Posted: November 4, 2013
Why should you use a slow cooker for dinner? Slow cookers are a great tool for making easy, delicious meals and they have many benefits. They save electricity, because they use less than a stove. Also, they help save money because using a slow cooker allows one to buy cheaper cuts of meat; because the meat cooks so long it becomes juicy and tender. They also save time! It is a one-step meal that simply requires a little preparation in the morning or night before, it is easy to clean up, and it can make enough leftovers for three or four days. Lastly, a slow cooker can be used to make a variety of items, such as soups, stews, casseroles and roasts.
What if you don’t have a slow cooker? A new slow cooker can be purchased for as little as $20 at many stores. However, it may also be a good idea to check out thrift shops or yard sales for a used cooker.
It is not necessary to buy a new cookbook with recipes just for slow cookers. Many recipes that you have can probably be changed to use in a cooker. When using a slow cooker, the liquids do not boil away, and therefore it is safe to reduce liquids in recipes by 1/3 or ½, unless it is soup. Also, pasta should either be added at the end, or cooked separately, to prevent it from getting too mushy. Lastly, milk, cheese and cream can all be added to a recipe one hour before serving.
There are a few safety tips that should be followed when using a slow cooker. First, make sure the cooker and all utensils are clean before using them. Next, thaw any meat or poultry before putting it in the cooker. This ensures that it will cook evenly. When putting food items into the cooker, make sure vegetables go in first (unless stated otherwise), because they take the longest to cook; next add in any meats or liquids. When using a cooker, only fill it to about ½ or 2/3 full, because if it is too full it will affect cooking time and quality. There are generally a few power settings on a cooker. If you can, try to put the power on the highest setting for one hour before turning it to low. If you are leaving the cooker on all day when at work though, it is fine to leave it on low the whole time. If there is ever a power outage when you are using a slow cooker there are three options you can do. If you were not home when the power went out, throw the food away, because it may be dangerous to consume. If you are home, but the food is not done cooking, complete the cooking on a stove, grill or other appliance. If you are home, and the food has finished cooking, it will be safe for up to two hours. Lastly, if there are leftovers in the cooker, refrigerate them within two hours. When you want to reheat them use a stove or microwave until the contents reach 165 degrees.
Slow cookers are a great tool to add to your kitchen. They will save you time and money and make delicious meals. Next time you don’t know what’s for dinner, try our Slow Cooker Beef Stew!
Slow Cooker Beef Stew
2 pounds stew meat (cut into 1 inch cubes) 1 garlic clove (finely chopped)
¼ cup flour 3 carrots (sliced)
pepper (optional, to taste) 3 potatoes (diced)
2 cups water 2 onions (chopped)
2 teaspoons beef bouillon (2 cubes) 1 celery stalk (sliced)
Add herbs as desired: bay leaf, basil oregano etc.
Place meat in a slow cooker. Mix flour, and pepper in a medium bowl, and pour over meat; stir to coat. Add remaining ingredients and stir to mix. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 to 10 hours or HIGH for 4 to 6 hours. Stir stew thoroughly before serving. If using bay leaf, discard before serving.
Yields 6 servings 1 serving: Calories 240, Fat 6g, Carbohydrate 22g, Protein 27g, Sodium 290mg, Fiber 2g, Calcium 4%
Sources United States Department of Agriculture SNAP-Ed Connection. (2013). Recipe Finder. Retrieved from http://recipefinder.nal.usda.gov/.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Eat Healthy Be Active Community Workshop. Retrieved from http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/workshops/.
United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. Slow Cookers and Food Safety. Retrieved from http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/appliances-and-thermometers/slow-cookers-and-food-safety/ct_index
Excerpt from "Healthy Eating on a Budget" Penn State Extension