As we approach the cool days and cold evenings, it's nice to have something hot and ready to eat when we get home from a busy day. Slow cookers can help to save you time, money and be a great tool for tailoring recipes to dietary needs. You can also save money as result of using less expensive cuts of meats. Using slow cookers can save on the cost of eating out or purchasing convenience foods which are generally more costly than home prepared foods.
Slow cookers were popular years ago and have somewhat made a resurgence. On occasion check to see that your slow cooker is operating properly. First, fill the cooker 1/2- 2/3 full of water and set the heat on the lowest setting (200 degrees F). After 8 hours, check to see if the water is at 185 degrees F - 200 degrees F. If the temperature is below 185 degrees F the unit does not heat foods quickly and/or hot enough; if the temperature is above 200 degrees F the unit will overcook foods in an 8 hour period. If the unit is not operating correctly it should be replaced.
Additional tips for using a slow cooker include:
· Always use thawed ingredients and foods with high moisture content.
· Fill the container at least 1/2, but not more than 2/3 full. Liquid in the container should almost cover the other ingredients. When using vegetables put them in first, then the meat followed by sauces/broth, etc.
· Generally you will use cubed, slab or ground meat. If cooking larger cuts of meat/poultry check with the instruction booklet for proper size and cooking instructions.
· If you choose, brown meat prior to putting it in the slow cooker. Browning helps to improve the flavor and also allows you to drain fat.
· Have a lid which fits tightly. Every time the lid is opened, add 20-30 minutes to the cooking time.
· Choose to use low sodium and low fat broths and seasonings.
· To save time, prepare the ingredients the evening before and refrigerate, but do not combine raw meats with other ingredients. You can have the vegetables prepared in a separate container, as well as the seasonings stored separately. This way in the morning all you need to do is assemble the ingredients in the slow cooker.
· Cook poultry to 165 F - 170 F, roasts 145 F - 160 F and ground meat 160 F. Or you may call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854.
· Do not leave foods in the crock pot after the temperature drops below 140 F for more than 2 hours. Too, do not store foods in the crock pot in the refrigerator. After the food has cooled slightly remove it from the crock pot and store the food in a shallow refrigerator storage container. Reheating leftovers in a crock pot is not suggested.
· If you are using a new recipe, you might try it a on a day in which you are home to be sure that you have the right mix of ingredients and liquids.
A great source for some recipe's using crock pots you can be found at WebMD (http://www.webmd.com/
-recipes-directory). Following is a recipe for Slow Cooker Beef Stew from Montana State University Extension Service (http://recipefinder.nal.
Slow Cooker Beef Stew
Yield: 6 servings