Monday, July 11, 2016

Taking a Summer Break

Lots of other things going on for all of us right now, so we are taking a summer break for a month. We do have some of our archived posts auto scheduled in Facebook, so if you haven't joined us there, this would be a good time to do so.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

#TBT - Cooking with Kids

This was a popular post awhile back, and I am still trying to do a cooking project with my grandson when I watch him and his sister once a week. It is a little more challenging finding the right time since Iris is now taking one nap a day, and Augustine still needs some quiet time every afternoon (sometimes he sleeps and sometimes he doesn't).

Muffins are still one of his favorite things to make (and eat), and we are planning on making some homemade cheese crackers (aka goldfish) soon.  A few weeks ago, I brought a piece of fresh ginger with me for a new salad dressing recipe I was trying out.  Augustine was fascinated with it, and when I told him what it was, he immediately said we needed to make gingerbread.  It took me a few weeks to remember to have all the proper ingredients, but we did eventually get it made and he loved it.

We have made granola several times, as well as mustardy chicken for that night's dinner.  It is also helpful in getting  picky toddlers to try new things. For the original post, click here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Making Yogurt in a Slow Cooker

This is probably the easiest way to make your own yogurt, but it definitely takes a bit longer.  That is not a problem for me, but for both Kayte and Rachael it is because their families eat the yogurt up quickly, making it difficult to keep enough made at any given time.

The method I use doesn't require a thermometer, but you do need to pay attention to the size of your slow cooker, how much milk you are using and the timing of each step.  The basic requirements are for the milk to reach about 180 degrees, then cool down to about 110 degrees before adding the yogurt starter, then the mixture needs to stay between 105 and 110 degrees for 8 to 12 hours.  

I use a 6-quart slow cooker, 1/2 gallon of milk and 1/4 cup of yogurt with live cultures as a starter. Add the milk to the slow cooker and heat on low for 2 3/4 hours.  At the end of that time, turn the slow cooker off and allow to cool for 3 hours, leaving it covered.  When it is cooled (it should still be warm), remove 1 cup or so of the warm milk and add 1/4 cup of either store bought yogurt with live cultures or yogurt reserved from a previous batch (I try to have the starter close to room temperature so it doesn't cool the mixture down too much).  Mix well, then pour back into the rest of the milk and mix well again. I like my yogurt sweetened, so this is when I add about 1/3 cup of sugar and about a tablespoon of vanilla extract. You can also add a vanilla bean or other flavoring, but don't add fruit or jam because it may make your yogurt watery. (You can also add any sweetener or flavorings at the end of the process.) Put the lid back on the slow cooker, wrap well in several heavy towels and allow to culture at room temperature for 8 - 12 hours. I like to wrap the slow cooker insert in towels and put it in the oven with the light on overnight. The yogurt is done after that culturing time (it should still be slightly warm), and is ready to go into the refrigerator to cool. 

If you want Greek style yogurt or just want it a bit thicker, strain it through cheesecloth or a linen dish towel for a few hours - the longer you strain it, the thicker it will be.  In the picture above, you can see that some parts end up thicker than other, but just stir it up good. I usually strain it after cooling, and about 4 hours is maximum for my yogurt. If you strain it too long, you end up with yogurt cheese, similar to cream cheese. Don't discard the whey that drains out - we did a previous post on many ways to use it.

One of my favorite ways to store the yogurt is to put it into 1/2 pint jars with a little fruit or jam at the bottom, mixing it up just before eating. Don't forget to set aside enough to start your next batch!  I have had to go back to the store to buy enough for starter several times, especially if my grandkids help themselves to it.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Smothered Slowcooker Pork Chops

My hubby loves pork chops. I only recently really started to like pork chops. Until a few months ago, I just tolerated them. I have been eyeing this recipe for a while, and when I saw some on sale, I just knew I had to give it a try. These smothered pork chops are seared then slow cooked for hours resulting in delicious and tender juicy chops. As if that alone wasn't enough to give this recipe a try, you use the remaining juice, onions, and bacon to make gravy to smother the pork chops in. 

mmmmmmmm Bacon

First, dry the pork chops and season them with just salt and pepper. Set aside. Then cook bacon until crispy. Store the bacon for later! Sear the pork chops in the remaining bacon grease. Place in the slow cooker.

I went ahead and caramelized mine

Add some more oil, or bacon grease, and saute the onions, then garlic. Pour this on top of the pork chops. In the same skillet combine your chicken stock (make your own chicken stock!), Worcestershire, and brown sugar and then bring it to a boil. Pour this over the chops (onions and garlic). Cook on low for 8 hours. 

cooked pork chop - already looking delicious!

Set aside the chops. Pour the liquid through a fine mesh strainer, then place solids in a blender with a bit of liquid, blending on high until smooth. Return this mixture to the sauce pan and heat. Combine water and cornstarch, then add to the sauce. When the sauce gets thick and bubbly, add vinegar, bacon, salt and pepper. Head over to Center cut cook to view the full recipe!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Weight Watchers Rerun #5

Another rerun this week, because I am leaving here in about an hour to go to Savannah to Kayte's graduation. There are lots of good recipes that, if you are like me, I make them and then promptly forget to revisit them even if they were real winners. 

Photo from Budget Bytes

The Chicken Fajita Bake was disappointing, but the Pork Chop and Fish Taco recipes were truly outstanding. The Cumin Lime Slaw that is part of the fish taco recipe is great as a side dish with other meals, also. To see the original post, click here.  

Friday, June 17, 2016

Frugal Friday - Make Your Own Chicken Broth

Nothing is more frugal than making your own chicken broth out of totally free ingredients (most of which you would normally throw away).  You can make it on the stove top, but I like to do mine in the slow cooker, cooking at least 12 hours and sometimes closer to 24 hours.  You can also make two batches of broth from the same bones, but the second batch is weaker, so I don't usually bother.  I also tend to have chicken carcasses accumulate in the freezer, so I just start a new batch.  

It is simple as adding chicken bones (carcasses from a roasted or rotisserie chicken work great, as well as raw odds and ends) to water and cooking.  After cooking, strain out the bones and bits of veggies. The basic broth is simply bones and water, but I also save carrot peelings, skins and ends of onions, celery that has passed its prime, etc., keeping them in a bag in the freezer until I start the broth.  If you want to kick it up a notch, you can add chopped garlic or garlic powder, a bay leaf, and any other herbs or spices you like to use with chicken, and of course you can use fresh onion, carrots, celery, etc. If you add a splash of vinegar, it pulls more calcium out of the bones and you don't taste it at all. I like to roast the bones first, putting them in the oven and roasting until they turn a golden brown.  This definitely adds a depth of flavor and color to the broth. Some people think it is gross, but I also sometimes buy raw chicken feet from the local Asian market - they are very nutritious and add natural gelatin to the broth. I usually do not add salt, choosing to add it to whatever final dish I use the broth for.  

You can freeze the broth in ice cube trays, then move the cubes to a freezer bag, but I have a tendency to end up with multiple jars or freezer bags of broth taking up a disproportionate amount of room in my freezer, so I started condensing it down into my homemade chicken bouillon.  It is so convenient to use - no need to defrost before using, and a gallon of broth condenses down into just over a cup or so. 

The broth is wonderful as a base for soup, of course, but I also use it in place of some or all of the liquid when cooking rice, quinoa, pasta, dried beans, or making homemade Cream of Mushroom soup. If you are sick or having digestive issues, a simple cup of the broth by itself is very soothing and healing.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Weight Watchers Rerun #4

Once again I am rerunning a previous post giving suggestions and Weight Watcher's points for six different entrees for the upcoming week. This particular post includes two of my very favorite recipes, Mustardy Chicken and Rice and Black Bean Salad.  They both are excellent made ahead, and the Mustardy Chicken freezes wonderfully.  I like to freeze it in one-serving sizes and then use it in a sandwich.  

For the recipes and the original post, click here.