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Benefits of Using A Slow Cooker
Why Choose a Slow Cooker?
Do you own a slow cooker? Now that the cold weather has arrived, we can all really enjoy eating hearty stews and slowly braised meat, fish and vegetarian dishes. So do you make these tasty dishes in the oven, on the hob or invest in a good slow cooker?
They were first introduced in the 1970’s, under several brand names such as Crock-Pot and Slo-Cooker. They are compact appliances that do not take up much space on your counter top, and only need an electrical socket for power. In fact, as most camp sites now have electrical hook-ups you can even take your trusty slow cooker camping with you, so that you can whip up a healthy, delicious home made meal for your family every day of your holiday.
What Are The Benefits?
There are many benefits to be had from using one of these great appliances. One of the key benefits is financial. They are very energy efficient and cost a lot less to run than heating up food in a conventional oven, saving you a lot of money on your energy bills. It also gives you the option to purchase cheaper cuts of meat because this method tenderises the meat and brings out the flavour, so you can make tasty meals from less expensive cuts such as stewing beef. You can also add your bits and pieces of vegetables and pulses to stews and soups, so that you no longer waste them.
Using a crock pot is also great if you want to prepare home cooked meals but generally do not get the time. As preparing a meal in this way will take several hours, you can make life much easier for yourself by preparing all the ingredients the night before and storing them in the fridge. That means that next morning you just need to switch it on, pop your ingredients in and add boiling cooking liquid or stock.
The simplicity of this type of meal preparation can also make your mealtimes more flexible. So if you are on a busy schedule, it means that you can be late for a meal as a slightly longer cooking time will generally only serve to make your meal even tastier! It is also a great time saver, as you do not have to hover over the hob or oven. You just put your ingredients into your appliance, switch it on and forget about it for the length of time that it will take to heat the food.
This method heats food very gently and locks in all the taste and the goodness. It also allows for a better distribution of flavours throughout your dish, giving the flavours time to season and blend in with the food.
These appliance have an inner, removable ceramic pot. They are great because you can remove the pot when the food is ready and directly serve it at the table, when cooled you can store food in the ceramic pot in the fridge and they are great if you are taking food to an event or dinner party.
Things You Need To Look Out For
So what do you have to look out for when you are using one? They allow you to prepare a meal over a very low heat for several hours or more, but the time a recipe takes using this method can be very variable and is directly affected by the water and fat content, the starting temperature of the ingredients and the size of the food portion.
It is best to invest in a model with a rubber seal, as the seal keeps the heat in and reduces cooking time. The seal also stops any liquid from escaping. You need to bear this in mind as liquids warmed in the appliance will not reduce because of this. If you needed to reduce the liquid in your recipe, you would either have to reduce the sauce or liquid in a pan first or when the cooking is finished take off the lid and put the crock pot onto its highest setting. If you are adapting conventional recipes, you will probably need to cut down on the amount of liquid stated in the recipe, as the liquid does not escape in the same way as it does during conventional heating methods.
For the best results your crock pot should be at least half full of ingredients and if you are making soups leave some room between the top of the appliance and the surface of the food to give it room to simmer. In addition, try not to remove the lid as this allows the heat to escape. This reduces the efficiency of your crock pot and increases the heating time. If you do take the lid off to stir your dish or add extra ingredients you need to add on extra time at the end. After your food has finished cooking there is generally enough heat in the ceramic pot to keep it warm for at least 30 minutes, and if you want to keep the food warm longer leave your appliance on at its lowest setting.
So What Can You Make?
So what foods are suitable for making in a crock pot? Well in fact most types of food can be made like this – soups, stews, casseroles, roasts, curries and desserts. Remember, all meals heated in a slow cooker require that liquid be added, either water, gravy or a stock
It is important that you defrost any food that you have taken from the freezer thoroughly before you put it into your appliance. You will also need to chop root vegetables into small, even cubes as they can take longer to heat through than meat. They will also cook more efficiently if you gently sauté them for 2-3 minutes before you add them to the other ingredients. You will need to place any root vegetables that you are using at the bottom of the ceramic pot and make sure that all the ingredients are covered by the cooking liquid. If you are intending to use any dried beans, except for lentils, in your recipes, you must always soak them overnight in cold water and boil them rapidly for 10 minutes in a pan before you add them in.
There are a few ingredients that are only suitable to be added at the end of the process. These include seafood, pasta, milk and cream. Add milk or cream to soups and other recipes approx 15 minutes before the end of the time indicated in the recipe. Milk and cream can, however, be added at the beginning of cooking in rice puddings or baked egg custards. It is better to use full fat milk and double cream in your dishes as they are less likely to separate.
Just A Few Extra Tips
Do not leave raw food in your appliance at room temperature for long periods and do not use it to reheat food. Also it is worth investing in a meat thermometer to insert into joints of meat or whole chickens to make sure that they have cooked to the correct temperature. Also ensure that joints of meat do not fill more than the lower two thirds of your crock pot, and are entirely covered by the hot liquid
There are also some basic safety tips to follow. The outside of the appliance gets really hot when it is switched on, so do not touch it without protection for your hands. In addition, never cook food directly inside the base unit. Make sure that you always use the ceramic pot. Furthermore, make sure that the electric cord does not trail over your hob or across a work surface, and never immerse the whole appliance in water.
When you have finished cooking, switch your slow cooker off at the control panel and at the electric socket. Never leave your it plugged in. Do not attempt to clean your appliance or pack it away until it has been unplugged and has completely cooled down. When you are cleaning it, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
So have you been inspired to get into slow cooking? If so get chopping your ingredients, boiling your stock and switch on your appliance. Before you know it the wonderful aromas of delicious food will be wafting through your home and you can rest easy because you know that by slow cooking you are saving both time and money to create tasty, healthy dishes for you and all your family.