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Local crock-pot expert stirs it up with area residents

Beth Bergren underscores a basic tenet of crock-pot cooking, which is "don't lift the lid during cooking." In the foreground are slow-cooker bags for easy cleanup and instant tapioca (not the pudding) that can be used to thicken gravy. Staff photo by Judy Spooner.

Kathleen Lambrides is busy all day doing day care.

"I need some new ideas so I don't have to cook at the end of the day," she said.

Becky Smyth hates to cook and wanted recipes she can make by just throwing something in a pot.

"Finding recipes is a challenge," she said.

Both found some alternatives during a class on crock-pot cooking offered on Gentle Saturday last month, at Cottage Grove Middle School, hosted by District 833 Community Education.

Beth Bergren, in addition to giving class participants a copy of her cookbook, gave many tips about cooking during her class: "What a Crock." She also told stories about her experiences.

When she married for the first time in 1975, she got five crock-pots for wedding gifts, prompting her to learn how to use them.

What takes 15 to 30 minutes in a standard oven, will take one-and-half-hours to cook on high in a crock-pot or four-to six hours on low.

Crock-pots, which were invented in 1971, work like small ovens and rely on moist heat. Food cooks better on the low setting, Bergren said.

A large oval crock-pot is preferred, she said, and plastic cooking liners are available for easy clean up. If they are not in the grocery store, turkey-cooking bags can be used.

"Always read recipes all the way through," she said, to avoid mistakes and surprises.

Though many new crock-pots have holders that are insulated, older ones can burn when touched.

Don't put a crock-pot in the refrigerator because they are designed to hold heat for a long period of time.

The cardinal rule for crock-pot cooking is: "Don't lift the lid during cooking," Bergren said.

It takes about half the cooking time to get to 180 degrees. Lifting the lid lets the heat out.

You don't need to check it to make sure it's cooking, she said.

Frozen food can be heated in crock-pots but make sure there is one-inch of water in the bottom.

Be careful with seasoning, Bergren said, because it gets stronger over the cooking time.

A little paprika makes beef look brown. "Too much makes it taste like paprika," she said.

Food, such as meatloaf, can be cooked in containers inside the crock-pot, Bergren said holding up a small round casserole dish. "My kids didn't know meatloaf isn't usually made in a round container," she said.

At the end of the class, Bergren served a blueberry-rhubarb cobbler, made in a crock-pot, to those who took the class.

"All my desserts begin with 'c' including cakes, cookies, cobblers and crisps," she said.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600