by Paula Deen Test Kitchen
More leisure time and a homemade meal? Save money on groceries, use less electricity, and enjoy better flavor? You bet! And with a slow cooker, you don’t even have to be there while your dinner cooks.
With the invention of the original Crock-Pot® in the 1970s, we’ve been able to layer ingredients in our slow cookers, leave the house for work or play, and come home, hours later, to an inviting aroma-filled house and evening meal. Rival still manufactures the Crock-Pot®, but many other manufacturers are in the game with competitive models. The “crockpot” moniker has become an icon for any slow cooker.
These days, choices are not limited to 2-temperature manual units; they also come programmable, with multiple time and temperature settings, countdown timers, built-in thermometers, and automatic temperature shifts to warm in case you are late getting home. There are slow cooker sizes and settings to fit your family’s individual needs.
Though shape is not necessarily a deal breaker when purchasing, it is a consideration. A money-saving attribute of slow cooking is that tougher, less expensive meats are rendered meltingly tender and juicy. Larger roasts and whole chickens fit better into an oval-shaped model and will cook more evenly, although you can trim them to fit into a round one.
It’s easy to adapt your favorite oven or stovetop recipes to slow cooker cooking. Regardless of yield, if your dish normally cooks in 15 to 30 minutes, you can count on 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours cooking in a slow cooker on High power or 4 to 6 hours on Low. If it takes 35 to 45 minutes, you should allow 2 to 3 hours on High power or 6 to 8 hours on Low. Main dishes like roasts and stews that cook up to 3 hours will take 4 to 5 hours on High or more than 8 hours on Low. For instance, Sweet Merlot Beef Stew should cook in about 4 hours on High or 8 to 10 hours on low; after you brown the meat, add everything to the slow cooker for the total cooking time, including the onions and mushrooms.
Other tips for successful recipe conversion:
*To eliminate excess fat, remove skin from poultry and trim excess fat from meats before cooking. Pre-brown meats, and drain before adding to the crockpot, especially ground meats.
*Brown chops and roasts to caramelize the outsides for richer flavor and attractive appearance. For Low Country Smothered Pork Chops, prepare the chops as directed and layer in the cooker with the strips of green pepper, onion, garlic, half of the broth, and Worcestershire. Add more broth as needed to thin the gravy.
*Vegetables, especially roots like potatoes, rutabagas, and carrots, cook more slowly than meats, so cut pieces uniformly and add them at the beginning. (It can take 8 to 10 hours on Low for a “baked” potato to cook until tender!) Italian Chicken and Vegetable Soup is a perfect example; just put all the ingredients into the slow cooker, reserving half a can of broth to add at the end of cooking, if necessary. Let it cook 2 to 2 1/2 hours on High or 4 to 6 hours on Low.
*Most stews, soups, and other braised dishes require less liquid. If you end up with too much, pour it into a saucepan and reduce it until flavorful and thickened. If you need more liquid, it can be added at the end of the cooking time.
*Cheese, milk, cream, and other dairy: Add dairy products close to the end of cooking.
*Uncooked rice, however, requires standard liquid amounts. It cooks fast, so add it to the slow cooker during the last hour of cooking on High or 2 hours on Low. It is better to cook pasta separately and add it before serving.
*Most slow cooker liners are removable, allowing you to fill it up to a day before cooking. Remove the stone liner and assemble the casserole in it; cover and refrigerate until you are ready to cook. You can prepare Chicken and Rice Casserole ahead and cook it 1 1/2 to 2 hours on High or 4 to 6 hours on Low or until it is hot, stirring in cheese during the last hour of cooking.
*Spices tend to loose their power during long, slow cooking; be ready to re-season towards the end.
More Delicious Paula Deen Slow Cooker Recipes to Try: