Take It Slow, Even In Summer

For many people, slow cookers are for soups, chilis, stews and chili-cheese dip at a party, usually during the cold weather months. But slow cookers are great to use in the summer, when you’d rather be out doing things and the electric bill is soaring.

Choosing appliances for a small kitchen is always tricky. You have to make some careful decisions about appliances based on what you really use, how much counter space you have and whether you have space to store the ones you can’t keep on the countertop.

For my money, a slow cooker is a useful appliance. Although it’s not usually worth keeping on the countertop all the time, it is worth finding some storage space for when you’re not using it.

First, let’s talk economics. Slow cookers, regardless of size, use very little energy, only pennies of electricity per hour. This is way less than a full size stove, microwave or convection oven.

Second, let’s talk heat. Yes, these things do get hot, and will warm your kitchen a little. But compared to what the oven or stove put out, it’s nothing. However, if there are children around, you should keep them away from the cooker just as you would a hot pot on the stove. The sides of the cooker will get pretty hot.

Third, let’s talk time. Lots of people look to slow cookers as a busy-workday sort of thing. Put everything together in the morning before you leave for work and have dinner waiting for you when you get home. But it’s also great to use on the weekend. Got a busy day of errand running planned? just throw the stuff together in the slow cooker and off you go. Many of the units today have timers, so you don’t have to worry about them burning or overcooking your food. Some are even programmable to not only kick down to a warming mode after a set time, but to go from high to low — a very valuable feature.

While we’re on the subject of time, add an hour or two to what the recipe says for cooking. You want the cooker to go to the warming mode about an hour (or more) before you’re ready to eat. Otherwise, the food might be way to hot. Remember my resting rule. Always let cooked food sit and rest for a little while before serving or eating.

There are tons of recipes for slow cookers. In addition to things like soup, you can bake, braise and steam. Sometimes, a little ingenuity is required, but a little thought or a mistake or two and you’ll pick up quickly on what you can and cannot do in your slow cooker.

I’ve made a very successful meatloaf in my slow cooker. Also a roasted chicken. But if you don’t want them swimming in grease, save some old tuna cans to use as supports to keep the food out of it. A slow cooker is perfect for braising meats, like beef or pork for ribs, barbecue or roast. It does things like pulled pork or chicken or Italian beef very well.

But did you know you can bake in the slow cooker? It’s great for cobblers, puddings, even cake. Just remember that the outer ring will be a bit more done than the center.

You’d be surprised what this thing can do. Check out a slow cooker cookbook from the library or look at some recipe collections online. Of all the appliances you can have around, but not use every day, the slow cooker is one of the most useful.