Of course, the benefits of using a slow cooker transcend the ease of preparation. Most modern cookers not only use less energy than conventional methods of preparing meals, but also are easier to clean. (For the “cleanest” cooking option, try using slow cooker liners.) Meats prepared in a slow cooker are naturally tenderized by the gradual cooking process allowing you to use cheaper and tougher cuts of meat. And finally, vegetables used in slow cooker recipes retain their nutrients better than boiling in water where the vitamins and minerals can be destroyed by the higher temperatures and lost in the water itself.
But what if your favorite slow cooker recipes have ingredients like tomatoes and barbeque sauce that are less than bladder friendly? Remember, the beauty of having home-cooked meals is your ability to control what is added to the mix. The simplest meals made with fresh ingredients are of course the best. Beef or pork roasts combined with potatoes, carrots, celery, and onion with a little salt and pepper (if tolerated) is the most basic slow cooker recipe. But the versatility of a slow cooker also includes an endless array of casserole, stew, soup and even dessert recipes.
Slow Cooker Food Safety and the “Danger Zone”
Keep in mind, the same low temperature environment that allows us to use slow cookers to prepare tender, flavorful meals over the course of a day may require some tweaking of your cooking skills to keep it safe. It is important to minimize the time the food spends in the temperature “danger zone” (40°F to 140°F) where bacteria multiples the fastest. Here are some suggestions:
- Frozen meat can compromise the ability of the cooker to move quickly through the danger zone. Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator overnight before using it in a slow cooker.
- Minimize the time your meal spends in the food safely danger zone by preheating the cooker and heating liquids before you add them to the crock.
- To prevent vegetables like peas, zucchini, and corn from becoming mushy, many people like to add them in the last hour of cooking. To keep the mixture’s temperature from dipping too far into the danger zone, heat cold or frozen ingredients first before adding to the hot mixture in the slow cooker.
- If using dried beans such as kidney beans, reconstitute and boil on the stove according to package directions before adding to your slow cooker meal. Boiling beans beforehand not only speeds up cooking, but more importantly, it releases the toxins that can become trapped by a slow cooker’s closed environment.
- Avoid lifting the lid of the slow cooker when in use. This can lower the temperature significantly and increase the time to finish the meal.
- If you want to use an acid reducer like AcidZap to help make the meal more bladder friendly, add it at the end, preferably to individual servings. A slightly acidic environment when cooking can help control food borne illness and works with the heat to tenderize meats.
- Resist the temptation to taste-test until everything has reached a safe temperature. Although the mixture may appear to be boiling, the inside of larger pieces of meat may not be safe until the very end. Use a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the meat to determine temperature. Whole roasts should have a temperature of 145°F to 160°F, poultry, soups, and stews should be 165°F.
- After your meal, remove any leftovers from the crock and refrigerate immediately in a shallow pan to allow speedy cooling. Do not leave leftovers on the counter to cool.
Julie Beyer, MA, RDN
Author, Speaker, Patient Advocate
Slow Cooker Roast Beef Dinner
- 3 to 4 pound beef roast, visible fat trimmed
- 4 medium potatoes, peeled and halved (can substitute sweet potatoes)
- 3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 2 stalks of celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 medium onion, quartered, if tolerated
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper, if tolerated
- 2 teaspoon dried basil
It doesn’t get any easier than this! Layer roast and vegetables in a 3 to 5 quart slow cooker. Add water. Sprinkle in garlic, salt, pepper, and basil. Cook on medium for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 4 to 6 hours. Temperature of roast at its center should be a minimum of 145°F.
Chicken Dinner: Substitute 5 to 7 skinned chicken breasts or thighs for beef. Substitute rosemary for basil.
Turkey Dinner: Substitute 4 to 5 pound turkey breast for beef. Substitute poultry seasoning for basil.
Beef Stew: Cup roast into 1-1/2 inch cubes. Increase water to 1-1/2 c. One hour before serving: Mix 2 T. flour with 1/2 c. warm water; stir until smooth. Stir gently into stew. Continue cooking for at least an hour.
Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup
- 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
- 3 stalks celery, cut into small, bite-sized pieces
- 1 medium sweet onion, diced
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
- 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning (MSG-free)
- 6 cups MSG free chicken broth (Swanson’s is available almost everywhere)
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- ¼ teaspoon of black pepper (if tolerated)
- 1 ½ cup cooked eggs noodles (I like Marie Callender’s brand found in the freezer section)
Add whole chicken breasts to pre-heated, 5 to 6 quart slow cooker. Add carrots, celery, onion, garlic, broth, and seasonings. Cover and cook on low heat for 6 to 8 hours or until chicken breasts reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Remove chicken breasts. Chop into bite sized pieces and return to soup mixture. Add cooked noodles. Cook for an additional 30 minutes. Serve hot.
Slow Cooker Pumpkin Pudding
- 1 - 15 ounce can solid pack pumpkin
- 1 - 12 ounce can evaporated milk (may use fat-free)
- 3⁄4 cup sugar
- 1⁄2 cup biscuit baking mix such as Bisquick
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
- 2 1⁄2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- Whipped topping or vanilla ice cream (optional)
Mix pumpkin, milk, sugar, baking mix, eggs, butter, spice, and vanilla in a large bowl until well blended. Put mixture into a 3 quarter or larger slow cooker. Cover and cook on low temperature (not warm) for 7 hours. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream as garnish.
Slow Cooker Pear-Apple Sauce
- 3 large apples (peeled, cored, and cut into slices)
- 3 large pears (peeled, cored, and cut into slices)
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)
- ⅓ cup water
- ¼ teaspoon salt
Combine all the ingredients in slow cooker, and put the top on. Cook mixture on high for 4 hours, stirring twice during cooking. The pear-applesauce will be slightly chunky. For a smoother sauce, use blender or immersion blender to puree. Serve warm or cool sauce and store in the refrigerator for up to five days. May be frozen.