Be the Master of Your Own Slow Cooker

One Bowl, One Great Meal

No need for multiple pots or dishes—here’s how to have a satisfying, nutritious meal in just one bowl.

There’s a definite appeal to getting a complete meal in one bowl. Not only will cleanup be a breeze, a warm bowl loaded with delicious, good-for-you ingredients makes for a super-satisfying meal. The job’s easy with a slow cooker, or you can simply get some broth bubbling on the stove, then toss in veggies, noodles or grains, and a protein, like chicken or tofu. Check out our favorite ways to slurp up one-bowl goodness. 

You don’t have to look far to find great-sounding slow-cooker recipes in magazines or online these days. These kitchen workhorses are experiencing a true renaissance. But if your slow-cooking efforts have been mediocre so far and your appliance is mostly gathering dust on the countertop, you may just need to learn some tricks of the trade. Kathy Hester, author of The Vegan Slow Cooker, offers these tips to help you maximize your meals.

Get to know your cooker

Strange but true: even identical appliances set at the same level of heat can cook at temps different enough to affect your recipes, so experiment with the one you have to find out if it “cooks hot” or “cooks cool.” It’s also a good idea to have your first recipe be something like a soup or stew, which is nearly impossible to burn thanks to its high liquid content (you can always add more too). Just stay home that first time. And remember: though pricier models have added bells and whistles (like a keep-warm setting), they do the same job as more basic versions. 

Match your recipe to the size of your cooker

Recipes will note if they’re best made in a 4- or 6-quart appliance. Larger cookers with smaller amounts of food in them can run too hot, risking a burnt feast. That said, most recipes can be doubled, tripled, or halved to suit your cooker and the size of your family. Be sure to read the instructions for your particular slow cooker carefully, as it may have unique attributes not found in other models.

Not everything should cook all day

Most meats and long-cooking vegetables and starches (potatoes, carrots, celery) can go in the pot in the morning, but don’t add quicker-cooking items, such as greens, peas, and fresh herbs, until 30 minutes before you serve the dish. This is also the time to taste your creation and adjust the seasonings to taste.

Think one-bowl convenience

Panera’s new Broth Bowls are inspired by one-dish meals from all over the world—most cultures have something that fits the bill, from pad Thai to matzo ball soup. Try our offerings or mimic the idea at home: Start with fresh vegetables (like kale and spinach), add a protein (either chicken or a vegetarian protein, like edamame, then some noodles or a grain (soba or cooked quinoa or brown rice). Top it all with ladles of hot, savory broth and enjoy. Get inspired with Panera’s new Broth Bowls varieties.

·            Soba Noodle Bowl with Chicken: Chicken raised without antibiotics, soba buckwheat noodles, fresh spinach, napa cabbage blend, roasted mushroom and onion blend, sesame seeds, and cilantro in our umami soy-miso broth.

·            Soba Noodle Bowl with Edamame: Soba buckwheat noodles, fresh spinach, napa cabbage blend, roasted mushroom and onion blend, fire-roasted edamame blend, sesame seeds, and cilantro in our umami soy-miso broth.

·            Lentil Quinoa Bowl with Chicken: Chicken raised without antibiotics, organic quinoa and brown rice, lentil blend, tomato sofrito, and fresh kale and spinach with a lemon wheel in our umami soy-miso broth.

·            Lentil Quinoa Bowl with Egg: Organic quinoa and brown rice, lentil blend, sofrito tomatoes, and fresh kale and spinach in our umami soy-miso broth, topped with a hard-boiled egg and a lemon wheel.