Here's some advice on successful slow-cooking from veteran cooking instructor Bev Grimm of Fargo and Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann, the authors of "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker":...
Here's some advice on successful slow-cooking from veteran cooking instructor Bev Grimm of Fargo and Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann, the authors of "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker":
- Most recipes that bake in the oven can be converted for the slow cooker. But keep in mind that there is no evaporation in Crock-Pots, so slow-cooker recipes require less liquid. If a recipe for the oven calls for 6 to 8 cups of water, try starting with 5 cups in the slow cooker.
- In general, 1 hour of simmering on the range or baking at 350 degree s in the oven is equal to 4-6 hours on high in the slow cooker.
- You can "hurry up" a recipe by cooking it on high instead of low, Grimm says. Using the high setting will cut cooking time in half. However, keep in mind that meat will be most tender if cooked on low, Hensperger and Kaufmann write.
- To brown or not to brown? Browning meats before you put them in the slow cooker will produce the richest flavor and sauce, Grimm says. However, you can skip this step if you're in a time crunch.
- It's OK to put frozen meat in the slow cooker. Just be sure to double the time, Grimm says.
- Once the food is in the slow cooker, don't fuss over it. If you stir it too much, it will break up the meat, potatoes and noodles and make them mushy, Grimm says. And if you keep opening up the lid, it will let out all the heat and take that much longer to finish cooking. It's especially important to resist opening the lid for the first hour if you're baking.
- Inexpensive cuts of meat work well in the slow cooker because it uses a slow, moist cooking method that tenderizes tough cuts, Grimm says.
- Kaufmann and Hensperger recommend adding flavor enhancers, like salt, spices and herbs, at the end of the cooking to prevent them from becoming over-concentrated. They also recommend adding more delicate ingredients - seafood, dairy products and some veggies - at the end of the cooking period to keep their integrity. (Just make sure they've reached safe cooking temperatures.)
- Soak potatoes in a quart of water mixed with a teaspoon of cream of tartar to keep them from browning, Grimm says.
- Slow cookers will water down sauces and gravies. To remedy that, Grimm recommends placing several layers of a paper towel on top of the Crock-Pot and then placing the lid on top of the towels. This will help keep sauces from getting too watery.
- Corn starch, tapioca and instant potato flakes all work well for thickening up gravies and sauces in the Crock-Pot. To thicken up a stew, Grimm recommends adding corn starch toward the end of its cooking time and then taking the cover off and allowing it to boil until it thickens.
- Use long-grain rice rather than short-grain. It won't get as mushy.
- Add burgundy and Chablis wine to enrich the flavors of stews and gravies.
- If making desserts in the Crock-Pot, take special care not to overbeat cake and bread batters. And after cakes and breads have finished cooking, allow them to cool in the stoneware at least 5 minutes before removing.
- For easy clean-up, use disposable slow-cooker liners (available at grocery and discount stores).
- Grimm's time-saving tip: Cook a whole chicken in the slow cooker on the weekend and then use the meat for everything from burritos to casseroles for the rest of the week.