Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Breakfast the Slow Cooker Way

I wanted to try something new...well, I always enjoy trying something new, especially when it involves cooking! When looking through my new slow cooker cookbook, the breakfast section grabbed my attention.

It was interesting to read about the various hot breakfast cereals that you could make for the early morning meal, but the ones that caught my attention were the recipes for the steel cut oats. I heard of steel cut oats about 3 years ago, and wanted to try cooking them in the slow cooker, but I was never able to find them in the grocery store...but they were there, in the "healthy/organic" aisles! Anyway, when I was talking with my Mom about the steel cut oats, she said that she had some, and was not using could take them and have some fun with a new recipe! Yay! :)

I decided to try the recipe that included fruit and spices because I felt that it would be tastier than plain oatmeal. One potential problem that I had was that I was using a medium size slow cooker and the recipe called for a small size slow cooker. So, I was hoping that it would not be overcooked. I love the fact that this cookbook tells me what size of slow cooker that I would use for each recipe. I have a large oval slow cooker and a medium round slow cooker (don't you love the one that is pictured above! It is was my Gramma's!). I am trying to decide if I "need" to invest in a small size slow cooker...we will see...

Well, when I woke up the next morning, I was sad to see that Dawson had not tried any of the oatmeal! He later told me that he did not know if it was done or not - I was actually making it for him! Well, I tried it and I have to say that it tasted pretty good - you know, they way oatmeal tastes with raisins and spice cooked with it! Dawson tried it later and he liked it too - he said that it was nothing out of this world, but it's oatmeal and it was tasty. He did suggest that I try some other types of recipes with it too - and maybe make some baked oatmeal...although that is not a slow cooker breakfast! It was a little chewier than "regular" oatmeal, but not in a bad way, just different. If you like oatmeal, I think that you would enjoy steel cut oats in the slow cooker. I would definitely make it again. One thing that I like about making breakfast in my slow cooker is that my husband has a hot breakfast to eat in the morning - and so do the rest of us, and I don't have to wake up early to make it - it is already done!

Monday, October 25, 2010

What's In Your Freezer?

Do you know? Do you REALLY KNOW EVERYTHING that is in your freezer…or do you just have an “idea” of what is in there? Meat and veggies and who knows what else was bought when it went on sale at the grocery store, and then "thrown" into the freezer for a later meal...

I knew that I had some chicken, fish, veggies, fruit, maybe some shredded cheese, herbs and ravioli in my “inside” freezer…but, I did not know exact quantities. I decided that I needed to take an inventory of my freezer (like I did with my garage freezer) and reorganize it too. When I did this, I even found a few “surprises” in there - like some turkey soup that I made about a month ago!

Taking the inventory was really easy…although I had to be really quick when sorting through the food in the freezer, so that the food would not start to defrost! I used a free printable Freezer Inventory” form that I found on It is a really helpful and easy to use form. You just write down the item that you are placing in your freezer and the number of items - you document this with slash marks. Then, when you take it out, you make another slash mark, to make an “x”.

This form is going to help me to keep my freezers organized, and I can be sure that all of the food will be used and not lost! Check it out!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Anyone Really Can Cook!

I really believe that anyone can cook. You need to be able to read and follow directions, and if you can, then you will be able to place delicious meals on the table! The types of meals that you cook, is up to you! Find a cookbook (or cooking website) that you like and begin to experiment and have fun in the kitchen!

The other day, I made a chicken soup, black bean soup and apple sauce. That evening, my mom came over to watch Smiles for about an hour or so and she taste tested the different things that I made, and told me that I was a great cook! That made me smile. The chicken soup recipe was actually hers! I did not puree the whole entire soup base (like she does) - we like to have some chunks of carrots and celery to chew on while we are eating our soup. Did you know that if you do puree part of your soup, it makes your broth thicker? I have learned that probably in the past year.

Chicken Soup - This is such a delicious recipe! I tripled the recipe for this so that I could freeze it. I froze some of it in plastic storage containers and have read that if you place saran wrap over the top of your food before you freeze it, it will help to prevent crystals to form on the top of it. I also froze some of it using the freezer bag method, where you place the bag on a flat surface (like a jelly roll pan) and freeze it completely flat before storing it in another part of your freezer - this helps it maintain a flat shape and not some weird shape.

Black Bean Soup - I wanted to make a soup from my new slow cooker cookbook, and decided to try the recipe, Old-Fashioned Black Bean Soup. I am always a little excited and nervous when I try a new recipe…wondering how it will turn out. I left out the ham bone/ham hock, I did soak my beans overnight, and I did use the optional sherry in the recipe. My beans never came to a boil in the crock pot in the first hour, but I continued with the recipe anyway. To my delight, it was SO delicious! Dawson really enjoyed the taste and I made a second batch of it to share with my family when we watched football together on Sunday! It was a hit. I froze enough for two separate meals, with the freezer bag method.

Applesauce - Everyone should make this! It is SOOOO easy to make! There are a few different ways that you can make it (depending if you have a food mill or not). I do not have a food mill, so I peel the apples and then use my corer/slicer to chop the apples. I throw the apples into a huge pot and fill it to the top! Then I place about a half inch or so of water at the bottom of the pot and cover the pot, turn the heat to medium, wait until it boils, and then I turn the heat down a little bit so that it is simmering, stirring it now and then. After about 30 minutes or so (once the apples are mushy), I take it off of the stove and mash it with a potato masher, and there you have it - fresh homemade applesauce! YUM! You should try it! As you can see, I chose to use plastic containers to freeze the applesauce. The plastic bag method should work too, but for some reason, I wanted to freeze it in these 3 cup containers. This is the first time that I have frozen a lot of applesauce. I am excited that I will have homemade applesauce to feed to my family throughout the year! I think that I have made about 8 quarts of applesauce so far and I have MORE apples to process! I think that I will make some apple crisps to freeze too! :)

So, there you have it - 3 recipes that I have tried (ok, well only one recipe was new to me), have enjoyed and frozen part of that I can enjoy it on another day! One thing to remember - be sure to label anything that you are placing into your freezer - date and name of item. You don't want to try and figure out what mystery meat is in there or what mystery red tomato-y things are in there - I don't think that it is sauce! I have those tomato-y things defrosting in the refrigerator as I type in order to figure out what it is! :)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reading For "Pleasure"...

Recently, I have purchased about 6 (or more?) cookbooks! I found some great deals at our local bargain outlet and purchased cookbooks that were priced at $14-25 for about $3-7! What a steal! I love to read the intro to the cookbooks before I begin using them. I feel that it gives me an idea of what this chef/cook is thinking when they put the cookbook together, and I think that when I read it, it excites me to try some of the recipes, which is the point of buying the book!

I will probably jump around a little bit with the cookbooks that I am using, but I will be sure to let you know where the recipes came from. At the moment, I am mainly using three different cookbooks (with a few other recipes thrown in here and there!). Which cookbooks am I using? You will find out soon enough!

I hope that you enjoy my journey of trying new recipes and hearing honest reviews of each recipe that is featured. I try to capture my thoughts as I am prepping/cooking/serving the recipes. I have been writing my thoughts down in a paper notebook (and then transferring them here) and have been thinking…I think that I need to get a computer notebook or laptop or something that is easy to transport…any ideas of what I should get? Let me know!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What's For Dinner????

“There is no reason why dinner should not be on the table every night.” That is what I am thinking after surveying the amount of food (mainly meat) that I have purchased on great sales and have frozen in our freezer. However, I do find that it is not always easy to carve out the time to cook a healthy meal and have it ready by the time that Dawson comes home from work. Don’t get me wrong…I really enjoy cooking and I love to try new recipes and delicious recipes. In fact, I am not sure what recipes I really cook “a lot.” Well, maybe taco salad, since it is an easy meal to make with ground meat (turkey for my family!). However, time seems to get swallowed up and before I know it, the clock says 4:30pm…and I am not sure what I am going to feed my family! This does not happen all of the time, but since we started our 4 year old in soccer and preschool, it seems like it has happened more than ever before and I was tired of it and wanted it to change!

So, I have made strides in the past month to changing what has happened in the past. Writing out a menu for the week was not the only thing that would help me (and I really have not done that yet - that will come soon!). I needed to have meals that were already prepped and only needed to be cooked or reheated, and I am not referring to buying frozen or packaged meals. That is not the answer that I was looking for!

What I decided to start doing (again) is referred to as freezer cooking or once-a-month cooking (although I do not cook for the whole month!). There are many different ways to do this. You can plan and prep/cook the meals by yourself or with a friend or two. Cook for 1 or 2 days straight, or break it up into many days, maybe by simply doubling a recipe and freezing half of it for another day - whatever works for you. I decided that the best way for me to do this was by myself, plan the meals out with using a specific type of meat (either ground turkey, cooked chicken, boneless skinless chicken breast, etc), and cook each week or every other week, or whenever I felt led to cook or if the freezer is getting a little low! Some weeks I don’t only prep/cook the main course meal. I have also cooked/frozen apple sauce, muffins and healthy cookies. It has been fun, and I have begun to become more organized in dinner planning and prep. I am definitely inspired by the recipes and the process and my family has been enjoying the benefits of it…a homemade, delicious dinner every night!

What have I been making??? Stay tuned!