Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Slow Cooking = Easy Cooking

I received an email today from Christina, author of www.ourducksinarow.com, asking about slow cooker recipes. She has used the pork roast recipe from Sophie Safe Cooking multiple times and asked what other things she can cook in her slow cooker. Here is a basic slow cooker meal recipe that can be modified for what you have and what you like to eat.

Slow Cooker Casserole

1 1/2 C uncooked rice
3 C starchy vegetables (potatoes, carrots, etc.)
2-3 pounds of meat (use a roast, a whole chicken, several chicken breasts, or pork chops, etc.)
seasonings that you like (use 1-2 teaspoons of a seasoning blend, or see below for suggestions)
1 C water if using starchy vegetables
3 C water if using rice

Put your rice or starchy veggies on the bottom, put the meat on top. Pour in your water and then sprinkle the seasonings all over the meat and down into the starchy vegetables. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours (always cook on low if you have a tougher cut of meat--the low temperature over time will make for a much more tender meal).

If you prefer, you can cook just your meat in the slow cooker. It will not require any liquid in most cases. With chicken, you will want to reduce the cooking time and keep an eye on things to make sure it doesn't burn or dry out. The seasoning suggestions will work for meat alone or meat with a starch. For example, today I am cooking a beef roast in the slow cooker with garlic powder, salt and pepper. We will be eating it with some veggies and mashed potatoes that I will cook separately just before dinner time.

Seasoning Suggestions:

Onions or Garlic: Most people like to add onions or garlic or both to almost any dinner recipe. My family prefers garlic, so we usually add a couple of cloves of fresh garlic, or 1/2 to 1 tsp. of granulated garlic to a meal like this. If you're adding onions, I would try about 1/2 onion, diced finely, to start. You can experiment and find the right amount for you and your family as you go along.

1 tsp. of salt is usually plenty for this amount of food. You can use less depending on your other seasonings, or none if you are using a seasoning mix, especially if it contains salt.

1/4 to 1/2 tsp. of black pepper, and/or use chili powder or red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper.

Italian Style Seasoning:
use a mix of oregano, basil, and parsley with garlic and onions, or just use the spices out of this list that you have already on hand.

Mexican Style Seasoning: 1 Tbsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. cumin, 1/2 tsp. garlic, 1 tsp. Mexican oregano; you can also add a small can of chopped jalapeno peppers or green chilies. With green chilies, I sometimes omit or decrease the chili powder.

Seasoning for Pork: For pork I love to use a combination of garlic (1/2 tsp.), sage (1/2 to 1 tsp.), sea salt (1/2 to 1 tsp.) and fresh ground black pepper (1/2 tsp.). Replacing part of the water with apple juice or apple cider is also a great touch.

Seasoning for Beef: One of the many options for beef is barbecue style. To achieve this, add a can of tomato sauce to your meal. Season it with 1/2 tsp. ground mustard, 2 Tbsp. brown sugar, 1/2 to 1 tsp. salt, 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1 Tbsp. cider vinegar, and your garlic or onions or both.

Seasoning for Chicken: Chicken is so versatile--there are a million ways to season it. Some of the things I love with chicken are 1/2 C diced celery or 1 tsp. celery salt, a bay leaf, oregano and parsley.

For this kind of cooking, you should go with your nose--if it smells like it would go well in your dish, then it probably will. You can also reference other recipes that you like and use the spices they recommend. Good luck, and happy cooking!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What, more candy?

What to do with Halloween candy is a dilemma for every parent, and even more so for those of us managing our children's allergies. On average, Americans eat about 23 pounds of candy per year, and much of that is consumed in the weeks leading up to and including Halloween. Each year as the holidays draw near, I have two major food questions on my mind:

1. How can I help my kids to continue to make good eating choices during this time of year?
2. What can I do to help Sophie feel happy and create positive memories despite her dietary restrictions?

Over the years, I have developed a few ideas for managing Halloween candy, and friends have contributed others.

First, since Sophie loves to Trick or Treat, when I purchase Halloween candy to pass out at our door, I generally buy only items that are safe for her. I also set aside some of the safe candy so that when she gets home from Trick or Treating, or from a party or other event, she can give me her forbidden items in exchange for things that she loves and that are safe for her.

Second, I have several friends who pay their children for their Halloween candy. They have a set amount of time during which the kids can eat what they want (maybe 1 or 2 days), and then they buy the rest of the candy. They set a price either per piece or per pound, and it gives the kids a way to earn some money, and Mom and Dad don't have to worry so much about cavities.

Purchasing the candy generally only works for kids old enough to understand and appreciate money, so my third suggestion is an alternative to the candy sale for younger children. For younger kids, or kids who don't care about the value of a $dollar$, purchase a toy that you know your child really wants. You can spend whatever works for your budget. Then, offer to trade your child that toy for their Halloween candy. For many kids, the concrete toy is much harder to resist than the more nebulous dollars and cents.

The fourth idea is simply another version of the third. Rather than offering to trade, explain to your children about the Halloween Fairy. The Halloween Fairy is friends with the Tooth Fairy, as well as the less-well-known Bottle Fairy and Diaper Fairy (courtesy of SuperNanny). They operate in much the same way. All of the fairies come at night. They require a certain offering, in this case, Halloween candy, and in exchange will leave something of value, in this case, a new toy.

Whether you trade your kids for their candy or let them keep it and slowly consume it over the coming weeks and months, you can also find ways to control the eating a little. In our family, we ask each of the children to go through their candy and donate supplies to the Decorating Bag. This is a large ziptop bag used when we make and decorate cookies, Gingerbread houses, dipped candy canes, etc. For the sake of simplicity, I require that all donations to the Decorating Bag are Sophie Safe.

My husband has a suggestion as well: Daddy Tax. Daddy Tax is the tax, paid in candy, which all children must pay their fathers any time the children eat candy in front of them. I'm not sure that his motive is reducing their sugar intake, but it does the job just the same.

I hope you all have a safe and Happy Halloween!