Your slow cooker is a wonderful kitchen friend and with a little planning, home-cooked meals are at your fingertips. Whether you are preparing a family weeknight supper, a party appetizer, or tailgating food for the football gang, your slow cooker can do the trick.
We all want to provide our families with meals that are healthy and flavorful and slow cooking provides that option. It is one of the easiest cooking methods around -- simply place the food in the slow cooker, plug it in, select the cook time and temperature, and be on your merry way. It is at work while you are and at the end of the day, you and your family are welcomed home to a tasty meal.
Slow cooking not only saves time in the kitchen, but also saves on the budget. You can buy less expensive cuts of meat, pop them into your slow cooker and voila -- the result is tender, delicious morsels that melt in your mouth.
Rival first introduced the Crock-Pot brand slow cooker in 1971 and since then, slow cookers have been a popular, useful kitchen tool. I have something brewing in my slow cooker at least once a week. There are many cookbooks geared to slow cooking as well as internet recipe sites that can help guide and give you ideas. Also, check out the available varieties of pre-packaged slow cooker meals in the freezer section of your supermarket and special slow cooker seasoning packets on the grocery shelves; these really make slow cooking a breeze.
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When preparing large meals, I free up oven space by using my slow cooker; it works great for a variety of dishes. I also place foil wrapped baking potatoes or sweet potatoes in my cooker and cook on low for eight hours. I love to slow cook apple butter, which is delicious and practically effortless. The aroma that floats throughout the house is unbelievable. Boiled peanuts are another family favorite slow cooker snack.
Any favorite oven or stovetop recipe that has some moisture in it, whether from water, broth, wine, sauce or canned soup, easily adapts to this method of cooking, although there are a few basic tips to keep in mind to make your experience successful.
For every hour you would cook something in the oven or on the stove, allow 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high. (When in doubt, turn it on low and leave it all day or overnight.)
Try not to stir ingredients. Every time the lid is removed, it sets the cooking time back 20 minutes.
Meat doesn’t brown in the cooker, so for maximum flavor and a more appetizing color in the finished product, go the extra step and brown it before placing it in the slow-cooker.
Vegetables, especially root vegetables, tend to take longer to cook than meat. Cut them all about the same size and place them in the bottom or near the sides of the cooker and for even cooking.
Fish is delicate and shellfish can overcook quickly, so they should be stirred in gently during the last 15-30 minutes of cooking time, unless the recipe specifically states otherwise. Cook on high until just cooked through and serve immediately.
Dried beans should be completely softened before adding to the slow cooker, especially if adding along with sugar or acidic foods. These foods will prevent the beans from softening. Fully cooked, rinsed canned beans are a good substitute for dried beans; however to keep their shape, add them toward the end of the cooking cycle.
Fresh herbs are best when added at the end of the cooking cycle or to the finished dish. For dishes with shorter cook times, hearty, fresh herbs such as rosemary and thyme will hold up well.
The flavor of dry spices and herbs lessens with extended cooking, so add half at the beginning and then taste and adjust seasonings toward the end of the cooking cycle.
Use chili powders and garlic powder sparingly as these can sometimes intensify over longer cook times. Always taste the dish at the end of the cooking cycle and correct seasonings, including salt and pepper.
Do not add more liquid than specified in your recipe. Slow cookers have very little evaporation; the lid collects steam and helps maintain the amount of liquid and juices in the pot. Add milk, cream or sour cream during the last 15 minutes of cooking time.
Fill your slow cooker ½ to ¾ full with ingredients to assure your dish cooks properly and never pre-heat it empty (unless the manufacturer says it’s OK).
Allow your slow cooker to cool before cleaning and don’t subject it to adverse temperatures.
SLOW COOKER APPLE BUTTER
5-1/2 pounds apples peeled, cored and thin sliced (I like McIntosh)
4 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
Place all the ingredients in the stoneware and stir thoroughly.
Cover; cook on high for 1 hour and then on low for 7 to 9 hours, or until the apple butter is thick and brown.
Stir occasionally with a whisk (increases smoothness) during the cooking time.
Apple butter will thicken as it cools. Spoon into sterilized jars, seal and process in a water bath canner (for shelf storage), or put into containers, cover and refrigerate or freeze.
1 (1-pound) top round steak (1 inch thick), trimmed
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 (8-ounce) package sliced mushrooms (about 2 cups)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup beef broth
1 (8-ounce) container low-fat sour cream
2 cups hot cooked medium egg noodles (about 4 ounces uncooked)
Cut steak diagonally across grain into ¼-inch-thick slices. Place steak and next eight ingredients (through garlic) in a 3-quart slow cooker; stir well. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Add broth to flour and add this mixture to slow cooker; stir well. Cover with lid; cook on high heat for 1 hour. Reduce to low heat and cook 7 to 8 hours or until steak is tender. Turn slow cooker off; remove lid. Let stroganoff stand 10 minutes. Stir in sour cream. Serve stroganoff over noodles.
— Cooking Light
CURRIED BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP
2 pounds butternut squash, rinsed, peeled, seeded and chopped into 1-inch cubes
1 apple, firm, crisp, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
5 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon curry powder, sweet or hot
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped
Add squash, apple and onion to the slow cooker. n In a separate bowl, combine stock, curry, cloves, and mix. Pour over squash and apples.
Cook on high for 4 hours, until vegetables have softened.
Using an immersion blender or traditional blender, puree soup. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Serve in bowls, garnishing with sprinkle of dried cranberries.— Crock-Pot.com
ANN'S CHICKEN CACCIATORE
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2-1/2 to 3 pounds chicken, cut up
2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
4-ounce can sliced mushrooms, drained
1 teaspoon salt
1/4-1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon celery seed, optional
1 bay leaf
Place onion in slow cooker. Add chicken.
Combine remaining ingredients. Pour over chicken.
Cover and cook on low 7-9 hours, or high 3-4 hours.
Serve over spaghetti.
Makes 6-8 servings.
— Fix-It and Forget-It