Top Tips for Spectacular Slow-Cooker Meals

Plus, a simple pasta sauce recipe that’s packed with flavor.


The beauty of a slow cooker is that it’s pretty darn simple. Prep the ingredients, add them to the pot, and press start. To ensure success, we asked Brandy O’Neill, recipe developer and local food blogger from Nutmeg Nanny, and Laura Pensiero, owner of Gigi Trattoria and Catering in Rhinebeck, to share their fool-proof tips for using a slow cooker.

“I think the biggest thing to remember when using a slow cooker is that you don’t need a ton of liquid to create a perfectly tender piece of meat,” says O’Neill. “If I’m making a dish in my slow cooker that I typically make in the oven, I reduce the liquid amount by about 1/3.”

- Advertisement -

Before she founded Gigi Hudson Valley, Pensiero developed a recipe testing and development company called RecipeWorks during the 1990s. Here she tested recipes for seven cookbooks including Slow Cookers for Dummies, where she unveiled the successes and downfalls of different ingredients in a slow cooker.

For high-quality, uniform cooking results, Pensiero suggests cutting vegetables and meats relatively the same size. “Root vegetables, which take longer to cook, should be put at the bottom of the cooker,” she says. When the recipe calls for dairy products, Pensiero suggests adding them during the last 30 minutes of cooking, as they tend to curdle in a slow cooker. Additionally, Pensiero offers, “When cooking roasts and stews, browning the meat or poultry first adds a good deal of flavor. Be sure to ‘deglaze’ the skillet with wine or water to capture all of the flavor.”



Slow Cooker Parmesan Meat Sauce

A slow cooker dish that is simple to make and packed with flavor. From local recipe developer and food blogger, Brandy ONeill.

- Partner Content -

Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 8 hours 10 minutes



2 tablespoons olive oil

2 pounds ground beef

1 pound sliced mushrooms

- Advertisement -

1 medium yellow onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 (14.5 ounce) cans diced tomatoes, drained

1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained

2 (8 ounce) cans tomato sauce

1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 bay leaves



In a large skillet add olive oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot add in the ground beef, mushrooms, yellow onion and garlic. Cook until the meat is browned and the mushrooms and onions are soft.

Add meat mixture to a large slow cooker and add in the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine and cook on low heat for 8-10 hours. If the mixture gets too thick while cooking you can thin out with a little more tomato sauce, stock or wine.

Remove the bay leaves before serving over pasta or with garlic bread.

Note: If you want more herb seasoning feel free to add more Italian seasoning. The sauce can be played around with to match your desired flavor profile.

For more irresistible recipes visit

Our Digital Partners

Learn how to become a digital partner ...

Our Excellence in Nursing Awards take place on May 1!

Our Best of Hudson Valley ballot is open through March 31!

Unveiled: A Boutique Bridal Brunch is February 25!

Holiday flash sale ... subscribe and save 50%

Limited time offer. New subscribers only.