Are your meals too dry or too moist?
Remember how dry and chewy those crock pot roasts used to be when you were a kid? You had to beg for glass after glass of milk just to wash down the meat, carrots, and potatoes. For some, those memories stick so strongly in their heads that although they receive a crock pot as a housewarming or wedding shower gift, it sits in the back of their cupboard collecting dust.
Or better yet, those meals that turn out so mushy you could swear it was created (and then pureed) for a one year old. Most of the time, these common problems can be fixed with a few simple adjustments.
Think of your crock pot as any other appliance in your kitchen. Remember the first time you moved to a different home or apartment and used the oven and stove top? It was most likely completely different from your last and probably took you a few weeks to get used to. Likewise, each brand and model of crock pot is different, so take time to get used to your crock pot. Note that most new crock pots cook at a higher temperature and therefore may require an adjustment; always use the cooking times given on recipes as a guide.
If your meal is dry:
More than likely, too much steam has escaped in the process of cooking or the meal itself was overcooked. Experiment with the following:
- Don't lift the lid! Every time you lift the lid steam escapes, therefore affecting the consistency of the meal and cooking time.
- Cover the top of the stoneware insert with aluminum foil prior to covering with the glass lid. This will help prevent steam from escaping keeping your food moist.
- Add a little water. If it still seems dry, add a little more water next time.
- Reduce the amount of liquid absorbing ingredients. Rice is the big culprit here; if your recipe calls for rice to be cooked in the crock pot, often the rice will absorb the majority of the liquid causing the rice to be mushy and the rest of the meal to be dry.
- Try reducing the cooking time by 30-60 minutes.
If your meal is mushy:
Once again, it's likely that the meal was overcooked (strangely enough). It's also possible that there's too much liquid and too much steam cooking the food.
- Reduce the amount of liquid. This is especially true when cooking meals that contain rice or stuffing that is cooked directly in the crock pot. I can't tell you how many times I've had super mushy rice and stuffing to serve as a family meal. At least my toddler liked it!
- If your glass lid is rattling from steam, leave the lid off for 10-15 minutes, stir the contents (if necessary), and reduce the heat setting; your meal is probably done or quite close.
- Again, try reducing the cooking time by 30-60 minutes.
Make sure you're using the right size crock pot; it should not be less than half or more than two-thirds full.
Lastly, for many the cooking time of each recipe is sometimes an issue. I'm fortunate enough to be a work at home mom who is only minutes away from her kitchen and can prepare the crock pot meal at any time during the morning. However, there are many that can't; and these are the people that should be truly enjoying the benefits of a crock pot!
For those who work 8-10 hour days (or more) the question is always, "How do I prepare a crock pot meal that only cooks for 5-6 hours?" A few solutions are available, one being the new programmable crock pots that switch the heat setting to keep warm once cooking time is done. If buying a new crock pot is not an option, there is also a module that can be plugged into older crock pots that does the same thing and is quite inexpensive.
If you have a lunch hour, prepare the meal in the morning or the night before and keep the stoneware insert in your fridge. Then (if possible) you or someone else in the household could place the insert into the cooking module and flip the switch.
My last suggestion would be this; if you have an 8 quart crock pot, consider making a double batch of the recipe. This lengthens the cooking time by about 50-75% (see example below*) and also creates leftovers to freeze and enjoy later.
I've learned that cooking is truly an experiment. Many are afraid to experiment with their crock pot. Don't be! It's just like any other appliance in your kitchen, take the time to get used to it and you'll eventually not want to trade it for anything.
*example of double batch cooking time: a single batch of stew taking 5-6 hours on low, the double batch would take 7-9 hours on low.
Visit www.natalies-recipes.com for great crock pot recipes and more.