Putting your crock pot to work
by Cecelia Hostillo, Columnist
Sep 19, 2012 | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
If you have the discipline to think about dinner at breakfast, your reward can be a meal that’s ready when you come home. The slow-cook crock pot not only improves the variety and flavor of the foods you serve, but can cut the time you spend in the kitchen almost in half. The slow cooker doesn’t replace the stove top or the oven because it cooks foods in a certain way. Main dishes, casseroles, and soups are particularly adaptable to this method of cooking.

The name “Crock Pot” is actually the brand name for the original slow cooker. Americans now tend to use the brand name generically to refer to all slow-cookers. It is a glazed earthenware bowl housed in an outer metal casing. Between the bowl and outer casing is a wrap around element. A tight fitting dome lid allows condensation to run down inside forming a water seal and aiding in the retention of flavor and heat. Electric slow cookers first became popular in the 1970’s because of its economy of fuel consumption and suitability for cooking inexpensive cuts of meat. Its low temperature is designed for long hours of unattended cooking.

The typical slow cooker holds four to six quarts, but there is a one quart model designed for singles or students. There is also a twelve-quart roaster oven that not only slow cooks but performs a variety of other cooking functions as well. Handle your slow cooker with care. Follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions. Be careful of extreme changes of temperature, as the crock may easily break. Handle it gently and it will last forever.

The seal between the lid and rim of the pot should not be broken during cooking until it is time to test the doneness of your recipe. The heat inside the slow cooker builds up slowly and every time you uncover the pot, you lose enough heat to slow down the cooking process thirty minutes or more. Because the slow cooker does not allow steam to escape, the food inside retains all the moisture originally there. Ingredients should not dry out or burn, so there is no need to peek or stir your recipe.

Generally, low mean the food will be cooking at around 200 ̊F, or at a simmer. High means the food will be cooking at around 300 ̊F. Some models have a variety of settings between low and high. As a rule of thumb, cooking on low takes about twice the amount of time it takes to cook the same recipe on high. The high setting can cause caramelization of sugars in foods and allow them to dry out.

It should take no longer than four hours for the food in your slow-cooker to reach 140 ̊F. This is the temperature at which heat begins to destroy any bacteria present. Until the temperature reaches 140 ̊F, some bacteria can survive. The temperature must be maintained at 158 ̊F for at least one hour to kill all bacteria.

To reduce any bacterial risk while using a slow cooker, follow these simple guidelines:

Spray the crock with no stick cooking spray to keep foods from sticking and simplify clean up.

Keep raw ingredients refrigerated until they are to be put in the cooker. Use only good quality ingredients.

Thaw frozen meat or poultry before cooking.

Never cook whole poultry such as chicken, turkey, and Cornish hens, in a slow cooker because it takes too long for a safe cooking temperature to be reach the bone.

Cut vegetables into small pieces to ensure rapid heat transfer.

If possible, cook foods on high for the first hour, then reduce the heat to the lower setting called for in the recipe.

When cooking meat, the water or stock level should almost cover the meat to ensure effective heat transfer.

Do not overload the slow cooker—no less than half full, no more than two-thirds full.

Do not leave cooked food to cool down in the crock of the slow cooker. Either consume it immediately or cool the food rapidly and refrigerate.

Never reheat leftovers in the crock pot.

Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Learning the pattern of your slow cooker is the only thing you have to learn to produce a successful meal. Once you understand your cooker’s particular timing, you will know how to adjust your recipe timing instructions so your home-cooked tasting meals are ready at precisely the right moment.

Information for this article was gathered from Dr. Sandra Bastin, UK Cooperative Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist, and articles written by the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension Service, the University of Minnesota Cooperative Extension Service, and the Utah State University Cooperative Extension Service.

The Trigg County Extension Office will be offering a class called “Bread with a Twist: Soft Pretzels” on Friday, October 6, 2012, from 10:00-11:30 AM at the Extension Office. The cost of the class is $3.00 to cover supplies. Register for this class by calling the Extension Office at 270-522-3269 by October 3rd.

For more information contact Cecelia Hostilo at the Trigg County Extension Office by calling 522-3269.

Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.

Slow-Cook Barbecue

1 1⁄2 pounds boneless chuck steak, 1 1⁄2-inches thick

1 clove garlic, peeled and minced

1⁄4 cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon paprika

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1⁄2 cup ketchup

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dry or prepared mustard

1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper

Cut the beef on a diagonal, across the grain into slices 1-inch wide and place in slow cooker. Combine the remaining ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and stir thoroughly. Pour over the meat and mix together. Cover and cook on low for 3 to 5 hours. Serve on toasted hamburger buns with a mixed green salad.

Yield: 4-5 servings

Cranberry Chicken

3-4 pounds chicken pieces

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

1⁄4 teaspoon pepper

1⁄2 cup celery, diced

1⁄2 cup onions, diced

1 (16-oz.) can whole berry cranberry sauce

1 cup barbecue sauce

Combine all ingredients in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on HIGH for 4 hours or on LOW for 6-8 hours.

Hot Fruit Dessert

1 (25-oz.) jar chunky unsweetened applesauce

1 (21-oz.) can lite cherry pie filling

1 (20-oz.) can pineapple chunks

1 (15 1⁄4-oz.) can sliced peaches

1 ( 15 1/3-oz.) can apricot halves

1 (15-oz.) can mandarin oranges

1⁄2 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Drain fruit, reserving liquid. Place the fruit in a slow cooker and stir gently. Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over fruit. Add juices as needed. Cover and cook on low for 1-2 hours. Serve over angel food cake or pound cake.

Yield: 10-12 servings

Chocolate Brownie Pudding Cake

1⁄2 cup brown sugar

3⁄4 cup water

2 tbsp. cocoa

2-1/2 cups brownie mix (half of a 21.5-oz.package)

1 egg

1/4 cup peanut butter

1 tbsp. soft margarine

1⁄4 cup water

1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cup chocolate chips, if desired

Combine 3⁄4 cup water, brown sugar and cocoa in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. In the meantime, combine the remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk together or mix well with spoon. Spread the batter evenly in the bottom of a lightly buttered slow cooker. Pour boiling mixture over the batter. Cover and cook on high about 2 hours; turn off heat and let stand for about 30 minutes.

Spoon into dessert dishes while warm; serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Yield: 6-8 servings
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