making the most of the crock pot

i am so lucky with my job because i get to work with some really cool healthy living brands. i’ve shared news about some of them in the past, but one that i don’t believe i’ve mentioned before … is eMeals. this is a service that helps with meal planning, grocery shopping and food budgeting. they have plans for every taste and preference, including one that i absolutely love for whole foods. their blog is a great source of information where they have interesting and useful pieces like the one below. since it’s getting cooler and dan and i have finally replaced our broken crock pot, i thought it might be time to do another post about cooking with it.

these tips illustrate how to get the most out of your crock pot cooking. they come from the menu editor at eMeals, Julie Gunter.

More Info on the Author:

Gunter holds a Bachelor of Science, Food and Nutrition from the University of Alabama and has had an accomplished two-decade career at Oxmoor House, the cookbook division of Southern Living, including roles as food editor, test kitchen director and recipe editor.

and now for the tips!

CrockPot.jpg

•Sizing It Up. For best results, your slow cooker should be half to two-thirds full for cooking. For everyday cooking, the 4-quart cooker may well be the best all-around pick. But you’ll want to purchase a size that suits your family’s needs. For eMeals Family Plans, we recommend using a 5- to 7-quart cooker. And for eMeals plans For Two, a 3-or 4-quart cooker fits the bill.

•Beyond Chili. Slow cookers are versatile and forgiving. Yes, they’re ideal for cooking stews and chili, but also for other meaty dishes like stroganoff or lasagna and even mac ‘n cheese. And many slow cooker dishes like these can tolerate some extra cook time without the quality being affected. So the pressure’s off. No need to hurry dinner time.

Even Keel. The slow cooker’s best feature? Convenience and hands-off, even cooking. Except for prepping your ingredients, once everything goes into the pot, your work is done. Don’t forget the slow cooker offers a welcome heat-free cooking option in the hot summer months.

It’s Economical. Many slow cooker recipes feature inexpensive cuts of meat that need tenderizing. The low and slow cooking turns a tough roast into a meltingly tender entrée. The slow cooker is a great choice for cooking dried beans too. The good news is beans don’t need any presoaking.

•When in Doubt, Brown it. Meat and poultry don’t brown in the slow cooker as they do when sautéed in a skillet or roasted in the oven. That’s why an initial browning of meats on the stovetop is done to develop a richer dimension of flavor. Ground beef needs to be browned first before being added to the pot. This step is for texture as well as flavor and it removes excess fat.

•Taking a Peek. If you feel you need to lift the lid or stir the food during cooking, do it quickly and then promptly replace the cover.

Hot Spots. Ever notice that one area of your slow cooker seems to brown food too fast? This could be a hot spot that can develop over time. Try using potholders to rotate the stoneware insert halfway through cooking for more even cooking and browning around the edges.

•Go for the Garnish. Brighten the appearance and the flavor of a slow cooked dish by punching it up with a colorful garnish. Think fresh herbs, finely chopped bell pepper, citrus slices, crushed chips or avocado. While you can always opt to skip a garnish without sacrificing taste, the extra step takes barely a minute.

•Party Worthy. A slow cooker is great to use for preparing party food because there’s no last-minute prep. Work ahead and be ready to enjoy your guests. And you can utilize the warming feature for serving fondue, other hot dips, meatballs and wings at party time.

Just Say No. In general, fish and shellfish require too short a cooking time to reap the benefits of the slow cooker. And for the most part, dairy dishes are poor slow cooker candidates as they are prone to separate during long, slow cooking.

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