(Family Features) - This winter, there's no better time to rediscover the joys of slow cooking. From comfort food to curries, the slow cooker is short on prep, but long on flavor.
Long gone are the days of the crockery pot as the ubiquitous unwanted wedding gift, the dusty relic of a '70s kitchen. Slow cooking is back, and it means business this time.
Although slow cooking has kept some steadfast fans since its introduction in the 1970s, its popularity has soared in recent years - and for good reason. Available in a variety of styles, sizes and finishes, modern-day slow cookers have wooed cooks old and young alike for their ability to make succulent, home-cooked meals while you sleep, work or play.
Want a delicious stew, but don't want to tend a stove-top stockpot all day? Craving cake hot from the oven, but don't want to deal with a boiling-hot kitchen? Slow cooker to the rescue. Accompanied by a host of up-to-date cookbooks, written for new-millennium needs, the versatile slow cooker can go low-carb, vegetarian, kosher, family-style - or pretty much any style you can imagine.
The beauty of crockery cooking lies in its ability to accommodate your busy lifestyle. Take a few minutes to prep the recipe the night before you plan to cook it, or early in the morning before your day gets underway, and then all you have to do is pop the crockery insert into the cooker, plug it in and turn it on. When dinnertime rolls around, your exertion is usually limited to lifting the lid and dishing the food out.
Because of its "slow and low" cooking method, the slow cooker is particularly good for turning large cuts of meat into mouthwateringly tender dishes. The recipes below showcase two classic beef preparations - pot roast and barbecued beef brisket. The crockery cooking method - combined with the added flavor infusion of bouillon, such as Wyler's Beef-Flavor Bouillon Cubes or Granules - provides a particularly savory end product.
After all, you could spend all day in the kitchen making your own beef broth for BBQ brisket or basting a roast in the oven ... but when the slow cooker and a few bouillon cubes do it for you, why would you want to?
Slow Cooking Tips
Follow these basic guidelines for foolproof slow cooking.
- Raw vegetables should be cut into uniform pieces before placing in the slow cooker.
- Firmer vegetables, such as carrots, potatoes, etc., are usually placed in the cooker first, and then the meat is added on top.
- While the recipe should specify, keep in mind that certain ingredients should be added later in the cooking process, such as: pasta, dairy products, delicate vegetables and tender fish or seafood.
- While not always necessary, some recipes call for browning meat prior to putting it in the slow cooker because it enhances the flavor, color and texture.
- A rule of thumb for cooking times on different heat settings: Cooking at one hour on high is equivalent to cooking at 2 hours on low.
- Don't remove the slow cooker lid once it's on, because it will take 15 to 20 minutes for the temperature to return to its prior heat level.
- If you have extra cooking liquid in the slow cooker, you can make it into thicker gravy or sauce by using flour, cornstarch or instant gravy flour.