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Slow Cooker Secrets

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
4/26/2012 2:00 PM   :  19 comments   :  47,191 Views

You have just had a long hard day at work or school and thoughts of what to make for dinner overwhelm your brain.  Suddenly you remember: "I put a stew in the slow cooker this morning. WooHoo!"  As you enter your kitchen, you can smell the savory delight and hear the bubbling sound of juices. Dinner is ready.
 
To be a good slow cooker you first need to understand the equipment and just how that crock traps all the flavors and creates an amazing stew, soup, or even dessert.  The crock pot simmers food for an extended period of time.  Depending on the recipe, the dish may be ready in 4 hours or 10.  Most slow cookers have three temperature settings: low, high, or keep warm.  On average, most cookers run at 180 degrees F for low and 250 degrees F for high.  A word of caution: Several studies have found that these numbers can vary as much as 40 degrees either way.  Just remember that even if you're in a rush, you need to check the internal temperature of the food to ensure that the proteins are cooked to proper temperatures.  Dark meat poultry should be cooked to 180 degrees, white meat poultry to 165, beef to 160, and pork, 145 degrees.
 
Easy clean-up is an added bonus with slow cooking.  I always spray the inner liner with non-stick pan coating.  Wait until the inner liner has cooled slightly before washing; the extreme change in temperature could cause it to break.  When storing your slow cooker, leave the lid ajar to avoid a "funny" smell.


 
 
Dos and Don'ts of Successful Slow Cooking
 
Do look for cuts of meat with lots of connective tissue, such as beef or pork shoulder or beef stew meat.  The long, slow cooking process will break down the tough connective tissues.  An added plus is that these cuts of meat are typically cheaper.
 
Do brown any beef or sauté chicken on the stovetop if you want any caramelization/color on the meat. This adds another layer of flavor and is worth the extra time.
 
Do set the slow cooker on high until the food begins to bubble, and then turn to low and continue to cook.
 
Do select recipes that contain a liquid.
 
Do use the slow cooker like a warming drawer for short holding times (set to "keep warm" setting).  It's a life saver for mashed potatoes when the stovetop is full.
 
Do add frozen peas, green beans, or fresh herbs in the last 10 minutes of cooking.  If added earlier, they will turn mushy and lose their vibrant color.
 
Don't open the lid of the cooker to take a whiff; you will lose heat in the cooker.  If you can't wait and you do lift the lid, add 20 minutes to the cooking time.
 
Don't fill the slow cooker more than 2/3 full.  Once the bubbling starts, the lid might be pushed off and you will have a big mess to come home to or worse yet could burn someone.
 
Don't use the slow cooker for reheating foods.
 
Let's start cooking. Here are some of my favorite slow cooker recipes!



Chef Meg's Slow Cooker Lasagna

What a great dish for one of those nights when your kids have a late soccer game! Brown the meat, layer in the ingredients, set your slow cooker on low, and go! From The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight



Slow Cooker Marinara Chicken and Vegetables (Chef Meg's Makeover)
Chef Meg made over a versatile member recipe by adding extra vegetables and reducing the sodium. Serve with a side salad or over whole wheat pasta or brown rice.



Chef Meg's Slow Cooker Provencal Chicken and Beans
This is a great recipe to use as a basis for plenty of meals! Use your leftovers to make Chef Meg's (Leftover) Chicken Nachos and Chef Meg's (Leftover) Chicken Tostada.



Chef Meg's Slow Cooker Vegetable Curry

Slow cookers aren’t just for meat! This is a tasty, affordable one-pot vegetarian meal that’s filling and perfect for your slow cooker. You can also add shrimp during the last 20 minutes of cooking, if you like. If the dish is a little too spicy for the kids, add 1 tablespoon of plain yogurt to their serving.  Serve with a glass of milk and a cucumber salad.



Chef Meg's Slow Cooker Pork with Greens and Beans

My kids never complain about eating both beans and greens in one meal when they're served alongside rich, slow-cooked pork. I used pork shoulder, but you could use a leaner cut to save on fat and calories.



Chef Meg's Slow Cooker Beef Roast with Vegetables
Try using an English Cut Beef Roast. It is economical and flavorful. This cut of meat comes from the shoulder or neck area of the animal.



Chef Meg's Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili
 
The secret to this hearty vegetarian chili is butternut squash. It holds its shape and adds a layer of flavor and sweetness.



Chef Meg's Slow Cooker Spanish Chicken

This dish incorporates three main ingredients from Spanish cuisine: roasted peppers, almonds, and paprika. This slow cooker meal tastes like it took all day to cook--only you'll know it required very little work for you!
 
What is your favorite slow cooker recipe? What recipe would you like me to create for the slow cooker?
 
Want more healthy recipes from me and fellow SparkPeople members? Be sure to subscribe to SparkPeople's Recipe of the Day email. Click here to sign up!
 
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Like these recipes? Then you'll love "The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight."
 


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Comments

  • 19
    I love using my slow cooker for making a good roast beef with fresh drippings or beef stew with fresh produce from my garden! My two favorite slow cooking meals! Or making chicken and dumplings, a third meal in a pot! I like my slow cooker because it helped me eat better when I was too busy to cook. susana - 4/4/2012   6:18:14 PM
  • VKULON
    18
    I love using my slow cooker to make turkey chili with three types of beans, fire roasted diced tomatoes,mushrooms, shredded carrots, onions,bell peppers and brown rice with shredded cheese on top! My kids who are normally picky fight for seconds and I love the smiles on their faces on the weekend when they come in from outside and smell it cooking. The little ones say "YES IT'S CHILI DAY!" - 3/25/2012   4:11:14 PM
  • 17
    I love my slow cooker! However, I don't bother with spraying the inside. Reynolds brand makes slow cooker liners. I'm always surprised at the number of people who have never heard of them. They are wonderful! In my local Kroger, they are found with the plastic wrap and aluminum foil. You put them in the slow cooker, then fill it with food. When you're done, you just take the liner out and throw it away. Wipe down the inside of the slow cooker with a wet rag and you're done. - 2/26/2012   1:42:04 PM
  • 16
    THANKS for the tips! I love my crock pot and have pork chops and kraut with apples cooking now! Our Valentine treat!
    - 2/14/2012   1:12:53 PM
  • 15
    Meg, I've just put the dry rub on my pork for your Pork with Greens and Beans. Question for you -- you list a half cup of pepitas, but only use 1/4 cup per the directions. One teaspoon for 8 servings is roughly a 1/4 cup. Should I garnish with 1 teaspoon or 1 tablespoon? Thanks! Looking forward to this tonight! - 2/9/2012   1:54:57 PM
  • 14
    I love the smell of a great meal as I enter the front door of my home after being gone. I have saved Chef Meg's Slow Cooker Secrets to my favorites. A lot of rich and tasty information here. Thank you! - 2/9/2012   11:38:15 AM
  • KELEPULE
    13
    Love the crock pot...have a lot of chicken breasts to use up. Not too late to put something in the pot for dinner tonight! - 2/8/2012   4:04:30 PM
  • 12
    I used my crock pot yesterday, and made Pineapple/Orange/Mango Country Ribs.. This was new and different for me. However, they were tender... - 2/8/2012   1:07:02 PM
  • SHELLY824
    11
    Love to cook in the crock pot - 2/8/2012   8:52:27 AM
  • 10
    I have made Chef Meg's Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili twice, most recently for Superbowl. It's so easy and really great-tasting, but I would also like to see more veg recipes as well. - 2/7/2012   6:01:18 PM
  • 9
    I'd love to see more vegetarian recipes. Thanks for the article. - 2/7/2012   3:07:52 PM
  • BAMAJAM
    8
    Thank you for this information, and recipes! I love my crock-pot, but hubby is afraid of leaving it turned on while away from home...(?)
    Corned beef is wonderful cooked for about ten hours--then I use the broth to boil the cabbage on the stove. I cook carrots with the meat in the crock pot. What a delicious meal for St. Pat's Day. Any recipes for Corned beef would be appreciated, Chef Meg.... Again, thank you! - 2/7/2012   11:32:24 AM
  • 7
    Hello and thanks for the great recipes. I have your book and already made the slow cooker chicken salsa and it was great. My absolute fave food is roasted barbeque chicken - if there was a way to make it healthy and in the slow cooker I'd be super happy! DC :D - 2/6/2012   11:45:14 PM
  • 6
    Thank you for the information. I use the crock pot several times a week and did not realize some of the information about losing heat and needing to add cooking time. - 2/6/2012   9:36:06 PM
  • MARYHENNIG
    5
    Love my slow cooker - will need to try out some of your recipes. - 2/6/2012   9:04:27 PM
  • 4
    Very good tips, I love our slow cooker. - 2/6/2012   7:00:30 PM
  • 3
    I just emailed 3 friends. Want some tonight for dinner. Now just deciding WHICH dish is the challenge! - 2/6/2012   6:51:50 PM
  • 2
    Great tips - thanks! - 2/6/2012   3:44:52 PM
  • 1
    I love to use my electric turkey roaster as a slow cooker and make a huge amount of Irish stew (with Guiness beer). My husband and six kids love the stew, and I usually also make herbed biscuits or cornbread to go along with it. I will sometimes have the stew going in the turkey roaster, and then my two other large crock pots with roasts going and I've made food for the whole week. - 2/6/2012   3:12:20 PM

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