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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Cooking and Produce

 

Slow cookerMake quick, tasty meals with a slow cooker

Susan Mills-Gray, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Cass County, University of Missouri Extension

 

Something about cold weather makes us long for a warm meal waiting for us as we come in the door at night. A slow cooker, also known as a crockpot, can be an economical, timesaving way to feed your family.

 

Here are some helpful tips to make your slow cooker easier to use and clean:

 

  • Have an older slow cooker with a nonremovable crock? Use a removable cooking bag to line the pot for quick and easy cleanup.
     
  • To make cleanup easier, use a nonstick cooking spray before adding food and liquid.
     
  • Slow cookers work best when they are 1/2 to 3/4 full. If you fill the pot to the brim, the slow cooker can’t correctly regulate the heating of the food. If it is less than half full, foods will overcook.
     
  • One hour on the high setting equals two hours on the low setting. The high setting is approximately 300 degrees Fahrenheit, while the low setting is 200 degrees.
     
  • Resist the temptation to peek. You add 20 minutes to the cooking time every time you lift the lid. Instead, spin the lid around until the condensation falls off so you can see the food better.
     
  • Use the high setting the first hour that your food is cooking. You want to get the food inside the slow cooker to 140 degrees as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of bacterial contamination.
     
  • Start with thawed food. Frozen foods take too long to get to 140 degrees. (The bacterial danger zone is 40 to 140 degrees.) The extreme temperature difference between frozen food and the slow cooker can cause breakage. If you choose to use frozen food, pour a cup of warm water into the pot before adding your food.
     
  • Root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots take longer to cook. Place them on the bottom or side of the cooker so they are closest to the heat source. Cut in pieces smaller than 1 inch. Tender vegetables such as tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini and squash overcook easily. Add them during the last two hours of cooking. High-fat foods cook quickly, so place meats on top of vegetables when loading the cooker.
     
  • Brown the meat before placing in the slow cooker. This adds color and flavor and reduces fat.
     
  • Fish and seafood cook quickly. Add them late in the process.
     
  • Soak dried beans overnight before cooking in a slow cooker.
     
  • Milk curdles during long cooking periods. Add sour cream or cream late in the cooking process. Condensed cream soups are a good substitute.
     
  • Ground herbs and spices tend to lose their flavor during long cooking times, while cayenne pepper and hot sauce tend to get bitter; add these late in the cooking process.
     
  • Don’t leave cooked food to cool in the slow cooker. The insulated liner won’t let the food cool down quickly enough to prevent bacterial growth. Move to another container to refrigerate. Do not use your slow cooker to reheat leftovers.
     
  • Need to convert a conventional oven recipe for the slow cooker? Use this chart:

    Cooking/baking times

    Conventional recipe Slow cooker, low setting Slow cooker, high setting
    15 to 30 minutes 4 to 6 hours 1½ to 2 hours
    30 to 45 minutes 6 to 10 hours 3 to 4 hours
    45 minutes to 3 hours 8 to 18 hours 4 to 6 hours

 

Try out these great breakfast recipes in your slow cooker!

 

Breakfast Casserole

  • 32-ounce bag frozen hash brown potatoes
  • 1 pound cooked ham, cubed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1½ cups shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 12 eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

 

Spray inside of slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray or use cooking bag. In small skillet, cook onion and green pepper in olive oil until crisp tender. Let cool about 10 minutes. Place one third of the frozen hash brown potatoes in the slow cooker. Add one third of the ham, onion, green pepper and cheese. Repeat layers, ending with the cheese. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, milk and seasonings until well mixed. Pour over the ingredients in the slow cooker, cover and turn on low. Cook for 10-12 hours, until casserole is set and eggs are thoroughly cooked. Serves 12.

 

Variations: Try Canadian bacon instead of ham. Use Havarti or Swiss cheese instead of Cheddar. Add some minced jalapeno peppers if you like hot foods.

 

Breakfast Apple Cobbler

  • 8 medium tart apples, peeled and sliced
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 1 lemon (juice and rind of)
  • 1 dash cinnamon
  • 1½ cups granola fruit and nut cereal
  • 1/2 cup melted butter

 

Spray the inside of slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray or use cooking bag. Place apples in crock. Add sugar, lemon rind and juice. Mix well. Mix cereal with butter and add to crock. Mix well. Cook, covered, on low for 6-8 hours. Serve hot with cream or vanilla yogurt.

 


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Last update: Monday, January 23, 2017