Slow & succulent winter meals made easily

The Time Savor Gourmet

Author: Stacey Hawkins
Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2011

There’s nothing better on a cold winter’s night than to come home to a warm home filled with the mouthwatering aroma of a delicious hot meal! To make it happen, all you have to do is spend less than 15 minutes in the morning tossing everything into a pot. It’s not a dream. It’s all real, when you use a slow cooker!

Not all slow cookers are alike

There are many types of slow cookers available on the market. I prefer the ones that have removable crocks for easy clean up. They should also have programmable timers, which dramatically reduce the chances of overcooking. If your slow cooker doesn’t have either of these features, there are simple ways to deal with these inconveniences. There’s no need to go out and buy a new cooker. For non-removable crocks, simply spray the inside with nonstick cooking spray or use slow cooker liners. If you don’t have a programmable timer on your cooker, you can hook it up to one of those light timers that you find in a home improvement store, then plug it into the wall.

Slow cooker 101

The basics of cooking in a slow cooker are the same, no matter which model you use. Throw everything in, then walk away and let it cook. On most slow cookers, the high setting heats to about 300 degrees, while the low setting is 140 degrees. 1 hour on high is equal to 2 hours on low. Experts recommend that you do not put frozen foods into the slow cooker, rather let them thaw first. For safety purposes, food needs to reach a temperature of 140 degrees as quickly as possible.

Loading up

When loading your slow cooker, remember that it cooks from the bottom. Cooking at low settings is a slow process that results in tender succulent meals. Cheaper cuts of meat and chicken are perfect for this purpose. Trim all excess fat from meats and chicken—you can remove the chicken skin completely if you wish—for better flavor and a healthier dish. Most meats require 8 hours of cooking on low.

For best results

If time allows, meats should be browned, before going into the slow cooker. This process, which is called a Maillard reaction, adds flavor for your dish. If you do not have time, however, don’t stress.Your meal will be delicious anyway. Dry herbs and seasonings need to be added to the pot at this time. Fresh herbs follow later. Follow any loading instructions carefully and remember that harder, root style vegetables such as carrots and potatoes do not cook as quickly as the meats. So they’ll need to go in first. More delicate items such as seafood or tender vegetables, such as tomatoes and zucchini, do not require as much cooking time. You can either place them on top or add them to the cooker in the last hour.

Tips & techniques

Don’t take the lid off! When heat escapes, that adds 20-30 minutes of cooking time to the process. Simply shake the lid gently to clear away some of the condensation, so you can see well enough through the glass lid to check the progress.

In the last hour of cooking, make gravy by adding thickeners, such as cornstarch mixed with water. Next, turn the heat up high. Additional seasonings such as fresh herbs, dairy products, cayenne, Tabasco, and tender veggies should be added at this point. Seafood should also be added in the last hour, since overcooking gives seafood a rubbery consistency. Now that you have the basics down, try this recipe of mine.

Chicken with sun-dried tomatoes & artichokes

  • 4 medium chicken breasts, bone in, skin removed
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • ½ t oregano
  • ¼ t black pepper
  • ½ C roasted red pepper strips
  • ½ C sun-dried tomatoes, chopped well (not rehydrated)
  • 4 T balsamic vinegar
  • 13 oz can artichoke hearts, drained well
  • 3 T drained capers
  • ¼ t basil
  • ¼ t mint

Place chicken breasts in the slow cooker. In a small bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Pour over chicken. Cook on low heat for 8 hours, until chicken is fork tender. Enjoy!

Suggested sides: Steamed green beans and/or warm wilted spinach with bowtie style pasta & fresh grated parmesan cheese.

Stacey Hawkins is a professional chef and owner of Hudson Valley based Time Savor Gourmet. She’s also a regular blog contributor on Hvparent.com. For her products and upcoming cooking class schedule, check out her website at TimeSavorGourmet.com

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