Hy-Vee at Midday: Slow-Cooker 101

By Michelle Scott, Hy-Vee Dietitian

Slow-Cooker 101
As the weather gets colder, we start craving nice warm meals. With our busy schedules, it can be difficult to find time to prepare a warm meal after work. The solution to this problem is the slow-cooker!
Today Michelle will discuss food safety to consider when using a slow-cooker, as well as general slow-cooker cooking tips to follow.
Food Safety
It is important to make sure foods are cooked to proper temperatures to avoid bacterial growth. The temperature danger zone describes a range of temperatures (41° to 140°) that are most suitable for bacterial growth. Foods will have to cross through the temperature danger zone when cooking and cooling but this should be done as quickly as possible and never take longer than four hours. It is important to test your slow-cooker to make sure it can heat foods to 141° in four hours or less. Below are tips to reduce the time your food is in the temperature danger zone.
· Defrost frozen foods before putting them into the slow-cooker.
· Cook on HIGH for the first hour, then reduce the temperature to LOW to finish cooking (1 hour on HIGH = 2 hours on LOW).
· Don't lift the slow-cooker lid when cooking.
· Remove leftovers from the slow-cooker and any slow-cooker liners to cool.
Slow-Cooker Cooking Tips
· Heat-resistant cooking bags can be used to make cleanup easy.
· Only fill the slow-cooker half to three-fourths full.
· Foods on the bottom will cook faster so it is important to follow layering instructions in recipes (crisp vegetables take longer to cook than meats).
· Fat melts during long cooking times and can cause an unpleasant texture. Remove skin and extra fat from meats to avoid this.
· Less-tender cuts of meat such as chuck and round roasts are good for the slow-cooker. The long cooking times and moist environment in the slow-cooker tenderize the meat.
· Ground meets should be cooked in a skillet before cooking in the slow-cooker.
· Seafood and tender vegetables (zucchini, mushrooms and tomatoes) should be added during the last hour of cooking.
· Spices may need to be added in the last hour of cooking because they can lose flavor if cooked to long.


Slow-Cooker Cuban Braised Beef and Peppers
Number of servings: 4

All you need:
1 (28 once) no-salt-added diced tomatoes, drained
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded & sliced ½-inch thick
1 onion, cut into 8 wedges
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1 ½ pounds flank steak, cut crosswise into thirds
1 cup brown rice
1 avocado, sliced
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves

All you do:
1. In a 5- to 6-quart slow-cooker, combine tomatoes, bell peppers, onion, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper.
2. Nestle the steak among the vegetables.
3. Cook, covered, until the meat is tender and pulls apart easily (on HIGH for 4 to 5 hours or on LOW for 7 to 8 hours).
4. Twenty-five minutes before serving, cook the rice according to the package directions.
5. Using 2 forks, shred the beef and mix it into the cooking liquid.
6. Serve over hot rice and top with avocado and cilantro.

Source: http://www.realsimple.com
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