I have had many long conversations with my girlfriends on cooking with a Crock-Pot (or more generically, a slow cooker). I have given them tips and recipes on how to make successful comfort foods for easy meals and dinner — so I thought I would share this advice with readers.

COOKING TIME
Many people seem to be afraid to leave a cooking appliance on during the day when they're not at home. In order for food to actually cook, a slow cooker bakes at a very low temperature and is specifically designed to be left unattended, so this fears are mostly unwarranted.

At a higher temperature, expect about five to six hours of cooking time and at a low temperature, between eight to 10 hours. If you put your slow cooker on in the morning, choose the lower setting to avoid food from sticking to the bottom of the pot throughout the day. If you're making something on the weekend, use a higher mode and start cooking in the afternoon for the best (and tastiest) results.

THE KEY TO SUCCESS
A lot of people also worry about burning their meals. The key to avoid burnt food is to always pour liquid in your slow cooker to prevent food from sticking or burning. The best meals can be made with tomato sauce, broth, wine and even plain water.

PREPARATION AND PLANNING
If you're planning to start your meal in the morning, the trick is to prepare the ingredients or any sauces the night before. Leaving your full chicken or curries for the morning can get frustrating — and sloppy. Another option for those of you who don't want to leave your cooker on during the day is to leave it on overnight and unplug it in the morning. This way you have a lunch and a leftover dinner.

BROWNING THE MEAT OR NOT?
I always skip this step because frankly, I find it useless. Personally, I make sure to choose the highest temperature so my meat can cook thoroughly.

LOOK: 7 slow cooker recipes:

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  • Beef With Mushrooms

    - 3 cups beef cubes -1 pint of fresh mushrooms, halved -1 canned cream of mushroom soup -1 ½ cups of apple juice -1 envelope onion soup -salt and pepper to taste Combine all ingredients in slow cooker and pour in apple juice. Cook over low for about 6 hours.

  • Roast Beef In Red Wine

    - 1 chuck roast in good size - 1 half bottle of red wine - 1 small canned tomato paste - 2 bay leaves - 4 garlic cloves - 1 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme - Salt and pepper taste Place all ingredients in slow cooker and cook on low 8 hours between. If you prefer to brown the meat initially, cook for 6 hours. Serve with grilled vegetables.

  • Moroccan Couscous

    - 3 cups cubed chicken or lamb - 1 cup prunes - 3 carrots, cut into large cubes - 2 cups chicken broth - 4 merguez sausage, halved - 3 stalks celery, coarsely chopped - 1 turnip cut into cubes. - Cinnamon and Indian spices to taste. Combine all ingredients except the chickpeas, which you add about 1 hour before the end of cooking time. Bake 8 on low or high on 5 or 6 hours. Serve over couscous at the last minute.

  • Butter Chicken

    - 1 onion, chopped - 1 tin of chopped tomatoes - 2 tablespoons tomato paste - 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger - 3 teaspoons of curry paste or powder red - About 3 cups cubed chicken - 1 cup Greek yogurt - Cinnamon, cumin, salt and pepper to taste Place all ingredients in slow cooker except the Greek yogurt and cook 6 to 8 hours on low. Serve over rice and mix in Greek yogurt in the last hour.

  • Ricardo's Strawberry And Rhubarb Jam

    <em>This recipe comes from chef Ricardo Larrivée</em> -1 litre (4 cups) fresh strawberries, diced -1 litre (4 cups) fresh rhubarb, diced -500 ml (2 cups) sugar -45 ml (3 tbsp.) of lemon juice 1. Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for about an hour. 2. Remove the lid and continue cooking for about 3 hours to allow the liquid to evaporate and form a thicker jam. Pour your mixture into four sterilized jars with a capacity of 250 ml (1 cup). 3. The jam will be fresh for about 2 weeks in the refrigerator. For storage of several weeks, freeze the jars.

  • Ricardo's Whole Chicken In Chicken Broth

    <em>This recipe comes from chef Ricardo Larrivée</em> -2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks -2 stalks celery, cut into chunks -1 onion, peeled and quartered -1 garlic clove -1/2 tsp. peppercorns -2 bay leaves -1 chicken, about 1.6 kg (3 1/2 lb), skin removed Water Salt 1. In the crock, divide the vegetables and spices. Top with whole chicken and cover the pot leaving about 5 inches of space. Lightly salt. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours. 2. Remove chicken from pot and let it cool on a plate. Strain the broth through a sieve. 3. You can keep both the chicken and broth in the refrigerator for three to four days and about six months in the freezer.

  • Ricardo's Vegetable Soup

    <em>This recipe comes from chef Ricardo Larrivée</em> -1.5 litres (6 cups) of diced green cabbage -1.5 litres (6 cups) vegetable broth -1 796 ml can (28 oz) of diced tomatoes -4 carrots, peeled and diced -4 stalks celery, diced -6 green onions, chopped -2 cloves garlic, finely chopped -2.5 ml (1/2 tsp.) celery salt -Salt and pepper 1. In slow cooker, combine all ingredients and add salt and pepper. 2. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours. Garnish with herbs if desired.

  • Other Ideas

    Chili, vegetable soup, spaghetti sauce, cabbage rolls, etc.. All of these recipes will save you preparation time and a lot of dishes!

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