The Cafeteria: Recipes

2014 Valentines (Part One)

We love Valentine's Day in the Christian household! Maybe it's because it's the middle of winter. Maybe it's because I like pink and red. Maybe I just need an excuse to do something fun or eat candy. I don't know. But I do enjoy making Valentines with my kids (some more than others). Here are a couple that we did this year that I thought I'd share with you! First up, are these marshmallow pops that I found from Mommy Gaga. So much easier than cake pops!

Marshmallows

First, you start off with some basic ingredients:

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I got jumbo marshmallows, vanilla candy wafers, sprinkles, paper straws, treat bags, and 1/8" wide ribbon in pink and white. I found most everything at our local Hobby Lobby in the cake and candy making section.

I had never heard of paper straws (aka cookie sticks or paper sticks) before, but evidently, you can get them in all kinds of patterns and colors besides white. Because I did not have time to order them from Amazon (these would look really cute with Valentine colors!), I had to just take the plain white ones our store offered. Oh well. (If you'd like to see other designs, just search "paper straws" on Amazon and they'll bring up a huge variety.)

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Originally, I was going to use just the regular large marshmallows, but then I saw these at our local Target:

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These are not just large, they are extra large. There were about 31 of these in the bag. I thought it would go well with the longer sticks. The only thing was that they were so large they did not fit in the treat bags I bought. Oops. If you are using these, make sure you find a treat bag that will work. More on that later.

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The first thing we did was cut a slit in the marshmallow with a sharp knife before inserting the paper straw. This is a sticky business, but otherwise, you'll get smooshed marshmallows.  (Note: If you use the regular sized large marshmallows, you can substitute half a stick, a lollipop stick, or a wooden popsicle stick. The proportions just look better.) Place in the freezer for about 10 minutes. We ended up going a little longer, but it doesn't matter.

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While they are freezing, melt your candy wafers. This is what I found at our craft store. I wouldn't recommend using the white chocolate chips (the kind in the grocery store) because when they melt, you may not have the right consistency. These melt very beautifully. We followed the directions on the package, which advised us to microwave at half power, 30 seconds at a time. Stir in between each until they are melted.

We did half a bag at a time, which covered about 15-16 of these extra large marshmallows halfway. We found that if we made too much, it would harden before we even got to the end the batch. If desired, you can also tint the melted candy pink by adding a few drops of red food coloring (I think we used three drops.)

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Isn't that a pretty color?

Also pour out your sprinkles in little shallow bowls for easier dipping.

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After the candy and sprinkles are ready, make sure you have a juice glass ready to hold the dipped pops upright for drying. We used a plastic cup, but these are tipsy as you add the pops. They still work though, if you have a second set of hands to help you hold them steady. If you don't want to scrape the hardened candy off your counter (don't ask me how I know this), you may wish to place a sheet of waxed paper underneath the cup to catch the inevitable drips. If the candy ends up hardening on your counter though, no problem. Use a spatula (mine was plastic) to scrape it off your countertop.

Once that's all set, get the pops out of the freezer. And then let the fun begin!

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My daughter tried dipping the whole marshmallow into the chocolate at first, but we found that it quickly used up the chocolate. (Not to mention that it would make these soooo sweet!) Anyways, we found that dipping them only halfway was probably plenty. Quickly dip the coated pop into the sprinkles. Set the finished pop into a cup. We found that four to a cup was good:

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Let the candy coating dry. This took about 10 minutes.

When the candy has hardened, wrap them up in plastic wrap. Not our original intent, but the little plastic treat bags I had bought would not fit over the extra large marshmallow, which was not an issue if I had regular large marshmallows.

To add a greeting, Janna designed her own tag on Photoshop Elements using her digital tablet. After printing them out and trimming the edges, and then cutting lengths of ribbon, we sat and wrapped them in clear plastic wrap and tied them until we were able to have a finished product like this:

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And they were a hit!

To make a whole bag of marshmallows took us about an hour, with the two of us working together. The original blog post said it took her 20 minutes from start to finish, but it took us a bit longer.

This is a fun project to do with younger kids. The younger they are, the more prep you'll need to do beforehand. It does get a bit sticky and messy, and you'll probably end up with sprinkles all over your counter for a few days, but hey, that's part of the fun, right?

This is also easily adjusted for different holidays. I'm sure you could use plain chocolate candy chips if you prefer. Or how about using these for a baby shower? We discovered a beautiful combination: pink-tinted candy dipped in white sparkling sugar sprinkles (Wilton makes this chunky sugar--I saw it in our Target's baking section, or you can find it in the cake decorating section in your local craft store). Put them in a vase for a centerpiece and let the guests take one home for a favor!

I've got one more to share! If you've got a little boy who loves Star Wars, come back on Monday, armed with Pixie Stix (I found ours at our local Dollar Tree)!

Friday Findings #7: Making Turkey Stock

[box] One of my personal challenges in life is to keep learning and trying something new. This series is a documentary on some of the things I am learning, whether it be as a child of God, wife, mother, homemaker, teacher, friend. I invite you to learn along with me![/box] It seems like every year, I end up looking up how to use my turkey carcass to make stock. It's usually an afterthought with me, as I am usually so wrapped up with getting the main meal together that I'm not usually thinking about what to do with what's left. There are probably a bazillion recipes out there, but I came across this one that I really liked because it is simple and delicious. (If you want to see the video, you can find it on this page at Something Edible.)

I also liked it because being a nerdy kind of girl, I like to know the science behind it all. In the recipe I found for today, I learned several things about making stock:

  • Stock and broth are not the same thing. I learned from The Kitchn that while they are similar, there is a slight difference. Stock is unseasoned; broth is seasoned with salt and spices. Stock is more of the neutral base; broth is "seasoned stock." For this reason, there is no salt added to this recipe, only vegetables---and that is added later in the cooking time. The benefit of this is that you can use the stock in a wider variety of recipes, at which time you can add your salt as needed.
  • Slow cooking the stock (as opposed to boiling it on the stove), does take a bit longer but gives the stock time to extract all that flavor that is in the carcass. It turns what was once inedible into gelatin, which holds lots of flavor.
  • You'll know when you've done it correctly when, after chilling, your stock looks like loose jello. On the post, there is picture of his cooled stock with a spoon sitting on top of it.
  • Add the vegetables towards the end of the cooking time so that the stock retains its aromatic flavor.

We had a large bird this year, almost 23 pounds, so I actually split this up into two. The recipe on the site requires the carcass of a 12-14 pound bird, so this was perfect. If your bird is smaller, then put in the whole carcass. You may need to cut it in half to fit.

turkey1

It really was very simple. I took half the bones and put it into the crock pot, then poured nine cups of water in. The crock was about 3/4 full. Then I turned it on low for six hours.

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After six hours, I cut up 2 carrots, 2 celery stalks (with leaves), and a yellow onion into chunks. Oh the aroma!

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Push the vegetables evenly around the pot. Put the lid back on, and let it cook for another two hours.

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In two hours, it looked like this. Not too appetizing right now, but don't let that stop you!

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Then I picked out all the big stuff with some tongs, then used a slotted spoon to catch up some of the stuff that sunk to the bottom. Be careful of the hot liquid! I got splashed a little. As recommended on the video, I did not save what came out. Nor do we have a dog, so I just tossed it.

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When I was done, it looked like this. There was still a bit of little pieces floating on top, but not to worry! The next step will take care of that.

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Prepare a double layer of cheesecloth in a strainer over a bowl.

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Using a ladle, I gently poured the stock to strain through the cheesecloth.

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This takes care of all those little bits and pieces and leaves behind a nice clear, rich stock. So beautiful!

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Chill in the refrigerator overnight.

Skim off what's left on the top. No need to save that.

Yield: I was expecting to get back less than the 9 cups I put in (the original recipe stated a yield of 6 cups), but I got pretty much all of it back. Not too bad! I wonder if it will be diluted. I'll need to repeat this with the other half of the carcass.

I'm going to use my stock right away in this Delicious After-the-Holiday Turkey-Rice Soup. It will use up 12 cups of the stock. But if you want to freeze it, there's a great suggestion on the post/video to freeze in 1 pint (2 cup) portions. That's like a can you buy at the store. You'll need to slightly heat (not too much, just to melt the "jello") before pouring into one-quart freezer bags. Squeeze out excess air, then lay flat on a cookie sheet to freeze. The result: flat sheets of turkey stock that are easy to store and quick to defrost. (Unlike what I did last year in plastic containers that were very bulky). I read somewhere else that you can also freeze it in ice cube trays if you just need a little shot of it in your cooking.

There are a lot of other uses for turkey stock besides making soup. Risotto seems like a good option, or simply cooking your rice in stock instead of plain water. Some people like to add a few spoonfuls early on while sauteeing vegetables, resulting in some very tasty veggies. Others like to add it to marinara sauces, gravy, stews, pot pies and such for more body. Whenever you would need a can of chicken broth, that is a good place to substitute with your homemade turkey stock.

Not a bad way to use up the whole turkey!

Friday Findings #2

[box] One of my personal challenges in life is to keep learning and trying something new. This series is a documentary on some of the things I am learning, whether it be as a child of God, wife, mother, homemaker, teacher, friend. I invite you to learn along with me![/box] This week, little Jon and I delved into the art of crepe making. Have you tried it before? I did once and did not like how they turned out, so I was a bit reluctant to try again. However, Jon and I were reading one of my review products this week that took us to the country of France...and he was fascinated by the idea of...crepes.

It all started with watching a video from All Recipes:

[jwplayer mediaid="7411"]

We watched it because he asked me what crepes looked like. Afterwards, he kept asking me, "Can we make crepes?" I kept putting it off because, to be honest, I know that when Jonathan gets ideas, it's usually me that carries them out. He just likes to direct. Maybe that was what I was trying to avoid.

Well, his persistence paid off. We then looked through this list of crepe fillings from the World of Crepes website; he settled on the blueberry sauce. Unfortunately, when we got to the grocery store, the frozen blueberries were $2 more per bag (so I'm cheap), so we went for a mixed berry flavor instead.

I used this basic crepe recipe from the AllRecipes website. (It's not exactly the same as the one in the video though.) I didn't have a crepe pan, but I had a 9" skillet. Good enough!

So I am not going to have dolled up pictures of pretty food. I'm going to give it to you straight, even if it isn't pin-worthy. Just trying to keep it real here, okay?

What I learned:

  • Use a blender to make the batter. It turns out nice and smooth. At first, we just mixed it in the bowl, but it was lumpy.

crepe1Yuck.

Using a blender took care of that problem. (Or a hand/stand mixer can do the job too. You just want to get the lumps out.) The second perk with the blender is that it made it easy to pour into my 1/4 cup measure.

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  • I had read in another recipe that it is best to refrigerate it for 30 minutes before using it, so I made it before starting dinner.
  • Before cooking the crepes, have a small container of melted butter, a brush, a spatula, and a 1/4 cup measure next to you. It also helps to have a timer.
  • If you're not eating them right away, then lay the crepes on a wire rack to cool, then stack them up individually between sheets of waxed paper. I didn't let them cool. I just stacked them and they were a bit soggy. It didn't stop us from enjoying them, but I think it would have been better. Doesn't it look pretty? (The other side didn't turn out as nice, but I used it for the inside.)

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  • For a 9" pan, 1/4 cup batter was just right. I tried just 3 Tbsp. at first and it did not cover the pan, so it looked like this:

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  • Move quickly after pouring the batter in. Lift the pan up off the heat, pour batter in and swirl quickly. My son tried to take a picture for me, but it didn't turn out so great.

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  • There are a couple ways to serve crepes. You can fold them into fourths and put the sauce over it. The video above shows a crepe folded in half.

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You can also put the filling in and roll it up.

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I think I like the first one better. The berries look so pretty, it's a shame to hide them! Maybe the rolled version is better for the creams and mousses.

  • This wasn't really a little kid-friendly recipe to make unless your kids are old enough to work on the stove. As it was, I did most of the work. Jonathan did help some in the beginning, I let him put together his own crepe.

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  • Give yourself time to make the crepes. It took me about half an hour to figure out what I was doing and make eight crepes. But then again, I was also trying to eat dinner in between flips.
  • They really weren't that hard. And it was very satisfying to see them cook up and brown so beautifully.

Want to learn more? I found these websites and pages helpful:

  • World of Crepes
  • Crepe fillings: Taste of Home, The Kitchn. Google "crepe fillings" for other options!
  • How to fold crepes
  • Can you freeze crepes? Yes, you can! Make them ahead of time for lunches or snacks!
  • Have a DIY crepe bar! A great idea for a ladies tea, a bridal shower or baby shower! This post from Your Homebased Mom details what was in her crepe bar: bowls of fresh berries, powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar, canned whipped cream, nutella, sliced bananas, lemon curd, and sprinkles. She also includes recipes for the crepes, as well as the white chocolate mousse and cream cheese mousse!
  • If you want a really nice thin crepe, try using a crepe spreader. What's that, you ask? Check this 24 second video out:

[jwplayer mediaid="7416"]

  • And if you really want to go to town, check out this page for some reviews on crepe pans.

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For a smile like this, I think it was worth it, even though I did have to do most of the work.

After this, I think I'm going to try making more of these in bulk, freezing them, and having them on hand for some lunches in the future. Lunch always seems like such a hard meal in our home. It's always the same old thing or if I want to do something different, it takes too long. I think I'll give it a try and see how it turns out!

Thanks for joining me for this week's Friday Findings!

 

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Sometimes my best laid plans just don't work. I had planned to do more blogging on homeschooling this month, which I haven't been able to do. Instead, I have been trying to make sure we have food on the table, clean underwear in the drawer, and lessons for the kids. Life just gets like that sometimes. Well, to let you all know that I haven't forgotten about you, I thought I'd post something fun and quick. I hope to be able to do some writing this weekend. Until then, I realized I haven't shared my oatmeal raisin cookie recipe here yet. I've had this one since I was in college. I remember baking these with my girlfriends for our small group meetings. Yes, it's been around that long. I have since baked them with my preschool students and of course, shared with my own kids. The recipe card is faded, with lots of notes all over it. So you can say it has been tried and true. What we love about it is that they are soft and chewy, not dry like some oatmeal cookies. Hope you enjoy them too!

cookies1 Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup butter, softened

¾ cup packed light brown sugar

1 small package instant vanilla pudding

2 eggs

3 ½ cups quick-cooking oats

1 cup raisins

Mix flour and baking soda. Combine butter, brown sugar, pudding mix in a mixer bowl. Beat until smooth and creamy. Beat in eggs. Gradually add flour mixture, then stir in oats and raisins. Batter will be stiff. Drop onto rounded measured teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets about 2” apart. Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes. Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

The nice thing about these cookies is that you can also freeze them. All I do is line a pan with waxed paper then put the raw cookie dough on it. I put 2 dozen in the freezer in this batch and then baked the rest. (This is so we don't eat 5 dozen cookies at once!) When the cookies were done freezing--I left them in the freezer for an hour but it can take less time--I took the frozen dough balls out and put them in a heavy-duty freezer bag, marked with the type of cookie, the baking temperature and the baking time.

Half for freezing, half for baking!

With these in the freezer, I can then make a batch of fresh cookies, usually a dozen at a time for our family, and enjoy! You can bake them straight from the freezer, but add a few extra minutes to the baking time. I do notice that they do seem a little smaller, probably because they start out frozen. Or you can set them on baking sheets, let them thaw, and bake as directed.

Here's a copy of the recipe in PDF form! Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Happy Valentine's Day!

Valentine's Day is a big day around the Christian household. Not that we are big saps or anything. It's just a fun holiday in the middle of what is usually a quiet time of year for us. This year, Jonathan is the one that has really gotten into it, making his cards over a week in advance. I, on the other hand, didn't finish mine till this morning. Even Anah got in on the fun by sticking on stickers to red hearts that Janna cut out for her. As usual, my favorite thing to do is to bake heart-shaped treats. This year's experiment were these heart-shaped cinnamon rolls. I usually shy away from yeast doughs that need to be rolled, but for the sake of my husband, I decided to be brave and give it a try. Here's how they ended up, sans frosting (so you can see the heart shape).

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Aren't they cute? This dough was actually very lovely to work with. I actually hand-kneaded it myself instead of using the mixer. It rolled out beautifully without bouncing back and they shaped up pretty decently. Here's a tip: instead of slicing the shaped rolls with a knife, I used dental floss. Slide the floss underneath the dough to cut off a 1" piece. Cross the floss (don't actually tie it though) and pull. The floss then cuts the dough for you without smashing the roll. It works great! I think the next time I make them (because this dough was so nice to work with!), I may just do these as regular cinnamon rolls. But the heart shapes are cute though, eh? I think I would recommend really pinching the tips to make it more pointy. My kids thought they looked more like smiley faces than hearts. Oh well. They tasted good and that's what counts.

I got the recipe at Pinch My Salt, but they do not have a print out version of the recipe. They do have great photos though. So instead of copying everything on the site, I just have the recipe in PDF form (which they don't have). Click here for the recipe! Heart Cinnamon Rolls

Hope you have fun trying it out...maybe I'll have to do my own step by step recipe some day, but I may never get to it, so this will have to do for now. And as my son remarked, any day is a good day to let someone know that you love them. So even if it is after Valentine's Day, go ahead and make someone's day! Enjoy!

 

 

Rolo Pretzel Treats

One of my favorite things to do during this Christmas season is to bake. However, this year, I've just had to give myself permission to let it go. And yet, I couldn't not make something, so I have turned to a quick and easy treat I discovered last year. It only requires three ingredients:

Yep, that's it. Mini pretzels. Rolo candies. Pecan halves. Your limiting factor will probably be the Rolo candies, so if you want to make a lot, then you'll want to get a few bags. Try to get as many pecan halves to match the Rolo candies.

So all you do is lay out your pretzels on a baking sheet. Unwrap the Rolos (that is probably the most time-consuming part of the whole thing so you can employ your children for the task or do it while you're talking on the phone or something mindless). It should look like this when you're done:

Place your pretzel-Rolo sets into a 250 degree F oven for about 3 minutes. You want it to be nice and soft but not lose its shape. Once I didn't do it long enough and it made the next step a little harder, resulting in not as pretty end products. Take them out of the oven and set on a hot pad.

Quickly press a pecan half into the soft chocolate. I was able to make a pretty full pan (I fit about 48 on a sheet) and not have the chocolate harden too soon. Let the chocolate set up so that it is no longer melty (is that a word?). If you're in a hurry, as I was, you can put them in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes to speed it up. Ta-da! That's it! Don't they look pretty?

You can then put them into a box or plastic bag for easy treats. This one is something the whole family can do together!

Enjoy!

12.12.12 at 12:12

What were you doing at that time of day? One of my goals this year was to participate in an online scrapbook class. Well, I didn't do so well in doing any scrapbooking this year but I was bound and determined to finish something, doggone it! So today, I participated in a special 12.12.12 all-day online event with Big Picture Scrapbooking and the instructor challenged us to do something special today at 12:12 pm. I didn't have anything planned, but I spontaneously decided to bake these Cranberry Hootycreeks that my friend Steph shared with us last week at our homeschool Christmas party. So I took these babies out (as it turned out) right at 12:12 pm this afternoon and we had them for lunch.

 

Want the recipe? Thought you might ask, so here it is:

Cranberry Hootycreeks

1/2 cup softened butter

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup plus 2 Tb. all-purpose flour

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1/3 cup white sugar

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup white chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a cookie sheet or line with parchment paper (I like to use my dark-metal non-stick cookie sheets--they worked great without greasing or parchment).

In a medium bowl, beat together the softened butter, egg, and vanilla until fluffy. Add the dry ingredients, and mix together by hand until well blended. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until edges start to brown. Cool on baking sheets, or remove to cool on wire racks.

Thanks, Steph! The fam loved them! Enjoy!

 

I'll get the PDF up soon...something is not working over on this end. Thanks for your patience!

Almond Bars

I can't believe that I haven't already put this recipe up yet. This is my go-to recipe whenever I need to make a quick dessert, which I was doing for tomorrow night's Christmas potluck at our church. Of all the dishes I have made, this one gets the most requests. I hope you'll enjoy it! Almond Bars

1 cup butter (no substitutes), melted

4 eggs

2 cups white sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

2-1/2 tsp. almond extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Melt your butter (I use the microwave). I then use a bit of the melted butter to grease a 13"x9" baking pan. Mix the eggs and sugar until combined (I use my stand mixer). Add the melted butter, flour and almond extract, then mix again. Pour the batter into your greased pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool completely on a rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar on top for a pretty presentation. I don't like the edges on my finished bars, so what I do is cut very close to the edge around the bars, like this (I left the sugar off for now so you can see it):

I then cut the pan up into 36 bars, like this (though you can make them larger if you wish):

That way, I don't have that edge around the bars. My boys love to snack on the edges and we're all happy.

Ta-da! Here are ours for the potluck.(Okay, I'm not a food artist.)

This recipe is so easy that I can whip it up in the time it takes to preheat the oven. And it's from scratch. I still can't believe that I didn't share this one yet. Give it a try for your next holiday get together! Enjoy!

Here's the PDF for the recipe: Almond Bars

Just For Fun Friday: Salad Bar!

When the weather gets hot, who wants to cook? Salads to the rescue! Here are some fun ideas from around the web when you need a quick dinner without heating up the kitchen! Tex Mex Layered Salad from Recipe Girl

Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad from Mom Advice (with cornbread recipe too!)

Chicken Fajita Salad from The Meal Planning Mom

Greek Islands Steak Salad from Taste of Home

Applebee's Knockoff Oriental Chicken Salad,

Chicken and Bacon Autumn Chopped Salad,

Chicken Pasta Salad,

Sesame Mango Salad,

Southwest Salad,

Three Bean Frito Chip Salad,

Our Family's Favorite Taco Salad--all from Six Sisters' Stuff

Creamy Bacon and Tomato Potato Salad from Lynn's Kitchen Adventures. Yummy with those grilled burgers!

And here's one from me (a family favorite from Katie!):

Spinach Pasta Salad

 2 bags of spinach, pre-washed & cut (about 4-6 cups each)

6 oz spiral pasta, cooked

3 cups chicken, cooked & shredded

1/4 cup green onion, chopped

1/4 cup sesame seeds

 

Dressing: Mix together the following

1/2 cup oil

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/3 cup vinegar, wine or white

3 T sugar

1/4 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp salt

I usually make half of this for my family as it makes a lot. If you’re not serving right away, either toss right before serving or keep the dressing separate and let your diners put it on themselves.

Thanks for sharing, Katie!

Here's the pdf: Spinach Pasta Salad

What are some of your favorite main dish salads?

BBQ Basics

Summer time is grilling time! Whether you're an expert griller (or your husband is), I hope you'll find today's post helpful, whether you're planning a party or just getting started. How to Pick a Grill

Charcoal grills. Gas grills. Pellet grills. Smokers. Yikes! This article from Amazing Ribs is very thorough and comprehensive. If you're in the market for a new grill, check it out.

Planning a Backyard Barbecue

Life Your Way has an awesome downloadable ebook entitled Backyard Barbecue: Classics and Future Favorites with over 30 recipes that will help you get started in planning your next backyard bash. Included are recipes not only for the grill but also sides and desserts to accompany your meal. (Did I mention that it's free?)

Cooking Safety

One of the challenges in grilling is knowing when something is done without burning it to a crisp or cutting into it. If you've struggled with this too, check out these resources:

Amazing Ribs has Some Basic Meat Science for Outdoor Cooks that explains the anatomy of a piece of meat. If you're on the squeamish side, you may not want to read this article, but it does help to understand what's going on in the cooking process.

Barbecue Report details three ways to learn how to tell when steak is done and why simply cutting it open is not a good idea.

If you're in the market for a good digital meat thermometer, this article suggests some good ones. Here's a handy printable cooking temperatures cheat sheet to slip into your recipe binder.

Cooking Techniques

I didn't realize that there were so many different techniques to grilling, so this article from Barbecues Galore helps give me an overview. There's basic baking and roasting, grilling, smoking and rotisserie methods. Grilling Tips also has specific help on these different methods, as well as how to grill fruit, vegetables, and fish. 

Not only is there different ways to cook, there are also different preparation methods you can use before your food even touches the grill, such as brines, marinades, and rubs. All Recipes gives a good overview, along with some recipes to try these various technqiues.  

For ease of preparation, any meal-in-one ideas are fabulous. Try foil-packet cooking on a grill if you are looking for a dinner that won't heat up your kitchen. Betty Crocker and Food Network give some great ideas. Taste of Home shows you how to fold and seal the packets. Just think: prepare your ingredients ahead of time, then while the grill is firing up, put them together and dinner is served!

If you're just grilling some burgers, this article from Homemakers Challenge gives you tips on what (not) to do.

Grill Care

As with all things, your grill works best when it is cared for. Real Simple , Ace Hardware, and Martha Stewart have tips on getting your grill ready for the season and for keeping it functioning at top condition throughout the grilling season.

Now Where Should I Start?

In addition to the sites above, here are a few sites with grilling sections. There are plenty to choose from: meats of all kinds, vegetables, and even desserts! Have fun!

Taste of Home with video versions of some of the recipes.

Simply Recipes

AllRecipes

Red Robin has annual kids' burger creations from 2007-2011 for free in pdf formats. Check 'em out for some creative toppings for your burger bar!

What are your expert grilling tips?

Crock Pot 101 Lesson 3

Did you think I forgot about this series? Well, now that summer is coming up, I thought it would be a good time to revisit it. My original plan was to post a new lesson with every 50 new subscribers. Maybe that's too ambitious for this non-salesy kind of person like me. But I did reach 30, so I am going to modify my goals. I will post a new lesson with every 25 subscribers, so hopefully you won't have to wait so long! (Just to let you know: For those of you who subscribe, God willing, I am planning to compile these posts plus the recipes into an ebook for your convenience, which will be sent out to subscribers only when the series ends. Another good reason to get on the mailing list! I promise I won't spam you. I barely am able to get out one email a month!)

Anyways, let's move on to...

Lesson 3: Slow Cooker Tips

Okay, so here is a caveat. This is what I learned while doing my research on slow cooking. Whether I actually follow the rules is another question. I don't want to put information on this blog that could get me in trouble, so if you want to disregard these recommendations, use your common sense and proceed at your own risk. I do.

Tip #1: Fill your crock pot only 2/3 to 3/4 full. This seems to be the "sweet spot". Leave about 2" between your food and the top.

Tip #2: Do not open the lid of your slow cooker during its cooking time. When you do, the temperature drops. If you do, add fifteen minutes more to your cooking time.

Tip #3: If you are dying of curiosity, and just have to see the progress but can't see, here's a trick to try if you are using a round slow cooker: spin the lid to remove the condensation so you can see. Cool, eh? Obviously, this won't work with an oval cooker. However, for mine, I don't usually have trouble seeing what's going on.

Tip #4: Save time by pre-filling your crock pot the night before. In everything I have read, it is recommended that you do not put raw meats into contact with vegetables overnight. If that is not an issue, then you can fill it the night before. Some sources say that you will need to factor in a little extra time, say an hour or so, but to be truthful, I haven't found this to be necessary. Use your discretion.

Tip #5: With that said, some recipes call for meats to be browned before putting in the crock pot. This gives your food a more appetizing color. From my experience, this is not absolutely necessary, but with chicken, it does make a bit of difference in appearance. The caution is that browning is not the same as cooking, so do not brown your meat, then refrigerate it overnight. This is to prevent potential food poisoning hazards.

Tip #6: Don't soak a hot stoneware crock in water right away. Let it cool a bit or else it may crack. Then you'd be very sad.

Tip #7: Don't put your stoneware into the freezer either.

Tip #8: Don't use an extension cord with your crockpot. I've read this in multiple places, so there must be a reason. But I don't know why.

Tip #9: Keep plastic or other meltable items away from your crock pot. I once had a plastic bread bag melt because it was too close. Leave some space around your slow cooker. And of course, keep it away from the edge, the sink or from curious little hands.

Tip #10: If all else fails, read your instruction manual. It may have the answer to what you are looking for!

This week, on Memorial Day, we were able to bring dinner to my husband while he was working on our new house. Even though we did not have any appliances, we were able to enjoy a hot meal together. What I did was prepare this roast (recipe below), make the gravy, and then pour it over the pork, which I had cut into bite-sized pieces. (That's so we didn't have to juggle knives on our laps!)

When I arrived at the house, I plugged my crock pot and my rice cooker in to warm up the meal, then we went out for a walk in our local botanical gardens for about an hour. When we came home, dinner was ready and waiting. Our crockpot saved the day!

This summer is a perfect time to break out the slow cooker. On vacations, we like to find a place to stay that has at least partial kitchen facilities and a mini refrigerator. What I do is prepare my ingredients beforehand as far as possible at home (cut, chop veggies, etc.). If I use meats, I use them first or use pre-cooked meats that only require re-heating (like ham, kielbasa).

Before we leave for a day out to the beach or to an amusement park, I fill our crock pot and then when we come back, dinner is ready! We have saved so much money this way. Not to mention, the food is probably a lot healthier! We round out our meals with bread, rice, potatoes, fruits, vegetable sticks and dip, and then for a special treat, we just pick up dessert.

So stay tuned this month on the blog for crockpot recipes for the summer. Even if it's just a busy day out with the kids or you don't want to worry about heating up the kitchen at the end of the day, your crockpot can definitely be a big help. Here's one recipe to get you started!

Parmesan Pork Roast

Serves 10

1 boneless whole pork loin roast (4 lbs.)—cut in half, place in slow cooker

Mix the following in a small bowl:

2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tbsp. dried basil

2 Tbsp. minced garlic

3 Tbsp. soy sauce

2 Tbsp. olive oil (I like to measure this out, and swirl it around my ½ cup measure, then dump it into the bowl)

½ cup honey (if you grease the cup with the olive oil, the honey just slides out)

½ tsp. salt

Pour this mixture over the pork. Cover, and then cook on low for 5 ½ to 6 hours. Remove meat to a serving platter; keep warm. Skim fat from cooking juices; transfer gravy to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Then add:

2 Tbsp. cornstarch mixed into

¼ cup cold water

Gradually stir this mixture into pan. Bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.

Slice or shred roast (see notes below); serve with gravy.

Notes:

  • Depending on how old your cooker is, you may get different results. With my 1990’s cooker, I was able to get nice slices. With my newer one, it seemed to shred more.
  • While I was slicing mine, I cut (or shred) into bite-sized chunks, returned the meat to the crockpot, then poured the gravy over it and stirred to coat. This makes it easier for little ones and seemed to be less dry. Or you can serve slices with gravy on the side.
  • Buy pork on sale and freeze. Most of these ingredients are probably already in your pantry, making this an easy meal to throw together.

Here's the PDF if you'd like a printable version! Parmesan Pork Roast

If you'd like to see the next installment, I encourage you to let me know by signing up on my email list to the right! When I hit 25, I'll release another lesson. We'll start looking into cooking different types of foods, like pastas, meats, soups, desserts! I also read about making bread in your crockpot, so I'll let you know if that works! If you'd like to see the other lessons in the series, here's Lesson 1 and Lesson 2!

Just for Fun Friday: A Box of Cornflakes

Do you ever buy one ingredient for a recipe and it only calls for a small amount? What do you do with what's left? I hate wasting it, but don't know what to do with it. To get the most bang for my buck, I usually end up scouring the recipe sites around and try to find out how many other things I can make with that particular ingredient. Well this time, it was a box of cornflakes. I bought it to make this for Easter:

They are Cheesy Au Gratin Potatoes from Mel's Kitchen Cafe. They were fabulous. I actually made them a second time for our own dinner (to use up more cornflakes!) because we liked it so much. To keep this post from getting too long, just click on the link for the recipe.

But that still left me with half a box of cornflakes (maybe even more!). Well, this led to the discovery of these Butterscotch Clusters:

They are very easy to make and don't require a lot of ingredients. Two good reasons in my book! All you do is take a bag of butterscotch chips (I used the Nestle brand, 11 0unces) and 1/2 cup peanut butter (you can use either chunky or smooth; I used the latter.) and put them in a large microwave-safe bowl. Melt the chips. I started with 2 minutes, then added another couple of minutes (one at a time, stirring as I went). I found that it was very "thick" so I drizzled a little bit of cooking oil (no more than a teaspoon) to make it a little more smooth. As it melts more, I added time in 30 second increments. All together, I think it was about 4-1/2 minutes. Just make sure to keep stirring.

Then add 4 cups of cornflakes. Stir gently to coat the flakes with the candy mixture. Using a spoon or two drop them onto waxed paper lined sheets. I ran out of waxed paper, so I used foil. It works just as well. These are pretty sweet, so if you are not a candy person, then make them small. My family likes sweets, so I made them just a bit bigger. I got about 24 out of this batch.

I believe you're supposed to be able to just let them set on your counter, but I speeded things up by sticking the whole sheet in my refrigerator. Ten minutes should be plenty of time for the candy to set. It may even be done before then. You can tell because the cluster should stick together and feel firm.

Ta-da! When they're cool, put them on a plate and serve. I made these to go with a simple lunch with a friend. We've actually made these twice with the same box of cornflakes, using butterscotch chips that I stocked up on in the past when they were on sale at Christmas.

If you want the no-frills recipe, you can find it here: Butterscotch Clusters

Of course, you can always crush cornflakes up as a coating for your chicken (I think I'm going to try this one but there are tons out there) or a topping for a vegetable casserole in place of bread crumbs or crackers (just add a little melted butter and mix, then sprinkle on top of your casserole). I have even crushed cornflakes and put them in baggies in the freezer, then taken them out when I have needed them. Hopefully that will keep them from going stale. I just need to remember I have them in there!

Have a great weekend!

Just for Fun Friday: Chocolate Chip Banana Cookies

Happy Friday! Over here in my neck of the woods it has been raining. This week, my husband has been out of town at a pastors' conference and my Matthew has had a fever, so I didn't get to do much during our spring break but stay home. It was especially hard to keep my younger son from disrupting his big brother's rest, so I had to think of ways to engage him. Aha! I've shared with other moms about cooking with their kids. I think this is a good time to do it myself. I actually wanted to share these last week when I made them for my son's sleepover party. Before I knew it, they were gone. This was the last one. I was too late.

Sorry Mom!

So, making these cookies was a good way to kill several birds with one stone. I needed something to do with Jonathan. We were out of cookies. And I wanted to make some to share. Perfect!

These are Matthew's favorite cookies, even though he detests bananas. Go figure. He just about gags every time he has to eat a real banana, but he will eat these without a complaint. We inherited this recipe from a lady who attended our church a couple years ago, and I think of her each time I make them. Don't you love recipes like that?

Anyways, it's very simple. You'll need:

1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2)

1 tsp. baking soda

½ cup butter, room temperature (if I forget, I put it in my mixing bowl and zap it in the microwave on high for about 10-15 seconds)

1 cup sugar

1 egg, room temperature

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup white all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

1 Tbsp. vanilla

1 cup mini chocolate chips (I have also used regular chocolate chips in a pinch. It just tastes more chocolatey.)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Mash bananas in a small bowl. This is perfect for the kids! I used a pastry blender to mash. You can use a fork. Then mix together your banana and baking soda. As you can see, this takes intense concentration. Let it sit for about 2 minutes.  From what I'm told, this helps the cookies rise.

While you're waiting for two minutes...

Cream butter and sugar together till fluffy and creamy. Add egg and beat.

 Add your banana mixture into the butter mixture. It may look a bit curdled, like this:

Add in flour, salt and vanilla till just combined. I taught Jonathan how to measure flour today, but I forgot to snap a photo. Oh well. Anyways, don't mix it too much. It should look like this:

Fold in your chocolate chips.

Drop dough into little balls. I like to use a dark, non-stick cookie sheet. The shiny ones give me flat cookies, which I don't like. You can also line the cookie sheet with parchment paper or silpat sheets if you wish.

Bake for 14-16 minutes. Post a guard if needed.

Here they are, fresh out of the oven. Notice how hearty they are? Almost like little cakes...

Remove and cool on a wire rack. Although we have been known to eat them a couple of minutes out of the oven.

I hope you enjoy! Have a wonderful weekend.

If you'd like the no-frills recipe, here it is: Chocolate Chip Banana Cookies

Just For Fun Friday: Homemade Microwave Popcorn (subscriber sample)

[box] This post is a sample of what I do for my newsletter subscribers. Each month, I write special articles or do special "classes". I try to hit each of the main areas of Mom University: spiritual growth, marriage, parenting, and homemaking. These pages are exclusive only to subscribers, so if you like what you see, I encourage you to sign up! I'm just about ready to send out April's edition soon! [/box] Last month, it was granola. [Newsletter subscribers, if you haven't checked this out yet, do so before I take the page down on April 1!] This month in my culinary experiments is microwave homade popcorn! At first, I was skeptical. Would it really work? It sounds messy. But I'm always game to try anything, so here is what I found out.

I think the thing I like best is knowing what is in it. Have you ever wondered? The second thing is the price. Being the rookie I am, I think I spent more than I needed to, but next time I'll know better. Lastly, there is the issue of flavor. You can create popcorn flavors that are completely unique. On the down side, be prepared to mess up a batch or two at first. It does take a bit of trial and error, but the learning curve isn't too steep.

Here's how I did it:

First, gather your ingredients. All you need minimally is a paper lunch bag and a bag of popcorn kernels (I got a 2 pound bag for $2). Other optional ingredients include oil (vegetable or olive) or salt or popcorn seasoning (I got this for over $4 at the grocery store, but then later found some at Target for much less! Bummer.)

The next thing you do: add a tsp of oil to your bag, if you wish, along with 1/4 cup kernels. I've read somewhere that you should put the popcorn and oil into a bowl and stir it up. I was too lazy and dumped the corn in and then drizzled oil on top and then shook it up. I used olive oil the first time, which resulted in a bag that looked like this:

In subsequent attempts, I just skipped the oil in this first step and popped my corn dry.

To close the bag, there are several possibilities. I have read about people stapling the unfolded bag closed (I tried this, the metal does not spark), taping it with scotch tape (which doesn't melt), or even piercing it with a toothpick (if you don't want to mess with either staples or tape)! Leaving it unfolded will allow steam to escape. I tried the stapling first, which looked like this:

If you note, I put mine on the bag's bottom, not on the side. That is a little different than store-bought microwave popcorn. I had read that if you put it on the side, it would burn, and I didn't want that! But it didn't fit very well. In subsequent attempts, I simply folded the bag twice and creased it well. No problems. Hooray! I was so glad I didn't have to mess with either tape or staples.

This is where you need to experiment a little, depending on your microwave.  So, here's my first attempt: 3 minutes, burned popcorn. We ate it anyways. But the house did smell like burnt popcorn for awhile. (But if it does happen, try 1/4 cup sugar and 1 Tbsp. cinnamon, vanilla or almond extract mixed in a 2-cup glass measuring cup. Add enough water to make 1 cup liquid. Microwave as you would a cup of hot water, about 2 minutes on high heat. Let it sit in your microwave until it cools. My daughter, who is sensitive to smell, thought it made the house smell like I was baking something. Good deal.)

 

My second and third attempts, I did 2 minutes and 2 minutes 10 seconds respectively. Much better.

By the way, did you know that popping corn works because of three key components: 1) a hard outer shell (regular corn on the cob doesn't have this), 2) water--this, when heated up, creates steam, causing the kernel to explode, and 3) starch within the kernel. Through the heating process, this starch undergoes a chemical reaction and becomes a jelly. When the kernel explodes, the jelly is ejected and then when exposed to air, cools into the fluffy white pieces we love. If you want to know more, you can read all about it here.

Anyways, the key, as with store-bought microwave popcorn is to listen in between pops. Two seconds between pops and that should be good.

LATE BREAKING NEWS!!! I tried it again just now and I think I have found an even better method. I used a medium sized Pyrex bowl and a dinner plate. Put the kernels into the bowl and cover with the plate, like so:

I tried this twice. It took a lot longer for it to "heat up" (over a minute, compared to about 40 seconds in the bag), but there was no burning or scorching. I kept adding time because it didn't seem like it was done, so I think all told, it was about 3 minutes. However, there were a lot of unpopped kernels left. Not what I wanted. The second time, I got a little braver and set it to 4 minutes. Much better. And still no burning! My son (my fellow experimenter) thought that we could even have gone with 4 min. 15 seconds.

The main precaution: THE BOWL AND PLATE ARE VERY HOT. REMOVE WITH OVEN MITTS. I even transferred the popped popcorn into another bowl so the kids (and me) wouldn't burn ourselves.

When I compared the two methods, I like the bowl method much better. It was not soggy, as I thought it would be, being covered up like that. And another perk is being able to see the corn popping! Very cool. The downside is that I had a lot more dishes to do afterwards. Oh well.

Afterwards, season your popcorn as you wish. If you want, add a little  melted butter or spray with butter-flavored spray for less calories. From here, the possibilities are endless! You can try:

  • Mixing a little hot sauce into your melted butter before adding it to your popcorn.
  • Sprinkling with Parmesan cheese, dry ranch mix, or taco seasoning.
  • Check out this site for homemade pizza, Indian (curry), Cajun, salt and vinegar, and peanut butter flavors. This page includes sweet and salty recipes for seasonings, including cheesy herb, chocolate and cherry, and gooey cheese with Velveeta. If you'd like more ideas, just Google "popcorn seasoning ideas." Or just experiment and make your own!

If you want to buy seasoning, I've seen bottles at Target. The brand I used is from Kernel Seasons. (I found it at Ralph's). They have 17 different types of seasonings, but in the store there were only about 5.  They had Apple Cinnamon, Sour Cream and Onion, Jalapeno, and even Chocolate Marshmallow! Yum! If you can't find what you want at the store, you can order it online. The site also includes ways you can use their seasonings in other ways in your cooking.

Once you get the hang of it, you can do all kinds of flavors to your liking!

Wouldn't this make a cute gift? Get a big bowl, add some lunch bags (if you want to go with that method), some seasonings (bought or homemade), and a bag or jar of popcorn. If you want to add special popcorn oil (I also saw this at Ralph's for over $4), you can do that too. Type of instructions and give as a gift.

This sure beats the price of a box of snacks! The varieties can be endless. And you can make it as healthy as you like. Fun all the way around! Give it a try and check it out for yourself.

Would you like a pdf summary? Well, you're in luck! Here you go: Homemade Microwave Popcorn

Just for Fun Friday: Mini Cheddar Meat Loaves

I am personal believer that anything in a "mini" size is just cuter: mini desserts, mini furniture, mini people, mini meatloaf. (These are not in any particular order.) I came across this recipe from the Taste of Home website and have been making it regularly for my family. It requires very basic ingredients that I usually have on hand and because they are mini sized, they don't take quite as long to bake as a full-size meatloaf. Plus, if you have leftovers, you can make a simple lunch or freeze them for the future. Cute, but oh so versatile too! Here's a timesaving tip I use: When I buy ground beef, I usually get it at Costco in the family pack. I take out about 2 lbs. and freeze it raw for recipes like this. What I do is lay out a sheet of plastic wrap, put the ground beef on it and then wrap around it, flattening it into a rectangle shape as I go. Then I put the wrapped meat into a freezer bag and put it into the freezer. This way, it saves space and stacks nicely. I've even seen some moms freeze all their foods this way, which makes sense. You can even have a little basket and "file" your bags of meat, soup, what-have-you, in it and flip through it to find what you need. Isn't that so cool? As for the rest of the meat, I brown it all at once and put in 1 lb. batches in containers (or you can use freezer bags) in the freezer.

Back to the recipe. Here it is:

Mini Cheddar Meat Loaves

1 egg

3/4 cup milk

1 cup (4 oz) shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup quick-cooking oats

1/2 cup chopped onion (you can skip this without affecting the dish. By the way, did you know chopped onions are freezable too?)

1/2 tsp. salt

1 lb. ground beef

2/3 cup ketchup

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1-1/2 tsp. mustard

In a large bowl, whisk egg and milk. Stir in the cheese, oats, onion and salt. Crumble beef over mixture and mix well. Shape into eight loaves; place in a greased 13"x9" baking dish. In a small bowl, combine the ketchup, brown sugar and mustard; spoon over loaves. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until no pink remains and a meat thermometer reads 160 degrees.

Makes 8 loaves.

I like to serve this with rice, but you can substitute any other carb, like bread or potatoes. Add a hot vegetable and you're set! This also makes a great make-ahead dish if you are having company...elegant, personalized entrees are always special.

Enjoy!

If you'd like the recipe with kids' cooking ideas: Mini Cheddar Meatloaves

Crock Pot 101 Lesson 2

[box] This month, I'll be starting a series of posts that will comprise a Crock Pot 101 class. After the first two lessons, I'll release a new class with every 50 new subscribers on the Mom University email list! I have about enough material for at least 10-12 more lessons...I'd appreciate it if you can help me get the word out![/box] Lesson 2: Purchasing a Crock Pot

Okay, so you're ready to roll with slow cooking after reading lesson 1. Or maybe you already have one collecting dust in your garage or tucked away into a corner. By the way, did you know that slow cookers first came onto the scene in the 1970s---I remember my mom getting one, you know in the 70's butternut yellow color---and cooking with it for a little while. As with the rest of the country, crock pots fell out of style for a couple decades before making a comeback in the 90's. If you inherited one of those 70's crockpots, then it's time for an upgrade.

But if you're like me and got one for your wedding in the 90's, things have changed. The 90's version may look something like this. Look familiar?

There is a noticeable difference between crockpots made before 2000 and after. I found this out when I cooked a pot roast for our church's summer cooking Bible study a couple years ago. My newer one looks like this:It is oval in shape, purchased about 4-5 years ago. I thought it was pretty cool because it came with a "keep warm" function. For this class, I began playing with it a lot more and because it cooks things a little faster, I usually stick with the lower end of the recommended cooking times. This weekend, I made stew, tri-tip and salisbury steak. They all turned out fabulous.

However, there is one thing that bugs me. If you look at the settings, you can see that high heat has two time settings, 4 and 6 hours and low heat has 8 and 10 hours. But I am stuck if I want to turn my crock pot on high for an hour or cook something on low heat for 4 hours. I have pretty much just ignored the time designations and just focused on the heat settings. Because I stay at home, it's not a big deal. My husband bought it because it was on sale at Costco and as I was finding myself using a slow cooker so often, we thought it would be nice to have an upgrade. If you work long hours from home, this keep warm feature is helpful. It keeps food at about 145 degrees F, which is a safe temperature.

Even though it's pretty standard now, make sure any slow cooker you buy has a removable crock. I have a mini one that doesn't. Im not sure if they have ones like that without this feature anymore , but it is a pain to wash.

If you do a lot of cooking with a crock pot, you may want to check around for other features, like temperature probes, insulated traveling cases, retractable cords, latches on lids, electronic temperature monitoring, more cooking ranges, digital settings and LCD panels, or models that reserve power. I have only heard about these. I don't know about them mainly because what I have still works. I have found the basics fully sufficient for me. If you just cook at home, then you don't need fancy bells and whistles. Just think about what you would need it for. Round cookers are usually less expensive than the oval ones that are good for roasts.

As for size, I would say choose the larger one. Even if you have just the two of you, you can double a recipe for a smaller cooker and have leftovers for another night. Or you can make adjustments if it is too little by add extra of an ingredient, like vegetables. Generally, I use a 5-qt. slow cooker for meals to feed my family of 5. 

If you have an old crockpot and you're not sure if it's doing it's job, you can try this test from the Hillbilly Housewife to see if it is actually cooking foods at the right temperature. Fill your crockpot with 2/3 cold water. Cover. Turn heat on low for 8 hours. Using an accurate cooking thermometer, check water temp quickly (keeping the lid open too long can alter the actual temperature). It should be 185 degrees F. If not, then your food is not reaching a safe cooking temperature. Or if it's too high, then it's cooking too high and you may wish to shorten your total cooking time. What is more of the bigger issue is if it is not cooking high enough, this may be a safety issue for meats. Time for a new slow cooker!

Hmmm, I think that's about it for choosing a crock pot. Before I go though, I encourage you to check out the post on Bethany's Chili. A crock pot is great for just heating up canned ingredients. This is a nice, thick hearty chili that our family loves. I hope you'll enjoy it too!

Part of the Crockpot 101 series.

Crock Pot 101 Lesson 1

[box] This month, I'll be starting a series of posts that will comprise a Crock Pot 101 class. After the first two lessons, I'll release a new class with every 50 new subscribers on the Mom University email list! I have about enough material for at least 10-12 more lessons...I'd appreciate it if you can help me get the word out![/box] If you've been in Christian circles long enough, you will know who I'm talking about when I refer to the Proverbs 31 woman. If you haven't, let me introduce you.

If there was ever a superwoman, it would be her. She manages her home, provides food for her family, wisely manages their finances, works to support the home, and her husband and kids love her. Not only that, she is a woman of wisdom and godly character. Most of us either love her because she is our inspiration or hate her because she makes us feel guilty.

In verse 15 of this chapter, we learn that "She gets up while it is still night (!!); she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants." (This is one of those guilt-inducing verses.) So what has this got to do with slow cookers? Because as a busy mom, my slow cooker (or some say crock pot) has helped me to become more like this proverbial superwoman. Over the next month or so, I will take you on a virtual "course" through this wonderful appliance...with some recipes thrown in too! Hopefully, by the end of that time, you can be a Proverbs 31 woman in the kitchen! So let's get started with...

Lesson 1: Why Should I Use a Slow Cooker?

I'm sure most of you know what a crock pot or slow cooker is.  Out of curiosity, I did a little research to see if there really is a difference. Some say that crock pots have their heating elements on both the bottom and sides of the appliance while slow cookers only have heating elements on the bottom. Other people claim that the name "Crock-Pot" is the trademarked name for Rival company and that there is essentially no difference between the two. For me---I'll use them interchangeably, if you don't mind. I'm not worried about trademark issues.

If you don't know what a slow cooker is or why you should use one, read on. Generally, a crock pot is a method of slow, moist cooking food at a low temperature (about 170-180 degrees F). So, why should you use one? Here are a few reasons:

  • It's convenient--I like to think of it as a "servant girl" working for me!
  • It frees up stovetop space if stove or oven space is at a premium (e.g. thanksgiving, Christmas).
  • It's all-seasonal---perfect for whipping up warm chilis, soups and stews and fabulous on hot days when you don't want to heat up the kitchen.
  • You can make just about any course in a crock pot: hearty meals or appetizers, desserts, side dishes...
  • Great when you want a hot meal without the pre-dinner hassle
  • Need to feed a family on a budget?  A slow cooker can tenderize and cook inexpensive meats like brisket, shoulder roasts, stew meats, pork spareribs, rump roasts, etc.
  • If you're like me, I turn things on the stove and forget to check it and I burn what I'm cooking. With a crock pot, this is rarely, if ever, an issue.
  • It's easy to transport to a potluck and keep warm if you need to.
  • When you use a liner, cleanup is so simple!

Sold? If you don't have one, you'll want to stay tuned for our next lesson, which will explain how to look for one. But if you love yours like I do, I thought I'd share one recipe I received from a wonderful friend at church (thanks, May!). Although it is meant to be an appetizer, my kids just love to eat it over hot rice for dinner. Enjoy!

Cranberry Meatballs

1 Costco sized bag of frozen meatballs

2 cans jellied cranberry sauce

2-24 oz. jars salsa

Mix the cranberry sauce and salsa together first. Put the frozen meatballs into your crock pot. Pour the cranberry mixture on top. That's it! Cook on high for 4-5 hours. Easy peasy and so tasty! I made half the recipe for a potluck and the other half for dinner for us one night. Great during these winter months if you need a quick meal! Enjoy!

 

 

 

Apple Pie Party Dip

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been busy in the kitchen with my kids, partly because I was preparing for a talk on cooking with kids, and partly because I was hankering for some fall-flavored foods! I came across this recipe from the Family Fun website as I was searching for things to try with my children. This dip makes a great (somewhat) healthy snack. It's not fried. There's a little sugar in it to counter the tart apples. You can also control how much cinnamon sugar you sprinkle on the chips. If it's too much for you, then use a light hand. Best of all, you can make this in advance! There's no messing around with pie crust, but you do get the flavor of apple pie.

Sorry I don't have a picture of this one. We ate it up before I could get a shot! Enjoy!

Apple Pie Party Dip     

Serves 4-6

For Dip:

1 1/3 cups peeled, cored, and diced apple (I used Granny Smith)

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

2 tsp. brown sugar

2 tsp. apricot preserves

1/8 tsp. cinnamon

For Cinnamon Sugar Chips:

5 (6”) flour tortillas (I used the large ones from Costco—they worked just fine)

2 Tbsp. butter, melted

½ tsp. cinnamon

1 ½ Tbsp. sugar

 

˜  Combine all dip ingredients in a bowl.

˜  Cover the dip and refrigerate until chilled. This is great to make early in the day for snacking later on!

˜  While you’re waiting for the dip to chill, make the cinnamon sugar chips. Brush melted butter onto the tortillas.

˜  Cut tortillas into wedges or strips.

˜   Arrange wedges or strips onto a nonstick/greased baking sheet. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

˜  Bake at 350° F until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Let cool.

PDF of recipe, along with adapting it for kids, is here: Apple Pie Party Dip

Chicken and Pesto Pizza

Have you ever tried those recipes that only use up part of the package or can? There's leftover that's useable, but you're not sure what to do with a partial container. Well, that's what I had this week. I had an opened jar of prepared pesto that I used for another recipe sitting in my refrigerator, about 2/3 full. I didn't want it to turn into a science experiment six months later! Wanting to be a good steward, I remembered a recipe that I had printed out a while back and thought it would be a good time to give it a try. The recipe called for refrigerated pizza dough, but I find it just as easy to make my own in my bread machine and it tastes much fresher too. If you want to make your own pizza dough, I've included the pdf for that recipe too. If you don't have a bread machine or don't want to go through the trouble, then you can buy pizza dough or use canned dough. Both work just fine.

This is a different kind of pizza than normal, so you may wish to serve it for adult guests. My little one didn't care for it, but my two older kids thought it was great. Hope you enjoy!

Chicken Pesto Pizza                 Yield: 1 pizza

1 tube of refrigerated pizza dough OR any other pizza dough of your choice. We like to make our own (see Herb-Cheese Pizza Crust recipe)

1/3 cup pesto (homemade or jar works fine)

2 cups (8 oz.) mozzarella cheese, grated

1 cup cooked chicken, chopped or shredded

1 whole Roma (plum) tomato, chopped (I’ve used a regular one in a pinch)

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Grease a round cookie sheet or pizza stone with olive oil. Using prepared pizza dough of your choice, press out dough onto the sheet/stone into a 12" circle (or whatever shape you want!).

Spread a layer of pesto on top of the crust and add cheese, then top with chicken and tomato. Place in the lower half of your oven and allow to cook for 15-20 minutes or until crust is golden brown and cheese is melted.

PDFs here: Herb-Cheese Pizza Crust

Chicken Pesto Pizza

Bethany's Chili

Whew! What a weekend! Even though we took a break from school this week, I found myself without a whole lot of time to spare. Yesterday, I got to MOPS and realized that I didn't have anything for dinner planned, nor did I have any leftovers. Not good. Bethany's Chili to the rescue! I try to keep an eye open for the basic ingredients when they go on sale and stock up just for moments like this. I called my husband and asked him to check the pantry and I had all the essential ingredients. I did! Woo hoo! Not only did it feed our family after a full day, but it was on the table fast and yielded dinner for another day as well! Everyone in our family loves this hearty chili (even Jonathan!), which you can eat plain or if you want to stretch it a little further, serve it with some type of starch, like rice, cornbread or biscuits. Thanks, Bethany, for sharing this recipe with us! It has become  a family favorite!

Bethany’s Chili        

 Yield: 8-12, depending on who you’re feeding! 

1-1.5 lb. ground turkey or beef, browned (saute with 1 medium onion, diced, if you like)

1 horseshoe link of kielbasa sausage, sliced and browned

1 large can brown sugar flavored pork and beans (not the tomato based one)

2 small cans chili, with or without beans

1 large/2 small can diced tomatoes, drained slightly

1 packet chili seasoning

Optional: 1 small can mushrooms, 1 can kidney beans, chopped celery and/or diced green pepper.

 

Cook meats, drain if necessary.

Mix together with canned goods, seasoning, and any optional ingredients.

Heat chili either on the stove top or in a crock pot: low, 6-8 hours or high, 2 hours. Because everything is cooked, all you need is for it to heat thoroughly.  

Serve over rice or with cornbread. Once I made biscuits because I had neither on hand.

If you'd like the pdf, here it is: Bethany's Chili