With the weather changing and cooler temperatures on the way, get out the slow cooker for simmering soups and stews that will be waiting for you when you get home.
Slow cookers are popular and allow us the convenience of prepping ahead of time and having a hot cooked dish when we get home from a long day of work.
The advantage of slow cooking is to set it and then forget it. Stirring is not usually required and remember to keep the lid on as the food simmers.
Today’s slow cookers are food safe and keep food at a safe temperature of 170 degrees to 280 degrees. The low heat allows use of less expensive and leaner cuts of meat as the slow cooking will tenderize and shrink less.
Cooking with a slow cooker means planning ahead but the payoff is a great meal. You can prepare all the ingredients the night before like chopping of vegetables, cutting up the meat and gathering the other items and have them handy for the next morning. Remember to refrigerate all items needing refrigerating until it is time to place in the slow cooker.
Here are some tips for using your slow cooker safely and economically.
•Start with a clean cooker and utensils. Always use a clean work area and make sure to wash your hands during the preparation.
•Keep perishables in the refrigerator until ready to use. Store meat and vegetables separately if preparing ahead of time.
•Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker. If frozen pieces are used, they will not reach 140° quick enough and could possibly result in a food-borne illness.
•Do not lift the lid unnecessarily during the cooking cycle. Each time the lid is raised, the internal temperature drops 10 to 15 degrees and the cooking process is slowed by 30 minutes.
•After enjoying your meal, do not leave cooked food to cool down in the cooker. Store leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate immediately.
•Do not overload the slow cooker. Fill to a minimum of 1/2 full and a maximum of 2/3 full.
Try some of these favorite recipes to get you started.
2 pounds lean ground beef, browned and drained
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons garlic powder
5-6 cups tomato juice
1 cup stewed tomatoes
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup sliced carrots
2 cups sliced green beans, fresh or frozen
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
salt & pepper to taste
Place browned meat in slow cooker. Add all remaining ingredients and stir to mix well. Cover and cook on low for at least 5 hours. Makes 6 servings.
Old-Fashioned Chicken & Rice
2½ cups chicken broth
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast meat, cut into 1-inch pieces or strips
1½ cups long-grain rice, uncooked
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced or
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 cup chopped onion
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 small red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 (6-ounce) jar sliced mushrooms, undrained
1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning
Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 3-4 hours, or until chicken is no longer pink and rice is plump and tender.
Favorite Beef Stew
3 carrots, sliced
3 potatoes, cut in 1-inch cubes
2 pounds beef stew meat, cut in 1-inch cubes
1 cup beef broth
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
salt to taste
Combine all ingredients in slow cooker in order listed. Stir just enough to mix seasonings throughout. Cover and cook on low for 10-12 hours, or on high for 5-6 hours. Makes 6-8 servings.
Pamela H. Allen is the interim county director and an agent at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension office in Crestview.