It’s summer, it’s hot and the last thing you want to do is to heat up the kitchen. Going out is expensive and the family has threatened a mass uprising if they have to look at one more summertime salad bar. Don’t despair! That slow cooker you reserve for the cold winter months is a perfect solution for the summer, too!
Your slow cooker creates very little heat and is amazingly cheap to operate. It costs only pennies a day to operate all day long and with energy costs skyrocketing, that’s good news for your electricity bill, too. But, you may protest, I’ve tried to use a slow cooker and the results have been disappointing at best. Pardon my saying so, but that’s likely because you don’t know what you’re doing. You need a crash course in Slow Cookery!
Know your cooker. A traditional crock-pot where the heat surrounds the cooking insert is better than a slow cooker where the heat comes from underneath. The most common models have a removable pot insert. The two heat settings are low (200 degrees) and high (300 degrees). The slow cooker, or “multi-cooker” usually cooks from the bottom and might have a thermostat allowing a wide range of temperatures. The commonly used term Crock-Pot is Rival Manufacturing company’s trademarked name.
Curb the urge. Resist the impulse to peek inside the crockpot unless the recipe directs you to stir partway through. Every time you lift the lid, you add about 20 minutes cooking time.
Leave space. Don’t fill the insert so much that the lid doesn’t fit tightly. Without a tight fit a vacuum will not form, and that can dramatically affect cooking time
Vegetables on the bottom. They take longer to cook than meat. Root vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, and turnip, should be cut in small pieces, about 1-inch, and layered on the bottom of the crock so they will start to cook as soon as the liquid heats.
High altitudes. When cooking at high altitude, higher than 7,500 feet, allow an additional 30 minutes for each hour of cooking time specified in the recipe Legumes typically take twice as long to cook at high altitude as at sea level.
All that liquid. Slow cooking produces a lot of liquid because there is no evaporation during cooking. You can drain it into in a small saucepan and simmer until it has reduced to an appropriate amount. Adjust seasonings after this reduction takes place, since reducing the liquid will intensify the flavors.
Use Tough Cuts: Tougher cuts of meat, which require longer cooking times to become tender, are ideal for a slow cooker.
Brown it first. Browning meat (remember the cheapest cuts are the best candidates for slow cooking) and some cuts of poultry before placing them in the slow cooker adds immensely to the finished flavor. Dredging them in flour before browning thickens the cooking liquid into a sauce. If you can find the time for this step, the results are worth the effort.
Forget the fish. Fish and seafood are not good candidates for slow cookers, unless added into stews or chowders at the very end of the cooking process.
Slow-Cooker Apricot Chicken Tacos
- 2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs
- 10 dried apricots
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce (optional)
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
Spray 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Add all ingredients to slow cooker. Cover; cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or until chicken is falling apart.
Use two forks to shred chicken, and drain excess juices. Serve chicken in tortillas topped with lettuce, tomato, cilantro and diced apricots. Garnish with lime wedges and Sweet Chili Mayo.
Sweet Chili Mayo
- 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 3 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
- 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl.
Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken
- 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 jar mild salsa (about 2 cups)
- 1 cup shredded cheese, Mexican blend
Place whole chicken breasts in 5 or 6-quart slow cooker. Pour salsa over top. Cook anywhere from 4 hours on low. Preheat oven to 425 F.
Spray with cooking spray. Place chicken breast in dish and pour some of the sauce (or all if it) over the chicken. Sprinkle evenly with cheese. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown, and you’ll see the sauce and cheese bubbling. Serves 6.
Slow Cooker Sweet Glazed Pork Chops
- 4-6 boneless pork chops
- 1 (12 oz) bottle chili sauce
- 1 cup grape jelly
Spray inside of slow cooker (5 or 6 quart size) with non-stick cooking spray. Place pork chops at the bottom. In a bowl, mix together the chili sauce and the jelly; pour on top of pork chops. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Serves 4 to 6.
Slow Cooker Apple Dump Cake
- 1 can apple pie filling
- 1 yellow cake mix
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
Place pie filling 4 or 5-quart slow cooker. Dump cake mix on top of apples. Lay butter on top of cake mix. ingredients in slow cooker. Cook on low for 4 hours until golden brown on top. Serve warm with ice cream! Serves: 6 to 8.