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Fri Nov 01, 2013 4:35 pmForum Host
The crockpot or slow cooker is one of the best time saving appliances in the kitchen. It's great for beginning cooks because all you have to do is fill it and turn it on. Hours later, you come home to a house filled with wonderful smells and dinner ready for the table. Here's some tips:
•When purchasing a crockpot, look for one with a removable liner. They are much easier to clean. If you have a nonremovable liner, however, all is not lost! Line your crockpot with a cooking bag and you'll have no cleanup at all. Spray the inside of the liner with cooking spray before you fill it to make cleanup easier.
•140 degrees F is the temperature the food needs to reach as quickly as possible. If you are at home during the cooking times, test the food temperature after four hours of cooking on LOW - the temp should be at least 140 degrees. If it isn't, there's a problem with your crockpot and you should get a new one.
•For food safety reasons, it's a good idea to cook on HIGH for the first hour to quickly bring the temperature up to 140 degrees. Then turn the dial to LOW and finish cooking.
•The LOW setting is about 200 degrees, and the HIGH setting is about 300 degrees. Note that both of these temps are well above the minimum safe temperature of 140 degrees.
•Experts recommend you do not put frozen foods in the crockpot. All foods should be defrosted before cooking so the food temperature can reach 140 degrees as soon as possible. However, since none of my family members are in a high-risk group, I often cook frozen foods in the crockpot. The informed choice is up to you.
•One hour on HIGH is equal to two hours on LOW.
•Remove cooked food from the crockpot or liner before you refrigerate the cooked food. Because the liner is made of such thick material, the food won't cool down quickly enough to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
Crockpot General Cooking Tips
•Only fill the crockpot one half to two thirds full. The foods will not cook properly if the appliance is filled to the brim. If the food and liquid level is lower, the foods will cook too quickly.
•Foods cooked on the bottom of the slow cooker cook faster and will be moister because they are immersed in the simmering liquid.
•Remove skin from poultry, and trim excess fat from meats. Fats will melt with long cooking times, and will add an unpleasant texture to the finished dish. Fatty foods will also cook too quickly.
•You can thicken the juices and concentrate flavors by removing the lid and cooking on HIGH for the last half hour of cooking time.
•Most meats require 8 hours of cooking on LOW. Use cheaper cuts of meat - not only do you save money, but these meats work better in the slow cooker. Cheaper cuts of meat have less fat, which makes them more suited to crockpot cooking. Moist, long cooking times result in very tender meats.
•Follow the layering instructions carefully. Vegetables do not cook as quickly as meat, so they should be placed in the bottom of the appliance.
•Don't lift the lid to stir, especially if you are cooking on the low setting. Each time you lift the lid, enough heat will escape that the cooking time should be extended by 20 minutes to half an hour. To check progress without lifting the lid, spin the cover until the condensation falls off. Then it's easy to see inside.
Specific Crock Pot Cooking Tips
•For best results, ground meats must be cooked in a skillet before cooking in the crockpot.
•Seafood should be added during the last hour of cooking time, or it will overcook and have a rubbery texture.
•Large pieces of meat can be browned before cooking in the crockpot, but this step isn't necessary. Browning adds color and helps in flavor development.
•Cayenne pepper and tabasco sauce tend to become bitter if cooked for long periods of time. Use small amounts and add toward the end of the cooking time.
•Add tender vegetables like tomatoes, mushrooms and zucchini during the last 45 minutes of cooking time so they don't overcook.
•Dairy products should be added during the last 30 minutes of cooking time, unless the recipes states otherwise.
•Liquids do not boil away in the crockpot, so if you are making a recipe that wasn't specifically developed for the crockpot, reduce the liquid by 1/3 to 1/2 unless you are cooking rice or making soup.
•Stir in spices for the last hour of cooking. They will lose flavor if cooked with the rest of the ingredients for the long cooking period.
Information from about.com
1. No peeking. That's right, do not lift open the lid. Precious moisture escapes and it takes a long time to make up for lifting the lid. No stirring either.
2.Vegetables on the bottom. If you are cooking anything with meat and veges, the vegetables go under the meat. Vegetables actually take longer to cook than the meat.
3. Brown your meat first. If you take the time to do this, it will make a huge difference in how things taste. The slow cooker can only do so much.
4. Do not add extra water. Yep, put the meat in the pot without water. It will be okay.
5. Use the cheapest cut of meat possible. You do not cook beef filets in a crockpot. Look for the words, chuck and shoulder. These are fairly cheap priced cuts of meat and they really will be fine to eat.
6. Take the time to trim off excess fats from meats.
7. Cut your veges so that they are all the same size. You want everything to finish at the same time.
8. If you have a removable stoneware pot, you can assemble everything the night before and place it in the fridge. In the morning, you can take your pot out of the fridge and simply place it in the base.
9. Too much fat on top of your soup or stew? Use a piece of bread and scoop it off.
10. Slow Cookers are great for summer time eating. Don't turn on the oven, a slow cooker will keep your kitchen cooler.
11. When your having a buffet table, use your crockpot to keep food warm. Keep rolls, hot dips, veges on the low setting. You can even use it to serve hot drinks, like cider.
12. Use your crockpot to revive stale crackers and potato chips. Place in the pot, no lid, turn on low for 2-4 hours until crispy.
13. Bake a potato - they taste so good when they are cooked all day. Wash the dirt off a white or sweet potato. Poke it with a fork a few times. Wrap in foil. They tend to darken and if you don't like that, rinse the potatoes in a mixture of 1 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter.
14. If the recipe calls for: Wine or Sherry you can use Beef or Chicken Broth and vice versa.
15. Cooking times - generally 1 hour on High equals 2 hours on Low
Information from EzineArticles.com
Do you have any tips? Did you know about the ones here?
Fri Nov 01, 2013 10:06 pmForum Host
I think in most instances meat tastes better if it is browned. If I am making stew and have run out of time, I just brown the entire piece (or several pieces of a larger roast), and then cut them into cubes. So long as at least a couple of surfaces are browned, the end result is significantly improved.
Then be sure to use some broth or wine to dissolve the fond and throw that into the crock.
I mentioned this in another thread, but it's worth repeating. When using wine, reduce it by simmering in a small saucepan until reduced by half or two thirds. If you are just using a little wine, then use it to deglaze the skillet, that will also reduce it sufficiently. This burns off the alcohol and, more importantly, concentrates the flavor. This also hugely enhances the flavor.
I do not put the crockpot insert into the fridge. It is better to prep your ingredients and have them in the fridge, then just dump or layer into the crockpot. Putting the cold crockpot into the container and heating could cause cracking. It's not much of an additional step, worth it to me.
I do not have a rack that fits my larger crockpot and have found that canning rings make a great impromptu rack. I keep a set just for the crock.
Watch times on recipes. Crockpots used to run cooler, until government safety concerns mandated higher temps. Chicken, especially breasts, almost never should go beyond three or four hours on low. If you are adding veggies, they might not be done, and you might want to precook a bit in the microwave. I do not want most of my meat to be falling apart - I want to be able to slice it, so I really watch the time for anything I cook in the crock.
I love cooking potatoes, sweet potatoes and beets in the crockpot. I like to wrap each in foil, not sure that it's really necessary, but it sure beats tying up the oven.
Sun Nov 03, 2013 12:24 amForum Host
Great tips, duonyte! Sounds like you use the crockpot quite a bit!
Sun Nov 03, 2013 6:36 amForum Host
You know, I bought one and used it, and then set it aside, and then for the last couple of years have started using it quite a bit. I think I've learned some good techniques that have improved the quality of the end result. Plus there are a few recipes that I think are superior in the crockpot, so I've made a point of making those. I'll be making cheesecake today, unless life interferes.
Sun Nov 03, 2013 9:48 pmForum Host
I use the crockpot more in the winter for soups and cooking beans. I have baked potatoes in the crockpot, it works great! Do you make cheesecake in the crockpot??
Sun Nov 03, 2013 10:06 pmForum Host
Yes, it works wonderfully - Crock-Pot / Slow-Cooker Cheesecake
We need to do a desserts thread - I know there are any number of things you can make in the crockpot for dessert.
Tue Nov 05, 2013 5:11 pmForum Host
I believe there is a dessert thread coming up.
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