Monday, November 8, 2010

Slow Cookers

Cuisinart PSC-350 3-1/2-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker
One of my favorite kitchen appliances is my slow cooker.  Slow cookers are capable of cooking a variety of foods: meats, soups, beans, and even desserts!  The best thing about it is that by using a slow cooker, I'm able to save time and money.

Before I had my daughter, I had a 40-hour per week job outside of the home.  When I came home I was usually exhausted and often didn't have much energy left for cooking (nor did we have a dishwasher or counter space, which made cooking and clean-up more of an involved process).  During this time of life, I used my slow cooker as much as I could!  It was so nice to prepare a meal before work in the morning and come home and have dinner already done, not to mention the wonderful smell in the house from dinner cooking all day long.  Sometimes I would prepare everything the night before and then just refrigerate it until the next morning.  That way, in the morning all I had to do was stick the crock in the slow cooker and push start (which is ideal for us non-morning people).  Even though I'm no longer working outside the home, I still use my slow cooker frequently.

One reason I love my slow cooker is because it is a money-saving appliance.  Because of it's cooking process, it's ideal for cheap, tough cuts of meat.  When tough cuts of meat are cooked slowly for long periods of time, they become tender, moist, and delicious.

There are several brands and types of slow cookers with different features.

West Bend 84384 4-Quart Oval-Shaped Crockery CookerBasic: There are basic slow cookers that simply have a switch that has off, low, high, and warm.  You turn it on and it stays on until you turn it off.  There are no bells and whistles here.  Some of them have crocks that are removable and some have crocks that are built-in, which is something to think about when purchasing a slow cooker.  One with a crock that is not removable will be more difficult to clean.

Hamilton Beach 33967 Set 'n Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker

Automatic: These slow cookers are a little more advanced than the basic model.  They usually have some sort of timer that will turn the slow cooker either to off or to warm once the time has run out.  Some allow you to put in any amount of time and some limit you to a specific time increments (i.e. 4 or 6 hours for high and 8 or 10 hours for low).  Some even have probe thermometers that you can stick into your meat and once the meat reaches a certain temperature, it will turn the slow cooker off or to low.

What we have:
Kimiko: I have a Crock-Pot SCRC507-W 5-Quart Countdown Slow Cooker.  You can set it to low, high, or warm in addition to setting how long you want it to cook (in 30 minute increments).  Once the time has run out, it automatically turns to warm.  This countdown feature is wonderful, since I'm not always home when the food is done cooking.  It's also nice that I can set whatever amount of time I want and I'm not limited to specific time frames.  For example, I can set it on low for just 3 hours if I want to; I'm not limited to 8 or 10 hours on low.  I also don't have to worry about overcooking the meal when I'm not home and when I am home, I don't have to worry about turning it off at a certain time.  Additionally, since it automatically turns to warm instead of turning off, I don't have to worry about my food getting cold and reaching an unsafe temperature - it stays hot until we're ready to eat.

Sumiko:  I have two slow cookers.  When I went away to college, someone gave me a 2.75-quart manual Rival Crock-Pot.  Although I have a large family, I really like the smaller capacity of this one for smaller batches.  I love steel cut oats but never have time to cook them in the morning.  I just put oats and water in this small Crock-Pot before I go to bed and I have delicious, warm oat meal in the morning.
There are two things I do not like about this slow cooker.  First, the crock is not removable, making washing a hassle.  Second, it came with a plastic lid.  I have a casserole dish with a glass lid that fits that I use instead.  The particular model I have is no longer available.  Fortunately, the comparable models that Rival now makes have removable crocks and glass lids.  You can find them here, priced from $19.99 for a 2.5-quart to $29.99 for a 3.5-quart.

I also have a newer 5-quart oval Rival Crock-Pot Smart-Pot which is also no longer available.  They now make 5-quart round and 5.5- and 6-quart oval Smart-Pots, available here for $24.99 to $54.99.  The Smart-Pot series allows you to program it for 4 or 6 hours on high or 8 or 10 hours on low.  Once the time has elapsed, it automatically switches to the warm setting.  I really like this slow cooker, and it is the perfect size for our family.  There have been a few occasions when I wished I could manually turn it to warm.

What we use it for:
  • Beans 
  • Chicken
  • Roasts
  • Soups and stews
  • Hot apple cider
  • Oatmeal
  • Taco/Burrito filling
  • Desserts

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