Slow Cooker Hints and Tips

If not for my crock pot, I’d probably go hungry. My slow cooker has been the source of many great meals, from breakfast casseroles to late-night desserts. A slow cooker provides exactly the portion size I need, it allows me to cook meals while I’m away from home, and if you’ve got a little patience (or even if you don’t), it can provide the most scrumptious food you’ve ever tasted.

Slow cookers generally come in two sizes. The smaller kind is usually about 2-3 quarts, and is perfect for smaller meals, hot dips, fondue, and desserts. The larger size holds approximately two gallons, and is best for soups, casseroles, roasts, and other larger meals. The small cooker would best serve a bachelor/bachelorette (or someone who generally cooks for one to three people), while the large size best suits a larger family, or someone who plans to cook large meals.

Through first-hand experience, I’ve learned that many crock pot recipes require the use of a large slow cooker. If that’s the case, especially if you’re concerned that the ingredients may not fit in your smaller cooker, simply cut the recipe portions in half. Also, many supermarkets sell boxed dinners that are made expressly for slow cookers, and they require you to provide only the meat (or one or two other ingredients). Many times, these dinners won’t fit in my small cooker, so I only use half the ingredients provided. The boxed meals generally provide 4-5 servings, so half of that is plenty of food for two people.

I’ve also learned that many recipes may be incorrect about cooking times. Often, a recipe will ask that you cook a meal 3-4 hours on the “high” setting, or 6-8 hours on “low”. While following these methods won’t overcook your meal, I’ve found that 3-4 hours on low cooks a meal quite thoroughly. This can be quite a time-saver, especially in today’s fast-paced world.

There are exceptions to this rule of thumb, though, when a recipe calls for a large quantity of meat. If your meal has a lot of beef or chicken, it’s probably a good idea to follow the original directions to ensure the meat is cooked thoroughly. One way around this is to “pre-cook” the meat in a separate skillet. You don’t need to cook it in the skillet until it’s done, though; only about halfway will usually be enough.

Although it may not seem so, a slow cooker can save a lot of time, too. My usual procedure is this: In the morning before work (or the night before, in which case I refrigerate it), I prepare the meal in my slow cooker, then turn it on just before I leave. When I arrive home, it’s done! The best thing about doing this is that the smell of my dinner fills my nostrils as soon as I open my front door. What can be better than that!?

Here’s my favorite slow cooker recipe:

SPICY SAUSAGE & CHEESE DIP:
1 lb. crumbled sausage, lightly browned
1 pkg. cream cheese, cubed
1 pkg velveeta, cubed
1 can mexican-style diced tomatoes/chilies

Mix all ingredients into slow cooker. Cook on low 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. Serve with chips and enjoy!

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