Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Crockpotting 24/7

So I told you folks all about the applesauce yesterday, complete with the picture of simultaneous crockpotting (it took a 6-qt. and a 4-qt. working together to accommodate all the apples!).

I was eventually able to combine both pots together into the 6-qt. after the apples cooked down some. I kept the pot going for 8 hours on low; that cooked the apples enough I didn't need to mash them or anything, they just fell apart on their own.
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The finished product, deep golden brown

Folkcat's Tip: My applesauce tip yesterday was about adding vanilla to the applesauce to mellow the flavor. Today's tip offers an interesting alternative to the traditional cinnamon flavor. Pick up a jar of Chinese Five Spice blend. (You can also find this in the ethnic department at your supermarket, or your local Asian market.)This mix actually has more than five spices - they include cinnamon, star anise, and pepper, among others! Don't let that deter you, however - try it out, and I promise, you'll be delighted with the resulting applesauce.

Double-teaming the applesauce wasn't my only crockpot trick yesterday - I made a good stab at round-the-clock crocking! The applesauce finished up after 9 p.m. - by midnight, I had the large crockpot cleaned and loaded with 4 lbs. of chicken leg quarters to cook! I'm planning to make a Rosemary Chicken Brown Rice Soup (another of my own recipes), and needed some cooked chicken and some stock to work with. With 10 hours on low needed, the chicken was ready at the perfect time this morning for us to remove it from the crock and dissassemble it. And we got 4 cups of flavorful stock to boot!

I promise, folks, I'll start posting recipes as soon as I have them developed. The Rosemary Chicken Rice Soup is a new one I'm planning, not one I've made yet. And the Lemon Chicken Chickpea Soup I have to make again so I can make notes about quantities - it was one I made to use up leftovers in the fridge, so I didn't pay close attention as I created it the first time!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Quirky Quiche and Accidental Applesauce

More culinary adventures the last day or two. Gryphon and I had talked this weekend about the fact that we both like quiche, and I used to make it now and then. Plus, it's a good way to use up scraps of vegetables, cheese, and meat in a nutritious meal.

I picked up some deep-dish frozen pie shells - I tend to overstuff my quiche, so I always need the extra room. Monday, I made my first quiche in many years using some shredded chicken from the fridge, some canned asparagus tips, and assorted chunks of cheese (we'd recently bought some cheese ends, in preparation for making crockpot macaroni and cheese later this week).

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Day 2 - all that's left of the chicken/cheese/asparagus quiche.

In spite of a little trouble with our electric oven (there's an oddity to trying to cook two separate things sequentially that sometimes keeps the oven from continuing to heat for the second item), the quiche turned out quite tasty. The canned asparagus tips turned out to be more mushy than I anticipated, but they were tasty in the end result. Obviously, fresh vegetables will be preferred where possible.

Today's plan was to gather ingredients for a rosemary chicken soup. We still have lots of carrots and celery from the split pea recipe, but we were low on shredded chicken. Off to Market Basket to buy another bbq chicken in the day-old bin!

Or so we thought. Turns out there weren't any today. So we scouted around the poultry coolers, and we settled on a 4-lb. package of leg quarters for 69cents a pound that I knew I could cook in the larger crockpot. The cooking time is actually long enough I can put these on just before we go to bed tonight, and they'll be all set for Gryphon to take apart in the morning. We'll freeze the bones to make chicken stock with, too!

Other than that, I am developing the instinct to look for "manager's specials" in the produce department - vegetables and fruit on their last legs that are being blown out at bargain prices. Today's find was two nearly 4-lb. packages of apples. There was enough bruising that no one would want to eat these out of hand anymore, but they're perfectly good for applesauce!

We dug out and dusted off our apple peeler/corer gadget. Talk about paradigm shift - it was only a couple months ago we said, "heck, what are the odds we'll make applesauce again?" and put it in a box for yard sale goods! Guess we're changing out tune on that...

I washed the apples and cranked for a bit, putting the peeled slices into the big crockpot. As I suspected, there was too big a load for just the one crockpot, so we have our first dual-crockpot recipe going:

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Crockpots team up to conquer the applesauce

I'll probably be able to combine the contents into one later after the apples cook down some. But we're going to have a heckuva pile of homemade applesauce!

Folkcat's Tip: A little vanilla extract in the applesauce gives a nice, mellow edge to the flavor. Great for counteracting apples that are too tart, without having to add extra sugar!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Paradigm Shift Pea Soup

For those who don't know what that means, a paradigm shift occurs when your reality, your core beliefs, or your perception of your reality undergoes a change.

Gryphon and I have been undergoing a paradigm shift lately. A big one. It started with closing our bead store after 2 1/2 years, and it has continued as we transition from people who did almost nothing but work at that store, to people who have time to work on their lives.

My diet had already changed in a small way after my diagnosis of diabetes back in December. Recently, Gryphon and I have been trying to make even more improvements in how we eat, as well as how much we spend. We decided to find a way to make better food without spending all our time in the kitchen.

We have had a crockpot for some time, and this proved to be the right idea. I began by adapting an old microwave recipe for Sloppy Joes that we had always enjoyed. Success! It was tasty, inexpensive, and healthier than those frozen packaged foods. And the batch was large enough that we still have some in the freezer!

The next day, I created a soup recipe out of my own imagination in the crockpot. The goal was to use up a bag of broccoli slaw I had in the fridge that was getting old. I envisioned a chicken soup, but not an ordinary chicken soup - mine would have lemon juice in it, and couscous, and chickpeas, and lots of dill.

I've never seen a recipe quite like what I came up with, but my imagination proved right on target - everyone who has tasted my lemon chicken chickpea soup has loved it! I need to try to nail down the exact ingredients now so that I can post a recipe. I promise, I'll work on it - I have already had requests!

Having had this much success, Gryphon and I decided we'd try to do at least one crockpot recipe each weekend, something to eat for one meal right away with leftovers. I browsed recipes on the web, and found several for split pea soup - a favorite of mine. Gryphon doesn't care for it, but I can do something specially for him next time.

So I made my shopping list, gathered up the ingredients, and Saturday night we went to assemble the materials. That's when we looked closely at the recipe and realized...it needed a larger crockpot than we owned! Our largest was only 4 quarts, and the recipe needed 5 1/2. I tried to consider reducing the recipe, but just how do you measure out 5/8 of a ham hock?!?

Drat, and double-drat! We sat down and thought about how to deal with this. A little research on the web revealed the price range we could expect for a 6 quart crockpot. Gryphon, as tight as the budget is, nevertheless agreed that he was willing for us to buy a tool for something that is working so well for us. But how long were we willing to wait for a crockpot to arrive in the mail?

Then we remembered - even though it was 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, we had an option: there's a 24-hour WalMart nearby! So off we went on an appliance buying expedition.

It worked out as well for us as the cooking had. We found a discontinued model of the Rival 6-qt. Smart Crock on the shelf at a good bargain. (The one pictured at the left is fundamentally the same as ours, only it's chrome where ours is white.) The Smart Crock actually has pre-programmed settings for the most commonly used time and temperature combinations - High for either 4- or 6-hours, or Low for 8- or 10- hours. After the set time is reached, it goes into a Keep Warm mode. So if you wind up getting home even later than expected, you can rest assured that your dinner won't get overcooked in the crock!

Properly equipped now, we went ahead this morning with the fixings for my pea soup. The house smelled wonderful all day as it simmered away. I picked up a nice sourdough boule from the supermarket to slice up and eat with it for dinner, and brother, was that heavenly! I have 5 pints of the stuff ready to go into the freezer now.

Oh, yeah...here's what it looked like. The ham hocks were very meaty, I was impressed.



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I don't expect I'll be posting the recipe for this one - I got it at RecipeZaar, if you're interested. They have at least a dozen different postings of split pea soup recipes for the crockpot, and they all look tasty.


Friday, June 24, 2005

Folkcat & Gryphon's Geocaching Adventures

Folkcat & Gryphon's Geocaching Adventures

In today's updated blog, you can read about our geocaching adventures in Hillsborough, NH last weekend.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Folkcat's Fiber Crafts

Folkcat's Fiber Crafts

Folkcat's Fiber Crafts is the blog getting an update today. Check out my winnings from the NH Sheep & Wool Festival raffle, and the progress report on Sock Experiment #3!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Folkcat's Fotos

Folkcat's Fotos

I've updated Folkcat's Fotos today, finally posting the pictures from the ride Bill and I took on the Wilton Scenic RR on June 4th. Enjoy!