October 25, 2014

Win a Hamilton Beach Slow Cooker

The holiday season and food. They seem to be inseparable. One way to make the job of cooking for the holidays easier is to let your appliances do the work for you. If you own a slow cooker, you know how nice it is to come home to dinner- ready to eat. You can use that same strategy for your holiday entertaining.

Potluck parties are popular now too. Hamilton Beach’s Stay or Go slow cooker has a clip to hold the lid in place so you can take your hot dish along without a mess.

FamilyCircle and Parents magazines are offering this slow cooker, along with the FamilyCircle slow cooker meals cookbook to eighteen winners of their “Put the ‘Happy’ Back in the Holidays” contest. Click here to enter.

Cuisinart’s Slow Cooker

If you just have to have the shiniest, sleekest slow cooker on the block, Cuisinart has it for you. But it’s apparently got more than good looks. It holds 6.5 quarts, more than enough to feed a family a hearty dinner. It also features a 24-hour programmable cook time, a digital countdown timer, and three cooking modes. When the cooking is done, it automatically shifts to a Keep Warm mode.

Product Features
• Touchpad control panel with LCD timer display
• 24-hour cooking timer
• Off/On, Warm, Simmer, Low, and High settings
• Removable 6.5-quart, oval ceramic cooking pot
• Automatically shifts to “Warm” when cook time ends
• Brushed stainless steel housing with chrome-plated handles
• Glass lid with stainless steel rim and chrome-plated knob
• Dishwasher-safe lid and ceramic pot
• Nonslip rubber feet
• Includes cooking rack for use with ramekins or other bakeware
• Spiral-bound recipe book with 70 basic to gourmet dishes
• Instruction book
• Limited 3-year product warranty

Of course, all this comes at a price – the Cuisinart 6.5 quart slow cooker, model # PSC-650 retails for about $100.

Crock-Pot Wonders

I’ve owned a few crock-pots over the years. Right now I have two- both of them the large six quart models made by Rival. They are both basic models that have a simple central knob for choosing a low or high setting. I prefer my appliances simple and these are perfect for me.

Many people are discovering or rediscovering the humble crock-pot or slow cooker. They offer convenience, and economy. A slow cooker and turn a tough (and cheaper) cut of meat into a tender main dish, ready for dinner when you return home after a long day. Today, about 83% of American households own a slow cooker, according to the NPD Group, a leading marketing research firm. Of these households, almost half used a slow cooker within the past month.

While I heartily recommend my style of slow cooker, the folks at the Los Angeles Times, took a look at a few newer, sleeker models out there and offered these comments:

West Bend’s 5-Quart Oblong Slow Cooker promises an all-in-one slow cooker and griddle, with an insert advertised to be safe for the stove top and oven; it also comes with its own carrying case. The adjustable temperature control has five settings.
What we thought: The model promises a lot and delivers little, if anything. The model automatically starts warming as soon as it’s plugged in — there is no “off” setting — which could lead to burns if you’re careless. Although it’s marketed as oven- and stove-top-safe, in the manual’s fine print there are limitations to how high the thin insert can be heated. Only plastic or rubber utensils can be used with the insert, as metal can scratch the coating. The lid does not securely cover the insert and easily falls off. The model takes forever to heat up, as does the griddle (it took us 45 minutes to fry three pieces of bacon and 10 minutes to fry an egg with the griddle on the highest setting). About $55.

The KitchenAid 7-Quart Slow Cooker is big in capacity and power. It heats quickly with its 400-watt heating element and boasts an accurate and responsive “electronic temperature management system.” It offers 10 hours of programmable cooking time, automatically lowering the heat to warm when the timer is done. The settings: buffet, simmer, low, high and auto.
What we thought: Everything about this unit is big; there’s even a bumper at the back of the unit. The 7-quart ceramic insert is heavy and awkward on its own; filled, it requires a good amount of strength to move. However, it has large — and very convenient — level indicators, so you know the volume of contents you’re cooking. The big digital cooking display is easy to read. The lid does not always sit flush against the top of the insert. The unit heats up very quickly and adjusts throughout to maintain consistent temperature. The insert and lid are dishwasher-safe. About $130.

The All-Clad 7-Quart Deluxe Slow Cooker offers a cast-aluminum insert that is oven- and stove-top-safe (both the insert and lid can function on the stove top as a Dutch oven). The programmable timer automatically switches to warm when cooking is complete. The model features a stainless steel exterior.
What we thought: This is one massive and expensive showpiece. The exterior is big and impressive, but after a couple of uses we found the stainless steel hard to keep clean and almost unbearably hot. The stainless steel lid prevented us from being able to check on contents as they cooked; the lid itself was very thin and lightweight and the handle got so hot a potholder was required. The cast aluminum minimizes mess and eases cleanup. About $280.

And their favorite:

Cuisinart’s 3 1/2 -Quart Programmable Slow Cooker includes a ceramic insert that is stick-resistant and dishwasher-safe. The model comes with a 24-hour LCD countdown timer that automatically switches to warm when contents finish cooking. Four settings: high, low, simmer and warm.
What we thought: This slow cooker was one of our favorites. The programmable timer is a big plus, allowing the cook to set the cooking time in half-hour increments. The ceramic insert offers consistently reliable heating and cooking. The insert and lid are dishwasher-safe. About $60.

One of my favorite cooking sites, allrecipes.com has a highly rated recipe for chicken and dumplings you can try next time you want a comforting meal ready right away when you get home.

You can read all the reviews here.

How to Buy a Slow Cooker

Winter is a great time to enjoy chilis, stews and soups. If you want to arrive home to a comforting meal, one of the easiest ways to do so is by using a slow cooker. Slow Cookers (also known as Crock-pots) work, their name suggests, by maintaining a low, constant heat over many hours. Although they are generally thought of as being used for wet mixtures, slow cookers can also cook a whole chicken or roast.

If you are looking for a slow cooker, be prepared by reading the tips here before you shop.

Checklist for buying a slow cooker:

What size slow cooker do you need?

Slow cookers are available in 8 ounce to 6 quart sizes. Depending on your intended use, if you’re cooking for a family of four or more you will need at least a 6 quart model, if less that 4 than the 6 quart would do.

Keep in mind that slow cookers need to be at least half full to properly cook as intended, so if you have a large slow cooker, but are only cooking for a small family, you could prepare a larger quantity of food and then freeze the leftovers.

Is it user-friendly?

Choose a slow cooker with user-friendly features like a removable power cord with switch. From time to time you may need to move the slow cooker in your kitchen or even outdoors during a picnic. A long power cord provides you hassle-free mobility with the slow cooker.

Glass lids and removable pots

The best slow cookers come with glass lids so you can see through it to check on the progress of the food without opening the lid.

When you open the lid, the cooking temperature drops so the cooking time will change and may take longer. Most models will have removable pots, but make sure they have stay cool handles to avoid getting burned when lifting them out.

Most slow cookers have a thick stoneware liner surrounded by a metal exterior. This outer surface can become quite hot. While it may be pricier, you can find models that have added insulation and are layered with temperature absorbing finishes.

Temperature setting options

Kitchenaid slow cookersLook for slow cookers with temperature setting options. A slow cooker which only comes with an On/Off switch could not keep your food warm without burning it after it is cooked.

Most models offer at least 2 heat settings, better yet, some models may have an automatic temperature control that you can set.

Look for a slow cooker that has a “keep warm” setting because you may not eat immediately as soon as your food is cooked, and you don’t want it to dry out.

Better yet find a slow cooker model with an electronic temperature sensor because that feature will alert you if there is a drop in the food temperature level.

Other slow cooker buying tips:

  • Choose a slow cooker that is durable and could be of service to you for the next five to ten years.
  • Digital programmable settings offer cooks maximum flexibility with time and temperature.
  • Choose a slow cooker which is dishwasher friendly and whose parts can be easily removed for easier cleaning.
  • Designer models have sleek shapes, finishes, and a choice solid colors or patterns of floral and plaids. Stainless-steel models are also very popular.
  • Slow cookers are priced from $20 to $250. If you choose a simpler model you will pay less but if you opt for a more elaborate slow cooker with more features, you can expect to pay more.

The leading distributors of slow cookers in the market today include Rival, Hamilton Beach, Cuisinart, All Clad, West Bend, Farberware, and KitchenAid slow cookers.

hamilton beach slow cookersWith the right choice, slow cookers can come up with the best-tasting chicken, beef stew, pot roast, roast beef, ribs, vegetarian dishes or any home-made meal you want to eat, but don’t want to stay around and monitor.

Slow Cooker Tips

The wind is blowing here, the temperature is dropping and we’re expecting rain.  On days like this we look forward to hot, comforting dinners.  A slow cooker (Crock-pot is one brand) is a convenient way to have that satisfying dinner ready when you come home at night.

Here are some helpful tips for making your slow ccoker dinner simple and tasty.

  • Less tender cuts of meat such shoulder, chuck roast, brisket and poultry legs work best for slow cooking.
  • Fish and seafood are not well suited unless they are added during the last hour or so of cooking.
  • Ground meat is also not recommended as the texture changes during long cooking and becomes mealy.
  • Slow cooking tends to intensify flavors, especially black pepper, chili pepper and garlic.  Dried herbs may loose some flavor with long cooking times and fresh herns are best if added right near the end of the cooking.
  • It’s not necessary, but flouring and browning meat for stews will add a richer flavor and color and will help to thicken the sauce.  Be sure to scrape the browned bit from the bottom of the pan to add to the pot.
  • Plastic liners are available in the foil aisle of most major grocery stores.  They make clean-up almost nonexistent.
  • To ensure even cooking, be sure to fill the cooker at least halfway, but not to the brim.  also, try not to stir as it will break up the vegetables.
  • It generally works best to place the vegetables (chunks of carrot potato and onion, for example) on the bottom of the pot followed by a layer of meat.
  • Meals can be made even easier by prepping many of the ingredients the night before and then just adding them to the pot straight from the fridge the next morning.

One of my family’s favorite slow cooker meals is exceptionally easy.

Bar-B Que Beef

Place chunks of carrot, potato, and onion on the bottom of the slow cooker,
cover with a layer of beef short ribs or stew meat. Cover with one bottle of your favorite bar-BQue sauce and an equal amount of your favorite beer. Cook 8-10 hours on low or 4-5 hours on high. Vary the amounts to suit your personal needs and tastes.