Pull Out Your Slow Cooker and Make it Easy

The slow cooker has been a staple appliance in North American cooking for more than 60 years, but the historical roots of slow-cooked cuisine actually stretch back as early as our hunter/gatherer days. Indigenous man placed hardy vegetables and coarse meat on cooler embers tucked alongside the fire. Cooking their meals at lower temperatures over a longer period helped to unlock full, rich flavours from root vegetables and turned sinewy meat into mouthwatering, tasty bites.

In the 1950s, a company by the name of Rival repurposed their bean cooker as America’s first electric slow cooker and named it the Crock-Pot. Presumably, Rival chose that name because of the glazed ceramic and stoneware inserts found inside each one.The inserts resemble earthenware cooking pots known for hundreds of years as crocks.

Easy does it

Today, slow cooking has resurfaced as one of the easiest ways to serve a complete nutritional meal on a budget with minimal preparation time required. With busy lives and both parents often in the workforce, today’s families turn to the slow cooker to save time and still put a good, healthy meal on the table.

Reasons to love your slow cooker

To start with, it’s nearly impossible to burn your dinner. The low temperature setting simmers your food, so you’re unlikely to scorch or crisp your meal. You can prepare clean and healthy meals in the slow cooker, and you can save by buying less expensive cuts of meat. Slow cooking softens the connective tissues, so cheaper cuts like chuck roasts and briskets come out juicy and tender.

What to look for

If you’re interested in purchasing a slow cooker, look for one with a snug-fitting and clear lid and sturdy handles. An oval pot fits most cuts of meat. Choose one that’s large enough to feed your family. Look for a built-in timer, so if you come home later than expected, cooking will stop but your food will be kept warm. Some models also have an insert you can remove and use to brown your meat on the stove before placing it back inside the slow cooker.

Dos and Don’ts

  • DO brown meat first. Use lean cuts to prevent overcooking and get better flavour.
  • DO defrost frozen meat and poultry before adding them to your cooker.
  • DO remember to fill the cooker no less than half full and no more than two-thirds full for optimal cooking.
  • DO remember that vegetables cook more slowly than meats and poultry, so keep root vegetables as close to the bottom as possible.
  • DON’T peek. Every peek adds 20 minutes to the cooking time!
  • DON’T add dairy products until the end of the slow-cooking process, or they can curdle.
  • DON’T reheat foods in your slow cooker. It takes too long to reach the proper temperature for quick, efficient, safe reheating.
  • DON’T forget, if there is a blackout while you are away, the contents of your cooker may be spoiled. It’s best to discard them.

Crock-Pot Recipes – from main dishes to desserts

Sweet and Sour Ribs

  • 2 lb. pork side ribs
  • 2 cups brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp soya sauce
  • 2 tbsp ketchup
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder

Cut and trim ribs. To reduce fat, boil ribs for 10 minutes in a separate pot, then drain the ribs and place to the side. Next, mix your brown sugar and flour in the same pot. Add the water, vinegar, soya sauce, ketchup, ginger and garlic powder to the mix, and bring your sauce to a boil. Once heated, layer ribs and sauce in your slow cooker. Cook 10 to 12 hours on low or 5 to 6 hours on high and pair with a baked potato or rice, and coleslaw

Red Beans and Rice

  • 1 lb. dry red beans
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 small green pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 lb. smoked ham, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp hot pepper sauce
  • 29 oz. beef broth
  • 3 to 4 cups rice, cooked

In a large pot, cover beans with 3 times their volume of water and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand for 1 hour. Discard water. Combine all ingredients except rice in stoneware. Cover; cook on low 10 to 12 hours or on high for 5 to 6 hours. Serve over hot cooked rice.

Brownie Bottoms

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 5 cups brownie mix, packaged
  • 5-1/2 oz. instant chocolate
  • pudding mix, packaged
  • 1 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup water

In a saucepan, combine brown sugar, 3/4 cups water, and cocoa. Bring to a boil. Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl. Spread this mixture in the slow cooker. Pour mixture from saucepan over all. Cover; cook on high for 1-1/2 hours.

For more fabulous slow cooker recipes, tips and hints, visit www.crock-pot.com.