14 Easy Cooking Tips for Meat and Poultry Slow Cooker Recipes

The first Christmas we spent with my in-laws in their new country home, my mother-in-law wisely gave me a slow cooker. Her thoughtful gift helped Dan and I enjoy the most convenient of all cooking methods, even with our long work days and commute.

I’ll always treasure the memories of delicious aromas wafting through the front door as we stepped into the house after a long day at work and a nerve-jangling commute in heavy traffic.

Most of the slow cooker recipes I used were based on meats and poultry. Here are 14 easy tips to make your slow cooker recipes tasty and safe:

Tip # 1 – According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bacteria in food are killed at a temperature of 165°F. Meats cooked in the slow cooker reach an internal temperature of 170° in beef and as high as 190°F in poultry. It is important to follow the recommended cooking times and to keep the cover on your slow cooker during the cooking process.

Tip # 2 – It is best not use the slow cooker for large pieces like a roast or whole chicken because the food will cook so slowly it could remain in the bacterial “danger zone” too long.

Tip # 3 – Always defrost meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker.

Tip # 4 – Meats generally cook faster than most vegetables in a slow cooker.

Tip # 5 – Trim all fat from meat and poultry. Fat can increase the temperature of the liquid in the slow cooker and decrease the cooking time. This will cause the food t be overcooked. Fats will also melt with long cooking times, and will add an unpleasant texture to the finished dish.

Tip # 6 – Cooking at higher temperatures will generally give you a tougher piece of meat. for all day cooking or for less-tender cuts of meat, you may want to use the low setting.

Tip # 7 – The slow cooker recipes are best used with the tougher cuts of meats.

Tip # 8 – For the best color and texture, ground beef is best browned before using, except in meatloaf or other similar dishes.

Tip # 9 – It is not necessary to brown meat before slow cooking, but it gives more depth of flavor in the food and removes some of the fat, especially in pork, lamb and sausages. If the meat is lean, well trimmed and not highly marbled, it doesn’t need to be browned.

Tip # 10 – For roasts and stews, pour liquid over meat. Use no more liquid than specified in the slow cooker recipes. More juices in meats and vegetables are retained in slow cooking than in conventional cooking.

Tip # 11 – Dark meat takes longer to cook, so if a whole cut up chicken is used, put the thighs and legs on the bottom.

Tip # 12 – The slightly coarser texture of corn-fed, organic or free-range poultry is ideal for slow cooker recipes.

Tip # 13 – Most meats require 8 hours of cooking on LOW. Use cheaper cuts of meat – not only do you save money, but these meats work better for slow cooker recipes. Cheaper cuts of meat have less fat, which makes them more suited to crockpot cooking. Moist, long cooking times result in very tender meats.

Tip # 14 – Farberware FSC600 6-quart Oval Slow Cooker oval design accommodates oversize roasts, whole chickens, hams, and/or ribs. It features a large, 6-quart capacity stoneware liner, which nests inside a chrome slow cooker base and the auto setting switches to a lower ‘keep warm’ setting after cooking food.

For those who are not concerned about cooking in aluminum the West Bend Versatility 6-quart Oval Slow Cooker will work well to cook meats. It has a removable aluminum insert that can be used on the stovetop to brown meats and caramelize onions before slow cooking. The bottom unit can also be used on its own as a small griddle. Its dishwasher-safe insert has a nonstick interior and an included roasting rack.

Emergency Food Storage – 5 Essential Tips For Storing Food Reserves

Are you taking steps to procure food while it is still affordable? According to the Agriculture Department as reported by Reuters, “U.S. consumers should brace for the biggest increase in food prices in nearly 20 years in 2008, and even more pain next year (2009) due to surging meat and produce prices.”

Are you braced? If you are one of the “smart” ones and have started to purchase bulk foods, grains, cereals, etc. and have started a home food storage program, make sure you implement the following tips to ensure your food stays dry, fresh, and insect/ pest free.

SANITATION Whether you are canning or simply storing bulk grains and cereals, be sure to use the upmost care in cleanliness. Containers should be clean and sterilized before putting any food into them. If you are using plastic buckets or barrels, be sure they are “food grade”. You can sterilize these containers using a diluted bleach solution. After you have sterilized the containers, make sure the containers are thoroughly dried before putting food into them.

AIR TIGHT! Oxygen is what causes food to deteriorate. Therefore, it is imperative that you keep air out. In canning, this is done by ensuring you have a properly sealed lid. In bulk food storage, this can be accomplished by filling your bucket/barrel as near to the top as possible and then having a good lid to make an airtight seal. Oxygen absorbers or dry ice can be placed inside the container to help ensure the absence of oxygen.

CONTROLLED TEMPERATURE It is important to store your food at the correct temperature, and preferably in a cool, dark space. At all costs, avoid food being frozen, especially your canned goods in glass jars. Equally important is to store your food in an area where the temperature does not get above 50 degrees for bulk foods…insects and bugs become active above this temperature. Ideally, your canned foods should be stored in temperatures that do not go above 70 degrees.

ACCURATE INVENTORY Keep an accurate record of what has been stored and when it was stored or canned. Another helpful key is to keep a record of how much of an item you have on hand. You don’t need to double or triple up on some items, and then not have another item at all.

ROTATION Be sure to rotate your food storage, using the oldest items up first. Keep dates on the lids or on the containers themselves.

By implementing these simple, yet essential steps, you and your family can enjoy the peace of mind of having adequate food supplies at your home. You will also be protecting your food investment by keeping your food free of insects, mold, etc. By starting a home food storage program today, you will also be hedging yourself against higher and higher food costs, or even a food shortage. Don’t wait. Start today. Keep your food storage safe.

Tips For Your Vegetable Garden

If you love to plant a vegetable garden every year like me then you know the amount of work that can go into it. With all of that hard work there are some things you can do to lesson the “pain” of gardening and make it more enjoyable which is what it is supposed to be. Here are some tips and advice that you can start following today.

Timing is Everything
If timed perfectly you can take your growing plants from the indoors to the outdoors without much worry. Timed poorly and move them too soon and all of that growth and hard work will be wiped out in a matter of minutes. So what causes this? Bugs? Your Neighbor? No! One of the worse enemies of a gardener, frost! Frost occurs when temperatures go low enough to where overnight dew freezes. This condition will kill your new plants. To avoid this look up frost maps online at the United States Department of Agriculture to find when the first and last frosts occur in your area and then calculate your timing.

Compost
Compost is organic matter that has decomposed and when mixed with your soil provides many nutrients that your plants will absolutely love. You should be making compost throughout the year and mixing it in with the soil as new batches are completed. You could also buy compost, but where is the fun in that.

Plant Rotation
You should never plant the vegetables in the same location every year. Certain vegetables use more of some nutrients then others and by rotating them (combined with composting) you will never deplete an area of your soil from any one specific nutrient. So if you planted tomatoes in row 1 last year, move them to row 3 this year. Mix it up and your plants will love you for it.

Know your Limits
In my first garden I planted 6 grape tomato plants. Little did I know that they produced hundreds of tomatoes per each plant! I could not pick nor give them away fast enough. I learned the hard way to know my limits and not plant more than I can handle. Again gardening is supposed to be fun and enjoyable not a full time job. Plant only what you need and can pick in a reasonable amount of time and you will be sure not to overwork yourself.

Water
Next to oxygen, water is the most important part of any living organism and plants are no different. Yet, even though it is important, most people never give plants the ample amount of water they truly need. You should give your plants a good one hour per week of watering, and I don’t mean nine minutes every day, I mean sixty minutes in a single session. When you water like this, deep pockets of water are created underneath the soil which forces the roots of the plants to reach for them. When they do that the roots become stronger creating a healthier vegetable plant.

So there you have it. Five tips for vegetable gardening where you won’t have to alter your lifestyle in order to use. Simply follow these suggestions and gardening can be relaxing, fun, enjoyable and rewarding.