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Christina Hitchcock scours cookbooks, recipe boxes and the internet to bring you only the BEST recipes that have her seal of approval.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2013:08:27 17:01:33

A slow cooker is an essential tool in any busy mom’s kitchen cabinet.  They can help get delicious meals on the table without much fuss. You can put your ingredients together in the morning, set your slow cooker and come home to a perfectly cooked meal.

The down side to using a slow cooker is so many recipes use ingredients that are high in fat and calories. Ingredients like cream soups, high-fat dairy products and fatty cuts of meat can make a slow cooker recipe a less healthy meal option.

The good news is, slow cooker recipes have evolved over the years. They’re not just for beef stews and cream soup based meals. Today, there are a number of better-for-you recipes available for slow cookers.

You can make an entire roast chicken in your slow cooker. You can also make heart-healthy dishes like oatmeal and hummus in your slow cooker. I have a number of healthier slow cooker recipe on my website, itisakeeper.com.

Whether you’re using them for an easy supper or a no-fuss breakfast, slow cookers can be a timesaver.

Tips for Using a Slow Cooker:

Choose the right size for your family.  For a 3-6 person family, a 6-quart slow cooker should be sufficient.

Don’t over-fill your slow cooker.  It’s best to keep it 1/2 to 3/4 full. Any more and it won’t cook properly. Any less and your food may burn.

Keep a lid on it. It takes 20 minutes to build up heat in a slow cooker.  By removing the lid during cooking, you will let all of the heat out and increase your cooking time.

Less expensive, tougher cuts of meat work best in the slow cooker. 

It’s always best to cook on low for 6-8 hours rather than on high for 3-4 hours. Remember: low and slow.

You can add frozen chicken breasts to a slow cooker.  They cook perfectly. I promise.

Browning or searing your meat before placing it in the slow cooker will increase the flavor the dish.  However, in many recipes (with the exception of ground beef recipes) you can skip this step and not affect the flavor too much.

Cut all of your vegetables the same size so that they will cook evenly.

Dairy products will usually separate when used in a slow cooker.  It’s best to add them during the last 30 minutes of cooking.

Herbs that are fresh or whole will increase the flavor of your recipes, but dried herbs and seasonings will lose flavor.  Add dried herbs and seasonings during the last hour of cooking.  As with all cooking, check your seasoning before serving and make any adjustments.

The liquid in your dish will not reduce. You may need to thicken sauces after your dish has finished cooking.

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is one hour on high equals about 2 to 2.5 hours on low.

Make clean up a snap by using disposable liners.  They are easy to use, convenient and they don’t affect the flavor of your dish.

Slow Cooker Fiesta Chicken

INGREDIENTS

2 pounds chicken breasts,

boneless and skinless

1 cup salsa

1 cup petite diced tomatoes, drained

1 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons taco seasoning

1 cup onion diced

1/2 cup celery diced

1/2 cup carrots shredded

3 tablespoons sour cream, reduced fat

1 cup black beans rinsed

2 green onions chopped

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Place the chicken in slow cooker.

2. Sprinkle taco seasoning over the meat then layer the vegetables and salsa on top.

3. Pour soup base over the mixture, set on low and cook for 4-6 hours.

4. The meat is cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.

5. Remove the meat from the slow cooker and shred with two forks.

6. Add the chicken back into the slow cooker and stir in the sour cream and black beans.

7. Return lid to slow cooker and cook for 5-10 minutes, or until everything is heated through.

8. Top with green onions before serving.

Find slow cooker recipes and ideas atitisakeeper.com/NepaFamilyTimes.