Planning with the Slow Cooker

Once you have chosen your menu, you can start to take advantage of the benefits of slow cookers. You can plan your ingredient preparation, cooking schedules, and serving arrangements to work around your other party efforts. You can also adjust and adapt the recommended cooking times so you can coordinate the set of slow cooker recipes chosen for your menu. This will help your entertaining go more smoothly.

The beauty of slow cookers is their flexibility. No other form of cooking is so forgiving. For most dishes, a recommended setting of medium can be set lower for longer times or higher for shorter times. This means you can crank up the heat if you're running late, or turn it down, or even off, if there's a delay.

Breads and puddings are the exception, since they require higher heat to ensure steaming and must be cooked at a high heat setting. Even with breads and puddings, though, a slow cooker on a low setting will keep things warm until the lid is removed for serving.

Dinner parties are great opportunities to use themes. For example, you could do a movie or TV show theme, or incorporate a detail about a favorite fictional character into the menu. This is an especially great idea for a child's celebration. In honor of Popeye, you could include spinach in every dish you prepare. As a reminder of Winnie the Pooh, you could use honey in all of your foods.

Another great strategy is to stagger the start and stop times for your recipes so appetizers and main dishes are ready earlier, desserts and drinks later. Automated timers can make this trick easier to perform. You can also manipulate the temperature settings to “force” multiple recipes to all fit your schedule.

Do you have one recipe calling for eight hours on low, another for two hours on high, and another for four hours on low? Speed up the first by setting it on medium or high, slow down the second by getting a timer to delay the start time, and then they can all cook for four hours. To make them all fit an eight-hour time frame, use timers on the quicker recipes or, when compatible, simply turn them down and let them go longer.

In most cases it won't hurt. Green vegetables and milk products may suffer with extended hours, so wait and add these more sensitive ingredients closer to serving time.

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