Welcome to Set It & Forget It, a new series about all the ways we rely on our slow cookers, Instant Pots, and ovens during the colder months. Whether it’s a long braise on the stove or a quick burst in the pressure cooker, one thing’s for sure: Comfort food means comfort cooking.
Sometimes life can throw stresses our way when we least need them: walking out without an umbrella on a rainy day, for instance, or reaching into a bag of jelly beans only to find that you've eaten all but the licorice ones.
I pull out my trusty slow cooker on days like those, when I need a little "Life is a cabaret, old chum!" pep in my step, a little slow-cooked comfort. The kind of comfort that comes twofold: first in the cooking, because all I need to do is bung everything into the slow cooker and press the button; the second in the eating, because we all know that the dishes we braise, simmer, and stew for 8 hours straight are usually soul-soothing.
For days when you want to ignore the rest of the world and all of its problems like me and Sally Bowles in Cabaret, here are our best slow-cooker recipes.
"I was initially concerned that the lean meat would dry out," our test kitchen director Josh Cohen told me while developing this recipe. But the creamy leek sauce (based on classic French preparations of rabbit in mustard sauce) is rich and flavorful, with a nice tinge of acidity from the whole-grain mustard. All this to say: These slow-cooker chicken breasts will be moist as can be.
What happens when you take boneless, skinless chicken breasts and slow-cook them in crushed tomatoes, garlic, and a handful of aromatic spices? This fan-favorite slow-cooker soup. Parmesan cheese and gemelli pasta make this a hearty weeknight option, too.
Who would've thunk that a plate this gorgeous could come out of a slow cooker? When you let the slow cooker do all of the hard work (breaking down a lamb shoulder), all you need to do after is bejewel the tender meat with pomegranate seeds, pistachios, and fresh dill.
This is easily the most popular pot roast on Food52. Susan Miglore (Genius columnist Kristen Miglore's mother) has adapted Betty Watson's original recipe for the slow cooker. "By removing it from the realm of the stove and oven," Kristen explains, "you're that much freer to have pot roast at any time of year, whenever you need it."
"While this soup can be made on the stovetop in under an hour," Martha Stewart says, "it benefits from a longer spell in the slow cooker. The lemongrass and lime leaves infuse more flavor into the broth and the tender, moist chicken thighs."
Recipe author Katie Macdonald's mom swears the secret to her red beans and rice is a cup of pickle juice. "They're comforting, creamy, and so well-flavored," she writes. "Everyone who tries them loves them." See Step 8 for the slow-cooker variation of her mother's top-"secret" recipe.
When I'm in full meal-prep mode, I like to make these milk-braised chicken breasts in my slow cooker. That way I have a whole week's worth to magic into all manner of lunches and dinners, especially this curried chicken salad.
I once wrote that there's nothing more American than eight-hour food. When I think of the slow cooker, I think of beef stroganoff—especially the less-than-authentic version I make at home with beef chuck, cream of mushroom soup, and cremini mushrooms. Add the recipe's very short list of ingredients into the pot, set it, and forget it.
"Sometimes you need a meal that's one-pot, easy, and cozy," writes one reviewer. "It was exactly what we needed on a busy weeknight."
This recipe comes from community member KarinCooks, who uploaded it way back when (2009!). When I noticed how popular it was, I asked our kitchen to cook and photograph it—and now we're in love with it as much as you are.
How about brunch? Invite friends over for the chillest fall gathering, thanks to this slow-cooker shakshuka. Comforting butternut squash stars in this one-pot wonder, along with a healthy smattering of parsley and feta.
Red wine and fennel seeds are what give this slow-cooker pork shoulder recipe its "decidedly Italian accent." Enjoy over polenta with a glass of red wine.
You don't need me to tell you about making pot roast in a slow cooker—everyone knows about that. The real star here is the fresh chickpea salad that goes with and brightens up the old classic.
Here's a go-to vegetarian option for weeks when you just want to hit the ground running (or at least let the vegetables do their thing in the slow cooker while you go about your day). This soup is so easy, there's only one step.
This hearty soup calls for two types of lentils: French green lentils and black lentils, which both hold up well to long, slow braises. Parmesan rinds lend salt and savory flavor to the broth, as does the garnish of crispy pancetta.
"When Greeks say fakes, the word for lentils, they mean this soup, or something very similar to it, as it’s the most common way to cook them," writes recipe author Eleni Vonissakou. "A warm bowl of fakes with lots of vinegar and a good chunk of feta on the side is one of the best dinners you can wish for on a cold day."
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs cook up gorgeously in the slow cooker. Even better when you can complete the meal—in the same pot—by stirring in some orzo pasta for the last 30 minutes of cooking. This is, according to Vonissakou, the "perfect midweek meal."
"This was the rice pudding of my childhood, or something very close to it," Vonissakou says. "It’s not as heavy, not as rich and not as wintry." And yes—you make it from start to finish in the slow cooker.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).Order now