Basics of Crockpot Cooking: The Busy Parent’s Best Buddy!
Why the crock pot?
As a busy parent, you probably find yourself, overworked, and irritable by the time your day makes it to dinner duties of cooking, cleaning, and packing for the next day of school, all while supervising homework, baths, and bedtime. But what if your evening could get a head start with a home-cooked meal already waiting in your kitchen! No, I’m not suggesting you hire a personal cook or order in every night of the week (even though In & Out might sound appetizing, mmmmm). Instead, I am suggesting that you give crockpot cooking a try. If you are new to cooking meals with a crockpot, here are some tips that will make the process quick and simple.
Some Basic Rules for Crockpot or Slow Cooker (same thing) cooking:
#1- Fully thaw your ingredients from the freezer before putting in the POT. With room temp or even cold ingredients all going into the same pot, you want to make sure to think of your cooking temp. Since the meal will be slowly rising to the max temp and then sit over time you want to be sure your temp and time are always accurate - which is why you don’t want to throw anything off with a frozen item. I recommend taking any frozen ingredients out of the freezer overnight and letting it sit in your fridge while you sleep, that way everything is ready to be popped into the cooker in the morning. Keep in mind ALL slow cookers/crock pots have only 2-3 settings: Low which cooks from 8-10 hours and High which cooks from 4-6 hours and warm which will hold the meal at warm while you serve.
#2- Cut uniformly and layer your food. When you are putting items, especially meats, into the cooker you want to be sure that your pieces are all the same size. That being said you can do Roasts, Breasts, or Chops but make sure they are all the same size. As to the layering; you want firm slow-cooking items (carrots, potatoes) down at the bottom, then any meats or softer items (Tomatoes, Onion) in the middle with your herbs, any liquids will be poured down over this and will pool at the bottom- so things don’t burn and any grain or rice will go down an hour before serving OR if you are adding any pasta or dairy it can be in the last 15 minutes.
#3- Never overfill and always plan meals in advance. I do mean NEVER! If you overfill the pot you are risking uneven cooking and throwing off cooking times. It’s recommended to aim for ¾ the way full. And by advance I mean on the weekend get what you need, chop, bag and freeze so you can quickly drop in between sips of coffee in the morning before you rush off to school and work. Also, any quick cooking items go in last (like after you get home) and sometimes are stirred for a moment.
#4- Serve, enjoy and clean it's that easy! The best part of the crockpot experience for the single parent is that cleanup is virtually nothing. If you have followed these rules you have nothing spread out on your counters (woo hoo no mess!) and you have a hot meal ready to go. (you will have to clean up on your weekend prep day) Just serve up that warm meal, eat and then pop everything into the dishwasher (or hand wash) and don’t forget to pack those leftovers for lunch and you’re done!
Hope you enjoy!
Some Final Tips:
Go easy on the liquids and oils; most dishes will have enough with the veggies and meat giving off their fats and juices. Also, the liquid won’t evaporate so there will be plenty
If you feel iffy about totally raw meats you can par-cook, sear, or fully cook the meats in advance but be sure to get all the bits of flavor off the bottom of the pan and add them to the crock!!
Leave alone- even when you want to get a whiff, this might slow cooking and release the much-needed moisture; most CP’s have glass lids so you can see the cooking process at it’s best!
Liners can help with prep and cleanup for your pre-planned recipes, or cleaning is as simple as washing the pot after it’s empty.
Ideal cooking times: you can always adapt a NON-Crockpot recipe with this conversion:
Recipe- Crock Pot Adaption
15 to 30 min, cook 1 - 2 hours on High / 4 - 6 hours on Low
30 min to 1 hour, cook 2 - 3 hours on High / 5 - 7 hours on Low
1 to 2 hours, cook 3 - 4 hours on High / 6 - 8 hours on Low
2 to 4 hours, cook 4 - 6 hours on High / 8 - 12 hours on Low