Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Don't heat up the kitchen

I love my slow cooker in the winter because it's always handy for soups and stews and roasts and everything that tastes good when it's cold outside. But I also love it in the summer because it keeps my kitchen cool while at the same time cooking my dinner!

For supper Monday, my family had a deliciously tender turkey breast, thanks to the miracle of a slow cooker. I cook a turkey breast this way quite often because I love the leftovers. The first night, I make hot turkey sandwiches or just serve the turkey with a few side dishes. During the week I make turkey salad at lunch, and by Wednesday or Thursday, we're ready for shredded turkey simmered in my homemade barbecue sauce.

But on Friday night, we dined on Sloppy Joes that cooked only four hours in a slow cooker. Once again, my kitchen didn't have to be heated up.

The Sloppy Joe recipe is one I found online at myrecipes.com. It was originally published in Southern Living three years ago. The recipe had a number of favorable reviews, so I decided to try it, making only a few changes.

This recipe uses not only ground beef but sausage as well. I don't use pork sausage very often, so I substituted turkey sausage. I also cut the brown sugar from 1/4 cup to 2 tablespoons, and, because I'm not a big fan, I used just a teaspoon of chili powder instead of a tablespoon.

I turned the slow cooker to low on the last hour of cooking and would probably cook it on low the entire time the next time I make it, but I seem to think my slow cooker cooks a little too hot. If you're home, just keep an eye on it.

This recipe yields a very thick, very tasty Sloppy Joe. We thought it was very good. My husband had seconds and ate another sandwich for lunch the next day. My son, Robert, sprinkled grated mozzarella cheese on his and said it was a good addition.

Robert goes back to college in a few weeks. He asked me over the weekend if I could make some of his favorite foods before he leaves. He said I'd been needing my Crockpot! I've included some of his favorites that would work well in this hot summer weather.

Slow-cooker Sloppy Joes
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 (16-oz.) package ground pork sausage*
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 medium-size green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 (8-oz.) can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 8 hamburger buns, toasted
Brown beef and sausage with onion and bell pepper in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring 10 minutes or until beef and sausage crumble and are no longer pink. Drain well.

Place beef mixture in a 4 1/2-quart slow cooker. Stir in tomato sauce and next 9 ingredients. Cover and cook on HIGH 4 hours. Serve on hamburger buns.

Cooktop Method: Proceed with recipe as directed in Step 1, returning drained beef mixture to Dutch oven. Stir in tomato sauce and next 8 ingredients, omitting flour. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.

Prep: 15 min., Cook: 45 min.

Note: To freeze leftover Sloppy Joe mixture, let cool completely. Place in zip-top plastic freezer bags; lay bags flat, and stack in freezer. Freeze up to 1 month. Thaw overnight in the fridge, or defrost in the microwave.

Mandy Fugate, Orange City, Florida, Southern Living, April 2007

*Note: I used turkey sausage, and cut brown sugar to 2 tablespoons and chili powder to 1 teaspoon.

Slow Cooker Macaroni and Cheese
  • 8 oz. box (2 cups) elbow macaroni (uncooked)
  • 8 oz. light Velveeta, cut into cubes*
  • 4 cups milk (I used 1 percent.)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Pour all ingredients into slow cooker and mix until combined. (I use a disposable, slow cooker liner to make for a very easy clean up. They are sold on the aisle with oven cooking bags.)

For best results, cook on low for 3 hours and high for 1 hour. If possible, mix every hour to keep from sticking. If you won’t be at home while it cooks, it will do fine without stirring and cooked on low for maybe 5 hours. I used to cook this on high for 4 hours but found it works best cooking slower.

* When I cannot find an 8 oz. light Velveeta. I cut the 16 oz. in half and save the other half for up to several weeks in the refrigerator.

Slow Cooker Turkey Breast
  • Thawed turkey breast (make sure it’s a size that will fit your slow cooker*)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Place turkey breast in slow cooker. Be sure to remove the giblet or turkey bag if there is one. Do not add water to the slow cooker; it will make plenty of broth, I promise. Cook on low all day, around 8 hours. Don’t open lid while cooking.

*If the turkey breast is a little bit too tall and the lid won’t completely close when you place it in your slow cooker, don’t be too worried. When the breast starts to cook, it will shrink, and the lid will close.

Dilly Beef Sandwiches
  • 1 boneless beef chuck roast or beef bottom round (3 to 4 pounds)
  • 1 jar (16 ozs.) whole dill pickles, undrained
  • 1/2 cup chili sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (I omitted)
  • 10 to 12 hamburger rolls, split
Cut roast in half and place in a slow cooker. Add pickles with juice, chili sauce* and garlic. Cover and cook on low for 8-9 hours or until beef is tender. Discard pickles. Remove roast.
When cool enough to handle, shred the meat. Return to the sauce and heat through. Using a slotted spoon, fill each bun with about 1/2 cup meat mixture.

Yields 10 to 12 servings.

*Note: You will find the chili sauce near the ketchup in your grocery store.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sweet way to enjoy fruit

One of the nicest things about going to someone's house to eat is trying a new recipe. Eating someone else's baked beans. Enjoying someone else's potato salad. Don't you agree?

On July 4, my family and I had a wonderful dinner at the home of my cousin Martha Cayton and her husband, John.

Some of us swam in the pool, some of us sat by the pool and enjoyed the conversation, but we all ate heartily.

One of the highlights of the evening was Martha's dessert: a fruit pizza. She had told me she was making it, and I had looked forward to it for days. I've seen several versions of this dish and couldn't wait to see how Martha made it.

We all loved the fruit pizza. It was a delicious and light dessert for a hot summer day.

Martha used a very simple recipe, which I also made over the weekend.

The crust is a tube of refrigerated sugar cookie dough. I made my "pizza" in a disposable pizza pan and was able to easily make it stretch to cover the entire pan. The dough had gotten very soft in my hot kitchen, though, so if you have trouble pressing it to fit the pan, let the dough get to room temperature and use your fingers to stretch it out across the pan.

There are several steps to this recipe, so you have to think ahead to get them all done.

While the cookie was baking, I prepped my fruit, except for the peaches. I was afraid they would turn brown so I waited to cut them just before putting them on the dessert. I also used strawberries, blueberries and kiwi. This was the first time I had used kiwi. I looked online for suggestions on peeling it. I followed the directions I found and cut 1/4 inch from each end of the fruit and gently inserted a teaspoon between the green fruit and the brown skin. I ran my spoon around the fruit to make a complete circle. Then I was able to pop out the green fruit, which was ready to be sliced. Martha used the same fruit on hers but said she has also made it with bananas and fresh pineapple.

I also made the cream cheese filling and started the citrus glaze while the cookie cooked and cooled. (Carefully watch the cookie as it bakes; you don't want to overbake it and make the crust too hard.)

By the time the cookie had cooled, I was ready to assemble my dessert.

You should think in advance how you want to arrange the fruit on your pizza. Martha arranged her fruit in a circular pattern, and I did the same thing. I cut too much fruit but used it all anyway by layering the strawberries and blueberries for my final and largest circle.

Applying the citrus glaze is the last step. There's plenty glaze to go around, but take it easy, and spread just a little bit at a time. Make sure to completely cover the peaches or any other fruit you use that might brown otherwise.

We ate the majority of our pizza in less than two hours after I made it and put it in the refrigerator. We couldn't wait. The cookie was a little firm then but was really too soft 24 hours later when we ate the few remaining leftovers. Martha and I both recommend eating the pizza on the same day you make it.

While eating my fruit pizza Sunday afternoon, my sister, nieces, daughter and I discussed other options for a dessert pizza. Just think of the variations using peanut butter or chocolate chip cookies, frostings, nuts, whipped cream and chocolate chips. It all sounds good to me!

Fruit Pizza

  • 1 package (16.5 oz.) sugar cookie dough
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice cookie dough into 1/8” slices and arrange in circles on a pizza pan. Press and smooth cookie dough slices together to cover the pan. If you have trouble making it stretch, allow the dough to come to room temperature; it will be easier to handle then.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool completely.

  • 1 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened (Reduced-fat works fine.)
  • 1/2 of an 8 ounce carton of whipped topping
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
Beat cream cheese and sugar till fluffy. Fold in Cool Whip.

Spread on cooled cookie crust leaving the edge of the cookie crust uncovered.

Fruit topping:
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 large kiwi, sliced thinly in circles
  • 2 fresh peaches, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 pint strawberries, sliced
  • You can use other fruits as well, including bananas and pineapple.
Arrange fruit over cream cheese filling.

Orange glaze:
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 tsp. grated orange peel
  • Dash of salt
  • 1/4 cup water
In a small saucepan, combine sugar, salt and cornstarch. Gradually add the liquid ingredients and grated orange peel. Cook over medium heat till mixture bubbles for about 3 minutes until thickened. Cool and spoon over fruit.

Make sure to cover any fruit that might turn brown.

Refrigerate and cut into pizza slices to serve. Best if eaten the same day it is made.

Martha Cayton

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Quick pickles

When my husband and I planted our little raised bed garden this spring, we included several pickling cucumber plants. We are both pickle-lovers, especially Reggie, and liked the idea of making our own.

When I think of pickle-making, several things come to mind. I remember big white buckets brimming with cucumbers on the floor in Mama's kitchen, large canning jars sterilized and ready for packing, and the unforgettable smell of pickling spice simmering in a pot of vinegar and sugar. I also remember a piece of notebook paper with detailed instructions about soaking cucumbers in a lime bath and on how to care for the pickles on Day 2 and Day 9 and Day 14.

That's not the image I'll remember from our pickle-making experience this year. We went the easy route, making microwave pickles in less than 15 minutes. I kid you not.

Granted, we didn't make enough pickles to last the year, but that's OK. We can make more.

We've made the bread and butter pickles several times now. The first time, we followed the advice of someone who left a review on the recipe, suggesting the cucumbers be added to the spicy vinegar and sugar solution after it had cooked. The reviewer said the sliced pickles would be firmer or crisper if they weren't microwaved. So we tried it. I didn't like the way they looked, and the first time I tried them, I thought they tasted like cucumbers soaked in pickle juice, which is exactly what they were.

Reggie liked them, though, and ate them. He said they got better each day as the cucumbers, stored in the refrigerator, soaked up the syrup.

A few weeks later, co-worker Carol Smithwick offered me one of her microwave pickles. It was delicious. She later gave me the recipe, and I discovered it was the very same recipe Reggie and I had used. The difference? She cooked her cucumbers in the microwave.

So later that week, Reggie and I gathered a few cucumbers left from our garden and added some I had purchased at the farmer's market, and we made two more batches. This time, we followed the recipe and cooked the cucumbers along with the vinegar/ sugar solution.

Within a few minutes, the house started smelling just like Mama and Daddy's kitchen at pickle-making time. The aroma of pickling spice and vinegar made my taste buds scream for pickles!

I let the cucumbers cool a little before pouring them into the 16 oz. plastic freezer jars we had purchased. One recipe fits perfectly in the containers, but you can certainly use something else. After the pickles cooled a little more, we put them in the refrigerator. We waited 24 hours to try them, allowing the flavors to soak in. We were very happy with the results. We finished the first jar in less than a week!

I didn't want to waste the leftover pickle juice and onions that hadn't been eaten, so I cut up another 2 cups of cucumbers from our garden and made another batch, once again cooking the cucumbers, this time in the juice and spices left from the first batch. The pickles were delicious and only get better each day.

I hope the cucumber vines keep producing a few more weeks so we can make some more pickles!

The recipe here reflects the way Carol and I made our pickles. I think it's interesting that we made the same changes to the original recipe. We both used apple cider vinegar instead of white (just like our mamas used when making pickles) and instead of using mustard seed, tumeric and celery seed to spice up the pickles, we used pickling spice.

I know there are many of you out there who still make pickles the old-fashioned way, and I salute you. I always get homemade pickles when I'm in a covered dish meal line because I know they will be delicious. But for those of us who are afraid of canning or just don't have the patience to can large quantities, this really is a good alternative.

Microwave Bread and Butter Pickles
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups sliced cucumbers
  • 1 cup sliced Vidalia onions
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pickling spice*
Mix all ingredients in a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap. I used a batter bowl.

Microwave on high for 7-8 minutes.

Let cool slightly before pouring into container for storage. Store in refrigerator after cooling.

*Instead of pickling spice, you can use 1/2 teaspoon mustard seed, 1/4 teaspoon celery seed and 1/4 teaspoon tumeric.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Turkey burgers a delicious alternative

My fascination with turkey burgers started this winter while I was frequenting the cafeteria at Wilson Medical Center. My mother was hospitalized, and many days I was eating all three meals in the downstairs cafeteria. I'd usually alternated my meals between the cafeteria line, the bountiful salad bar and the grill.

One of my favorite menu items at the grill was the turkey burger. I had made turkey burgers before from a recipe my sister gave me, but this turkey burger was the first one I bought at a restaurant, and I loved it. I was first drawn to it because the cafeteria posted the nutritional information for both a beef cheeseburger and a turkey burger. The turkey burger had 9.5 grams of fat with 203 calories. In comparison, the cheeseburger had 24 grams of fat and 476 calories. I couldn't bring myself to eat the cheeseburger!

I dressed up the turkey burger with my favorite condiments and thoroughly enjoyed it every time I bought it.

When my cafeteria days ended and I had no one to cook for me three times a day, I still craved those turkey burgers and bought some frozen patties from the grocery store and made them myself. They were very good, but I wanted to try something else.

I did what I do so many times when I try something new -- I read a number of turkey burger recipes and came up with my own. After making the burgers once or twice, I tweaked the recipe some more, cutting back on the onion soup mix to lower the sodium and dropping the egg, which isn't really necessary. My version is very simple and takes only a few minutes to assemble. (A few weeks ago, we published a turkey burger recipe that I'm sure is quite good, but mine is more streamlined in its preparation and needs very ingredients.)

My husband and I still pile on our favorite burger toppings, choosing from mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, bread and butter pickles, lettuce and tomato. He's added cheese to his a few times, but I haven't tried it that way yet. We also make the turkey burgers on multi-grain sandwich thins. Have you tried these yet? They are very thin and flat and quite tasty. We really like them for variety and use the leftovers for egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches or even grilled pimiento cheese.

So far, Reggie and I are the only ones who have eaten turkey burgers at my house, so there are two leftover burgers each time I make them. I warm them in a skillet at lunch the next day, and they are just as delicious as the night before.

I'm really glad I have this recipe. Burgers are probably Reggie's favorite food, but I feel guilty whenever I make them (and I do still make them occasionally.) But he really likes turkey burgers because he can layer on mustard and pickles and ketchup and enjoy the taste without so much guilt.

My sister tells me she has a delicious black bean burger recipe, so stay tuned; I might try that next!

Seasoned Turkey Burgers
  • 1 package ground turkey (the package I buy weights 1 1/3 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon Lipton Onion Soup Mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Mix all ingredients well, making sure to evenly distribute the soup mix. I start out with a spoon and then use my hands. Make into 4 patties.

Cook 3 minutes on one side; flip and cook about 3 minutes on the other side or until cooked through. (I cook mine on a George Foreman Grill.)

Serve on bun with favorite condiments. I use multi-gain sandwich thins for this burger.

If you have leftovers, reheat slowly in a skillet.