Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Cooking and Produce
Make 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. Slow cookers are a great way to enjoy family favorites without a lot of hassle. The following tips really make a difference and will convince you to get that pot out and get cooking!
- Have an older slow cooker with a nonremovable liner? Use a cooking bag to line the pot for quick and easy cleanup!
- To make cleanup easier, spray liner with nonstick spray before adding any food or liquid.
- Slow cookers work best when they are half to three-fourths full. If you fill a pot to the brim, it can’t regulate the heating of the food correctly. Likewise, less than half full will cause food to overcook.
- One hour on a high setting is equal to two hours on the low setting.
- A high setting is equal to 300 degrees F and the low setting is equal to 200 degrees.
- Want to convert a conventional oven recipe to the slow cooker? Use the chart below to guide you.
|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|
- Each time you lift the lid, you increase the needed cooking time by 20 minutes. Check progress without lifting the lid, if possible. Spin the cover until the condensation falls off to make it easier to see inside.
- For food safety purposes, you want to get the food inside the slow cooker to 140 degrees as quickly as possible (this reduces the chance of bacterial contamination), so use the high setting the first hour, then switch to the low setting to finish cooking.
- Start with thawed foods because frozen foods take too long to get to 140 degrees. The extreme temperature difference between frozen food and the slow cooker can cause breakage. If you have to use a frozen cut of meat, add 1 cup of warm water to the pot, then place the meat in the pot.
- If you have a removable crock liner, don’t store the food you’ve cooked in the slow cooker in the same liner. The removable liner is made from a thick insulated material and the food won’t cool quickly enough to prevent bacterial growth.
- Dense veggies like potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables take the longest to cook, so place them on the bottom and cut pieces no thicker than 1 inch.
- Tender veggies like tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini and squash overcook easily, so add them during the last two hours of cooking time.
- Anything high in fat cooks quickly, so place meats on top of vegetables when loading the slow cooker.
- Browning meat before adding it to the slow cooker reduces fat and enhances flavor and color. Fats melt with long cooking times and can produce an unpleasant flavor.
- Fish and seafood cook quickly, so add them late in cooking.
- Soak dried beans overnight before cooking.
- Milk curdles during long cooking times, so add sour cream or cream late in cooking.
- Condensed cream soups are a good substitute for milk and they don’t break down during long cooking times.
- Ground herbs and spices tend to lose their flavor, and cayenne pepper and Tabasco sauce tend to become bitter after long cooking times, so add late in cooking.
Try out these great breakfast recipes in your slow cooker!
Holiday 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
1 cup whole milk
½ teaspoon salt
½ 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
½ 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.
Last update: Tuesday, December 02, 2014