I've gotten a slew of related questions the past few months, and while I absolutely LOVE answering questions (I really do, don't read this with sarcasm. The idea of actually helping real, breathing people in any way I can is exhilarating---please don't ever feel like you're bugging me with any of your questions. I promise if you're asking, somebody else already has. :-) ) I figured it might be helpful to round up some of the recent most frequently asked.
Part I of Frequently Asked A Year of Slow Cooking Questions is located here.
and see: Slow Cooker Troubleshooting
1) How do you keep your slow cookers clean?
I use Adam. HA! No, really, Adam is pretty much the slow cooker washer guy. He's an expert you know, one of his first jobs was washing dishes in the kitchen at the local hospital.
For the most part, I'd suggest emptying the stoneware as soon as you can. If you have leftover food, scrape it into a tupperware or some other sort of storage container. This isn't mandatory, you can certainly store the food safely in the fridge in the stoneware, but it is NOT recommended to reheat in the stoneware in the crock for leftovers, so you might as well clean it out on day 1.
If you have baked on gook, the absolute best way to get it off without ruining your manicure (HA! on the manicure. Although you can get a pretty nice pedicure...) is to fill the stoneware insert with hot water and add a tablespoon of dishwasher powder.
Then float a fabric (dryer) softener sheet in the water and let it soak overnight. Then wash in the dishwasher, or by hand in the morning as usual. If you do not have the dryer sheets, a gollop of liquid fabric softener will do the trick, too.
DO NOT ever put a hot stoneware into your sink and fill it with cold water. It will crack. And then you'll be super sad.
As for the slow cooker base with the heating element, do NOT fill it with water, ever. Make sure to read the pamphlet that comes with your particular slow cooker for the manufacturer's suggested cleaning technique, but what I do is use a very slightly damp paper towel to wipe out any dribbles or a clorox wipe (I puffy heart love clorox wipes).
2) What's the difference between a Crock-Pot and a Slow Cooker?
Nothing. Crock-Pot is a brand name of the first type of slow cooker, formally under the Rival label. There actually isn't such thing as a "crockpot"----although many people do call their slow cooker a "crockpot." There are many manufacturers of slow cookers on the market. These are the ones that I happen to use in my own home kitchen.
3) What size slow cooker should I buy?
It depends on what you are interested in cooking, and your family size. Slow cookers work the best when they are 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full. The recipe times are for this amount of food---if your pot isn't full enough, the food will cook faster and might burn. If it's a bit too full, your food will take longer to cook than the suggested cooking times.
Before my year-long challenge, I had 2 slow cookers that I used for everything: a 5.5-quart Smart Pot and a 1.5 quart mini crock I got at a Black Friday sale at Walmart for $4.95 (score!) These pots served my family of 4 quite well until I started this challenge.
I then upgraded to a 6.5 quart eLume (I was given it from Crock-Pot), and that is now my new go-to. I also like the Hamilton Beach Set and Forget, especially the locking lid---it's fantastic for potlucks and travel. These are the slow cookers and accessories (hand mixer, pyrex/corningware inserts I happen to use in my own home kitchen.
For a family of 2-3, buy a 2-4-quart
For a family of 3-5, a 5-6-quart
For a large family, or for entertaining groups of people, opt for a 7-8 quart slow cooker
I adore my Little Dipper, and use it quite often for dips, fondues, and even as an air freshener!
4) What if I only have a huge slow cooker? Can I still make recipes that call for a smaller size?
Yes. It's super easy. Simply insert an oven-safe dish (Pyrex, Corningware, etc.) into your large stoneware, and load the ingredients into the dish.
This will create a smaller cooking vessel inside of your slow cooker. Then cover and cook like normal. It will take a bit longer for the dish inside to get up to temperature, but your food will cook just fine.
If you are cooking a dish (chicken, for instance, which has the tendency to dry out) and the recipes calls for a 4 quart, but you only have a 6 quart (this is an example...) put the ingredients into your slow cooker, then put a layer of foil or parchment paper down near the food to help trap in the steam and moisture near the food. Then cover and cook like normal. This is also a big help if your slow cooker has one of those super helpful (now this is sarcasm..) "vent" holes in the lid or in the side of the stoneware insert.
PLEASE BE CAREFUL when removing the foil or parchment paper at the end of the cooking time. The steam will be quite hot and will shoot out. Keep small children far away.
5) Are all of your recipes gluten free? What about the ones in the book?
Yes. We happen to be a gluten free family, because my 4 year old has been diagnosed with Celiac, which is an intolerance to gluten (found in wheat, barley, and rye). The book is completely gluten-free, and all the recipes on this site have been made gluten-free. PLEASE! read all labels carefully on your own, because manufacturers are known to sometimes change ingredients with little-to-no warning.
If you are not gluten-free, simply ignore my notes and use the ingredients you normally would use when cooking for your family.
Want more info on going gluten free? I wrote about our journey a bit, here, and there are links at the bottom that will be helpful.
6) Do you peek while slow cooking?
Yes. I am not the best at following rules, and I often taste, stir, and poke at my food while it's in the slow cooker. I've heard from reliable sources that you can lose up to 20 minutes of valuable cooking time each time you peek, but I have not noticed that to be the case. Peeking and tasting makes me feel like I'm doing something, and it makes me happy. I like being happy.
That said, if you are baking with your slow cooker, or are making a layered casserole such as lasagna or tamale pie, try not to peek until the very end of the cooking time, so moisture doesn't escape. And DO NOT peek on the yogurt recipe---keep the valuable heat inside.
7) How come you aren't posting every day anymore?
Because my year-long challenge is over! I'm currently slow-cooking baby number three, and am working on some other freelancing commitments, along with trying my hardest to give my children more of me than they got last year. I am still completely infatuated with my slow cookers and use them VERY regularly. I'd be absolutely lost without them.
8) Have you seen Julie & Julia? Not yet! It looks like a group of my friends will go together next week. I can't wait.
I hope this helps, some! If you have other questions, let me have 'em in the comment section. xoxo steph
Frequently Asked A Year of Slow Cooking Questions, Part 1
Slow Cooker Troubleshooting
My New Year's Resolution
Alphabetical Recipe List
Holiday Recipe List
Help! My Slow Cooker Cooks Too Fast!