PUBLISHED: 4:52 PM on Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Slow cookers take the sweat out of cooking
What's easy enough for beginners, can turn a roast fork tender and safe enough to cook through the night?

The answer: Slow cooker recipes.

Slow cookers can be used to cook for any meal of the day, using all food groups, turned on and left undisturbed and don't require much technical knowledge of cooking. The handy cookers, called Crock Pots, which Rival debuted in the early 1970s, haven't lost their charm.

In fact, new recipes come up every year for this durable home appliance and even Banquet and Marie Callender's were inspired to offer stir-and-heat frozen meals just for them. There's even a blog devoted to Crock Pot talk.

Vercie Dysart has slow cookers in three sizes - 1.5 quart, 4-quart and 6-quart sizes.

Despite never having used the family-size 6-quart model, she's put the other two through their paces.

"Slow cookers are convenient and time saving, and you don't have to watch your pot all the time to be careful it doesn't boil dry," Dysart said.

She stirs up pinto beans, brisket and roasts with vegetables to make meals or to serve as the start for other meals.

Dysart cooks pinto beans for a meal then scoops out a cupful for refried beans.

When Dysart cooks brisket, she slices some for a meal, then uses some for sandwiches.

To make pinto beans, she uses her 1.5-quart cooker. She mixes a cup of beans, 1 teaspoon bacon grease and a quart of water.

About an hour before the end of the cooking time, she adds 1 teaspoon of salt. Dysart lets the beans cook until they are soft.

From that batch, she dips out a cup to make refried beans to go with tacos and enchiladas.

"Then you can put the refried beans on a flour tortilla with a little chopped tomato, onion and lettuce, and it's a meal," Dysart said.

She purchases market trimmed briskets, divides the brisket in thirds, freezes two parts and cooks one part in the slow cooker.

Dysart seasons the brisket with salt, garlic powder and pepper and adds about 1 cup water to the cooker. Dysart also may stir in about 1 tablespoon honey-flavored barbecue sauce for a little extra taste.

To serve up a roast, Dysart puts potatoes, carrots and onions in the bottom of the pot and tops them with a 2- to 3-pound roast.

"I try to buy small sizes because it's just my husband and me," she said.

She seasons with salt and pepper and a shake or two of garlic powder.

"If I have time in the morning, I brown the roast a little bit in a skillet with a little bit of canola oil or olive oil," Dysart said.

When serving the roast and vegetables, she uses the au jus to pour over the vegetables and meat to keep them moist.

Kristi Tollefson has an 11-month-old son and 3-year-old daughter who keep her busy with motherly duties.

She slow cooks about twice a month.

"It's easier to put it on, and I don't have to mess with it all day," Tollefson said.

She used her slow cooker primarily for pork, though she also has a chicken recipe that works well.

Slow cooking yields moist and tender meat, Tollefson said.

She also has cooked apple brown betty and steamed pumpkin cake in her slow cooker and found them to be successful and moist.

Slow cooking also is suitable for novice cooks because of its ease, Tollefson said.

Target's Allen Boelter, executive team leader of guest experience, said slow cookers sell well.

"It seems we always have somebody looking for a Crock Pot. It doesn't matter what time of the year," Boelter said.

"People use them for barbecue in summer and stews in winter and fall. So they are popular all year."

Slow Cooker Sweet and Sour Pork

2 cups cubed, peeled potatoes

1 cups chopped onions

3 pound pork roast

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup water

1/2 cup ketchup

3 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Salt to taste

Put potatoes and onions on bottom of the slow cooker.

Place the pork roast on top of the vegetables.

Spread garlic over the pork.

In another bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour over pork.

Cook 6 to 8 hours on low.

Source: Kristi Tollefson

Slow Cooker Chicken with Rosemary, Apples and Onions

2 cups sliced onions

2 apples, peeled, cored and sliced

2 pounds of cut-up chicken pieces with bone

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons rosemary leaves

1 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup cream of celery soup

2 cups cooked white or brown rice

Put apples and onions in bottom of cooker, then layer chicken on top. Season all ending with rosemary leaves.

In another bowl, mix broth and soup. Pour over chicken. Cook for 6 to 8 hours on low. Serve over rice.

Hot Broccoli Cheese Dip

3/4 cup butter

3 stalks celery, thinly sliced

1 onion, chopped

1 4-ounce can sliced mushrooms, drained

3 tablespoons flour

1 10 3/4 ounce can cream of celery soup

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 10-ounce package chopped broccoli

In a small skillet, melt the butter and sauté the celery, onion and mushrooms. Stir in the flour. Place into a lightly greased slow cooker and stir in remaining ingredients. Cover cook on high, stirring about every 15 minutes until the cheese is melted. Turn to low for 2 to 4 hours or until ready to serve.


Triple Chocolate Surprise

1 package chocolate cake mix

1 8-ounce carton of sour cream

1 package instant chocolate pudding mix

1 cup chocolate chip morsels

3/4 cup oil

4 eggs

1 cup water

Spray the stoneware of the slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray or lightly grease it.

Mix cake mix, sour cream, pudding mix, chocolate chips, oil, eggs and water in bowl.

Pour into stoneware. Cover and cook on low 6 to 8 hours or on high 3 to 4 hours.


Success tips

Stirring - Not usually. "There is no need to stir the food unless it specifically says to in your recipe. In fact, taking the lid off to stir food causes the slow cooker to lose a significant amount of heat, extending the cooking time required."

Liquids - Roasts can be cooked without water when set on low heat. The more fat that a cut of meat has, the less water needed. Liquid is needed to soften and cook vegetables.

Herbs - Fresh herbs should be added at the end of the cooking time. Dried herbs and spices can lessen in flavor. Add half the amount of dried herbs and spices recommended in the recipe at the beginning, then taste and adjust seasonings toward the end.

Breads and cakes - Do not overbeat breads and cakes. Follow all recommended mixing times.

Source: Rival