Slow Cooker Make-Ahead Tips
Starting your crockery dinner before you leave in the morning will be easier if you follow this schedule and do some or all of the preparation the day before.
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Meat for Your Cooker Your crockery cooker is great for cooking less expensive cuts of meat -- beef chuck pot roasts, brisket, and pork shoulder roasts -- because the long cooking at low heat tenderizes the meat. The low temperature also keeps the meat from shrinking as much as it does during other cooking methods.
For recipes that call for small cuts of meat (especially recipes reduced to fit into 1-quart cookers), keep your eyes peeled for specials at the meat counter. When meat is on sale, it's usually sold in large pieces. Buy these cuts and divide them into several smaller portions. Wrap individually, label, and freeze for later use.
Also be on the lookout for packaged smaller cuts of meat. Many supermarkets are beginning to sell small roasts and pot roasts. If your store offers only large roasts, ask the butcher to cut a 1- to 1-1/2-pound piece for you.
Soup and Stew Tips
Convenient Substitutes When a recipe calls for beef broth or chicken broth, you can, if you like, make homemade broth using your crockery cooker. But if you're in a hurry, don't despair. Excellent broth substitutes are available.
Canned chicken and beef broth are ready to use straight from the can. Instant bouillon granules and cubes can be purchased in beef, chicken, vegetable, and onion flavors. One cube or 1 teaspoon of granules mixed with 1 cup water makes an easy broth.
Top It Off
Heading our list of favorite soup toppings are crushed crackers, shredded cheese, toasted bread cubes or seasoned croutons, plain or cheese-flavored popcorn, shredded carrot, sour cream, and snipped parsley or chives.
Petite squares or triangles cut from toast (or more elaborate shapes cut with small cookie cutters) are fun to float on a soup. For extra flavor, spread the toast with flavored butter, cheese spread, or pesto before cutting.
Why Freeze Chicken for the Cooker?
Many crockery chicken recipes call for frozen chicken pieces. We found that freezing the chicken before placing it in the crockery cooker slows the cooking of the chicken and assures that it is tender but not overcooked when the rest of the foods are done.
At least a day before cooking a crockery chicken recipe, freeze the chicken. To reduce the calories and for better texture and appearance, we suggest pulling the skin from the chicken pieces before freezing them. Then arrange the pieces on a single layer on a baking sheet. (The single layer is important so the pieces can be handled individually once frozen.) Cover and freeze the chicken until firm. If you won't be using the frozen pieces right away, remove them from the baking sheet and seal them in a freezer bag.
Freeze any leftover soup or stew in freezer containers with tight-fitting lids. Because food expands when it freezes, leave about 1/2 inch of headspace below the rims of the containers.
Another convenient way to freeze soups and broths is to use plastic ice-cube trays. Simply cool the soup or broth and pour it into the individual sections of an ice-cube tray. Freeze until the soup is firm, pop out the cubes of frozen soup, seal them in a freezer bag, and return to the freezer.
When you're ready to eat, reheat a few cubes for a single serving or more cubes for the entire family.