Some people are scared of leaving a slow cooker at home alone, but I love it! For me, it's not just something I use in the winter. I use it year round for so many different recipes like pulled pork, stuffed peppers, and other culinary creations. It's such a treat to come home to a nice hot dinner with very little time and effort after a day of day running errands, going to work, or being out with my family. And, while I was growing up, I can't tell you how many parties I've been to with meatballs or hot roast beef cooking in the slow cooker for a family get-together. It's become one of those things that would be hard to live without.
My friends and I are always on the look-out for new, easy crock pot recipes, and the website called A Year of Slow Cooking (a.k.a Crock Pot 365) has it all. This website is amazing! There are hundreds of slow cooking recipes from a woman named Stephanie who devoted an entire year to slow cooking. You'll definitely want to check out her Crock Pot Buffalo Chicken Dip. (I don't know anyone who doesn't love this recipe!) She also has tons of other great recipes for everything from Baby Food to Beef Bourguignon and A-1 & Dijon Steak.
But, I was recently reading about slow cooking, and found out I wasn't always doing it right. Contrary to what I thought, you don't just stick your food in there, cook the heck-out-of-it all day, and voila, it's done. There are two important points to keep in mind:
1) You need to thaw first. Did you know that when you add frozen meats to a slow cooker can lower their temperature enough to make bacterial contamination possible? When food is left at room temperature and up to 140 degrees, it's an ideal setting for bacteria to thrive, so it's important to thaw first. The last thing you want to do is get your family sick, so thaw everything in the refrigerator before sticking it in your slow cooker.
2) Don't open the slow cooker while the food is cooking because it's important to keep the steam inside. When you pop open that lid, you're letting the steam escape and lowering the temperature which could potentially lead to contamination. Moist foods like soup, stews or saucy meals are not as likely to become contaminated because the steam that builds up makes it harder for the bacteria to grow. The steam inside your slow cooker serves an important role - so keep it in there!