Let’s imagine you just picked up your children from after-school activities. They ask, What’s for dinner? If you have no dinner plans, the drive-through or pizza delivery may sound like the best options. However, you might want to save take-out meals as a once in a while treat. Take-out meals often are less nutritious and more expensive.
Now imagine this: you have just walked in the door and are greeted by the aroma of tender beef stew simmering in your slow cooker. You slice a loaf of whole-wheat bread and toss a simple spinach and strawberry salad. Dinner is served! Evenings like this can go from a dream to reality when using a slow cooker.
Benefits of Using a Slow Cooker:
A slow cooker uses less electricity than an oven. Slow cookers are useful through the year. Coming in from a cold winter day, the aroma of hot soup is welcoming. Slow cookers also work well for summertime use; they do not heat the kitchen the way an oven might. As a result of the long, low-temperature cooking, slow cookers help tenderize less-expensive cuts of meat. Slow cookers usually allow one-step preparation. Placing all the ingredients in the slow cooker saves preparation time and cuts down on cleanup.
A variety of foods can be cooked in a slow cooker, including soups, stews and casseroles.
Here are some basic safety rules to follow when using a slow cooker:
Wash your hands before, during and after food preparation. Always start with a clean slow cooker, utensils and work surface. Always thaw meat and poultry in the refrigerator before cooking in the slow cooker. This will ensure complete cooking. Consult the instructions that came with your slow cooker for recommendations on large cuts of meat and poultry. Slow cookers are available in different sizes, so the instructions will vary. If you cut up meats or vegetables ahead of cooking refrigerate these perishables foods in separate containers until you are ready to use them. For easy cleanup and care of your slow cooker, spray the inside of the cooker with nonstick cooking spray before using it. 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. Removing the lid slows cooking time. If you are not at home during the entire slow-cooking process and the power goes out, throw away food even if it looks done. If you are at home during the cooking process, finish cooking the ingredients by some other means, such as on an outdoor grill. If the food was completely cooked before the power went out, the food will remain safe for up to two hours. Measure the temperature of your foods before eating them. Follow the recommended safe internal temperature below:
145F- Fresh beef, veal, lamb, pork (steaks, roasts, chops) allow three-minute rest time after removing from heat.
145F- Fin fish (or cook until flesh is opaque)
160F- Eggs; ground meat and meat mixtures (beef, pork veal, lamb, turkey, chicken)
160F- Casseroles, poultry (chicken, turkey, duck, goose)
Using a slow cooker often results in leftovers. For safety reasons, do not store leftovers in deep containers such as the slow cooker itself. Instead refrigerate them in shallow containers (with the food about 2 inches deep.
Do not reheat leftovers in your slow cooker. Instead, reheat leftovers on the stove or in the microwave or oven until the internal temperature reaches 165F. When the food has reached 165F, it may be placed in the slow cooker on low or warm during serving.
Information obtained from NDSU Extension Service Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D.; R.D, L.R.D; Food and nutrition Specialist.
For more information contact Lethia Lee, EFNEP Assistant with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service at 910- 592-7161.