When cold winter weather is upon us, I find myself enjoying a plan to use appliances to have simple meals prepared when I come home at night. We’ve talked in the past about how important it is to have family meals together, even if it’s only a few minutes, the efforts are valuable. We know that meals at home are generally more nutritious and include more fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy and whole grains than when we eat on the run at fast food restaurants. Here are a couple of additional tips to make mealtime a little smoother on a hectic night:
*Spend a few minutes the beginning of the week to plan your menu’s so that you know what’s for dinner and time isn’t wasted standing in front of the cupboards looking at ingredients and asking yourself “what’s for dinner”.
*When I’m planning ahead, I can use the appliances that make food preparation easier like the slow cooker or electric multi cooker either of these will allow a meal on the table in a few minutes if I know what side dishes are planned as well.
*Look for recipes that meet your co-worker’s approval so that you have some tried and true, go to foods that your family likes.
*Have a planned meal that can be made in 10-15 minutes in a designated spot in the cupboard that most anyone can put together. This can be your “emergency “meal night when things don’t go as planned.
*Delegate cooking responsibilities so that others can help begin the meal preparation and clean up so that additional activities may be enjoyed by all.
Guidelines For The Slow Cooker
If you’ve not used your slow cooker lately, here are some guidelines to follow to keep your food safe.
• Slow cookers, cook foods at temperatures between 170 and 280 degrees.
• Begin with a clean cooker, clean utensils and a clean work area. Wash hands before and during food preparation.
• Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time.
• Always defrost meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker.
• Cut food into chunks or small pieces to ensure thorough cooking unless you are cooking a roast or whole chicken.
• Fill cooker no less than half full and no more than 2/3 full. Put vegetables on the bottom of the cooker because they cook more slowly.
• If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and then to low or the setting called for in your recipe. However, it is safe to cook foods on low the entire time — if you are leaving for work, for example, and preparation time is limited.
• Leave the lid on during the cooking process, you lose 1/2 hour of cooking time every time you lift the lid.
• Browning meat before putting it into the cooker will add flavor, and color and will raise the temperature of the meat quicker, so that the food will be in the danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees for less time.
• Add milk and cheese during the last 30 minutes so it won’t curdle
• Do Not Store Leftovers in your slow cooker. Store leftovers in shallow covered containers and refrigerate within two hours after cooking is finished.
• Reheating leftovers in a slow cooker is NOT RECOMMENDED. Cooked food should be reheated on the stove, or in a microwave until it reaches 165 degrees. Then it can be placed in a preheated slow cooker.
Here’s a recipe you might like to try.
Lentils and Sausage Soup
1 (16-oz) pkg. Dry lentils, rinsed and drained
1 (16-oz) can diced tomatoes
2 (14-oz) cans beef broth or 2 cups water and 2 bouillon cubes
3 cups water
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
½ t. salt free seasoning blend
2 lbs. Turkey kielbasa or Polish sausage, cut into ½ inch pieces Makes 12 servings
In a slow cooker, stir together all ingredients. Cover and cook on High for 3 hours or low for 6-7 hours. Stir well before serving. If, you are only cooking for the short time, wait and add the tomatoes until the lentils are softened. The acid in the tomatoes prohibits the cooking in the lentils in shorter times.
Melinda Hill is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was previously published in The Daily Record.