The biggest football day of the year is coming up this Sunday – and as celebrity chef George Duran told a group of bloggers in The Motherhood during our latest Cooking Connections virtual cooking class, “The combination of winter, family, friends and football makes me crave warm, comforting foods.”
To that end, George demonstrated a yummy, delish, easy-to-prepare slow cooker recipe from Cooking Connections sponsor ReadySetEat.com on live feed video – Fiesta Chicken with Rice and Beans. This and other slow cooker recipes from Ready Set Eat can be made up to two days in advance.
“I’ve served this recipe before, and what I do is warm tortillas up, spoon some of it inside the tortillas, and add cheese and sour cream. I’ve even made enchiladas with this,” George said.
“Loving the versatility of this recipe… great ways to please everybody!” said Yoly of Cuponeando.
Using the Slow Cooker: Easy from Start to Finish
“It’s called slow cooking, but for me it’s really saving time – you can dump it all in there and then you can go about your daily life and come back and it’s all there for you,” George Duran noted.
“I love cooking in the slow cooker overnight….no cooking the next day!” agreed Johanna of Momma Cuisine.
Believe it or not, clean-up can be a cinch, too. While slow cooker liners are one solution that works well, George Duran pointed out that they aren’t really necessary. He recommended saving money and spraying your slow cooker with PAM spray instead. Use PAM before adding ingredients, and the slow cooker washes out easily.
“Love PAM spray – makes clean up sooooo easy!” said Migdalia of Latina on a Mission. “I always have one in the cupboard.”
Canned v. Fresh Ingredients
“I like using canned ingredients for slow cookers,” George recommended. “They have a richer taste. With fresher ingredients, they’ll get mushy and you’ll lose a lot of the nutrients. If you’re going to add fresh ingredients, it’s important to add them at the very end.”
“I use canned tomatoes [like Hunt's] all the time, saves me time and they are delicious!” said Silvia of Mama Latina Tips. “I always have at least 8 cans in my pantry.”
“I like to keep fresh stuff for more as a garnish or addition AFTER I’m done cooking in the slow cooker,” added Robyn of Robyn’s Online World. “So I put the slow cooked item on the plate THEN add the fresh items – really perks things up!”
Putting Raw Meat in the Slow Cooker
Sarah of Sarah’s Cucina Bella asked George if she could put raw beef, particularly for chili, straight into a slow cooker rather than cooking it ahead of time. “Yes,” George answered, “but if you sear the food first, the searing caramelizes the outside and makes sure all the juices remain inside. It adds a lot of flavor to the dish. Try sauteing beef before adding to the slow cooker.”
“I recently discovered searing and it makes a huge difference,” agreed Shari of Earth Mother Just Means I’m Dusty.
“I don’t bother buying expensive cuts of meat for the slow cooker because it gets so fork tender and shreds anyway,” added Johanna of Momma Cuisine. “I find the slow cooker is perfect for making inexpensive meat taste so yummy!”
And when it comes to food safety, George noted that you should “make sure it’s cooking at at least 165 degrees, so you know the meat is cooking all the way through.
George said of the slow cooker, “I think it’s one of the best tools to make stock [using vegetables, flavorings, chicken]. Always strain it through a fine sieve, and you’ll have the most delicious, flavorful stock ever. Throw away whatever’s left over – as it cooks for that long time, a lot of the nutrients of those vegetables are completely removed. All of those nutrients are in the stock.”
“Never thought to use it for stock. Brilliant!” said Melanie of The Coupon Goddess.
What Not to Put in a Slow Cooker
There are many foods the slow cooker cooks well, stock being one of them. On the flip side, Silvia of Mama Latina Tips wanted to know if there was anything to avoid.
“Fish doesn’t slow cook very well,” replied George. “A lot of seafood that is very delicate – don’t cook it in the slow cooker until the very end. But squid and octopus are tougher and need a long time to cook, and that is perfect for the slow cooker.”
Choosing a Slow Cooker
Bottom line: “The brand of slow cooker does not matter,” advised George, “as long as you’re happy with the design, the size and options like being able to remove the pot from the cooker. Some have timers on them, and other bells and whistles, but slow cookers are one of the least expensive culinary tools out there. And more importantly, it doesn’t need to be expensive.”
George bought his combination pressure cooker/slow cooker here. “It works as both a pressure cooker and slow cooker and can sear as well. It’s one of my favorite gadgets,” he said.
“Cook’s Illustrated has their reviews of slow cookers on their site – I really like their reviews – very scientific,” suggested Robyn of Robyn’s Online World.
Going Outside the Slow Cooker Box
Shari of Earth Mother Just Means I’m Dusty noted that no matter what she tries cooking in the slow cooker, it always ends up tasting stewed. “What can I do?” she asked George.
He advised, “Start experimenting with different types of ingredients. Ginger or lemongrass can add a whole different experience to what you’re cooking. I’ve heard of people baking cakes in their slow cooker as well.”
“This is a favorite slow cooker cake recipe: Slow Cooker Caramel Apple Surprise Cake,” recommended Sarah of Sarah’s Cucina Bella.
“If you’re looking for new ideas, a friend of mine who uses her slow cooker all the time swears by this cookbook, ‘The Art of the Slow Cooker,’” said John of Stay at Stove Dad.
And Liz of Thoughts of a Mommy asked if George could recommend Asian-style cuisine for the slow cooker. “Asian-Style Shredded Pork Wraps on Ready Set Eat,” he said. “It is absolutely delicious. I guarantee you’re going to absolutely love it.”
You can find other tasty recipes for Game Day – or for quick and simple meals – on Ready Set Eat!
Johanna, Momma Cuisine
John, Stay at Stove Dad
Liz, Thoughts of a Mommy
Melanie, The Coupon Goddess
Migdalia, Latina on a Mission
Robyn, Robyn’s Online World
Sarah, Sarah’s Cucina Bella
Silvia, Mama Latina Tips