Take it slow, make it great
There’s something about a steaming bowl of delicious, homemade goodness that makes you feel extra cozy on a chilly night. That’s why winter is the perfect time to pull out the slow cooker.
Not only does using a slow cooker save time by allowing for unattended cooking while you’re busy doing other things, it’s actually a cost effective way to make a meal. You can choose less expensive but tougher cuts of meat because the slow cooking method makes them fork tender, and the electricity needed to cook your food is about the same amount it takes to keep a light bulb burning. In addition, most slow cooker recipes rely on inexpensive staples like potatoes, carrots, lentils and beans.
Use these 10 tips to make the best slow cooker meals1,2:
- Add in freshness. Pop in some fresh herbs just before serving since long cooking times tend to cook away much of the delicate flavor of herbs if you put them in too soon.
- Size matters. Use the right size slow cooker for the recipe you’re using. Slow cookers come in a range of sizes, so using a recipe that matches the size you have means your slow cooker won’t overflow or be underfilled, and will cook your meal properly and safely.
- Don’t peek! Don’t take the lid off your slow cooker until at least 30 or 45 minutes before the low end of the cooking range (at which point you might want to check for doneness). Peeking lets heat escape and slows down the cooking.
- Plan wisely. If you know you’ll be too rushed in the morning, prep the vegetables, measure your dry ingredients and trim any meat the night before. Keep everything safely refrigerated in individual containers. Don’t refrigerate components in the slow cooker insert. It will take too long to heat up and could impact cooking time and food safety.
- Maximize flavor. If you have time, brown your meat or vegetables just prior to tossing everything into the slow cooker. This will add a rich depth of flavor you can’t achieve with slow cooking alone.
- Be safe. Don’t add frozen ingredients to your slow cooker, and if you’ve refrigerated any liquids you’re using in your meal, bring them to a simmer on the stove first before adding them to the slow cooker if you’re cooking on the Low setting. Never attempt to cook a whole chicken or roast in the slow cooker—they’re too large to cook thoroughly, so cut them in smaller pieces.
- Trim the fat. To avoid having greasy cooking liquids, trim any excess fat from your meat and remove skin from chicken.
- Add dairy last. Milk products will break down if cooked for long periods of time in a slow cooker, so add them in during the last 15 minutes of cooking just to heat through.
- Don’t use too much wine. Because alcohol won’t evaporate as quickly in a sealed slow cooker, a little goes a long way. Just a splash will give you the flavor boost you’re looking for.
- Layer with care. Cut your ingredients into similar size pieces for even cooking and put firm, slower cooking vegetables on the bottom of the slow cooker and meat on top.
Now that you know all the tricks of the trade, it’s time to start planning your cozy winter dinners! Visit Prevention for 12 healthy meals that cost about $2 per serving, and check out Wise Bread for 25 inexpensive, family-friendly slow cooker recipes.
413005D CAN/US (11/15)