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Simply Nutritious, Quick and Delicious

Jenna Smith, Extension Educator brings you helpful tips to make meals easy, healthy and tasty!

Get Out Your Slow Cooker

This is the time of year where I usually notice a faint odor lingering around the house. No, thankfully it's not a bad, smelly odor, but rather a pleasing aroma of baked goods and savory meals! As the cold air sets in, I usually find myself using my slow cooker a lot more.

Slow cookers are wonderful inventions that can get a person excited to come home and have a warm meal that is already prepared and ready. It's long, slow cooking method locks in moisture and allows flavors to fully develop. It can also save you money; cheaper, less tender cuts of meat cook nicely in a slow cooker. The tough connective tissues of meat are broken down making the meat tender and moist. Plus, a slow cooker uses less electricity than an oven, and it won't heat up the house, making it great for summer months, too! But the biggest reason I love using the slow cooker is the convenience. With advanced planning hot, homemade meals can be prepared while the chef is away.

Yes, it does still take some planning. Meats are safely cooked thoroughly when thawed in advance. And vegetables still need to be chopped and other ingredients measured. But consider chopping produce and measuring certain ingredients the day before, keep it in containers in the fridge, and then quickly get it going in the slow cooker in the morning. If you're home during the slow cooking process, one of the hardest things to do is nothing! We have the tendency to want to lift the lid, but don't! Every time you lift the lid, you may add 20 to 30 minutes of extra cooking time and lose valuable moisture.

Remember to keep foods safe when using your slow cooker. Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time, and if the power goes out when you're not home, throw away the crocks entire contents. Foodborne bacteria are likely to grow when food is kept in the danger zone (40-140°F) for too long. If you are home when the power goes out, finish cooking the food by some other means. If the food is already completely cooked, it will be safe in the crock for up to 2 hours.

Try this beef stew recipe. It's perfect for those cold winter days.

Beef Stew

3 carrots, chopped
3 potatoes, cut into chunks
2 lbs. stew meat, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup water
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
2 onions, quartered
1 stalk celery, chopped
  1. Put all ingredients in a slow cooker in order listed.
  2. Stir just enough to mix spices.
  3. Cover and set on high for 1 hour, then turn to low for 9 to 11 hours, or leave on high for about 4 or 5 hours.

Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition analysis per serving: 300 Calories, 7 grams fat, 550 milligrams sodium, 26 grams total carbohydrate, 4 grams dietary fiber, 35 grams protein

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