Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Crockpots for Beginners

We’re locked into cold weather for a bit longer, which makes it the perfect time to take advantage of your crockpot! If you use one regularly, you know the fantastic advantages they have: efficient, simple, and easy to clean. But if you’ve never cooked with one before, they can be a bit intimidating. However, once you get the hang of it, you’ll be an expert!

Crockpots – often referred to as slow cookers – are a great way to eat healthy without spending a lot of time preparing food. Cheaper cuts of meat cook up tender in a crockpot, and with some vegetables thrown in, you’ve got a delicious, healthy feast. So where do you start when you are new to the experience?

If you don’t own a crockpot, this is a great time to visit your local thrift store! They often have all shapes and sizes for very reasonable prices. If you prefer to buy new, department stores offer many choices. Key features to look for include variable heating options (“high” and “low” are typical settings, but newer models may have additional temperature settings), an “off” option when plugged in, and a nonstick interior surface. You can find digital displays with timers on more expensive units, but while convenient, they are not necessary. 

Decide what size you (and your family) will need. For two people, a 4-quart crockpot is a great size. But if you are feeding 3 or more people, opt for a 5 to 6-quart unit. If you like to make things like traditional roasts, you will need enough room for the meat, water (or broth), and chunky vegetables.

Where to start? The good news: the hardest part is obtaining your crockpot! From here on out, it’s easy! Recipes for the crockpot consist of a protein (beef, pork, or poultry), a liquid (water, broth, etc.), and vegetables. For example:

For a basic roast: add 2-3 pounds of chuck roast, 2 cups of water, 1 yellow onion, chopped, and salt and pepper. Cook on low heat for 8 hours. After six hours, add in vegetables – like red-skin potatoes, cabbage, carrots, or other veggies of your choice. When it’s done, it’s ready to serve!

A famous central Pennsylvania recipe is pork and sauerkraut: 2-3 pounds of pork roast, 2 cans of sauerkraut, any other seasonings you prefer, and cook on low for 8 hours. Pair with mashed potatoes for a filling dinner.

Easy chicken stock: Take a whole chicken roaster, small enough to fit inside your crockpot, and 2-4 cups of water. Put both in the crockpot. Add 1-2 stalks of celery, 1 onion, chopped, 1 tablespoon crushed garlic (substitute 1-2 teaspoons garlic powder, if you don’t have fresh garlic), and salt and pepper to taste. Cook on low for 24-48 hours, until chicken bones are soft. Strain well and use or freeze.

There are countless easy recipes for your crockpot! If you enjoy using the internet for your recipe hunt, check out this site. If you prefer cookbooks, stop by your local library and check out a few crockpot specific cook books, like Fix-It and Forget-It Big Cookbook or Slow Cooker Revolution.

Now you are an expert on using your crockpot! What new recipes have you tried and would recommend? Check back here and leave us a comment on your experience using your crockpot!

Contributing Writer

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