I'm willing to go out on a limb here and make a little wager. I'l l bet, that in the deep recesses of your kitchen cabinets, there lies a slow cooker, what we all call a " ." If not, then I'll bet you've considered getting one at one time or another. The promise, the shear thought of piling a bunch of food ingredients into one pot in the morning, heading off to work or volunteer/family duties and coming home to a completely cooked dinner is really enticing. But the stopper for me has always been I get the concept, but how many nights a week do I really want stew? What else can I do with this thing?
That's exactly why kitchen appliances get hidden in the back of cupboards and become the kitchen equivalent of the treadmill/clothes-hanger. In fact, I asked several people what type of food they thought of when I would say, "crock pot" and every single one said, stew or comfort food of some sort. The best answer I have to say was by hubby Bill who so astutely replied, "you know, goopy, stewy type stuff." Now that's enticing!
That was enough to send me on my mission to learn more about this device and bring you some knowledge and options. Turns out, this is a great kitchen tool ESPECIALLY if you're busy, determined to serve yummy meals and want to save some dollars - in other words - you're like most of us. It's also a great tool for a beginning cook because you literally simply need to fill it and plug it in. Plus, I learned this week that this tool could make a lot more than stew. It's actually capable of fabulous soups, bread, oatmeal, desserts and more.
So, join me in dusting it off and give it a try!
Best cooking tips I learned to get started with " crock-cookery."
Look for one with a removable liner - much easier to clean. If you're like me and have an old one that's not removable, line it with a cooking bag and cleanup will still be a breeze. Cooking spray is always a must-use - simplifies cleanup regardless.
The common sizes of most slow-cooker recipes are 2-3 quart and 3-4 quart. The larger sized vessels are mainly for larger cuts of meat. So think about the size of your family and the types of things you'll be making. Or, like me, I own a small one and large one. Very handy, I must say!
When cooking meat, start the cooking on high for the first hour. You want the food to get to 140 degrees as quickly as possible. Then switch it to low as you walk out the door.
The low setting is about 200 degrees, the high is 300 degrees.
That means that one-hour of cooking on high is equal to 2 hours on low. So, if you're short of time, you can adjust the recipe.
Most experts recommend using defrosted foods in a slow cooker so that they get to that safe 140-degree temperature quickly.
Basic crock pot cooking tips
Only fill your slow cooker one half to two thirds full. The food simply won't cook as well if filled to the brim and if the food or liquid level is too low, the food will cook too quickly. Always keep in mind you're cooking with moist heat.
Follow the order of ingredients with any recipe. Layering is important. Foods on the bottom will cook faster than the food on top and will be moister because they are immersed in more of the liquid.
Most meats require 8 hours of cooking. And, here's the great news, cheaper cuts of meat have less fat, and cook really well in a slow cooker. The moist heat serves them well.
Here's my big mistake - DO NOT LIFT THE LID TO PEEK OR STIR - every time you lift the lid - add 20 - 30 more minutes to the cooking time. Here's a tip - if you MUST see inside - spin the cover so the moisture falls and you can peek.
Add tender veggies, spices and any dairy products during the last 30 - 45 minutes of cooking. Also, this is interesting, cayenne pepper and Tabasco can become bitter when cooked too long, so add at the end of cooking time also. Spices also should be added during the last hour so as not to lose flavor.
As you get ready to give it a try, keep this money-saving fact in mind. A slow cooker costs about 2 cents per hour to use - that's only about 18 cents for a full 8 hours! A typical oven costs about 50 cents per hour by comparison which translates to 4 dollars for the same amount of time. Plus, because less-expensive cuts of meat actually cook better in a slow cooker, many meals can come in as low as 2 - 5 dollars per serving!
Now here's the fun part - recipes. I found a slew of recipes online. Just use your search engine to look up slow-cooker recipes. I also recommend the Fix-It and Forget-It series of books by Phyllis Pellman Good. Here the unusual ones I tried from her Fix-It and Forget-It Lightly, to get you started. I must say, I was amazed that I could make breakfast, bread and cobbler in my crockpot - not just the "goopy, stewy type stuff" my husband lovingly remembers!
Live & Learn.
Crock Pot Recipes
Parmesan Garlic Quick Bread
Ideal slow-cooker size - 2 or 3 quart
1 1/2 cups baking mix like Bisquick 2 egg whites 1/2 cup reduced fat milk 1 Tbsp. Minced onions (dried are fine) 1 Tbsp. Sugar 1 1/2 tsp. Garlic powder 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Combine baking mix, egg whites, milk, onions, sugar and garlic powder in a mixing bowl. Spray slow-cooker with cooking spray. Spoon dough into cooker. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Cook on high 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes.
Ideal cooker size 3 - 4 quart
21 oz can of cherry pie filling 1 cup flour 1/4 cup sugar 1/4 cup butter, melted 1/2 cup reduced fat milk 1 1/2 tsp. Baking powder 1/2 tsp Almond extract 1/4 tsp. Salt
Pour pie filling into slow cooker sprayed with cooking spray. Combine remaining ingredients and beat until smooth. Spread over pie filling. Cover, cook on high 1 1/2 to 2 hours on high.
Overnight Apple Oatmeal
Ideal Cooker Size - 2 quart
2 cups reduced fat milk 1/4 cup brown sugar 1 Tbsp. Butter 1/4 tsp salt 1/2 tsp. Ground cinnamon 1 cup dry rolled oats 1 cup apples, chopped 1/2 cup raisins (optional) 1/4 cup walnuts (optional)
Spray inside of cooker with cooking spray. In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. Pour into cooker. Cover and cook on low overnight, ideally 6-8 hours. It'll be ready to eat in the morning!
All recipes from Fix-It and Forget-It Lightly by Phyllis Pellman Good.
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