The Slow Cooker

During an internship at the test kitchens of Cooking Light magazine, I held the self-proclaimed title “The Slow Cooker,” perhaps due to my seemingly languid pace in the kitchen or the fact that I was given a bulk of slow cooker recipes to test. During the time I spent testing those 20 or more recipes, I learned a few valuable lessons about these slow cooking devices, also known as crock pots.

First, while many recipes offer an alternative time and setting of cooking on HIGH for four to six hours, I have found that cooking on the normal setting of LOW for about eight hours usually garners the best results. Second, I learned the importance of refraining from the urge to lift the lid of the crock pot before the dish is done. The steam generated within the crock pot is essential to the cooking process, so it is of the utmost significance not to peep.

I also discovered that crock pots can either be your best friend, as in the case of my mother, or your worst enemy, as in the case of my test kitchen experience. The true ingenious behind the crock pot is that you can place any assortment of ingredients into it, flip it on, and walk away. Eight hours later, Voila!, you are done with dinner. This may sound like a phony infomercial that you would see on late night television, but for the most part, this concept is true. However, these innovative cooking simulations do require a bit of prep work or “mise en place” as they say in the business. Basically, this means to get everything ready to cook prior to the actual cooking process—vegetables chopped, meat trimmed, and spices measured.

For instance, if you are planning a roast for the following day, you should do a little preparation before heading to bed. So that when you wake up, you can put on the coffee and dump all the ingredients for dinner into crock pot. Chili, stews, roasts, and a host of other delights for wintry weather are very crock pot-friendly. If you are the adventurous type you can try your hand at some breakfast concoctions left to take form overnight in the crock pot. Breakfast casseroles, oatmeal, and even French toast can be assembled the night before in a crock pot and left to greet you during those hectic mornings.

Though I have had my fair share of feuds over tough meat and disintegrated vegetables with the crock pot, like most best friends, we have made up over the years and now thoroughly enjoy the company of one another, especially on chilly evenings. Here is a family favorite with simple yet comforting flavors made in the ease and convenience of a slow cooking crock pot.

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

1 pound beef stew meat

1 cup baby carrots

1 green bell peppers, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 large baking potato, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 (8-ounce) package baby portabella mushrooms, halved

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 (1.5-ounce) envelop dry onion soup mix

1 cup water

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

Cooked rice (optional)

Place all ingredients into a crock pot, and cook on LOW for 8 hours. Serve over cooked rice.


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