Some people only think to use their crockpots in the fall and winter for soups and chili. But I use mine all year around. They are especially nice in the summer when you want to be outside until the last possible minute and also don’t want to heat up your kitchen. Here are some tips to get more use out of yours:

1. Use the right size
Slow cookers range in size from 1 quart to 6 quarts. Use the size of slow cooker called for in each recipe. It’s best if the slow cooker is two-thirds to three-fourths full, but being half full will also work.

2. Keep a lid on it
Each time you open the slow cooker lid, you must add 15 to 20 minutes to the cook time. Slow cooker recipes do not require stirring during the long cook time, so there is no need to lift the lid.

3. Brown meats first
Browning meats before placing them in a slow cooker improves the color of the meat and helps lower fat. It also improves the flavor and overall appearance of the slow cooker recipe.

4. Cover the potatoes with liquid
Prevent darkening of peeled potatoes by covering them with a liquid when cooking in a slow cooker.

5. Use the right amount of liquids
Slow cookers do not allow for evaporation, so don’t add extra liquids to your recipes. Ingredients may appear dry before cooking, but they should turn out okay if you follow the slow cooker recipe.

6. Choose the right cook time
Know in advance how long you want to cook your food in the slow cooker. When recipes have cook time ranges, such as 8 to 10 hours, the food will turn out differently when cooked for 8 hours than if cooked for 10 hours.

After 8 hours of cooking, large pieces of meat can usually still be sliced. After 10 hours, the meat will shred.

7. Add vegetables last
Add tender vegetables that require short cooking times, such as fresh tomatoes, mushrooms and zucchini, at the end of the recipe cook time to retain their color, texture and flavor.

8. Thicken the juices
Liquids tend to be thin after you remove the meat and vegetables from the slow cooker. You might want to thicken these juices before serving your meal. This usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes and is worth the time. Use flour to thicken and cook for the recommended time according to the slow cooker recipe.

9. Thaw first!
Thaw frozen foods, such as frozen vegetables, before adding them to a slow cooker.

10. Save and reheat safely
Never reheat foods in a slow cooker for food safety. Leftovers should be placed in shallow containers and refrigerated within 2 hours of cooking.

Crockpot Enchiladas

1 lb. ground beef (I used ground turkey)
1 c. chopped onions
½ c. chopped green peppers (I used red)
16oz. can red kidney beans; rinsed and drained (I used cannellini beans)
15oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
10oz. can diced tomatoes with green chilies, undrained (I did not have this, so I used 1 can diced tomatoes and 1 can chopped green chilies)
1/3 c. water
1 ½ tsp. chili powder
½ tsp. cumin
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
1c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1c. Monterey Jack shredded cheese or pepper Monterey Jack cheese
6 flour tortillas (6-7 inches in diameter)

Cook beef (turkey), onions and pepper, *garlic and *squash in skillet until meat is browned and vegetables are tender. Drain.
Add next 8 ingredients (that would be the beans, chilies and spices) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer 10 minutes.
Combine cheeses.

In the crockpot, layer about ¾ cup beef (turkey) mixture, one tortilla and bout 1/3 c. cheese. Repeat layers.
Cover. Cook on low 5-7 hours or until heated through.To serve, reach to bottom with each spoonful to get all the layers, or carefully invert onto large platter and cut into wedges. Serve with sour cream and/or guacamole.