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Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 24, 2017

Slow-cook your way to good nutrition

By Melissa Boncher, Hy-Vee Dietitian | Sep 07, 2017

Want to solve the how-to-get-dinner-on-the-table dilemma as you start back to the routine of school?

Dust off that slow cooker. It can be your trusty assistant to making sure dinner is ready in the midst of homework and sports schedules.

Slow-cooked dishes are ideal for making ahead and reheating, and leftovers can be enjoyed for several days. A slow cooker provides advantages for healthy cooking by stretching small amounts of meat with flavorful sauces and a generous portion of vegetables. While you might use your slow cooker more often in the winter, you can keep your kitchen cool by using your slow cooker in the summer and fall too.

Like anything else, there are some tips and tricks to making tastier, healthier meals from your slow cooker. For example, flavors tend to meld together with long cooking times — a sprinkle of fresh herbs just before serving can brighten a dish. Also, it’s best to add noodles the last half-hour of cooking, rather than putting them in to cook all day.

Here are some other tips:

1. Keep a lid on it: Resist the urge to take off the lid and peek at your meal. Opening the slow cooker lets heat escape and slows cooking. Only open it 30 to 45 minutes before the end of the cooking time to check doneness.

2. Plan your meals ahead: If you want to turn your slow cooker on first thing in the morning, a little planning goes a long way. The night before: Cut and trim any meat, chop any vegetables, measure out dry ingredients and prepare any sauce; refrigerate the components in separate containers. (Do not refrigerate components in the slow-cooker insert; a cold insert takes too long to heat up and affects cooking time and food safety.) In the morning, add ingredients to the cooker according to the recipe. It’s best to reheat any sauce to a simmer before adding. If you won’t be home close to the end of the cooking time, make sure you have a slow cooker that can switch to the “warm” setting when cooking is done.

3. Maximize flavor: Brown the meat and/or vegetables in a skillet before adding to the cooker. Then deglaze the pan with any liquid called for in the recipe to get all the brown, caramelized bits from the saute pan into the cooker. You’ll end up with a richer flavor that can’t be achieved by slow-cooking alone.

4. Keep temperature in mind: A slow cooker is certainly convenient, but if not used correctly there is the potential for food-safety hazards. Temperatures between 40° and 135°F fall into the so-called “Danger Zone,” since bacteria thrive in these temperatures. When using a slow cooker, be sure to take precautions that keep food from being in the Danger Zone for too long. To avoid the Danger Zone, never add frozen ingredients to your cooker, refrigerate any ingredients you’ve prepped ahead in separate storage containers and bring liquids to a simmer if you’re cooking on Low before adding them to your cooker to give the heating process a jump-start.

 

Here is a recipe to try:

Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich

Serves 4 (1 sandwich each).

All you need:

2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound sirloin steak, trimmed and thinly sliced (see Tip)

1 medium onion, sliced

8 oz. mushrooms, sliced

1 red or green bell pepper, sliced

2 tbsp. minced fresh oregano, or 2 tsp. dried

1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

1 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup sliced hot banana peppers, optional

1/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

3 slices reduced-fat provolone cheese (about 3 oz.)

4 whole-wheat buns, split and toasted

 

All you do:

1. Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add sliced meat, onion, mushrooms, bell pepper and cook, stirring often, until soft and beginning to brown, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Remove and put into slow cooker. Add the oregano, pepper, flour and salt. Stir. Add banana peppers (if using), and broth. Start slow cooker on HIGH for 15 minutes, then turn to LOW to cook 6 to 8 hours.

3. To serve, divide into 4 portions and scoop a portion on each bun. Lay cheese slices on top of the vegetables and meat, let stand until melted, 1 to 2 minutes.

 

*Tip: It is easiest to cut meat into thin slices if it is partially frozen. If you have time, freeze it for 20 minutes before slicing.

Nutrition Facts per serving: 430 calories, 15g fat, 6g saturated fat, 74mg cholesterol, 646mg sodium, 31g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 45g protein.

Daily values: 22% vitamin A, 72% vitamin C, 25% calcium, 22% iron.

The information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.

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