The temperature is in the triple digits right now and the heat is as simmering as it is oppressive. Going outside feels like walking into a burning hot oven. Mostly, we stay indoors although I have taken to sitting on my chaise lounge in the backyard with a fan blowing full blast.
Inside? My slow cooker provides some much needed frugal meal support.
I sometimes think I am the only person who will literally, use my slow cooker to death. Summer, winter, spring, fall, it doesn’t matter, I use it year round but most especially in the summertime when cooking over a hot stove seems like too much work.
I will fill my oven in the early morning with some frugal cooking project but I am always done before the heat takes hold. Today I took the bones from my partner’s chicken wings, along with other bones I had collected and roasted them. I tossed in chicken skin on another sheet pan and cooked up some things for my homemade dog food. It was a warm 45 minutes before I hurriedly shut off the oven. I then took the roasted bones and placed them in the slow cooker with water to cover. I tossed in a couple of carrots that had seen better days and a quartered onion along with a fist full of herbs from the garden and some fragrant bay leaves. I tossed in some garlic salt and pepper for good measure. Simmering on low, I will have more chicken stock by the end of the day and this when the slow cooker gives off little to no excess heat, a real blessing in these triple digits dog days of summer.
My partner had bought the dogs some steeply discounted beef the other day so I tossed that in the oven as well. Cooked, I will cube it for another batch of homemade dog food. The leftover carrots from the chicken stock will get added into the from scratch dog food later today. My pets eat well, no doubt about it.
Below are a baker’s dozen of slow cooker meals that I rely on in the heat of the summer. These are cheat frugal meals for sure, for days when the heat really drives you from the kitchen and you don’t feel like cooking. They rely heavily on canned, dollar store finds and leftovers.
- Pork Chops. Take your basic thick sliced pork chops and season them well. Mix a can of milk with a can of cream of mushroom soup and pour over the chops in your slow cooker. Set on low for six hours. Serve with microwave rice and a crisp green salad.
- Neater Joes. Chop up a pound of raw hamburger and place it in your slow cooker with a can of sloppy joe mix. Cook on low for six hours. The meat will cook up nicely in that time. Serve over toasted hamburger buns with coleslaw on the side.
- Rice is Nice. Place a couple of cups of leftover rice in your slow cooker. Mix a can of cream of broccoli soup and a cam of milk together and pour over the rice. Toss in leftover veggies, whatever you have, and cook on low for four hours. Top with grated cheese before serving. You can also throw in leftover shredded chicken.
- Meatball Magic. Place frozen meatballs in a slow cooker. Cover with jarred or homemade red sauce. Cook on low for 5 to 6 hours. Toss with hot pasta (I usually wait for leftover pasta and reheat it in the microwave with a bit of butter).
- Killing it Kielbasa. Slice a whole kielbasa about an inch thick. Place in slow cooker with a can of small whole potatoes drained and a can of sauerkraut not drained. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. Serve with a salad of lettuce wedges topped with blue cheese salad dressing or ranch.
- Weiner Wonder. Take your favorite hot dogs and cook them in water to cover in your slow cooker for about 4 hours. Serve over toasted hot dog buns with microwaved beans and pickles. Don’t forget your favorite condiments.
- Potato Perfection. Wrap greased russet potatoes in foil. Individually works best for this. Be sure and salt and pepper well before wrapping. Crunch up a ball of foil or invert a small metal container in your slow cooker. I use small metal bread pans for this though an old disposable pie tin crumbled up works great too. Place about an inch or so of water, making sure the water does not touch the potatoes. Steam for about 6 hours on low or 3-4 on high until a thin knife inserted into the potatoes enters and exits easily. Top with microwaved canned chili, cheese, sour cream and sliced green onions.
- Poultry Perfection. Take thawed chicken breasts or thighs and season them well with salt and pepper. Place in a single layer in your slow cooker. Top with several cups of marinara sauce and cook on low for six hours. Twenty minutes before serving, top chicken with thin slices of mozzarella cheese and allow to melt. Serve with a chopped vegetable salad.
- Tasty Turkey. Break up a pound of ground turkey with a fork and place in your slow cooker. Mix raw turkey with a can of cream of celery or cream of mushroom soup mixed with a can full to milk. Mix liquid with the turkey well and cook on low for four to six hours. Microwave instant couscous or rice in your microwave and fluff. Serve turkey over the rice or couscous and a side of microwave steamed vegetables.
- Chinese Chow Down. Cut up several raw, thawed chicken breasts into bite sized pieces and place in your slow cooker. Stir in bottle of sweet and sour sauce and cook on low for four hours. The last hour stir in a bag of drained, thawed frozen vegetables, Asian style. You can add them at the last minute if you microwave them first. Serve with leftover or microwaved rice and topped with sesame seeds.
- Chili Bean Basics. Place two or three cans of chili beans in your slow cooker. Add in a pound of smashed up ground beef or turkey. Season with a tablespoon of ground chili power and a teaspoon of cumin. Add in a diced onion for good measure and cook on low for six to eight hours. Serve with microwaved tortillas, sour cream, sliced onion, jarred salsa and grated cheese.
- Enchalida Eats. Pour an inch of canned enchilada sauce into your slow cooker. Take tortillas softened in the microwave for minute or so to make them pliable. Smear a generous tablespoon or more of canned refried beans and two tablespoons or so of grated cheddar cheese in each tortilla along with a bit of enchilada sauce and a small spoonful of minced onions before rolling up. Line them up in your slow cooker and top with the remaining canned enchilada sauce of your choice. Cook on low for four hours. An hour before you serve, sprinkle on grated cheese of your choice. We like Monterey jack for its melting ability. Serve with a green salad topped with an oil and vinegar dressing and thinly sliced icy cold radishes. Top the enchiladas with sour cream, sliced avocado and sliced olives. A frosty beer might be in order here as well. You can assemble the enchiladas the night before if you like.
- Beat the Heat Meatballs. Place frozen meatballs in your slow cooker. Mix a can of cream of cheddar soup with a can full of milk well before pouring over the meatballs. Cook on low for about four hours before topping with fresh parsley and serving over leftover microwaved rice.
Obviously, when not specified, the amounts of proteins in each of these recipes will vary quite a bit depending on the number of people you are cooking for. The proteins I did specify amounts for feed four. For four people, figure four chicken breasts or six thighs, 16 golf ball sized meatballs and so on. For enchiladas, I usually make three for each person. For potatoes one for children and two medium each for adults. For pork chops two each and so on.