Slow Cooker and Crock-pot Cookery

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Of all the kitchen appliances that I own, my crock-pot is one of the most versatile. Some crock-pots are economical, about $20 to $25 to purchase a basic name-brand model, while other models are more expensive. I have tried some fancier models with timers but exchanged for the basic crock-pot with settings of low, warm and high. Depending on how much food one wants to cook, small (3 1/2 quart) to large (6 1/2 quart) crock-pots are available. Different brands also have different shapes such as oval, round and rectangular inserts. Some crock-pots are metal while others are ceramic. The Rival company actually coined the term “Crock-pot” in the 1970’s.

A “slow cooker” may not actually be a crock pot, even though the terms may be interchangeable. In slow cookers, the internal heating element is positioned inside the bottom of the pot with a gauge on the exterior of the pot which indicates a variety of temperature settings. Some of these are multi-pots — that is, one could even use the cooker as a deep-fryer, if desired.

Crock-pots have the internal heating element positioned in the center of the insert to avoid scorching the food at the bottom. These temperature settings are indicated with low, warm and high selections. However, both slow cookers and crock-pots provide slow all day cooking, which prevents evaporation of liquids and provides even, slow temperatures to tender-cook foods.

Most crock pots have the ceramic inserts with non-stick surfaces and clear glass covers. Avoid cracking the glass cover or chipping the ceramic insert, as this is a common reason to dispose of a crock-pot; otherwise, little maintenance is required. The removable ceramic inserts can also be used as the main serving dish when your recipe is finished, or one can prepare the ingredients ahead of time, place the food in the ceramic insert the next day, and then proceed with cooking.

The average crock-pot’s temperature setting is 200 F for low and 300 F for high, although models will vary. Most food can cook on low for 10 to 12 hours or on high for 4 to 6 hours, although one can over cook a recipe, which I have done, myself! Regardless of the temperature setting, the food will eventually come to a full bubble or boil. All recipes in cookbooks use approximations in cooking time. So, one must become well-acquainted with their cookware before feeling comfortable with the cooking time. I always place a hot pad under my crock-pot to protect the counter and recommend you do so, as well.

Although crock-pot cooking was popular in the 1970’s its popularity has spiked since the early 2000’s. Whatever recipe can be made in the oven or stove top can be prepared in the slow cooker. Although main dishes come to mind, modern recipes even include desserts such as cheesecake and certain cake-like batter breads.

I still have my old crock-pot cookbook, Crockery Cookery ©1975 by Mable Hoffman, who made this form of cooking very popular in the 70’s and 80’s. She ultimately established the idea of “Set it and Forget It” long before it became a popular phrase for certain feature-length commercials! Since then, so many other slow cook-related cookbooks have been written.

I especially enjoy preparing soups, stews and fork tender roasts in my crock-pot. Some will say that all crock pot foods have the same consistency, but this is not so. The recipes are so versatile, yet so culinarily comfortable. Split pea soup, pot roast, macaroni and cheese, hot potato salad, chicken fricassee, barbecued short ribs, curried lamb stew and desserts such as chocolate pudding cake, and apple crumble are just some examples of favorite recipes. Even recipes for hot beverages such as wine punches and appetizers for hot dips are all crock-pot friendly.

Leaf through a crockery cooking recipe book and you will be amazed at the variety of recipes. The internet also provides a generous source of slow cookers and crock-pots for sale as well as recipes and information.

Once you get the knack of it, you can really reinvent your own recipes! Crock-pot cooking is easy, time saving, delicious and versatile and your home will be filled with the aroma of delicious simmering food. So, if you were wondering what to buy a friend or a relative as a useful gift, consider a crock-pot. Don’t forget to buy a crock pot cookbook, too.

General Tips For Crock-Pot Cooking — What You Need To Know For Successful Recipes

Internal food temperatures usually are between 200 F to 212 F, but some food will vary widely.

Cooking at one hour at a high temperature setting is equivalent to cooking at 2 hours at low.

Food will take longer to cook at high altitude, so you may need to take note.
Unless indicated, food does not have to be stirred. Follow the recipe instructions.

Remove excess fat from meat. This way, it may not be necessary to brown the meat, which is optional for certain recipes.

Browning meat enhances the flavor, color and texture in some recipes.

Unless indicated, a meat rack is not needed for the slow cooker.

Use lean ground beef in recipes to avoid excess fat or pre-brown the meat to get rid of excess fat.

Cut raw vegetables into uniform pieces.

Frozen vegetables should be thawed, although if frozen vegetables are used the cooking time will be increased.

Harder vegetables are usually placed in to the cooker first and then the meat.
More delicate vegetables such as zucchini and fresh ripe tomatoes may be added at a later point to prevent mushiness.

Excess cooking liquid in the pot can be made into thicker gravy or sauce by using flour, cornstarch or instant gravy flour, if desired.

Fresh herbs and spices are best instead of dried because the ground variety loses flavor or may even become stronger in flavor and thus will overpower the recipe over longer cooking periods.

If you use dried herbs, add them during the last hour of cooking.

Ingredients such as sour cream and other dairy products usually are also added during the last stages of cooking.

Pasta such as noodles and macaroni are usually added pre-cooked at later stages of slow cooking.

Tender fish and seafood is also added during later stages of cooking in some recipes.

Baked goods (cakes and quick breads) or yeast breads may be made in crock-pots. Usually, a yeast bread’s texture is more like that of a batter bread.

Use authentic heat-tempered canning jars for dessert “jar” recipes. Other jars may not be able to withstand the heat or some may contain lead.

Do not use coffee or vegetable cans, as most contain lead and are painted or sealed with materials that may emit toxic gases when heated.

Some brands have special baking pans to insert into the cooker. Sometimes molds or empty coffee cans can be used for certain baking recipes.

The Rival Brand is one type which has a baking pan insert sold separate from the pot. Please note that I have no financial interest in this product, nor do I endorse any specific brand of crock-pot.

Once the crock pot lid is on, do not remove it, as it takes 15 to 20 minutes to restore the temperature to its prior heat level.

Especially with baked goods, don’t open the lid during the first 2 hours.
Follow your machine’s instruction guide or operating manual regarding recipes, use and cleaning instructions.

Recipes will never be improperly cooked or burned when instructions are followed.

It is possible to over-cook food in a crock-pot

 

Oven/Crock-pot Approximate Cooking Time Conversion Chart
Oven Crock-pot
15 to 30 minutes 1 1/2 – 2 hours on high or 4 – 6 hours on low
35 to 45 minutes 2 – 3 hours on high or 4 – 6 hours on low
50 minutes to 3 hours 4 – 5 hours on high or 8 – 18 hours on low

 

Most uncooked meat and vegetable recipes require a minimum of 8 hours on low.

A Guide For Crock Pot Quick Breads And Cakes

Crock-pot baking offers tender steamed recipes. So custards, fruit desserts, cakes and cake-like batter breads are cooked nicely in the crock-pot. Don’t expect browned crisp tops or yeast based recipes to appear as they would be normally when oven baked.

Baking is normally done at high temperature for 2 to 3 hours in the crock-pot.
Don’t be tempted to peek or lift off the cover during the first 2 hours.

The baking container should be well-greased, filled halfway and covered with several layers of paper towel, greased foil or a lid.

The baking container should rest on a trivet permitting good heat circulation and conduction.

The baking container should be the correct size to permit proper heat circulation and conduction.

The Rival company sells special baking containers for their brand of crock-pot.
Sometimes a water bath is used in a recipe. That is accomplished by filling the cooker to a certain depth of water in the insert, as instructed for the recipe.

The following information source concerning baking comes from Crockery Cookery, by Mable Hoffman ©1975 / 1989. Bantam Books.

 

Breads & Cakes: There are a few tricks to remember when “baking” in one of these pots. First, turn the control to HIGH (or to the setting which is equivalent to the HIGH used in the recipes). The LOW setting is too low to give breads and cakes the texture you expect.

With breads, remember to cover the container with a lid or foil. Tie the lid or foil to the container and place the container on a metal rack or trivet inside the pot. If you don’t have a metal rack or trivet to fit your slow cooker, crumple foil and place it in the bottom of the pot to support the baking container. Pour 2 cups of hot water around the container to provide steam for cooking the bread.

When using a deep fryer-type of slow cooker, check frequently to make sure that the water hasn’t evaporated. Add more water if needed. In general, it is not a good idea to remove the lid or foil from the bread container during the first 2 hours of cooking. After that, check the bread by inserting a toothpick in the mixture. If the toothpick comes out clean, the bread is done.

When using a standard cake mix, the procedure is slightly different. Cakes are “baked” in a pan set directly on the bottom of the slow cooker, similar to the way you would do it in an oven. It is not necessary to use a trivet or water. Instead of covering the uncooked cake mixture with foil or a lid, cover the top with four or five layers of paper towels. Because there is more moisture in a slow cooker than in an oven, it is necessary to compensate for this with the paper towels to help absorb the moist top of the cake mix. Also, leave the lid of your slow cooker slightly open to let extra moisture escape.

 

The type and kind of container to use for breads and cakes will depend on the size of your pot.

The following containers hold equivalent amounts of batter, and so will substitute for each other:

1 2lb Coffee can or 2 1 lb coffee cans,
1 lb Mold or 6-7 cup capacity baking dish or 1 of 1 1/2 quart dish,
Three vegetable cans, 16 oz each,
Soufflé dishes and small bundt or springform pans also work, when they fit in the pot

Sample Recipes for You to Enjoy

Joan’s Slow Cooker Chicken Fricassee

4 to 5 lbs chicken parts, skin and fat removed
liberal salt, pepper and paprika to taste
2 large onions sliced
4 large stalks celery coarse sliced
4 large carrots coarse sliced
2 bay leaves
2 large cloves garlic sliced
2 cups chicken broth
Instant gravy flour as needed
Noodles, rice pasta or puff pastry shells
fresh chopped parsley as garnish
In a large slow cooker/crock-pot lay well-seasoned chicken parts. Place on the veggies, bay leaf and garlic. Add the broth. Cover and cook low 8 to 12 hours or high 4 to 6 hours.
When chicken is tender, remove from bone and cut up. Before returning pieces to pot, thicken liquid with instant gravy flour on high setting until mixture is of desired sauce thickness.
Add the chicken and cook and stir well . Serve over pasta , rice or pastry shells.. Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley.

Note: one may add a bit of sherry into the sauce and other things such as canned drained mushroom pieces, chopped pimento, peas etc. and then one may call it “ala King.”
Sometimes we also leave the pieces unboned as we like to eat it that way too!

Serves 10+ and recipe may be halved.

Joan’s Slow Cooker Sloppy Joes

1 large onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
2 large stalks celery, chopped
few cloves garlic (optional), minced
4 pounds ground beef- lean
1 cup tomato catsup
1 small can of tomato paste
4 Tbs white vinegar
4 Tbs. brown or white sugar
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp soy sauce
salt and fresh black grated pepper to taste
Fresh soft sandwich rolls or buns.
Yield: 8 or more servings

My daughter loves this and the recipe is often requested by her.
Place all in crock-pot and cook high 4 to 6 hours or 8 hours on low. Adjust seasoning to taste ( I like it spicy/ piquant ). Serve over rolls. Portions may be frozen. Note: things such as dry onion soup mix, chili powder, kernel corn, chopped drained tomatoes may be added to the above basic recipe in desired amounts to achieve desired flavored and texture. The mixture is also good to make a Sloppy Joe Pizza or Sloppy Joe Pot Pie.
Halve recipe if desired. Serves 8+.

Joan’s Hunter Chicken (Cacciatore)

1 3 lb chicken
1 Green bell pepper
1 lg Onion
2 lg Carrots
2 Potatoes
2 Cloves garlic
1/2 c Sun dried tomatoes
1 lg Can shitake mushrooms
1 lg Can crushed tomatoes
1/4 c Wine or sherry, etc.
1 Bunch chopped parsley
1 Small bunch basil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tb Extra virgin olive oil

In a slow cooker add chicken and coarse chopped or sliced vegetables and remainder of ingredients and cook high 6 to 8 hours. If too liquid cook about 1/2 hr. more with lid off. Place chicken and sauce over pasta. Serves 4 to 6. Other veges may be added to the recipe if desired.

Hollis’s Slow cooked Crock-pot Sausage and Peppers

3 packages of sausages , some sweet and some hot ( 1 lb. each )
3 large green peppers
3 large red peppers
1 large onion
garlic cloves to taste
1 quart tomato sauce: canned or store bought
seasonings to taste: salt, pepper, parsley, paprika, etc.
sliced mushrooms, if desired

Prick sausages with a fork and place in water, bring to a boil and boil gently 1/2 hour. Drain well. Sauté sausages in pan with some oil until browned. Slice. Place sauce in crock-pot, add sliced sausages, sliced peppers, sliced onions, garlic and seasonings to taste. Cook low all day. Serve with Italian rolls and a salad. Serves 10.

Crock-pot Macaroni and Cheese

8 ounces elbow macaroni, cooked & drained
3 cups sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
12 ounces canned evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 more cup sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded

Place the cooked macaroni in a 3 1/2-quart (or larger) slow cooker that has been coated with nonstick cooking spray. Add 3 cups cheese, milk, eggs and seasonings to the macaroni; mix well. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup cheese, then cover and cook on the low setting for 5 to 6 hours or until the mixture is firm and golden around the edges. Do not remove the cover or stir until the mixture has finished cooking. Serves 4 to 6.

Luann’s Crock-pot Mostaccioli

2 lbs hamburger
2 large cans crushed tomatoes
1 small can tomato sauce
2 chopped onions
1 chopped green pepper
1 Tbs oregano or Italian seasoning
1 tsp garlic salt
1/4 cup sugar (added after it simmers for a while)
1 box mostaccioli noodles

Sauté hamburger, onions, and peppers. Combine all ingredients in crock-pot except noodles Simmer 6 to 8 hours in crock-pot. Boil noodles and add to sauce in crock-pot. Serves at least 6 people.

Crock-pot German Potato Salad

2 potatoes, sliced
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1/2 cup celery, sliced
1/4 cup green peppers, diced
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup oil
Chopped parsley
Veggie bacon bits or sliced bacon, cooked and crumbled
Combine all ingredients except parsley and bacon. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir and cook for 5-6 hours on low in crock-pot. Garnish with bacon and parsley. Yield: 4 servings.

French Dip

1/3 cup soy sauce
1 packet onion soup mix
any size roast(s) to fit in your crock pot

Combine soy sauce and soup mix in crock pot. Add the roast, then add water to cover the roast. Cook on low for 24 hrs. (The aroma will drive you nuts!) Put the meat into sandwiches and dip into the juice it cooked in, or eat the roast as is. Easy and wonderful! Yield depends on roast size.
Note: Cook until fork tender. Cooking may be much less than 24 hours depending on size of roast!

Slow Cooker Jambalaya

1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped celery
2 cloves garlic, chopped
28 ounces canned tomatoes, unstrained
2 cups smoked sausage, chopped
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
3/4 pound medium shrimp, raw, peeled, deveined

Add all ingredients EXCEPT the shrimp into a 3-6 quart slow cooker. Cover & cook on low for 7-8 hours { or on high for 3-4 hours } . Stir in cleaned shrimp, cover & cook on low for about 1 hour or until shrimp are pink & firm. Makes 8 servings.

Chocolate Mess
(a steamed pudding/soufflé type of dessert)

1 box chocolate cake mix, dry
1 pint sour cream
4 large eggs
1 pkg instant chocolate pudding
6 oz. chocolate chips
In a large bowl, mix the sour cream well into the dry cake mix. Blend in eggs well. Blend in dry chocolate pudding. Stir in chocolate pieces.Place mixture into a greased crock-pot. Smooth top of mixture. Cook on low covered for 6 to 8 hours. Scoop out and serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream. Do not lift off cover while dessert is cooking! Yield: 6 servings.

Apple Crisp

Crumble Mixture:
1 stick butter or margarine cut up
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup oats
1 cup chopped nuts of choice

6 to 8 large apples peeled and sliced (about 3 lbs)
Juice from a fresh lemon
1 Tbs sugar or to taste
2 Tbs flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
some fresh grated nutmeg to taste

In a food processor with metal blade combine sugar, oats and butter and pulse briefly to crumble. Pulse in nuts. Set mixture aside. Mix apples with lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and flour. In a greased crock-pot press in a layer 1/2 of crumb mixture, all of apple mixture evenly and press on remainder of crumb mixture over apples..Cover and cook on high for 3 hours or until top is golden and side of dessert looks caramelized.
Note: place a small spoon under lid to keep cover open a crack. This will let off some steam (apples have a lot of moisture) so dessert doesn’t get too soggy. Yield: 6 servings.


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