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I like nothing better than to be able to bung a few things in a casserole dish, forget it for a few hours and then come back to find a well cooked casserole or stew. In a conventional oven, it is, of course, possible to cook a perfectly good casserole. However, I have always found that, when cooking beef in particular, it is hard to cook the meat at a low enough temperature to make it tender without burning. A slow cooker, although probably not a vital piece of kitchen equipment, is therefore a very welcome addition to my kitchen.
Why I chose this model To be honest, price is the main reason. It is available online from Tesco for just £19.96 at the moment. However, my mother had a similar model a few months before I bought mine, so I was fairly confident that it would be a good buy. And it is really simple to use. There are just four settings: off, hot, low and warm. The hot setting is the normal setting for cooking; it takes 7-8 hours to cook most dishes. I use low when I know the food is almost ready, but I'm not quite ready to eat. Warm is the setting I use when I want to re-heat a dish.
What you get for your money This model is made up of three parts; the base unit, a ceramic casserole dish and a glass lid. I was quite surprised that the dish was ceramic - I somehow expected it to be metal - but that is probably because I am accustomed to using a metal casserole dish in the oven. The fact that it is ceramic does, of course, mean that it is easy to break, especially when it is hot. I imagine that it would be a problem if it does get broken because it doesn't seem to be possible to buy a replacement. The instructions also warn against using the dish for anything other than in the slow cooker, so you are not supposed to use it in a conventional oven. I don't know what would happen if you did, but don't intend to find out anyway.
My experience I have cooked a number of casseroles and stews since having access to this slow cooker. There seem to be two schools of thought when it comes to cooking meat. Some advise searing the meat in a frying pan before adding to the slow cooker. Others advocate bunging it in as it comes. I think that the reason for the searing is to stop the meat from falling apart while in the slow cooker. I actually like it to fall apart, so I don't bother searing it first. I simply chop the veg, slice the meat, season and add water (usually with an oxo cube in it), switch it on and go away. I am not a cook who likes to carefully weigh out ingredients, so I really do just bung it all in. And I have never had a bad experience yet. I do check that it hasn't dried out on a regular basis though, which may be a problem if you are planning to put it on in the morning and return after work to a hot meal.
Seven to eight hours is, I've found, perfect for any kind of meat dish. Chicken tends to be cooked more quickly than beef, so it is a good idea to check on it every now and again - it may be ready sooner. Beef, however, is absolutely perfect when cooked for the full eight hours. Pork, I've found, is best after seven hours.
Since I started using a slow cooker, I've discovered that it isn't just good for cooking casserole and stews. I've cooked chilli con carne, spag bol and goulash, all of which tasted really good, although perhaps were a little mushier than if done on the hob. I guess it's all down to personal taste. Soups and sauces can also be made in a slow cooker.
The instruction manual that comes with the cooker is very straightforward and clear, although I have to admit I didn't read it at all when I first bought the product - I just plugged it in and started using it. Obviously, there are some safety elements that it is worth taking note of; for example, being careful about touching the lid or ceramic casserole dish when it is hot and ensuring that the cooker is placed on a level surface.
Cleaning is very easy. Always wait until the casserole dish has cooled before putting it in warm water to clean, otherwise it may crack. Then I just leave it to soak for a few minutes in the water before wiping down. The dish can be put in the dishwasher (if you are lucky enough to have one!), but the lid must be hand-washed.
Advantages and disadvantages? I personally love being able to throw things in to my slow cooker just before lunch and then be able to leave it, apart from checking the liquid level, virtually until it's time to eat. I also like the idea that there is no oil involved (at least you can choose not to use cooking oil), and that all the vitamins from the ingredients are kept in the pot while it cooks. I understand that the amount of electricity used is minimal, especially when compared to a conventional oven.
The disadvantages are really minor. Obviously both the ceramic dish and lid are breakable, and don't seem to be replaceable, so if you break either of them, the whole cooker is useless. The other is that I don't like the idea of leaving an electrical appliance on while I'm out at work. I know that it is supposed to be completely safe, but I don't think it is a good idea in case the food dries out.
Conclusion I can't compare this model to other makes, simply because I haven't experienced any others. However, from what I can understand from having researched them on the web, you can buy more expensive models that are larger or that have pots that can be transferred to the oven and the table. Possibly some brands may be of a higher quality and therefore last longer. However, I am happy with my purchase. It is simple to use, looks good and does exactly what I ask of it, so why would I need a more expensive version? With regard to durability, I have used it for a few months now without any problems. And if it does break down anytime soon, £20 is a small price to pay for a replacement. I can highly recommend the SC356 slow cooker.
I saw some of these on offer in Tesco the other day and am tempted to get one myself. Being vegetarian, cooking meat's not such a priority, but I like the idea of being able to put it on and go out - even if, like you, I'd have some concerns about it.
carcraig 27.02.2008 22:27
Beef madras is great in the slow cooker. Good review, Caroline xx