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I've run across several slow cooker recipes that call for a slow-cooker time of 3 - 4 hours on low heat. I'd love to use these, but on work days I'm out of the house for at least 8 hours. What can I do to adjust for the extra 4 hours when I'm just not around to manage the slow-cooker?

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Here are two recipes which go for about 4 hours on low: myrecipes.com/recipe/chicken-carrots-potatoes-50400000124262 myrecipes.com/recipe/… –  KatieK Jan 4 '13 at 21:59

2 Answers 2

It depends on the type of recipe. While paging through a slow cooker cookbook, I see relatively few recipes recommending only 3-4 hours on low heat. Of those, I think most fall into some categories:

(1) Drinks (mulled cider, etc.) -- most of these will probably not be harmed by extending the cooking time, though in some cases you might want to tone down spices a bit.

(2) Dishes using mostly fruits or vegetables that will turn to "mush" over 8 hours -- you might try starting with bigger chunks or pieces and perhaps refrigerate them (or even freeze, if it would be appropriate) before beginning. However, you might want to avoid starting with frozen or very cold ingredients when the dish involves stuff that tends to grow a lot of bacteria (e.g., raw meat).

(3) Dishes that begin with a lot of "pre-processed" ingredients (can of soup or dehydrated mix + precooked, presliced meat + canned vegetables) -- try beginning with less processed ingredients, like fresh raw vegetables, raw large hunks of meat, etc. If safe, refrigerated or frozen ingredients could again help.

(4) Desserts -- these will often be the most tricky. Some may be okay simmering for a long time, others probably not. If it's safe with the ingredients, again you may try starting with cold or frozen ingredients to slow cooking for a few hours.

Whether you could convert a specific recipe really depends on the type of dish. For things that you want to end up very tender or mushy or liquid anyway, you can probably cook it for 8 hours instead of 4 with few changes.

But in some cases the conversion may just be impossible, unless you can make use of a timer as mentioned in another response to start the slow cooker 3-4 hours before you'll come home. Even then, be sure it's safe for the food to sit at room temperature for a long time.

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Here are two recipes which go for about 4 hours on low: Chicken: myrecipes.com/recipe/chicken-carrots-potatoes-50400000124262 and Pork: myrecipes.com/recipe/… . –  KatieK Jan 4 '13 at 23:04
    
Personally, I'd try these recipes as-is and see what happens. Following with the advice I gave, I might, for example, keep the potatoes in the chicken recipe in bigger chunks and make sure not to use very tiny carrots. The chicken will get softer over 8 hours, but I've done similar things with success. For the pork dish, you're going to shred it anyway, so no big deal if it gets even more tender over 8 hours. But if you wanted, you could probably use a cheaper lean pork cut and still get good results with the longer cooking time. –  Athanasius Jan 5 '13 at 18:48

If you don't have a slow cooker with a built in timer, you might try getting an AC timer (people usually use them for timed lights and stuff...).

Here's a link to one: http://www.amazon.com/Intermatic-TN311C-Heavy-Grounded-Timer/dp/B00002N5FO/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1357329914&sr=8-5&keywords=ac+timer

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You can't leave many foods at room temperature for 4 hours. –  Sobachatina Jan 4 '13 at 20:24
    
Yes, I wouldn't want to leave the chicken out for 4 hours before cooking started. (Even right out of the fridge, slow cooker cooking seems to flirt with the danger zone.) Also I wonder if the standard electric light timers would be OK with cooking wattage. –  KatieK Jan 4 '13 at 20:38
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Also, only the simplest slow cookers will work with this method. If using a programmable slow cooker with a built-in timer, it may not start working if you just suddenly turn on the power. –  Athanasius Jan 4 '13 at 21:01
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@Eric, I'd be careful with this practice, which in many cases could be even more dangerous. Some foods (e.g., rice) have bacteria (e.g., Bacillus cereus) that produce spores which can survive cooking. After the heat is turned off, the bacteria are free to reproduce and produce persistent toxins that sometimes can't even be destroyed by reheating. In fact, it's often safer to heat food slowly - even if it takes more than 4 hours - and then keep it hot (above 140 F) once hot, rather than to let cooked food sit at room temp. –  Athanasius Jan 5 '13 at 18:38
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I should clarify my comment: I'm not advocating leaving food out at room temp for a long time before cooking. I was just pointing out that in many cases it's also quite dangerous to leave out cooked food. –  Athanasius Jan 5 '13 at 20:09

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