Category Archives: How To

Slow Cooker Tips

Slow cookers are a life saver when making meals ahead of time.  Although it may seem like one could just throw a few ingredients together and have it cook, there are some slow cooker tips that will make your slow cooking experience better.

  1. slow cooker tipsBe sure to buy the right sized slow cooker, or have a couple of different sized slow cookers on hand. Make sure there is enough food in the crock AND not too much food. The food or liquid must comes at least half way up the wall of the crock insert, as the element is located on the sides of the slow cooker. If only half-filled, check for doneness 1 to 2 hours earlier than recipe. The emptier the slow cooker, the faster it cooks. Alternatively, do not overload the crock pot. Half full to three quarters full is recommended for most crock pots.
  2. Stirring is not necessary when slow cooking and removing glass lid results in major heat loss and the cooking time may need to be extended.
  3. The crock can be pre-warmed by filing it with boiling water first.
  4. Get tender meat by lightly coating the pieces in flour and then browning before adding to the crock. This also helps to seal in the juices.
  5. Fat retains heat more readily than water, so fattier recipes will cook faster than those with less fat. Trim meats and brown them prior to putting them in the crock pot.
  6. Steam accumulates on the slow cooker’s lid and the contents of the crockery tend to get watered down. Use thickeners such as flour, cornstarch and tomato paste to give texture to the dish.
  7. Vegetables: Cut vegetables in small pieces to ensure rapid heat transfer. Always place vegetable in the crock first and then the meat on top.
  8. Dry herbs and spices can lose their flavor when simmering so long, if possible–try adding them the last two hours before the meal is ready to help keep the flavor. Use fresh herbs when possible, these can be added first thing since they’ll hold their flavor better when simmering for hours.
  9. 1 hour on high is equivalent to 2 hours on low.
  10. Don’t set a hot crock on a cold surface. Always place a hot pad or towel under it.

Slow Cooker Benefits

Slow cookers and making meals ahead of time go hand in hand.  What couldn’t be better than returning home from work to a house filled with mouthwatering smells coming from that little, but powerful kitchen appliance? If you are not yet a proud owner of a slow cooker, after reading these slow cooker benefits, you may want to make the small investment to reap the plentiful rewards!

slow cooker benefits

  1. Convenience: This is probably the number one benefit for most people. Simply put all your ingredients in before you go to work in the morning and come home to a home cooked meal.  To make your slow cooker meal even more convenient, you can prepare your meat and vegetables beforehand and freeze them, so you don’t even have to do any prep work, other than letting it defrost in your fridge before you place them in your slow cooker.
  2. Economical: Slow cookers use the same amount of power as a light bulb.  Low wattage over a longer period of time costs less than high wattage for a short period of time. They are also ideal for less expensive cuts of meat, as the cooking process tenderizes the meat.  The long slow cooking will breakdown the connective tissue of these types of meats without toughening the muscle.  Not to mention softening fibrous vegetables.
  3. Flavourful: Long cooking times make for better distribution of flavours in recipes.  All the ingredients in the one crock pot will share the same delicious flavour.
  4. Burn Proof:  Low temperature of slow-cooking makes it almost impossible to burn food or even over cook. Liquids do not boil away, as they are all contained in the pot. Many models also have a timer or thermostats which bring food to a given temperature and then lower it.
  5. Frees up Oven and Stove Top Space: Perfect for holiday meals, when you run out of space. Simply cook veggies or your turkey dressing in the crock pot. If you are a bulk cooker, it also helps in getting certain meats cooked with little effort for recipes, while you are preparing other meals.
  6. Easy Clean Up: When cooking a meal all in one pot, there is only one pot to clean up and fewer dishes to wash!

What do you like best about your slow cooker?

How to Freeze Zucchini

how to freeze zucchini

Even though it is September, farm fresh zucchinis still seem to be available in abundance. We like freezing
zucchinis as part of a meal kit, making putting a meal on the table, a much easier task.

I recently made a batch of make ahead Slow Cooker Morrocan Lamb.  This make ahead meal had three component parts to it and frozen zucchinis were one part of the components.

Preparing a little bit in advance, makes putting dinner together so much faster and we get a little taste of summer throughout the fall and winter.

Blanching Zucchinis

Blanching zucchinis is a super-duper important step because it slows down or even stops the action of enzymes. These particular enzymes are needed for growing and ripening. If we don’t stop the enzyme action before freezing, the zucchinis could continue to mature, toughen, discolour and develop off-flavours and may even become unappetizing in a very short period.  What a big waste of time!

The blanching process also softens the zucchini and makes it somewhat easier to pack. Microorganisms are killed and the zucchini colour may become a little bit brighter.

Following the recommended blanching time is very, very important. If you underblanch, you can possibly stimulate the activity of enzymes and this is worse than not blanching at all. Overblanching causes loss of vitamins, minerals, flavour and colour.

How to Freeze Zucchini

Be sure to start with fresh, ripe and tender zucchinis straight from the garden to capture the most flavour.

Step 1
Wash the zucchini, with your hands or a soft brush, in cool running water. Cut into 1/4-inch thick cubes with a knife. Do not cut and then leave for later to blanch, as the zucchini will discolour.

Step 2
Fill a pot with approximately 1 gallon of unsalted water. Bring the water to a rolling boil.

can you freeze zucchini

Step 3
Set another bowl close to the stove top. Fill the bowl with half ice and half cold water.

frozen zucchini

Step 4
Place up to 1 lb. of the zucchini in the boiling water. Allow the water to return to a full boil.

how to cook zucchini

Step 5
Boil the zucchini for exactly 3 minutes. When it comes out, the zucchini should still be firm. Remove it from the water with a slotted spoon and place it right away in the bowl of ice water.


Step 6
Cool the zucchini in the ice water for 3-5 minutes, to stop the cooking process, or until it feels completely cold to the touch.

Move the zucchini into a strainer to drain for a few minutes, Then pat dry with paper towels.

Step 7
If you have time, lay the individual zucchini pieces on a cookie sheet and freeze them this way for a few hours, or overnight, first before putting in freezer ziploc bags. If you take the time to do this, they will freeze more evenly and defrost a little bit better.

Step 8
Put the zucchini pieces in a freezer ziploc bag and remove all the air from the bag, seal and place it in your freezer.

Maximum storage time in the freezer is 12 months.

Final Note: Since zucchini has some water content, when you are ready to use them, be sure to cook from frozen right away and do not allow to defrost. Ideally frozen zucchini should be used in stews or casseroles as you can expect the original shape of the fresh zucchini to be different.

Freezing Food – Foods That Freeze Well

Most meals will freeze very well.  Individual ingredients, on the other hand, are a different story.

Freezing foods can change texture, physical structure and flavour of some foods. Some are not freezer friendly at all and deteriorate almost to the point of being unusable after being frozen, thawed and heated.

Foods that DO Freeze Well

Meat, poultry and fish all can be frozen Raw meat is better for long storage because it doesn’t dry out or get freezer burn as fast as cooked meat.

Breads and baked goods are freezable. This includes cakes, pies, muffins, bagels, quick and yeast breads both as dough/batter or baked, cookies raw or baked and pizza crusts raw or baked.

Butter and margarine freeze very well.

Beans freeze well and can save you quite a bit of money if you buy dry beans then soak and cook them yourself instead of buying them canned.

freezing food

Raw vegetables with low water content  such as carrots, broccoli and beans, etc… These vegetables should be blanched first before freezing.  On serving day, be sure to cook from frozen and do not defrost first, as they would get soggy and lose flavour.

An exception to this list is potatoes. Do not freeze raw potatoes, as they will turn black and lose texture. However,   mashed potatoes do freeze okay

Pastas will become much soften after they are frozen and should only be cooked about three quarters of the recommended time. Also pastas frozen in liquid or sauce will absorb much of the sauce.

Rice can also freeze and cooking it ahead can save a ton of time.

Citrus zest but not citrus whole.  Unless you are planning to eat the citrus frozen, such as combined in a dessert

Cooked eggs that are scrambled or used in a recipe freeze well. Boiled eggs don’t do as well because the whites get rubbery.

Foods that DON’T Freeze Well

Raw vegetables with high water content  such as cucumbers, celery, lettuce, onions, peppers (especially green), tomatoes, radishes, sprouts and salad greens.  These foods become very soggy, once defrost.  It’s not recommended especially if you are thinking that you want to defrost and eat them raw again.  Sometimes, they work okay if you want to use the item to cook in something, such as tomatoes for tomato sauce

Fruit such as apples, grapefruit, grapes (unless you’re planning on eating them frozen), lemons, limes, oranges, watermelon

Herbs (if frozen alone in sprigs): Basil, chives, parsley, other soft herbs

Spices may become bitter when frozen including pepper, cloves, garlic, green pepper, imitation vanilla, and onions. Paprika and celery also taste different after being frozen.

Milk can be frozen but tends to separate and become watery after being frozen.

Cheese blocks and slices of cheese, along with soft cheese like cottage cheese, cream cheese and  brie do not freeze well. Shredded hard cheese, such as mozzarella and cheddar freeze well

Mayonnaise recipes that include mayo such as dips, egg salads, casseroles with mayo.  The mayo separates and the texture is compromised.

Raw eggs in shells are not recommended, as eggshells can crack easily, and even if the shells remain intact, the consistency of egg yolks makes them difficult to use for anything other than hard-boiling.

What food items do you freeze successfully and how do you do it?