Using a traditional slow-cooker has taken a back seat to Instapot-type pressure cookers and air fryers. But I still use mine and today’s podcast is all about “why”, “when,” and “how.” In fact, I have 7 tips on using a traditional slow-cooker.
I want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast every episode. I appreciate you all so much. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and are set up for a fabulous New Year celebration.
We are old fogies and likely won’t even stay awake until the ball drops in Time Square. Well, we might be watching Game of Thrones past midnight. I know it’s so over, but we listened to the audiobooks ages ago and I wasn’t really impressed with the book nor the first adapted to TV season. Anyway, we watched the videos of the first season again after years of it sitting on the shelf. Following that, I decided to finish the series. You know, end of year, cleaning up loose ends and such, so we’re now watching, and are currently in season 3, after staying away for all those years. Still not that impressed, but it is okay.
Truly I’m a Wheel of Time fangirl and am anxiously awaiting Amazon’s original production beginning in the fall next year. I’m counting on it putting Game of Thrones to shame. Anyway, I’m so excited to share with you what’s going on at the farm this week so let’s get to it.
- Homestead Life Updates
- 7 Tips for Using a Traditional Slow-Cooker
- Easy Barbecued Beef
Homestead Life Updates
Life has slowed down some here as we get into the winter season. Milking is done. Canning is done – for the most part. I will be making bone broth throughout the winter and building up my stores of that tasty burst of nutrition. But as with any homestead situation, stuff is going on year-round.
The biggest challenge seems to be keeping the goats inside the fence. One in particular, Star, just seems to go wherever she wants. They all got out a week or so ago and there happened to be an open gate to paddock #7 so they are in there while the rest of the girls, the cows and sheep, are rotating through the back pastures 10 through 14. Star is with the cows and sheep – at least the last time we looked she was there. It’s a different day so who knows.
The sheep are doing well. Again, we expect our first lambs around the 6th of May. What do you think about a farm tour in June? The lambs will be really cute at that age.
The cows are plugging along. Luna is growing like a weed. She is such a beautiful calf. We have received the canister that will house the semen for artificial insemination next season. The boys are slowly getting thinned out. Eventually, we will have only female bovine. I’m looking forward to that day when we have a single herd of cows. Today we have five cows and Luna the heifer in one herd and two steers and three bulls in another herd. The boys are okay, but it’s the girls, Claire, Cloud, Buttercup, Violet, Butter and now Luna that are my treasures.
Nothing much going on with the Quail. They aren’t laying any eggs. I’m not looking for any new eggs until spring. March, or maybe even April.
It’s so exciting to see the roof going on. At the moment, it is actually the decking for the attic floor. Once Scott completes this part, he will have a platform on which to build the rafters. He is building them, more or less, in place. Once they are complete, our friend Charles will come over and help him literally raise the roof. The carpentry goes much faster than the masonry.
I’m mentally planning the garden at this point. Sometime in January or February I’ll order the seeds. I had such a good time growing seedlings last spring that I’m thinking about growing quite a few more and selling them at the farmers market. I already know I’m going to be growing a lot of peas, beans, and tomatoes because I use a lot of them making meals for the women’s homeless shelter. I’ll probably grow squash again. I didn’t grow any last year. And peppers. I think I’ll grow a variety of peppers again.
That’s about it for Homestead updates. Let’s get on with today’s topic.
7 Tips For Using a Traditional Slow-cooker
The slow-cooker offers the home cook a way of making “fast food.” While it may cook slowly, it has a fix-it-and-forget-it feature that other cooking techniques can’t match. Once your ingredients are in the cooker, there is no stirring, no fussing, no additional attention necessary until your dish is ready for the table. My Cosori pressure cooker comes close but there are reasons that I still use my traditional slow-cooker. Feel free to use either.
What Exactly Is a Slow-cooker?
First of all, “slow-cooker” is the generic term used for this appliance, but the company who first designed the slow-cooker (Rival) named their product crockpot. The slow-cooker and crockpot are one and the same. Features that make a slow-cooker or crockpot a slow-cooker are:
- Countertop appliance with low and high settings without a gauge to set a specific temperature
- The inner container is made from stoneware, ceramic or heat resistant glass
- It has wrap around heating elements within a metal casing. This provides indirect heat to the container for even heating and avoids hotspots and stirring is usully not required for most dishes.
- A tightfitting lid to contain the heat and steam.
The combination of low temperature, lengthy cooking times and locked-in moisture work together to cook food thoroughly, while inhibiting the growth of bacteria and eliminating the need for your personal attention during the lengthy cooking process.
Slow-cookers are typically round or oval in shape and range in size from 1 to 7 quarts. Depending on your needs, it may be useful to have a couple of different sizes—a smaller one for side dishes and dips, (try my cheese fondue recipe in a quart sized unit) and another larger size for bigger main meals and to allow room to double or triple a dish for larger gatherings or so you can freeze a portion for later. Current models have digital features, such as an automatic “off” or “keep warm” option. These options allow you to better control how long your dish cooks when you are away from home.
Traditional Origins and Benefits of Slow Cooking
Although slow-cooking was introduced in the early 1970s, it can be considered a modern version of the time-honored tradition of braising, stewing, pot-roasting and Dutch oven cooking methods. All of these use long cooking times, low temperatures with liquid and a tightfitting lid or cover to keep all of the ingredients in a moist environment. All of these slow-cooking methods typically use indirect heat, such as with an oven, compared to the direct heat applied from fire or a stovetop.
As described in Slow-Cookers for Dummies, “for generations, women in small towns throughout Europe. . . Have been using the town bread baker’s cooling ovens to slow-cook their family meals. . . For a small price, the Baker rented oven space to anyone who wanted to slow-cook a joint of meat or fish. The food was left in the oven unattended and picked up in the early afternoon for dinner. Although the practice of slow-cooking in a wood-burning oven was also common practice in the United States during the 1800s, it died out with the introduction of cast-iron stoves. . .”
Just as with any other food preparation technique, flops can happen in a slow-cooker. While it is an easy-to-use appliance, it does take a little more thought to use than just dumping in the ingredients and flipping the on switch. Just as with any cooking method, it is important to know how the appliance functions at its best. With a little knowledge, you will experience many more successes than mishaps. Also, the more you learn about how to operate the slow-cooker, the easier it will be for you to create new or adapt old family recipes to this nourishing, time-saving method of preparing nutritious food.
Let’s get to the heart of today’s topic, 7 tips for using a traditional slow-cooker.
Why? Because It is Practical
Here is a short list of why it is practical:
- You save time in the kitchen
- The meal is portable and perfect for buffets and potlucks
- You save money on electricity
- In the summer, lower heat production is a great boon
- It is safe to leave it unattended at home while you work, shop or chauffeur the family here and there
- You can use up tougher cuts of meat you got with that great ¼ cow, ½ pig or whole lamb package deal
- Your oven is free for other tasks
- You save yourself from cleaning an additional serving dish
- Nutritious broth from meat and bones produces collagens and gelatins and enhances the flavor of the dish
Which Setting to Use and When?
The settings on most slow-cookers include off, low and high. Most slow-cooker recipes are geared to the low setting, which reaches 180 to 200°, that is, a gentle simmer. The high setting hovers between 280 to 300° and will cook food about 2 to 2 ½ times faster than when on low.
Another option is to start a dish out on high for about an hour to get a jump start on heating the container, and then turn it back down to low for the remainder of the time. This method is especially useful when cooking large cuts of meat or whole chickens.
The keep-warm setting is a great way to maximize the usefulness of this appliance. Once the food has been thoroughly cooked, this setting will prevent further cooking or drying out, and will keep food ready-to-eat for at least two hours.
How Long Does It Really Take to Cook?
Besides the chosen setting (high or low), other factors that influence the speed your dish will cook are the liquid and fat content of the dish, temperature of the food, temperature of the container (such as whether it was left in the fridge with pre-prepared ingredients the night before), altitude, size of the pieces of food and of course your specific slow-cooker.
How Much Food Is Too Much?
For the best outcome, the container of your slow-cooker should be half to three-quarters full. Filling the container less than half full is more likely to result in overcooked or burned food. Food in a overfilled container may not cooked thoroughly in the allotted time or get hot enough to inhibit bacteria growth, which is to reach 140° in under four hours. Spillage outside the container is also more likely with expansion of the food.
Do I Still Have to Brown or Sauté?
Some slow-cooker recipes require nothing more than chopping up the ingredients, while others may taste better with a touch more prep. Since slow-cookers don’t reach browning temperatures, browning large cuts of meat or sautéing or softening vegetables (especially onions and garlic) outside the slow-cooker in a separate skillet is an option to impart more depth of flavor to a dish.
Browning ground meat usually results in improved color and texture, but this step is not absolutely necessary, and browning is not recommended for meatloaf and similar dishes.
The downside to browning is that it takes away from the slow-and-low concept I spoke about earlier; however, there may be occasions when Browning is the best way to go for sheer taste and tenderness. Bottom line: Browning meats and sautéing or softening vegetables are unnecessary, but experiment and see what you and your family’s taste buds prefer.
Which Foods and When?
With a few exceptions, most of the ingredients for your slow-cooker dish can be put in all at the same time and still end up evenly cooked. Here are a few brief guidelines.
Vegetables: although it seems counterintuitive, most vegetables (especially roots such as potatoes, carrots and turnips) cook more slowly than meat and poultry do in the slow-cooker. These do best when layered along the bottom under the meat or other ingredients or along the sides of the container. Faster cooking veggies (peas and greens) can be added 20 to 30 minutes before the dish is finished cooking.
Poultry: poultry is easy to overcook and dry out. Leave the skin on a whole chicken to lock in moisture and add flavor.
Beans and legumes: these dried foods are perfectly suited for the slow-cooker, just be sure to properly prepare them beforehand and don’t add salt until after they are cooked, as salt will keep the skins tough.
Dairy: milk, cream, sour cream and yogurt tend to curdle with long simmering and cheese can break down and separate. It is best to leave these foods on the table to get the most from their enzymes and live cultures.
Seafood: foods from the sea also tend to cook fast, thus tend to not fare well with the long cooking times of the slow-cooker. Add them during the last 30 to 60 minutes of cooking.
Herbs and spices: whole herbs and spices release their flavors slowly, while ground versions tend to lose their flavor or even become bitter tasting in the slow-cooker. Chopped fresh herbs should be added during the last hour of cooking.
The easiest way to adapt a traditional recipe for the slow-cooker is to find a similar slow-cooker recipe and use it as a guide. Recipes that include some moisture and require longer cooking times, 45 minutes to an hour, in the oven or on the stovetop are good candidates for converting to the slow-cooker since they will most likely finish cooking within eight hours on low in the slow-cooker. In fact, most uncooked meat and veggie combos will take approximately eight hours. Because the enclosed environment of the slow-cooker discourages evaporation and generates liquid, about half the liquid is needed for the same recipe cooked on the stove top or in the oven. However, this does not apply to soups, sauces, chilies or chowders.
The Last Word
Make every effort to obtain the highest quality meats and poultry—it’s safer, it’s much more nutritious, it’s tastier, and the slow-cooker brings out the best in these foods. Worry and anxiety about reaching certain in internal temperatures is less of a concern with these truly healthy foods.
Start taking advantage of this fast food technique today! All you need is a high-quality slow-cooker—and yes that includes your multifunction pressure cooker. While I have one, I still use my traditional slow-cooker. That frees me up to use my Cosori multifunction gadget separately. I might need some boiled eggs that come out of the shell effortlessly or I might make some lovely yogurt at the same time my slow-cooker is making some fantastic barbecued beef.
And that brings us to today’s recipe.
Easy Barbecued Beef
This easy barbecued beef recipe takes advantage of your traditional slow-cooker. It’s great for any cookout or potluck dinner. Chuck roast makes delicious shredded beef sandwiches. The recipe calls for ketchup however, you may substitute tomato paste for a slightly less sweet dish. In any case, this barbecued beef is sure to please your family.
What You Need
- 3-pound boneless grass-fed Chuck roast
- 1 ½ cups ketchup or tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons Dijon style mustard
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1 clove garlic, diced
What to Do
- Place chuck roast in your slow-cooker.
- Combine remaining ingredients in mixing bowl to make sauce. Pour mixture over Chuck roast.
- Cover and cook on low 8 to 10 hours or 4 to 5 hours on high.
- Remove roast from slow-cooker and shred meat with a fork. Place shredded meat back into the slow-cooker and stir to evenly coat with sauce.
- Serve alone or atop whole-grain sandwich buns and top with additional barbecue sauce if desired.
If you like your meat a touch sweeter, add a tablespoon or two of date sugar while it is still hot to allow it to dissolve.
That’s it for today’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed our homestead updates. We love sharing our life with you.
Traditional cooking from scratch doesn’t have to be hard or time-consuming. So, fire up that Instapot or dig out your old, faithful slow-cooker and give that barbecued beef recipe a try.
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As always, I’m here to help you “taste the traditional touch.”
Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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