Thursday, April 25, 2013

Juggling Crock Pot Cooking 101 - Juggling Real Food and Real Life

It's no secret...........I'm in love with my crock pot.  I work outside the home all day and then have to go pick my kids up at school.  We usually get home around 5:30 or so.  We then begin our nightly activities which begin anywhere from 6:00 to  7:00 usually.  You can see where there isn't much time to prepare a Real Food meal and then sit down and enjoy it.  I know a lot of you, my friends, can relate. 

Dinner is my favorite time of day.  I tell my kids this all of the time.  I am done with work and can relax and listen to the events of the day.  My youngest says Grace every night and his words are like music to me.  We often go around the table and I ask for Roses and Thorns (the good and the bad) from each of them.  I get to find out all kinds of things about their day from these questions.  I also think that nothing shows love like a home-cooked meal ............except maybe clean underwear.  Both of which I take care of for my family.  
Prayer at Dinner

My mission was to figure out how to maximize my time at the table and reduce my time in the kitchen.  The crock pot has done that for me.  I prepare the meal in the morning and it is ready when I get home.  Set the table and start the fun.  Here are some tips and tricks I have learned along the way in using a crock pot.

My first tip, is to remember that it doesn't really all have to be prepared first thing in the morning.  I use my pockets of time to chop carrots, potatoes, meat, etc and then in the morning I assemble the dish.  You can also assemble everything at night and then put the ceramic insert of your crock with the lid on it in the fridge.  Just add about 20 minutes longer to your cook time if you do that.  Not only is the food cold, but so is the crock.  It will take a little longer to warm up.  Kind of reminds me of me.  I'm a bit of a freeze baby. 

A word on power outages and, not that this will ever happen ..........forgetting to start the cook time.  If either of these things happens, you need to throw the entire meal out.  This holds true even if the dish looks to be done.  You won't know how long the power has been out if you haven't been home all day.  This is for your own safety.  Go to your emergency back-up foods if this happens. 

Unless the recipe is a freezer meal, your meats need to be thawed out.  I have converted some recipes to freezer meals.  This just involves longer cooking times.

Crock pot cooking
Use the correct size of crock pot for the recipe you are making.  In this case, size does matter.  You want your crock to be about half-way full.  Using this rule, you will avoid burning and boiling over.  Your food will also be able to cook more evenly.  The majority of entrees will use 6 to 7 quart crock pots.  For side dishes I will usually use a smaller 5 or 6 quart crock.  The 4 quart crock I have my eye on would be great for desserts.   

Also remember that the different brands of crocks cook differently.  This means that you may need to experiment a little bit with cook time.  Adjust your cook times to get the most flavor from your dishes. 

If you would like to convert some of your traditional recipes to crock pot recipes, you will need to reduce the amount of liquid by about 1/2 cup or 1 cup.  As the food cooks, the liquid evaporates to the lid and then drops back into the pot.  It is a very nice self-basting process. 

One last tip.  This is a big one.  The long cooking process degrades the flavor
Crock Pot Lasagna Soup
of spices.  My first recipes were all so very bland tasting.  Season per recipe ingredients and then be prepared to add additional seasoning, including salt at the end of the cook time. 

I hope these tips give you the confidence to give slow-cooking a try if it is new to you.  I also hope it serves as a nice reminder for all of you cooking pros out there.  The crock pot is really useful when Juggling Real Food and Real Life.

Let me know what slow-cooking questions you might have.  I'll do my best to address those for you.  What are your favorite crock-pot recipes?  How many times a week/month do you use your crock-pot?  Do you use it seasonally or year round?

Don't forget you can join us on Facebook for more fun and support along the way.  You can also follow us on Twitter @Jugglngrealfood if you are interested in learning more about the Real Food Movement.  You can also follow our boards on Pinterest.  If at any time, you want to join the Juggling Weekly Challenges, you can do so by leaving me a comment below indicating your interest.  I would love to know how many adults and how many kids are participating.