Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Slow Cooker Tips
Ya'll, I love my slow cookers. Yes, plural. On busy nights they are the things that keep me sane and get my family fed before 7:30p.m. And that's important because I'm really strict about an 8:00p.m. bedtime for the 8 year old. I can set my slow cooker before I leave for work, check it when I get home at 1:30 and with very little prep later in the evening, count on supper around 5:00. Sure slow cooker meals aren't gourmet, but they can be delicious and they can be healthy.
There are some tips and tricks you need to know to be successful with a slow cooker. If you're familiar with slow cooking, you probably already know some of these. If you're like my best friend, who doesn't even own a slow cooker, well, this post is for you.
Know the temperature of your slow cooker. This doesn't mean you need to figure out exactly how hot it gets down to the degree, but you should know roughly how long it takes to cook. Both of my slow cookers cook faster (i.e. hotter) than most recipes suggest. I've recently learned it's because the brand of my slow cookers changed their cooking temperatures in the last few years. So for me, if a recipe calls for 8 hours, I know mine will usually cook it in 4 - 6 hours.
Camille on Facebook suggests "Don't over cook! I always start checking an hour before the minimum cooking time. If the recipe says 8-12 hours, go for 7!"
My friend and former college suite mate Holly reminds us "Make sure your slow cooker is plugged in!" She and I can both speak from experience on that one. She came home to raw beef stew one evening and I once discovered an uncooked corned beef in my slow cooker, both because we didn't plug our slow cookers in.
Know the difference between low and high on your slow cooker. One hour on high roughly equals 2 - 2 1/2 hours on low.
Fill up your slow cooker. Slow cookers generally cook best if they are about 3/4 of the way full. If they are less than half full, they will cook too fast and food can burn.
Avoid lifting the lid. Slow cookers cook by allowing steam to build up. When you lift the lid, you temporarily lose the steam and add to the cooking time.
Brown your meats. This is not a have to - except for ground beef, chicken or turkey - but you will get more flavor from your meats if you brown them in a frying pan first. They do not have to be cooked through, just caramelized on the outside.
Cut all your veggies about the same size. This rule holds true for other methods of cooking as well. If your food is generally about the same size, it will cook in about the same amount of time.
Different ingredients need different cooking times. Meats and hard veggies (onions, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, etc) need more time to cook than soft veggies (tomatoes, green beans, peas, zucchini, etc). Add softer veggies later than meats and harder veggies so they don't turn to mush.
Watch the amount of liquids you use. If you're making a soup or beans, you really want just enough liquid to cover the ingredients by about a half an inch. You can add more liquid later if you need to. If you have too much liquid, cook the last 30 minutes with the lid off. If you do need to add liquid, try to warm it a bit first so as not to lower the overall temperature of the food already in the slow cooker.
Slow cooker recipes on Now Things Are Cookin'.