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jan. 30 slowcookin'

January 30, 2002

Slow cookin' can make life, and dinner, easier if you follow a few safety tips

By KATE COLEMAN
katec@herald-mail.com


Michele Phillips doesn't use her slow cooker too often - only about once a month. But the "it-cooks-all-day-in-one-pot-while-you're-at-work" method of meal preparation suits her busy lifestyle.

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Phillips, office manager at Mid-Atlantic Women's Health Center in Hagerstown, says she's an early riser. She can get a meal ready first thing in the morning before she goes to work, cutting up chicken breasts, carrots, potatoes, onions, celery, sometimes with a can of cream of mushroom soup - sometimes not.

"It depends what I have," she says.

And when she gets home from work - "Bam! It's ready," she says.

She appreciates the waiting aroma of a home-cooked dinner. "It kind of reminds me of my grandmother's house," she says. "I'm tantalizing my neighbors, too," she adds.

There are other benefits. If dinner is ready, she doesn't start snacking - as she puts it, "being bad." It's healthier to have real food ready, she says.

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Clean up also is simpler.

You and many others may refer to your slow cooker as a Crock-Pot, the trademarked name of the countertop appliance made by the Rival Co.

The device is wonderful for the hectic pace of modern life, but safety concerns should be heeded.

Pay attention, then relax. Dinner will be served when you walk in the door.

Safety tips

Begin with a clean cooker, clean utensils and clean work area. Wash your hands before and during food preparation.

Keep perishable foods refrigerated until cooking time. If you cut up meat and vegetables in advance, store them separately. You can load the slow cooker the night before and store it in the refrigerator.

Always defrost meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker.

Choose to make foods with a high moisture content such as chili, soup, stew or spaghetti sauce.

Cut foods into chunks or small pieces to ensure thorough cooking. USDA recommends not using large pieces of meat or a whole chicken because of the risk of the food lingering too long in the "danger zone" - between 40 and 140 degrees.

Fill the cooker no less than half and no more than two-thirds full. Because vegetables cook more slowly than meat and poultry, put the vegetables in first at the bottom and around the sides of the pot. Then add meat and cover the food with liquid, such as broth or water.

Most meat and vegetable combinations require at least seven hours on the low setting.

Slow cookers have very little evaporation. Reduce the liquid in the original recipe if you're adapting a recipe to a slow cooker.

While food is cooking and once it's done, the food will stay safe as long as the cooker is operating.

Resist the temptation to lift the lid to take a quick peek or stir frequently. Slow cooking depends on the heat that builds up in the crock itself and takes quite a bit of time to reheat.

Slow cookers can become very hot. Don't place directly on unprotected countertops.

Power failure

If the power goes out when you're not home, throw the food out even if it looks done. When the food isn't at the proper temperature long enough, you risk food-borne illness because bacteria have a chance to multiply. If the power goes out while you're there, finish cooking right away by another means - on a gas stove or outdoor grill.

If the food is completely cooked before the power went out, it should be safe in the cooker up to two hours with the power off.

Leftovers

Store leftovers in shallow covered containers and refrigerate within two hours after cooking.

Reheating in a slow cooker is not recommended. If leftover cooked food is brought to steaming on the stovetop or in a microwave oven, it's OK to put it in a preheated slow cooker to keep hot for serving.

- Sources: Lynn F. Little, family and consumer sciences educator with the Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County; U.S. Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-535-4555.

Better Slow Cooker Robust Chicken

  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves cut into 1-inch strips
  • 2 tablespoons bacon bits
  • 1/4 cup chopped green olives
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 (4.5 ounce) can sliced mushrooms, drained
  • 1 (1.25 ounce) envelope dry chicken gravy mix
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar


In a slow cooker, combine the chicken, bacon bits, olives, tomatoes, mushrooms, gravy mix, wine, mustard, and vinegar. Mix together.

Cover slow cooker, and cook on Low setting for 6 to 8 hours.

Serves 5.

Nutritional values per serving: 248 calories; 35 g protein; 5 g fat; 1168 mg sodium; 83 mg cholesterol; 11 g carbohydrates; 1 g fiber.

- The recipe was submitted to allrecipes.com by Kimber, one of the community cooks contributing to the online food Web site. You can find it on the Internet at chicken.allrecipes.com/AZ/BttrSlwCkrRbstChickn.asp

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