Be Freezer Friendly

Freezing foods is not only a way to preserve foods and keep them fresh longer, it also allows snack and meals to be easily kept on hand. If you take a few simple steps to freeze foods properly, and to assist your freezer to run as efficiently as possible, it’s a simple matter to keep frozen foods at their best.

TEMPERATURE CHECK
Most people don’t realize that you have control over the temperature of your freezer. Check for the temperature controls (use the manual if needed). The ideal setting for your freezer is 0F or below.

KEEP IT BREATHABLE
Make sure there is ample air space on the sides and top of the freezer to allow air to circulate and heat to escape. Air circulation is critical to keeping food frozen.

KEEP IT SHUT
Don’t stand with the door to your appliance open. Keep it closed as much as possible to maintain the internal temperature at an even level. In the event of a power outage, leave the freezer closed so food will stay frozen as long as possible.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY
If there are any empty spaces in your freezer, fill them up with plastic bottles of frozen water. This will assist your freezer in maintaining an even temperature without using up additional energy every time the door is opened allowing the cold air to fall away. Less air volume in large spaces means less loss of cold with each exposure.

SEAL CHECKS
Perform regular checks on the seal around the door of your unit. Keeping the seal clean and free of any material stuck to it’s edges will allow the rubber to complete the seal on the freezer every time. Hardening of the material, drying out, and even cracks can form over time decreasing the ability of the seal to hold in the cold. Have the seal replaced if it suffers any damage to keep your appliance in tip-top shape.

USAGE ARRANGEMENT
Keep items meant for long-term freezing in the coldest section of your appliance, be that int he back or bottom of the chamber. Also, try to allow for a first in first out rule for multiples of items and items that are not likely to remain int he freezer very long. For example, if you have two bags of frozen veggies, use the one that has been in the freezer longest, first. Keep frozen snacks (ice cream bars, fruits and berries, microwaveable mini pizza, etc) in the easiest to reach spots. It allows for quicker removal of items and resealing the chamber.

Your freezer, be it a chest freezer, an upright, or a second door on your standard refrigerator, will benefit in the long run from these usages. It can also help you maintain a lower power bill each month.

–Ann Cathey

Slow-Cooker Tips

Every appliance in your kitchen will have certain little tricks or things to keep in mind when being used. From bread makers to toaster ovens to crock pots, every appliance has a learning curve.

Here are some tips for using a slow cooker, regardless of which company produced the unit. Some things are universal.

* Most slow cooker recipes are designed for 5 to 6 quart crocks. Keep this in mind when deciding on which recipes to use so that you are prepared for both servings and storage of leftovers.

* When applying a slow cooker liner, open the bag and place it inside the slow cooker’s crock.¬† fit the liner snugly against the bottom and sides of the crock. Pull top edge of the liner over the rim all the way around. In the event he liner is a tad small, wrap the edges up, then twist the top around (allowing¬† lots of air to escape) and allow the lid to hold it in place. This is a tricky technique and should be handled with care – any time you open the bag, the escaping steam will be highly concentrated and scaldingly hot.

* Always be careful when removing the lid from a hot slow cooker to allow the steam to escape. Lift at a tilt and keep your hands and face away from the escaping steam to avoid being burned.

* When a dish is cooking, leave the lid alone unless instructed by the recipe. Each peek into the pot or quick stir allows significant heat to escape and adds about 20 minutes to your cooking time.

* If you are using a liner, and you do have to open the lid once cooking has begun to give the dish a stir, remember to stir gently. Shifting the liner, or potentially tearing it with rough handling, is not a helpful action.

* When using a liner, never try to lift food out of the crock by the liner. Always remove food to storage containers. When liner is empty, remove and place in waste receptical.

* Fill your slow cooker 1/2 to 3/4 full for best results. This ensures the liquid will not cook away and food stay moist and tender. Adjust the recipe as needed to fit your slow cooker.

* Always remove leftovers from your slow cooker and the liner (if you use one) and store or freeze in a separate container. Liners are not intended for food storage and should be properly disposed of. Cooked foods should not be allowed to stand at room temperatures (above 65F) for longer than about an hour.

Hopefully you will find some of this information useful in your own kitchen. I have run afoul of several of these things, hence writing them up as a warning to others. That steam is a real scorcher!

–Ann Cathey

Slow Cooker Warning – Glass Lid Shatter

The various companies who make crock-pot or slow cookers have gravitated toward clear glass lids, some with locks, some without. The lids are made specifically to stand up to the kind of heat exposure expected of slow cookers on setting from “warm” all the way up to “high”.

I had set up a dish the night before in a pot with a locking lid, without the locks engaged, turned it on, and headed for bed. After checking the dish again first thing in the morning, I lowered the heat and allowed it to continue to simmer. When I came back in an hour or so later, I found this.

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DSC_0079The lid shattered into pieces that maintained their position and shape until I experimentally tried to lift the lid by the handle.The handle popped up with bits of glass clinging to it.

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I was utterly flabbergasted. I understand that glass is a non-porous amorphous solid, that it will “run” over time, that it is an extremely useful material in our daily lives, and that any single piece of glass will have a stress-point that can cause it to shatter like my crock lid.

I’m not inclined to think the slow cooker itself is defective. More that the glass of the lid found it’s weak point and gave in.

Other kitchen witches out there have encountered lids that shattered explosively, as well as a few who have had a similar experience to my own. A popping sound is often reported with this sort of incident, though I do not recall hearing anything when my lid cracked.

Fortunately, a replacement lid was available online for a relatively small price, and the crock-pot was back in use before too many days had passed with no repeat of our little adventure.

As with any appliance in the kitchen, please be sure to read the instructions and take good care of your equipment. Things like this will happen and it’s best to be prepared.

–Ann Cathey