Dec 1, 2008

Slow Cookers

By Natalie Mitts
So you've never used a slow cooker before? If you follow just a few simple rules, you'll soon be slow cooking like a pro.

What do I put in a slow cooker?
Slow cookers are great for soups, stews, meat and a variety of other dishes. When cooking dense veggies (like potatoes and carrots), remember to keep the pieces small so they cook faster. It's also good to keep them near the heat (on the bottom of the container). Remember to have enough liquid in the pot since much of it evaporates or is absorbed in cooking. If you're not sure how much to add, check on your dish periodically and add more as needed. A good idea is to fill the slow cooker one-half to two-thirds full.

Are there some ingredients that I should add near the end of cooking?
Definitely. Wait to add cheese, dairy, herbs and spices during the final hour of cooking. This way they will maintain their flavors and still be mixed in with the rest of the ingredients.

How long do most dishes take to cook?
Most meats require around 8 hours of cooking on low. Depending on your time frame, it's good to know that it's generally true that one hour on the high setting is equal to two hours on low.
Unless the recipe calls for it, it's advisable to keep the lid on the length of the cook time. Every time you lift the lid, steam escapes, which can prolong cooking time.

Can I convert regular recipes to slow cooker recipes?
In most cases, yes. Soups and stews are the easiest, although many casseroles and meats can be prepared in the slow cooker just as well. In some cases, you may want to reduce the amount of liquid the recipe calls for, because liquids do not evaporate in a slow cooker. The only time you do not reduce is if you are cooking rice, beans or pasta.
Here are some conversion times for converting conventional recipe times to the slow cooker:
15 to 30 minutes - 4 to 6 hours on low
35 to 45 minutes - 6 to 8 hours on low
50 minutes to 3 hours - 8 to 16 hours on low

Should I prepare the meat in any way before putting it into the slow cooker?
It is recommended that you do not put frozen foods into a slow cooker and many prefer to brown meat and poultry before adding. However, it is not necessary to cook the meat beforehand in many recipes. It is important to remove skin from poultry and to trim the excess fat from the meat before cooking. For seafood, it should be added in the last hour of cooking time or else it will overcook.

Does high altitude make a difference?
It is possible that higher altitudes make affect the cooking time, so it's a good idea to allow yourself about 30 extra minutes for each hour of cooking in the recipe.

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