There are a number of cooking appliances on the market today that make life easier for busy cooks who want to retain the fresh flavors of natural foods but don't have a minute to spare.
A slow cooker and an electric skillet are two such appliances, not new, but a tremendous help to many working women and men.
These two appliances can also be used for one-pot dishes, always a definite timesaver while conserving fuel and reducing cleanup.
Colonial Americans often cooked the whole meal in one pot, and many European and Oriental dishes are traditionally cooked this way.
The slow cooker is a combination of a stoneware liner surrounded by a low-wattage heating unit. It provides moist heat, eliminating the need for basting, and in most dishes the cover shouldn't be removed until cooking is done.
Since it uses a low, slow heating process, you can put your meal in the slow cooker and forget it without any worry about burning or sticking. The pot can be left unattended for as long as 12 hours. Lunch or dinner can be ready at the time you set.
The slow cooker is especially good for stews and casserole meat dishes, as the flavors blend perfectly in the long, low heat. Applesauce, baked beans, and chili are favorite, easy slow-cooker dishes.
When selecting a slow cooker, check the sizes, including 3 1/2-quart, 4-quart , and 6-quart sizes. Also consider removable liners, immersible pots that are dishwasher safe, glass lids, and detachable cords. Some have an ''auto shift'' control that starts on high and automatically shifts to a low heat setting.
Here are some slow-cooker recipes:
Stuffed Green Peppers
6 small green peppers, tops removed and seeded
1 pound ground ham, about 3 cups
1/3 cup uncooked rice
1 1/3 cups water
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups ketchup, divided
4 carrots, peeled and cut in 3-inch pieces
Wash green peppers, drain well. Salt cavity lightly. Combine in medium bowl ground ham, rice, 2/3 cup water, onion, salt, and 1/4 cup ketchup. Mix well.
Stuff green peppers 2/3 full. Arrange in slow cooker with carrot pieces to help support peppers.
Add 1 cup ketchup and 1/2 cup water. Cover and cook on low 6 to 8 hours or on high, 3 hours.
Serve on rice and pour tomato sauce over top. Serves 6.
Slow Cooker Sweet and Sour Ribs
4 pounds pork spare ribs, cut apart
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup chicken bouillon
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white vinegar
Dash soy sauce
2 tablespoons cornstarch, dissolved in water
1 small brown onion, diced
1 11-ounce can mandarin oranges, drained
1 medium green pepper, cut in small chunks
The night before, place spare ribs in a shallow baking pan, add salt and pepper, and brown in oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain pan liquid and refrigerate ribs overnight. The next morning, place ribs in slow cooker with bouillon, brown sugar, white vinegar, and soy sauce.
Set cooker to low temperature and cook 8 hours. Forty minutes before serving, add the cornstarch, sprinkle the onion over the ribs, and turn cooker up to high for 40 minutes. Add oranges and green pepper chunks and cook on high for 5 to 10 more minutes. Serve with noodles or boiled rice. Serves 8.
The electric skillet is another popular convenience appliance. It can be the primary way of cooking if no stove is available and can double as a buffet server to keep foods warm when entertaining.
Most have a nonstick coating for easy cleaning and can be immersed in water after the control is removed.
The handle or heat control usually has an easy-to-read signal light and cooking-temperature guide. Some models have automatic heat control. Also available are skillets with high-dome vented lids for cooking large cuts of meat.
The variety of foods that can be cooked in an electric skillet is endless. They heat quickly and so are good for meats such as hamburgers and steaks. The meat can be seared quickly to seal in the juices, and an even temperature can be maintained in all parts of the pan. The electric skillet helps on energy costs, too.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 green peppers, chopped
1 roasting chicken (4-5 pounds), cut up
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt, pepper to taste
2 cups canned or fresh tomatoes
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup chicken stock
Place oil in electric skillet. Heat to 350 degrees F. Saute onions and green peppers, then remove from pan. Brown chicken pieces on all sides, turning once. Remove from skillet. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to boil, then return browned chicken, onion, and peppers to frying pan.
Reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook until chicken is tender and sauce is fairly thick. Serve with cooked spaghetti. Serves 6 to 8.
Cabbage 'n Franks
1 small head cabbage, about 2 pounds, coarsely shredded
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 large carrots, coarsely shredded
2 large green onions with tops, sliced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 pound frankfurters, scored
Put cabbage in large skillet and sprinkle with nutmeg. Add carrots, onions, salt, pepper, and butter. Add water to 1/2-inch depth. Cover tightly, bring to boil, then simmer 10 minutes, stirring once.
Place frankfurters on vegetables, cover, and simmer 10 minutes longer or until vegetables are tender. Serve with mustard and ketchup. Serves 4.