Preparing meals in a slow cooker is a great way to have a home-cooked meal when you cannot always take the time at home to prepare it. With hundreds of recipes to choose from, there is something for the meat and potatoes appetites, vegetarians and health conscious! Let's go over some coking and food safety tips before you hop in the kitchen.
Food safety starts in the grocery store; be sure to purchase food that is not outdated or with obvious signs of bad food handling. As soon as you get home, put cold foods in the refrigerator and frozen foods in the freezer. You want to keep food out of the temperature danger zone which is between 41°F and 135°F. This is the temperature at which bacteria grows and can make you sick! Slow cookers make your foods safe to eat by the long length of cooking time (10 - 11 hours or 4 - 6 hours), direct high heat and steam. They allow you to add multiple ingredients at one time without needing to hover over the kitchen while it cooks.
If you are cooking large meats or poultry, it is wise to cut them into smaller pieces to be sure that the centers of large roasts do not stay in the temperature danger zone too long. It will also help large meats to cook within the desired cooking time. Never put frozen meats into the slow cooker, it is not designed to thaw and cook foods within the desired cooking time and temperature safety zone.
Fill your slow cooker more than halfway but no more than 2/3 full to be sure the heat can reach all food pieces properly. Since the vegetables will take longer to cook than meats, place the vegetables on the bottom and around the meat. Mix any spices or seasonings you choose with 1 cup to 1 ½ cups water and pour over the contents. (I like to put a small amount in the bottom of my slow cooker as well).
Power outages can be an issue for slow cookers, so if yours is set and you return home to no power, you must toss the food since you are not sure how long it was held without heat. Store leftovers in shallow containers in the refrigerator and reheat on the stove or microwave. Do not reheat foods in the slow cooker; it is not designed for this. Follow these simple guidelines and your favorite recipes for great tasting healthy meals on a busy schedule!