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Make Your Own Mixes to Save Time and Money

I suppose that for many readers, the idea of making your own mixes and pantry items from scratch might seem a bit archaic. Why not just buy salad dressings, taco seasonings, baking mixes and little boxes of pudding mix that are available just about anywhere and so convenient? Three reasons: Health, time and money.

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HEALTH: Reading the list of ingredients on the typical convenience packet of seasoning mix or other prepared food product can be confusing if not shocking. Many of these convenience products contain MSG, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, dioxides and any number of un-pronounceable items. When you make it yourself, you know what’s in it.

TIME: Having mixes already made and ready to go, could mean the difference between having time to get dinner on the table or hitting the pricey Drive Thru one more time this week. And you’ll cut out last minute trips to the store because you will have what you need.

Fabulous Slow Cooker Summer…Salads! Plus My Salsa Recipe

I have to admit it. Just the idea of a slowly cooked salad makes me queazy. Thankfully, that’s not exactly it.

It’s a little-known secret that your slow cooker has a hidden talent for making incredible salads. Let it slow-cook the main ingredients for a creative salad while you’re away. Then toss in a few fresh additions just before it’s time to serve. I know! What a great idea.

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Orange Chicken Spinach Salad with Feta

  • 3 lbs. bone-in chicken breast halves
  • 6 cloves garlic minced,
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 10 oz. baby spinach (more or less)
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved
  • 3 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese (more or more)
  • 1/2 cup bottled vinaigrette salad dressing
  1. Remove and discard skin from chicken and sprinkle with garlic, thyme and salt. Place chicken in 3.5- or 4-quart slow cooker. Add juice and vinegar. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 7 hours, or on high for 3 to 3.5 hours.
  2. Remove chicken from cooker; cover and keep warm. Discard cooking juices.
  3. In a large bowl toss together the greens, tomatoes, olives and feta cheese. Slice chicken from bones; discard bones Arrange sliced chicken on salad. Drizzle with dressing. Servings: 6.
NOTE: Photo is only a representative stock photo and does not reflect this exact recipe. The recipe is correct, although you could add oranges as pictured.

Green Beans and Petite Reds with Albacore

  • 1 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed
  • 1 lb. tiny new red-skin potatoes, quartered
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 5-oz. cans solid white albacore, drained and flaked
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  1. Lightly coat 3.5- or 4-quart slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Combine the beans, potatoes, onion, water, salt and pepper in cooker. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours or on high for 2 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, for sauce, in a small bowl combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, milk mustard lemon juice tarragon and salt. Cover and chill until needed.
  3. To serve, using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetable mixture to a large bowl. Pour sauce over vegetables. Add albacore and spinach. Toss gently to mix. Sprinkle with additional black pepper and serve. Servings: 6

Quinoa Salad with Beets, Oranges and Fennel

  • 1 1/2 lb. medium-size beets
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 orange
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1 15-oz. can bandar orange sections, rinsed and drained
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • Sliced green onions (optional)
  1. Place each beet on a piece of foil. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the oil over all of the beets. Wrap each beet tightly in the foil and place in a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 3 to 4 hours or until beets are fork-tender.
  2. Remove beets from cooker. When cool enough to handle, peel or slip the skin off each beet. Cut beets into thin wedges and place in a medium bowl.
  3. For dressing, remove 1 teaspoon zest and squeeze 2 tablespoons juice from orange. Whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, the orange zest, orange juice, honey salt and pepper. Remove 1 tablespoon of the dressing and drizzle over betts; toss gently to coat.
  4. In a bowl combine mandarin oranges and fennel, and drizzle with another 1 tablespoon of the dressing. Add quinoa to the remaining dressing; toss to coat.
  5. To serve, top quinoa mixture with beets and mandarin orange-fennel mixture. If desired, sprinkle with green onions. Servings: 6.

 

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And now in follow-up to an earlier post, Compulsive Chopper. Many of you request my recipe for salsa that you see in the photos, made using my lovely Chop Wizard. Here you go …

 

 

Pico de Gallo

  • 12 Roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1 jalapeño pepper seeded, chopped (or to taste; go easy at first)
  • 1 pinch garlic powder (optional)
  • 1 pinch ground cumin (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon each salt and ground black pepper, or to taste

Put all of the ingredients in a bowl. Stir. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Serve. Repeat often. Enjoy!

Stop the Carnage! No More Rotten Produce in the Garbage

I’m having a difficult time wrapping my head around this documented fact: Half of all produce grown in the U.S. is thrown out, while at the same time there is growing hunger and poverty right here in America.

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As I read the first paragraph of the news story, I assumed naively that all U.S.-grown produce makes it to market then consumers like you and me get it home, let it go bad before we can consume it and into the garbage it goes. That is a factor, but not the whole story.

The truth is that vast quantities of fresh produce are left in the field to rot, become livestock feed or hauled directly to the landfill because of (get ready) cosmetic standards. Not every potato, watermelon, strawberry or grape cluster turns out photo-perfect. Some are ugly and these days, that means they do not meet retailer and consumer demands for blemish-free, perfect produce. Just imagine how the retail cost of produce might plummet if all that is produced—even the still-nutritious but ugly produce—were available for sale.

What To Do With Leftover Green Salad

If throwing out perfectly delicious green salad were a crime, I’d be serving a life sentence. 

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It kills me to do it, but until fairly recently, I had no idea there was a second life for fresh green salad, dressed or not. Once tossed, passed and partially consumed, that’s it, right? Wrong.

GAZPACHO SALSA. Blend it with V8 Juice to create a thick gazpacho (a cold Spanish/Portuguese tomato-based raw vegetable soup). Add a little hot sauce, and serve with chips for an appetizer. Extend it even further with the addition of red pepper and cucumber. Seriously tasty, however it will vary depending on the contents of the leftover salad you start with. 

6 Gifts of Summer to Make for Christmas

Even if you don’t have an abundant garden this year, don’t worry. You can still make these wonderful gifts of summer to hold onto for Christmas. You can find everything you need at a local farmer’s market.

How wonderful it will be when you welcome the holiday season knowing your gifts are ready to go.

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FREEZER JAM. Mix 2 cups crushed fresh strawberries with 4 cups sugar, and let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, stir one package dry pectin into 3/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 1 minute. Stir the boiling water into the strawberries. Allow to stand for 3 minutes before pouring into jars or other storage containers. Place tops on the containers, and leave for 24 hours. Freeze and store frozen until ready to give. Makes 5 pints.

More Super Summer Slow Cooker Recipes

Slow cookers, what’s not to love? Up until a few days ago I was smuggly confident I had a very good handle on the slow cooker appliance—brands, sizes, prices and the best inexpensive options out there (see “Everybody Needs a Slow Cooker”). And now I just may need to add a fourth option—a casserole slow cooker.

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This is genius. The stone insert in a casserole slow cooker is a 9 x 13 stoneware casserole baking dish. It goes from the slow cooker base to the table for serving and it’s oven-safe, too. And you can leave the insert in the base set on warm to serve on a buffet table. The casserole slow cooker appears to be just perfect for making lasagna, breakfast casseroles, desserts and other casserole-type dishes that work best in that size and shape baking dish.

The Casserole Crock Pot comes in two versions—Manual Low, High and Warm Settings and Programmable Digital. I’ve just now ordered the manual version (half the price of the fancy model) and cannot wait to give it a test drive. Watch for my review and feedback coming up soon in a future post.

Take it Slow and Easy

It’s summer, it’s hot and the last thing you want to do is to heat up the kitchen. Going out is expensive and the family has threatened a mass uprising if they have to look at one more summertime salad bar. Don’t despair! That slow cooker you reserve for the cold winter months is a perfect solution for the summer, too!

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Your slow cooker creates very little heat and is amazingly cheap to operate. It costs only pennies a day to operate all day long and with energy costs skyrocketing, that’s good news for your electricity bill, too. But, you may protest, I’ve tried to use a slow cooker and the results have been disappointing at best. Pardon my saying so, but that’s likely because you don’t know what you’re doing. You need a crash course in Slow Cookery!

Know your cooker. A traditional crock-pot where the heat surrounds the cooking insert is better than a slow cooker where the heat comes from underneath. The most common models have a removable pot insert. The two heat settings are low (200 degrees) and high (300 degrees). The slow cooker, or “multi-cooker” usually cooks from the bottom and might have a thermostat allowing a wide range of temperatures. The commonly used term Crock-Pot is Rival Manufacturing company’s trademarked name.

Curb the urge. Resist the impulse to peek inside the crockpot unless the recipe directs you to stir partway through. Every time you lift the lid, you add about 20 minutes cooking time.

Leave space. Don’t fill the insert so much that the lid doesn’t fit tightly. Without a tight fit a vacuum will not form, and that can dramatically affect cooking time

Vegetables on the bottom. They take longer to cook than meat. Root vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, and turnip, should be cut in small pieces, about 1-inch, and layered on the bottom of the crock so they will start to cook as soon as the liquid heats.

Don’t Throw That Out!

Ever walked into the kitchen to get that first cup of coffee only to discover someone left the ice cream on the counter all night? Or the milk? Or discovered an opened bottle of wine in the back of the fridge? And what’s with those bags of stale chips in the pantry? I don’t hate spoiled food as much as I did before I discovered so many clever ways to use up items I used to throw out.

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Sour milk

It often happens in warm weather, with even a limited milk supply, that some of it gets  sour before it can be used. Don’t throw it out, even if there is only a little. Sour milk is a valuable kitchen asset! Have a clean glass to pour the remnants in, and keep it in the fridge until you have accumulated one cup. Then plan to use it as soon as it thickens, since milk becomes bitter if it stands too long. Note: Recipes using sour milk must include baking soda.

SOUR MILK BISCUITS

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon shortening
  • 1 cup thick sour milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 400 F. Sift the flour, salt, and soda well together. Rub in the shortening with a spoon. Add the milk and stir lightly. The dough should be soft. Drop by spoonfuls into greased muffin tins and bake in a hot oven for 15-20 minutes.