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This article was published February 12, 2014 at 2:40 a.m.

DEAR HELOISE: I just bought a slow cooker, and I have a question about putting meat and vegetables in together. When a recipe says to put the beef (or whatever) in the cooker and then arrange the vegetables around it, add water, etc., shouldn’t the meat be seared first? Putting it in raw with the vegetables doesn’t sound right to me.

  • Bob, via email

DEAR READER: I know it doesn’t sound quite right, but yes, you can put raw meat in the slow cooker with raw vegetables.

A slow cooker does just that - cooks the food slowly. It uses a lower temperature, but it also cooks the food for a longer period of time. The tight-fitting lid and the steaming environment kill bacteria, so don’t worry. Also, don’t put a big old hunk of meat or chicken in there (like a pot roast). Cut the meat into big chunks so they can cook properly. Some slow-cooker recipes say to sear the meat before, so if you feel more comfortable, then do sear the meat first.

DEAR HELOISE: Here is a hint that I learned working in a barbecue restaurant: Put toothpicks in a small hot sauce bottle, and they will come out one at a time. Of course, you need to clean the hot-sauce bottle well before filling it with toothpicks.

  • Myrtle J. in Kentucky

DEAR READERS: When making mashed potatoes, there are many alternatives to using milk. Looking for a different flavor? Try using sour cream, buttermilk or nonfat Greek yogurt. That’s the fun part of cooking. You can substitute different things to create some yummy flavors. Have a baking recipe that calls for buttermilk, but you don’t have any? Try substituting yogurt. The nonfat Greek yogurt can be used in a zillion different ways.

DEAR HELOISE: You have written about storing crackers in the freezer. After thawing them, is there any moisture in them, and are they soggy? Because if this hint really works, then it is the perfect solution, since I don’t eat very many at a time.

  • Lois U., via fax

DEAR READER: This hint really works. Be sure to put the crackers in an airtight freezer bag or container. You can wrap the crackers in foil for added protection. This keeps out the air, which is what makes the crackers soggy.

Send a money- or time-saving hint to Heloise, P.O. Box 795000, San Antonio, Texas 78279-5000; fax to (210) 435-6473; or email

Food, Pages 36 on 02/12/2014

Print Headline: HELPFUL HINTS


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