Read an Excerpt
Slow Cooker Magic
A Seasonal Selection Of Family Favorite Recipes
By Linda Rehberg, Lois Conway
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2005 Linda Rehberg and Lois Conway
All rights reserved.
Of course the slow cooker can be an everyday workhorse in your kitchen, but consider these creative uses for it: Need an extra set of hands when entertaining? The slow cooker is there for you, keeping side dishes on hold while you busy yourself with the main course. Buy a second slow cooker and you can use it for hot hors d'oeuvres or mulled beverages. We love it as a fondue pot because it holds the fondue at a perfect temperature for hours without burning the bottom. And it's wonderful on a potluck buffet table, because food will stay warm until it disappears. During the holidays, when oven space is at a premium, our slow cookers are put to good use heating up extra stuffing, keeping gravy warm, cooking bread puddings, and even for hot toddies.
If you regularly feed more than three or four people, we recommend the larger 6-quart slow cooker. You can then cook larger roasts, a whole chicken, and larger meals with the possibility of leftovers.
We also recommend the type of slow cooker that is strictly a slow cooker with heating coils that encircle the pot, not a combination deep-fryer, slow cooker, etc. with the heating element in the bottom only.
For the greatest convenience, put all the ingredients in the pot the night before, cover, and place it in the refrigerator. Then all you have to do in the morning is insert the pot into the slow cooker, plug it in, and go. For items that taste better the next day, like pasta sauce, chili, beef stew, etc., we've actually cooked them overnight, placed them in the refrigerator the next morning and then rewarmed them for dinner. The bonus of this technique is the most appetizing morning aromas.
What the slow cooker cooks best:
Soups; stews; chilis; casseroles; beans; pasta sauce; vegetable dishes; pudding-type desserts; tough cuts of meat, like beef chuck, brisket, ribs, rump and bottom round roasts, pork shoulder, Boston butt roast, and lamb shanks.
What the slow cooker isn't well suited for:
Pieces of meat that would be better grilled quickly such as: steaks, flank steak, chops; most fish; pasta; long grain rice; dairy products such as milk, cream, and sour cream. Many times, though, you can cook them separately and add them at the end.
If your roast doesn't quite fit into the pot, you can cut it into two pieces that will.
Dense vegetables, like carrots, are best placed on the bottom of the pot. Try to cut vegetables in similar size pieces.
In our recipes, small potatoes weigh about 4 ounces, medium potatoes are 8 ounces, large potatoes weigh between 10 and 12 ounces, and anything over that we consider jumbo potatoes.
All eggs used in these recipes are large. All butter used in these recipes is unsalted.
Try to use the freshest ingredients whenever you can. You'll be surprised at what a difference it makes.
In several recipes, rather than bouillon cubes, we've recommended a chicken, beef, or vegetable stock base, such as Better than Bouillon brand. If you can't find something similar in the soup section of your market, you can certainly substitute 1 bouillon cube for each teaspoon of stock base.
We suggest you keep a can or bottle of cooking oil spray on hand. Some of our recipes call for buttering or greasing the pot first before adding ingredients, and a quick misting of cooking oil spray is an easy way to do that.
If it's all about speed and convenience for you, don't overlook the little bags of sliced vegetables, jars of peeled garlic, frozen chopped onion, and other preprepped ingredients to make your job easier. Also, there are preassembled dinners designed for use in slow cookers in the markets now.
DOS AND DON'TS
For the best flavor and appearance, we strongly recommend browning meats and vegetables first in a skillet or Dutch oven on the cooktop, when the recipe calls for it. It takes a bit more time, but the payoff is worth it.
If you load up the slow cooker the night before to sit overnight in the refrigerator, do not put raw poultry in with the other ingredients. Add it to the pot just before cooking. And if you use potatoes or apples, place them on the bottom, covered with other ingredients, so they won't turn brown overnight.
If you set your slow cooker to start and stop on a timer, don't let the food sit longer than 2 hours before or after cooking, to avoid the possibility of spoiling.
Don't be tempted to lift the lid every time you pass by the cooker. Each time you peek adds another 15 minutes to the cooking time. It takes that long for the slow cooker to come back up to heat.
If you do have to lift the lid on the slow cooker to stir the ingredients, lift it straight up so that the condensation on the underside of the lid won't run back into the food.
Some slow cookers have hot spots. You'll know you have a hot spot if one particular area of the dish appears overcooked or sticks to the liner. If yours does, rotate the liner a few times during cooking to insure even cooking.
We found to our surprise that most recipes were actually done in about 4 hours on low heat; but that's not convenient for those of us who work outside the home all day. When you extend the cooking time another 4 to 6 hours to fit our working schedules, quite often the flavor is cooked right out of the food. Therefore, in many recipes we've included the recommendation to taste and reseason before serving. Also, if you sauté your dried herbs and spices in a bit of oil before using, it will help your dish retain its flavors.
Dairy products, such as milk, cream, and cheese, don't hold up during the long cooking process, but they can be added at the end. Otherwise, substitute canned evaporated milk for regular milk.
Avoid adding very strong-tasting vegetables, such as cabbage, brussels sprouts, or broccoli, to a stew. These can be cooked separately and added at the end to keep them from overpowering the dish.
If you don't have one of the fancy new slow cookers that can be programmed to start and stop at specific times, you can still have that great feature with the use of a household timer that turns appliances on and off at set times. We relied on this handy little item many times and it worked just fine. But make sure not to delay cooking for more than 2 hours on anything that needs refrigeration.
An immersion (handheld) blender is almost a must-have item. We used it over and over to puree sauces and soups right in the slow cooker with ease. Trying to pour hot liquid from the slow cooker into a blender is nearly impossible, not to mention hazardous.
We used heavy nonstick skillets quite often when browning meats and vegetables. A regular skillet without the nonstick coating actually gets the job done better, but you usually must compensate with a good deal more oil. For health's sake, stick with the nonstick.
To go along with the nonstick skillet, treat yourself to a colorful, heat- resistant rubber spatula. They come in different shapes and sizes, and we can guarantee once you use one you'll wonder how you ever managed without it.
For certain items — such as the turkey breast — it's helpful to have either an instant-read thermometer or a probe connected by wire to a timer/thermometer to achieve the proper degree of doneness.
A whisk, a microplane grater, a good set of measuring spoons and cups — all are items we consider essential.
Okay, an RV doesn't qualify as an accessory, but we sure think an RV and a slow cooker are a great match. When you've settled into a spot for a day or two, you can plug in that slow cooker and go spend the day sightseeing without having to worry about dinner when you return.
ADAPTING YOUR OWN RECIPES FOR THE SLOW COOKER
Many recipes can be converted for use in your crock-pot. Here's what we recommend:
Avoid rice, fish, dairy products, and pasta.
Reduce the amount of liquid in your recipe by about half.
Season both before and after cooking, if necessary.
Test for doneness after 4 hours, and then every hour after that.
Most soups, stews, and casseroles take 8 hours to cook on low.
Meat will usually be done in 6 hours.
Poultry will usually be done in 4 hours.
To prevent accidentally cracking the crockery liner, avoid extreme changes of temperature. We've caught ourselves many times dishing out meals and walking the pot over to the sink to fill it with water and let it soak during dinner. Don't do that! Chances are good when the cold water hits the hot pot, it will crack. Let it cool first; then soak it.
You can wash your crock-pot liner in the dishwasher. Do not use abrasive cleansers or steel wool scouring pads on the liner. Plastic scrubbing pads are okay. Avoid scratching the glazed surface with knives or sharp utensils.
If you use an extension cord, make sure it's a heavy-duty one.
Take care to keep small children away from the cooker. The outer shell on most models gets quite hot and could burn little hands.
Slow cooker temperatures:
LOW heat = 200º
HIGH heat = 300º
1 hour on HIGH heat = 2 hours on LOW heat
Avoid overfilling or underfilling the slow cooker. It should be between one-half to three-quarters full.
When pouring the heated contents of a skillet into the slow cooker pot, we suggest placing the slow cooker pot in the sink and then pouring the contents of the skillet into it. If you accidently spill the hot food, it will be easier to clean up plus you'll avoid getting burned.
To adjust any of our 4- or 4½-quart recipes for the larger 6-quart cooker, simply multiply the amounts by 1½ times and allow another hour of cooking time for larger pieces of meat. (An instant-read thermometer will help you tell if the meat is done.)
If transporting a slow cooker meal to a potluck, without a manufacturer's insulated carrier, just wrap the pot well in some newspaper and a couple of beach towels. It will stay warm for quite a while.
By the way, "Crock-Pot" is the trademark name for the slow cookers made by Rival Manufacturing Company. So, technically, not every slow cooker is a crock-pot.
This section is rich with old reliable recipes, the ones we prepare over and over. We think you'll return to them on a regular basis too. They defy the seasons and are delicious year round. They're simple to make, can be used in so many meal plans, and have countless variations. We've also included Monday's Vegetable Soup recipe, because it can be your secret weapon if you're on a weight-loss plan or just trying to eat healthier.
Basic Chicken Stock
Basic Beef or Veal Stock
Basic Vegetable Stock
Monday's Vegetable Soup
Simple Pasta Sauce
Lois's Pizza Sauce
Old Faithful Pot Roast
Doctored-up Pork Roast
Linda's Easy Cheesy Potatoes
Bread Pudding Galore
Basic Chicken Stock
This is a very simple, basic recipe for chicken broth. You can vary it by adding herbs, substituting other vegetables for those listed, or by using chicken parts instead of a whole chicken. Not only will you have wonderful homemade broth on hand but also a quantity of cooked chicken you can use in a number of recipes, such as homemade chicken noodle soup, chicken salad, pizza, sandwiches, pasta, and casseroles.
YIELD: 6 to 8 cups
SLOW COOKER SIZE: 4 or 6 quart
PREP TIME: 10 minutes
COOKING TIME: 8 to 10 hours onLOW
2 large carrots, scrubbed and cut into chunks
1 (3- to 3½-pound) whole chicken or bone-in chicken parts
2 large stalks of celery with leaves, cut into chunks
1 large onion, quartered
5 sprigs of parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
5 to 6 cups water
1. Place all ingredients in slow cooker in order listed, with enough water to fill the pot about three-quarters full. (Use 6-quart slow cooker for whole chicken.)
2. Cover and cook on LOW heat for 6 hours.
3. Remove chicken from pot, cut the meat from the bones, and save for other uses.
4. Return stripped bones to pot and continue cooking for 2 to 4 more hours.
5. If not using immediately, allow the broth to cool about 1 hour and then strain it. Line a colander with cheesecloth and place it in a large bowl. Pour the contents of the pot into the colander. Discard the carcass and vegetables.
6. Refrigerate the broth for up to 3 days or store in 1- to 2-cup containers in the freezer for several months.
This broth is a wonderful base for homemade chicken noodle soup. If you store it in small containers in the freezer, it will come in very handy in any recipe calling for chicken broth. We couldn't make risotto without it!
You can add dried herbs, such as thyme, marjoram, or a few bay leaves or fresh herbs 15 minutes before the stock is done.
Vary the vegetables to suit your own personal preferences, but avoid very strong vegetables, such as broccoli or cabbage.
When pouring the heated contents of a slow cooker pot into a bowl, we suggest placing the bowl in the sink and pouring the contents of the slow cooker into it there. If you accidently spill, cleanup will be easy.
Basic Beef or Veal Stock
Make this once a month, store in small containers in the freezer, and you'll never have to resort to bouillon cubes again! We had to use the large 6-quart slow cooker for this recipe to accommodate all the bones, but you could cut the recipe in half to use the 4-quart cooker. What to do with the cooked bones? If you're a dog owner, Fido will jump for joy if you toss one his way. You could also use the meat from the bones in a roast beef hash or stir-fry meal.
YIELD: about 2 quarts
SLOW COOKER SIZE: 6 quart
PREP TIME: 15 minutes
COOKING TIME: 10 to 12 hours onLOW
4 pounds meaty beef and/or veal bones
2 large onions, peeled and quartered
2 large carrots, scrubbed and cut into large chunks
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 large stalks of celery with leaves, cut into large chunks
6 sprigs fresh parsley
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 cups water
1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
2. Place bones, onions, carrots, and garlic on rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven, turning bones after 10 minutes, for 25 to 30 minutes, until bones and vegetables are browned.
3. Place all ingredients in slow cooker and add enough water to fill about ¾ full. Stir to combine. Cover and cook on LOW for 10 to 12 hours. Allow to cool to room temperature.
4. Strain through a fine sieve or a colander lined with cheesecloth into a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate. Once chilled, you can remove fat from the surface of the stock. Use within 3 days or freeze in small containers up to 3 months.
Use this in homemade vegetable or French onion soup, risotto, beef stew, gravies and sauces.
You can substitute leeks for the onions and various other herbs. Avoid substituting any strong-flavored vegetables, such as cabbage or broccoli, which would overwhelm the delicate beef flavor of the broth.
This recipe is also a good way to use up leftover bones from roasts, preferably with a little meat still left on them. Toss them in a freezer bag, label, and use once you've collected enough for a good broth. Thaw them before using.
Basic Vegetable Stock
Vary the vegetables or herbs and you can change the flavor of this broth in countless ways. It's the perfect stock for risotto or homemade soups if you're a vegetarian. You'll want to make and freeze portions of this stock on a regular basis. Freeze in small 1-pint containers or ice cube trays.
YIELD: about 1 ½ quarts
SLOW COOKER SIZE: 4 quart
PREP TIME: 15 minutes
COOKING TIME: 4 to 5 hours onLOW
4 large carrots, scrubbed and cut into chunks
2 parsnips, scrubbed and cut into chunks
6 stalks of celery with leaves, washed and cut into chunks
3 medium potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
3 cloves garlic, chopped
6 sprigs of parsley
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
8 cups water
1. Place all ingredients in slow cooker.
2. Cover and cook on LOW heat for 4 to 5 hours.
3. If not using immediately, allow the stock to cool about 1 hour and then strain it. Place a colander in a large bowl and pour the contents of the pot into it. Discard the vegetables. Refrigerate the broth for up to 3 days, or store in 1- to 2-cup containers in the freezer for several months.
Excerpted from Slow Cooker Magic by Linda Rehberg, Lois Conway. Copyright © 2005 Linda Rehberg and Lois Conway. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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