Slow Cooker Beans

Happy New Year Everyone. Hope you’re still at your resolutions. (By my clock, we all have another few hours before we abandon them completely.) Me? I grabbed 2015 by the horns – I think by noon on January 1, the tree had been disrobed and curbed; the basement, organized; the contents of Phoebe’s Fibber-McGee-and-Molly closet sorted into three boxes – keep, hand-me-down, goodwill; and all those little ziplocs from the freezer containing mysterious frost-bitten contents had been laid out on the counter like crime scene evidence, waiting to be identified and put to use.

Of course, these little triumphs are usually more likely found on a to-do list than an “I Resolve” list, but it felt good anyway. My real resolutions – eat healthier lunches, not blow my next book deadline, find a new hobby that doesn’t involve a screen (I’m taking nominations), snack better, listen to more podcasts – aren’t necessarily the kinds of things one checks off a list after a few hours of caffeine-fueled determination. Or ever, actually. (I’m always afraid to read back my archive of New Year’s posts to see how ineffective this whole exercise is.)

As anyone who has ever reorganized their sock drawer instead of dealing with a deadline knows, it’s so much easier to control what’s right in front of you, and what was in front of me on January 1 were those freezer bags. Chunks of Benton’s Bacon, misshapen ziplocs of homemade stock, a few heels of Parmesan, three small bags that each contained one or two canned tomatoes, five (five!) black bananas. I knew there were some orphaned bags of dried white beans in the pantry, some onions, basil leaves, and nearing-their-end carrots in the fridge, so I unceremoniously dumped everything into the slow cooker (minus the bananas which would be put to use the next day) and pressed the 6-hour button.

Warning: What I’m about to say might send a few of you into a tailspin, but I’m going to say it anyway. Here it goes: I have not been loving my slow-cooker. I know I’ve only had it three months, and that hardly counts as giving it much of a go, but the truth is, so far, most of what has been ladled out of the thing has left me wanting more. Or something different. (Even Phoebe the other day, when told we were having chili, asked “Can it not be the one you make in the slow-cooker?”) I think most of the problem lies in the fact that I have been using it to translate dishes that I’ve been cooking in the Dutch Oven for over a decade – so there’s a standard to meet. Not just Phoebe’s chili, but short ribs, and pork loins, too.

But my kitchen-dump beans? These made the cut. Rich, stewy, smoky, they were somewhere between a meatless cassoulet and minestrone, and I must say, most excellent with a piece of crusty bread. Since I had so much room in the freezer, I ladled the whole thing into a new batch of single-serve soup bags. In other words, More Healthy Lunches: Check! At least til next week.

A Recipe-ish for Slow Cooker White Beans

Another reason why this was a success? I didn’t measure anything. (The whole dump-it-in thing is 100% of slow cooker’s appeal for me.) I used about a one-inch chunk of the bacon – that’s the great thing about good bacon, you don’t need a lot — but you can leave it out altogether if you’d prefer to make this meatless. Then I’m guessing about a 14-ounce can’s worth of chicken stock, same for whole tomatoes. Then about 8-10 ounces of dried white beans (Navy or Cannellini), a parm rind, about 10 basil leaves, half a large onions (chopped) and a third a bag of baby carrots. I set to 6-hours, pouring water into it every now and then so that beans would be fully submerged. If there had been any greens in my fridge – kale, spinach, chard – I would’ve tossed them in at the end. Serve with crusty bread or in bowls with freshly shaved Parm and a drizzle of olive oil.

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107 Comments

Kate S

Happy New Year!

The beans look delicious. Just wondering if you decided on the new red chairs?

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Daina

I am responding to your comment about not loving your slow cooker. I was in the same boat until I discovered the Cook’s Illustrated Slow Cooker cookbook. Their recipes are amazing and they solved many of the time-consuming (I’m talking about you browning…), excess liquid, over-cookedness issues. I don’t know if it’s a heresy to recommend another cookbook on an amazing cooking blog (your’s!), but I’m offering up this solution.

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Em

Jenny, I’m with you. We don’t love our slow cooker either. I know my (unnecessarily expensive and fancy) Cuisinart runs a bit hot and now use the lowest setting for everything, but the food just doesn’t taste as good to me and my hubs as other methods of cooking. At the moment I mainly use it to make a quick overnight chicken broth from roast chicken carcasses. I am following your experiments with interest!

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M

I also didn’t like my slow cooker when I tried to use it in place of a dutch oven. It took me a while to learn my slow cooker was really, really good at a more limited number of things, and now I just use it for those. Overnight chicken stock is what I use it for the most and allowed it to remain a working member of the family.

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Kate

I agree about the crock pot woes. I have made many a crock pot meal only to end up with a gallon of tasteless mush…that ends up in the back of the freezer until I feel OK about throwing it in the compost. I love the idea of the crock pot, though, and appreciate some tried-and-true recipes! Thank you!

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MemeGRL

There are a few things that I make in a slow cooker that I cannot replicate in any other fashion. Funny enough, one of them is the only chili *my* children will eat. I honestly think there is something about the shape and/or electronics of new crockpots that is not an improvement. For my wedding, in 1995, I received a great round crockpot and had many wonderful cooking experiences with it. When I dropped and broke the insert in the early 2000’s, the replacement inserts were discontinued and I could only buy an oval replacement unit. Many things have never come out the same. Thank you for keeping us posted on your experiments and experiences!

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Allie

Same here – not loving my slow cooker, except for chicken stock & steel cut oatmeal.

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Awads

i only use my slow cooker if i absolutely know i won’t be home all day. otherwise, the dutch oven in a real oven can’t be beat!

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Rosa

I’m with you: sorely disappointed with my slow cooker’s offerings. I was excited when you got yours, figuring that if ANYONE could ferret out decent recipes, it would be you. I still use mine for basic stuff out of desperation (as a working mom), but the results are never as good as non-slow-cooker versions. I would disagree with the recommendation for the Cook’s Illustrated slow cooker cookbook. The prep is decidedly NOT of the “dump this, dump that” variety. Then – for me anyway – what’s the point?

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Amanda

Here’s the thing, it’s not a dutch oven. You can’t think like it is. But nothing beats it when you are cleaning out your fridge or freezer. My joke is, just put it in the slow cooker, everything tastes the same that comes out of there. It’s neither good, nor bad. I have found that adding tablespoons of vinegar, pickle juice, or pepper juice, jazzes up a slow cooker meal enough that I don’t feel bad serving it to the family. I also use it when I’m making shredded meats for taco salads or for soups where nothing gets browned. Tonight, I’m using it for turkey stock.

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robin z

HNY Jenny! Six hours on high I presume? My slow-cooker beans often come out hard, even though technically (time-wise) over-cooked. Thoughts?
What did you do with the bananas? By the way, as a procrastination tool, bookshelves also give you that purging zing!

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Andrea

Love the idea of my slow cooker. But the reality is everything tastes like chili. Everything.

My friend Lise calls it a “crock of sh%t” (forgive the classy language). I am going to try this! Bacon should help.

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Kendra

I ditched an old crock pot years ago. Amanda is right that no matter what you put in the crock pot, it tastes like the same stewy mess when it comes out. So if you want to use the Dutch oven instead, what temp would you set the oven and for how long?

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Susan

The slow cooker may not yield gourmet meals, but there has been many a night I would have had to hit a drive thru without it. You and I have the luxury of working from home where our dutch ovens are an option that is not available to someone working in an office. I have a few recipes I use for those days when I just can’t leave something on the stove or in the oven. #newslettergiveaway

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suzannah

I love slowcooker beans, I fo mycuban blackness sand baked beans in the slowcooker yum! #newslettergiveaway

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Madie

This looks so good. Since I didn’t get a slow cooker for Christmas (ahem) I’m going to buy one myself, darnit. And this will be the first recipe I try! Thanks! #newslettergiveaway

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Matilda

A coworker offered me his old slow cooker (he received a new one this Christmas) but this has strengthened my resolve not to give up precious room in my kitchen for one. I already have a pressure cooker and a Dutch oven–I shouldn’t need any more equipment! Thanks! #newslettergiveaway

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Amanda

Looks amazing! I don’t have a slow cooker (I remember the same problem with everything my mom made in it growing up), but I’ll give it a shot in my dutch oven. #newslettergiveaway

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d

Just got a slow cooker for Christmas! Thanks for all your good info! #newslettergiveaway!

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Jill

I’m with you on the slow cooker: not into it, and I’m confused about why everyone else is? #newslettergiveaway

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Sam Carvell

I’m drooling! Those look AWESOME! I’m definitely going to have my own “clean out the freezer and add it to some beans” cookout tomorrow. 🙂 Challenge accepted! #newslettergiveaway

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angela

#newslettergiveaway

i love it when you post slow cooker stuff – making this asap!

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Leslie

I’m glad to finally hear from others who don’t love slow cookers. Give me my Le Creuset any day! #newslettergiveaway

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kristin

Slow cookers are not my friend either..especially when I was running behind and thought I could transfer the lining of mine to the stove and it shattered..with A LOT of liquid in it!
#newslettergiveaway

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Dawn

Recipes designed for the slow cooker are the way to go. And the few minutes to brown or microwave ingredients at the start pay dividends in the taste. #newslettergiveaway

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Marilena

I don’t blame you…. I don’t care for my slow cooker either. On the other hand, I love my pressure cooker. Bean soups and stews in under 30 minutes…. Even if you forgot to soak those beans!

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AnneM

Yum, this looks fabulous! I don’t have quite as many fridge leftovers to put to use after cleaning it out for holiday-hosting-food, but I’m sure I can manage the general proportions. 🙂 #newslettergiveaway

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Mary Seguin

Love your writing and chuckled when I read the misshapen zip locs of stock. You are living in the real world. Thanks for all the inspiring and jumping off points for making food..#newslettergiveaway

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maya

i call my slowcooker my wife – she cooks while i am at work. I do like mine, but do find all things end up with the same consistency.

#newslettergiveaway

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Hannah

Looks a lot like what my mom put on pasta when I was little– I think bread is a much better idea! #newslettergiveaway

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Emily

Beans are my favorite item to cook in the slow cooker, and yours look delicious, perfect for a chilly evening.
#newslettergiveaway

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Linda S

re: slow cooker disappointment. While the whole grab & dump theory is incredibly tempting, it can result in some pretty blah food. I find that everything tastes better out of the slow cooker if you can find the time to saute the onions/garlic/shallots and brown the protein first. WAY better flavor. Good luck! Oh, & I got the playbook for Xmas, yay!

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Jenny

#newslettergiveaway

Can’t wait to try this recipe. I loaned Dinner A Playbook to a friend recently and she loved it so much she got it for Christmas.

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Cataherine

#newslettergiveaway

I have a few tried and true slow cooker recipes that I love, but little success converting “other” recipes.

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Kym

Your beans cooked, even with the tomatoes in there? I ALWAYS come up with hard beans if I cook them with Tomatoes, seems the acid inhibits he softening. Maybe there’s a threshold, below it they’ll cook fine, but above it they won’t?

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Sandy

I love the idea of cleaning out the freezer or pantry and making something my family will eat with it.
#newslettergiveaway

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Jenn Warren

#newslettergiveaway

Do glad u r posting again. Gave my young friend who just got her first apartment Playbook for Xmas and marked all the yummy recipes I had made for her last semester when she came to dinner between student teaching and her swim coach job.

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Sarah

This is inspiring me to do something with my crockpot this week!

#newslettergiveaway

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Anthea

Love beans on toast – would look beautiful on that platter 🙂
#newslettergiveaway

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Tenely

I knew you wouldn’t be a crockpot fan! Neither am I. It’s ok occasionally but everything is too wet, over cooked and definitely not deconstructable, but I will check out Cooks Illustrated in hopes of a keeper or 2. #newslettergiveaway

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Marie K

I have been trying to find recipes I love with the slow cooker too. Mostly I love how convenient it is, especially with two little kids when the evenings are so crazy. Thanks for a great recipe idea! #newslettergiveaway

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Leah

I had high hopes about the slowcooker I found in the kitchen of the ski house we are renting with family this year (why didn’t you guys come all the way to Sugarloaf if you were skiing in Maine?) but am now feeling less sanguine about it. Still planning to try a few things in it. #newslettergiveaway

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Karen

I love mine but it’s taken a few years to figure out what I like in it. Everything sweats so definitely put less liquid in than you would for cooking in oven.

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Peg

If its not too rude to mention here, Williams-Sonoma has a fantastic slow cooker cook book, with recipes for various proteins or vegs and various degrees of complexity. As mentioned, taking the time to brown the protein and saute the onions and garlic pays off.

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Kate

I actually modified your Turkey Chili recipe from Dinner A Love Story (p. 100) and love it in the slow cooker! I also make a pasta fagioli in the slow cooker – I definitely tend more toward soups and chilis, and also love it for overnight slow cooker oats. It’s also invaluable for shredded beef, chicken and pork for quick throw-together dinners – salads, tacos, quesadillas etc… Keep trying is my advice!!!

#newslettergiveaway

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Jenn Atkins

I use my slow cooker once a week during the school year, as a time saver during busy nights. These beans look great for that! #newslettergiveaway

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BrumMum

#newslettergiveaway
Thank you for the recipe-ish. With 4-7 inches of snow due this evening, a hot bowl of beans with good crusty bread is just the thing I’m craving for my hungry family of six! Thank you for your efforts to bring the family back to the table. We support you 100%!

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SSA

Echo those disappointed with slow cooker. Too much mush, or stringy meat. And only use it if I’m not going to be home (which is most of the time) so I can’t *adjust* things once it is set. I have had some success with beans per Mark Bittman’s ideas. Will try this.

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Brianna Lopez

This sounds delicious! My husband’s New Year’s resolution this year is to be vegetarian so I am always on the lookout for (ahem, child-friendly) vegetarian dishes. Also… #newslettergiveaway

Thanks for such a wonderful blog!

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Becky Poulson

Cook’s crock pot recipes are very tasty, but involve so much prep that it defeats the purpose. #newslettergiveaway

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Laura

This looks yummy. I wonder if my family would feel satisfied enough with this meal. While I would be my husband is Latin American and he always likes big meals. He wouldn’t eat beans with bread but ranted with rice, salad, avocado and sometimes meat or fish. I would love to simplify our loves a bit and serve things like this. I wonder how it will be received. Happy New Year. #newslettergiveaway

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Peggy

I love your blog! Will give these beans a try, althoughI am also feeling blah about the slow cooker.

#newslettergiveaway

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Gayle

The latest issue of Fine Cooking has some great slow cooker recipes and some good tips on SC recipes in general. The meatballs were delicious- I’ll definitely use the slow cooker again for meatballs and sauce.

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Kim

Glad it’s not just me! My slow cooker is used primarily for camping and cooking overnight Irish oatmeal. I do love white beans, tho. Wonder if I could try these in the pressure cooker…

#newslettergiveaway

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Melissa

Learning how to use the slow cooker takes some experimentation. That Tikka masala works pretty well, and beans are usually a success. Steel cut oatmeal is in mine overnight so I will have something hot in the morning between shoveling snow and heading to work. #newslettergiveaway

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Jessica

funny enough, I’m using mine for the first time tonight! I’m going to make bone broth overnight from my leftover roast chicken 🙂
#newslettergiveaway

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Sheryl

Beans in the crockpot are one of my favorites . Will give it a try. #newslettergiveaway

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Gina

I use the slow cooker for pulled pork and like them better on the grill but it’s good for the winter/weeknight. Going to try it for beans! Thanks!!
#newslettergiveaway

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Nancy

I second the recommendations for Cook’s Illustrated’s slow cooker recipes, including the “Slow Cooker Revolution” book. #newslettergiveaway

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Allie

Yeah, like others I have only found the crock pot satisfying when using it for stock/beans/oatmeal (dump and leave). For other dishes you actually have to COOK first (like on the stove) to achieve deliciousness. My husband swears by it for pulled pork or pulled chicken, though. #newslettergiveaway

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Bea

Jenny, thanks for your honesty. I bought a new slow cooker after your post about finally making the crockpot purchase. Right around the same time, it seemed I couldn’t go anywhere without someone extoling the near miracle benefits of the slow cooker. But I am not loving it either. The only meals I have made that my family has loved were the Korean Short Ribs (OMG they were so good I told all my friends about them) and French Onion Soup. But I will keep trying. The beans sound so delicious. I just wish I wasn’t the only person in my family that eats beans. 🙁 #newslettergiveaway

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Jan @ Family Bites

This is like a fancied up version of beans on toast (canned beans and toasted sandwich bread), which I grew up eating and totally loved. Thanks for the reminder to try out something similar on my own kids.

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Denise

Most of the time, I see the slow cooker as a means to an end. I love to use it to cook a brisket or chuck roast for sandwiches, tostadas, etc. It does a great job at keeping mashed potatoes warm. Also, I loove cooking chicken thighs with a bottle of TJ’s salsa autentica (for burrito bowls, salads, tacos). Those are the only things I use it for though!

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Liz

Oh Jenny – you always know when the weeknight routine needs a kick in the pants, and mine does in a major way. Thank you for doing what you do! #newslettergiveaway

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Melissa

I use my slow cookers (small, medium, and large) a lot and have found fabulous things to make with them. I recommend the cookbooks of Michele Scicolone (all of them), and Rick Bayless’s Everyday Mexican has terrific slow cooker recipes as well. Also check out Smitten Kitchen’s Southwestern Brisket – fantastic and spicy.

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Julie

I’m going to try these. I’m always on the lookout for good vegetarian slow cooker recipes, which seem to be difficult to come by. #newslettergiveaway

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emily

Great idea. I know I have lots of bags of partial bags of frozen veggies. Sounds like a good project for me this weekend.

#newslettergiveaway

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KKRvF

A slowcooker is definitely not a dutch oven. I am very picky about the “mush” factor but have found a number of solid recipes we make in it. As both of us work outside the home, it is a life saver. Martha Stewart’s recipes are very good. Her pot roast and stew are excellent. I do pulled pork and chicken and occasionally beans and the steel cut oats taste much better than on the stove, we make them once a week. However, our current favourite is a whole chicken. It yields SO much more meat than a roasted chicken because the little bits fall off the bone. I get easily 20% more and when you’re buying organic chickens, that matters!

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Heather

I only use my slow cooker for shredded pork (tacos). I soooo wish it was as convenient and useful as it was meant to be for cooks! #newslettergiveaway

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Emily

I love my slow cooker…for certain things. Like beans, which can be made from dry (no soaking!) to perfect in 5 hours. Fine Cooking ran an article this month on slow cookers that had some great tips, like the fact that seasonings get muted, so you have to overseason, using more herbs, etc than normal. I highly recommend checking it out. I’m disappointed by my slow cooker sometimes, but I’ve just gotten pickier about what I’ll make in it!

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Lauren

I have similar problems with my slow cooker. I love the idea of it but I don’t always love what comes out. I’ve always decided that the convenience is worth giving up a bit of flavor, but not a ton. This recipe intrigues me. I would love to get more use out of my slow cooker, especially in the winter!

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Jenny C

The best, THE BEST use for a slow cooker is cooking beans for refried beans. Soak overnight with bay leaf and a bottle of Mexican beer. Chop/saute a mire poix, and dump that plus the soaked beans and most/all of the soaking liquid in the cooker, set to high and let it go to town. After a couple of hours when it’s really bubbling, we usually turn it down to low to finish. AMAZING texture and flavor once mashed and enough salt is added. Also #newslettergiveaway

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Omar A

#newslettergiveaway – btw, Andy’s burritos are one of my favorite weeknight dinners.

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Sherri

I agree with KKRvF…a crock pot is not a dutch oven. Just made a delicious hambone soup with my leftover ham from Christmas….quick, easy and with some homemade buttermilk biscuits it was a great, no stress meal with leftovers. A few “back pocket” crock pot meals-such as your beans will be great when winter days and crazy schedules warrant a quick meal. There was a post long ago about top 10 crock pots meals. The Indian Butter Chicken from that list is fab!
#newslettergiveaway

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Jennifer

I think I am one of the few that is a slow cooker holdout. Won’t compromise even though I have three children and need to make dinners less time consuming. I know I would not like the food if so many with good tastes are not thrilled. America’s Test Kitchen did a show on it and said to be good the ingredients need to be browned in dutch oven then put in a slow cooker. No thanks, even more trouble. Dutch oven all the way!

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Jessica S

Slow cooker beans are a staple for us in the winter. So easy! I love the idea of adding a parmesan rind. We’ll definitely be adding that next time. #newslettergiveaway

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Kate

I think the Slow Cooker is great for a limited number of things–beans, as you’ve discovered; overnight oatmeal (Alton Brown); bread pudding; pork shoulder for pulled pork;stocks and soups; stews (if you take the time to sear the meat, deglaze the pan, blah blah etc). It can actually *ruin* other things, though, and it imparts a baby food texture to things that makes me take long breaks from using it. #newslettergiveaway

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Nicole @ thejameskitchen

I am not only floored by your January, Ist accomplishments but also by the clear-out beans. Beans on toast is the ultimate comfort food for my British husband and he’ll love me even more for doing a little clearing out the larder & freezer. Listening to more classic audiobooks is one of my resolutions (while derobing the tree) and I am taking some of yours, too – so, if you’ll drop one, I might have done more podcast-listening for you). N xx

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A Life From Scratch

The only problem I have with my slow cooker is, well, missing cooking at the end of the day.

Love the idea of this recipe – will definitely be playing around with it! Happy new year Jenny!

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Abbie

Hi Jenny- first time commenter here. Thanks for all the great recipes. Our family favorites are the mark bittman soy line chicken (I also make it with Panko chicken fingers and a soy line mayo dipping sauce) and of course the pork ragu. You mentioned in your holiday post that you’ve discovered something even better for guests, and I am very eager to know what it is! Thanks for all the great inspiration. Abbie

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Carin

Love this. I’ve tried variations of this “use all the beans etc” before but never in a slow cooker. And I’m right with ya on the slow cooker thing. Not a huge fan but it’s nessecary for when there’s literally no time.
I’ve been following you forever and use your first book all the time. you are a huge inspiration as a working mom who tried something new so you could be present in your kids lives more. 🙂
Thank you for that! I’m still working towards it!!

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Emily T

Obviously there is a theme to the comments here and I agree. Find the slow cooker recipes that work and use them. Not Your Mothers Slow Cooker explains why some things work and some don’t. For me veggies are not yummy in the slow cooker. But here are things that do work:

Chickpea soup for Lidia B: cook dried chickpeas 6-8 hours on low with 2 bay leaves and 2 springs of Rosemary. Pull out the herbs and blend with an immersion blender. Add salt and olive oil.

Beef fajitas with flank steak. From Not your mothers.

Stuffed peppers.

Meatballs and sausage with peppers.

Bittmans cassoulet. I soak the beans first. Never knew you didn’t have to.

I have made each of these 5-10 times and they really are wonderful.

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Amanda

I did not soak or rinse the beans and I used Great Northern. I set the pot to high for 6 hours.The temp got to 210 and it boiled, but I am worried about this bacteria. Is the meal safe to eat?

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Steve

For an interesting slow cooker book that even does bread, try Miss South or visit her blog. Tried man over the last few months and works well. Made the slow cooker an essential in our kitchen.

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