With school back in session, many families are looking for ways to save time.
One simple kitchen appliance can help save time, reduce work and also produce delicious meals for the family.
That miracle worker is the electric slow cooker. The device is quite commonly called a Crock-Pot, which is the brand name of one of the early models available on the market.
The device, invented in 1970, now comes in several brands, shapes and sizes, and often boasts many features.
As with any food preparation, there are some precautions to follow when you use a slow cooker, to keep your food safe.
Start with a clean crock/stoneware bowl, clean utensils, and a clean work area.
Be sure to wash your hands before you begin preparation and also between steps, to avoid the potential for cross-contamination.
Keep all perishable ingredients in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them.
Do not use the crock or stoneware bowl to store uncooked meat or poultry in the refrigerator before cooking. That will slow down the cooking process.
You can prep in advance, but be sure to package your raw meats and vegetables separately. Assemble and mix them together in the crock when you are ready to cook.
Do not partially cook your meat and poultry, then finish cooking later.
If you defrost ingredients in the microwave or sauté meat and vegetables, do that just prior to adding them to the slow cooker.
Most slow cookers heat from the sides. By comparison, food cooked on the stovetop is heated from the bottom up.
For best results, the slow cooker should be half- to three-quarters full.
Do not use the slow cooker for large cuts of meat, such as a roast or whole chicken. Instead, cut large pieces of meat into smaller ones so that the heat can penetrate the meat more quickly.
Cutting the meat also helps speed the cooking process.
For most recipes, you should start cooking on high for the first hour to allow the ingredients to heat rapidly and move to above 140 degrees Fahrenheit — which is out of the “danger zone,” where bacteria thrive. After an hour, turn the dial down to low for extended slow cooking.
If you are leaving the cooker unattended, it is best to set the dial on low.
If you are home and want to speed the process, you can turn the pot on high for the last one hour to two hours.
Generally, one hour on high is equivalent to two hours on low.
Stirring is not required for slow cooking, so avoid the temptation to lift the lid during the cooking process. Lifting the lid releases heat. It takes approximately 20 minutes to recover lost heat, which extends the required cooking time and also increases food safety risks.
As with all cooking, check to doneness using a quick-read thermometer. Poultry and leftovers that are being reheated should be at 165 degrees Fahrenheit, when you test them.
It’s also a good idea to avoid using large quantities of frozen foods. For instance, don’t add more than one cup of frozen vegetables for a soup recipe. It is better to defrost or cook frozen food items before adding them to the crock.
Refrigerate any leftovers within two hours of serving. Break down large amounts into smaller containers before placing into the refrigerator. Do not store leftovers in the crock.
Never use a slow cooker to reheat foods. Reheating should be done on top of the stove or in a microwave oven to make sure food reaches a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, to reduce food safety risks or recipe should be brought to a boil before cooking/holding in a slow cooker.
Be sure to preheat the slow cooker before adding hot foods or liquids, to avoid breakage.
Always read and follow the instructions in the manufacturer’s “use and care” guide that came with your particular brand/model.
Confetti Chili for “Meatless Mondays”
Three cans (16-ounce) dark red kidney beans (reduced sodium) drained and rinsed. For more variety, use one can dark red beans, one can light red beans and one can black beans.
Three cans (14.5-ounce) diced tomatoes (no sodium added)
One package (1.25-ounces) reduced chili seasoning mix (reduced sodium)
One bag (12-ounce) soy crumbles/granules (Can substitute one pound of ground turkey or lean ground beef, drain fat and rinse off excess fat, then pat dry)
One cup finely grated cheddar cheese
The confetti is made from chopped veggies:
One-half cup diced carrots
One-half cup diced onion
One-half cup diced green pepper (and/or yellow)
Top each serving with one Tablespoon or two Tablespoons of grated sharp, cheddar cheese.
Makes 8 servings
Seasoning mix recipe
One Tablespoon chili powder
One teaspoon ground cumin
One-fourth teaspoon cayenne pepper
One-fourth teaspoon garlic powder
One-half teaspoon onion powder
One-half teaspoon salt
One-fourth teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Published September 7, 2016