Beware this with your Slow Cooker

Slow cookers are beloved for their set-it-and-forget-it style. The best slow cooker recipes require very little hands-on time and make the machine do all the heavy lifting. Naturally, most of us don’t think twice when a recipe tells us to start with frozen chicken. After all, that’s the point—to let the slow cooker do the work of thawing and cooking the meat. Right?

Not so fast, says the USDA. According to their Slow Cookers and Food Safety guidelines, you should always thaw meat or poultry before putting it in a slow cooker. They recommend storing the thawed meat in the refrigerator before adding it in. “The slow cooker may take several hours to reach a safe, bacteria-killing temperature,” the guidelines read. “Constant refrigeration assures that bacteria, which multiply rapidly at room temperature, won’t get a ‘head start’ during the first few hours of cooking.”

The primary concern is that putting frozen meat in the slow cooker increases its chances of entering the “danger zone,” the temperature range between 40° and 140°F where harmful bacteria grow exponentially. Slow cookers operate at temperatures between 170°F and 300°F—well above this zone—but it takes longer for frozen meat or poultry to reach those temperatures than thawed meat, giving it more opportunity to sit in the danger zone.

Here’s where things get a little murky. The guidelines for the Instant Pot, which can function as a slow cooker, say there’s “no need to defrost the food in the microwave prior to preparing.” They recommend increasing the cook time if beginning with frozen food but do not address any potential hazards. This is perfectly fine advice if using the pressure-cooker function because a pressure cooker can cook frozen chicken or meat fast enough to avoid the “danger zone.” But the Instant Pot’s website doesn’t specify which function the guidelines are referencing.

Crock Pot, one of the most popular brands of slow cookers, also gives a thumbs up to the practice. “You can cook frozen meat in a Crock-Pot Slow Cooker, but suggested cook time may need to be increased.” They recommend using a meat thermometer to ensure meat is well above 165°F. What they fail to address is the time it takes to reach that temperature.

Today Food took a deep dive into the topic and found that food experts have differing options. Ultimately, they recommend following the USDA guidelines to help reduce the possibility of the development of harmful bacteria. And, because it’s better to be safe than sorry, we agree. Additionally, if you’re gone during the day while your slow cooker is on, it’s a good idea to cook on low rather than set the timer to shut it down in the early afternoon. Food shouldn’t sit in a turned-off slow cooker for more than four hours, or it runs the risk of entering the danger zone again.

Written by GRACE ELKUS for Real Simple Magazine

Beware this with your Slow Cooker

Use Those Cilantro Stems

Cilantro is one of my favorite herbs to use in cooking, but one thing we don’t think about are cilantro stems. Crunchy yet tender and not at all stringy or woody, cilantro stems taste just like the leaves with a little extra zip. If you eat the stems you more than doubling the number of edible parts of the herb, getting way more bang for your buck, and cutting back on waste.

Whereas parsley stems are bitter and you really want to avoid using them, cilantro stems taste wonderful.  Use them, do waste them.  Use parsley stems in your stock, so you don’t waste them either.

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Cilantro stems are easy prep-wise. The stems can be attached to roots when purchased, so they tend to come in contact with a bit more dirt and may need to be washed more thoroughly. You should always wash your herbs before using them, so this is not really adding anything. I throw mine in a small colander and run them under the faucet then dry them well.

Here are just a few ideas for using cilantro stems:

Puree them into a sauce: Blend cilantro stems and leaves with a few tablespoons of tahini, a spoonful of miso paste, lemon or lime juice, and lots of black pepper for an addicting sauce you’ll want to spoon on everything from fried eggs to kale salad.

Use them in a salad: Tear off a handful of cilantro leaves, then finely chop stems and toss with your salad greens. This will work with any lettuce, but I think pairs especially well with peppery arugula.

Blend into smoothies and juice: Cilantro is bright and citrusy, so it works well in fruit smoothies and juices without adding sweetness. Try it in a pineapple coconut smoothie or in ginger-carrot juice.

Use Those Cilantro Stems

Healthy Soup From Any Vegetable

Spring is coming, but it is not here yet, so a yummy soup sounds great for your evening meal.  It is fast and easy and tastes delicious.

You can make one of winter’s most comforting dishes, without a formal recipe and with just about any vegetable in your refrigerator.

HOMEMADE SOUP

Mushroom Soup 1Soup is one of the most practical, tasty, and comforting foods out there. You can find it at most grocery stores and fast-food joints … but here’s the thing about store-bought soup. It’s -high in sodium, and can be filled with MSG or unhealthy ingredients, like pasta, potatoes, and nightshades. It’s not your mother’s soup.

 

But you can make delicious soup at home. And the best part is – it’s EASIER than you think, with this soup formula.”

Here’s what you’ll need to make soup for 4-6 people

SOUP WITH ANY VEGETABLE

WHAT YOU NEED –m

  • 1 chopped onion
  • A couple ribs of celery, chopped
  • A quarter cup of olive oil
  • 3 cups of the vegetable of your choice – mushrooms are one of my favorties
  • 5-6 cups of broth (vegetable OR chicken)
  • Salt and pepper
  • If I feel it is lacking a little ??  I add unsalted butter

From there, the possibilities are truly endless. You can add herbs and spices, leave it brothy, or blend it smooth to give it a bit more of a creamy texture. (In fact, you can even thicken it up by blending half of it and mixing the thicker portion with the brothy portion.)

WHAT TO DO –

  1. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large pot.
  2. Next, add your veggies and a pinch of salt and pepper, and saute it all until it’s tender.
  3. Once vegetables are cooked, add broth and reduce heat to low. Cover it, and cook for 30 minutes.
  4. When you’re done, you can serve it as is, or throw it in the blender to make a silky smooth soup.

And that’s it. It’s seriously that simple

AND HERE ARE SOME EXTRA (TASTY) TIPS:

  • If you use kale, try adding a bit of lemon juice and some garlic to the mixture.
  • If you’re making an asparagus soup, add a bit of mint and a little lime zest.
  • To make a creamier soup, blend in a bit of unsweetened coconut milk. Mmm, yum.
  • You can even add Miracle Noodles if you just can’t resist noodle soups.

YOUR WINTER TAKEAWAY

So, go ahead – enjoy those creamy, comforting soups this winter. Just do them right – your gut will thank you!

Healthy Soup From Any Vegetable