The beauty of slow cooker or crock pot cooking rests in the versatility and flexibility the process provides for a time stressed cook. When a meal can be cooked up in and then served from one pot after limited preparation, the time saved by not having to start a meal, juggle pots, pans and serving dishes is obvious. Just coming through the door to the sight and smells of a meal already prepared and ready to go on the table, is a major stress reliever.
If one doesn’t already have a slow cooker, the first consideration centers on size. Small versions are often used for appetizers, dips, and salsas. Generally these are 16 oz. or quart size and are perfect for serving during brunch or potluck dining events or cooking for one. A large family may be best served with a 5 qt. or even a 7 qt. model. The type of cooking one does is also a consideration. If the cook plans on slow cooking a full rack of fall off the bone baby back ribs in the crock pot, they are going to have to spring for the larger version.
Temperature controls are another important area to consider when purchasing a crock-pot. Some units will offer exact temperature settings like those that your oven does while others will simply have high, medium and low settings. Which one you choose depends on your specific cooking style and personal preference. Remember, if you cook on low settings, to check the crock-pot lid before leaving it to simmer your meal. A loose lid can result in extremely low cooking temperatures, which is hazardous with some foods. Last but not least, think about the heating mechanisms. Crock-pots come in all kinds of varieties with elements on the bottom, sides or both. If you choose, a model with heat along the sides be aware that you may need to add extra water to the recipe to prevent over drying.
Are you an experimental type chef? When you get in the kitchen and go to town, experimenting with food a crock-pot or slow cooker offers a multitude of possibilities and even a little fun. The best thing of all about this type of cooker is you will be able to choose cheaper cuts of meat without sacrificing tenderness. Slow, long cooking times render tender pieces of meat in which the fat has fallen off or can be simply removed.
There are some do’s and don’ts in crock pot cooking. Some meals require ingredients to be added in stages. For example, a stew may require the meat to be cook for a few hours before firm vegetables are added and then softer veggies can be added as cooking is finalized. Rule of thumb, add things like spices, herbs and seasonings at the beginning of the cooking cycle and things like frozen vegetables and seafood at the end. Since ingredients are generally thoroughly cooked over a long period of time, a lot of stirring is not recommended or the food breaks apart or worse, turns to mush.
Crock pots are so versatile that they can even be used for creating desserts and breads. Interestingly enough this is one area where care must be taken during preparation. This is particularly true if these recipes are going to be left unattended while they cook. An over beaten or whipped dessert can raise the lid straight off of the crock pot and create quite a mess. This is certainly not what one needs to come home to after a long day at work.
Your menu will never be dull again when you have a crock-pot at your disposal. Create complex meals like spicy paella, simple dips such as a cream cheese layer and all time favorites like pot roast with all the trimmings. When the holidays roll around you can put your cooking tips to good use and keep many side dishes nice and warm. This is possibly the most versatile cooking tool you could ever have and it will definitely take the stress out of your life.
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