Vegan Slow Cooker Tips from Kathy Hester

Kathy Hester, author of this month’s VegCookbook, The Vegan Slow Cooker, was nice enough to write a guest post for us with lots of slow cooker tips. Enjoy!

First let me thank you so much for cooking from The Vegan Slow Cooker this month! Many of you may not be used to cooking with a slow cooker, so I wanted to give you some info that should make the learning curve a little easier.

I know some of you may be looking for a new slow cooker and I have a post about picking one out here. Also, feel free to email me with any questions. There is a new Calphalon 4 quart slow cooker that I haven’t written a review of yet, but I really like. (With that said, a cheapy one works perfectly fine too.)

Slow Cooker Size
In the book I use a 3 ½ to 4 quart slow cooker unless it calls for a different size. If you only have a small slow cooker you should be able to halve the recipes with just a few modifications.

If your slow cooker is larger than a 5 quart, you should probably double the recipes, or they will burn. Another possibility is to put the recipe in a pyrex dish that you cook in your large slow cooker in a water bath. Just make sure the water is a couple of inches below the top of the pyrex dish.

Read Manufacturer’s Recommendations
You may usually skip the little leaflets that come with everything these days, but read this one. The most important thing to find out is the recommended fill amount. It’s usually ½ or ¾ full. There are some recipes that break this rule, but they are using the slow cooker more like an oven for breads and some casseroles.

Why does it matter? If yours says ¾ and you fill it ½ way, it will behave like a hot slow cooker (see below) and could burn your food.

Slow Cookers that Run Hot
You’ll see in the book that in many recipes I list to add more liquid if you have a slow cooker that runs hot. Most new ones do run hot and if you think yours cooks fast, boils on low, etc. that will probably be something you need to do.

Why does it matter if your slow cooker cooks hot? Well, you are much more likely to burn your food, or have it cook very fast. It’s not a problem once you know how to work with your slow cooker, and most modern slow cookers run hot. I have 17 slow cookers and no two cook exactly alike. So it’s not you – it’s your slow cooker!

Older Slow Cookers
These are some of my favorites because they cook at a lower temperature. But the recipes are adjusted for the newer ones. That means if you have an older slow cooker you may need to reduce the liquid and/or cook it longer.

If you ever see a lasagna recipe that cooks for 6 to 8 hours, chances are it was made in an older slow cooker.

Slow Cooking Times
There is almost always a range on the cooking times in my recipes. There are a few factors at work. One is how your slow cooker cooks, another is the ingredients we’re using.

There are dishes like risotto or pasta that cook in about 1 ½ hours and then there are soups that can go as long as 10 hours. So if you want to come home to a ready made meal, soups and stews will be your go-to. These are also the best choice for days that you might have to work late.

If you like to take the dog for a walk or watch a show before dinner, the quick cooking meals work great since you don’t have to babysit them like you would if they were on the stove top.

Make It Taste Better
One of the biggest complaints about the slow cooker is that things taste the same. Sautéing onions and garlic make a huge flavor difference, but you can skip this if you don’t have the time.

I feel it’s easy to sauté some onions while you’re chopping the veggies for the next day. That’s why I divide most of the recipes into what to do the night before and then in the morning.

Taste, re-season and taste again. Almost all the dishes will require a boost to some of the seasonings. Some are fresher than others, and while one day you cooked a dish for 8 hours, another day you cooked the same dish for 10 hours. So, there are many variables that can’t be calculated in a single recipe.

Why Do You Bake in Your Slow Cooker?
Some of it has to do with my daredevil attitude about slow cooking. But I also live where the summer heat is miserable. I use my slow cookers to bake and make warm food all summer long while not upping my air conditioner bill. I promise that I’m not suggesting you should never use your oven again, but it is fun to do when you go camping.

Special Needs Cooking
I try to have substitutions for people who are gluten, or soy-free. I usually switch the seitan for tofu, but my favorite substitute, if you eat neither gluten or soy, is to use chickpeas as the star in your dish.

There will be a few dishes that just won’t work well with a substitute, but you will be able to have the majority of them. I’m happy to try and help you if you have other dietary concerns.

Have Other Questions?
Just ask. You can email me through my blog at http://healthyslowcooking.com/contact-me

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