Cooking with your crockpot

October 29th, 2006

I recieved the following email this past weekend and thought it would be the perfect time time of year to talk about crockpot cooking. The weather is cooling off, for most of us anyway, and having the aroma of dinner cooking in the house feels comforting somehow.

I do actually have a burning question for you. You have mentioned before how much you rely on your crock pot as a primary meal making resource and you have been discussing meals on your blog; so, I request that you share some of your go-to pot meals to include recipes please. I have recently rediscovered my crock pot, after leaving it in hibernation for seven years of marriage, and have made a rather tasty stew on several occasions, but I don’t have any more recipes for the darn thing and internet searches have brought up bupkis.

I sympathize with you. It seems that the majority of recipes I find use cream of something soup, and while I don’t mind using one of those recipes once in awhile, I certaily don’t want to make a weekly habit of it. One thing to remember about using a crockpot is that the liquid in the recipe will not cook away the way that it does on the stovetop.

I use my crockpot probably twice a week in the winter. Our hands down family favorite is chili. I think the children were initially won over to it by serving it with Tostitos.

Chili Recipe

2.5lbs of ground beef browned
one green pepper chopped
one onion chopped
a couple cloves of garlic, minced
4 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes (sometimes I’ll substitute in a can of diced tomatoes or whole tomatoes. My kids prefer not to have chunks of tomatoes for some unknown reason.)
2 16 oz cans of red kidney beans
2 16 oz cans of cannellini beans
4tsp or so of chili powder (to taste)
1tsp of cayenne pepper

Put it all in the crockpot and cook it on low all day.

I serve it with a variety of Tostitos to scoop it out of your own personal bowl, like you would eat a dip.
You can also sprinkle some shredded cheese, sour cream, and gaucamole on the top if you desire and have that stuff on hand. I usually don’t.

This recipe feed my family with a bit left over. If no one askes to eat it for lunch in the next day or two I remake it into a pasta sauce. I dump the leftovers into my pot, on the stovetop, add two more cans of crushed tomatoes, some basil, and miced garlic and let it simmer for a hour or so. The I toss it with two pounds of pasta, I prefer rotini sice it seems to “grip” the sauce better.

I also make soups and stews. And I’ll use my breadmakers at the same time. I don’t think there is anything better than homemade soup served with fresh warm buttered bread.

Corn Chowder

this recipe courtesy of Fix It and Forget It Cookbook

12 slices of bacon cooked and crumbled
1 onion chopped
4 cups diced peeled potatoes
40 oz of frozen corn
2 cas of cream style corn
2Tbs of sugar
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 cup water
salt and pepper to taste

saute the onion and potatoes in a pan until slightly golden before adding to crockpot

How can anything with bacon not be tasty? I served this as a side dish last year with Christmas dinner and it was well received.

Does anyone else have a good crockpot recipe that they would like to share? I love to hear about them. Put it in the comment section, maybe we can all add little more diversity to our meals.

grocery shopping organization

October 27th, 2006

Want to know my secret? I bet you do… Come closer and I’ll tell you…

I don’t do the grocery shopping anymore.

Oh sorry, I was just dancing around cheering and singing involuntarily there for a moment.

The back story is here, if you are interested.

Rob started with something like this:

Grocery Shopping Spreadsheet

which helped us toi identify all the things we purchase at the grocery store.

and now we have a shopping list the goes aisle by aisle. Everytime we ever buy anything he writes it in the proper aisle and then updates the spreadsheet on his computer.

I keep a copies at home where I check off the items we need on the list. Then on grocery shopping day, which is not a set day of the week just whenever we need enough things to warrant a trip, I read of the items by aisle and he checks them off on his master list.

I love this system. Mostly because it doesn’t require me to shop. But also, Rob is much better at not getting extra things like magazines, donuts, cake…

It also forces me to consider, however briefly, what I am going to prepare for meals in the upcoming week. So rarely do I not have the ingredients to make a meal I had been planning.

My problem with meal preparation is more of the oh-my-god-it-is-five o’clock-and-i-haven’t-planned-or-defrosted variety.

I am going to check out some of the suggestions that were left in the comments of the previous post. Some of them sound very promising.

Are you a frantic woman?

October 24th, 2006

A few years ago I decided to make a meal schedule. I devised a 5 week rotating schedule of dinners that utilized leftovers, transforming them into new different meals. I had a master ingredient list to use for shopping. It worked really well while it lasted, which was one winter season.

I have thought often of going back to something similar, but what can I say other than I am inherently lazy and the effort that is required to do begin and maintain such a system is beyond my grasp right now.

So you can imagine my delight when I was offered the book The Frantic Woman’s Guide to Feeding Family and Friends. It sounded like exactly what I was trying to do on my own.

frantic woman's guide

I loved the premise of the book. I found though that it was less of a cook book and more of a guide to getting meals onto the table for your family. Joy of Cooking this ain’t. If you are looking for a way to step out of the fast food and restaurant trap, then this book might be right for you. It is chockful of tips and tricks and ideas and lists for everything kitchen and cooking related imaginable.

The book is divided into five sections. Part one offers tips for organizing your kitchen in a more efficient manner, the items you should stock in your antry, and the cooking tools you shouldn’t live without. Part Two offers Seasonal menus designed around a two week schedule. She tells you what day to shop on and when you will need to make a “pit stop” to the store for perishable goods. She even tells you if you should freeze your purchases or refrigerate them for later, and even if there is something you should hide from your family lest they eat it in advance. Part Three has special menus for guests, holidays, etc. Part Four offers some recipes for side dishes. And lastly, Part Five is a glossary of cooking terms, hints, and tips.

My complaints, which are admittedly small in the scheme of the book and what it is striving to be:

1) The meals don’t include side dishes. To me that is one of the most difficult parts of the meal, what to serve along side. She does offer suggestions of things that would go great along with the particular meal and has some recipes in Part Four of the book, but they are not included on the helpful shopping list.

2) The recipes generally say they serve 4-6 people. I don’t think we are particularly big eaters, but many of the meals seemed really skimpy. One example of this is Kid’s Mini Pizzas made from English muffins. The recipe calls for 6 English muffins and says it feeds 4-6. Four to six toddlers maybe, but not older children and certainly not adults. But the recipe did give me the inspiration to have the children make bagel pizzas for dinner one night with their own choice of toppings.

3) The over use of processed foods, such as creammed soups, macaroni and cheese, and canned bisquits.

Having said all of that, I still think that the concept of this book is a good one. It is written in a conversational tone with helpful kitchen hints sprinkled through out. The recipes that I have tried from the book were good.

As an organizational book I would give it five stars. It really gets down to the nitty gritty of being organized and the benefits of planning in advance.

As a cookbook, I would give it three stars.

Food portion distortion

October 6th, 2006

One of the big questions or threads that I have seen coming out of my last post is the question of how do I know as a parent if my child is eating enough and getting enough nutrition wise. There is lots of advice out there about what is nutritious and what is not, but very little on how much of this nutritious food to serve your kids.

I am not one to obsess over this stuff, though Lord knows I do enough obsessing over other things that I can completely understand where people are coming from. If my children are healthy and growing I don’t worry.

As I said in my previous post, I am NOT talking about children who have allergies or medical issues which require special feeding practices. I am not the expert on those sorts of things, nor am I the expert on your child. I do know that engaging in a battle of wills with your child on anything, but most especially food, is never a good thing.

I do have one child who is extremely skinny. The funny thing is that he is far and away the best eater out of my children. He doesn’t like sweets, refuses to eat fast food, and believes that blue and red food dye make him misbehave (which they very well might, who am I to argue with him) I am not concerned, but because he is also my ADHD child who takes medication that can supress a person’s appetetite I have to keep an eye on his food intake so that the psychiatrist doesn’t become overly concerned. Every night before bed he has a huge Carnation milkshake made with half and half and added protien powder. The thing must have 500+ calories. I swear I gain weight just looking at him prepare it.

The thing is that he looks like kids used to look back when I was growing up. Children are fatter now. (From 1980 to 2002, obesity has doubled in adults and overweight prevalence has tripled in children and adolescents.) It is hard not to think of your child as being underweight when you are comparing them to the majority who are overweight.

I am going to write something very controversial. Get rid of juice. It is not nutritious. It is filled with sugar, fructose IS sugar. It is bad for your children’s teeth to be bathed in sugar all day long. And it is filled with empty, yet filling calories. Unless you are fresh squeezing your own juice, don’t give it to your kids. Water is the best thing to keep your body hydrated. How many of us as adults talk about trying to drink enough water? Might as well make water drinking a habit that is ingrained in them.

I think that we, myself included, have a distorted view of the Food Pyramid and nutrition. When it talks about servings, that does not mean as much as you can eat in a meal. Serving sizes are actaully quite a bit smaller that you would realize.

Mypyramid.gov
is an excellent place to start. You can plug in your child’s age and get a pyramid of the number of servings (and more importantly the SIZE of those servings) that your child should get in a day.

I have heard that a good rule of thumb for young children, ages 6 and under I am going to say, is to think of their serving sizes as 1/4 to 1/2 of adult sized portions. So if an adult sized portion of meat is the size of a small deck of cards, picture in your mind how small 1/4 of that is. That is pretty small! The preschool sized portion of eggs… is 1/2 of one egg. You can see how easy it can be to have them reach 3 servings of meat when the portions are that small.

Vegetable serving… 1/4 of a cup. That is an incredibly small amount.

It has also been my experience that children are creatures of habit. Once they like something they will eat it and eat for months on end until one day they never want to see it again. EVER. My oldest son did this with Peanut butter and Fluff sandwiches. He ate two every single day for lunch for probably five years. Then one day he said he didn’t really like them anymore and he hasn’t had one since. So as you are making those chicken nuggets for yet another lunch, have hope that one day they will want something different. probably right after you found a great deal and stocked up on a year’s supply of them.