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Slow cooker questions, answered

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© iStockphoto.com / Carol Gering © iStockphoto.com / Carol Gering
By Vanessa Voltolina
From Ideas That Spark 


Whether you’re a slow-cooking aficionado or a newbie, you may have some questions about how your slow cooking device really works. (I know I’ve had my share throughout the years.) Get the scoop on these five commonly asked questions, and kick your cooking up a notch!


Q: Can I leave a slow cooker unattended?


Yes. Slow cookers run on very low wattage, allowing you to cook a meal over an 8- to 10-hour period of time. But to be sure you’re leaving yours safely unattended, follow these safety precautions:

1. Fill your slow cooker between one-half and three-quarters.

2. Place it on a hard, flat surface.

3. Keep the power cord away from the edges of their surface areas.

4. Replace (or refrain from using) slow cookers with loose cords or any mechanical issues.


Q: Are the settings the same for all cookers?


The setting you choose dictates how quickly your slow cooker heats to the cooking temperature (210 F is the average for most). So if you choose a low setting, it will usually mean an 8- to 10-hour hour cook time at this temperature. Higher settings heat more quickly -- say, in 4 to 6 hours.


Q: Can I use a cooker with a conventional recipe?


Go for it, but you should be comfortable veering a bit off-recipe when it comes to your liquid. General recommendations are to cut the amount of liquid by a quarter; I’d advise experimenting with the recipe before serving it to a crowd and looking up a similar dish online for measurement guidelines.


Q: How can I prevent the cooker from boiling over?


Fill your slow cooker between half and three-quarters full, but no more. As many slow cooking websites note, losing heat (and therefore slowing down the cooking process) every time you lift the lid is usually more of an issue than the cooker boiling over.


Q: Does the longer cook time make it more difficult to clean?


Not really. But it is worth emptying (and cleaning) as soon as it’s cooled. While you can store food in the fridge in the stoneware, reheating in it isn’t recommended -- so I find it’s worth it to get the dirty work done ASAP.

Let stoneware cool before you place it in the sink and fill it with cold water. If it’s hot, it will crack. Use a damp paper towel to clean the base once it’s cooled -- don’t ever submerge it in water! Then, clean it like any other dish, using hot water, detergent and some elbow grease. If you leave the stoneware soaking for a few hours, spray some air freshener in your kitchen to reduce the odor.




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