Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Homemade Carmel -- Happy New Year!

We've Moved! 
You can see this post on our new site by clicking this link:

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Hot Fruit Salad -- Merry Christmas!

I know it's been a while since I've posted.  I was holding out for some venison so I could do some nice recipes with that, but hubby and I haven't seen ANY deer this year.  So, here we are on Christmas day, and I am making hot fruit salad to go with the big meal.  If you like warm applesauce, you'll probably love this recipe.

Hot Fruit Salad

1 29oz. can sliced peaches, drained
1 15oz. can mandarin oranges, drained
1 15oz. can apricot halves, drained (cut into smaller pieces)
2 20oz. cans pineapple chunks, drained
1 21oz. can cherry pie filling
1 quart chunky applesauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Combine all ingredients and heat in crockpot on LOW for 3-4 hours or until hot.  You can easily substitute fruits and adjust the amounts if you do your own canning.  This would also be good with raisins or cranberries, and maybe some candied nuts sprinkled on top. 

I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! 

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Which Crockpot is Best?

I thought I would take a few minutes to discuss crockpots themselves.  Which one is the best one to have?  The answer depends on a few things -- what and how much food you're cooking, and what features you want or need in a crockpot.  I'll show you the ones I have and what I like about them.

This is my smallest crockpot.  It holds 3 quarts of simmering goodness.  I like it because it cooks smaller recipes quite nicely, especially sweet breads and single batch desserts.  One of the disadvantages is that even on the low setting, the outer edges of the food sometimes get a bit brown.  (I don't know if anyone else experiences this. ?)  I also don't like that the crock is permanently attached to the base, so I can't remove it.  When I wash it, I have to do my best not to soak the base.

This is my medium-sized crockpot, which holds 4 quarts of deliciousness.  It's a great all-purpose crockpot because most recipes fit just right in it.  I really like that the crock is removable from the base, which makes serving and washing easier.  (Nevermind the burnt-on drip on the front of my crockpot -- it gives it character.)

Drumroll please.....   this is my largest (and favorite) crockpot, which holds 6 QUARTS of bodacious.......okay maybe I'm getting carried away, but I love this thing!  I can easily double recipes and this crockpot will hold them (like, eh-hem, pumpkin pie).  The crock is removable (nice!), it comes with a serving spoon (handy!), the crockpot lid handle doubles as a spoon holder (sweet!), and it has three heat settings -- High, Low, and Warm!  The Warm setting has really come in handy at potlucks and family gatherings because when my food is done cooking, I can keep it warm without worrying about the edges burning.  Oh, and here's one of the best features:  the lid locks on!  That's right, no more taping, wrapping, or rubberbanding my crockpot lid down when traveling to a dinner.  Did I mention I love this thing?!

So, there you have it.  If you don't have a crockpot yet, or if you need to upgrade, these are some things to keep in mind.  Do you have a favorite crockpot?  Tell me about it!

Fun fact:  Did you know that crockpots are sometimes used at births?  Midwives can use them to keep towels and washclothes warm and ready to go!

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pumpkin Pie & Spiced Shortbread

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, so I couldn't help but get in the holiday mood with DESSERT.  And I believe the dessert of the month is probably pumpkin pie.  Can it really be done in a crockpot?  Of course!

I experimented with three batches and I'll share the best recipe with you, which happens to be a combination of different recipes.  Making pumpkin pie in a crockpot is easy, and for those of us who can do without the crust, there's no CRUST!  For those of you who do enjoy the crust, I'm including a really yummy recipe for spiced shortbread, which goes great with my pumpkin pie -- on the side, dipped in, or crumbled over the top.

Crockpot pumpkin pie can be served hot if you like it that way.  Or, while it's still hot, you can transfer it to pie plates (or whatever pretty dishes you like), smooth it out, let it cool, and serve it later.  If you are garnishing with shortbread, do so right before serving.

With all the recipes I tried, there was a little bit of liquid separation that happened during cooking, but it's easily remedied by a gentle stir after the cooking time is done.  Please note:  this recipe makes the equivalent of two regular size pies.  You will need to use a 3-quart crockpot or larger.  If that's too much pie for you, cut the recipe in half.  But then again, who's ever heard of too much pie??

Crockpot Pumpkin Pie

4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 (29oz.) can of pumpkin
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk biscuit mix or Bisquick (add a 1/4 - 1/2 cup extra if you like your pie really firm)
1 teaspoon salt
1 TBS pumpkin pie spice*
2 (12oz.) cans evaporated milk

         (*if you don't have pumpkin pie spice, you can use 2 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1 tsp. ground          
            ginger, and 1/2 tsp. ground cloves)

1.  Grease the inside of the crockpot with cooking spray or butter.

2.  Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl, and pour into crockpot.

3.  Cook on LOW for about 5 hours, or until temperature in center is 160 degrees F.

4.  Garnish with whipped cream and spiced shortbread.  Enjoy!

Spiced Shortbread
   (from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook)

1 1/4 cups flour
3 TBS brown sugar
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup butter

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

1.  Combine all ingredients.  Mix until it comes together and forms a ball.  (patience!)

2.  Knead dough until smooth and no longer crumbly.  Roll out to 1/4 - 1/2 inch thick, and cut into desired shapes.

3.  Carefully place cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for about 25 minutes.  The bottoms will just start to brown, and centers should be set.  Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Savory Pumpkin Bisque

I have some extra pumpkins around here that I need to get rid of, and I hate to just throw them in the compost pile when they are still good for eating.  Just to be clear, I'm not talking about the half-rotten, carved pumpkins that are sitting on the front porch.  I'm using ones that grew in our garden but were too small for carving. 

Yesterday, I attempted to make some pumpkin stew but it left MUCH to be desired, so I'm not going to share it here and disappoint your families -- mine was disappointed enough!  Hahaha! 

Today, I started fresh with pumpkin bisque.  I researched recipes and decided how I wanted it flavored.  I steered clear of sweet/spicy flavor combos and went for a more basic savory version.  I've never made bisque before, so this was a 'bisque risk'!  (har, har...)  I have to say, it turned out quite good and the only thing that would make it better is dunking some fresh homemade bread into it.

(I'm sorry if the picture is fuzzy.  This is the best shot I got, which was about 1/8th of a second before my cat jumped up there and shoved the whole thing on the floor.  Grrrrrrrrr......)

Savory Pumpkin Bisque
7-8 cups cubed pumpkin (halve it, core it, peel it, cube it)
6 cups broth
1-2 TBS bacon grease (or butter if that's what you have on hand)
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 TBS brown sugar
1 TBS lemon juice
fresh ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup half & half (or cream, or milk, depending on how rich you want it)

1.  Heat bacon grease in a skillet (cast iron works great), add the onions and saute over medium heat until they turn clear and just start to lightly brown.  Add garlic and saute for another couple minutes, stirring often to prevent scorching.  Remove from heat and put onions and garlic into the crockpot.

2.  Place all remaining ingredients, except the half & half, into the crockpot and cook in HIGH for about 4 hours or until the pumpkin is very soft.

3.  In batches, CAREFULLY puree the mixture in a blender.  While blending, place a towel over the top of the blender lid and hold it to prevent the top from popping off and splattering hot goo all over.  (I placed the puree in a separate bowl until the crockpot was completely empty.)

4.  Pour all of the puree back into the crockpot and turn down to WARM or LOW.  Stir in the half & half right before serving.

You could probably do your chopping and cook the onions and garlic ahead of time, store them in the fridge, and then add all the ingredients together (except half & half) the next day to cook.  It would probably work just fine to let it cook on LOW for 8 -10 hours, if you'd rather put this together before going to work.  Then all you'd have to do is puree it a few minutes before you eat!

I hope you try this recipe sometime and share your results.  I was pleasantly surprised, and so was my husband.  Until tonight, he was SURE he didn't like any kind of squash! 

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Greek Yogurt

Yogurt making has been on my to-do list for quite some time.  Yesterday I finally did it!  I found a good recipe on YouTube for making Greek yogurt (done by a Greek professor).  Here is the link to the YouTube video recipe.  http://youtu.be/5ZZAUqFqAnY  Note: I made a 1/2 batch of what he says in the video.

Here's how I did it:

Things you need
1/2 gallon milk
2-3 TBS. Plain yogurt with live cultures (check the label)
8 oz. Whipping cream (the liquid, not the fluff you put on dessert)
5 pint jars
Instant read thermometer
Crockpot (or other warm place for incubation)
A canning funnel might also be helpful

Before starting, preheat your jars and crockpot by filling them with warm water (like pictured above) and turning the crockpot on low until they are around 110-115 degrees, then turn it to 'Warm' or off.

1.  In a large pan, heat milk to 180 degrees F, stirring more and more as it heats up.

2.  Take the pan off the heat and put in an ice bath, stirring until cooled to about 110 degrees F.  I did this by putting ice and cold water in my kitchen sink and putting the pan in it.  It only took a couple minutes for the milk to cool down.  Take the pan out of the ice bath as soon as it reaches 110 degrees.

3.  Scoop out 1/2 cup of warm milk and stir 2-3 TBS of plain yogurt into it.  Then put the mixture into the large pan and wisk it in good.

4.  One at a time, empty the warm water out of your preheated jars and fill them with the warm milk mixture.  Place them into the warm-water crockpot.  Keep the temperature at 110 degrees for 4-5 hours.  Don't set the crockpot on low and walk away!  Keep the thermometer in the water and check on it from time to time, adjusting the heat and lid as needed.  (prep time up until this point was only about 20 minutes)  I did end up setting canning lids on the tops to prevent a milk film from forming.

5.  Do something fun while you wait for your yogurt to 'work'; something like, say, paint your nails like candycorn and watch The Wonder Years.  :-)

When the yogurt is set up, you will see it separate when you tip the jar.  Hopefully you can see that in this picture:

6.  Line a colander with coffee filters or clean t-shirt cloth.  Pour the yogurt into the colander, which should sit in a large bowl to catch the whey.  Note: if you use cheesecloth, you will likely loose some yogurt through the holes in the fabric.

7.  Let the yogurt strain for several hours until it reaches the thickness you like.  Greek yogurt is typically very thick and won't pour off the spoon when you turn it upside down.  I let my yogurt strain for 7 hours and it wasn't as thick as some Greek yogurt I've seen, but it was thicker than regular yogurt.  I has the consistency of sour cream.

8.  Put the yogurt into a bowl and stir well to even out the texture.  If it's too thick, stir in some of the whey until it's the consistency you like.  Store in a quart jar in the fridge.  Don't throw away the whey!  Store it in a jar in the fridge and add it to your baked goods for extra nutrients. 

Here is my finished product!  The whey is on the left and the yogurt is on the right.  It's a little tart for me to eat plain, so I like to add fruit, granola, vanilla, or whatever I'm in the mood for.  Try this sometime, if you haven't already.  It's not hard to do, and most of the work is done for you in the crockpot.  It's a great project for when the kids are at school or for the weekend.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Squint Your Eyes, You'll See...

How did this all begin?  My mom had a crockpot when I was a kid, and it looked like the one in the picture below.  I believe I remember one of the first times she used it, too.  We were sitting around the dinner table eating, and I noticed the pot sitting on the counter across the kitchen from me.  Maybe I forgot to wear my glasses that day, I don't know, but the label was puzzling to me.  I said, "Mom...what's a CROCH pot???"  .... .... I'm sure up until that point I had never uttered the word 'crotch' before, much less at the dinner table in front of my parents!!  Oy, the laughter and red faces... 

Anyway, my mom used the croCKpot for many meals when I was growing up and I thought it was neat how she could fill it with stuff, turn it on, and let it fix supper for her.  The only bad thing was the torture of smelling the delicious dinner WAY before it was time to eat.  I'm happy to continue the torture tradition with my own family and hope that they not only catch on to the concept but that they also read the label correctly.

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Pumpkin Bread Pudding

I'm starting this off with a concoction!  I was wanting to make bread pudding for breakfast, but while looking for a recipe I also came across a recipe for pumpkin pudding.  I compared the two and made my own recipe for pumpkin bread pudding.  It turned out pretty good and got good reviews from those of us who actually like pumpkin pie and can eat it without any toppings.  ('D' said he wouldn't like it unless it had whipped cream on it, and 'A' didn't like it at all, but he doesn't like pumpkin pie either.)  I admit the recipe doesn't have a 'wow factor' that makes me drool just thinking about it, and maybe some Cool Whip would do that for me (it always does).  You could also make a traditional bread pudding sauce to put over it.  The recipe could probably be adjusted and tweaked to make it a little better, and if I get around to doing that, I'll let you know what happens.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

10 slices of bread
1 15oz. can of pumpkin
1 cup milk
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 TBS melted butter
1 TBS pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp. vanilla
(add some nuts or raisins if you like them)

1.  Let the bread sit out to get stale, or put it in a warm (but off) oven for a while until it's a little crispy but still soft on the inside.  Cut it into cubes or rip it into pieces (depending on your mood).  Put the bread pieces in a greased crockpot.

2.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients and pour over bread pieces.  Stir gently to coat.

3.  Cook on LOW for 4-6 hours or until center temperature reaches 160 degrees F.

I used store-bought white bread (bleck!), but I think it would probably be even better with homemade bread or cinnamon raisin bread.  I put this all together late at night and turned on my crockpot at 11pm.  It was ready for my husband to eat at 5am. 

Try this recipe sometime and tell me what you think.  If you tweak it, please share!

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Amatuer on the loose!!

I'm new to this blog thing and feel a little lost.  I should probably do this with a clear head during daylight hours instead of late at night.  But what can I say....  I had to stay up late so I could turn my crockpot on for tomorrow morning's breakfast.  I know my way around a slow cooker, but not so sure about this blog.  Bear with me.  :)