Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Important slow cooker tips

 

Benefits of using a slow cooker
I think slow cookers have gotten a bad rep in recent years. As more technology comes out, I feel like some people turn their noses up at the use of slow cookers. But there's a reason they became so popular in the mid-1900s.

They free up stovetop space, they use less energy than an oven, they can be used unattended, and they don't heat your house in the summer.



Slow cooker temps
Probably the biggest disadvantage of the slow cooker is there is no temperature setting. Your options are warm, low, and high. The warm setting should hold the food above the "temperature danger zone" (140 degrees Fahrenheit). The temperature range for low and high will depend on your slow cooker.

Some slow cookers run hot, and others run on the cooler side. The best way to find out what kind of slow cooker you have is to fill your device halfway with room temperature water, stick a probe thermometer in the slow cooker, and monitor it for several hours.


Slow cooker tips:
1. Remember the tagline "set it and forget it"? That isn't a good strategy.

You can't put raw ingredients in the slow cooker and return 8 hours later to a delicious meal without having done anything else. Your food will be underwhelming and bland. A dish needs varied flavors and textures.

In most cases, you need to do some work outside of the slow cooker before cooking it and before serving it.

For example, you need to saute the aromatics (onions, carrots, celery), toast your spices, brown the meat, and deglaze (with wine if using) before cooking in the slow cooker. 

2. Also, cooking ingredients for a long time mellows flavors. I recommend adding additional bloomed spices, pouring in an acid (like lemon juice or apple cider vinegar), and stirring in fresh herbs before serving.

3. Don't lift the lid! It will cause the slow cooker to release heat and steam and it can affect the cooking time.


Saucy Slow Cooker Meatballs

Yield: Makes about 28 meatballs

Time: About 4 1/2 hours

Ingredients 

For the meatballs

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or grated
  • 1 Tablespoon dried mint (or 1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the sauce

  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup red wine, lemon juice, or wine vinegar
  • 56 ounces crushed tomatoes
  • 3 Tablespoons harissa
  • Optional: Fresh mint or parsley, chopped

Directions

For the meatballs

  1. In large bowl, break up ground beef and pork. Set aside.
  2. Mix together panko, eggs, shallot, garlic, mint, cumin, oregano, and salt.
  3. Use hands to carefully combine ingredients with meat.
  4. Roll meat mixture into golf-ball sized meatballs.
  5. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Place meatballs in skillet, making sure not to crowd pan, and brown meatballs. Set meatballs aside.

For the sauce

  1. Add onion and salt to skillet and cook until soft and translucent. 
  2. Add cumin and cinnamon to skillet and cook for about 1 minute.
  3. Deglaze skillet with wine. Add contents of skillet to slow cooker.
  4. Pour crushed tomatoes into slow cooker and mix.
  5. Add meatballs to slow cooker and cover in sauce.
  6. Cover slow cooker and cook on low for 4 hours, or until meatball internal temperature registers 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
  7. Mix harissa into sauce, top with fresh herbs, and serve with orzo or bread.

Slow Cooker Harissa Eggplant

Yield: Makes about 4 (1/2 cup) servings

Time: About 4 hours

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds eggplant, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 cup harissa, divided
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 Tablespoons lemon juice (1 lemon), divided
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Optional: Yogurt, crumbled feta, fresh mint or parsley

Directions

  1. Combine eggplant, 1/4 cup harissa, 2 Tablespoons lemon juice, and kosher salt in slow cooker.
  2. Cover and cook on low for about 6 hours or until eggplant is very tender.
  3. Add remaining harissa and lemon juice to slow cooker and stir.
  4. Serve with optional toppings.









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