Living Well Los Alamos: Slow Cooker Month

By HELEN IDZOREK
Extension Home Economist

With the New Year upon us many of us make resolutions to improve our health—both physically and financially.

January is Slow Cooker Month. Slow cookers use less electricity than an oven and because they use long, low temperature cooking, less expensive cuts of meat come out tender. Though we often turn to slow cookers for making winter soups and stews, they also work well in the summer as they do not heat up the kitchen like an oven. You can use your saved time from slow cooking to be physically active or to spend time with your family.

Safety

While  slow cookers make cooking healthy, affordable and tasty meals easy, safety must be kept in mind. Always start with a clean slow cooker, utensils and work surface. To ensure complete cooking, meat and poultry must be thawed in the refrigerator before being placed in the slow cooker. Since vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry, place the vegetables in the slow cooker first, then add meat and liquid. A slow cooker should be filled no less than 1/2 full and no more than 2/3 full and the lid should be left on during cooking. It can take up to 20 minutes to regain the internal temperature of the slow cooker once the lid has been removed. Use a food thermometer to make sure the contents of the slow cooker reach 165 degrees before serving.

Tips for Slow Cooking

  • Brown meat before adding to the cooker to allow for better flavor development.
  • Beans must be softened completely before adding to the slow cooker. Acidic foods like tomatoes inhibit softening.
  • Pasta should be cooked separately until slightly tender and added one hour before serving to avoid becoming mushy.
  • If cooked rice is called for, stir raw rice in with the other ingredients and add 1 cup extra liquid per cup of raw rice.
  • Milk, cheese and cream should be added no more than one hour before serving as they can develop an undesirable texture if cooked too long in the slow cooker.  Evaporated milk does not curdle and can be substituted for milk.
  • Frozen vegetables do not need to be thawed. They should be added during the last hour of cooking.
  • To thicken gravies before serving, remove ½ cup liquid from slow cooker, stir recommended amount of flour or cornstarch into liquid, return to slow cooker and simmer on high for 15 minutes.

Slow Cooking at High Altitudes
Since water boils at a lower temperature at our high altitude, it is more difficult for the food to reach a safe temperature and for bacteria to be destroyed. If your slow cooker has an adjustable temperature control, select a setting that will maintain the food at 200 °F or higher. Otherwise, start the food cooking on high for the first hour; then either continue to use high or turn it to the low setting for the remainder of cooking. Allow longer cooking times at high altitudes.

Converting Recipes for a Slow Cooker

Most recipes can be converted to cooking in your slow cooker. As liquids do not boil away, reduce liquids by one-third to one-half. In soups, however, this will not matter.

Standard Recipe Says

Cook on HIGH in slow cooker

Cook on LOW in slow cooker

15-30 minutes

1 ½-2 ½ hours

4-6 hours

30-45 minutes

3-4 hours

6-10 hours

50 minutes-3 hours

4-6 hours

8-18 hours

Pork Roast with Dried-Fruit Compote

Other dried fruit, such as pears, apples, cherries or figs, can also be used in this dish. Use one or a combination of fruits to equal a total of 3 cups.

1 bone-in pork shoulder (about 3 lb)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 cup chicken broth
¾ cup dry white wine
½ cup fresh orange juice
¼ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 fresh rosemary sprig
1½ cups dried plums, pitted
1½ cups dried apricots

Season the pork shoulder on all sides with salt and pepper. In a large fry pan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the pork and brown well on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer the pork to a slow cooker. Pour off the excess fat from the fry pan and set the pan over high heat. Pour in the broth, wine and orange juice and deglaze the pan, stirring to scrape up the browned bits from the pan bottom. Stir in the brown sugar, bring the liquid to a boil and reduce slightly. Pour the contents of the pan over the pork.

Add the rosemary sprig to the slow cooker. Scatter the plums and apricots around the sides of the meat. Cover and cook on HIGH for 4 hours OR on LOW for 8 hours according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Remove the rosemary sprig and discard. Transfer the pork to a platter and spoon the fruit compote around the meat. Slice the pork across the grain or, if the meat is too tender to slice neatly, use a pair of forks to tear it into large chunks. Serve with the compote alongside. Serves 8

Recipe from the kitchen of Ginger Hack

Italian Beef Sandwiches

1 boneless beef chuck roast (3 to 4 pounds) trimmed and cut into chunks
3 tablespoons dried oregano
3 tablespoons dried basil
1 cup water
1 envelope dry onion soup mix
10 to 12 Italian rolls or sandwich buns

Instructions: Cut roast into chunks. In a skillet, brown beef pieces in a small amount of oil. Place pieces in a slow cooker. Combine basil, oregano and water; pour over roast. Sprinkle with soup mix. Cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours or until meat is tender. Remove meat; shred with a fork and keep warm. Strain broth; skim off fat. Serve meat on rolls; use broth for dipping if desired.

Recipe courtesy of Cornell Cooperative Extension Service

Helen Idzorek is the Extension Home Economist and 4-H Agent for NMSU Cooperative Extension Service. She can be reached via email at hidzorek@nmsu.edu or at 505.662.2656. The Los Alamos County Cooperative Extension Service is in the Community Building at 475 20th St, Suite A in Los Alamos. Find them on facebook or visit their website at www.losalamosextension.nmsu.edu New Mexico State University is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and educator. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.

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