In an increasingly fast paced world there are often times when we all just need to SLOW down. Between work, school, children, and life in general, things seem to often get more and more complicated by the minute. This is where the help of a slow cooker can come in handy. Using a slow cooker usually involves quick preparation and slow cooking time, making it easy for you to make it quick, cook it slow, and have a delicious meal waiting for you and your family at the end of the day.
A basic slow-cooker today has the settings of "low" and "high" and often a "keep warm" setting. The slow cooker has a heating base, a tempered glass or plastic lid, and a stoneware insert that holds the food to be cooked.
Probably the most important thing to think about before purchasing a slow cooker is what size is going to be best for your needs. The size of a slow cooker you will need depends on how much food you want to cook and how many people you are feeding. Filling the cooker between 1/2 to 2/3 full will produce the best results.
Slow cookers vary in size from 1 to 7 quarts. Smaller slow cookers are good for dips or sauces and larger cookers are great for large cuts of meats and soups.
- A 3.5-4 quart size slow cooker is best if you'll be cooking for four or fewer people.
- a 5-7 quart size or larger slower cooker is best if you'll be cooking for five or more people or you want leftovers.
Slow Cooking Tips:
The order that food is put in the slow cooker can effect how it turns out. Placement of foods may determine success or failure. Most vegetables do not cook as quickly as meat so they should be cut small to medium in size and placed in the bottom and around the sides of the slow cooker. This allows the juice from the meat to drip over the vegetables and distribute the flavor. The exception to this rule is when you are using very soft vegetables such as tomatoes, mushrooms, and zucchini. These vegetables should be added during the last 45 minutes of cooking time.
Spray the inside of the slow cooker with cooking spray or line it with a slow cooking bag (heavy duty plastic liner made to fit 3-6.5 quart oval and round slow cookers) to make cleanup easier.
Be sure to handle ingredients carefully. Since slow cookers cant take some time to reach temperatures hot enough to kill bacteria, so it is very important to keep the ingredients refrigerated prior to food preparation. Remember that bacteria can multiply on food quickly at room temperature. Therefore, perishable foods should remain refrigerated until you need them.
Fill the slow cooker no less than half full and no more than 2/3 full. The foods will not cook properly if the cooker is filled to the brim. If the food and liquid level is too low, the food will cook too quickly. If sauce is being used it should be poured evenly over the food.
Allow sufficient cooking time on the 'low' setting. Most uncooked meat and vegetable combinations will require at least 8 hours on low. (One hour on high is about equal to two hours on low). Use a thermometer to test meat doneness (beef steaks and roast 145º F; pork 160º F; chicken 165º F.)
Benefits of Slow Cooking:
- Saves money: Makes cheap, tough cuts of meat tender and delicious.
- Saves time: Most slow cooker recipes are quickly prepared and then left to cook for long hours without being 'tended.' Your food is ready right when you get home from work.
- Saves energy: Slow cookers use less energy than using an oven or cooking range. They also keep your house cool in the summer.
- Brings out the flavor in foods.
Best foods for Slow Cooking:
Slow cooking can be very versatile. Not everything can be cooked in a slow cooker, however, as the texture or flavor as some dishes may not taste the way you expect when slow-cooked. Try a variety of dishes to find ones you and your family enjoy. Here are some foods that generally do well in a slow cooker:
Meat: Beef, chicken, pork, and wild game. The low heat helps less expensive, leaner cuts of meat become tender and shrink less.
Fish and Shellfish: Cod, catfish, haddock, salmon, tuna, shrimp, scallops, and minced clams.
Vegetables: Carrots, celery, potatoes, onions, etc...
Dried beans and lentils
Beverages, dips, and fondues, soups and stews, vegetable dishes, entrées. One-dish meals, desserts.
Baked Goods: Yes, you can actually bake in your slow-cooker. You can make cakes, cobblers, quick-breads etc. Some slow cookers come with a baking unit rack for this purpose. If your slow cooker did not come with these extras you can improvise with things from your own kitchen.