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Are you someone who loves to cook but struggles to find the time to do so during the week? One of the best things you can do to deal with this issue is to put your slow cooker to work.
Up Your Slow Cooking Game
This magical kitchen appliance is a game-changer for those who want to enjoy home-cooked meals without spending hours in the kitchen. Here’s some of the best tips and tricks for cooking with a slow cooker so you can make the most of this convenient appliance.
The best thing about a slow cooker is that you can prepare the ingredients in the morning and come home to a delicious meal in the evening. But to ensure a successful outcome, you need to plan ahead.
This means prepping your ingredients the night before or in the morning before leaving for work. That way, you can quickly dump everything into the slow cooker and turn it on.
You can take this a step further and do meal prepping and freeze gallon-size bags of ingredients, so all you have to do is toss them into your slow cooker and click it on the day you plan on cooking.
Use the right size slow cooker
A slow cooker that’s too small for your ingredients will lead to overcrowding, which can affect cooking times and the taste of your meal. On the other hand, a slow cooker that’s too large will take longer to heat up and may not cook your food evenly.
So, make sure you have a slow cooker that’s the right size for the amount of food you’ll be cooking.
Brown meat before slow cooking
If you’re cooking meat such as beef in a slow cooker, it’s important to brown it first. This will not only enhance the flavor but also help to lock in the juices. So, before adding the meat to the slow cooker, season it and brown it in a pan on the stove.
If your freezer prepping your food, brown the meat and let it cool before adding it to your freezer bags. This step is especially important if you’re cooking beef, lamb, or pork.
Don’t overfill the slow cooker
Overfilling the slow cooker can lead to uneven cooking and can also cause your meal to overflow as it bubbles or expands. Many means and vegetables will also release liquid as they cook, leaving it to overflow.
Make sure you don’t fill the slow cooker more than two-thirds full when you start your meal. If you’re cooking a large amount of food, divide it into two batches and cook them separately for large groups like parties, then condense the final product down to one slow cooker for serving if possible.
Don’t lift the lid too often
Every time you lift the lid of your slow cooker, you are releasing heat and slowing down the cooking process. Resist the urge to lift the lid and check on your food.
Instead, set a timer for when you think your meal will be ready and check it then. If you must check on your food, do it towards the end of cooking when there’s only a little bit of cooking time left. The only exception is when you need to stir something like a stew that is cooking all day.
Add liquids carefully
If your slow cooker recipe calls for liquids, be careful when adding them to avoid overflowing your slow cooker. Make sure the liquids cover the ingredients and don’t go over the two-thirds fill line if at all possible.
You can always increase later on towards the end of the cooking process after you know how much liquid the food will realize. For chicken, I like to use bouillon instead of broth so the liquid released has flavor and less can be added to the recipe.
Use the right type of ingredients
Not all ingredients are suitable for slow cooking. For example, vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and root vegetables are perfect for slow cooking because they hold up well and become tender.
On the other hand, vegetables like spinach, broccoli, and zucchini can turn to mush if slow-cooked for too long. Be mindful of the type of ingredients you use and make sure they’re suitable for slow cooking.
When cooking vegetables, you should consider how they will break down when loading your slow cooker. Putting things like meat at the bottom helps to keep potatoes, carrots, and other veggies from turning to mush.
Experiment with seasonings
When it comes to seasonings, don’t be afraid to get creative with your slow cooker recipes. Herbs like thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves work well in slow cooker dishes and can add depth and complexity to the flavors.
Spices like paprika, cumin, and chili powder are also great for slow cooking, especially for dishes with a Mexican or Southwestern twist. Be careful when adding herbs and spices to your slow cooker, as the flavor can intensify or dissipate over the long cooking process.
You can adjust the flavorings toward the end of cooking if you feel there is not enough flavor and then let it continue to cook for about 30 minutes until you perfect your recipe.
Make slow cooking a habit
To get the most out of your slow cooker, you want to make it a part of your regular cooking routine. You can set aside some time on the weekends or on weeknights to prep ingredients and get your slow cooker going to help make weekday meals easier.
This will not only save you time and stress during the week but will also ensure you have a delicious home-cooked meal every day.
And for more slow cooker recipes, tips, and tricks — get yourself a copy of Adventures in Slow Cooking: 120 Recipes for People Who Love Food.
Take the time to try new recipes in your slow cooker when you have time to spare, and have fun with it. Your slow cooker truly is a great way to make delicious, healthy meals without spending hours in the kitchen.