After a long day, there’s nothing better than coming home to a dinner that is hot, delicious and ready to eat. If you’re like me and don’t have someone at home making dinner for you, put your vintage Crock Pot (or sleek new slow cooker) to work! Crock Pots and other counter top slow cookers are simple, affordable tools that can make meal planning a breeze. All you need are a handful of good recipes and generally less than an hour to prep ingredients. I headed to YRMC’s Your Healthy Kitchen studio recently to prepare two of my favorite slow cooker recipes, and to share some useful tips for choosing and using any type of slow cooker. Check it out!
There are a few important things to consider if you are in the market for a new slow cooker. First, choose the size that best suits your needs. Slow cooker capacity is measured in quarts, and in general:
- 1-4 quarts – is best for singles and couples
- 6 quarts – is best for 3 or more people or to make enough leftovers for 2
- 8 quarts – is best for large families or gatherings (or to make a lot of leftovers!)
Second, consider buying a slow cooker with an automatic timer. The simplest cookers feature only high and low cook settings, which means they will keep cooking until you manually turn them off. Slow cookers with timers will stop cooking automatically and hold food at a safe temperature for several hours. This is a great feature if your cooker will be cooking while you are at work or are otherwise unable to keep an eye on the pot!
Lastly, avoid cookers that have Teflon or aluminum inserts. These materials can leach harmful chemicals into your food. The best cookers feature simple stainless steel inserts or old-fashioned ceramic crocks.
Some basic cooking tips can be helpful if you are new to slow cooking. First of all, practice a bit of patience and try not to peek into the pot before your food is done. The lid on a slow cooker keeps all of the heat and moisture that is needed to cook your meal inside the pot. When you lift the lid, heat and steam escape, resulting in prolonged cooking time. Just set it and forget it!
Second, if you plan to cook your meal while you are at work, simply prepare and assemble the ingredients in your slow cooker insert the night before and store it in the refrigerator. In the morning, plug in your cooker, place the insert inside, set the timer and head out the door! You may need to add 1-2 hours to the cooking time if the insert and ingredients are cold, but sometimes that works really well if you are gone for eight or more hours during the day.
Third, with the exception of canned tomatoes, don’t use canned vegetables in your slow cooker. Fresh vegetables (or frozen vegetables that have been thawed) will hold up to slow cooking better than canned (which generally just turn to mush). Also, cut hard vegetables, like carrots and potatoes, into smaller sized pieces than softer vegetables like zucchini, so that everything cooks evenly.
Lastly, if you want to speed up your slow cooker a bit, add hot or warm liquids to the pot instead of cold. This will reduce the amount of time the cooker needs to heat everything up.
So dust off that old Crock Pot or, better yet, get yourself a new one, and start to enjoy the pleasures of slow cooking!
Remember to check out all of our videos and collection of healthy, delicious, and easy recipes at YRMC Health Connect. You can also follow me on Facebook at YRMC’s Your Healthy Kitchen, where I regularly post photos and videos of the meals I make at home, plus news of food and farm related happenings in the community, gardening tips and links to some of my favorite health and food-related destinations on the web.