Mary T. Englick, MS, RD, CDE
Kaiser Permanente Nutrition Services
The holidays are upon us. As we race about with all the demands and opportunities of this festive season, let's not forget the importance of healthy family meals. The slow-cooker can help with quick meal prep and easy clean-up.
Last month, we covered general tips for slow-cooking. Below are ideas for improving flavors in your favorite slow-cooker recipes.
- Prepare the recipe one day ahead. The magic of slow-cooking comes from the sauce that results when ingredients combine with juices in meats and vegetables. In general, most dishes taste better the second day after the flavors develop.
- Use LOW setting as much as possible. Flavors develop over time. Most dishes benefit from a slow, gentle heat to bring out flavors. The LOW setting typically takes 6-8 hours, though it depends on the ingredients. Save the HIGH setting for when you want to heat up recipes or reduce excess liquid.
- Use wholesome ingredients. Broth, condensed soups and canned tomato products are commonly used liquids to supplement the cooker broth. Small amounts of beer, wine or soy sauce can add additional depth to the gravy. Only use a wine or beer that you would drink. A turned wine or flat beer can produce an off flavor. You want each ingredient to be at its best.
- Add gingerbread cookies to recipes with meat. Crumbled gingersnap cookies are the secret ingredients to meat dishes such as pot roast, beef stew and sauerbraten. Use them to flavor the sauce and provide a different texture.
What should you do if you have excess liquid?
The slow-cooker has a tightly sealed lid so that the liquid won't evaporate and the ingredients retain flavorful juices. As a result, do not use more than 1/2 to one cup of liquid unless the recipe specifies otherwise. The added liquid should barely cover the meat and vegetables.
Just as the liquid does not evaporate, it also does not thicken without help.
If needed, you can reduce undesired liquid by the following:
- Empty the container and cook in a pot on the stove top just prior to serving.
- Remove the meat and vegetables from the slow cooker. Stir thickeners into the remaining broth. Set the cooker on HIGH, cover and cook approximately 15 minutes or until juices are thickened.
Saving time and effort in meal preparation can allow extra time for the true meaning of the holidays - family and friends.