Using your slow cooker or crock pot offers the best solution for versatility and flexibility if time is your enemy. When you put together the benefits of limited preparation, the use of one pot and the time saved by not having to prepare a meal on the spot, you know you have a winner. A meal can be cooked and served from the same pot, without having to juggle pots and pans and serving dishes.
Just the act of arriving home after a long day at work and smell that your meal is already, just waiting to be eaten can be a huge stress reliever. If you don't already own a slow cooker, there are a number of things you need to look at before deciding on the best one for you and your family. The first consideration will be the size of the cooker. Small versions can be handy if you eat a lot of appetizers, dips, and salsas. Generally these are 16 oz. or quart size and are perfect for serving these types of foodstuffs.
Obviously, they are the best size also if you are cooking for one. A large family would be best served with a 5 quart or maybe a 7 quart model. The second thing to think about is the type of cooking you usually do, or plan to do with your slow cooker. If you are wanting to slow cook large or awkward cuts, like rack of lamb, you will definitely need the larger crock pot version. There are two basic options you can use as far as controlling the slow cooking. If controlling or setting the temperature is your wish, there are crock pots that let you do this.
The other option is that you can just opt for a push button model that cooks at preset low or high temperature settings and sometimes a warmer setting. You need to be aware that if the "low" setting is too low and the lid is not on properly, the cooking temperature can drop below the safe level for cooking some foods. Finally, you need to look at the heating elements.
Crock pots have a couple of different configurations. You can have either bottom or side elements, or you can have both. Pots with side elements often require more liquid while slow cooking to avoid the risk of drying up over long cooking times. If you are someone who really enjoys mixing things up and experimenting, slow cooking provides a wealth of possibilities. Where the crock pot really takes its place head and shoulders above any other cooking method is for slow cooking leaner and cheaper cuts of meat. The moist, long, slow cooking provides very tender meats where the fat is either dissolved or very easy to remove.
There are a few very important points you need to think about with slow cooking using a crock pot. Some meals will require the ingredients to be added at different times. For example, a casserole may require the meat to be cooked for a few hours before you then add firm vegetables, with softer vegetables being added toward the end of cooking. As a rule of thumb, you should add things like spices, herbs and seasonings at the beginning of the cooking cycle, and things like frozen vegetables and seafood toward the end.
Since ingredients are generally thoroughly cooked over a long period of time, a lot of stirring is not recommended or the food may break apart or turn to mush. Crock pots are so versatile that they can even be used for creating desserts and breads, allthough this is one area where particular care must be taken during preparation. This is even more relevant if you are going to be leaving your masterpiece unattended while it cooks. An over beaten or whipped dessert can quite easily raise the lid off the crock pot and create an ugly mess.
This is certainly something you would not want to come home to after a long day at work. A crock pot can deliver meals as classic as pot roast and vegetables, as simple as a cream cheese layer dip, or as complex and spicy as paella. The crock pit is one kitchen appliance that can rightly be called the cook's best friend, especially if you learn to use it to its full potential.
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