Healthy Cooking With Your Slow Cooker
Planning meals can be stressful enough. Why add more pressure with hard-to-prepare meals when a recipe can be prepared in the morning - letting your slow cooker do the work for you all day long? You can even place everything in the slow cooker the day before, cover and put in the refrigerator overnight, to begin the slow cooking first thing in the morning.
You may only think of your slow cooker for stews and soups, but it can be a useful tool when it comes to preparing delicious, easy and healthy meals for your any gathering. Slow cookers can be used for a number of different dishes, from roasts to seafood to yummy desserts. Using your slow cooker allows you the opportunity to put a little twist on your old favorites - finding you like them even better! Here are a few ideas and tips to get you thinking about how to incorporate the slow cooker this season:
Brunch: Try a Breakfast Bake with eggs, bacon (turkey for a healthier option, cheese (low-fat preferred) and your favorite veggies. Baking in a slow cooker can be slightly tricky but doable. Make sure to grease the pot before adding the ingredients. You will also want to lift and rotate the insert halfway through the baking to ensure even cooking.
The Main Course: Although most meat does not need browning, doing so will add a more developed taste to your dish. Ground beef and turkey should always be browned before adding to a slow cooker, as a dull gray color can make your meal look less appetizing. Wait until cooking is nearly finished to season your dish. Add fresh herbs at the end of cooking, as they can become blackened if cooked for very long.
Veggies cook slower than most meat, so they need to go on the bottom. Place meat on top of root veggies, like carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, celery and onions. Veggies that add flavor, such as peppers and tomatoes need to be added at the end – about half hour prior to serve.
To speed up the thicken of sauces with flour or cornstarch at the end of cooking, increase heat to high and cook for an additional 20 to 40 minutes. Alternatively, you can drain juices from the pot and stir in corn starch. Boil the juices in a sauce pan on the stove top, stirring to keep smooth. Return to pot when ready.
Sides and Sauces: Glazed carrots, roasted potatoes, sauteed brussel sprouts can all be made easily in the crock pot. Using your slow cooker for side dishes can free up space in your oven if you have multiple dishes to prepare. For sauces, think cranberry sauce or low-fat creamy sauces for meat or seafood. If you do plan on using a recipe that contains milk, cheese or other dairy products, be sure to add them at the end of cooking. Condensed soups can be substituted for milk and can cook for extended times.
Whatever is on your family meal menu, consider using your slow cooker to make things a little easier for any occasion!
Guest post by Jennifer Nordwall, freelancer for EverydayHealth.com and its recipe and calorie counter tools (http://www.everydayhealth.com/calorie-counter.aspx).