Slow cookers can save you lots of time in the kitchen. If you prepare your ingredients ahead of time, it's even easier. Simply tip your packet of ingredients into the slow cooker in the morning, then come home from your busy day to a hot meal that makes your house smell great. A bowl of light salad greens with creamy dressing complements comfort food from your slow cooker.
If you'll be making your slow cooker meal later in the week, plan on storing prepared ingredients in the fridge. Cut up veggies and meats, add sauces and seasonings such as dressing and dip mix, and store in a tightly lidded container until you're ready to cook them. If you plan to make slow cooker meals more than a week out, freezing the ingredients is safer. Cut veggies and meats and store them in freezer containers. If you have a vacuum-sealing machine, use it to prepare your slow cooker-ready meals for an extended stay in the freezer without freezer burn. Label everything so you know which meal is which, and date the containers.
Stews and stew-like dishes, such as bouillabaisse, are well suited to slow cookers. If you're not familiar with this method of cooking, look for a recipe written for a slow cooker that's similar to one of your favorite recipes. Alter the slow cooker recipe to fit your ingredients. Prepare your ingredients as though you were going to make the stew right away, then store them in your refrigerator or freezer until you're ready to use them. Don't add any liquid, flour or cornstarch to the mix until you're actually putting the ingredients into the slow cooker. Most stew recipes require you to make a roux with the broth and flour or cornstarch before adding it to the other ingredients.
Most chili recipes call for lots of beans, vegetables and seasonings -- all ideal companions for slow cooker preparation. If you're using canned beans, drain the liquid from them first, unless your recipe tells you otherwise. Do the same for any canned vegetables you're using. Chop fresh vegetables and store these together, along with any meat or other protein you're putting in the chili. If your chili recipe calls for fresh herbs to be added at the end of cooking, don't prepare them ahead of time. Instead, chop them fresh on the day you cook the chili and add them when you're about to serve it. The flavor and bright color of chopped fresh herbs diminishes with refrigeration, freezing, and extended cooking.
You've seen boxed meal helpers that include pasta and sauce, and tell you to just add chicken, beef or fish. You can make the same sort of half-work meal for your slow cooker as well. While soups cook nicely in a slow cooker, noodles can get soggy and overcooked. Prepare the other ingredients for your soup, store them and then cook them in the slow cooker whenever you're ready. Twenty minutes before serving time, bring water to a boil on the stove and cook noodles according to the package directions. Drain them, spoon them into bowls, then ladle the soup over them. Try a dash of dressing and seasoning mix directly in the bowl for instant zip. Your soup will taste delicious, and the noodles have the al dente texture everyone loves in soup. This method can work with other recipes that might not otherwise seem suited to a slow cooker. Check your favorite recipes to see what you can adapt.