NDSU Extension - Sargent County

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"Friend" Your Slow Cooker

When my boys were little boys, I had a neighbor lady come stay with them at my house when I needed to be gone for work.  In the name of simplifying the day for her and letting her focus on child care rather than meal prep, I typically prepared a slow cooker meal for them that would be ready to eat at noon.  Never mind that this neighbor lady had already raised a family of eight children on her own and was more than capable of taking all things in stride; I was just trying to do her a favor and be helpful!  I quickly learned to do myself a favor by making slow cooker meals on days when I was home with my boys.  Yes, indeed, the slow cooker became my friend!

In the midst of busy schedules that may include school, work, after-school, and evening activities such as community, church, sports, or school-related commitments, “nutritious, delicious meals” do not have to go by the way-side.  If you are facing those challenges, and prefer mealtime be a dream-come-true, rather than a nightmare, now is the time to become very good “friends” with your slow cooker!

For easy cleanup and care of your slow cooker, spray the inside of the cooker with nonstick cooking spray before using it, or use a slow cooker liner bag.  To help ensure even, complete cooking, thaw meat and poultry in the refrigerator before cooking in the slow cooker. Then, unless the instructions that came with your slow cooker recommend otherwise, cut large cuts of meat and poultry into smaller chunks before cooking.  

Keeping food safety in mind, any meats or vegetables that are cut up ahead of cooking should be refrigerated in separate containers until you are ready to use them. Because vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry, place the vegetables in the slow cooker first. Place the meat on top of the vegetables and top with liquid, such as broth, water or a sauce.  

Fill the slow cooker no less than half full and no more than two-thirds full. Cooking too little or too much food in the slow cooker can affect cooking time, quality and/or safety (if filled too full).

If possible, set your slow cooker on high for the first hour, then turn the heat setting to low to finish cooking. Keep the lid in place, because removing the lid causes heat to be lost and adds to the cooking time.  Cook foods to a safe internal temperature, as recommended by USDA, using a food thermometer to measure the temperature of your foods before serving them.  

Refrigerate leftovers in shallow containers, not in the slow cooker container, and only to a maximum depth of two inches in the food storage container.  Reheat leftovers on the stove or in the microwave or oven until the internal temperature reaches 165 F. When the food has reached 165 F, it may be placed in the slow cooker on the low or warm setting to be kept at a safe temperature until served.

Ready-to-go recipes, more slow cooker tips, and meal/menu plans to help answer the age-old question, “What’s for dinner?” are available from the NDSU Extension Service.  Ask for “Now Serving: Slow Cooker Meals,” or go to http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/yf/f

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