How to use a slow cooker to save time
A slow cooker is an excellent time-saving tool for busy parents. While it may take a long time for the food itself to cook, the slow cooker means that it is a hands-free affair for parents. You don’t have to attend to the food at all. Once you’ve prepared the food and put it in the slow cooker, you can leave it to cook throughout the course of the day.
A slow-cooked meal can be delicious and nutritious. It means you can stock it up with a range of vegetables and meat. The slow cooker process means that it will develop a delicious rich flavour over the several hours it is cooking. It is a great way to provide your little ones with something they will usually find easy to chew on and swallow.
Allocate a safe space
Slow cookers are quite bulky in size and shape. Make sure you clear a space on your work surface that is dry and clear from other items or objects.
Your slow cooker also needs to be at a height where your little one is unable to reach it. It will usually be cooking throughout the day and won’t need attendance, but it is best to make sure that it is sensibly located.
Make sure you have a safe place you can store it when you aren’t using it.
Prepare your ingredients the night before
It’s a great time-saver to prepare the ingredients for your slow cooker the night before. You can store them in the fridge and have them ready to go. That way you only need to put them in the slow cooker first thing in the morning and set the timer. It’s a good idea to cut vegetables and meats into similar-sized pieces so that they will cook more evenly in the slow cooker.
Switch your slow cooker on first thing
If you’ve prepared your ingredients the night before, make sure to take them out of the fridge straightaway in the morning. This will enable them to reach room temperature.
If you prefer, you can also use this time to soften onions and brown your meat. Remember to trim the fat off the meat as it will cook at a different rate otherwise and the melted fat doesn’t add to the flavour of the dish.
While your foods are reaching room temperature you should turn on your slow cooker so it can preheat.
Don’t overfill it
The general guidelines are to fill your slow cooker to half or three quarters full. Follow the manufacturers guidelines about how much liquid to use. It’s important to remember the lid will seal the slow cooker and, because it is cooking at a low heat throughout the day, the liquid will not evaporate the same way it would if you were doing open cooking on a stovetop.
As a general rule the liquid should just cover the top of the meat and the vegetables inside the slow cooker.
Slow Cooker top tips
- Don’t touch it! That’s right. Once you’ve prepared the food and put it in the slow cooker, don’t touch it again until the cooking cycle is almost complete. Each time you lift the lid you will reduce the temperature and it will delay the cooking time. There may be a couple of items that need to be added about one hour before the end of the cooking cycle but, by and large, you should be able to leave it alone. Think of all the other things you will be able to get on with while the slow cooker gets to work.
- It is sensible to save soft vegetables and put them in the slow cooker right at the end of the cooking time. Usually this will be about 45 minutes before finishing time. Mushrooms, snow peas or other leafy greens have a tendency to fall apart if they are cooked for too long.
- Leave spices till last. If you cook spices for 6-8 hours they will lose all their flavours. Add them in about an hour before the end if you are using them. Remember if you are serving this dinner to toddlers you may want to add them just to the grown up’s plates just before serving instead.
- Once the slow cooker has finished, you may need to thicken the dish slightly as it may have a watery appearance. To do this, simply leave the lid off the slow cooker for half an hour, turn it up to high and let it gently continue to cook.
- Set an alarm for yourself. Most modern slow cookers have a self-timer and will switch themselves off. It is important to make sure you are there for the end of the cooking cycle.