By Chef Selwyn Richards
Did you ever think about how little heat a slow cooker generates in the kitchen? This makes it ideal for cooking during hot weather, helping to keep your kitchen cool, and slow cookers use less energy than an oven, too.
You may have a slow cooker or crockpot that you just haven’t used much, or maybe you would like to get one but aren’t sure what you can cook in it. And if you do have a slow cooker, you might have just a few favorite dishes you cook in it and that’s it. Well, get it out or go buy one, because I’m going to change that.
Here are some tips and suggestions for choosing recipes for your slow cooker:
As you choose recipes for your slow cooker, it’s a good idea to consider how long you have to cook your food. Some foods just don’t hold up well for many hours of cooking. For example, if you’re going to be assembling everything in the slow cooker in the morning and coming home to a cooked dinner, then consider recipes that involve roasts like beef or mutton.
Other foods that do well over 8-12 hours of cooking include:
* Beef and chicken stock: pile bones, meat scraps, and vegetables (for flavor) like carrot, celery, and onion into your slow cooker. Add water to cover, salt to taste, and let it cook for hours. This one’s hard to cook too long, and you can even add water and keep cooking if you aren’t ready to take the broth out and strain it yet.
* Beef roast;
* Lamb or mutton;
* Pork roast;
* Dried bean dishes, using dried beans that you’ve soaked overnight;
* Round steak or other tough cuts of beef.
Foods like these are pretty forgiving when it comes to long cooking times, and are pretty hard to overcook. And tougher cuts of meat will tenderize quite nicely during the long cooking time.
Just a few hours
Certainly slow cookers are not known for their speed — they’re called slow cookers after all – but sometimes you don’t need something to be in the slow cooker for 8 to 12 hours. Sometimes, you can simply adjust the temperature; on High, foods are going to cook faster.
Here are some suggestions for recipes that don’t take a full day:
* Baked potatoes: Simply rub scrubbed, pierced potatoes with butter or oil and place in the slow cooker on High for 3 to 4 hours. Other potato dishes, like scalloped potatoes, can be cooked on High for about 4 hours.
* Fish fillets can cook completely on High in 1 hour.
* Canned bean dishes.
* Vegetable soups, chilis, and stews (generally, chopped vegetables cook pretty fast)
* Pasta, like macaroni and cheese, where you assemble the dish using pre-cooked pasta: mix 4 ounces cooked macaroni elbows with 2 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup plain yogurt, 1 cup milk, 1 egg, and half a teaspoon each of dry mustard, salt and pepper. Cook on Low for 3 hours.
* Beverages like mulled wine or cider.
Another way to determine what recipes to use with your slow cooker is your budget. You can make some very low-cost meals in a slow cooker, because you can use ingredients, like dried beans and cheap cuts of meat. The moisture contained in a slow cooker combines with a low temperature to tenderize tough meats and connective tissue. The slow cooker can be a busy cook’s hot weather friend.
Selwyn Richards is an award-winning master chef. He is also the President and Executive Chef at The Art of Catering Inc. and is the author of “The Art of Cooking: Soul of The Caribbean”. Chef Selwyn can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone — (905) 619-1059.