Many of us grew up thinking hearty, healthy meals meant hours of preparation and stirring over a hot stove. Even when foods weren’t tended to each minute, we had to check to see that they were not sticking to a pan or drying out in the oven. Before the ’70s there was no crock pot or microwave oven. A woman had little time to spend outside. That was then.
Today, autumn is here; the air has a crispness all its own. At my home in the Ozarks, trees are donning their fall colors as golden flowers adorn the hillsides. This morning deer grazing through the meadow below the walnut grove seemed to be bidding me to follow. I wanted to go outside and play!
However, there are still meals to prepare, clothes to wash, people to care for today. To enable me to have time to sit and watch the wildlife, I am learning to make better use of my slow cooker, my Crock Pot. Cooking meals with the slow cooker has many benefits including, less dishes to wash, less time tending to foods on the stove, a cooler kitchen and less energy used.
I am learning to adapt some of my favorite recipes to this way of cooking. I learned early on to not use as much liquids in the slow cooker as it naturally captures moisture and needs little added. Also, any dairy products must be added near the end of the cooking time so they do not curdle.
An added benefit, one that makes a difference in the budget, is the ability to cook tougher, inexpensive cuts of meat. Even the toughest cuts will come out fork-tender when cooked at low heat for a long period of time. At a time when we are all watching our budgets, this is a real plus.
If you are using fatty meats or chicken with the skin on, it is best to brown the meat first before adding to the slow cooker. You will have lower-fat meals because you aren’t using oil as you do when you sauté or stir-fry. Skim fats off any liquid you add as well.
Surprisingly, vegetables will take longer to cook than meats so you will want them cut into small, thin pieces. Layer vegetables on the bottom and sides of the cooker-where the heat will be-for more uniform cooking. You will soon learn which vegetables need more time to cook.
Here are six keys to successful slow cooking:
1. Shop for cheaper cuts of meat; tough, lean cuts will cook tender and juicy.
2. Choose fresh produce, cut into small pieces just before cooking.
3. Skim fats from liquids before adding to cooker.
4. Allow plenty of time to cook at low temperature for best flavors and textures.
5. Move cooked foods into a clean container and refrigerate as soon as possible.
6. Never use slow cooker to reheat leftovers.
I’m looking forward to sharing some great recipes with you in future articles as we enter into the winter seasons. Did I hear someone say “stews”? Enjoy!