Slow cooker meals save time, money

 

Autumn chills bring on thoughts of slow cooker meals ready to eat at the end of the day, like these barbecue chicken sliders.

Autumn chills bring on thoughts of slow cooker meals ready to eat at the end of the day, like these barbecue chicken sliders. Photo by: iStockphoto.com

 

This slow cooker tangy tomato brisket is accented with a medley of flavors.

This slow cooker tangy tomato brisket is accented with a medley of flavors.
Photo by: recipes.heart.org

 

 

Jan Swoope

 

 

Crisper temps, "shorter" days -- that means it must be time to revisit our slow cookers. I can't resist at this time of year. Yes, the appliance is great to use year-round, but there is just something about a chilly change in the weather that cozies up with slow cooker meals. When dark has fallen by the time we get home from work, it's a comfort to walk in to the aroma of a one-dish meal that's been prepping itself and is all but ready for the table. And during the hectic holiday season ahead, the cooker can be like having an extra pair of hands. It's also a friend to the food budget: long cook times work wonders in tenderizing less costly cuts of meat. (And the slow cooker uses less electricity than the oven.)

 

Slow cooking at low temperatures also helps foods retain more vitamins and nutrients, pointed out Natasha Haynes of Mississippi State University Extension Service (Rankin County) in an online article by Keri Collins Lewis.

 

When thinking of slow cookers, you may envision hearty stews and chili, but keep in mind they can be used for making everything from Thanksgiving stuffing to mulled wine.

 

 

Recipes included today cover main dish to dessert. But before delving into any individual dish, here are some general guidelines for getting the most out of meal prep with your slow cooker. They come from Extension Service agents as well as tasteofhome.com.

 

 

Keep in mind

 

  • Spray the slow cooker with cooking spray to make clean-up easier.

     

  • Put veggies on the bottom because they take longer to cook than meats. Cut up root vegetables into small pieces so they cook at the same rate as other vegetables.

     

  • Sear meat before you start. Example: Before putting raw pot roast into the cooker, browning it ahead of time in a skillet will help lock in extra flavor and seal in juices. Feel free to add a little rub of spice mix.

     

  • To decrease fat in slow cooker meals, trim fat, remove skin from poultry and drain fat from meats you sear or brown.

     

  • Add spices toward the end of cooking time so they don't lose their flavor.

     

  • Don't fill the cooker to the brim. Foods, especially items like beans and pasta, need room to cook and expand. Keep your cooker no more than two-thirds full.

     

  • Safe temperatures vary by type of meat: beef steaks and roasts should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees; pork to 160 degrees; poultry to 165 degrees. Check with a food thermometer.

     

  • You'll be tempted to lift the lid to check on progress, but don't. You're letting out heat and steam and will be adding significant minutes to the cooking time.

     

  • Need to add cheese? Do it right at the end. about five to 10 minutes before serving, to keep it from turning into a rubbery mess. (This doesn't apply to cheesy dips, of course.)

     

     

    SLOW COOKER BBQ CHICKEN SLIDERS

     

    Makes 4 servings

     

     

    1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or use pork loin, if desired)

     

    3/4 teaspoon garlic powder

     

    1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

     

    1 teaspoon chili powder

     

    1 small onion, sliced

     

    1 cup water

     

    1/3 cup barbecue sauce

     

    8 mini whole-wheat buns

     

     

  • Place the chicken in a slow cooker and sprinkle the garlic powder, pepper and chili powder on the chicken. Add the sliced onion and water and cover. Cook on low for six hours or until done.

     

  • Drain water from the slow cooker and shred the chicken with two forks, mix in the barbecue sauce and reheat for an additional 15 minutes. Assemble the sandwiches using extra barbecue sauce and other toppings if desired.

     

    (Source: North Dakota State University Extension Service)

     

     

    TANGY TOMATO BRISKET

     

     

    15 ounces canned, no-salt-added tomato sauce

     

    1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

     

    1 tablespoon no-calorie sweetener, granulated, 1 1/2 packets

     

    1 teaspoon paprika

     

    1 teaspoon garlic powder

     

    1/2 teaspoon black pepper

     

    1/2 teaspoon salt

     

    1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper for spice, optional

     

    1 small white onion (finely diced)

     

    1 pound sirloin beef roast or steaks, all visible fat discarded

     

     

  • In slow cooker, combine tomato sauce, vinegar, no-calorie sweetener, paprika, garlic powder, black pepper, salt, cayenne (if desired), and onion. Stir gently.

     

  • Add sirloin making sure it is submerged in the barbecue sauce mixture. Cook on low setting for 8 hours. Slice and serve with a drizzle of the sauce.

     

    (Source: recipes.heart.org)

     

     

    EASY SPAGHETTI

     

     

    1 pound lean ground meat

     

    1 medium onion, chopped

     

    1 teaspoon salt

     

    1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

     

    1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce

     

    1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

     

    1 can (4 ounces) sliced mushrooms, drained

     

    3 cups tomato juice

     

    1 1/2 cups dry spaghetti, broken into 4-5 inch pieces.

     

     

  • Brown ground meat and onions in skillet and place into crock pot. Add all remaining ingredients except dry spaghetti. Stir well. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours (high 3-5 hours). Turn up to high last hour and stir in dry spaghetti. Add salad and milk for a complete meal.

     

    (Source: Michigan State University Extension)

     

     

    SLOW COOKER PEACH COBBLER

     

    Makes 4-6 servings

     

     

    3/4 cup biscuit mix

     

    1/3 cup granulated sugar

     

    1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

     

    3/4 cup evaporated milk

     

    2 teaspoons butter, melted

     

    2 eggs

     

    2 teaspoons vanilla extract

     

    2 to 2 1/2 cups peeled sliced peaches, fresh or frozen, thawed

     

    3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

     

     

  • Spray with cooking spray or lightly butter a slow cooker. In a large bowl, combine sugars and baking mix.

     

  • Add eggs and vanilla; stir to blend. Pour in butter and milk, and stir. Fold in peaches and cinnamon (until well mixed). Pour batter into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low setting for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours. Serve warm with ice cream.

     

    (Source: Lyon County Extension Service)

     

     

  • Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

     

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