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The #1 Kitchen Tool You Need to Save Time and Money this Holiday Season

By: Kelley Herring, Healing GourmetCrockPot

With the holidays upon us, there are two things that most of us could use a lot more of: time and money. Today, I’ll show you how to save both time and money… and still eat like a king.

Unfortunately, many people think that eating right requires an array of chef skills, a big budget and spending hours upon hours in the kitchen. But nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, with the help of one simple and inexpensive tool, you can feed your family the healthiest foods that money can buy. And you can prepare them in the time it takes to order takeout… for about the same price per serving.

All you need is a slow cooker!

The Easy, Old-Fashioned Way to Be a Great Cook

Slow cookers reached their peak popularity when they were introduced in the 1970s. Nearly every house in the suburbs had a Crock-Pot on the countertop. Over the years, this healthy and super-simple way of cooking became passé.

Thankfully, the versatile slow cooker has made a resurgence in recent years. And for good reason!

With little more than a few cups of liquid or sliced veggies, a sprinkle of seasoning or a pour of sauce, a slow cooker can turn even the toughest cuts of meat into buttery, fork-tender morsels.

Best of all, the slow cooker provides unparalleled convenience. Simply add your ingredients, turn the dial to low and come home to a moist, flavorful, nutrient-rich meal ready to dish up for your family.

Elegant, Fuss-Free Party Fare

And if you’re planning holiday parties this season – don’t overlook the many benefits a slow cooker can provide…

Not only will it free up your oven and stove top for other uses, but using the slow cooker almost guarantees a succulent, fuss-free meal that will take center stage at your table.

From beef and bison… to pork, lamb, chicken (and even seafood!), there’s no limit to the festive and delicious dishes you can create. Here are some of the best cuts of meat (and a few recipe ideas) for your slow cooker:
 
•    Lamb Shoulder: The rich flavor of lamb is perfect for the low, moist heat in a slow cooker. Add fresh sprigs of rosemary, lemon slices and juice, and chopped garlic for a Mediterranean-inspired meal with just five minutes of prep time.

•    Grass-Fed Beef & Bison Roasts: Make succulent fork-tender beef recipes like Slow Cooker Pot Roast, Slow Cooker Beef Bourguignon, hearty brisket and spiced corned beef, and simple shredded beef for Paleo French Dip Sandwiches with budget-friendly roasts.

•    Grass-Fed Ground Beef: From a delicious Italian meal of Slow Cooker Bolognese with spaghetti squash, to German Meatballs and Cuban Picadillo, the slow cooker will make all of your favorite ground beef recipes simpler… and more delicious.

•    Gourmet Pork Shoulder & Sirloin: From traditional pork barbeque to Slow Cooker Tuscan Pork Loin Roast and Carnitas, all of your recipes using pork shoulder and sirloin turn out moist and juicy.   

And the options don’t end there. Your favorite ribs and chicken drumsticks will be “fall-off-the-bone” tender in the slow cooker. And if you’re a seafood lover, Cioppino and Shrimp Etouffee are two you have to try!

Now that you know the many ways the slow cooker can add more flavor (and precious time!) to your life, here’s another benefit…

Better Flavor, Healthier Meals

Slow cooking actually makes your meals healthier.

That’s right. Cooking protein-rich foods at high temperatures – even for short periods of time – promotes the formation of cancer-causing heterocyclic amines (HCAs).

But cooking in a slow cooker – at or below 212 degrees Fahrenheit – creates negligible amounts of HCAs. Cooking “slow and low” also infuses your meat with wonderful flavor, a tender texture, and mouthwatering moisture.

So now that you know the many culinary options you can create, which slow cooker is the best one to choose?

Choosing the Best Slow Cooker

There are a wide array of slow cookers on the market that will suit your budget and needs. Some are more high-tech with programmable options. Others are extremely simple with simple “low” and “high” settings.

One important factor that many people overlook is the material used in the vessel. Many times it is “non-stick” and contains PFOA/PFTE. You should avoid “non-stick” slow cookers as these compounds are hormone disruptors and are linked with certain types of cancers. You should also avoid using plastic liners. They are marketed as a way to achieve a quick cleanup, but they can also leach dangerous compounds into your food.

Opt for a slow-cooker with a ceramic vessel. This will keep your food free from harmful plastic and non-stick chemicals, while still ensuring a speedy cleanup.  

Another important factor is size. The vessel should be at least two-thirds full during cooking. If it isn’t, the meat will cook too rapidly and the results can be dry and overdone. Consider how many people you typically cook for when purchasing a slow cooker.

Finally, here are a few tips for making all of your slow cooker meals turn out perfectly:

•    Brown First, But Only Sometimes: Browning whole cuts of meat prior to adding to the slow cooker is not necessary. However, searing first in a stable fat (like beef tallow) will help the meat develop more complex flavors. For ground meat, brown prior to adding to the slow cooker. This will prevent clumping and allow the meat to absorb flavors more readily.

•    Go Easy on the Liquids: If you want to try your hand at a slow-cooker version of your favorite stovetop recipe, you will need to reduce the liquid. Slow cookers work by maintaining moisture inside of the sealed vessel, so any extra liquid will pool. A good rule of thumb when adapting your stovetop recipes is to decrease liquids by half.

•    Spice Wisely: Pungent whole spices like cloves, peppercorns, and bay leaves can overpower a dish if they are added at the beginning of the cooking time. Be sure to use them sparingly. On the other hand, ground spices, dried and fresh herbs and citrus juices tend to get “washed out” during the long cooking time. Adding these during the last two to three hours of cooking can help ensure your dish has a fresh, flavorful punch.

•    Seal It Up: If your slow cooker doesn’t seal properly, you may find your meals turn out too dry as much of the moisture can escape during cooking. Put a light coat of oil on the lid and inner rim to help ensure your slow cooker seals in the moisture.
   
•    No Peeking! While it’s tempting to peek at the mouthwatering progress inside your slow cooker, try to refrain. Each time you open the lid moisture and heat are lost and the required cooking time increases.

Bringing healthy, budget-friendly and delicious meals to the table needn’t be a chore. With a good slower cooker and your favorite cuts of grass-fed meat, poultry and sustainable seafood, you can create amazing dishes for special occasions…and every night of the week.

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ED NOTE: Kelley Herring is the Founder and Editor of Healing Gourmet the leading provider of organic, sustainable recipes and meal plans for health and weight loss. Be sure to grab Eating Clean & Saving Green: Your Guide to Organic Foods on a Budget and Eat Your Way Into Shape: Flip Your Body's Fat Blasting Switch and Melt 12 Pounds in 2 Weeks (includes a delicious 7 day meal plan!).  Claim your free copies here...

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REFERENCES

1.    Vaughn Barry, Andrea Winquist, and Kyle Steenland Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) Exposures and Incident Cancers among Adults Living Near a Chemical Plant Environ Health Perspect; DOI:10.1289/ehp.1306615
2.    Jägerstad M, Skog K. Genotoxicity of heat-processed foods. Mutation Research 2005; 574(1–2):156–172
3.    Sugimura T, Wakabayashi K, Nakagama H, Nagao M. Heterocyclic amines: Mutagens/carcinogens produced during cooking of meat and fish. Cancer Science 2004; 95(4):290–299.


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