Editor’s note: “A Better Life” is a weekly column by the USU Extension – Tooele Office that will focus on a variety of topics intended to enhance quality of life.
Here are three words that can put fear into anyone’s heart: What’s for dinner?
After a busy day, it can be challenging to put together a healthy, inexpensive and tasty dinner. Yet, it’s nice to come home to the smell of dinner being prepared. And, it’s even better, when the meal requires little effort to complete.
One way to save time, money and stress is to make meals ahead of time and freeze them. This works well when preparing meals that will be cooked in a slow cooker. If you pull a meal out of the freezer and put it into the refrigerator the night before, it will be ready to go into the slow cooker in the morning and be finished that evening.
There has been some question about if slow cookers cook at high enough temperatures to prevent bacteria growth. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bacteria in foods are killed at a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Slow cookers cook between 185 and 200 degrees F, well above the safety limit.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service says it is safe to cook foods on low the entire time. While food is cooking and once it’s done, food will stay safe as long as the cooker is operating. However, it is important for food safety to thaw foods before putting them in the slow cooker. Thaw the food the night before in the refrigerator; not on the counter.
Another common question about slow cooking: “Is it safe to leave my slow cooker on all day while I am gone?” Opinions vary. Slow cookers are designed to cook at a low wattage. However, there is no guarantee. It is a good idea to use a slow cooker, whether new or old, for the first time when you will be home. This will allow you to make sure it works properly.
Check the cord for fraying and watch for overheating of food or the cooker. If you leave your slow cooker unattended, make sure there’s 6-8 inches of open space around it. Place it on a counter or surface that is fire-resistant and never near anything flammable like curtains. You may want to set it on a trivet. So is it safe to leave unattended? What it comes down to is this: do you feel safe doing it?
Another good tip about slow cooking is to put the food in and leave it alone. The seal between the lid and the rim of the pot should not be broken during cooking until it is time to test the food. The heat inside a crockpot builds up slowly and every time it is uncovered, enough heat is lost to slow the cooking process by 30 minutes or more.
Below is an ideal recipe for a slow cooker courtesy of www.sixsistersstuff.com.
Slow Cooker Black Bean and Corn Salsa Chicken
2 (14 oz.) cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
2 (14 oz.) cans of corn, drained
1 (1 oz.) package of taco seasoning
1 lb. chicken breasts
1 cup salsa
3/4 cup water
Place all ingredients in a re-sealable, gallon-sized freezer bag. Mix together in bag and zip closed. When ready to eat, remove from freezer and thaw in refrigerator for 24 hours. Cook on HIGH for 3-4 hours or LOW for 7-8 hours. When finished cooking, shred chicken and serve over rice, with tortilla chips, over a salad, in tortilla shells, or wrapped in a soft tortilla (this meat is so versatile). Garnish with cheese, sour cream, avocado, lettuce, tomato, and hot sauce.
Darlene Christensen is an associate professor at the USU Extension – Tooele County office, which is located inside the Tooele County Health Department Building, 151 N. Main, Tooele. She can be reached at 435-277-2406 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.