Using Your Slow Cooker to Save Time and Money
Imagine opening your front door and being greeted by the inviting aromas of beef stew or chicken noodle soup wafting from a slow cooker (crock pot). This can be a dream come true for a busy cook. A slow cooker can make life a little more convenient because, by planning ahead, you save time later. Additionally, it takes less electricity to operate a slow cooker than it does an oven.
TEXARKANA, Ark. –
Using Your Slow Cooker to Save Time
Imagine for a minute, opening the front door and being greeted by the inviting smells of beef stew or chicken noodle soup wafting from a slow cooker. This can be a diner’s (and busy woman’s) dream come true. The slow cooker is not only useful in the winter, but also in the summer. Using this small appliance can avoid introducing heat from a hot oven. At any time of year, a slow cooker can make life a little more convenient because, by planning ahead, you save time later. As an added bonus, it takes less electricity to use a slow cooker than an oven.
Many question the safety of slow cookers. The slow cooker, a counter top appliance, cooks foods slowly at a low temperature B generally between 170 and 280 degrees F. The low heat helps less expensive, leaner cuts of meat become tender and shrinks less.
The direct heat from the cooker, lengthy cooking and steam created within the tightly-covered container combine to destroy bacteria and make the slow cooker a safe process for cooking foods.
- Begin your meal preparation with a clean cooker, clean utensils and work area. Wash
hands before and during food preparation.
- Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time. If you cut up meat and vegetables in advance, store them separately in the refrigerator.
- The slow cooker may take several hours to reach a safe, bacteria-killing temperature.
Constant refrigeration assures that bacteria, which multiply at room temperature,
won't get a head start during the first few hours of cooking.
- Always defrost meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker.
Choose to make foods with a high moisture content such as chili, soup, stew or spaghetti sauce.
Cut food into chunks or small pieces to ensure thorough cooking. Do not use the slow cooker for large pieces like a roast or whole chicken because the food will cook so slowly it could remain in the bacterial danger zone too long.
Using the right amount of food is crucial to a quality end product.
Fill the cooker no less than half full and no more than two-thirds full.
Vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry in a slow cooker so if using them put vegetables in first, at the bottom and around side of the utensil.
Then add the meat and cover the food with liquid such as broth, water or barbecue sauce. Keep the lid in place, removing only to stir the food or check for doneness.
Most cookers have two or more settings. Foods take different times to cook depending upon the setting used. Certainly, foods will cook faster on high than on low. However, for all-day cooking or for less-tender cuts, you may want to use the low setting.
If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and then to low or the setting called for in your recipe.
However, it is safe to cook foods on low the entire time if you're leaving for work, for example, and preparation time is limited.
While food is cooking and once it’s done, food will stay safe as long as the cooker is operating.
If you are not at home during the entire slow-cooking process and the power goes out, throw away the food even if it looks done.
If you are at home, finish cooking the ingredients immediately by some other means: on a gas stove, on the outdoor grill or at a house where the power is on.
When you are at home, and if the food was completely cooker before the power went out, the food should remain safe up to two hours in the cooker with the power off and lid kept closed.
Store leftovers in shallow covered containers and refrigerate within two hours after cooking is finished. Reheating leftovers in a slow cooker is not recommended. However, cooked food can be brought to steaming on the stove top or in a microwave oven and then put into a preheated slow cooker to keep hot for serving.
For greater variety, you can adapt your favorite recipes (except cold soups, salads and those that require broiling or deep frying).
Following are some hints on how to adapt favorite recipes to using a slow cooker.
- To judge cooking time, refer to a recipe designed for the slow cooker which is similar. Most meat and vegetable combinations require at least 7 hours on LOW.
- Browning meats is seldom necessary, except to remove excess fat. If in doubt, you can brown the meat beforehand and assemble recipe as directed.
- When using LOW, less liquid is needed since there is little evaporation. The higher the setting, the more liquid required.
- Quantities of herb and spices may need revision. Whole herbs and spices increase their flavoring power while ground spices may lose some flavor. Therefore, it is a good idea to season to taste before stirring.
- Some ingredients cannot take prolonged cooking. Pasta, rice, seafood, milk, cream, and sour cream should be added about 2 hours before serving (1 hour on High). If cooking all day, evaporated milk or condensed soups may be substituted for homogenized milk.
- All ingredients of most recipes can be put into the slow cooker at the same time. Always try to add liquids and sauces last.
- Some soup recipes call for 2 to 3 quarts of water. Add other soup ingredients to slow cooker then add water only to cover. If thinner soup is desired, add more liquid at serving time.
- If milk-based recipes have no other liquid for initial cooking, add 1 to 2 cups water. Stir in the recommended milk or cream during the last hour of cooking and heat through.
- It is not necessary to sauté vegetables because vegetables take longer to cook than
meat. Slice or chop them when possible, then stir in with other ingredients. Only
exception: Eggplant should be parboiled or sautéed due to its strong flavor.
For more information about food safety or food and nutrition, contact me at (870) 779-3609, e-mail Miller@uaex.edu or visit room 319 in the Miller County Courthouse.
Dust off your slow cooker and try this recipe for Chicken Cacciatore. All that is needed when you get home is cooked rice, a green vegetable and fruit salad.
CHICKEN CACCIATORE RECIPE
1 3-pound frying chicken, cut up
3 tablespoons oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1-pound can tomatoes
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
One-third cup minced green pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons oregano
One-half teaspoon basil
One-half teaspoon celery salt
One-fourth teaspoon pepper
One-fourth teaspoon cayenne
1 bay leaf, crumbled
One-fourth cup dry red wine
Heat oil in skillet and brown chicken pieces. Place chicken in cooker, cover with onion slices, then add all other ingredients. Cook on low 6-8 hours, or on high 3-4 hours. Yield: 4-6 servings.
Tried & True Tip: Don’t open the lid of your crock pot while cooking. Every time the lid is lifted, you have to add 2 hours to the total cooking time to recoup the lost heat.
By Carla Haley Hadley M.S.
County Extension Agent
Family & Consumer Sciences
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture