Welcome to Set It & Forget It, a 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. Or, you know, pretty much this entire year.
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 in two stages: first in the cooking, because all I need to do is bung everything into the slow cooker and press the button; and then again in the eating, because we all know that the dishes we braise, simmer, and stew for eight hours straight tend to be the most soul-soothing.
For days when you just want to ignore the rest of the world and all its problems, like me and Sally Bowles in Cabaret, here are our best slow-cooker recipes.
1. Chicken Breasts With Creamy Mustard-Leek Sauce
This recipe's creamy leek sauce (based on the classic French preparation 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 stay moist as can be.
2. Chicken Parmesan Soup
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.
3. Persian Lamb Stew
Who would've thunk that a plate this gorgeous could come out of a slow cooker? When you let the slow cooker handle all the hard work (like breaking down a lamb shoulder), all you need to do is bejewel the tender meat with pomegranate seeds, pistachios, and fresh dill.
4. Basic Pot Roast
This is easily the most popular pot roast on Food52. Susan Miglore (Genius creative director 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."
5. Tom Kha Gai
"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."
6. New Orleans Red Beans & Rice
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.
7. Chicken Breasts With Lemon, Sage & Milk
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.
8. Beef Stroganoff With Mushrooms
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."
9. Mediterranean Chicken Thigh Stew
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, too.
10. Butternut Squash Shakshuka
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.
11. Italian-Braised Pork
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.
12. Pot Roast With Chickpea Salad
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 an old classic.
13. Creamy Cauliflower & Sweet Potato Soup
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.
14. Lentil & Root Veggie Soup
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.
15. Greek Lentil Soup
"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."
16. White Wine Chicken With Orzo
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs turn out 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."
17. Rice Pudding
"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.
18. Mulled Cider
What says fall better than a steaming-hot cup of mulled cider? This slow-cooker version brings all the cozy vibes with lots of warming spices (like clove, allspice, and cinnamon), plus fresh ginger, lemon, and orange for a little zing.
19. Beef Stew
The beauty of this stew—which requires a full day to cook but very little prep work—is that it is a blueprint rather than a strict recipe. You can mix up the veg, thicken the gravy with flour or cornstarch—it's really up to you. Either way, "Try not to stress about it," our social media coordinator Max McDonough writes. "There are no rules."
20. Chocolate Chip Cookie
You won't need to turn on the oven or whip out a sheet pan to "bake" this gigantic chocolate chip cookie in your slow cooker. You will, however, need a few spoons and a scoop (or two) of vanilla ice cream before digging in.
21. Whole Squash With Spelt & Feta
Your slow cooker might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about cooking a whole squash, but it's actually an ingenious method (and pretty much entirely hands-off).
22. Chicken Soup With Ginger & Fennel
This bright, gingery soup is exactly what you want to slurp on a brisk fall evening. For an extra hit of spice, garnish your bowlful with a drizzle of chili crisp.
23. Peruvian-American Pork Adobo
"The cider and slow cooker are what make this recipe 'Americano,'" says food writer and recipe developer Carlos C. Olaechea, "but also yield tender, flavorful chunks of pork and an addictive broth."
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