Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pumpkin Butter


It's Halloween.  Ghouls and goblins take to the streets extorting tricky treats from Monster Mashing neighbors.  Whether keeping the zombies at bay armed with treats, or on the sidewalk guarding the little monsters, why not treat yourself to this delectable Monster Mash and the heavenly aromatic delight which awaits. No trick, just a treat. You'll end up with a pantry full of delicious Pumpkin Butter, usable throughout the holiday season. Slather this on graham crackers or morning toast, pour over cream cheese, use a jar or two for pumpkin bread or an easy pumpkin pie. Delicious!


Winner, Loser or Meh 

Ever had delicious exquisite expensive pumpkin butter from a specialty store?  This is even better. Amazing, rich, addicting, wonderful.  It tastes like pumpkin caramel.  After filling 11 jars, my aunt and I stood at the counter eating it with a spoon and then slathered it on Wheat Thins and sent it out to the teens.

Recipe

Use a 6 quart crock pot for this recipe.  This was enough to fill eleven half pint jars with enough left over for immediate family snacking.You can also halve the recipe and use a smaller crock pot.

Ingredients:
  • 2  29 oz cans pumpkin (or you can use fresh pumpkin puree)
  • 4 cups white sugar
  • 4 cups dark brown sugar
  • 4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 8 tsp fresh ginger, peeled, grated (about a 3-4 inch finger of ginger)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
Spray crock with no stick spray. (I lined mine with a Reynolds Slow Cooker Liner and sprayed it) Combine all ingredients in crock-pot and stir to mix well. Cook on high for 3 hours, stirring occasionally (do not let it burn or stick) or else cook on low for 5 hours and don't worry about stirring. (that's what I did)  If the desired consistency has not been reached, then lift lid and let it cook down on high. It thickens as it cooks.

After it is done, fill 1/2 pint jars and seal.

Pumpkin Butter for Pumpkin Bread:

Use any standard Banana Bread recipe and substitute a 1/2 pint pumpkin butter for the banana.

Pumpkin Butter for 2 Pumpkin Pies

Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 pints pumpkin butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 12oz can evaporated milk, or cream or combination of sour cream and cream
  • 2 pie shells
Mix all together and pour into
  • 2 pie shells
Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes then turn the oven down to 350 degrees and bake for 45 minutes or until done.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ravioli


It's time once again for Thursday family Grey's Anatomy bonding night. Everyone has a jam packed schedule. My car is in the shop, family is helping with car related logistics, a kid has across town tutoring, a teenager has a mid-afternoon football game,  teens need shuttling to social events, adult jobs still need working, and Grey's needs watching.  What a crock!  This meal is the perfect solution.  It starts with 2 bags frozen ravioli, 2 jars uncomplicated marinara sauce, and bagged shredded Mozzarella  (all on sale).

The beauty of this dish: It requires short cuts and simplicity.  Complicating it will only result in disaster. It's true.  Fancier sauces turn the ravioli to mush. Fresh ravioli won't work, only frozen.  The optional saute step, is really optional (but it does makes things better, and only takes 10 minutes).  

Winner Loser or Meh

This was very good.  Everyone was happy.  It will go in the winner category because it is simple and can hang out in a warm crock for hours while people come and go and get a bowl.  This is perfect casual buffet fare.

Recipe

I used a 6 quart crock for this. You can halve this and use a smaller crock, too.

Ingredients:
  • 1 tsp olive oil (optional)
  • 1 medium onion, peeled, diced (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (you can use jarred) (optional)
  • 2 tsp dried Italian seasonings, or 2 Tbls fresh (I used dried) (optional)
  • 8 oz can tomato sauce (optional)
  • 3/4 cup red wine (I used the last of the Trader Joes 2 buck Chuck Merlot) (optional, but after this day, maybe not)
  • 2  26-28 oz jars marinara sauce (the simpler the better, just get one you like)
  • 2 pounds frozen small or medium ravioli, must be frozen. (I used Lucca's and Rosetti's)
  • 2 cups Mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • Italian hard cheese blend, grated or  Parmesan cheese, grated
In a large no stick skillet heat the olive oil and saute the onion and garlic until tender. Add seasoning, tomato sauce, wine and marinara sauce. Stir, remove from heat.  Spray crock with no stick spray.  Ladle a layer of sauce on the bottom of the crock to prevent sticking.  Layer 1/4 the frozen ravioli, 1/4 the sauce, and 1/4 the cheese.  Repeat 3 times.  Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours or high for 3-4 hours.  Serve sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pumpkin Dump Cake


Get ready to turn into a pumpkin. Pumpkin puree, a super food, low in calories, loaded with heart healthy potassium, and a rich source of skin brightening eye sharpening beta carotene is free! Sort of. Someone dumped 3 giant cans on my couch, and declared them up for grabs. I grabbed. For the rest of you, giant cans of pumpkin puree are on super sale everywhere right now. (Hint: Winco, less than $2).

Mission: Use the crock, sugar, and fat to counteract all this free healthy goodness and trick others into eating a 'healthy' treat. Our first trick and treat: Pumpkin Dump Cake. This tricky treat has one more step than a typical lazy dump cake, involving whisking and stirring a few ingredients in a bowl.  It's worth it.

Winner, Lower or Meh

Yummy, warm, comforting.  Basically, a pumpkin pie, pudding, custard, crumble all rolled into one. See!


I served this to family late last night, warm, with whipped cream.  No one complained.  This makes a lot and leftovers would be delicious, cold, for breakfast.  I'm about to have some right now.  This is wonderful cold! Tastes like a rich pumpkin pie.

Recipe

I used a 6 quart crock for this

Ingredients:
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 Tbls molasses
  • 1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
  • 3-4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup brandy (optional, thanks Jan)
  • 1 29 oz. can pumpkin puree
  • 1 boxed spice or carrot cake mix (I used carrot cake on sale for .88)
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
Spray crock with no stick spray.  In a large bowl, whisk first 8 ingredients together. Add pumpkin puree and stir to mix well.  Dump in the crock.  Pour cake mix over the top and spread evenly. Sprinkle nuts on top, evenly. Drizzle butter evenly over the top.  Take a clean dish towel or several paper towels and cover top of crock at the rim.  Cover and pull the edges of the towel taught and into the top center of the crock to serve as a moisture wick and improve texture. Cook on high for 3-4  hours or low for 5-6. (I cooked mine for 3)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Eggplant Parmesan



Break open the Chianti and turn up Dino, because we mangia mangia in Italia twice this week. Food Maxx and Foods Co. made offers which could not be refused.  Foods Co. had giant eggplants for $.57 a pound, Food Maxx had quality jarred pasta sauce for $.88, and shredded bagged Mozzarella for $1.35. I got 3 of everything. With prices like these, that's amore!

More time was spent on this crock than usual. Eggplant was salted, drained, battered and fried. Claims of my Italian heritage and the need for authenticity might impress you, but the reality of the added labors had more to do with Catholic guilt over not wasting eggs very close to their end date than any ethnic pride. Besides, everyone knows no self respecting Italian uses jarred sauce and pre-shredded bagged Mozzarella.

Winner, Loser or Meh

Bravo!  On second thought: Brava!  Afterall, this is an "egg"plant and I am a woman.  Wonderful, wonderful.  The unintended vino really added lovely depth of flavor.  I will make this again and always with the wine.  If you want to start this in the morning, before work, use a plug in lamp timer from the hardware store.  Turn the crock on low when you leave, but set the timer to turn on in the afternoon.  You will come home to a lovely hot meal and wonderful smells.  I did. 

Recipe

I used a 6 quart crock for this.

Ingredients:
  • 2 large eggplants, unpeeled, ends removed, cut into 1/2 inch rounds
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3 Tbls flour (I used the last of organic whole wheat from Winco, gluten free peeps can use other flours)
  • 1/3  cup seasoned bread crumbs (I used Winco bulk bin, gluten free peeps can use other crumbs)
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (I had about this much left over of Italian 3 cheese blend, so I used it instead)
  • 32 oz marinara sauce (the sale jars were only 26 oz, so I mixed in some old tomato paste that needed using and a generous splash of left over Merlot that needed using) 
  • 12 oz Mozzarella cheese, grated (3 cups)
  • olive oil
Place eggplant rounds in a bowl  in layers and salt each layer. Add cool water and let stand 30 minutes to drain bitterness.  Dry with hand towel or paper towels.  Heat oil in no stick skillet over medium high heat. In a flat bowl, mix eggs, flour and water. Dip eggplant slices in mixture, letting excess drip off.  Saute eggplant, in batches until brown on both sides. In a small bowl, mix  bread crumbs with Parmesan cheese.

Spray crock with no stick spray.  Spread a small layer of marinara sauce on the bottom evenly to avoid sticking. Layer 1/4 the eggplant, top with 1/4 of the crumbs, 1/4 of the marinara sauce and 1/4 of the Mozzarella cheese. Keep the cheese at least a 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the edge of the crock to prevent sticking.  Repeat to make four layers of eggplant, crumbs, sauce and cheese. Cover.  Cook on low for 4 to 5 hours.  Let cool a bit before serving so that the dish remains firm.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hummus


Store bought hummus? Forget about it. Hummus is cheap and easy to make with the crock.  Sure it takes time, but most of it doesn't involve you!  This recipe makes over a quart of delicious hummus, which keeps  for a week in a sealed container in the fridge.

Yes, you can save time by using canned garbanzo beans (chick peas), and ditching the crock.  It won't taste as good and will cost more.  This recipe requires nearly 2 cans worth of beans.  I bought my dried chickpeas from the Winco bulk bins for .19 cents.

My grocery store sells Sabra 7 oz hummus for $2.69.  This recipe makes 4 times as much.  Total cost for all batch ingredients $3.60.  Personal time spent making, storing, cleaning up and putting everything away, about 20 minutes.  Sabra and the store is charging $21.48 an hour to make this for you.  Even if you ditch the crock, make this with garbanzos from a can, Sabra and the store are charging you $15.48 an hour to make this.  Do the math. Then go make yummy hummus.

Winner, Loser, or Meh

This is delicious! Nutty flavor. Better than most store bought and restaurant hummus. It was divine after it sat overnight in the fridge while the flavors blended and softened. This version is tahini rich, to save more money, you can cut back on the tahini by about 1/4 and it will still taste delicious.

Warning/Orange Alert: To keep hummus from becoming a Hamas event, use jarred garlic or Roasted Garlic instead of fresh garlic cloves. Why? Every once in a while a bitter fresh garlic clove ruins everything.

Recipe

I used a 2 quart crock pot for this.  You can use a larger crock pot by putting a smaller oven safe container into the large crock pot and putting the water and chickpeas in it.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas, rinsed, and soaked overnight covered in 3 inches water in the crock
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed.  (I used a combination of Christopher's jarred pureed and fresh)
  • 3/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste - in peanut butter aisle)
  • 1 lemon, juiced, and more to taste
  • 1 lime, juiced (I only had one lemon and needed more, so his is what I used) 
  • paprika, cayenne, chili powder or sumac to sprinkle on top - your choice.
  • 2 Tbls chopped parsley (optional, I had some laying around)
  • Olive oil (flavored or plain) to drizzle on top
Rinse and drain the soaked chickpeas.  Put back in crock, add water to rise 3 inches above chick peas, add 1/2 the salt. Cover and cook on HIGH until they are soft and tender.  This takes about 12 hours. (mine took 3 hours longer because I only soaked the chick peas for 4 hours instead of over night).  You will know the chickpeas are done when they are soft, all the way to the center, hold their shape, but can be mashed.  Drain the liquid from the chickpeas and reserve it.  Let the chickpeas cool.

Add garlic and salt to a food processor and process to mince the garlic.  While the processor is running, add the tahini, then the lemon and/or lime juice until it changes color and forms a contracted doughy like lump.  Add one-half cup reserved cooking water and process until completely smooth.  Add the chickpeas to the processor with the paste mixture and process until smooth. Don't be afraid to let the processor run for a while.  Thin to desired consistency with reserved chickpea liquid. Adjust the seasoning with salt and lemon juice.  Serve, sprinkled with spices and parsley. Make a well or two with the back of a spoon and drizzle with olive oil.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Apple Butter


Allow me to share with you a small 24 hour glimpse into the grueling Saturday life of this Vegetarian Slow Cooker.  Life in the slow lane is not for everyone.  So buckle up and take notes.

10:00 PM Cut up apples and dump in crock with sugar. Remember not to turn it  on.

10:10 PM Watch missed episode of  Project Runway. File nails. Check email. Squish cellulite. Brush teeth. 11:08 PM Go to bed and stare at ceiling for several hours. 8:00 AM Wake up.  

8:01 AM Add a few spices to crock and (this was really hard) turn it ON.   

8:03 AM Go back to bed. 12:00 PM Wake up to the smell of cinnamon apples. Nuke a bowl of soup. Take shower. Change clothes.  12:30 PM Read multi-page flame war on internet bulletin bored/board and the 4 hyperlinks to previous related flame wars.  Read a strange blog. Wonder with righteous indignation where these people get the time to engage in such wasteful activities on the internet.  Secretly know that their homes must be pigsties. Think about dusting.  3:38 PM Take a nap.

4:45 PM Wake up. Grab stored Balsamic Caramelized Onions with Raisins and Pine Nuts, Chevre, and an apple from fridge. Head over to Mrs. "Tree Beard's" house. 5:00 PM Hang out at Mrs "TreeBeards". 5:30 PM Assemble pizza & bake it. Take pictures of pizza and eat it.  6:10 PM Talk about strange people who have no life.7:00 PM Drive home.

7:15 PM Take lid off crock pot and turn up heat.

7:16 PM Return an email.Write about my adventures with Mrs "Treebeard" and upload photos, while snacking. Think about making the bed. Decide to lie in it instead.

8:30 PM Turn off crock pot, start two pots of water on stove. 8:32 PM Lie down and rest. 

9:00 PM Grab box of canning jars and canning tools. Wash jars, lids, other implements and toss in hot water. Use an immersion blender to blend contents of crock. Wash immersion blender and put away.  9:06 PM Pour apple butter into clean jars and put on lids. Put jars of apple butter in boiling water on stove. Wash and dry all dishes, wipe down counters, put dishes away, sweep the floor, look at side reflection in window, consider a new hairstyle. Stand around for 4 minutes, bored.  9:25 PM Remove apple butter from hot water bath. Take pictures of finished apple butter. 9:30 PM Butter some bread, slather with apple butter that didn't fit in the jars and share with other house mates. Thank God that tomorrow is the sabbath and a day of rest.
    Winner, Loser or Meh

    This is great.  A true winner. Worth all the back breaking effort.  Wipes sweat from brow.  Note:  It is very important to keep the apples unpeeled.  The pectin in the skin is what makes the apple butter firm up. 

    Recipe

    I used a 6 quart crock for this.  This makes 4 pints of Apple Butter.I used 8  1/2 pint jars.

    Ingredients:
    • 6 pounds tart cooking apples, cored, chopped, unpeeled (I used Fujii's and Granny Smith's -organic)
    • 3  1/2 cups sugar or combination sugar and brown sugar (I used 3 cups sugar, organic pure cane and  1/2 cup dark brown sugar)
    • 3 tsps cinnamon
    • 1/4 tsp allspice
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    Spray crock with no stick cooking spray.  Layer apples and sugar.  Cover and let sit all day at room temperature, or overnight. The apples will have reduced in size and there will be a pool of apple juice at the bottom.  Add spices, stir.  Cover and cook on low for 9-11 hours.  Remove lid and cook on high for 1 hour or more until the apple butter is dark and getting thick.  Use an immersion blender to blend smooth.  It becomes thicker when refrigerated.

    This makes about 4 pints and then some.  That which will not be used immediately, may be canned, and processed in a hot water bath for shelf storage.  This also freezes well.

    Sunday, October 25, 2009

    Balsamic Caramelized Onions with Raisins & Pine Nuts



    This wonderful madness is a version of Stephanie O'Dea's crock pot adaptation of  Cooking Light's January 2008 Sweet & Sour Caramelized Onions.  After eating the  pictured bowlful, there is about a pint of oozing gooey deliciousness left. Suddenly, I have a vision of a pizza made with caramelized onions, goat cheese, basil, and apples or pears all drizzled with the balsamic sauce. There is no oven. Even if there is an oven, who has the energy to make a batch of bread machine pizza dough?  Not me. (Note: for complete sensory emotional impact start humming "That's What Friend's are For" now.)

    "The Vision"




    Here's to you, Mrs. "TreeBeard"


    Mr. "TreeBeard" (his chosen user name) and friends are still at Nerd Fest imagining they are being "harrassed" (sic) by women of science everywhere who desire their "essense" (sic).  Mrs. "TreeBeard",  blissfully alone with the children for the last 3 days, has mentioned, at least 3 times, that she loves caramelized onions.  She has an oven, a bread machine, fresh garden basil, very cool canning implements and a wicked cardamon pod stash.  Hmmmm... Cardamon and canning tools are needed later this week... but I digress.   Calls are made.  I arrive with the onions, a leftover Fujii apple, and an 8 oz log of Chevre.  I leave satisfied, tummy full of pizza, with a bag of cardamon pods and some much needed canning implements. Now, that's what friends are for.

    Winner, Loser or Meh

    Too.Good.For.Words. Don't think this will stop me.  Here are some words.  Fabulous!  These are great all by themselves, as a holiday side dish, or as a pizza topping.  If you don't have the time, energy, or any friends who can help you with pizza, don't worry.  Just make yourself a little appetizer of these onions over goat cheese and Roasted Garlic slathered crostini.  I'm noshing on some right now.

    Recipe

    I used a 6 quart crock pot for this, but anything 4 quarts or more will work.

    Ingredients:

    • 2 large Vidalia onions (or other sweet onion), peeled, chopped into 1/8ths OR 30 oz pearl onions, end chopped, peeled  (this takes more time than any self respecting crack pot crock potter can handle, so just use the Vidalias)
    • 2 Tbls balsamic vinegar
    • 1 Tbls sugar
    • 1/4 tsp salt (I used Kosher)
    • 1/4 tsp pepper
    • 1 Tbls butter
    • 1/4 cup pine nuts
    • 1/2 cup raisins
    Dump it all in the crock, stir. Cover.  Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 7-8.  Stir every hour or so.  (I did mine on high for 4 hours.)

    Saturday, October 24, 2009

    Mushroom Barley Stoup



    Mother Unit sent in yet another "must make this into a crock pot version" stove top recipe.  So far, she has not been wrong, yet.  The original stove top version had more steps than an episode of Dancing with the Stars.  I needed a nap after reading it.  In my universe, anything with that many steps is either a crock in the making or it will never get made.  So this is my crock pot adaption of Cynthia's stove top adaptation of Rhona Stoneback's Best Mushroom Barley Soup. This adaptation has only two steps and requires no rhythm.  Any naps are entirely optional and most certainly not needed. Promise.

    Winner, Loser or Meh

    Hearty, flavorful, and stoupy thick. It tastes high calorie and it is not.  This was so good I did a two step in my kitchen after the first bite. With this performance, I don't think I will get voted off this week.  Winner!

    Recipe

    I used a 4 quart crock for this but anything 4 quart or above would work.

    Ingredients
    • 1 cup raw pearl barley, rinsed, drained
    • 7 cups vegetable stock (boxed is okay, too, just watch the salt)
    • 1 tsp salt (watch the salt if your stock has sodium, mine doesn't)
    • generous amount of ground pepper
    • 3-4 Tbls dry sherry (I used 4)
    • 3-4 Tbls soy sauce (I used 4)
    • 3 Tbls butter or oil (I used butter)
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced (I used Christopher's jarred)
    • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled, diced
    • 1 pound mushrooms, sliced and diced (I used brown)
    Place the first 6 ingredients in the crock pot.  Using a large no stick skillet heat the butter or oil over medium high heat.  Add onion and garlic and saute until softened.  Add mushrooms and saute until moist and they begin to give up their liquid. Pour this mixture and all liquid into the crock.  Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4-5 hours.

    Friday, October 23, 2009

    Pineapple Cherry Upside Down Dump Cake


    Thursday night dessert time.  I already know this will be sweet, unhealthy, trashy, and cheap.  I can think of no better compliment for tonight's organic, healthy, soupy, World Famous (no longer), Black Bean Chili.  Any mother will appreciate the nutritional thoughtfulness of dinner, and all children in attendance will forgive me for it because I brought this for dessert.

    For those of you too healthy to have experienced a classic non crock dump cake, let me explain the concept.  Beginning with a greased cake pan, dump in any canned fruit fillings, dump any boxed cake mix on top, dump butter chunks on top of that, bake and voila!  The "voila" part is optional, however it does make things all French and stuff, so it must make it taste better, too.  The concept is identical in a crock.  It just takes longer to cook.

    Winner, Loser or Meh

    This was delightfully wonderful.  Easy and cheap, too.  Don't expect it to be a real cake, it isn't supposed to be.  It is like a crumble or a crisp.  Major winner.

    Recipe

    I used a 6 quart crock for this.

    Ingredients:
    • 1  can crushed pineapple (.78)
    • 1  20 oz can cherry pie filling (I used "lite" on sale for 1.98)
    • 1  yellow boxed cake mix (on sale for .88)
    • 1/2 cup butter (my stick of butter was about .50) or margarine for vegans
    Spray crock with no stick spray.  Dump canned pineapple in crock, smooth evenly.  Repeat with cherries.  Repeat with cake mix. (Do not stir this) Cut butter into slices and dot them evenly on top so that the surface is covered.  Take a few paper towels or  a small cloth towel (I used a towel) and put over top of crock.  Cover and pull towel taught and bring all edges into the center of the lid so as not to touch any heating element.  (This is optional, but serves as a moisture wick for better texture).  Cook on high for 2-3 hours.  Serve.

    Thursday, October 22, 2009

    Black Bean Chili -Tassajara Greens (Not)


    The Greens restaurant in San Francisco is world famous. They have served organic, locally grown, delicious vegetarian fare decades before such things were considered hip or PC.  Their produce is grown at the Tassajara Zen Center's Green Gulch Farm. The Black Bean Chili is considered a masterpiece.  The Greens' Chili recipe, inspired a crock pot conversion in Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, which I have slightly tweaked. 

    I won't lie.  This is step intensive and takes some time.  Remarkable, considering this involves me and a crock pot.  So why bother?  It's cheap and it's Thursday family bonding night. This week, two families are being switched (potentially combined) while the men are off having giddy adventures at an annual nerd convention.  Envision middle aged men wearing geeky goofy science T-shirts, making obscure big bang theory puns, while downing shots of Jack Daniels, and giggling like teenage boys.  All wives are secure in the knowledge that no woman would consider seducing them and confident that their husbands wouldn't notice even if one tried. This dinner is for all weekend science widows and the children, left behind.  They deserve it.

    Winner, Loser or Meh

    I am not so sure they deserved this.  This is just okay, more of a soup than a real chili. It is not like a soup when served at Greens. I think the converted recipe called for too much water over the beans for the first round of cooking.  I even put the whole batch on the stove and cooked it down for another hour and I still couldn't get this to a true chili consistency.

    Recipe

    I used a  6 quart crock for this.  It makes a lot.  

    • 1 pound dried black turtle beans, picked of stones etc, soaked overnight in water, in crock, to cover.
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 1 Tbls plus 1 tsp ancho chili powder (sold in cheap bags in Hispanic sections of US western markets)
    • 2 tsp New Mexican hot chili powder (sold in cheap bags in Hispanic sections of US western markets)
    • Tbls cumin seeds
    • 2 tsps paprika
    • 1/2 tsps cayenne pepper
    • 1 tsp dried marjoram or oregano (I used marjoram)
    • 3 Tbls olive oil
    • 1 yellow onion, peeled, chopped fine
    • 1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, chopped fine
    • 4 cloves garlic chopped or 4 tsp jarred (I used Christopher's jarred)
    • 1 Tbls plus 1 tsp canned jarred chipotle chili in adobo sauce (sold cheap in Hispanic sections of US western markets - I used some from my friend's fridge stash)
    • 1 14 oz can diced tomatoes with liquid
    • 1 tsp salt (or more, to taste)
    • 1 Tbls rice wine vinegar
    • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
    • Muenster cheese, shredded for serving
    • Sour cream, for serving  (I used light)
    • chopped cilantro, for serving
    Discard water from the soaked beans. Add chili powders and bay leaf, cover with water, 3 inches above beans. (This should have been much much less water) Cook on high until slightly tender, about 2 1/2 - 3 hours. (after this I put mine in the fridge for 24 hours, but you can just keep going if you want).

    Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add cumin seeds, paprika, cayenne, and marjoram.  Stir while toasting.  Wait for a fragrance to come up from the pan and look for the seeds to be darker.  Put in small bowl, and use a spoon bottom against sides and bottom of bowl to mash spices into a coarse powder. (You could use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, but I don't have one)

    Heat the oil in the skillet and saute the onion, green pepper, and garlic until soft and starting to brown.  Add coarse ground spices. Stir. Pour skillet contents into crock along with chopped chipotle chili  and stir. Cover and cook on low for 8-9 hours.  Add tomatoes and salt, cook uncovered on low for another 1-2 hours. At the end, add cilantro. Stir. Serve.

    To serve:  Put cheese in bottom of bowls, add a scoop of finished chili, top with sour cream & cilantro.

    Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    Chai Latte Concentrate - Oregon Chai Copycat


    Yesterday, was a work related stress festival. Today was busy squared. It called for crock pot lite.  How hard could it be to dump spices and water in a crock, let it rip all day, add tea bags, and end up with Chai?  Confession: I have never had Chai.

    A Mother Unit loves Chai.  She loves one brand so much that Offspring Units and Father Unit go on serious shopping expeditions to find the best deal on Oregon Chai Latte Concentrate (OCC).  I Google in vain to find a basic OCC spice list.  Other official crock pot Chai latte recipes are found, one by a published author.  No one raves about these.  Even published author admits hers is lousy.  Every crock recipe found has milk and tea in prolonged simmers. I roll my eyes.  Tea gets bitter when it steeps too long, and milk in the crock is a major cooking foul.  Even I know this.

    Research continues.  Several conventional non-crock recipes are found. Each has different spices.  No liquid to spice ratios are similar.  A recipe by user name: "snob guy" is selected.  Ingredients are located and tossed in crock. Assembly: Less than 2 minutes.  Research: More than 3 hours.  Frenzied working to meet a real job deadline occurs because of time lost spinning wheels over Chai recipes. Hours later, during conversation with Mother Unit, the Chai project is mentioned. OCC research attempts are casually recounted.  Mother Unit says, "Oh, I have that recipe."

    Silence.

    An email forward is received with "Paul's" purported OCC copycat recipe.  A comparison reveals "snob guy's" is not even close. "Paul's" copycat recipe is cheaper and simpler (if that is even possible).  The universal appeal of OCC is immediately apparent:  Honey Sugar Baby Palooza!  More Chai is started in another crock.  A 24 hour market receives a crazy sum for a box of OCC to be used in comparison taste tests.  Hours later, there is a taste test. Spot on. 

    Tomorrow I will hunt, shoot, dress out, and butcher a buck.  I will make Venison Wellington with puff pastry made from scratch.  Dessert will include hand crafted spun sugar bird nests inhabited by assorted varieties of wild birds fashioned from homemade marzipan, air brushed for detail.  Tomorrow compared to today will be "lite".

    Winner, Loser, or Meh

    If you love Oregon Chai Latte Concentrate, you are going to love this.  If you love to save money, you are going to love this. I love this.  It's my new favorite drink for the winter.

    My cost per quart: $1.46.
    OCC Walmart cost per quart: $3.25
    OCC 24 hour grocery store cost per quart: $4.25

    Note: My spices are alphabetized. My pantry is very organized. It saves serious time. Always.

    Personal time spent assembling, straining, doing dishes, and storing batch:  10 minutes (actually less).
    How much is Walmart and OCC charging to provide boxed convenience: $10.86 per hour.
    How much is 24 hour grocer and OCC charging  to provide boxed convenience: $16.86 per hour

    Recipe:

    I used a 1 1/2 quart crock pot for this

    Ingredients:
    • 4   1  1/2 inch slices fresh peeled ginger, use vegetable peeler for the slices.
    • 2   2 inch cinnamon sticks (I get mine in bulk bins)
    • 8   whole cloves (I get mine in bulk bins)
    • 15-20 green cardamon pods or 2 heaping demitasse spoons powdered cardamon (I used pods from bulk)
    • 2    6 inch vanilla beans, cut into 1 inch pieces OR 2 cap fulls non alcohol vanilla extract (I used extract & 1/2 a very ancient dried petrified vanilla bean )
    • 10   twists nutmeg mill or 2 dashes of nutmeg (I used nutmeg mill)
    • 2    Tbsps sugar, heaping (I used organic pure cane)
    • 1/2 cup honey (I used organic clover)
    • 4   cups water
    • 6   Bigelow Darjeeling Blend tea bags, or other black tea bag (I used Tetley Decaf - Do I sound like a woman who needs more caffeine?)
    Put everything except the tea bags into the crock pot.  Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 7-8 hours (I cooked for 3 1/2 hours on high). After long simmer, if heat is not on high turn to high.  Add tea bags.  Let steep for 5-10 minutes. Remove tea bags and press with spoon to get all water out.  Pour crock contents over strainer into 1 quart resealable beverage container.  Add water to make 1 quart.  This will get you what comes in the box pictured above.  Serve (see below) or store in fridge.
    • Milk, full fat, 2%, 1% or soy, whatever turns you on (I used organic 1%)
    To make iced or hot Chai Latte, add equal parts concentrate to milk and serve over ice or heat in microwave or use conventional steamer.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    Brown Basmati Rice


    Time for a crock o' rice!  I'm starting with brown Basmati rice.   We'll do other rice later.  There is  loads of yummy Cream of Mushroom Soup, Thai Tofu Vegetable Curry, and the famous Tassajara Greens Black Bean Chili is scheduled for Thursday's family bonding night.  All things made even better with rice.

    I used a crock rice chart for this.  I posted it in a "Tips" entry. I dusted off  the old single setting 1 1/2 quart crock and tried the smallest amount first.  If it tanks, not as much to chuck.  If it works, I have 4 single serving meals worth of rice.  The small crock insert fits nicely in the fridge. No dishes until it is all gone!

    Winner, Loser or Meh

    This was not terrible.  It was great the next morning out of the fridge. I will not be a snob about making rice like this.  I will be a snob about serving it to company. I have read horror stories about crock rice.  The common plot involves gummy sticky on the outside, still crunchy on the inside.  I got a tiny bit of gummy, and chewy on the inside.  This took 3 hours, not 2 1/2 as called for in the recipe.

    I served it with a scoop of Cream of Mushroom Soup and salt and pepper.  No complaints.

    Recipe

    I used a single setting 1 1/2 quart crock pot for this.  It's only setting is high.
    See Tips: White & Brown Rice - Unconverted

    Ingredients
    • 1 cup unconverted brown Basmati Rice, rinsed (I used organic from the bulk bins at Winco)
    • 2 cups water (you could also use broth)
    • 1 Tbls butter (you could also use oil)
    Dump it all in the crock. Cover and cook on high for 2 1/2 hours.  Salt & pepper to taste. Serve.

    Tips: White & Brown Rice - Unconverted


    If you don't have a rice cooker, stove, or time to make stove rice, you are supposed to be able to  make it in the crock.  Alleged advantages to crock rice are one pot cooking and storage.  Below is a chart and below that will be links to experiments  testing the chart.

    Risotto is made with aborrio rice, which is a very unique rice grain.  You can make fabulous risotto in the crock, but the chart below does not apply to it.  There will be a separate risotto tip section, when I start to feature  risotto dishes throughout the year.  

    Here is a conventional table from a well known crock cook book for cooking unconverted rice in the crock. Brown rice is supposed to do better.  According to the author, white rice may (or may not depending on the grain) become gummy or mushy.  Slow cooked rice requires less water than regular rice cooking methods because there is less evaporation. The butter/oil keeps the grains from sticking together if it is a non sticky grain of rice.

    Note:  This chart may need adjusting for times or liquids depending on what brand and size of crock you have.  The chart is simply a starting point.  I will blog about my adventures with rice to confirm or deny the validity of this standard chart.

    White Rice
    • 1 cup rice + 1 3/4 cups water or stock + 1 Tbls butter/oil  @  1 1/2 hours high = 4 servings
    • 2 cups rice + 3 1/3 cups water or stock + 2 Tbls butter/oil  @ 2 hours high = 8 servings
    • 3 cups rice + 4 1/4 cups water or stock + 3 Tbls butter/oil  @ 2 1/4 hours high = 12 servings
    Brown Rice
    • 1 cup rice + 2 cups water or stock + 1 Tbl butter/oil @ 2 1/2 hours high = 4 servings
    • 2 cups rice + 3 2/3 cups water or stock + 2 Tbl butter/oil @ 3 hours high = 8 servings
    • 3 cups rice + 4 3/4 cups water or stock + 3 Tbl butter/oil @ 3  3/4 high = 12 servings
    Photo from the Golden Rice Project.

    Blog Rice Results to Date:

    Attempt 1: Brown Basmati Rice
    Attempt 2: White Pearl Rice (Sticky Rice)
    Attempt 3 Brown Pearl Rice
    Attempt 4 White Basmati Rice

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    Thai Tofu Vegetable Curry


    I'm not really a glutton for punishment.  I swear.  So you ask:  Why attempt a modification of yet another chicken based Rachael Ray slow cooker curry just because another published cooking author swears it works with tofu?  Because I bought all the ingredients for both recipes at the same time.  (See previous Indian Tofu Curry debacle). Thanks to Debbie Meyer Green Bags, all produce is still looking good nine days later.  If this is an epic fail, there are plenty of darling alarmed Thai baby pictures I can share.

    Knowing the last curry recipe was beyond bland, I ramped up the spices significantly, swapped out a yam for a sweet potato, and crisped the tofu first so it wouldn't suck up all flavor, leaving nothing for the veggies. The tofu crisping step wasn't a big effort.  It sizzled away while I washed, chopped, and stirred everything else.

    Winner, Loser or Meh

    This is good.  At first I thought it was just OK. That was three small bowls ago.  Burps. Wipes mouth.  I didn't wait to make rice and add all the optional serving items to it.  I just wanted another bowl. This will be lunch all week, with the optional serving items  A house guest (not mine) came out of her room, smelled it, and wanted some.  She is smiling, too.  I'll make this again.

    It's easier than it looks.  I cooked it for 3 hours on high. I like veggies to taste like they were stir fried. 

    Recipe

    I used a 6 quart crock for this.
    See Tips: Crisping Tofu

    Ingredients
    • 1 package extra firm tofu, cut into cubes, pressed of fluid, dried (I used Trader Joe's Organic)
    • 2 Tbls peanut oil
    • 1 Tbl cornstarch
    • 1 13.5-oz can coconut milk (not lite)
    • 2 Tbls brown sugar
    • 2 Tbls soy sauce
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced ( I used Christopher's jarred)
    • 1 inch ginger, peeled minced
    • 2 Tbls Thai red or green chili paste, more or less to taste (I used red and this amount was very mild)
    • 1 yellow onion, peeled, chopped
    • 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, chopped
    • 1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, chopped
    • 1/2 large eggplant, unpeeled, chopped
    • 1 yam (not a regular sweet potato), peeled chopped
    Optional serving accompaniments
    • White rice
    • 1 lime, cut into wedges, to garnish
    • 2 scallions, thinly sliced, to garnish
    • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, to garnish
    • 1/2 cup chopped basil, to garnish
    Heat oil in a large no stick skillet over medium high heat. Take dried, pressed, tofu cubes and place in Ziplock bag with cornstarch. Toss to coat evenly. Place tofu into skillet and allow one side to get a brown crust (do not turn, until brown, this will take 10 minutes per side, at least).

    While the tofu is cooking, stir coconut milk, brown sugar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and chili paste, into the bottom of the crock. Adjust seasonings to taste. While tofu is cooking wash and cut all vegetables. Then add the browned tofu pieces to the crock sauce to coat them.  Add vegetables to the top. Cover and cook on low for 5-7 hours, or on high for 3-4 hours. This is done when the vegetables have reached desired tenderness.

    Tips: Crisp Tofu

    For crisp on the outside, smooth on the inside tofu, use the following technique.

    Recipe:

    Ingredients:
    • 1 lb block extra firm tofu (I use Trader Joe's Organic - nothing else have been even close)
    • 1 Tbls corn starch
    • 2 Tbls butter, or oil
    Cube the tofu or slice tofu into 1/4 inch slices.   Wrap them in a towel or paper towels in a single layer.  Put flat item on top of the towel to cover.  Weight this down with cans, or something else from the pantry for about on hour. Put tofu and cornstarch into a quart sized zip lock bag.  Shake until tofu is evenly coated with cornstarch.   Heat skillet with oil or butter over medium high heat.  Fry tofu until each side is nicely brown.  This will take some time, about 20-25 minutes to brown both sides. Do not turn the tofu until each side is well browned.

    Sunday, October 18, 2009

    Cream of Mushroom Soup


    I love cream of mushroom soup loaded with meaty mushrooms, not in a can.  I tried a stove top version in a crock pot.  I broke the cardinal rule.  I used  regular dairy instead of condensed milk. To lessen the risk of disaster, I used all cold liquids, including stock.  I kept the cooking time short and the temperature low. This soup won't work as an 8 hour all day simmer while you work. Don't even try it. This is best left for a lazy weekend.


    The original recipe called for cream and full fat sour cream.  I modified it and used  more flour, half and half, and light sour cream.  Don't kid yourself, even with these changes, this is not a low calorie soup.  I don't care.  Do you?

    Winner, Lower or Meh

    I like this soup.  Next time, I might add more salt and garlic. I love garlic.  I think I will be eating this with crusty rolls and left over Roasted Garlic. Did I mention I love garlic?

    Recipe

    I used a 6 quart oval crock for this.

    Ingredients
    • 1/2 cup butter
    • 6 cups sliced mushrooms (I used brown & white)
    • 1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
    • 1/2 cup plus 3 Tbl flour (I used organic whole wheat)
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
    • 15 twists nutmeg mill or 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    • 5 1/4 cups vegetable stock (boxed is okay, too.)
    • 2 cups half-and-half
    • 2 cups light sour cream
    • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
    Melt butter in large no stick skillet over medium heat. Add onions and mushrooms. Saute until  vegetables are  tender, about 10-12 minutes. Sprinkle flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg over vegetables. Stir and blend.  Whisk, stock, half and half, sour cream in bottom of crock. Add vegetable mixture to crock and whisk gently to blend well.  Cover. Cook on  low 4 hours. Stir in parsley. Cook on high, uncovered for 1 hour or longer, stirring occasionally, until it is the desired consistency.  Serve.

    Saturday, October 17, 2009

    Caramel Apples


    A vegetarian family has invited me over for crock pot Minestrone Stoup from the first recipe ever appearing here. How cool is that? So cool  I want it to happen again and again.  As the guest, I will bring super duper amazing yummy delicious crock pot goodies that will make you (and hopefully them) love me even more!  If my master plan succeeds, Vegetarian Slow Cooker fellowship love will multiply faster than fishes and loaves, only it will be better because we live in times of sugar and indoor plumbing. 

    I'm bringing caramel apples.  My friends have children.  I'm hoping to make hero.  It's my old age fall back plan.  When I am ancient they will remember this night so fondly, they will want to have me over for dinner when I am on social security. I'm a long range planner.

    I followed the recipe on the back of the caramel bag.  It didn't say anything about a crock pot.  That didn't stop me.  I just put both ingredients in the crock.   The bag came with 5 popsicle sticks.  There was enough caramel for 6 apples and there will be 6 of us, so I used a chopstick for the last apple.  Apples were on sale.  So was the caramel.  It  doesn't getter much better than this.

    Winner, Loser, or Meh

    I'm happy.  No. Wait. I am unhappy.  Over the course of several hours, the  caramel slid almost completely off the previously gorgeous caramel apples.  I may not make hero.  I may have to buy something pre made to save face,or else scrape all the caramel off the parchment and dump it back into the crock and serve double dipped apple caramel fondue.

    Recipe

    Use a small crock pot for this.  I used a very small older single heat setting model. 

    Ingredients
    • 1 14 oz bag caramels (try and get bags that come with sticks, usually just before Halloween)
    • 2 Tbls water
    • 6 medium firm apples, washed, stems removes, sticks inserted 2/3 into blossom end of apple (the end that never had the stem)
    Unwrap the caramels and place in the crock.  Add water. Cover and cook on high for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Stir so that there are no lumps.   Put parchment on a cookie sheet and spray with no stick spray.  Dip each apple into the caramel and use a spoon to pour caramel onto the apple top, while swirling the apple in the caramel.  Use a knife to swipe caramel from the underside of the apple.  Place finished apple on parchment.  Repeat for each apple.  The last apple will take lots of spooning to cover completely, and look lumpy, but this will smooth out when cooling. Let cool for 2 hours at room temperature.  Store at room temperature and serve within 3 days.

    For easy clean up, fill crock with warm water, let cook for 30 minutes. Stir to loosen remaining caramel before cleaning the crock.

    Friday, October 16, 2009

    Pear Brown Betty


    It's time for the weekly Grey's Anatomy family bonding report.  I brought a double batch of Split Pea Soup, hoping to make up for last week's underwhelming Roasted Corn Chowder.  In keeping with  my dinner and dessert for $10 theme, the soup came in at $6, thanks to homemade Vegetable Stock.  This left $4 for dessert.  I wanted a fruit dessert.  Pears and lemons were on super sale last week.  I got 2 lemons and 8 pears (cheaper than apples, or this would have been Apple Brown Betty)  at Winco for around $2 - Yes, you heard that right, $2 (pats self on back).  That left me  $2 for butter, sugars, and a brioche loaf.  Not. Doable.Ever.  Unless... I make a Bread Machine Brioche.  Okay... I am too tired for that. I am over budget by $3.50.

    Never fear.  Since pears and lemons were cheap, I will apply Blondie/Dagwood accounting principles to make this a $10 dinner/dessert.  Here's how it works: Imagine really hard there will be leftovers that can be used for breakfasts and lunches... imagine... imagine... keep imagining.  Suddenly, dinner is actually LESS than $10.  Basic Blondie Accounting Tip:  Do all imagining before dinner is made.  Do not let potential reality (like maybe there won't be leftovers)  factor into your equation.  Advanced Blondie Accounting Tip: Buy a bread machine to "save money " and "time." Make Bread Machine Brioche.  Special thanks to Mother Unit for teaching me extremely useful Platinum Blondie Accounting Skills.  Now if only I could find myself a willing Dagwood.

    Winner, Loser or Meh

    This was good.  Not overly sweet.  I made 1" bread cubes instead of the 1/2" bread cubes called for in the recipe. This would be better with 1/2 & 1/2 or cream poured all over it.   It tasted better cooled to room temperature. It was best, cold the next day.

    The cooking time for Pear Brown Betty is short, so this was assembled right before dinner. It's labor intensive. It took me 30 minutes, and I am beyond efficient.  I think this would taste better  and be easier with a crumble topping, like the one in Peach Crumble.  Actually, this should be an Apple Crumble. Now that I know this, I will make Apple Crumble next week, Dagwood.

    Recipe

    Use a large round or oval crock pot for this.

    Ingredients:
    • 1 lb fresh brioche bread, crusts removed, cut into 1/2" cubes
    • 10 Tbls butter, melted, slightly cooled (I used the microwave)
    • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
    • 1/2 cup sugar (I used organic pure cane)
    • 1 Tbl whole wheat flour
    • 2 tsps cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp allspice
    • many twists grated nutmeg (see: very cool ultra cheap nutmeg mill
    • pinch of ginger
    • 8 pears (or apples), firm, peeled, cored, cut into thick slices (I used Bartletts)
    • 3 Tbl lemon juice - This was the juice from 1 /2 lemons (I used the other 1/2 on yesterday)
    • 1/4 cup apple, pear juice or water (I used water, Dagwood)
    Spray cooker with no stick spray. Using a very large no stick skillet, toast the bread crumbs on medium low until brown and dry. (use could do this in the oven on a cookie sheet, if you have an oven, I don't right now)  Remove pan from heat. Pour melted butter into the pan and stir to moisten the bread. After the pan has cooled, add the sugar, flour, and spice to the pan and toss to coat. In a large bowl, toss the pears with the lemon juice.

    Put 1/3 bread in the cooker. Layer with 1/2 pear mixture, pour over liquid, layer 1/2 remaining bread on top of this, layer the remaining pears, then layer with remaining bread mixture. Cover and cook on high until the fruit is tender. 2 - 2 1/2  hours. Serve hot or else cooled to room temperature with cream, whipped cream or 1/2 & 1/2.

    Crock Not: Nutmeg Mill



    I  love my handy dandy Nutmeg Mill.  It cost about $3 and came with nutmeg in it. I use it to grate nutmeg on lattes and mochas.  I also use it for all recipes on Vegetarian Slow Cooker that call for nutmeg.  I refill mine from the bulk bins at Winco.

    You can find these mills in the spice section of almost any grocery store.  OR you can sit in your chair, use the Amazon links on this site, buy it from Amazon, and we get money for more site adventures. Yes we do!

    If you decide to shop in your chair, cut and paste:  Drogheria & Alimentari All Natural Spice Grinder Nutmeg, this will make it easy to find.  Make sure to use the Amazon search box on this site.  They even have a very cool 15-30% off thing happening right now.

    This spice company also makes other cool spice grinders for super cheap like: Cinnamon, Red Pepper, Herbs Province, Garlic, Black Peppercorns etc.   If you order enough spice stuff like this, you get  "free" shipping.  You Blondie's out there ought to be so excited at all the convenience and money savings about to be  had, you might even get Dagwood to build you spice cabinets, spice caddys or other fun and exciting money saving items.  If you buy stuff (any stuff) please use the Amazon link on this site to search for that stuff.  Think of all the money we will make and you will save.

    Crock Not: Bread Machine Brioche


    A few recipes on Vegetarian Slow Cooker call for brioche bread.  Brioche is a delightful buttery rich egg bread that is great for use in Crock French Toasts, Crock Betty's, Monte Christo Sandwiches (but that's another blog), and other yummy things.  Buying a loaf at the store is not cheap.  If you have a bread machine, are organized, and budget minded, here is a cheap way to get your brioche.  Make it the night before it is needed in a recipe.

    Your house will smell yummy and everyone will wish they lived with you. I will love you if you buy a bread machine and use the Amazon search box on this site to order and buy it. Okay, I will still love you even if you already have a bread machine or don't buy one.  Special thanks to UK Graphic Artist Friends for bread machine brioche picture.

    Recipe

    Ingredients:
    • 1 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
    • 1 3/4 cups bread flour
    • 2 tablespoons bread flour
    • 3 tablespoons sugar
    • 3/4 teaspoon salt
    • 2 whole eggs
    • 1 egg yolk
    • 1/4 cup water
    • 2 tablespoons water
    • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
    Add all ingredients except the butter to your bread machine in the order suggested by manufacturer and process on the basic bread cycle. Cut the butter into tablespoon size pieces. About 10 minutes before the end of the first kneading cycle, begin adding the butter, 1 tablespoon each minute. Do not rush it. Let the machine continue its process.  After bread is baked and at the end of the entire cycle, let the brioche cool in the OPENED machine about 20 minutes. This will keep the sides firm while the center stays moist.

    Thursday, October 15, 2009

    Butternut Squash with Apples and Maple Syrup


    Today, I attempted an easy crock pot adaptation of a favorite labor intensive (boiling, baking, sauce making) Thanksgiving substitute for yams or sweet potatoes.  I roughly halved the original recipe, and changed the cut squash and apple shapes to save even more prep time.  Use a vegetable peeler to peel the butternut squash, or you will lose too much of the meat.  Even with this tip, it is still a labor intensive process to peel, seed, and cut up a butternut squash.  So give yourself some time.  Know, that if this turns out even half as good as the boiled, baked, and sauced original, it will be worth the effort.  I hope this works.  Let's keep our fingers crossed.

    Winner, Loser, or Meh

    I liked this.  Because this was basically "stewed" and not subjected to the drying heat of an oven, it is very different in texture than the original dish that inspired it.  There is more juice, and it does not firm up at the bottom, as it does in the oven version.  I don't think I care.  I think this is delicious as a breakfast.  I prefer this to porridge based breakfasts, it might even be good on a breakfast porridge.   I served this up in a little bowl and made sure to ladle lots of delicious juice from the bottom.  I ate it with a fork and a spoon.  Yum!

    Recipe

    I used an older medium crock pot for this.  The temperature this is lower than newer models.

    Ingredients:

    1 medium butternut squash, peeled (use vegetable peeler), seeded, cut into 1-1 1/2 inch chunks
    3 medium-size tart apples, peeled (or not), quartered, cored, cut into 1-1 1/2  inch chunks
    1/3 cup currants or raisins
    Freshly grated nutmeg (see: very cool cheap nutmeg mill)
    salt
    pepper
    1/3 cup pure maple syrup
    1/2 lemon lightly juiced
    2-3 Tbls butter, cut into pieces

    Spray crock with no stick spray. Place all ingredients in crock  in order listed, except for the butter. Season generously with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir to evenly coat.  Dot with butter pieces on top.  Cover. Cook until squash and apples are very tender.  3 hours on high or 7 on low.  If you are using a newer model crock pot, these times will be substantially less.

    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    Tips: Vegetable Stock


    I took an old vegetable stock pot recipe and made it in the crock.  I have used boxed vegetable stock since I started this project.  Almost 16 quarts in 2 weeks.  The box cost has been $2.19 to $2.49 per quart.  I can afford it, but if stock could be made with little fuss for less, it's worth it to me.   Yes, I have made wonderful stove top vegetable stock in the past by roasting the vegetables before tossing them into a stock pot.  Yes, roasted veggie stocks taste the best. No, I don't want to work that hard.  Neither do you.  Just put all the same stuff, washed, unpeeled, in large giant chunks, into the crock. Trust me.

    The nice thing about stock is aging produce remnants from the fridge are the best.  I had an old apple, garlic, limp celery, and parsley in the death bin - it's usable for this.  I wanted more items, so I went to the store and bought no-frills un-packaged giant bunches of carrots,  celery, potatoes, onions, parsley, apples etc, as cheap as it came per pound or by ounce in large bunches.  My total cost, excluding spices was under $9.00.

    I used about 1/10th of this to make  8 cups of stock.  I can use the rest to make 9 batches over the next 2 weeks.  With all costs considered, including spices, it cost me under .50 cents a quart to make.  My prep time from start to finish (including washing cutting board and taking debris  outside to dump in the county yard waste bin) was 10 minutes.  It cooked while I slept. I calculated the time it took to strain the stock and clean up, another 10 minutes.  So for 20 minutes labor and $1 there was $5 worth of stock.  I used it immediately, in the same crock, to start a double batch of Split Pea Soup for this week's Grey's family bonding night.  Basically, my time was worth $12.00 an hour, tax free.  Put that in your crock and cook it.

    Winner, Loser or Meh

    This tasted as good as any boxed stock I have used.  It's a winner.  I plan on making a batch, every night before bed, when stock is needed for the next day's recipe.

    Basic Slow Cooker Vegetable Stock Recipe

    Use a 6 quart crock pot for this

    Ingredients:
    • 2 large potatoes, scrubbed, unpeeled, large chunk
    • 1 apple, scrubbed, unpeeled, quartered
    • 1-2 ribs celery with leaves, scrubbed, large chunks
    • 2 carrots, scrubbed, unpeeled, large chunks
    • 2-3 onions, peeled, quartered
    • 8 peppercorns
    • 2 bay  leaves
    • 10 cups cold water
    Optional and nice additions anytime:
    • Parsley with stems, parsnips, mushrooms, leeks (including green parts), garlic cloves crushed, scallions, sweet potatoes, winter or summer squashes.
    For Asian flavor:
    • Nice additions are 4-5 quarter sized slices ginger and water from soaked dried shitake mushrooms
    Avoid adding strongly flavored vegetables like:
    • broccoli, cabbage, turnips, eggplant, peppers cauliflower
    What to do with these ingredients:

    Place all ingredients in crock pot and cover with water.  Cook on low for 8-10  hours or high for 4-5.  Strain liquid from vegetables.  Press vegetables to get out as much fluid as possible.  Use immediately or store refrigerated for 3-4 days or freeze.

    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    Macaroni & Cheese


    It is raining and stormy today.  Perfect comfort food weather.  I've had a lot of soup this week, and decided to make something more substantial.  Macaroni and cheese seemed perfect.  There are several basic crock pot macaroni and cheese recipes on the internet and in cookbooks.  They all have the same basic base.  Because milk alone breaks down in prolonged slow cooking, evaporated milk usually needs to be mixed with any regular milk.  All recipes call for an egg or two, so the end result is more of a macaroni and cheese quiche casserole than your traditional macaroni and cheese.

    If you work outside the home, this isn't something you will want to make on a work day, it is best left for a weekend.   It could not be easier to assemble.  It is throw everything in, stir, and leave. Most instructions call for 4 hours on low.  Mine was certainly done in 3 hours.  It was already browning too much on one edge.

    Winner, Loser, or Meh

    I am up in the air about this one. This is heavy and substantial.   It comes out warm moist and bubbly.  It's very casserole-like in texture. It can be cut into a squares.  Personally, I would have preferred something more creamy and I think I will play with some proportions in a future attempt.  I also think I'd add some more seasoning.  Since it is so casserole-like, I wished there had been the taste of onion.  It is best served immediately.  It seems to dry out on reheating.  Again, that may be something that can be improved with different proportions in another attempt.  I'm not ready to give up on this.  In its present form, it is a very serviceable meal.

    Recipe

    I used a 6 quart crock for this

    Ingredients:

    1  12 oz can evaporated skim milk
    1 1/2 cups milk (I used 1% and you can use use the evaporated milk can to measure this amount.)
    1 egg
    1/2 tsp salt
    pepper to taste
    1 1/2 cups grated cheese (I used pre grated sharp cheddar)
    8 oz macaroni, about 2 cups (I used whole wheat)

    Spray slow cooker with no stick spray.  Mix first 5 ingredients in crock until blended.  Stir in last two ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 3-4 hours -no more than 4 hours.

    Monday, October 12, 2009

    Spaghetti Squash with Pine Nuts, Sage, and Romano



    I heard I could make a spaghetti squash in a crock pot.  I got a spaghetti squash for under a buck this week.  I have no oven.  I thought I would give it a try.  I crocked the whole squash in water all day.  How easy was that?  At the end of the day I  tossed the squash strands with yummier things - all in the same crock. I had leftover Italian cheeses and my friend grows sage in her garden, so free sage!  Pine nuts aren't cheap.  I got my 1/4 cup at Winco last week.  I measured out the exact amount. There are so few things in this recipe and everything else was cheap or free, I decided this was a "budget" meal. Excuse the fuzzy picture.  I had to borrow it from All Recipes. My camera was not available.  This shot looked virtually identical to how mine came out, especially when I took my reading glasses off to eat.

    Winner Loser or Meh

    If I ever make spaghetti squash again, the ONLY way I will ever do it is in a crock pot.  So.Much.Easier.  The texture and depth of flavor of the strands  So.Much.Better.  If you love spaghetti squash, you will love it even better made in crock.  The crock method yielded richly flavored dark textured strands. All the squash meat released instantly - all the way to the rind.  I had spaghetti squash once before.  Then, the strands were crunchy and I did not care for it.  Then, cutting the squash before cooking was a pain in the ...(well, you get it).  Now, no cutting until it comes out and it almost cuts itself. 

    I love that this meal is made 100% in a crock.  The toppings were tasty, but the combined flavor profiles were not the best.  The sweetness of the squash needed some different flavors. If I make a spaghetti squash again, I may try something with feta, sun dried tomatoes, and pine nuts.

    Recipe

    I used my large oval for this.

    Ingredients:
    • 1 small spaghetti squash
    • 1 Tbl teaspoons butter or olive oil
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
    • 2 cloves garlic, peeled & chopped or 1 tsp  chopped garlic (I used Christopher's jarred)    
    • 1/4 cup pine nuts
    • 1/2 - or more cup fresh grated 3 cheese Italian blend (I used Romano, Parmesan & Asiago)
    • salt and pepper to taste
    Puncture squash several times with a fork.  Put squash in crock pot. Pour 1-2 cups water over the squash.  Cook on low for 10-12 hours.  Remove squash, empty water, dry crock while still warm, and return crock to heating base.  Turn heat to high. Add butter or oil and let sit in crock for a minute or two to melt butter or heat the oil.  Add garlic, pine nuts to crock.  Leave uncovered.  While this is cooking, slice squash in half and seed.  Stir ingredients in the crock now and then.  Shred out the strands of the squash.  Pat dry with paper towels.  Toss squash strands in crock with the butter, pine nuts, garlic and sage.  Turn off heat.  Remove crock.  Add cheese and salt and pepper to taste.  toss and serve.

    Split Pea Soup


    So at least one of the Mother Units (yes, I have more than one) has been following the blog. Maybe she's not, humor me anyway. I desperately needed a non-dessert win after two back to back main dish losers.  Mom's are supposed to root for you and encourage you when you are down. Yesterday, Mother Unit e-mailed me 2  purported delicious foolproof vegan recipes.   I took this as a sign. Never mind that neither recipe was designed for a crock pot.  Naturally, I decided to try them in a crock pot.

    Ironically, I consulted Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, hoping not to disappoint and sabotage Mother Unit's valiant imagined rescue attempt,   I figured the water/broth ratios on  their split pea soup would help me modify Mother Unit's version  for a crock pot.  Her recipe was so mammoth, it needed to be reduced (a lot) just to fit in a crock pot. I decide to add in 1 Tbls of brown sugar, since day old holiday hams usually have brown sugar glaze bits on them.  I also tossed in a bay leaf.

    During a follow-up call, she swears this recipe is so good, non vegetarians love it and gasp in amazement that it isn't a post holiday meaty ham bone laden meat fest. On second thought, she confesses, she might have imagined this response.  Suddenly, I have a flash back to a very strange diet she was following in 1979 that gave rise to this soup. I remind myself that, so far, all of my main dish losers have been successfully redeemed with a follow-up sugary success. If this turns out badly, my fall back plan is redemptive crock pot caramel apples.

    Winner, Loser or Meh

    Exceptional.  I love this soup. Thanks to the Mother Unit.   I tasted it before adding the brown sugar and after.  I think it needed the brown sugar.  The whole leftover holiday ham split pea soup experience is had with the brown sugar. I could swear I was gnawing on tiny bits of ham.  I had a small bowl at the 12 hour mark which was okay, but not perfect.  I then left the lid off for about on hour while it stayed on low.  Then, it was perfect and thick.  I also didn't take out the celery spiked with cloves.  As the day went on, I kept going back for small bowls of the soup, it got better and better.

    Recipe

    I used a large round crock pot for this. A medium would have worked, too.

    Ingredients  
    • 1 cup dried split peas
    • 5 cups vegetable stock (I used Pacific Organic)
    • 2 cloves garlic or 1 tsp chopped garlic (I used Christopher's in a jar)
    • 1 small yellow onion, peeled, finely diced
    • 1 handful baby carrots, finely diced
    • 2 stalks celery (with a few leaves), finely diced, except leave one 3" chunk
    • 3 whole cloves - poke cloves into 3" celery chunk
    • 1/2 tsp. salt
    • 1/4 tsp. pepper
    • l/2 tsp. cumin
    • l/2 tsp. curry powder
    • 1 small bay leaf
    • 1 Tbls brown sugar
    Rinse the split peas in colander and remove any discolored ones.  Mix all ingredients except the sugar in the crock pot.  Cook on low for 12-15 hours.  Add brown sugar, stir.  Remove the cloves & bay leaf. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.  You can use an immersion blender to puree the soup (I did not) .Serve with croutons (or not).

    Sunday, October 11, 2009

    Chocolate Tapioca Pudding


    After last night's Indian Tofu Curry debacle,  I needed a win.   Since tapioca in a slow cooker has proven to be fool proof, I decided to make it into comfort food on steroids. Chocolate, I rationalized, is nature's miracle PMS cure, comfort food, and an antioxidant.  I made the basic tapioca recipe and modified it.  For chocolate tapioca, the basic rule: add 1/4 cup of semi-sweet chocolate morsels (or whatever other kind of morsel you like) for every 2 cups of liquid. Good 'ole Winco had the semi-sweet mini chips in the bulk section even cheaper than the full size chocolate chips.  I measured out my 1/2 cup of morsels while doing weekly shopping yesterday. I also adjusted the prior recipe for previous over sweetness.  This time I only used 1/3 cup of sugar.  I also forgot about the butter, but who cares? There was chocolate!

    I had to steal this picture from another person's blog because my chocolate tapioca will not live long enough to have its picture taken.

    Winner, Loser or Meh

    Remember how evil good the regular tapioca was?  Well, this is good, just not as evil good.  It tastes like hot cocoa with marshmallows, only better.  It is thicker and the little tapioca pearls are like hundreds of tiny little Lucky Charm marshmallows.  I was so sure this would be better than plain old tapioca...because ...well...it is chocolate.  I guess it isn't axiomatic truth that chocolate makes everything better. Don't misunderstand me, this was so good it made up for last night's Indian Tofu Curry debacle...  except my friends won't get to have any.  This is because I am a piggy.  I am quite sure it will all be eaten and the crock licked clean before I ever get a chance to see them again... like... say... tomorrow.

    Have I mentioned I have lost 5 pounds since starting Vegetarian Slow Cooker?

    Oink.

    Recipe

    Use a small crock pot for this. My small crock is very old and cooks much slower than new models, so adjust the time down by an hour for the first portion of cooking if using a newer model.

    If you double the recipe, use a medium newer crock pot & cook for 3 hours, then 30 minutes to 1 hour after addition of egg.

    Ingredients
    • 2 cups 1% milk (I used organic)
    • 1/4 cup small pearl tapioca (not instant)
    • 1/3 cup sugar (I used organic pure cane)
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1 large egg
    • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate morsels
    Spray the crock with no stick spray.  Place the first 5 ingredients in the crock pot and stir it a bit to mix things up.  Cover and cook on low for 3 hours (see above notes on sizes and age of crock pot)

    When the pearls have absorbed most of the milk and are mostly translucent, stir with a fork to break up any clumps.  In a small bowl beat the egg, and add a tablespoon or two into the egg and stir it completely.  This will keep the egg from cooking instantly when it hits the contents of the crock pot.  Stir in egg mixture. Cook on low for another 30 minutes to an hour.  Then add the semi-sweet morsels and stir until melted.  Turn off the heat, and let it sit for about 30 minutes with the lid ajar. Serve warm, or store and refrigerate, covered and serve cold.