Friday, April 29, 2016

The Slow Cooker Is My Friend

Tangy Sweet Pork Chops

Here is a recipe from the way-back machine. I remembered that I had made pork chops with cranberry sauce and something. Looks like it's only chili sauce. How easy is that?

Funny that I was searching for this recipe now. I found it on a post from 2013 during hay season! That's right where we are again, ready to start cutting hay. A few days later, after the hay cures (that means drys out a little) it will get rolled into large bales.This time, instead of making this recipe right after I got home from Atlanta, I did it right before I am leaving for Atlanta.


Yesterday was busy. (But I will admit not as busy as Daddy-O's day on the tractor.) I love a slow cooker meal on those kind of days. Supper was ready and waiting when I got home last night. For whatever reason, I have made this both times cooked on HIGH for about 6 hours. That's just how my schedule worked out. I sometimes forget that you can cook on the high setting when that fits better into your day.


My package had four pork chops, which was plenty for us. But there is enough sauce for six chops if you need to cook more. The pork chops are so tender when cooked in the sauce. Daddy-O was happy to have enough left for another meal.

TANGY SWEET PORK CHOPS

2-3 lbs pork chops (with or without bone)
14-oz. can jellied or whole berry cranberry sauce (I've used both)
12-oz. bottle chili sauce

Place pork chops in slow cooker.
Empty cranberry sauce into a bowl and microwave for 20 seconds at a time to melt it enough to combine with chili sauce. (It took mine about 60 seconds total.)
Stir cranberry sauce and chili sauce together.
Pour over pork chops.
Cook on LOW for 7-8 hours or HIGH for 5-6 hours.


Now, why on earth did I wait so long to make this again? Betting it won't be another three years before I use this recipe the next time! Happy weekend, y'all!




Thursday, April 28, 2016

Making A Poncho

Pattern:  2660 Poncho (from Plymouth Yarns)
Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash, in Como Blue
Needles: size 8

Ponchos are back in style! Remember those crocheted fringed ponchos from decades ago? Well, the design has been upgraded and they looked more polished than those old ones. (But I guess we thought those were very stylish at the time.) I am going to enjoy this one.

This knitting project has been with me everywhere lately. I started it at the knitting retreat weeks ago. I picked this pattern, thinking it was one that I could knit while talking. We call that "social knitting." (Let me say that this is the most unexciting name for a knitting pattern ever. It isn't available to download, but it can be ordered from Jimmy Beans Wool.)


Right after the retreat, I carried it with me when I visited the grandchildren. The only knitting there happened early in the morning before the littles woke up. Miss Bunny was better company while I knitted than Baby Girl and Little Sister. Miss Bunny was very quiet.


Then I took it to the lake where I used the finished part of the poncho as a lap robe while I worked. It was chilly while we were there. But I love knitting out on the pier even though it was cool and windy.


By now I'm back at home, where more early morning knitting happened. I am a major fan of sunrises and have photographed the dawn sky hundreds of times. I never get tired of this view.


And the weather warmed up and I moved my knitting out on the porch. This is my favorite place to knit. Except for knitting at the lake. And knitting on Thursdays with my knitting group.


And yesterday the knitting was finished. But the poncho wasn't done quite yet. There were ends to be woven in. A shoulder seam to be sewn. And the big finish is the washing and working with the damp "fabric" to get it all into shape. (That's called blocking.) 


 I measured and pinned it all out and waiting for it to dry. Fingers crossed it would hold the shape. This is the point where I always think, "This surely was a lot of work if it doesn't end up like it should." I am a worrier.


While the poncho was pinned out and drying, it was time to head to the yard. We pulled weeds, planted the herb garden, planted some new perennials. Daddy-O planted vegetables. Waiting on the knitting to dry is easier than waiting on the plants to grow.


And after several weeks of having this yarn as my constant companion, it's done. My poncho is ready to wear. And it's nearly 90 degrees now. So much for my timing! Hoping we will have a few cooler days before the real summer sets in.


“It's impossible to be unhappy while wearing a poncho!”
― Noel Fielding




Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Pot Roast

3 Packet Pot Roast

One of the best and easiest recipes I have ever made is the 3-Packet Pot Roast. (I found the recipe online years ago.) If you are a meat eater and haven't tried this yet, it's time. Put the ingredients—all four of them—into the crockpot in the morning and by suppertime, it's ready to eat. It's an easy recipe good enough for a company meal or a church dinner.

It's also the perfect week night supper when everyone is busy. Hay season is upon us. Daddy-O will be spending his days on a tractor and needs a good meal when evening comes. I've actually worked in the yard some this week. And I'm finishing up a big knitting project. My work is not as hard as his, but still keeps me busy. This recipe lets me have supper done when he is ready without me spending the afternoon in the kitchen.

I used a sirloin tip roast this time because it was on sale. I might rethink my usual chuck roast choice—this sirloin tip was awfully good. I also used Zesty Italian dressing mix after I grabbed it by accident and didn't notice until I had sprinkled it over the roast. That worked fine, too

3 PACKET POT ROAST

beef roast, about 3-lbs (I like a chuck roast, but others will work)
1 packet Italian dressing mix, dry
1 packet ranch dressing mix, dry
1 packet brown gravy mix, dry
1 cup water

Place roast into crockpot. Sprinkle all the dry mixes over the top. Pour water over all. (I used a fork and lightly mixed the dry stuff up a little here.) Cook on LOW for 8-10 hours.


A couple of small portions of roast with the gravy went into the freezer. I'm starting to restock the freezer with things for Daddy-O to have at the ready. I'll be gone again soon and I don't want him to starve.


Wondering why there is such a tiny bit of roast on my plate? Lately I've been eating less meat and more vegetables. Lots more vegetables. So far, I like this. I'm not giving up anything. Just rearranging my portions.




Monday, April 25, 2016

Roasted


Last week I roasted every vegetable in the house. Even green beans and potatoes. Roasting might be my most favorite way to cook vegetables.

Broccoli, red potatoes, green beans

I love the crispy edges. I love the deep flavor that comes from cooking in the dry heat of a hot oven.

Brussels sprouts, broccoli, red onion

Even vegetables that are not universally loved can be delicious when you roast them.  I love brussels sprouts when they are roasted, even though I have memories of yucky overcooked, mushy sprouts from childhood. I usually mix whatever vegetables I have on hand. I like a mix of colors, too.

Baby carrots

Remember the roasted carrots I made last week? One reader (Bev from Tennessee) said she followed those directions and roasted parsnips and apples. I want to try that soon. I used these same directions for all of these combinations:
 I tossed them with a little olive oil and sprinkled with House Seasoning and roasted at 425 degrees for 25 minutes, stirring halfway through. Just cook until everything is done. If you're using the potatoes, cut them in small chunks so that they will cook in the same time as the other vegetables.
For softer vegetables, like yellow squash, zucchini, and asparagus, I sometimes up the oven temp to 450 degrees. With the sturdier veggies, I like to cook a tiny bit slower. But the temp is really up to you—anywhere from 400-450 can work. I've done them all. Stir after 10-15 minutes. And then watch to see when they are brown.

I had roasted tomatoes the week before to go with grilled chicken. And the week before that, Jessica had roasted vegetables as part of her sheet pan dinner that she cooked for our dinner one night.

Cherry tomatoes, red onion
Brussels sprouts, apples


Well. After all of these pans filled with roasted goodness and after 36 years of marriage, as I pull the last pan out of the oven at the end of the week, Daddy-O tells me, "You know, I really don't love vegetables cooked this way." All I know is that he must love me. He waited a really long time to tell me this. This was the first time I've ever roasted veggies three nights in a row. He was on roasted vegetable overload.

Yes, I will still make roasted vegetables, but not multiple times in one week. And probably not two weeks in a row. A marriage is based on compromise, right?





Friday, April 22, 2016

Frozen? No? Let It Go


Oh, the agony! Daddy-O's first words to me on Tuesday were, "I hate to tell you this....(long pause).....but everything in the freezer has thawed out." Not what I wanted to hear that morning. Or, any morning. He saw the water that had puddled in the floor in front of the freezer.

I had bought groceries that day and when I put the ice cream treats in the freezer, one of the boxes sat slightly tilted on a freezer door shelf. The tilt was just enough to keep the door from closing. That's just sad.

Was it cosmic punishment for buying the frozen treats? Maybe. It was a rare purchase. And here I am a few days later having never tasted the first one!

When I worked as a home economist, one question we received too often was "My freezer stopped working. Can I refreeze the food that thawed?" Just to be sure that the advice hasn't changed (it hasn't) I checked with FoodSafety.gov and here what they recommend and what we always told our clients:
Thawed or partially thawed food in the freezer may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40 °F or below. Partial thawing and refreezing may affect the quality of some food, but the food will be safe to eat.
If you keep an appliance thermometer in your freezer, it’s easy to tell whether food is safe. When the power comes back on, check the thermometer. If it reads 40 °F or below, the food is safe and can be refrozen.
And you can find food specific recommendations here

My food was cold enough that I felt comfortable cooking a couple of things right away. I like to thaw casseroles before cooking them anyway. And the baked goods were fine to eat.

And that is how we came to have Shepherd's Pie for supper last night and why I'm posting this recipe again so soon. We also had toasted homemade bread on the side. And there was banana bread for dessert. All saved from the freezer. It was delicious. And nearly work-free for me. That helps make up for the big throw-away and freezer cleaning that happened.


SHEPHERDS PIE

Potato Topping:
1-1/2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled & diced
3/4 cup fat-free chicken broth
2 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream
salt and pepper
paprika (sprinkled just before you bake)

Boil potatoes in a medium pot of salted water until cooked and soft. Drain and mash with chicken broth, sour cream, 1/2 tsp salt and pepper. Set aside.

Filling:
1 lb 95% lean ground beef (mine was 93% lean)
1 teaspoon oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
8 oz. mushrooms, diced
10 oz. frozen mixed vegetables (carrots, corn, peas, green beans, baby lima beans)
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup fat-free beef broth
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon freshly chopped rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme leaves
 kosher salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a large saute pan brown meat over medium high heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. When cooked, set aside on a plate. Add the oil, onion, garlic, mushrooms and celery to the pan and sauté on medium heat about 6 to 8 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add the flour, frozen vegetables, beef broth, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary, thyme, ground beef and mix well. Simmer on low about 8-10 minutes.

Spread the meat on the bottom of casserole dish. Top with mashed potatoes and sprinkle with paprika. Bake 20 to 25 minutes*, then place under the broiler 1 to 2 minutes until the potatoes turn golden. Remove from oven and let it cool 5 minutes before serving.

 Serves 6  (6 Smart Points per serving, according to SkinnyTaste.com)

 *If you make this earlier in the day and refrigerate it until suppertime, take the dish out of the refrigerator when you start preheating the oven and increase the baking time about 5 minutes or so. Just be sure to bake until the center is hot.

This dish was half of the recipe that I made about a month ago. I divided the recipe between two small baking dishes. We baked one that night and I put one in the freezer. I had crossed my fingers that it would freeze well. I can now tell you that it did. I put foil loosely over the top for 30 minutes, then removed the foil and baked for another 15 minutes. The times might vary for you. Just make sure it gets hot all the way through. I look for bubbling around the sides of the dish.

Now I can safely say, the shepherd's pie was delicious after being frozen. I'm never 100% sure until I've tried it. The next meal up is the rescued baked spaghetti. And then I'll start thinking about refilling that sad empty freezer.



Please forgive my silly "Frozen" reference in the title. With three granddaughters, I have heard that song way too many times. Now Baby Girl has just learned to sing "Let it go... Let it go..." so I'm not done hearing it yet.



Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Quick Roasted Carrots


It seems like we have been lacking vegetables on our plates lately. I know we must have been eating vegetables, but not as many as I wanted. So for last night's supper, I paired roasted carrots with the burgers Daddy-O cooked on the grill. They were an excellent substitute for fries.

I love roasted vegetables but I had never roasted carrots before. As I was flipping through the pages of this cookbook (a favorite gift this Christmas,) I found a recipe I wanted to try. This recipe caught my eye because of the word "quick" in the name. I don't usually buy baby carrots, but that's the point of this recipe. Choosing the ready-to-use baby carrots makes it super quick to prepare. There are days when "quick" is a good thing.


The original recipe made 8 servings. There are only two of us here. So I cut the amount of carrots in half. And I changed the size of the cooking pan. Well, it turned out that my math didn't quite work out, so I had to scoop out some of the carrots because one bag was too many carrots for my 9x13-inch pan. But the amount I ended up with, after some adjustments, was just right for us.


Any time you roast vegetables, you want them in a single layer in the pan and you don't want them too crowded. If you really crowd the vegetables in, they will steam as much as they roast. It's the brown color, the caramelized exterior, that comes from the dry roasting that gives such a good flavor to roasted veggies.


We polished off all of the roasted carrots that night. Plus, while he was grilling, Daddy-O nibbled on the raw carrots that didn't fit in the pan. An appetizer and a side dish from one bag of carrots!

QUICK ROASTED BABY CARROTS

12-oz baby carrots (that's about 3/4 of a 16-oz bag)
3/4 tablespoon olive oil
salt

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  Toss the carrots with the olive oil in a 9x13-inch pan. Spread them in a single layer in the baking pan. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

Place on pan on middle oven rack and roast for 12 minutes. Stir carrots (or shake pan) and roast 8 minutes more, stirring or shaking another time or two to get the sides browned and carrots tender.

3 servings 

To make more servings:

4 servings:  Use the whole bag of carrots, you'll need 1 tablespoon oil and a slightly larger pan. The original recipe specified a pan with deeper sides than a baking sheet like I normally use. Has to do with not burning the carrots while they cook. 

8 servings:  Use 2 (16-oz) bags, 2 tablespoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and spread them in the bottom of a broiler pan.

You can see this is a very simple recipe. Adjusting the amount is easy. (After all, it's just carrots, a little oil and a tiny bit of salt.)

Daddy-O's verdict? He went back for seconds. That's a pretty high approval rating for carrots.



Monday, April 18, 2016

Soothe The Souls


I've done a lot of driving up and down the interstate lately. But we needed one more short trip, down the road to the lake. This was our first trip of the year. This was the coldest visit we have ever made. It's the first time we've ever had to turn the heat on. But no matter. We just needed a place to be still and quiet. A place to gather our thoughts and settle our souls. Refresh and recharge.



The lake always does that for us. There isn't much to do there this early in the year except fish or read or knit, and watch the lake activity. The boat traffic consisted of just a few fishermen, bundled up against the wind, hoping to land a big one.



I saw exactly one fish caught—the big catfish that Daddy-O reeled in soon after we arrived. It was back in the water soon, swimming away, after having it's picture made.


The sun was glorious but the wind was ferocious. I added a jacket on top of my fleece vest and sat on the pier anyway. My knitting and Daddy-O's fishing are most companionable hobbies. We can talk, or be comfortably silent and enjoy being together.


As the sun was going down on Friday, the winds calmed and the water stilled. We thought the next day might be better for enjoying the pier. But on Saturday morning, it was blowing harder than ever. I added another layer and went back outside anyway.

It won't be long before we'll have grandchildren here, swimming and splashing, kayaking, and skiing, and quiet will be hard to come by. We love those kinds of lake days, too. In fact, we can't wait!