Are you looking for a wholesome family dinner? Try a slow cooked one. These dishes come out of the pot after hours of cooking looking and smelling delicious. Before you get started, however, slow-cook expert Stephanie O'Dea shares some of her tips for success.
Slow cookers work best when they are 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full. If you find that you are not regularly filling your cooker to this capacity, you might consider getting a smaller one. For a family of four, a 5-to-6-quart cooker is the perfect size. If you'd like to use your cooker to make smaller appetizers, desserts or side dishes, you can do so by inserting an oven-safe dish into the stoneware to create a smaller cooking vessel.
Use Programmable Slow Cookers
If you aren't sure what time you'll be home, this kind of cooker allows you to program it for a specific amount of time, after which it moves to a warm setting. That way, if you get home later than expected, your food isn't overcooked. You can get a good one for around $50.
Versatile = Cheap
Because you can use the slow cooker to make everything from yogurt to baby food to cheesecake, you save money on foods that are traditionally "store-bought" items on your grocery list. I even use it to cook dried beans so I don't have to buy the canned ones.
Easy Cleanup, Great for Entertaining
What's easier than having to clean only one pot after serving a house full of guests? I made our entire Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners in slow cookers. Everything was done by 10 a.m. so I could sit down and enjoy our guests until dinner was ready. I particularly like using my smaller slow cookers to make elegant appetizers such as baked herbed feta.
Foolproof, Even for Amateurs
I started using the slow cooker because I stunk at cooking, and with the slow cooker, there is no set of rules that you need to follow. People often ask me about very specific scenarios such as whether lifting the lid during the cooking process affects the cooking time.
"Old skool" wisdom holds that every time you lift the lid to peek at the food, twenty minutes of cooking time is lost. I ignore this advice completely. I like to stir, taste and tweak my meals while they are cooking, and I haven't found that the cooking time has ever noticeably increased. The rule is that there are no rules.