Fall great time to break out slow cooker for meals | Feature Story

The weather is already showing signs of fall and there’s no better time to break out the crockpot and whip up some delicious and healthy family meals.

You’ve probably been seeing all types of new cooking tools on the market such as the air fryer, instant pot, new wave cooker, sous vide oven and more, but the crockpot is still a viable tool. This slow-cooking process makes food tender and flavorful while also helping to destroy bacteria, making the benefits of using a slow cooker significant and quite diverse.

There are a few reasons why you may choose to use a slow cooker. First of all, they are energy efficient year-round. They don’t heat up the kitchen in summer months, and the aroma coming from the pot will certainly draw your family to the table for a warm healthy meal in winter.

Also, the crockpot allows for simple food preparation. You can prepare the ingredients the night before and place them in the crockpot the next day, saving time.

You also can save money with a crockpot. Less expensive cuts of meat will turn out tender since you can cook at a low temperature over a longer period of time.

The best part is you can cook all types of food in a crockpot, including desserts, casseroles, soups, stews and so much more.

When using a slow cooker, follow these important food safety tips:

• Make sure your slow cooker, utensils and work area are clean.

• Keep perishable foods refrigerated until it is time to add them to the slow cooker. Bacteria multiply rapidly when food is left at room temperature.

• Always defrost meat or poultry before putting it in the slow cooker. If you place frozen meat or poultry in a slow cooker, it can spend too much time thawing, allowing bacteria to multiply, and make you sick. Using defrosted foods will also ensure your meal cooks evenly and all the way through. Vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry in a slow cooker so if using them, put them in first.

• Cut large pieces of meat into smaller pieces before adding it to the slow cooker and make sure your slow cooker is half to two-thirds full to ensure foods cook thoroughly.

Below are some recipes you may wish to try: 

• 2¾ lb. chicken breasts, without skin

• 1 (16-oz.) jar salsa (mild or medium)

• 1 medium onion, chopped

• 1 c. fat-free sour cream

Place chicken in slow cooker. Combine salsa, onions and curry powder and pour over chicken. Cover with lid. Cook on low for eight to 10 hours (or high for five hours). Remove chicken to serving platter; cover and keep warm. Add sour cream to salsa mixture in the slow cooker. Blend and pour over the chicken.

Makes 10 servings. Each serving has 190 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, 9 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber and 350 milligrams of sodium.

Menu idea: Chicken curry, brown rice, sugar snap peas, orange slices, low-fat milk

• 1 cup whole-wheat flour

• 2 tsp. ground cinnamon

• 6 medium apples, chopped

1. Wash hands with soap and water. Wash apples under cold running water.

2. In bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon. Stir in apples, coating lightly.

3. In separate bowl, mix eggs and vanilla. Pour into apple mixture. Stir until just moistened.

4. Spoon into a lightly greased slow cooker. Cover and bake on high about 3 hours. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream on top. Feel free to add a sprinkle of cinnamon, if desired.

Tip: One-half a cup of unsweetened applesauce can be added instead of sugar.

A few additional places to find recipes appropriate for a slow cooker include: the University of Idaho, University of Nebraska Extension, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. You can also experiment with converting your own recipes to ones appropriate for crockpot use.

Here are some pointers for converting your own recipes into slow-cooker recipes:

• Choose recipes that simmer on the stove top or roast in the oven.

• Reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by ⅓ to ½. You need to do this because the slow cooker creates its own liquid.

• Adjust the cooking time. 

For more information, contact the Pasquotank Cooperative Extension Center at 338-3954. Visit Pasquotank Cooperative Extension on the web at https://pasquotank.ces.ncsu.edu.

Ellen Owens is director of the Pasquotank Center of N.C. Cooperative Extension.

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