Making Your Slow Cooker a Fast Food Machine
Research shows that meals eaten out tend to be higher in calories and fat compared to those prepared at home. Eating out is also hard on the wallet. With that in mind, I have challenged myself and my family to prepare more of our meals at home. So far, they are okay with this but probably because I didn’t eliminate eating out altogether (which for us is unrealistic). Plus, it’s only been one month.
My quest for cooking more meals at home has led me to become reacquainted with my slow cooker. You know what? I should have done this a long time ago. There is nothing like coming home at the end of the day, walking through the door, and smelling a home-cooked meal ready to eat.
For the most part, slow-cookers are nearly fool-proof. However, if you don’t practice good food safety (which includes washing your hands), you risk cooking up a foodborne illness. Here are some food safety tips to remember when using your slow cooker:
- Handle ingredients with care. Keep perishable foods refrigerated until it is time to cook them and never put frozen meat in your slow cooker. I’ve seen quite a few recipes that say it is okay to put frozen meat in the slow cooker but it isn’t.
- Fill slow cookers one-half to two-thirds full. Vegetables (especially potatoes and carrots) tend to cook slower than meat so place them on the bottom. Add the meat, and then cover the food with a source of liquid. The liquid is important because it generates the steam needed to cook the food.
- Don’t peek. Each time you lift the lid, you lose valuable heat and increase the cooking time.
- Check for doneness. Use a food thermometer to make sure your meat is cooked to a safe internal temperature.
Aside from food safety, there are a couple of other tips that you may find useful (especially if you are new to slow cooking). The first one is to brown your meat before placing it in the slow cooker. This way, you can remove excess fat plus I think it gives the meat a better color. Second, add any crushed herbs and spices near the end of the cooking time since they can lose their flavor during a long cooking period. The flavor of whole seasonings may intensify so you may want to use about half the amount.
Last week I experimented with a chicken recipe that I came across on a community website. I modified it a bit and was very happy with the results. This recipe is going in the “keep” pile.
1 package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 6 to a package)
1 can Mexican corn (drained)
1 can black beans (drained)
1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies (I used a mild variety) Do not drain
Directions: Place the chicken thighs on the bottom of the slow cooker. Add the corn, black beans, and tomatoes. Cover and let cook on LOW for 7-8 hours. The chicken will literally fall apart during the cooking process but that is okay. Serve over Spanish rice and add a fresh garden salad for quick meal. Serves 4.