Convenience in the Kitchen: Choosing & Using a Slow Cooker
by Amanda Formaro of The Family Corner
Slow cookers, commonly referred to as a *Crock-Pot®, are great time savers for anyone who enjoys a hot meal at the end of a busy day. Simply assemble your meal in the morning, or the night before, and forget about it until dinner time. The fabulous aroma of home cooking fills your house and all you have to put together is a side dish, salad, or maybe some warm bread.
Choosing & Purchasing
When you head out to the store to get your slow cooker, be sure to get one that is large enough to suit your needs. If you live alone or there are only two or three people to feed, the small to medium size will work just fine. If it's family meais you'll be preparing, you will want to purchase a larger slow cooker. Be sure to choose one with a removable ceramic crock. Not only are they easier to clean, but you can assemble your meals the night before, and then simply pop it into the cooker and turn it on. While you can find slow cookers at
thrift stores and garage sales, you can also purchase one quite inexpensively at any discount department store.
Using Your Slow Cooker
Slow cookers are wonderful for things you would normally prepare on the stove top, such as soups and stews, sauces, chili, etc. By preparing these types of things in the slow cooker, you free up your time to make other dishes or sides.
Always put vegetables in first. Vegetables take longer to cook than meat does, so for layering purposes, start with vegetables, then meat, and finally seasonings and small amounts of liquid. Pastas or instant rice should only be added during the last 30 minutes of cooking time, or as your recipe directs.
Avoid "peeking". While the urge to sneek a peek at the meal that is tempting your tastebuds, you will add 20-30 minutes to your cooking time. Lifting the lid during cooking allows valuable heat to escape.
Slow cookers are designed to do just what you would expect, cook slowly. Most recipes will call for cooking times of 8-10 hours on the low setting. If you simply do not have that much time, you can adjust your cooking time down by 2-3 hours and increase the temperature to high.
Slow cookers can be used at night to make awesome hot breakfasts. Simply fill your cooker before you go to bed and your breakfast will be ready when you rise in the morning.
Benefits of Slow Cooking
These days, people have schedules to keep track of their schedules! People are busy and finding time to fix a hot meal can be quite challenging. This is especially true for those who work outside of the home. The slow cooker allows you to prepare a piping hot supper to serve to your family any time of the year.
Other benefits include less clean up because you only have one pot to wash, and no excessive heat in the kitchen due to the oven and stove working overtime.
Slow cookers are wonderful for potlucks, church or social gatherings, parties, and travel. After cooking all day, it's easy to unplug your slow cooker and transport the entire meal to another location to be plugged back in. This is ideal for holidays at a relative's house where you have agreed to bring a portion of the meal.
Safe Slow Cooking
To be considered safe, a slow cooker must be able to cook food slow enough so that it can be left unattended, yet it must be fast enough to keep food at a safe temperature.
How can you tell if your slow cooker will heat to a safe temperature? Follow these steps to ensure slow cooker safety:
- Fill your slow cooker with 2 quarts of tepid water.
- Heat on low for 8 hours.
- Using a thermometer, check the temperature of the water quickly as the temperature can drop dramatically when the lid is removed.
- The temperature of the water should be 185 degrees F. If the temperature is higher than 185 degrees, this would indicate that a meal cooked for 8 hours without stirring would be overdone. If the temperature is below 185 degrees, this could mean that your slow cooker does not heat food to an adequate temperature in order avoid potential food safety problems.
Smart Guidelines to Follow
- Always begin with fresh or thawed meats, do not use meat that is still frozen.
- Rather than large cuts or roasts, cut meat into chunks. For poultry, do not use a whole chicken, but rather pieces (legs, thighs, breasts, etc).
- Cook meat on high for the first hour, turn slow cooker down to low for the remaining time. This allows the cooker to heat up quickly and "heat down" gradually.
- Recipes should include some form of liquid. If a recipe does not include a liquid, consider adding 1/2 cup of water or broth, or simply not using the recipe at all.
- Keep the lid closed. Opening the lid to take a peek adds precious cooking time in increments of 20-30 minutes EVERY TIME it is opened!
- Check the internal temperature with a thermomter to ensure that the food reaches 160 degrees F.
- Do not use your slow cooker to reheat foods. This is simply not what your slow cooker was made to do.
*The commonly used term Crock-Pot® is actually Rival Manufacturing Company's trademarked name.
Amanda Formaro is the entrepreneurial mother of four children. She is also the owner of FamilyCorner.com Magazine at http://familycorner.com from which she operates several free newsletters, including her favorite, Comforts of Home. To subscribe send any email message to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://familycorner.com
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