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I need a bit of variety and more simplicity in my cooking. My 25 minute chicken curry is great, but it can get a bit frantic since I often leave cooking until I am very hungry (studying takes precedence over eating most days). However, I can't live without fresh food. Packaged stuff makes me feel sluggish after a few days.

For veggies I usually sautee some spinach with salt, garlic and sesame, but I need a meat dish that I can prepare quickly in advance and preferably in large quantities. I was thinking of a slow cooker, but I need a good recipe to go with that. Any suggestions?

I am fine with chopping up veggies etc earlier in the day, but I don't want to spend more than that in preparation. Preferably, it's something that cooks all day and is ready when I get back from the department around 6 hours later.

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As a college student, what gear do you have available? Just a hot plate, or an oven, microwave, etc? –  Joe Jul 22 '10 at 1:17
    
I am moving to grad school, but I understand we have a stove (I presume hotplate) and an oven, I will make sure I have a microwave, and I will get me a rice cooker. I'm contemplating a cheap slowcooker too, since it's like $15 bucks and I only have to use it for a good meal a handful of times to get my money's worth out of it. –  Mechko Jul 22 '10 at 1:20
    
I also intend to build up a full complement of good thick cast iron pots and pans, since I am very very jealous of my dad's set which he still has almost thirty years and four countries after he finished grad school. –  Mechko Jul 22 '10 at 1:22
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If you're living as the poor grad student, consider hitting yard/garage/car boot sales to look for cast iron. Even the nasty looking ones you can get cheap, then put 'em in the hot coals of a fireplace, let cool, scour with a wire brush, clean, and re-season. –  Joe Jul 22 '10 at 1:46
    
@Joe thanks, but I'm not exactly a poor grad student for at least a year. Our stipend (with teaching) is close to $2100 a month, less $700 (!!!) rent. After undergrad, I feel like I'm inheriting a kingdom. –  Mechko Jul 22 '10 at 1:59

11 Answers 11

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Doing a whole chicken in a slow cooker requires a little work, lots of cook time, and comes out so tender you can cut it with a plastic spoon.

Buy a "fryer" size chicken (4 to 6 lbs), wash it, rub it down with olive oil, sprinkle on some spices (something like salt, thyme & pepper, etc), pour a little flavorful liquid (beer, cooking wine, or lemon juice) into the bottom of the slow cooker and leave the chicken inside to cook on low. You can do the prep in less than 5 minutes.

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mm sounds good. When you say little, do you mean like half a cup or less? Also, wouldn't I need to put some additional liquid for the chicken, or will it just cook in its own juices? –  Mechko Jul 22 '10 at 1:57
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Amount of liquid will depend on the quality and temperature of the slow cooker. Better ones will hold moisture better and need less liquid. Once the temperature rises enough for the fat to start melting out, the chicken will provide it's own liquid. So you only need enough to last until then. Try starting with 1/2 cup flavorful liquid and a 1/2 cup water, and adjust from there. –  Tim Gilbert Jul 22 '10 at 2:02
    
Adding stock/broth is good for moisture, but I prefer to let the chicken make it's own by adding a chopped onion underneath the bird, and maybe a carrot. –  zanlok Feb 3 '11 at 18:22
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I did something similar this week. Pierced a whole lemon several times, and put it with a whole peeled onion in the cavity of the chicken. Put it on a bed of peeled carrots and half onions in the slow-cooker, with half a cup of chicken stock from a cube. When I got home, strained off the liquid and reduced it. The chicken was lemony and tender, and the sauce was absolutely astonishing. –  slim Feb 4 '11 at 14:00

A super simple dish that cooks on the stove is Chicken Adobo.

It's a Filipino dish that you throw in some onions, a ton of garlic, chicken legs/thighs and some other stuff and cook it slow for a few hours. Goes with pretty much any veggie or side dish that you have on hand.

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2009/06/dinner-tonight-chicken-adobo-filipino-recipe.html

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I'm not going to get into specific recipes, but I've done, or seen done in a slow cooker with good success:

  • Stew
  • Chili
  • Lasagne
  • Pot roast

All of them require browning the meat first, however, so it's a fair it of work to prep in the morning. (I guess you don't need to brown the meat for stew or pot roast first, but it's not going to give you the same sort of flavor). There's plenty of slow cooker recipes online, or get a book like the Fix it and Forget it Cookbook

Other things that I'd recommend for relatively quick cooking:

  • Meatloaf burgers : mix meatloaf, make into patties, wrap in wax paper, freeze in a zip-top bag; you can pull one out when you want, cook through as a burger/meatloaf, or break into tomato sauce for pasta.
  • Poached chicken : when chicken's on sale, poach some, shread it, and freeze it in zip-top bags; you can thaw it in salsa to make burritos or enchiladas, in a cream sauce to make chicken ala king, etc.
  • Stir fry : for extra speed, consider making it w/ noodles rather than rice; if you don't mind being in-authentic, once the stir-fry is almost done, toss in some water to cool the pan/wok, throw on a brick of ramen, slap a lid on, and wait 3 min.
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As a student myself I can relate. Here is my favorite:

  1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees C.
  2. Put potato halves in the oven with some olive oil.
  3. Sit in front of the computer for 15 min.
  4. Microwave a chicken fillet and then fry it so that it looks nice.
  5. Put the chicken fillet in the oven too and add some garlic clefts (don't peel it). Add more olive oil and some coarse-grained salt and thyme.
  6. Wait 20 min.
  7. Add some pre-packaged pepper sauce and some rocket salad with pepper (with olive oil).

It takes ~10 min to do and only have 5 ingredients not including the basic stuff.

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You need to edit. I don't have enough rep yet to edit others' posts. Filet is a boneless cut of meat. filé is a starchy powder used to thicken gumbo. Fillet is a filling in a structural join used to reduce stress. (Looks like a line of caulk) –  Chris Cudmore Jul 22 '10 at 13:40
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meh, I know what he meant. Though I didn't know the other two words. thank you for increasing my vocab @chris –  Mechko Jul 25 '10 at 7:41
    
I know what you meant by this but I find it humorous that it takes "~10 min" when two steps are waiting for a combined 35 minutes. –  Ryan Elkins Feb 3 '11 at 18:48

Alison Holst is a well known NZ chef and her lazy lasagna in a slow cooker is a classic.

Our kids cook it when it's their turn to cook.

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Stews are very low-maintenance dishes. The main workflow of making a stew is:

  1. Cut up vegetables. Thin chopping for the ones that will be browned, and cubes for the "wet" ones that will be added later.
  2. Brown the onion/carrots/celery in butter/oil/fat (generally accepted as mandatory in a stew).
  3. Add the meat and brown it too. Use either cubed or ground meat.
  4. Add the "wet" vegetables, such as tomato, bell pepper, zucchini, potatoes or such.
  5. Stew for 6 hours with very low heat. A slow-cooker is ideal for it.

This is the process I've used to make bolognaise sauce, chili and various nameless stews. It's a good idea to make a large amount and freeze it in parcels. That way, you can have instant food available, which is guaranteed to be better than store-bought packaged food.

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The following recipes are fairly quick and easy

Pork and apple stew.

Some loin pork (roughly 1 chop per person) or any other lean cut of pork ...An onion 4 - 5 carrots 2 or 3 cooking apples Some white wine (a glass for the stew and the rest for the cook) One medium potato per person Spices to taste (Cloves and juniper berries work well)

Finely chop the onion and fry until soft. Cube the pork and add to the onion Fry pork until sealed and slightly coloured core and peel the apples and roughly dice and add to pork and onions roughly chop carrots and add to pot add your spices and seasoning and the white wine . wash and peel your potatoes and then finely slice layer the potato slices on top of the other ingredients. put a lid on your pot and allow to cook on a low heat for an hour or so 20 mins before serving brush a little oil on the potatoes and place in over at 200 degrees or so until the potatoes are crispy and slightly golden.

Spicy Butternut squash Soup

Cut ButternutSquash in half and brush with a little oil. ...Place on Baking tray and roast for an hour or so at 170 degrees.

Roughly chop an onion and fry off in a little oil until soft add some salt, pepper and some dried chilli flakes to taste

chop and peel a couple of carrots and a bell pepper and add to onion.

Scoop out your butternut squash and add to pot.

add a pint and a half of vegetable stock and allow to simmer for half an hour or so.

Blend soup and add more water if it is too thick, check seasoning and serve.

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You can also make up quantities of bolognese and chili and freeze them if you have a freezer compartment on your refridgerator, then reheat them easily either by defrosting during the day or in the microwave. Or if you have to make fresh then chili; mince in bolognese with vegetable; or mince with chili leaves and peppers, onions and mushrooms, all do well either in a slow cooker or on a hotplate/cooker.

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Simple soup!

I make a very simple soup with onion, carrots, potato - and optionally - diced chicken. What isn't optional is some chicken stock cubes (I've taken to using the Knor gel "cubes" available in UK & Ireland).

I put the above in a pot with a generous grind of fresh black pepper.

It takes 15 minutes to peel etc and put in a pot, it'll happily simmer from anywhere between 40 minutes and 2 hours and be delicious.

It's also well known in our house that second-day-soup (the left over soup from the day before) is even nicer than first-day-soup, so try cook more than you'll eat in one sitting. You get a free dinner the next day.

I've recently taken to adding lentils (apparently they're a - dum dum de DUM - super food), however the lentils tend to lie on the bottom of the pot and need to be watched.

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This recipe is not only easy, but cheap. I cooked it all the time when I was in college. First, mix one cup of dry rice with 2.5 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then let simmer till all the water is absorbed. In the meanwhile, fry 1 lb of ground beef. As the beef is cooking, crumble it up with the spatula and add enough dry onion flakes to absorb all the grease. Finally, add the ground beef and one can of diced tomatoes to the rice and season to taste with chili powder.

After dinner, put the excess in resealable sandwich bags and freeze. To reheat, put a frozen bag in the microwave at 50% for 5 min. Then remove from bag into a ceramic bowl, break it up with a fork and heat again at 100% for 5 min. more.

If you want, you can spread refried beans on a flat (crispy) tostada, then spoon on the beef/rice mixture and top with shredded cheese. Cook it in the microwave until the cheese is melted. I add sliced jalapos since I have a cast iron stomach.

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Our family name for this is "beef and tomato on rice". We use real onion, not flakes, and use a lean or extra lean ground beef. Also I use whole canned tomatoes and chop them a bit, because the juice in the whole tomatoes is much thicker and nicer than in the diced. A little cayenne pepper helps liven it up. I don't stir it all together - I pour the beef and tomato over the rice in a large bowl and that way people can decide their own proportions of meat to rice. –  Kate Gregory Feb 6 '11 at 15:00

Here's one of my favorites. I make it in a cast iron pan about 12" diameter and 5" deep. As long as you keep the ratio of rice to liquid around 1 cup / 4 cups, everything else is pretty flexible.

2lb ground beef
1 onion diced
1 head of cabbage chopped 
any other handy vegetables, chopped
1 cup rice
1 15oz can of tomato sauce
1 6oz can of tomato paste
2c water or stock
salt/pepper etc

Brown the meat, drain if needed (I like to brown in smaller batches so it actually 
gets browned rather than boiled).
Cook the onion in the grease for a couple minutes. 
Add everything together, bring to a boil then cover and simmer for 20 min stirring 
occasionally. Water should be absorbed into the rice.
You could put on some cheese and cook at 450 in the oven for a few minutes to melt.

Modified from www.home-ec101.com/one-pot-meal-ground-beef-and-cabbage-skillet/

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