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Slow cooker meals make one-pot wonders
Mexican Cheesecake is one of the many nontraditional dishes you can create in slow cookers.

Mexican Cheesecake
3 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened
2 eggs
2 tsp. chicken bouillon
1/2 cup hot water
4-oz. can green chilies, chopped
1/2-1 1/2 tsp. chili powder, depending on how much heat you enjoy
1/2 tsp., or less, hot sauce, optional
1 cup cooked chicken, chopped

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker until smooth. Cook on high 1 hour.  Turn to low to keep warm while serving. Serve with tortilla chips or crackers.
Janie Steele of Moore, Okla.,; “Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook”



Think slow cookers are only for cold winter days, or that you are limited to cooking only a few recipes with them?

Think again.

Once you know how to use it, you might want to pull your slow cooker out of the cabinet to cook everything from appetizers to dessert.

LaVerne Edge of Alto said she loves the simplicity of using a slow cooker to prepare her meals.

Edge, 62, said she especially likes using her slow cooker to prepare Brunswick stew.

“My husband and I have gone to a lot of barbecue restaurants and haven’t found any good Brunswick stew,” Edge said. “And then several years ago, a friend of mine gave me this recipe.

“Most of it comes out of cans, and you just dump everything in there and leave it for four to six hours, and it tastes a whole lot better than what you get at a restaurant.”

Edge said slow cookers make preparing meals like her favorite stew a snap.

“It’s easy. You know, you just put everything in there and leave it alone,” she said. “You don’t have to watch it; working people can put it on (in) the morning, and their meal will be ready when they get home.”

While they’re great for stews, slow cookers also can be used to prepare appetizers, main dishes and even desserts.

But if you’re clueless about using a slow cooker, how do you get started?

Phyllis Pellman Good, author of the recently revised “Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook,” said it all begins with selecting a slow cooker that is the right size for your family.

“Think about the number of people you typically feed. If it’s just a household of one or a household of two, then I would say a three-quart or a four-quart (slow cooker),” Good said.

“But if you’ve got kids — let’s say you have two children, three children — so you’re typically serving four or five people. Then I would go probably for a six-quart or a seven-quart.”

Good said, when revising “Fix-It and Forget-It,” one of the top three requests she got from home cooks was that each recipe contain a slow cooker size.

Using the correct size slow cooker for your recipe also can help with recipe success, since heating times and ingredient amounts are often based on the size of your appliance. Look for recipes that specify slow cooker size.

Good added that, since slow cookers are relatively inexpensive, investing in more than one can make it easy to prepare a full meal.
“You can do sort of the main entree — a chicken dish or a pasta dish — but then you can also do vegetable sides in them. You can even do desserts or breads,” Good said.

Slow cookers work by emitting slow, moist heat throughout the day, making them perfect for preparing meals in advance.

“You can prepare the dish at a time when you’re not under pressure, either in the morning before you leave for work,” Good said.
“I’ll often do it at 8:30 or 9 o’clock, things are sort of winding down, I’ve caught my second breath. I think, ‘Hey, if I would just assemble that dish for the slow cooker I can put it in the fridge overnight.’ The last thing I do before I go out the door in the morning is move the crock from the fridge to the electrical unit and turn it on.”

Good said early meal preparation can pave the way for a more relaxing evening.

“When I walk in the door, the food is ready, so that hour of pressure between 5:30 and 6:30 (is gone.)”

Good added that preparing most slow cooker recipes doesn’t require a lot of cooking knowledge.

“You have to pay attention to the instructions, but they’re not the kind of thing that require substantial cooking skills,” she said.

To get started, Good said home cooks should “just flip through a good cookbook and look at recipes that tempt you, and look practical.”

Although Good said she is cautious about using her slow cooker for seafood like shrimp and tilapia — which achieve optimal flavor when cooked quickly —  she said it’s ideal for meats like beef and turkey.

“I think if you get a turkey thigh or leg or breast, there’s enough substance and heft to turkey that the slow, moist heat is just perfect for enhancing the flavor and the texture,” Good said.

If you want to cook a beef dish, Good said slow cookers also can save you money.

“You can buy the cheapest cut and probably have a far better outcome than if you tried to cook a steak in it, because the slow, moist heat does especially well at tenderizing and allowing a deep flavor to emerge when it’s done slowly and over a long period of time,” she said.

If you’re having a party, you might want to try making an appetizer like Mexican Cheesecake, a savory, dip-like recipe found in the “Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook.”

Another surprising option is dessert. Good said breads and cakes might require extra inserts that you can buy from your slow cooker manufacturer, but some can be made right there in the crock.

“If you don’t have (an insert), you can use a coffee can or something like that,” said Good.

Some slow cooker recipes specify how to use a coffee can in bread or cake recipes.

“But then (with) a bunch of the recipes, you can just simply put the batter straight into the slow cooker. You make sure that you’ve oiled the interior well so it comes out easily.”

And although many people might think slow cookers are best for wintertime, Good said there are also advantages to using them in warmer weather.

“Don’t overlook the fact that a slow cooker doesn’t heat up your kitchen,” she said. “You can turn it on in the morning (and) you can go out for a day at the pool.”