By Reeva Ripley – Bulk Buyer, Storekeeper, Co-op Owner
Winter is soup season, but with a busy schedule it can be nearly impossible to find the time to cook a batch of your favorite soup on the stove top. In five simple steps you can transform most traditional recipes so they can be easily prepared in a slow cooker, or crock pot. If you can bake it in the oven or simmer it on the stove top, following these directions will allow you to prepare a low-hassle dinner:
1) Find the right recipes. Dishes which require at least an hour of cooking or low and slow cooking work best.
2) Choosing the best setting. Using the HIGH setting of most slow cookers will bring food up to temperature(around 210°F) quicker and requires a shorter cooking time. Casserole type dishes with pasta or rice cook best on the high setting. Cooking using the LOW setting has a longer cooking time and is ideal for soups or braised foods. (See chart for time conversions.)
3) To pre-cook or not to pre-cook. Large pieces of meat should be seared for best texture. For optimal texture and flavor, cubed or ground meats can be cooked before adding to the slow cooker, this will also reduce the amount of grease in the dish. (Do not use frozen meat in a slow cooker, as the temperature does not rise quickly enough, and there is a serious risk of food-borne illness.) Sautéing onions and garlic before adding to the slow cooker will also offer the best flavor. All other ingredients should be added raw.
4) What about the vegetables? Dense vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, and winter squashes can be added right away. Moderately dense vegetables, like broccoli, should be added about half way through the cooking time. Delicate vegetables such as greens or peas should be added in the last half hour of cooking.
5) Evaporation: Since slow cookers are sealed pots, there is little to no loss of liquid. Recipes, like soups which call for large quantities of liquids, can have a reduction of liquids. Start with 5 cups, then add water/broth as needed. Recipes which require no liquids may need to have a 1/2 cup of water or broth added to prevent food from drying out or burning. (Starting with a hot liquid can reduce the time it takes for your ingredients to reach a safe temperature.)
6)Beans and grains: Beans are a prefect candidate for slow cooking. You can even cook a big batch and save them for later, as beans freeze well in meal-size portions. Try adding a small amount of salt at the beginning of the cooking time, as it will keep the beans from bursting open. Rice can be easy to burn on the stove, but it steams itself in the slow cooker just like in a rice cooker. Grains and cereals, such as millet and oatmeal, also cook well in a slow cooker. In fact, many of the items in our bulk department are perfect for slow cooking on their own, or as part of a meal!
Following these tips will add simplicity to your life and allow for home cooked meals on your busiest nights!