image_print

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.

070116image2

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!

6bca7251-764f-4161-b8ad-41fee22a6ada

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.

061016image

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.

What Can I Make With THAT?!

One of my most popular food columns from 2014 back at many reader’s request!

If your refrigerator is at all like mine, it harbors an odd assortment leftovers and “almost gones!” So what on earth can you do with that? Try some of these suggestions on for size:

Salad dressing. It’s a rare refrigerator that doesn’t have an assortment of almost-empty salad dressing bottles. Here’s what you can do with any oil and vinegar dressings like Caesar, Italian or other vinaigrettes–even the low-fat varieties: Mix them together for marinade for beef, pork, chicken. The oil adds flavor, the vinegar (or other acid like lemon juice) tenderizes. You need enough to coat the meat or poultry, then cover and refrigerator for at least an hour before roasting, grilling or baking.

15649918_s

Applesauce. That last bit of applesauce in the jar will make a wonderful coleslaw dressing. Make sure you have about 1/2 cup applesauce left in the jar and then add 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 teaspoon onion powder, 1/3 teaspoon celery salt, 1 teaspoon prepared mustard, 1 teaspoon sugar, 2 tablespoons water. Apply the lid, shake well and toss with 4 cups shredded cabbage or packaged coleslaw mix. Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to meld. Yield: 8 servings.

Better and Cheaper than Food Trucks

The Food Truck phenomenon has exploded across America, mostly in large urban areas of Los Angeles, Denver and Austin, Tex., but quickly making its way to the suburbs as well.

060316image

I am not a food truck aficionado. Until just recently, my one and only food truck experience was in Austin where I ordered a donut that cost $7.95. It was crazy—the biggest donut I have ever seen, cut open and filled with bananas, maple cream and bacon then re-deep fried and for its final glory, dunked into a vat of frosting. Three friends and I split it four ways. I choked down one bite and tossed the rest. It was just too decadent—as if that’s even possible with a donut.

Several weeks ago, hubs and I decided to patronize our new community’s semi-monthly Food Truck Night. My high hopes of a better experience the second time around were quickly dashed.

First it was the wait. I’m talking really long lines because, understandably, a food truck has a tiny kitchen and even tinier staff. Once we got to the front and placed our order, the wait was only half over. We had to wait (and wait some more) to get our food.

Next, the prices were ridiculously expensive. Then to top it off, the food was not good. All I could think was that I could have made this 10 times tastier for 1/10th the cost.

Today, I want to prove that to you with three different slow cooker recipes for taco meat—all of which are made in a slow cooker. I don’t know why I’m calling this “taco” meat because while certainly delicious in tacos, all three are equally wonderful in burritos, salads and tostadas. In fact, I use these meats for my own versions of enchilada and taquitos, too.

All of these recipes keep well, so if you have leftovers, Hooray! That means you’ll be able to enjoy another delicious lunch or dinner later in the week. 

Everybody Needs a Slow Cooker

 

060216image

 

A slow cooker, unlike this little guy in a chef’s hat, is an ingenious appliance. It’s simple. It cooks slowly. Really slow—like it takes 8 hours to get a meal ready where other methods can take 30 minutes. But unlike that 30-minute meal, a slow cooker doesn’t require work. It doesn’t need a babysitter. No coddling required with a slow cooker. You can just throw the ingredients into the slow cooker, set it and walk away.

But that’s not all. A slow cooker requires very little energy. It costs on average, 21 cents to run a slow cooker for 10 hours. If you roast a pork roast for 2 hours in the oven instead of using the slow cooker for 10 hours, you would spend $2.51 to operate an electric oven or $1.49 to operate a gas oven. Multiply the low cooking costs for a slow cooker over an entire year, and you will experience real savings.

There’s one more thing: A slow cooker doesn’t heat up the kitchen the way a stovetop or oven can. This time of year with temperatures soaring right along with home cooling costs, that’s a big deal.

Slow cookers are pretty basic. Some have programmable timers, but generally it’s On or Off plus a dial to tell the thing how many hours to cook. Slowly.

Entree Salads that Beat the Heat

It’s summer. It’s hot. The last thing you want to do is heat up the kitchen to make dinner. But before you pick up the phone to make reservations, consider these two words: Entree Salad. Yes!  A big, hearty main-dish salad that takes advantage of the fresh season produce you picked up at a farmer’s market—or right from you own garden—that might also feature grilled fish, chicken salad or even leftover steak or taco meat.

052716image

Here, let me whet your appetite with three of my all-time favorite Entree Salads.

SOUTHERN COBB SALAD

4 to 6 Servings

  • 10 cups mixed lettuces, lightly packed (8 ounces)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 1 cup thawed frozen corn kernels
  • 1 cup radish or other type sprouts
  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup crumbled cooked bacon
  • 1 ripe avocado, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped
  • 2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and sliced
  • Bottled Sweet Onion Dressing

In a large bowl, toss the lettuce with 1/2 cup of dressing and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl or platter. Arrange the remaining ingredients on top and serve, passing the remaining dressing at the table.

Clever Tricks with Leftovers

If your refrigerator is at all like mine, it harbors leftovers and an odd assortment almost empties—bottles and jars of dressings and condiments. So what can you do with that? Try these suggestions on for size.

052016image

LEFTOVER APPLESAUCE

That last bit of applesauce in the jar will make a wonderful coleslaw dressing. Make sure you have about 1/2 cup applesauce left in the jar. Now add the following ingredients right into the jar:

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/3 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water

Apply the lid, shake well and toss with 4 cups shredded cabbage or packaged coleslaw mix. Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to meld. Yield: 8 servings.