Tag Archives: cooking tips

Crock Pot 101

Everyone knows how great it is to come home to a yummy smelling house and the relief that dinner is already done.  I often hear complaints, however, about food drying out or not tasting as good as it normally would.  There are definitely some rules of thumb that will make every crock pot meal delicious.

Cook meats with bones and/or fat.  Have you noticed how dry chicken breasts become in the crock pot?  Thighs however never dry out.  Often times, it’s the cheaper cuts of beef and pork that are full fat.  That’s an extra bonus.  These fatty meats do not dry out in the crock pot.

If you are planning on using lean meat, be sure to use plenty of liquid.  Don’t forget that liquid cooks out of the crock pot, so you will want to use more than you would in a conventional pot. 

Unless you are cooking dried beans, 6 hours should be max cook time.  This is often not possible for people who work and are gone all day.  Sometimes you have no choice but to cook a dish for more than 6 hours.  In this case, I suggest putting your meat in the pot frozen.  This will eat up some of the cook time.

For an easy side dish, stretch tin foil loosely over the top of your crock pot – leaving room for the lid to still fit on.  Place vegetables, small pats of butter, and seasonings on the tin foil.  Secure tin foil with clips to the handles of the pot.  Cover with lid and cook along side of (or on top of) your main dish.

For an anytime, any meat crock pot meal;  Combine 1 can of beef broth, 1 package of onion soup mix, 1 cup of water, and 1/2 cup of red wine or red cooking wine.  This is great with any meat.  My favorite is pork tenderloin.

I hope these tips make your next crock pot night delicious.

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Filed under Cooking made easy, Crock pots, Food Stuff

When to cut corners and when to walk all the way around

Are you always looking for ways to save money and save time in the kitchen?  I think more than ever, most of us are.  Is it ever worth the extra time or money to do things a little differently?  I’ve made a list of a few things that I think are indeed worth it and a few that are not.

A block of cheese verses pre-shredded cheese.  The price is the same, but pre-shredded cheese is much quicker.  I think it makes a huge difference to shred it myself.  There are lots of preservatives in pre-shredded cheese and as a result the taste isn’t as good.  I’ve also found that it melts better too if you shred it yourself.  The extra time it takes is definitely worth it.

Speaking of cheese – a good fresh block of parmesan is expensive, but worth it.  I would not have thought this, but my friend went to Italy and brought me back a block of really good parmesan.  I used it on everything and it lasted almost 9 months.  After that I was hooked.  That is one splurge I am willing to make.

Vegetables – canned, frozen, or fresh.  If you are eating a vegetable as a side dish, I would never suggest canned – no matter what the price difference.  I can hardly tell the difference, however, between fresh and frozen.  I always go with the least expensive of those two.

Spaghetti sauce – depends.  I buy mine in a jar, but many people will argue that the time it takes is totally worth it.  I think if I ever started making mine from scratch, I’d never go back.  I haven’t gotten that ambitious and I really like the Hunt’s Garlic and Herb in a can.  It’s hard to bring myself to slave over the stove when there’s a great one that’s so accessible.  This one is definitely debateable.

Butter – Real butter is sometimes a little more expensive.  It’s often cumbersome because it’s so hard and then there’s the calorie splurge.  All of this aside, real butter is the ONLY way to go.

Herbs – fresh herbs are usually so much more expensive.  No doubt that real basil blows dried basil out of the water.  Is it a 5.00 difference?  It depends on what you are making and what your budget is.  I very rarely use fresh basil for this reason.  It’s very expensive, and also has a very short shelf life.  This is one case where I vote against the splurge.

I hope this helps you the next time you are grocery shopping and undecided about what splurges are worth making and what corners are worth cutting.

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Filed under Food Stuff, Saving Money

My poll reveals that cooking isn’t the hard part of dinner.

My poll revealed exactly what I expected.  When asked which part of dinner they most dreaded, only 1 in 10 moms said that the actual cooking was the most treacherous part of dinner.  The remaining votes were split between planning / shopping and cleaning.  

The best advice I have is to knock out your planning and shopping in one block of time.  When you are deciding from day to day what you are going to have for dinner, it becomes a daily struggle.  If you spend one hour in every week planning your meals, you get to breathe easy the rest of the week.  One trip to the grocery store is certainly more bearable than 5 trips.  It’s less expensive too.

My dinner cleaning solution is to start with a clean slate (or sink.)  Before you start cooking, make sure your dishwasher is primed for dirty dishes.  Also make sure you are starting with an empty sink.  This will make cleaning as you go easier.  Did you know it’s just as easy to put dishes in the dishwasher as in the sink?  While you cook, put everything straight into the dishwasher.  As for pots and pans, give them a quick wash.  If you get in the habit of cleaning as you go, the after dinner clean up will be so much easier.  It will be one less thing to dread about dinner time.

Dinner is like laundry.  It’s not going away and we have to do it whether we like it or not.  These tips will make that task easier and more enjoyable.  Try it and see.

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Filed under Meal Planning Strategies

The Perfect Smoothie

Do you get hung up on what to put in smoothies?  For some reason, making smoothies used to intimidate me.  Now, I have a no fail recipe for a delicious smoothie every time. 

It’s 1 cup of frozen yogurt, 1/2 cup of frozen fruit, and 1/4 cup of juice.  The consistency is perfect and makes enough for two.  What I love is that you can change flavors of yogurt, fruit, and juice for lots of variety.  

You can freeze your own fruit or buy frozen fruit.   I usually freeze my bananas right before they go bad (peel first) or stock up on berries when they are on sale.

You can’t go wrong.  It’s fun for the kids to experiment with different flavors.  Yogurt and juice comes in so many flavors.  You can make something as wild as key lime yogurt, frozen bananas, and apple juice or as simple as vanilla yogurt, frozen berries, cranberry juice.  The possiblilities are endless.  So scrap all those smoothie recipe books and remember this simple combination – 1 cup of frozen yogurt + 1/2 cup of frozen fruit + 1/4 cup of juice = the perfect smoothie.

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Filed under Food Stuff, Recipes