by Darlene Christensen
Did you happen to get a crock pot or slow cooker for the holidays? It's a great kitchen appliance to have in the winter. After all, what could be better than opening the front door on a cold winter evening and smelling homemade beef stew or vegetable soup? Check out this helpful information from Colorado State University Extension on slow cookers.
By using a slow cooker, you can make this happen and make your life a little more convenient. A slow cooker will help you save time, and it will use less electricity than your oven.
Slow cookers cook foods within a temperature range of 170? F and 280? F. For food safety reasons, food in a slow cooker needs to reach 140? F within three hours (four hours maximum) and reach 180? to 200? F at the end of eight hours. 165? F is the minimum temperature at which bacteria are killed.
Here is how to test the rate of heating in your slow cooker. Fill the crock to near capacity with refrigerated water. In a 3 1/2-quart size cooker, use 3 quarts of water. Heat on the "low" setting for eight hours. Check the water temperature with a thermometer at the end of three and again at the end of eight hours. For safe cooking, the water temperature should be above 140? F at the end of three hours (maximum four hours) and between 180?F and 200?F at the end of eight hours.
If your cooker does not reach 140? F within three hours, test again after first browning or boiling the food before transferring it to the slow cooker. Or you can cook the product on high in the cooker for one hour, then reduce the temperature to low heat.
Or, you can bring the mixture to a boil on the stove top, then transfer them to the slow cooker, and cook them on low.
Here are some tips for slow cooking:
* The moist low temperature is ideal for cooking meats. Even less tender cuts become very tender when cooked at low temperatures. Always defrost meat or poultry before putting it in the slow cooker. If foods are cut into small pieces they will heat up more rapidly. Trim off as much fat as possible before placing in your slow cooker.
* Chili, soup, stew, spaghetti sauce or casseroles are great for slow cooking. Fill the cooker no less than half full and no more than two-thirds full.
* Vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry, so if using them, put vegetables in at the bottom and add meat. Cover with about 1 cup of liquid, such as broth, vegetable juice or water. Remember, little or no water evaporates during slow cooking.
* Avoid lifting the cover to peek to see how the food is cooking. Every time the cover comes off you lose heat that is equal to 30 minutes of cooking time.
* To adapt recipes for the slow cooker, reduce the amount of liquid by approximately one-half. One cup of liquid generally is enough unless the recipe contains rice or pasta. In casserole recipes with noodles, macaroni or rice, reduce the amount of liquid by one-fourth.
A slow cooker can be used for other recipes that you might not have thought of. You can use it as a rice cooker, a fondue pot or as a beverage server (hot punch or cider). It can be used to warm rolls without drying them and for cooking cracked cereals all night before serving them for breakfast the next morning.
Darlene Christensen is the Utah State University extension agent.