Crockpot freezer kits, part two….

A few weeks ago, I posted about crockpot kits for the freezer, and a few folks on Twitter really took it on board! Now they’re asking for more recipes, so I thought I would share a few more kits…

Beef stew…. In the dry bag: carrots, mushrooms, onions, celery. In the wet bag: stew beef, beef broth, garlic, herbs, Worcestershire sauce. Add some potatoes when starting the crock, and stir in some frozen peas right before serving. For a creamy stew, add a can of cream of mushroom soup

Asian chicken thighs…. In the dry bag: carrots, chopped cabbage, onion. In the wet bag: boneless skinless chicken thighs, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, rice wine vinegar, brown sugar, hot sauce (optional). If you have some, stir in some bean sprouts and bell peppers right before serving, and serve with rice or noodles. This one is also nice with a couple of pork tenderloins

Chicken cacciatore…. In the dry bag: onion, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini. In the wet bag: boneless skinless chicken thighs, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes (optional), garlic, basil, a pinch of rosemary, salt and pepper. Add a sprinkle of crushes chiles if you like it spicy! Serve with pasta and top with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

Easy Broccoli Quiche

I don’t even want to think about it yet, but the holiday season is upon us – if the commercials on TV are to be believed, anyway :) Soon, we’ll be planning parties and RSVPing to things, and one of them is bound to be a potluck.

Here’s Ridiculously Easy but Very Impressive (aka REVI) recipe, one that is so easy your friends won’t believe it when you tell them how you made it after serving it to them at a potluck brunch.  It’s also vegetarian.

Easy Broccoli Quiche – serves 4 hungry people or makes 8-12 potluck brunch slices

From allrecipes.com

2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, minced

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 cups chopped fresh broccoli – gotta be fresh, frozen makes it watery.

1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust

1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella or cheddar cheese

4 eggs, well beaten

1 1/2 cups milk

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon butter, melted (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F

Over medium-low heat melt butter in a large saucepan. Add onions, garlic and broccoli. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are soft.

Meanwhile, press 1 cup of the shredded cheese into the pie crust to keep it from getting too soggy.

Spoon vegetables into crust.

Combine eggs and milk. Season with salt and pepper, and stir in melted butter, if using.

Pour egg mixture over vegetables and top with the other ½ cup of cheese.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until center has set.

Crockpot Kits for the Freezer

So you want to use your crockpot, but mornings are just too busy to be messing around with chopping veggies and dealing with raw meat.  Here’s your solution!

I make these crockpot kits for my clients, and they just love them.  Just about any crockpot recipe can be prepared this way.  Just be sure to keep the potatoes out of the freezer and in the cupboard until they are going into the crock, and keep the liquid with the meat, not the veggies.

You can even do several at once, and that way you can chop up lots of onions and celery and stuff and make an assembly line.  To make the process even more streamlined, do it as soon as you get home from the grocery store so that you don’t need to unpack and store the groceries you need for the recipes.  Kids can help with the squishing around of the sauce and the filling of the bags.

Here’s a recipe I use often, here at home and also for my clients.

Freezer to Crockpot BBQ Chicken Stew

You will need two large freezer bags

Into the first freezer bag, place:

One to two cups of baby carrots

One onion, sliced or diced

Three stalks of celery, sliced or diced

Into the second freezer bag, place:

¼ cup of your favourite BBQ sauce

½ a can of tomato paste

¼ cup red wine or apple cider vinegar, or other mild vinegar

2 tbsp. brown sugar

1-2 cloves of garlic

A dash or two of hot sauce (optional)

Close the bag and squish these ingredients around until well mixed.

Open the bag back up and add:

1.5 – 2 pounds skinless chicken thighs* (boneless or bone-in both work well)

* Don’t be tempted to use boneless skinless chicken breast cubes.  They can get quite mushy and shredded if crock-potted too long

Re-close the bag and squish the sauce all over the chicken.  Open the corner of the bag and push out all the air.  Fold the top over and place the chicken bag inside the vegetable bag, on top of the vegetables.  Label and freeze for up to two months.

To use, you’ll also need:

One bag of tiny potatoes to keep in the cupboard – or cut regular potatoes into medium chunks to put into the crock

Move the bag from the freezer to the fridge the night before so you don’t have to wrestle with a big chunk of frozen meat in the morning.  Open the bag and remove the chicken bag, keeping it closed.  Pour the veggies into the bottom of the crock.  Add the potatoes now.  Open the chicken bag and pour chicken and liquid over the vegetables.  Poke everything around until there is an even layer of chicken over an even layer of veggies.

Cook on low for 8-10 hours, then serve.  For a creamier stew, gently stir in a can of cream of mushroom soup or some sour cream just before serving.

Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker

I’ve raved about Beth Hensperger’s crockpot cookbook series “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker” – and she also writes about bread machines and rice cookers!  Apparently she’s a gadget girl…

Her 2007 book, about using the crockpot for entertaining, really intrigued me, so I got it out of the library.  There are some very fancy-looking recipes in there, for when you want to impress the boss or a date with a lovely dinner party. But there are also lots of tips for using the slow cooker to help with a traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, freeing up stove elements and oven space that are at a premium when you’re making a large meal.

Sometimes you need a nice dinner on a busy day – an old friend just passing through town, on a Tuesday night or something.  This is the perfect time to use the crockpot.

The book also shows us how to think “outside the crock” – to use the crockpot as a punchbowl, a fondue pot, a gravy boat, a bread oven, plus many other innovative functions.

Here’s a recipe with two inventive techniques for the slow cooker…

New-Orleans Style Vanilla Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce

6-7 cups crumbled stale bread

¾ cup dark raisins

¾ cup shredded coconut

¾ cup chopped pecans

4 cups (1L) whole milk

1 ¾ cups sugar

3 large eggs

½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled

1 tsp. each cinnamon and nutmeg (or use Epicure’s Apple Pie spice blend)

2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract (Epicure’s, if you have it)

Coat the inside of the crock with butter-flavoured non-stick spray

Place the bread, raisins, coconut and pecans in the crock.

In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, sugar, eggs, melted butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla extract until smooth.

Pour over the bread mixture in the crock and push the bread down to moisten evenly.

Cover and cook on HIGH until puffed, and a knife comes out clean, about 2 ½ hours.

Remove lid and cook on HIGH for another 15 minutes.

Pudding should cool a bit before serving, and can be served at room temperature.

Whisky sauce

½ cup (1 stick) butter

1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar (icing sugar)

2 large egg yolks

¼ to 1/3 cup of bourbon or scotch

Place the butter and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

Let the butter melt, then whisk until smooth.  Beat in the egg yolks.

Remove from heat, and slowly beat in the bourbon.  The sauce will thicken as it cools.

You can keep it warm in a small slow cooker, on LOW, until you are ready to serve.

Freezer Mashed Potatoes!?!

I had a strange experience when shopping for a client yesterday. I needed just a few potatoes for a pan of scalloped potatoes.  Here were my choices: loose potatoes for $1.29/lb (I’d need at least 2lb, so let’s say $3 worth), a 5lb bag for $3.99 or a 10lb bag for $2.99 (!?!)  Of course I bought the 10lb bag. I know I’ll need them next week for something. But still….

There are not many foods you can’t put in the freezer – salad is one that springs to mind…  But for a long time, I thought mashed potatoes were on that list, too.  Then I found a strategy that I’ve been using successfully for many years now.

All you have to do is add sour cream or cream cheese to your mashed potatoes, and they will freeze beautifully.  So if you have three-quarters of a bag of potatoes that are just about to grow roots, get out a big pot, boil ‘em up, mash ‘em and fill the freezer.

A few tips for this so-called recipe…

Unless you have very squeamish kids or really tough potatoes, don’t bother peeling them (the potatoes, not the kids).  All the good stuff, the fibre and the vitamins, is in or near the skin, plus it is easier and takes less time.  I like to buy thin-skinned Yukon Gold potatoes.  You don’t have to peel them, they cook up nicely and their yellow colour makes everyone think there is lots of butter in them, even when there isn’t.

For this recipe, cook the potatoes until they are very tender, almost falling apart.  This makes them mash more easily and smoothly.  Add butter, salt and pepper or whatever you usually add.

Then add about ½ cup of sour cream or cream cheese for each 4 cups of potatoes.  This is just a guideline, though.  You can make them “looser” by adding some extra milk or broth, but do this only after you’ve added some sour cream or cream cheese.  You can also add milk after you thaw them if you want them more spreadable to put them on shepherd’s pie or something like that.

When you thaw the potatoes, you might think they’re ruined.  They may be soggy-looking or grainy or watery…. DON’T WORRY!  This is OK.  Just heat them in the microwave for 1-2 minutes and stir vigorously, then let them sit for 1-2 minutes.  The potatoes will re-constitute themselves and look appetizing again.  Repeat this process if they are not heated through or don’t want to come together.

When I am making a big batch of mashed potatoes – like that time I couldn’t resist the 50-pound bag for $3.99 – I use my sturdy KitchenAid mixer to mash them.  A smaller batch might be a good workout for what I recently heard termed “bingo wings”, those flabby tricep muscles that us ladies over 30 prefer not to talk about…

These potatoes are another weapon in your arsenal for streamlining  meal planning – combine with slow-cooking and great supermarket finds, and dinner will come together in a flash.  Put a roast in the crockpot, pull a bin of mashed potatoes out of your freezer stash, serve a bagged salad with a home-made salad dressing, and you have a fabulous meal on the table in ten minutes!

I love it when a plan comes together….

Community Supported Agriculture

CSA, or community-supported agriculture, is something I’ve been reading a lot about.  I’m thinking about joining a vegetable CSA next year, and  I already belong to a meat CSA with Upper Canada Heritage Meats. I would love to buy organic vegetables, but I know that a lot of the organic produce in the grocery stores travels further and is less fresh than regular produce.  Buying local is important to me as well, so a CSA seems to be the answer.

Here’s how a CSA works.  At the beginning of the year, a bunch of people pay a local farmer some money to grow food for them.  When the food is grown, the farmer picks it and gives it to the people who paid for a share.  The average cost of a share seems to be around $600 for about 17 weeks of deliveries, or about $35 a week, and would feed four people who also ate things other than vegetables, or two hungry vegetarians.

One of the perks of some CSAs is a recipe service.  Because you don’t pick and choose your vegetables, you sometimes end up with things you’ve never cooked before.  Or sometimes things might grow so well that you end up with lots and lots, more than you can eat in a short amount of time.

For Ontario, this is a great website to find a CSA farm near you – if you are somewhere else, a quick Google of “CSA [your area]” should bring up some options.

Burritos, built from leftovers, the pantry, and the freezer

The easiest way to get your freezer stocked without a lot of extra work is to “feed the freezer”.  Any time you make something that is freezer-friendly, like soup or chili, make double and freeze half.  To keep track of everything, I magnet a sheet of computer labels to my fridge so I can find them easily.  I label my freezer food with the dish and the date (including the year – I found this out the hard way), and when I see a busy night on the horizon, I pull something out of my freezer stash.

You can even do the first part of a recipe and freeze it…. just the boring or PITA stuff like chopping veggies and cooking meat….. then all that’s left to do is assembly on the busy day when you use it

Here’s a recipe for something I almost always have in the freezer – burrito filling.  If I am really pressed for time, I just eat it out of a bowl like chili for an instant meal.  It’s also a great way to use up leftovers.

Burrito Filling

½ to 1 pound cooked meat – fried ground beef, leftover chicken, just about anything

1 jar of prepared salsa (or 1 can diced tomatoes plus Mexican seasonings)

1 can of low-fat refried beans

1 can of black beans, drained (optional)

Chopped bell peppers and/or canned green chiles

Stir all items together in a pot or bowl, and freeze in sealed containers for up to 3 months

To make the burritos:

Thaw filling in fridge or microwave until you can stir it

Place ¼ cup of filling and 2 tbsp. grated cheese on a tortilla and roll it up

Place burritos in a pan, top with salsa and grated cheese, and bake at 400°F for 15-20 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and tortillas begin to brown.

Serve with sour cream, guacamole and salsa

Tidy Up Tuesday – The Organized Fridge

No doubt you’ve heard the saying “A place for everything, and everything in its place”….. this is how I organize my fridge.

Condiments are on the door or on the very cramped top shelf. Eggs live second shelf, left side, and all my yogurt is on the right edge. Cooked foods and leftovers are on the lower left, while thawing or marinating meat is right in the middle, between the eggs and the yogurt. My husband can find his lunch in the same place every day, so he doesn’t get it mixed up with any other containers.

If you’re constantly searching for things, being asked, “Where’s the *whatever*?!” or finding science-experiment-worthy leftovers in the depths of your fridge, try assigned seating for your food :)

Spoon!

On Tuesday, September 27, The Magic Fridge will be participating in Ottawa’s first food event celebrating women! There will be chefs, bakers, cheesemakers, vintners and farmers, all sharing their wares. I’ll be bringing my roasted garlic butternut squash soup for sampling…

Here’s the info – I’d love to see you there!

SEPTEMBER.27.2011     THE SIDE DOOR RESTAURANT  20 YORK STREET(behind restaurant 18)  6-11pm

“SPOON” Food Your Mama Fed’ Ya’

THE NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION’S “FIRST ” GASTRONOMIQUE EVENT CELEBRATING WOMEN+FOOD+WINE

TICKET INFORMATION:EARLY BIRD $55 per person inc HST http://spoonottawa-eorg.eventbrite.com/

Ticket includes: A glass of reception champagne and 2 glasses of Wine + 5 appetizers from The Side Door Restaurant – plus samples from all exhibitors….

A CELEBRATION OF LOVING SPOONFULS & THE BEAUTIFUL OTTAWA WOMEN WHO CREATE THEM!

SPOON celebrates fantastic Women in the Food and Hospitality industry from “Farm to Table”.

From “Garden to Glamour” & “Kitchen Sink to Five-star Plate”.

A fabulous food-fueled evening to celebrate the tantalizing skills of Ottawa’s Female Culinary elite.

SAMPLE+SHOP+SIP and fall in love with the following participants…

THE RED APRON:Sophisticated Comfort Food

EPICURIA:Executive Chef Tracey Black

TIRAISLIN FARM:Rosemary Kralik

COUTTS COUNTRY FARM:Diana Coutts

UPPER CANADA HERITAGE MEAT:Barbara Schaefer

ALGONQUIN TEA:Kim Elkington

THE WHALESBONE CATERING :Chef Kate Klenavic

DONEGAL HERITAGE FARM:Johanne Zomers

THE MIX COMPANY:Cate Ott

3 GREEK SISTERS

SIMPLY RAW:Natasha Kyssa

THE MAGIC FRIDGE :Julie  Broczkowski

ALGONQUIN COLLEGE:Sabine Quesnel

GEEK SWEETS:Jenny Burgesse

4 POINTS HOTEL:Executive Chef Gabrielle Sexton

THE CAKE WHISPERER:Cathy Campbell

KOKO CHOCOLATES:Jen Winter

FOLIES BERGERES CHEESES

SUZY Q DOUGHNUTS:Susan Hamer

FULTONS PANCAKE HOUSE&SUGAR BUSH

GLORIOUS GREENS:Gerrie Baker

OPEONGO Rainwater Soaps

click here for invitation: http://cinnamontoastnewmedia.com/SPOON/

MEN are Welcome to Indulge and Support this incredible jaw dropping evening of tasteful bites and sips

PLEASE CONTACT CATHERINE FOR GROUP RATES  613-608-1038

Caroline Gosselin(Restaurant 18 & Sidedoor) & Catherine Landry(Cherry Pie)

Heather Hossie(Savor Ottawa) & Taryn Manias (Smash Publicity)

“I Love this idea”~Gay Cooke

“Can’t Wait-Going to be Amazing”~Shawna Wagman

“Anything I can do to support ,count me in”~Sheila Whyte

Tidy Up Tuesday – Fresh Start

It’s Tidy-Up Tuesday…. Sometimes you just need to start fresh, and that’s also true of your cupboards that you sift through every day, searching for those items you need to make dinner.  Whether you have an avalanche hazard, a large wall of stuff you don’t ever eat (blocking the things you *do* eat), or if you don’t recognize the crackers you found in there, this is the tidy-up challenge for you!

Spend an hour pulling all the food out of your pantry and cupboards, and seriously look at it.  Be ruthless and honest about what you’re really going to eat.  Throw away any expired food and make a box for the food bank of unopened food you’ve decided you’ll never eat.  Put the rest of your food back in the pantry neatly.  Aaahhh….. doesn’t that feel better?

Now you can find what you want, and there’s nothing in there that you don’t use….. Cooking will be easier with a tidy pantry, I promise!