Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Slow Cooker (Crock Pot) use for Summertime

A "Slow Cooker" also called a "Crock Pot" is a very useful piece of kitchen equipment.  Back in 2011 I talked about them a little.  It was mostly about size, price and their basic function.  Today I'd like to go into a little more detail on them.

Someone has been hiding the good stuff from me!
First, however, I have to show a photo of my blog assistant at her "1st birthday" party.  My granddaughter had her first experience with sugar that day.  She discovered that it tastes great.  It also did not put on the "sugar high" that many had thought would happen.  She had a good time opening gifts and had one of the best night's sleep ever.  Her parents were thrilled with that.  I guess that was her present to them.  Now that she is a year old, I plan to have "ice cream" with her every Monday morning for breakfast.  It's so nice being a grandparent and not the parent with such a cutie.  I told her that the ice cream was part of her "benefit package" with the blog.  She's as excited as grandpa!

Slow cookers have been around for 40 years give or take a few.  It first they were mostly called "Crock Pots" and then (I believe) in the nineties the word "Slow Cooker" became more popular or politically correct.  You can cook almost anything in them including some breads.  I've not tried that yet (breads) myself.

Slow cookers work on two settings, high and low.  The high setting is about 300 degrees and the low operates around the 200 degree mark.  The low setting takes from 2 to 2 1/2 times the cooking time than the  high setting.  That is why you will see most slow cooker recipes showing 4 to 5 hours on high and 8 to 10 hours on low for the same recipe.

These time ranges for both low and high settings is directly related to size of ingredients, temperature of ingredients, how full the pot is and even attitude.  It is always best to taste your dish when it is suppose to be done.  You can then adjust the time and/or seasoning before serving.  Most slow cookers now have a holding cycle so that after your set time is up, it will keep it warm and safe for an additional time.  Usually a couple of hours depending on model.

A few benefits of using a slow cooker are;  saves energy, cuts down on kitchen mess (less dishes), doesn't require constant attention, keeps kitchen cooler (great for summer-time) because stove/oven isn't needed, helps keep foods from burning and puts dinner on the table much faster after a hard day.

A big point to remember is the lid.  Because you don't have to be stirring the dish, you don't have to be removing the lid.  The lid keeps the heat in and that is very important with slow cooking.  If you take the lid off the slow cooker, it requires a lot of time to get that temperature back.  That changes your cooking time and adds more to it.  So only take the lid off when it is needed.

You also want to make sure your slow cooker has a removable crock.  It makes clean up so much easier.  That crock is somewhat non-stick but it is advisable to use a pan spray before loading in the ingredients of the recipe.

This brings me to something that I need to point out to everyone.  The original purpose of a slow cooker was to make a meal simple and convenient.  You just throw the ingredients in the slow cooker and walk away.  Hours later you enjoy a terrific meal.  Many recipes are that way (including the 3 I have for you this week) but some now require you to do some cooking ahead of putting the ingredients in the slow cooker.

Most of this is to give the protein a better look.  These recipes require you to brown the meat before continuing to the slow cooker.  These recipes are great but they take away from the biggest reason you use a slow cooker - less cooking involvement for you.  It still does require less time in the kitchen for you but it does make you have to plan your time a little better in the morning.  I usually try to save these recipes for the weekend or other days off.

Another reason for using a slow cooker, it can save you on your grocery bill.  Because you are cooking over a longer period of time, you want to use the less expensive cuts of meat.  They become so tender cooking in a slow cooker.  Your better cuts of meat are not meant to be used in a slow cooker, so don't.  Save those cuts for the grill.

This week I have 3 recipes for you to try.  The  first is "Chicken a la Orange" and it is served over rice which is cooked separately.  The second one is "BBQ Shredded Beef" and makes a great picnic dish.  The last one is for "Jambalaya" and you can spice it up if that fits your taste style.

So get your slow cooker out and use it during the summer.  After all, it is a year-round piece of cooking equipment.  "Happy Cooking!"

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