Savory Winter Meals with a Slow Cooker

There’s no better feeling than to walk in the door in the evening to the aroma of supper cooking. Using a slow cooker is a great way to save time, energy and money for busy families. When we follow some basic steps and plan ahead we can have a safe meal on the table in just a few minutes when we arrive home. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Use thawed meat, cut into portion sized pieces and brown them on the range top, if you have time. This seals in the juices and provides more flavor, but isn’t absolutely necessary.

If possible cook your food on high for the first hour, then turn it down. This gets the food hot quickly and out of the danger zone (above 140 degrees F.).

If cooking with vegetables, put them on the bottom, as they don’t cook as quickly as the meat.

Cook in quantity considering what else you are going to make with it? For example, pot roast with vegetables today, vegetable soup tomorrow or roast chicken today, using the leftover chicken for salad or sandwiches tomorrow. This will help save time and money in your grocery budget.

Fill cooker no less than half full and no more than 2/3 full, for best results.

Leave the lid on during the cooking process, you lose ½ hour of cooking time every time the lid is lifted.

Look for easy recipes to try, soups, stews, casseroles that your family might like.

Don’t add dairy products until the end (seafood either), long cooking times may cause them to separate.

Be careful of seasonings, many spices may turn bitter or loose flavor, add them at the end.

Liquids don’t boil away so if using a recipe not made for crockpot, reduce liquid be 1/3 to ½ unless you have plans for using the broth.

Remember if you have left overs, do not use your crock pot or slow cooker for reheating them. The temperature doesn’t rise quickly enough to provide a safe temperature for killing bacteria. Look for and share your favorite recipes—exchange at work or with friends, everyone will enjoy a new dish that saves time, money and effort!!

Author: Melinda Hill, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension.
Reviewer: Linnette Goard, Field Specialist, Food Safety, Selection and Management, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension.

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