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Save time. Save money. Cook slowly

November 12, 2008|By LYNN LITTLE

Save time, use a slow cooker. With a slow cooker, most of the meal preparation is done early in the morning and dinner is waiting when you come home in the evening.

Slow cookers are convenient, they save time in our busy schedules and slow-cooking results in some great meals of tender roasts, chicken and stews.

A slow cooker is also an easy way to save money in the kitchen. You can use cheaper cuts of meat, which often need to be cooked slowly to make them tender and delicious.

A 1-quart slow cooker can work well for small families and party foods, but may not work well for all-day cooking. A 3- to 5-quart slow cooker is a good choice for a two-to-six person household, and an 8- to 12-quart size a good choice for a large family or entertaining. The size of the slow cooker will affect cooking time. A 5-quart slow cooker will hold most standard recipes and will cook the food slowly and evenly.

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Read the manufacturer's directions and use recipes provided with the appliance. Also, check slow-cooker cookbooks to become more familiar with cooking techniques and food safety before converting standard recipes for slow cooking.

The general rule for converting a standard recipe for a soup, stew or casserole that includes meat and vegetables: For each hour of cooking time in a standard recipe, allow eight hours on the slow cooker's low setting or four hours on the high setting.

Use caution when first converting a standard recipe. You may want to stay home and keep an eye on the cooking process via the see-through lid.

Cooking tips for using a slow cooker include:

o Read recipe completely to make sure all ingredients are on hand.

o Do not use frozen ingredients unless specifically called for in a tested recipe.

o Lightly coat crockery liner with cooking spray to speed cleanup.

o Follow recipe directions.

o Place slow-cooking root vegetables, such as potatoes, onions, and carrots, around the bottom and up the sides, with meats on top. If using vegetables such as tomatoes or mushrooms place them on top of foods cooking during the last hour of cooking time.

o For uniform cooking, cut meats such as a pot roast or stew meat into uniform-sized pieces.

o Fill slow cooker one-half to two-thirds full for best results.

o Add water or broth (a cup at a time), if needed. Liquids create steam, which is essential to the slow-cooking process.

o Place slow cooker on a heat-resistant mat.

o Monitor cooking via a see-through lid, rather than lifting the lid. Lifting the lid can cause the cooking temperature to drop 10 to 15 degrees and add 20 to 30 minutes or more to total cooking time.

o Use a meat thermometer to check cooked, ready-to-eat temperatures: Pot roasts, soups and stews should have an internal temperature of 155 to 160 degrees; poultry should reach 165 degrees.

o Turn slow cooker to low setting while eating; then transfer leftovers to food storage containers, cover and refrigerate or label and freeze for future meals as quickly as possible after eating (two hours or less). Perishable foods allowed to stand at room temperature for more than two hours should be discarded. Also, cooked foods should not be stored in the crockery container removed from the slow cooker; crockery containers retain heat and don't cool quickly enough.

o Plug an electric clock or other appliance with a clock into the second plug in the outlet in which the slow cooker is plugged. This will help you see for a power outage. If a power failure occurs during the slow-cooking process, the safe thing to do is to discard the food.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryalnd Cooperative Extension in Washington County.




Slow-cooker pork chops and apple slices



4 pork loin chops (1-inch thick), well trimmed (see cook's note)
2 medium apples peeled, cored and sliced
1 teaspoon butter (optional)
Salt and pepper
Ground cinnamon or nutmeg (optional)

For a 3-quart or larger slow-cooker

For quicker cooking: In skillet, brown pork chops over high heat. Drain well.

Arrange a layer of sliced apples in a slow cooker; follow with a layer of pork chops. Repeat. Dot with butter; sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cinnamon or nutmeg, if desired.

Cover and cook on low setting 6 to 8 hours.

Serves 4.

Cook's note: May substitute 1/2- to 3/4-inch ham slices and pineapple rings in place of the pork chops and apples, if desired.

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