The benefits of using a slow cooker are being gobbled up by the green world as we look for ways to cut down on the energy used by a conventional oven of which only six to 13 percent goes towards the actual cooking of your food. That’s why in the book Cooking Green, Kate Heyhoe refers to the oven as the Humvee of the kitchen.
“The kitchen is ripe with opportunities for going greener,” she writes. “It’s the place where people can make real choices, and take direct control of their impact – without letting the family feel deprived, hungry, or stressed. In fact, everyone will feel better just knowing they’re helping the planet – and they can do it one bite at a time.”
Popular in the 70s, slow cookers are hot again because they’re right in line with the slow food movement – the antithesis of the drive-through mentality that has made us unhealthy and obese as a nation. Slow cookers take new stock in a healthy, eco lifestyle.
Costing from $40 to around $100, cookers offer savings in time and money, along with the energy incentive. People love that they are versatile and can be used to make everything from braised, grassfed, free range meats to poached fish, vegetarian stews and cookies. Especially with meats, the slow process makes them very tender.
My Aunt Dorothy in Encino, who is quite a good cook, is addicted to her new pot and will probably find a way to employ it for the upcoming Passover dinner in April. Like other users, she likes being able to fill the slow cooker with good ingredients and get going on her day, hit the links or play with her grandchildren.
There are tips you should follow for using a slow cooker, and I found a great resource at Crockpot Cooking, which covers everything from the shopping (buying a cooker with a removable liner for easy clean-up) to only filling the pot half way or three-quarters for successful slow cooking. Here are a few other great suggestions:
- Foods cooked on the bottom of the slow cooker cook faster and will be more moist because they are immersed in the simmering liquid – as a result, if your food mix is such that you want everything cooked evenly, you may find that you want to stir the food about half way through the cooking time (though this is not necessary).
- Always remove the skin from poultry, and trim any excess fat from meats. Fats will melt with long cooking times, and will add an unpleasant texture to the finished dish. Fatty foods will also cook too quickly.
- You can thicken juices and concentrate flavors by removing the lid and cooking your meal on HIGH for the last half hour of the cooking time.
- The temperature the food should reach as quickly as possible is 140° F. If you are at home during the cooking times, test the food temperature after four hours of cooking on LOW – the temperature should be at least 140° F. If it isn’t, there’s a problem with your slow cooker and you should replace it with a new one.
- For food safety reasons, it’s a good idea to cook your meal on HIGH for the first hour to quickly bring the temperature up to 140°. Then turn the dial to LOW and the food to finish cooking throughout the day.
- The LOW setting on a slow cooker is about 200° F, and the HIGH setting is about 300° F. Note that both of these temperatures are well above the minimum safe temperature of 140° F.
- Do not put frozen foods in the slow cooker. All foods should be defrosted prior to cooking so the food temperature can reach 140° F as soon as possible.
- Most meats require 8 hours of cooking on LOW. With a slow cooker, you can use cheaper cuts of meat than you might otherwise – not only do you save money, but these meats will actually cook better in the slow cooker. Cheaper cuts of meat have less fat, which makes them more suited to slow cooker cooking.
- Ground meats must be cooked in a skillet before cooking in the slow cooker.
- Seafood should be added during the last hour of cooking time, or it will overcook and have a rubbery texture.
- Large pieces of meat can be browned before cooking in the slow cooker, but this step isn’t necessary. However, browning adds color and helps in flavor development.
- One hour on HIGH heat is equivalent to two hours on LOW heat.
- Cayenne pepper and Tabasco sauce tend to become bitter if cooked for long periods of time. Use small amounts and add them closer to the end of the cooking time (normally within the last hour or so).
- Add tender vegetables like tomatoes, mushrooms and zucchini during the last 45 minutes of cooking time, so they don’t overcook.
- Dairy products should be added during the last 30 minutes of cooking time, unless the recipe states otherwise.
- Liquids do not boil away in a slow cooker, so if you are making a recipe that wasn’t specifically developed for the slow cooker, reduce the liquid content by 1/3 to ½, unless you are cooking rice or making soup.
- Remove any excess cooked food from a slow cooker or liner before you store it (this is because the liner is made of such thick material the food can’t cool down quickly enough to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria).
- Stir in spices for the last hour of cooking. Otherwise, they lose their flavor if cooked with the rest of the ingredients for the longer cooking period.
- Follow the slow cooking layering instructions carefully. Many are surprised to learn that vegetables (other than tomatoes, mushrooms and zucchini) do not cook as quickly as meat, and should, therefore be placed in the bottom of the appliance.
- Don’t lift the lid to stir the ingredients, especially if you are cooking on the low temperature setting. Each time you lift the cover, enough heat will escape such that the cooking time should be extended by 20 minutes to half an hour. To check the cooking progress without lifting the lid, spin the cover until the condensation under the lid falls off, thus making it easy to see inside the cooker.
You can google great slow cooker recipes like this delicious dessert from the Organic Fruit and Veggie Club.
Enjoy and keep it going slow!
Your whole family will love this easy and mouth watering recipe!
2 cups peeled and sliced Organic Gala apples
2 cups of granola cereal
2 tablespoons melted butter
Butter inside of Crockpot. Mix together first 3 ingredients inside Crockpot. Mix honey and butter and drizzle over mixture. Stir gently and cook for 8 hours on low until apples are tender.