Most slow cooked recipes don’t need to be stirred during cooking, especially if cooked on low heat. When you lift the lid, a slow cooker loses so much heat that allowances should be made to increase the cooking time by at least 20 minutes for each time you lift the lid. The best way to check on the progress of your meal is to try spinning the lid instead of removing it. Spinning the lid will remove the condensation that has collected under the lid, thus allowing you to easily see into the pot and its contents.
Whenever possible, choose whole leaf herbs and spices rather than ground herbs and spices, for better flavor. Some spices, and especially pepper, can become bitter when cooked over a prolonged time. For best flavor, add those spices only during the last hour of cooking.
Because food safety is always an on-going important issue, slow cooker manufacturers have begun to produce slow cookers that cook at increasingly hotter temperatures. The cooking temperature of your current slow cooker can be determined in the following manner:
Place 2 quarts of water in your slow cooker
Cover and heat on low for 8 hours.
Lift the lid and immediately check the water temperature with an accurate thermometer
The temperature of the water should be 185° F. If the temperature is higher, foods may overcook, and you should reduce the overall cooking time. If the temperature is lower, your foods will probably not reach a safe temperature quickly enough, and the slow cooker should be discarded.
A commonly asked question is whether or not pastas and rice can be cooked in a slow cooker. Pasta needs lots of liquid to cook properly, and should be added during the last hour of cooking time, depending on the consistency of doneness you prefer. Converted rice can be cooked in the slow cooker just like vegetables or meat. Make sure you have enough liquid in the recipe for the rice to become tender.
Cakes and deserts can also be made in a slow cooker. The trick is to use a small round rack, or a vegetable steamer, to lift the cake pan off the bottom of the cooker. This will allow the heat to circulate evenly around the pan. A larger slow cooker will be necessary for ‘baking’ cakes and other desserts. A 5-quart slow cooker will hold an 8″ or 9″ cake pan or a spring form pan.
If you live at higher altitudes, you’ll need to increase cooking times, usually by as much as 40-50%.
To properly clean your slow-cooker, fill the appliance with hot soapy water when the cooker has cooled. Allow it to soak for 15-20 minutes, and then scrub with a cloth, nylon net pad or a plastic sponge. DO NOT use any form of harsh abrasive cleaner, SOS pads or metal pads. Rinse well in hot water and dry.
To remove mineral stains, fill cooker ¾ full with hot water and 1 cup of white vinegar. Cover and cook on high for 2 hours, then allow the cooker to cool and soak and clean, as directed above.
To remove water marks from glazed crockery, rub the surface with vegetable oil and let stand for 2-3 hours. Then fill with hot soapy water, rub the surface, and scrub with a nylon net pad. Rinse and dry well.