August 22, 2017

Why a slow cooker


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“Hi Jonathan,  I am interested in cooking some beef in a slow cooker, but the only time I’ve ever done it before the beef came out dry and leathery.” – Robin From Astoria

Hey Robin, sorry to hear about the dish turning out like that.  Many new slow cookers are very powerful and actually boil rather than simmer the ingredients.  Another possibility is that there was not enough liquid in the slow cooker and the meat burned as a result.

I have lots of slow cooker recipes to share, but let’s make sure you have the right slow cooker first. 

For those of you who never used a slow cooker (also known as a Crock Pot), these babies are the modern day dutch oven.  More importantly they are a front line warrior for the week night cook.  A slow cooker will cook your dinner while you’re at work.  When you arrive home hours later, the house will be filled with wonderful aromas and the only mess will be one pot and some dinner plates. Sounds perfect right?  Start using one and it will change your life.

What To Look For In A Slow Cooker

  • Size: 6 quarts (approx) for everyday home cooking and the occasional holiday dinner
  • Temperature range: We are looking for 195F – 205F (a nice simmering temperature).   This means nothing that cooks at 212F (boiling) or above.  This was difficult to figure out since none of the slow cookers out there list this information on the packaging or manual.  I found helpful research and reviews on CooksIllustrated.com, Amazon.com and the internet in general.
  • Adjustable cook times.  The Slow cooker mentioned below is adjustable from 0 – 20 hours in 30 minute increments.
  • Warming mode setting: this means that the cooker automatically switches from cooking to warming mode when dish finishes cooking.  This is the most important feature for those with long work days.  The dish might finish cooking at 3pm and the warming mode will keep it hot and ready to eat for hours more.

After much research I settled on the Crock-Pot SCVT650-PS.  It has all the features mentioned in the  list above.  The price ($93.55) surprised me.  You could pay less, but you will not get the features that are so important for proper slow cooking.

I used to save dishes like Sicilian pork shoulder in gravy, Cowboy Chili and Tuscan beef stew for the weekends but now, with the slow cooker, we can eat these hearty dishes any night of the week.  The family is happy and my wife is grateful for the easy after dinner clean up.

Slow Cooker Tips

  • Vegetables take longer to cook than meats so chop items such as cabbage and onions smaller then you usually would to help the cooking process. For example: A recent cabbage soup recipe called for shredded cabbage.  Instead I chopped the cabbage into 1/4 inch pieces and it cooked down much better this way.
  • When the recipe finishes cooking, taste and if needed, add more of the spices and herbs to help boost the flavor.  Stir and taste again.  I find that a slow cooker dish might need the extra punch in flavor. 
  • Liquid is very important in slow cooking.  Add your non liquid ingredients first, such as meat and vegetables.  Then add the liquid so that it comes up to the 1/2 or 3/4 full mark in the insert.  This way your dish won’t dry out or burn.

Slow Cooker Cookbooks

I highly recommended the following cookbooks for your slow cooking library:

Robin, I will post my favorite Slow Cooker Beef recipe right away.  Stay tuned and good luck.  As always, please let us know if this post was helpful.

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