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Thursday, March 9

Slow Cooker Basics

This year, a regular blog feature will be our crockpot series.  We are offering up some seasonally-appropriate, and holiday-appropriate, ideas for simple, healthy, family dinners.  We hope you find something tasty!!

Today, we want to step back and focus on the basics of using a crockpot, or slow cooker.  You probably already know how to use your crockpot for some things, but these tips will help you maximize its efficiency!

Planning

  • Make ahead.  If you're putting the crockpot on first thing in the morning before heading out the door, there are a few things you can do to expedite the process.  Chop your veggies the night before, and keep them in the fridge.  Defrost frozen items overnight in the fridge.  Gather all your non-perishables and place them next to the pot so that you're ready to go in the morning.
  • Different.  Not all crockpots work the same way.  Try out a few dishes, paying close attention to how they 'behave,' before you walk off and leave one on all day.  Some cook hotter, some evaporate more liquid...get to know your own device.
  • Frozen no-nos.  If your meal includes meat, make sure that you've defrosted it before placing it in the pot.  It also helps to brown red meats ahead of time, as that will help kill off some of the potential pathogens.
  • Clear lids.  Removing the lid while cooking releases a lot of heat, and you want to have heat.  So get a clear lid that you can see through, and leave that lid on tight!
  • Quick clean up.  There are removable inserts that you can use in your crockpot for a quick and easy clean up.  Y'all know that we try to stay green around here, and a little elbow grease can go a long way, so we don't use them, but they are available.
Cooking

  • Never again.  Reheating leftovers in the crockpot is a 'recipe' for disaster.  Since it cooks at a lower temperature, it will increase the risk of bacteria contaminating the food.
  • Fill height.  The pot should be half to three-quarters full - no more, no less.  This helps the food to cook evenly at a safe temperature.
  • Liquid.  There will be more liquid in the pot when it's done cooking because the lid generates steam.  Be sure not to add too much!  If you do accidentally add too much, you can take the lid off at the very end and cook it on high for half an hour to evaporate some of the liquid.  Or just use a slotted spoon.
  • Equal.  Cutting food into same-sized pieces helps them to cook more evenly.  
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