Cooking with a slow cooker

When I meet new people and they ask what my hobbies are, cooking is always near the top of the list. Some of the questions that soon follow are “how do you manage to make time for it?” and “what do you like to cook?” Well, both are easy to answer.

As to what I like to cook, if you have spent any time on this blog, you have seen many recipes posted for your enjoyment. And I like them all. (And if this is your first time, welcome! Please browse around and look at all of the delicious recipes here.)

As to how I make time — it’s two-fold. First, you make time for things you enjoy. Not only do I enjoy cooking (and baking…yum!), but I prefer to eat at home rather than going out or even eating at someone else’s home. There’s just something about sitting down to a delicious home-cooked meal that you and(/or) your hubby worked to prepare and enjoying it…at home. Anyway, the other part of this is my slow cooker.

I love my slow cooker. If you’ve been around here for any length of time, you have probably already realized this. Crock pots (while all slow cookers are not crock pots, but all crock pots are slow cookers, as Crock Pot is actually a brand name, I do use these names interchangeably) make cooking so much easier, especially after a long day at work. The majority of the work is already done when you get home. All that needs to be done is any side dishes or breads you may want. But, often these take little time to prepare, especially when compared to many main dishes. There’s something fantastic about taking 5-10 minutes in the morning to throw things in your crock pot before heading to work, turn it on, let it do the work all day — and then come home to a ready-to-eat main dish, without heating up my entire kitchen by turning on the oven (an additional plus in the summer). I love it!

But one of the common things I hear from folks as I discuss my love for my crock pot is that they have never used one, they are afraid of using one/afraid of leaving an appliance on like that all day, or they just don’t know how to use a slow cooker. None of these are unusual — but I do my best to explain each of them away for concerned cooks.

To the cook that has never used a slow cooker, at one point you had never walked or didn’t talk or had yet to drive a car. But you did each of those. And look at you now! You walk from here to kingdom come, your husband can’t get you to stop talking and you seem to never be able to get away from the car. That being said, learning to use the crock pot is relatively simple. It takes a little getting used to for your specific crock pot — but I have confidence you will be great and soon be fixing delicious meals for your family.

I have heard a few times, though not often, that some people are worried about leaving an appliance on like that all day. These are designed to be left on for hours at a time, unattended. And they will do just fine — as long as you take a few simple precautions:

  • Make sure your slow cooker is on a hard surface. Your counter top is the best place for it. Don’t set it on the stove, even if you have a smooth top. Just imagine if you accidentally bump the knob to turn on the eye that it’s sitting on and don’t realize if for a few minutes…
  • Leave several inches, say 6 to 8, around the slow cooker. The outside will heat up and to increase the safety of the appliance while operating, give ample space around the slow cooker.
  • And, as you should do with any appliance or electricity supplied item before use, check the power cord to ensure that it is without fray, tear or other abnormality. Also, check the slow cooker to ensure that it is in good working order (particularly no cracks in the slow cooker basin or lid).

So, now that you are ready to start using your slow cooker (or go out and purchase one) now that your fears are put to rest, let me give you a few tips on how to best put it to good use.

First off, if you have never used a slow cooker, let me explain that there are two different settings for cooking your meal: LOW and HIGH. The difference between the two is how long it will take to bring the slow cooker to it’s cooking temperature. A good rule of thumb is that you cut the HIGH cooking time in half if you are cooking on LOW instead. The other wonderful thing is that many stove top or oven recipes can be adapted for the slow cooker. Here’s what that conversion looks like:

I prefer the longer cooking time, generally, just because I can let it cook all day while I’m working.

As far as which slow cookers I like, I don’t have a particular brand that I like. In fact, the two slow cookers that I have are two different brands. What is important to me is to have at least two different sizes. I currently have a 6-quart oval slow cooker and a 3-quart round slow cooker. The big one is fantastic when I’m making soups and stews, due to the quantity I make, but not so much when I’m making some of my chicken dishes. Those are much better suited to the smaller slow cooker.

The one thing to watch out for is that the cooking time will vary for the same dish between slow cookers of different sizes…and sometimes drastically. I find that my 6-quart cooker is dead on with the time recommended in recipes. My 3-quart cooker is not. I have to cut that time by a quarter usually. This is only a warning and for you to pay attention and play around with it.

While your meal is cooking, you will notice that your home is filling with the wonderful fragrance of the spices you put in your dinner. As hard as it will be, resist all temptation to lift the lid during cooking! Each time you lift the lid, you can increase the time it will take for your dish to finish by up to 30 minutes! That’s a lot of time. There is one exception: if the recipe tells you to add ingredients at a certain point, by all means, open the lid and do so but try to minimize the “lid off” time to limit the amount of heat that is able to escape. And, please please please resist the urge to lift the lid and check to see if it’s one every 5 minutes for the last hour of cooking.

Slow cookers are a fabulous thing! For a working mom, I imagine they would be a life saver. For me, a working wife, I know they are wonderful even now. Hopefully these things will help you make better use of this great kitchen appliance!