Cathy Agan | 11/7/2014 9:51:10 PM
Ah, fall is here! Along with the cooler temperatures, fall usually ushers in busy schedules. Many of us long for warm, home cooked meals but can’t seem to find the time to cook. With a busy schedule, it can be hard to find the time to prepare a healthful, home cooked meal in the evening. Imagine coming home at the end of a busy day with a delicious meal already prepared and waiting for you! If you are like me, you don’t have a personal chef who can make this dream a reality. So, what’s an ordinary family to do? Bring out the slow cooker, of course! Slow cookers can help busy people prepare meals on a budget while saving time. If this sounds too good to be true, read on for some tips for successfully using your slow cooker not only this fall but all year long.
If your slow cooker has not been used for a while, or if like me you have an older one that was a hand-me-down from your grandmother or mother, you should test it for accuracy before using it. A simple way to test your slow cooker is to fill it ½ to 2/3 full with water. Turn the slow cooker on to Low and let heat for 8 hours. Do not lift the lid during this time. After the 8 hour time period, check the water temperature with an accurate food thermometer. Do this quickly since the temperature in the slow cooker will drop once the lid is removed. The water temperature should be between 185 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is less than 185 degrees, the slow cooker should be replaced and is not safe to use. If the temperature is over 200 degrees, then it is likely that food cooked in it for 8 hours without any stirring will be overdone.
If your slow cooker is ready to use, you can follow some simple guidelines to use it more effectively. Spray the inside of your slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray before adding ingredients. This will help keep the food from sticking and make clean up easier. If desired, you can also purchase disposable slow cooker liners to make cleaning even faster. Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker. Newer models of slow cookers are larger and more powerful so they can safely cook larger pieces of meat and poultry such as a whole roast or chicken. If you have an older model, it is best to cut meat or poultry into smaller pieces before cooking.
Slow cookers should be filled between ½ and 2/3 full. Vegetables like potatoes and carrots cook more slowly than meat and poultry, so place them at the bottom of the cooker. Liquid should almost cover the ingredients so there is proper heat transfer throughout the cooker. The liquid generates the steam that cooks the food. Keep the lid on the slow cooker during the cooking process and only remove it to stir the food or check for doneness. Every time the lid is removed, the internal temperature drops 10 to 15 degrees and slows the cooking process by 20 to 30 minutes. Use a food thermometer to make sure food is cooked to a safe internal temperature, and enjoy your dinner waiting at home for you.