It’s Not a Crock: Slow It Down for Tasty & Inexpensive Gluten & Allergen-Free Home Cooking

by Kathleen Reale

Dairy Free Nut Free Fish Free Soy Free Gluten Free 

Like a welcoming hug after a hard day at work, my slow cooker (lovingly nicknamed “Dazey” due to her manufacturing heritage) brings a big smile to my face on these ho-hum, long and chilly mid-winter days. Patiently sitting on the counter, waiting for my arrival, Dazey spends most of her day cooking up a good, flavorful, hot and hearty meal that is a welcoming gift after a long and busy day.

I love Dazey and the way she makes dinner-time a breeze.

Although neglected through most of the year, every family needs a Dazey in their household. This is especially true if you live in colder climates and need to serve hot and hearty gluten and allergen free meals to a small army.

If you don’t have one yet, go to your local department or home goods store and pick one up.  A slow cooker is easy-to-use and makes fabulous, tasty and healthy gluten and allergen free meals – on a budget. While preparing meals in a slow cooker, remember the following tips and pointers:

Crock Pot or Slow Cooker?: Call it what you may: A Crock-Pot, is a trademarked name generically used for a slow cooker. Regardless of what you call it, this 1970’s invention and bridal-shower gift staple is a countertop electrical cooking appliance that can maintain a very low temperature for many hours, which allows unattended cooking of stews, pot roasts and other one-dish meals.

What type of Slow Cooker? Regardless of the brand of slow cooker you purchase there are a handful of features you may want to consider before purchasing:

- Removable insert: Slow cookers with removal inserts are much more practical since they can be submerged in water to clean, and can be used as a serving dish. Some inserts are even dishwasher safe.

- Sizes: Slow cookers can range in size from 2-cups to 1.5 gallons. The small 2-cup sizes are perfect for dips and sauces; the medium size pots for one to two people, and the larger sizes for families. I love the larger size, because it lets me make extra for gluten-free lunches and dinners for the days to come!

- Timers: Many Slow Cookers have programmable timers, so that you can delay the cooking time. My slow cooker does not have a timer, but I use an inexpensive electrical timer on mine that does the trick and works just fine!

Slow Cookers Save You Money!
Preparing a meal in the morning, before heading out for the day, will save you money! Let us count the ways:

- Stop Impulse Shopping: Having a slow cooker meal ready for you when you get home, helps avoid the temptation to swing by the grocery store for last minute and impulse shopping.

- Cheaper Cuts Will Cut It: With a crock pot you are able to use cheaper cuts of meat because of the slow and long method of cooking. By dinnertime, an inexpensive tougher cut of meat will become cut-with-a-butter-knife tender. Plus, slow cookers use less energy than standard ovens!

- Using Beans & Grains: Preparing beans and grains can often take time that you don’t have after a day at work. But preparing meals with a slow cooker allows you the luxury and time to enjoy these heart-healthy and low-cost meal ingredients.

Prep time can be pep time:
Use the time spent preparing ingredients for slow cooker recipes as a chance to involve children that have food allergies, or celiac disease. Having a child help read the recipe; and measure & pour the ingredients engages them in the “process” of allergy-free or gluten-free eating. Preparing the ingredients the night before and quickly assembling them the next morning can help avoid getting-out-the-door morning rushes.

Stick to the recipe:
A basic rule of thumb is not to change the liquid measurements in most slow cooker recipes, since they won’t evaporate the way they do on the stove top.

Cut & Layer it properly:
Since ingredients cook at different temperature, make sure that you cut all vegetables into the appropriate sizes and layer the foods as specified in the recipe you are following.

Have Fun!
Experiment with gluten and allergen-free slow cooker recipes that can be found in many cookbooks, and on line. Some of my favorites that can be found on include: Chicken Cacciatore and Pasta Sauce.

Keep it one-half full… or one-half empty:
Any way you look at it, make sure that your slow-cooker is at least one-half to two-thirds full. If it is too full, your meal may bubble over to your counter, and if it is not full enough, the meal will not cook properly.

Keep a lid on it:
Lifting up the lid to sneak a peek can add up to 20 minutes to your cooking time. Stirring is not required for slow cooking. So, just sit back, relax and let the appliance do the rest! And remember…  no peeking!

Too much liquid:
Because moisture is retained during slow cooking you may end up with too much liquid at the end of the cooking time. Either you can pour some out once the cooking is done, or remove the cover and turn up the heat the last 20-30 minutes of cooking time to thicken up the stock.

With so much on your plate everyday, you’ll soon find that slow cooker meals are a perfect solution for those of us living in the fast lane! Enjoy!

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