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Posts Tagged ‘slow cooker’

Recently, I had to be off my feet for a few weeks following a surgery. In order to ease the burden on my family, I put about 15 meals in the freezer that I prepared ahead of time … in less than 2 hours. I looked up “freezer meals” and found a wealth of helpful ideas. Most of the freezer meals included assembling ingredients for recipes that will go from freezer to refrigerator (to thaw) and into my slow cooker. The meals proved to be so easy and helpful that I plan to continue this method regularly throughout the year to have several meals in the freezer all the time.

Freezer meals can be helpful for a busy schedule any time you need a meal that’s ready-to-go or when you take a meal to someone else in need. Freezer meals can save you time by prepping all the ingredients ahead of time, and then only taking minutes to put in the oven or slow cooker after they are thawed. Freezer meals can also save you money because you can purchase ingredients when they are on sale to enjoy them later.

Here are a few steps to get you started…

  1. Plan

There are several approaches to freezer meals, including making a double batch of a recipe and freezing one batch, pre-cooking part of the recipe (like browning ground beef), or assembling ingredients to freeze and later cook in the oven or slow cooker. Be sure to consider nutrition. Use MyPlate as a guide for your menus, plan a variety of low-fat proteins and dairy along with plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Consider avoiding ingredients that don’t freeze well, such as mayonnaise and lettuce. There are entire websites and cookbooks dedicated to freezer meals. This Extension fact sheet on Freezer Meal Planning includes recipe ideas and a grocery list.

Picture of slow cooker recipe ingredients, ready to freeze.

  1. Assemble

Gather all the ingredients and containers for freezing ahead of time. Freezer bags or cartons work well. Label the bag or container with a permanent marker before filling. Label with the name of the recipe, date, and instructions for cooking. You can do several recipes at once or one at a time.

  1. Freeze

Lay freezer bags flat to freeze so they are easier to thaw. Consider freezing on a pan or baking sheet until frozen then stacking in freezer, or standing bags up to freeze vertically. Foods kept at zero degrees are safe indefinitely although quality might deteriorate after 3-6 months. This resource has more tips on freezing foods.

  1. Thaw

The safest and easiest way to thaw frozen foods is in the refrigerator, although it takes a little planning ahead. A gallon-sized bag of food will usually thaw in the refrigerator in about 24 hours. You can also defrost frozen foods in the microwave and then cook immediately.

  1. Cook

If using the slow cooker, be sure foods are thawed before cooking. For more information on slow cooking, check out these resources from Ohio State University Extension: College of Food, Agriculture and Environment Sciences Blog and Live Healthy Live Well.

 

Written by: Shannon Carter, Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Fairfield County.

Reviewed by:  Joanna Fifner, Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Medina County.

 

Sources:

Barlage, L. “Slow Cooker Season!” Ohio State University Extension, Live Healthy Live Well. 10/30/2015. Live Healthy Live Well.

Brinkman, P. “Safely Using Your Slow Cooker.” Ohio State University Extension. Retrieved on 9/5/18. https://cfaes.osu.edu/slow-cooker-safety

Christensen, D. “Freezer Meal Planning.” Utah State University. May 2009. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1303&context=extension_curall

Henneman, A. & Jensen, J. “Freezing Cooked Food for Future Meals: Freezer Bag Tips.” University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County and Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department. Retrieved on 9/6/2018. https://food.unl.edu/freezing-cooked-food-future-meals-freezer-bag-tips

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As the weather cools down the type of meals we often cook in slow cookers start to sound wonderful. Think warm, hearty, time saving, and one-dish meals. Slow cookers can help you to save both money and time – and maybe even your sanity. Instead of walking in the door at the end of the day to “What’s for dinner?” you can hear “Wow! That smells good. I’m going to wash up for dinner.” Because slow cookers use a low temperature to cook foods over a longer than usual time, there are a few safety and preparation tips to keep in mind:

  • As always, start with clean hands and a clean surface as you prep your meal.
  • To avoid sticking and provide a speedy clean-up, spray the inside of the crock with non-stick spray before adding ingredients.
  • Thaw frozen meats before adding to the crock either in the microwave or refrigerator.
  • If you decide to cut up foods ahead of time, store meats and vegetables separate before placing them in the pot to avoid growth of bacteria.
  • To shorten the time that foods are in the danger zone, between 40 and 140 degrees, either pre-heat the cooker or use the high setting for the first hour. I often add one of my liquid ingredients and turn my pot on high as I prep the other ingredients to add.
  • Surprisingly vegetables cook slower than meats, so add them first. slow cooker
  • Newer research states that larger cuts of meat can be now cooked in a slow cooker, but check manufacturer directions to see how many pounds your machine will hold safely. Check large cuts of meat with a meat thermometer to ensure safe temperature, 165 degrees for poultry and ground meats; and 145 to 160 degrees for beef, pork and lamb.
  • When cooking meats and poultry water, broth, or vegetable juices should almost cover the meat. This liquid provides more even heat transfer and creates the steam to ensure safe cooking.
  • While it is tempting, do not over-fill slow cookers. A pot one-half to two-thirds full is a full pot for cooking.
  • Do not remove the lid unnecessarily. When you lift the lid the inside temperature drops and can add 30 minutes or more to the cooking time.
  • After serving foods do not leave them to cool down in the crock. Store slow cooker foods safely as other left-overs – separate into shallow containers within short time and store in refrigerator or freezer. Left-overs should be reheated to 165 degrees before eating.

Are you looking for a low cost slow cooker meal idea? Try one from our Ohio State University Extension, Wayne County http://go.osu.edu/slowcooker. What is your favorite slow cooker recipe? I love my mother’s baked beans, white chicken chili, and anything for a tail-gate. Comment on your favorite.

Sources:

USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service, “Slow Cookers and Food Safety”, http://www.fsis.usda.gov.

University of Minnesota Extension, “Slow Cookers and Food Safety”, http://www.extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/preserving/safe-meals/slow-cooker-safety/.

Writer: Lisa Barlage, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Ross County.

Reviewer: Tammy Jones, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Pike County.

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  Crock Pot Cooking

Wouldn’t it be great to walk into your home after a long day at work or school and smell dinner cooking?  Since most of us don’t have a fairy godmother who prepares meals for us, the next best thing might be your crock pot!

A crock pot has many benefits. It is convenient and saves time and money. You do have to be disciplined to plan ahead and spend some time in the morning or the night before preparing the crock pot meal. Raw ingredients must be kept refrigerated until they are put into the crock pot. Meat or poultry should be defrosted and vegetables should be cut into small pieces. You want to be sure that the water or stock in the pot almost covers the meat to ensure good heat transfer.

Don’t overload the pot – most crock pot recipes will tell you what size pot you should use. A general rule is to fill it about half full. You also should not lift the lid during the time your meal is cooking. The heat that has built up will be released every time you open it and it will slow the cooking time.

Some people worry about the safety of food prepared in a crock pot. A combination of direct heat, long cooking times and steam created from the tightly covered container combine to destroy bacteria and make the crock pot a safe food preparation alternative.

Another benefit of crock pot cooking is that it can improve the nutritional content of our food and the meal can be delicious. Less expensive cuts of meat become very tender from the long cooking time. By preparing the food yourself you can cut back on the amount of sodium in the recipe by using low sodium or sodium free broths.

Take good care of your crock pot. Some crock pots have removable stoneware liners that are dishwasher safe. If your crock pot requires hand washing, wash it right after cooking with hot water. Don’t ever pour cold water into stoneware that is hot – that may cause the pot to crack.

There are many sources of recipes for your crock pot. Most pots come with a cook book and online sources are plentiful.  As you become more familiar with crock pot cooking, you will be able to adapt family favorite meals to crock pot cooked meals!

Written by:  Marilyn Rabe, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences,OhioStateUniversityExtension.

Source:

Eating Right with Your Slow Cooker, Purdue Extension.

http://www.ag.purdue.edu/counties/vanderburgh/Documents/CFS/Making%20a%20Difference%20Lessons/Lesson%20Guide%20for%20Slow%20cookers.pdf

Putting Your Crock Pot to Work, Universityof KentuckyCooperative Extension Service.www.ca.uky.edu/hes/fcs/factshts/FN-SSB.003.PDF

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Opening the front door on a cold fall evening and being greeted by the inviting smells of beef stew, chili, or chicken noodle soup coming from a slow cooker can be a cooks dream come true.  Slow cookers cook foods slowly at a temperature between 170 degrees and 280 degrees Fahrenheit.  The direct heat from the
pot, long cooking time, and steam created within the tightly covered container combine to destroy bacteria and make a slow cooker a safe process for cooking
foods as long as correct procedures are followed.

  • Always start with a clean cooker, clean utensils, a clean work area and clean hands.
  • Never put frozen foods in your slow cooker.  They take much too long to heat up and stay in the danger zone — between 40 degrees and
    140 degrees too long.
  • Fill your slow cooker no less than half full and no more than two-thirds full.  Vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry in a slow cooker.  Therefore, put vegetables in first at the bottom and around the sides.  Then add the meat and cover with liquid such as broth, water, or barbecue sauce.
  • Keep the lid on your slow cooker, removing it only to stir the food or check the temperature.  Every time the lid is removed, heat escapes and that lowers the temperature of the food in the slow cooker.

Finally, always get the slow cooker started on high setting for the first hour and it can then be turned to low for continued cooking.
Enjoy the food in your slow cooker but keep it safe.

Author:  Linnette Goard, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension

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