Now that fall has made its ceremonious return in the form of colorful leaves, flannel, and pumpkin spice lattes, it's time to officially pack up those margarita glasses and dust off the ol' slow cooker.
Comfort food is back, and nothing is more comforting than the nourishing, filling flavors of slow cooking. We're talking soups, stews, roasts, and chilis — anything that requires low and slow heat to meld flavors, tenderize meats, and present a hearty meal that will only get better as leftovers.
No matter the recipe, there are slow-cooker ingredient staples that lend themselves to a plethora of our favorite cold-weather dishes. And since grocery shopping can now feel like an even bigger chore thanks to putting on layers and battling the elements, we wanted to make sure that your slow-cooker shopping list is up to date with all of the essentials.
Here are 10 slow-cooker musts (many of which are brand-new!) from the always reliable and affordable Trader Joe's. Most of these items are fantastic on their own, but even better as a base or enhancement to whatever you've got cookin'.
1. Thai Green Curry Simmer Sauce
One way to combat cooler temperatures is to sweat it out. And since eating deliciously spicy Thai food sounds way more appealing than going to the gym, Trader Joe's famous green curry sauce is a worthwhile investment. The new and improved jar has a coconut milk base with shallots, lemongrass, garlic, galangal, coriander seeds, and Thai lime peel, accented with the spices of ginger, turmeric, and cumin. Simply add the zesty blend to your device with chicken, tofu, or vegetables and let it cook low and slow to your liking.
2. Spicy Jollof Seasoned Rice Mix
It is not advisable to cook rice for a prolonged period in your slow cooker (unless you want it mushy), but you can certainly add starchy texture toward the end of a cooking period by mixing it into a stew, soup, or, in this case, a peppery jambalaya or gumbo. Trader Joe's newest product, Spicy Jollof Seasoned Rice Mix, is a harmonious blend of rice with dried tomatoes, garlic, and onions that will bring a kick to your favorite West African dish.
3. Howling Gourds Pumpkin Ale
Incorporating beer into chili is a no-brainer — it provides a wonderful depth of malty and earthy flavors that really make your dish shine. And the pumpkin notes in Howling Gourds are just what you want while watching Hocus Pocus for the millionth time and waiting for your slow-cooker creation to come together.
4. Kale and Cauliflower Chili with Navy Beans
No matter how you prepare it — in the microwave, on the stove, or in a slow cooker — Trader Joe's latest vegan offering is a hit. A spicy tomato base serves as the chili's foundation for shredded kale, riced cauliflower, and white navy beans, making it a veggie-heavy meal that will actually keep you satiated. Feel free to add ground beef or turkey, but it really does hold up on its own and can be served with all the beloved chili garnishes: chopped green onions, vegan sour cream, vegan cheese, and sliced avocado.
5. Autumnal Harvest Soup
Eat your heart out, fall lovers. This tomato-based soup with a medley of butternut squash, pumpkin, rosemary, sage, and heavy cream is autumn at its finest. It also smells as good as it tastes, so you can ditch those seasonal candles for the evening and enjoy an aroma that you've created on your own. Slice up or crumble fennel-forward sausage into your slow cooker to add a protein that will really take this meal to the next level.
6. Organic Sriracha and Garlic Barbecue Sauce
Whether you're cooking a brisket, ribs, or pork tenderloin, the sweet, smoky, and spicy flavors of barbecue sauce never go out of season. And we can't get enough of this thick, Memphis-style condiment that boasts chile peppers, garlic, sugar, tomatoes, and vinegar. It makes the perfect glaze while cooking, but be sure to finish off your meats with extra sauce, for a lip-smacking feast that will rival anything you may have put on the grill during summer.
7. Unexpected Cheddar Cheese
The best accompaniment to many slow cooker dishes is a mound of shredded cheese. Trader Joe's award-winning Unexpected Cheddar brings a drool-worthy balance of creaminess and tang, transitioning into an almost Parmesan-like bite as it hits the palate. Be sure to also check your store's extensive cheese section for dairy-free varieties, which Trader Joe's has quietly become the authority on in recent years.
8. Madras Lentils
Lentils don't get the fanfare that they deserve. They're wonderfully mild and high in protein, with a pleasant chew that's capable of standing up to any bold flavor. This Madras variety is already well seasoned in a buttery tomato sauce that can serve as the perfect vessel for any type of Indian food. Sure, you can easily microwave these in their pouch, but we love to toss them into a slow cooker with chopped vegetables for a stew that will practically guarantee you're doing nothing but Netflix and chilling on a Friday night. Serve it with naan for an even more delicious culinary experience.
9. Vegan Cream Cheese Alternative
The rumors are true: TJ's plant-based cream cheese is one of the most decadent dairy-free options on the market, making it a healthier alternative to the stuff you'd find from the City of Brotherly Love. Add a spoonful on top of your chili or mix it directly into stews for an added creaminess that will calm spices, elevate richness, and meld all of your ingredients' flavors together.
10. Grainless Tortilla Chips
If you're a fan of dipping and scooping, you're in obvious need of a tortilla chip that can take on the heaviness of a chili, soup, or stew. TJ's new grain-free chips, made from coconut and cassava flours, maintain the same sturdiness and crunch of their corn and wheat counterparts, but with easier-to-digest ingredients for our gluten-free friends. They're also chock-full of sesame and poppy seeds for enhanced flavor, making them a welcome departure from the boring, mainstream bags you might find in other grocery stores.