The must-have kitchen appliance
The humble, indispensable slow cooker lets you bake bread, roast meat, simmer stew, make yogurt and even fix dessert -- frugally.
I haven't found recipes specific to the slow food movement, but I bet they're out there.
For as little as $20 -- and sometimes for a lot less -- you can get a machine that cooks for you during the day or while you're sleeping. Some life partners won't even do that.
The fancier (and more expensive) ones have bells and whistles such as programmable timers or "keep food warm" options. But you can get a basic model from the pre-Christmas sales, a thrift store or a yard sale. You could probably find one on The Freecycle Network, too. (Post continues after video.)
Or get one from a relative, the way I did: When my daughter received a bigger, better slow cooker as a wedding gift, she let me keep her old one.
Wherever you get the appliance, plan to use it to make some of the frugalest food ever. I use mine to:
- Make yogurt for about one-fourth the cost of store-bought.
- Bake potatoes, either regular or sweet -- I cook half a dozen at a time and turn the leftovers into potato salad, or fry them and serve with eggs.
- Roast an occasional loss-leader pork butt for barbecue sandwiches (if you have kids, just the chance to say "butt" at the dinner table makes this recipe a hit).
- Make soup stock from bones, pan juices and vegetable scraps -- producing extra meals from stuff that might otherwise get thrown out.
- Cook dry beans, either plain or flavored with neck bones or ham ends.
- Turn those plain beans into chili -- which doesn't scorch, the way it sometimes does in a pan on the stove (ditto spaghetti sauce).
- Bake interesting squash varieties like sweet dumpling or delicata.
So will sites like Allrecipes.com and FoodNetwork.com, which have sections devoted to slow-cooker fare.
You can graduate to fancier dishes, such as the Osso Bucco Milanese or Tunisian Lamb found in a cookbook called "The Art of the Slow Cooker." But author Andrew Schloss also includes a meatloaf recipe for those trying to keep costs down.
Slow cookers can save you money, and not just because long, slow cooking will tenderize the cheaper cuts of meat. You won't be tempted to pick up takeout on the way home from work if you start a meal before you leave in the morning. Bonus: It's wonderful to open the door and be delighted by the fragrance of a hearty stew.
The appliance may improve your quality of life in other ways, too. For example, doesn't a long, lazy Saturday or Sunday breakfast sound inviting? You won't have to get up and cook if you put the ingredients for breakfast potatoes with sausage into the machine before you go to bed.
A few ingredients plus time equals inexpensive and healthy breakfasts, lunches and dinners. What's not to like? Cream of mushroom soup is optional.
More on MSN Money:
"Bonus: It's wonderful to open the door and be delighted by the fragrance of a hearty stew." -- So true! My husband and I love our slow cooker. When we're both at work during the day, I sometimes email him and say, "The crock pot called and said dinner will be ready by 5."
Thanks for the tip Donna! We have a breadmaker, but it never crossed my mind to use it with the slow cooker. I can almost taste the pot roast sandwiches...
@Susan195: I couldn't do without mine, either.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.
ABOUT DONNA FREEDMAN
Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
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