‘Even simple dishes like chilli con carne can be transformed by being cooked in the slow cooker’
Alison Kelly from Galway has been the happy owner of her slow cooker, a Cookworks Crockpot with a 3.5-litre capacity, for more than six years. A present from her mother, it cost about €40 at the time and since then she's found it to be a very useful addition to her kitchen. "During winter, we use it a couple of times a month. We tend to make large batches of food and freeze them for future consumption," says Alison, who is mum to nine-month-old twins.
"We've experimented a good bit over the last few years. The tougher cuts of meats really lend themselves to the slow cooker - cuts like stewing beef, lamb shanks and pork shoulder. Apart from the obvious stews, we've made soups, curries, chillis and Moroccan-style tagines."
One of her most successful slow cooker dinners to date was a French-style beef stew, with lots of wine and shallots. "We made this for a French-themed dinner party we were giving and the stew was in the slow cooker for about six hours," she says. "The beef was so tender that it just fell apart on the plates. It was a big hit."
As a time-saver, she finds it invaluable. "You can throw the ingredients in in the morning and know you'll have a lovely cooked meal waiting for you in the evening. Even simple dishes like chilli con carne and bolognese can be transformed by being cooked in the slow cooker," she says.
One piece of advice she has for potential slow cooker buyers is to only lift the lid during cooking if really necessary. "This breaks the seal created between the lid and the cooking pot and you'll need to add on to your cooking time each time you lift the lid."
Her slow cooker isn't without limitations. "One drawback is definitely is having to brown the meat before you add it because the slow cooker cooks at such a low temperature, you don't get the lovely carmelisation from the meat otherwise," she says.
"It's not really suitable for cooking chicken breasts for example and, also, it can be tricky sometimes to get the cooking times right. You could end up with a soggy mess of vegetables and still tough meat if you don't have the correct timings or settings on your slow cooker."
But overall, she sees her slow cooker as a solid investment.
"I would definitely recommend one to anyone wanting to cook good home-cooked stews and casseroles," she says. "There are still lots of things I want to try with it. I have a recipe for making a Christmas pudding in the slow cooker and I'm very tempted to give that a shot this year."
'Even simple dishes like chilli con carne can be transformed by being cooked in the slow cooker'