a "been-there" mom of six offers encouragement
to wives, young mothers, and those not so young,
and simple common-sense approaches to
the "ings" of life:
child-rearing (hints and helps), homemaking (all areas),
cooking (simple, cheap, and do-it-yourself)
making (toys and gifts), preparing (for the unexpected),
maintaining (sanity and peace in this increasingly crazy world) and more---
all aspects of making the most of making do on little---
and having fun in the process.

Friday, February 10, 2012

20 Tips for Making the Most of your Slow Cooker

Also called a crock pot, a slow cooker is one of the busy person's best tools. 

Don't miss the amazing "roasted" turkey
breast recipe at the end of this blog!

Slow cookers come in a wide range of sizes. Smaller ones are best for every-day use for singles, couples or small families. Large ones are terrific for cooking stews and big batches of soup.

Recommendations indicate a cooker should be at least half full, but no more than two-thirds full, when cooking. Occasionally I have had my 5-quart  filled almost to the brim. The results have been fine but since this is probably not the best way to get the most from the appliance, I don't recommend it.

20 Simple Hints for Maximizing Over-all Results

1. Greasing the pot with a vegetable oil product, when appropriate, will make clean-up easier.

2. Cook at the right temperature. High cooks foods about twice as fast as low. Often you choose high or low to fit your individual time restraints but I have found, for the most part, I prefer the slow, low temp., especially with meats.

3.  Some suggest it's a good idea to turn the cooker on high first to heat the ingredients through, then turn it down to low for the rest of the cooking time.

4.  High in a slow cooker is about 300 degrees F. and low is about 200 degrees F. This may help you if you are converting conventional recipes for the crock pot.

5.  Avoid the temptation to lift the lid when using a slow cooker. Amazingly with each lid lift, the temperature drops 10 to 15 degrees----and takes quite a while to regain the heat loss. The steam condensing on the lid lets you know the food is cooking evenly.

6.  Use less liquid if you are converting your stove-top soup and  stew recipes to the slow cooker. The cooker conserves liquid. Since little boils away, you don't need as much liquid. You will have to experiment at first and keep adjusting, if necessary, to find the suitable amount .  You can start out cutting the liquid by a quarter and if that is not enough, then a third.

7.  When the dish is fully cooked, if there is still too much liquid, remove the lid, turn the setting to high if it is not already, and let the mixture boil until it reduces to your liking.

8.  Use less-expensive cuts of meat. While they are less tender in regular cooking, the slow cooking makes them tender.

9.  For  the best color and flavor, you may want to brown meat and chicken in a skillet before placing in the cooker.

10. If your recipe calls for raw rice as an ingredient, increase the liquid called for by 1 cup for each cup of uncooked rice.

11. Cut vegetables into uniform pieces so that they all cook at the same rate.

12. Add ingredients in the following order for best results: Aromatic veggies, like onions, garlic and carrots, should go on the bottom of the cooker. Place meat and chicken on top of them.

13.Whole herbs and spices flavors hold up better than ground herbs and spices during the slow cooking process.

14. Canned beans work better than dried beans in a slow cooker. If using dried beans, they should be soaked for 10 minutes and pre-cooked for about 1-1/2 hours before adding to the cooker.

15. Lentils do not need pre-cooking and work well in a crock pot.

16. Pasta should be pre-cooked before being added to a slow cooker. You can cook the pasta the previous day, refrigerate and stir into soups or stews during the last hour of cooking.

17. Dairy products such as milk, cream, and sour cream should not be added until the last hour of cooking so that they don't curdle.

18. Hot drinks, like cocoa, wassail, or spiced cider can be made and/or served from your slow cooker. You can add the recipe ingredients to the cooker and heat them on low for 3 to 4 hours before serving ---- and then maintaining the temperature on low. Or, you can bring the drink just to the boiling point on the stove top and transfer it to the cooker for one hour on high before serving. Change the setting to low when it is time to serve.

19. Do not use a slow-cooker for reheating foods.

20. If you want to soak the interior of a crock pot before washing it, NEVER fill a hot crock pot with cold water.

This recipe for "roasted" turkey breast is amazing. It tastes just like the real thing. I first had it about 15 years ago. I couldn't believe it then and I still can't believe it now.
Simply . . .
buy a frozen turkey breast that will fit your crock pot. Thaw, wash and pat dry. Place breast side up and ribs down (as much as possible). Cook on low for 12 hours.  

That's all there is to it!

'til we eat again,
          Simply, Gail

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Simple Rocking Horse Cake to make.

Yesterday I posted the directions for making a Teddy Bear cake without a special pan.

Today it's a Rocking Horse cut from one 9x13 cake.

They are fun and simple to make.

This Hobby Horse cake is simply covered in fluffy white
frosting, sprinkled with coconut and dotted with
colored Life Saver candies.
 Note: If this cake was for a very young child I think M&M's or a softer candy                                            would be safer than the hard candies shown in the above photo.

A long, long time ago
I made a cake like this for Heidi's first birthday. 
This was the first time she had tasted cake                    
 (or cookies or anything sweet for that matter) 
so we weren't sure what her reaction would be.

  1. Cover a board or heavy cardboard (slightly larger than the finished cake will be) with aluminum foil.
  2. Bake a cake of your choice in a 9x13 inch cake pan.
  3. Remove from pan and let cool completely.
  4. Follow cutting directions   

Assemble cake on board using illustration above as your guide.

The saddle was made with a small amount of colored frosting. The reins are licorice strings.

All Gone!

'til we eat again,
          Simply, Gail

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Simple Teddy Bear Cake w/o special pan

Back in the day when our kids were young you couldn't buy shaped cake pans --- even if you wanted to!

We made them ourselves --- and so can you!

TEDDY BEAR -- whose tilt-ee head and cocky grin is just the look you gave to him

  1. Cover a board or heavy cardboard, a little larger than your finished cake will be, with aluminum foil. 
  2. Make cake mix or favorite recipe (for two layers)  as desired,dividing batter into one 9-inch square pan and one 8-inch round pan. 
  3. Bake as directed, and after removing from pans, let cool completely. 
  4. Place on covered board as shown on the left below.
  • Cut strip, one-inch from edge, down each side of square cake, and cut each strip into 4 equal pieces.
  • Using frosting of your choice, "glue" the pieces as shown in the illustration on the right to make the legs. 
  • Frost the cake with chocolate frosting. 
  • The bear in the photo is topped with white and chocolate* coconut. I have usually skipped the coconut used white and chocolate frosting instead.  
  • Half of a marshmallow is "glued" to each leg to make paws.
  • Use candies and licorice strings to make the claws and mouth. You can also use frosting for these.
*To make chocolate coconut:
  1. Melt 3 squares semisweet chocolate over low heat. Stir in 1 T shortening. Stir in 2 cups shredded coconut. Spread on wax-paper-lined cookie sheet. Let harden. 
'til we eat again,
          Simply, Gail

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Better-than-Store-Bought: Hummus

And lots cheaper!

Now that the Super Bowl is over it is time to find another reason to throw a party. And here is a great snack/dip for it.

Hummus is a popular/trendy Middle Eastern food dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas (garbanzo beans), blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic. 

Hummus: the 5-minute Chickpea Dip

1 15-ounce can chickpeas or garbanzo beans
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for serving
2 T fresh lemon juice
2 T tahini (sesame seed paste, optional)
1 tsp ground cumin
Kosher salt (regular should work)
1/4 tsp paprika

Drain the chickpeas, reserving liquid. In a food processor, puree the chickpeas and garlic with the 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon juice, tahini (if using), cumin and 3/4 tsp salt until smooth and creamy. Add 1 to 2 Tablespoons reserved bean liquid as necessary to achieve the desired consistency.

You can adjust the measurements as desired. Some prefer more garlic.

Transfer to a bowl. Drizzle with additional olive oil and sprinkle with the paprika before serving.

Serve with toasted chunks torn from pita pockets, chips, crackers or similar, as desired.

'til we eat again,
          Simply, Gail

Monday, February 6, 2012

QUICK and Zesty 5-Can Soup

Crock Pot or Not ---- Your choice!
Degree of "Heat" ---- Your choice!
Number of Servings ---- Your choice!

Healthy, Hearty, Low-Cal and Foolproof!

But I don't want to over-sell it!

1. Start with one each of the five pictured cans (15-16 ounces each).

2. Empty each, including their liquid into a pot or crock pot. (If using a crock pot -- you can cook it on high or low --whatever works for you.)

3. Add about 1/4 cup salsa --- more or less --- to taste.

4. Stir in 1 Tablespoon white sugar.

When ready to serve, ladle into bowls and top each as desired. Suggestions include: broken tortilla chips, grated cheese, sour cream, and/or ranch dressing. You can also add a brick of cream cheese when the soup is hot, and just a few minutes before serving, so it can melt.

Great for a crowd!

Easily increase number of servings by adding more cans to the pot!

Terrific reheated!

Thanks to Heidi for this great recipe.

'til we eat again,
           Simply, Gail