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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