious, good-for-you dishes.
That handy appliance has more range than you realize — and utilizing it frees up your oven, keeps your kitchen cool and offers a way to make some traditionally hands-on tasks much simpler.
1. Whole-Grain Bread
Along with being delicious, whole-grain bread "can be an excellent source of energy-boosting B vitamins, as well as digestion-supporting fiber," Sydney Greene, RD, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
A big advantage to baking bread in a slow cooker is that it rises and bakes in the appliance — so no need to find a warm spot for it, let it rise, then bake. Plus, if you're baking bread for meal prep or a special occasion, using your slow cooker leaves your oven free for other items. You make the dough as normal, shape it, place it in the slow cooker and go.
"Most Americans don't eat enough DHA and EPA, two essential omega-3 fatty acids," Greene says. "Incorporating just two servings of fish per week can provide the recommended amount of these essential nutrients, which support mood stability, memory and hormone production."
One thing some cooks find intimidating about cooking fish — getting the temperature right — is eliminated by using the slow cooker, thanks to its steady heat. Plus, with a slow cooker, there's less (or no) fishy smell. There are several ways to cook fish in the slow cooker, including in stews and soups, steamed in packets and poaching.
3. Spiced Nuts
"Nuts are an excellent way to add protein and healthy fat to salads, oatmeal or enjoy as a stand-alone snack," Greene says. "One serving of nuts contains about the same amount of protein as a small egg."
Spiced nuts work beautifully in a slow cooker. The gentle, even heat helps prevent burning. Plus, you can combine all the ingredients right in the slow cooker, so you have fewer dishes to do when they're finished. Stir the nuts every 20 to 30 minutes as they cook, just as you would in the oven.
Recipes to Try
4. Healthier Cheesecake
"Everyone needs something that feeds the soul now and then," Greene says. "Cheesecake is a treat where a little goes a long way. Unlike high-carbohydrate treats like brownies or donuts, the cheese in cheesecake provides a dose of protein and fat, which is likely to satisfy and fill you up quicker."
Regular ovens have hotspots, which can lead to cracked cheesecake. The even heat in the slow cooker solves that, and yields cheesecakes with a silky smooth texture. Fill your pan (or other cooking vessels) with batter, place in the slow cooker, add water to come partway up the sides of the pan, cover and cook.
5. Caramelized Onions
"Caramelized onions are an excellent way to pack in a ton of flavor without extra calories," Green says. "Cooked onions are also way easier to digest than raw, which is good news for people who experience gas or bloating after eating onions."
Making caramelized onions in a skillet is a commitment — you need 20 minutes or longer, and you have to watch it carefully and stir often to prevent burning. With the slow cooker, you'll just throw all the ingredients in, set it and let it work its magic. If there's extra liquid when they're done, you can either continue to cook it with the lid open to allow the liquid to evaporate or simply lift the onions out with tongs and discard the liquid.
Recipes to Try
6. Fruit Butters
Fruit butters are tasty, plus they help you "add some extra polyphenols to your morning toast or oatmeal," Greene says. "Polyphenols are naturally occurring compounds found in many fruits and vegetables that can help reduce inflammation and promote healthy digestion."
As with caramelized onions, homemade fruit butter on the stovetop usually takes a long time and requires a careful eye. But with a slow cooker, you can pile the ingredients in, set it and get on with your day. Depending on how you like the texture, you can leave it alone or blend with an immersion blender if you prefer it smooth.