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Slow Cookers. . . They’re Back!

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Slow cookers go in and out of fashion.   Currently, they seem to be more popular than ever, with new cookbooks dedicated solely to this method of cooking.

Slow cooking offers a number of benefits with the two greatest of these being a way to extend your food budget as well as cooking economically, allowing you to cook using less expensive cuts of meats, dried beans and rice, or making such meals as chili, soup and stew.

Many like the convenience of tossing everything into one pot and returning to it hours later to find a completely finished dish!  But, sometimes mediocre end results disappoint and can be a turn-off.  Many cookbook recipes are designed without having the end result in mind —   Quality, great tasting meals.

With our series on  Slow Cooking, our aim is to provide you with both convenience and taste.  We placed much emphasis on how to get big flavor like that found in conventional cooking.  In many instances, you can’t just throw everything into one pot, walk away for six to eight hours, and then expect a great tasting meal.  Chicken, for example, takes a maximum of four hours on the low setting.  Other things, like desserts such as rice pudding and cobblers, are done in three to four hours on low.

If you’re following a recipe, you’ll notice there is usually a time range listed for doneness.  This is because slow cookers vary in temperature just like ovens, microwaves and refrigerators do.  Some slow cookers run hot and fast while others run slow and cool.   Low heat is better than high for most recipes as it is more reliable and foolproof.  When cooking on high, sauces can get over reduced and meat can blow apart!  Low temp should run about 190 degrees.  If it is less than that, your food with barely cook.  The bigger problem is with the high heat setting.  You can boil food to death on some slow cookers.  High temp should be about 200 degrees, not 212!

Additionally, slow cookers have a hotter side and a cooler side.  Get to know your slow cooker by making a few meals while you’re at home.  Keep a watchful eye on the progress of what you’re making and keep notes.  Learn where that hot and cool spot is located and make note of that, too.

Chunky Beef Stew is the latest meal that came out of our slow cooker.  We have the KitchenAid model, shown above, and let me tell you, I l-o-v-e that “gadget”!    If you’re interested in the recipe for the stew, I’ll post it here in the blog later today.  But if you’re loving that KitchenAid slow cooker, too, stay tuned for your chance to win one just like it!

We have also listed some slow cooker tips for you below.  You will also find them under our “How To” menu.  Feel free to print them off and keep them tucked in your slow cooker cookbook or wherever you keep your slow cooker recipes.

To start this new category here at Once Upon A Plate, we will leave you with two tried and true recipes.  The first recipe is for Black Bean Chili and the other, which has quickly become a favorite around here, is Curried Chicken Breasts! We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.  And if you have any T&T slow cooker recipes, do drop us a note and we’ll be sure to post it!

Enjoy!

SLOW COOKER TIPS

1. For the moistest chicken you’ll ever have from a slow cooker, cook the bird upside down. This allows the fat and juices to travel down through the breast meat!

2. For your slow cooker, your microwave oven can be its best friend! To develop flavors and save time, you can microwave aromatics (carrots, onions, celery, garlic, spices, etc.) for approximately five minutes vs. doing this on the stovetop in a skillet. You can also par-cook any veggies your slow cooker recipe calls for before tossing those into the slow cooker.

3. Browning meat is sometimes necessary, however, often times you can skip this step by adding a little bit of soy sauce and tomato paste to add the same depth of color you would get from stovetop browning. Soy sauce and tomato paste (or sauce) are “secret weapons” of slow cooking! Of course, you will have to take taste into consideration. Make sure those two ingredients will compliment the dish!

4. If using ground meat in dishes such as chilies and pasta sauces, add some bread and milk to the ground meat before browning it. This is a good practice to get into because the bread and milk will help maintain the meat’s moisture and keeps it tender. The bread and milk complete dissolve during the slow cooking process and nobody will ever know the difference it’s in there!

5. If slow cooking some BBQ’d meals, at the end of the slow cooking, run the meat under the broiler for a few seconds for a beautiful finishing touch. Things like BBQ wings, honey-mustard drumsticks, and even BBQ ribs will end up with a nice sticky glaze and slightly crispy exterior! This step is well worth the additional few minutes!

6. A foil “sling” can prove very useful for ease in lifting some cooked meats from the slow cooker. Things like meatloaf, a roast, or even lasagna will easily lift up and out without falling apart on you!

7. If you’re looking to thicken your soups, stews and chili’s, the addition of Minute Tapioca was proven to be the best thickener. Add no more than 1/4 cup. It is completely tasteless in your finished dish and it can be added at the very beginning!

8. If your recipe calls for bread (especially in breakfast dishes), consider toasting the slices before placing in the slow cooker. This will add more texture to your finished meal.

9. If dishes need a flavor boost at the end of cooking time, consider finishing the dish off with ingredients such as fresh herbs, lemon juice, chipotle chilies, a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil, grated cheese, or other ingredients that compliment the dish.

5 Responses to Slow Cookers. . . They’re Back!

  1. Dominique D. January 23, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    Just wish to thank you for this post. With your permission allow me to grab your feed to keep updated with forthcoming posts. Thanks a million and please continue the gratifying work. “Nikki

  2. Chef Rosa January 16, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    Marge, Wow! Congratulations to you on your kitchen accomplishments! Keep watch on the “How To” menu tab because we are adding more and more tutorials each day — and — if there is ever anything you need to know or learn before we get to posting it, please feel free to drop us an email with your request and we’ll get you taken care of — immediately! Good luck to you as you continue your culinary travels!

    Ciao!
    Rosa

  3. margeG1490 January 16, 2012 at 3:30 am #

    Hi, Thanks for this interesting post. I agree with much of what you written here. I’ll be coming back to this website again and again cuz you help me so much with my cooking and baking teaching. My new husbandsays my cooking is better and better each time and no more burned foods on our dinner table so thank you kindly!

  4. Camille G. January 9, 2012 at 7:27 pm #

    DH got me one for Christmas and I was looking for recipes to try in it. It’s freezing cold up here in the Pacific NW so this dish fits the fare. And we LOVE black beans! Yum!

  5. Librada Luebbe January 9, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    oh this is so cool ! I love this blog :)

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