* Prices may differ from that shown
I remember years many ago my gran having a slow cooker from which she produced some of the best casseroles and stews I have ever had. Then again she always was a fantastic cook. They then went through a period of being seen as old fashioned as people wanted things quickly rather than waiting all day for something to cook. They have since gone through a bit of a revival and have become popular again. I've always liked them and I had my old one for a several years.
Why a Slow cooker?
Well the reason I like them is that as it cooks things much more slowly at a lower temperature less nutrients are lost from the food. Also as it is a slow cook some cheaper cuts of meat work very well in them. Mutton for example whilst it is much more flavoursome than lamb it can be rather tough unless it is cooked slowly. Also it uses less electricity than a standard oven (this one is rated at 210w).
Why this one?
I recently bought this one as my old one developed a bit of a fault, known as the other half dropping the inner lining so it came into sharp contact with the kitchen floor. A fate not easy for an earthenware item to survive. Still I have saved up loads of tokens over the years for a certain department store so I went there with the intention of replacing it. Whilst this is a fairy basic model of slow cooker I don't see the point in paying more for something just because it has a digital display etc and it cost me £19.95.
What was in the box?
A slow cooker consists of an outer 'shell' which is the heating element and an earthenware pot which sits inside this with a lid. The instruction book is fairly thin and easy to follow as opposed to the badly translated to English ones you tend to find with many electrical items. There are a few basic recipes in this booklet as well but they don't look all that adventurous. The outer shell is a plastic cover over aluminium
Item in use.
A slow cooker is actually very easy to use. It is recommended that you add all the veg (raw) first then if you are adding meat to put this on top then add any liquid. I tend to brown off any meat first as this seals the meat and helps it to retain more flavour. You don't need to use as much stock as you would need to use if you were cooking the casserole in the oven as the meat juices are retained in the cooker as well. Also as the temperature is lower than less liquid is lost and the lid keeps most of what does evaporate in.
Then there comes the heat settings, well it has two for cooking. Low and high. If a casserole takes 2 hrs in a conventional oven then it will take about 8-10 hrs in the slow cooker on low or about 4-5 hours on high. I tend to use it on the low setting then I can get on with the rest of my day knowing that dinner will be ready when I had planned to have it. If you use the low setting there is also no need to stir the food as it is cooking. On high it is a good idea to stir it, not because it will burn but to distribute the flavours of what you are cooking better. The heat setting is easy to use and the switch is easy to turn to the required setting for what you are cooking.
After it is cooked you can use the 'warm' settings to keep what you have cooked hot. Very useful if the other half is going to be late. Using this setting and leaving the lid on keeps it hot but more importantly it doesn't dry the food out.
This is a family sized one and will cook enough for 4 people. I tend to cook enough for 4 and then freeze half of it for use in the future. So again all this will need is defrosting then 30 min in a conventional oven to heart it up again. Saving time for the future.
The wall of the outer shell does get quite hot whilst in use so it will need to be on a heat proof surface when in use and well out of the reach of small hands. The earthenware liner is also quite heavy when empty and the handles on it are rather small. Carrying this with conventional oven gloves is not easy hence the reason I dish the food up without taking the liner out of the shell.
Although it should be said that whilst everything can pretty much all go in at once dairy products can break down during long cooking and so these should be added in the last hour of cooking. Also the long cooking tends to intensify the taste of herbs etc so you will need to use less of them.
Cleaning it up:
Both the liner and lid are very easy to wash by hand but it is recommended that you don't use any abrasive item to clean the liner with as this can scratch the surface and stop it being 'non-stick'. The lid and liner are also dishwasher proof. The outside of the outer shell are easy to wipe down with a damp cloth.
Size and storage:
This one is being a 3.5 L cooker and so is fairly large and will take up quite a bit of space on the work top and in a cupboard. The oval shape is fairly standard for this kind of appliance but again it makes it not the most cupboard friendly item to store. The size is aprox 38 cm by 28 cm and about 28 cm tall whilst in use. In storage the lid can be put on upside down so make it that bit lower.
The cable is long enough to position it on any worktop in my kitchen so I can have it out of the way whist I get on with making something else.
This is a good basic slow cooker which has so far given me good results and is well worth the price I paid for it. Whilst the handles on the earthenware liner could be bigger there are few things wrong with it. The only way this could be improved for me is that the cooker has a built in timer to switch the cooker off when the food is ready or it automatically switches to the 'keep warm' setting.
I don't do cooking, I don't do housekeeping, in fact in all honesty I'm barely housetrained so it remains a surprise when I get home from work every evening and find only the pet male in the flat and a distinct absence of any grown up people!
Sadly for Mr Scuba his idea of cooking is roughly the same as mine, so between us we had to work out the best way to organise these tasks. This not helped by our clashing work hours - most days we see each other as he goes to bed when I get home from work and then when he gets up at a ridiculously early hour in the morning to go to work himself.
After a bit of discussion we decided that the best plan would be to work out how to make meals we could eat at different times but cook all at once.....leading to the slightly more heated discussion about why he should do the cooking when he gets home from work (4 hours before I finish work) or why I should do the cooking before I go to work (about 6 hours before he gets home from work). The conflicting times meant that when we heard about 'slow cooking' it was it seemed the answer to our dilemma.
As you can probably guess 6 weeks in to this new world of living together I'm the one doing all the cooking, shopping and washing up......so the slow cooker we bought is very much my baby and I suspect I spend almost as much time in the kitchen talking to it as I do talking to MrS!
Our cooker is a Crockpot 3.5l, unlike the illustrative image dooyoo have mine(ours?) is entirely black and I think it looks better for that. I paid the princely sum of £17.50 for it from a semi local branch of Tesco@Home.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of slow cookers they really are as simple as the name suggests, food is cooked slowly over a period of hours - the time dependant on what exactly it is you cook and the quantity.
As the cooker has a lid on it you won't need a huge amount of liquid due to the evaporate being condensed and dropped back on to the food throughout the cooking process, if you like food to be marinated then you can be confident that even 'nude' meat will be well marinated in a slow cooker by the simple cooking process.
The crockpot has two heat settings - literally high and low, in theory cooking on high will halve the cooking time, so if I've been organised the food is in and cooking by lunchtime and will be fully cooked in around 6 hours, on my more disorganised days it'll be mid afternoon when I remember to start the cooking so on to high it goes ready to be eaten around 3 hours later. Once cooked and when Mrs has had his fill there is a third setting on the crockpot of 'warm' this one will ensure that the food is kept warm but at a cooler temp than the cooking settings.
Of course some meats need longer cooking times my slow cooker came with some basic recipes and a rough guide to meat cooking times. An added bonus is that tough meat cuts will be tenderised by the cooking process.
When the food is cooked or when you need to clean the pot the cooking dish lifts out of the metal body of the cooker. Again my version this is a black dish. This is a heavy duty feeling stoneware casserole dish, which could I expect be used to cook a casserole the traditional way in the oven, it is rather heavy and once filled with food could be a struggle for anyone lacking in strength - I know my mum cannot handle it due to arthritic wrists unless it's half empty.
The whole unit is very simple to clean, as mentioned the cooking vessel is typical kitchen stoneware, so you can safely pop it in the dishwasher, oven or microwave, though it is usually easy to handwash - as food tends not to stick until the liquid is evaporated out of the pot. The metal body of the cooker I tend to simply give a wipe over as naturally being electronic I'm not about to pop it in the dishwasher.....(I'm not that blonde whatever MrS says). The lid of the cooking pot is glass with a plastic handle so I always handwash it although I expect it would be perfectly safe in the dishwasher too.
According to the literature a slow cooker is also very economical, one friend has calculated his as using less than 1p per hour to run compared to his oven's 30p per hour.
Overall the crockpot is a great addition to my new kitchen, I'm able to easily cook meals which are enough to make at least 4 servings - 4 me sized portions and 2 and a bit MrS sized ones (I swear the man is completely hollow!), and it allows me to cook our meals whenever I'm ready to get it done even if that isn't when we're both there and ready to eat. I just need to teach MrS to put things in to the crockpot to cook instead of just taking out the cooked food!
There are a wealth of recipes to be found online and it seems that with the right ingredients you can cook almost anything in a slow cooker.
EDIT 03/13 While the MrS referenced in this review is now long gone the slow cooker remains, and is a god send for me. I find that at least three days a week my main meal is cooked in it, and on other days often my meal is something previously cooked in the slow cooker and frozen or popped in the fridge. Yet I am still discovering new recipes and ideas. Equally two years on the slow cooker itself still looks almost as good as new, there are some dings in the metal body of the cooker, from moving house, but no chips in the paint and no fading of the printed writing around the heating control knob. The stoneware dish is still complete despite my best efforts to chip or smash it (my toes have often come off worst in that battle), and even the glass lid is undamaged which is to my mind impressive given my general clumsiness.
We treated ourselves after Christmas to a new slow cooker as our previous one was only for two and we seem to be catering for more nowadays.
This has been a real boon I pop it on early in the morning and get on with the day then early evening all I have to do is sort out vegetables etc and dinner is done such a lot of time saved.
Ours is the black version of the cooker pictured above but I cant imagine the colour makes any difference to the end results.
You can do casseroles , pot roasts , soups all kinds of things in it , there are variable heats from High=Low-Keep warm . The inner pot comes out very easily for washing it hold 3.5 litres I have done casseroles for 6 in it easily. An added bonus in the winter is all the time it is on it warms the kitchen not to mention the lovely smells coming from it mean the family are more than ready for it when you dish up.
Excellently priced when you see some of the other models around which are a lot dearer I cannot think of anything to fault it.
Short name: Crock Pot SCV400