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Slow Cooking: Christmas Edition

Slow Cooking–great all year long!

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Hello again, Dear Readers:

Well, I’m back again with more slow cooking. Recently, I was introduced (online) to a lady who is a pro at the slow cooking thing. She’s written books and has blogged about it for many years. And I just found her. She’s going to help us with our holiday dinners!

But first, a lesson in irony.

Recently, I had an errand in Hammond, and of course, made a quick stop in the closest  Starbucks there. Take a look and tell me if you see the irony here:

Seriously?

Seriously. . .

This was, of course, in the ladies room after a tanker full of coffee (free refills with your Starbucks card!) If you’re not seeing it, allow me to explain: the sign is an instruction on how to wash your hands. In it, you are told to dry off your hands with a paper towel, then use said paper towel to turn off the water when you’re done.

In the sticker on the hot-air hand dryer, you are told about the energy efficiency of using the hand dryer. It eliminates the paper towel, but gives you nothing to turn off the faucet (or open the door to leave) with to protect your freshly-washed hands from someone else’s hand germs.

Does no one think about this?

Louisiana is the only state I’ve ever been in that posts hand-washing instructions in the bathrooms, nearly everywhere. I never saw those in 18 years in Texas. Draw your own conclusions.

Sewing!

I took out one of my sewing machines this week, mostly to test it out. With a few fat quarters from Walmart, I made this item:

The State flag of Texas

That’s right. A Texas flag.

Funny how you don’t notice them until you don’t see them anymore. (The sign underneath is a WWIIposter that says “Sew for Victory.”)  There will be more of them, if for no other reason, to use up the stars. But BF has been told that when the day comes that he puts up an American Flag on the property, as many neighbors have, there *will* be a Texas flag flying next to it. And if the Texit business happens, I do hope they take Louisiana with it so we can have more great barbecue!

Cleaning up

For the record, Whole Foods isn’t kidding about encouraging you to “shop local” and all that. Not a bad idea, of course. This big guy’s grin greeted me as I checked out of the Mandeville store this past weekend:

Who's that?

Who’s that?

William Terry, the founder of Bayou Soap, is on board with natural soaps and creates them right in New Orleans.  (You can read more about them here, and their Facebook page is here.) I couldn’t resist looking at the many bars—lovely soaps, and they all smell wonderful:

Lavender--good for evening showers to help you sleep.

Lavender–good for evening showers to help you sleep.

Don't these look yummy?

Don’t these look yummy?

I have no idea what

I have no idea what “African Black Soap” is, but maybe one day I’ll give it a try. Long as it doesn’t paint me.

Mango soap? Mango!!

Mango soap? Mango!!

Yes, these are pricey, but handcrafted artisan items usually are. (You can also order them online.) Mr. Terry doesn’t have the manufacturing muscle of Proctor & Gamble, and he uses natural ingredients without harsh chemicals. (I used to buy some very nice soaps from a lady at the farmer’s market in Nassau Bay on occasion, too.) Plus, they’re very big bars. My thinking is to cut them into one or two smaller bars to make them easier to handle and last a while. I’ll get some one day soon. I do like to shop local when I can, and patronize local businesses.

While others have seen Jesus’ face in a grilled cheese sandwich, and the Virgin Mary in a mobile home door screen, I see BF’s cute face in this bar of soap:

Can you see his face in this bar of soap?

It’s BF!!

I can’t possibly use that to wash my hands now. . . .

Christmas is SUNDAY.

How did this happen? I mean, wasn’t it Turkey Day just a week or two ago? Carols have been playing nearly everywhere I go. . .that stuff has been out in Walmart for weeks. . .yesterday I told BF I wanted an Easy-Bake Oven for Christmas, ha, ha. Being the smart aleck he is, he might just get me one–but where do you get the refill packages for it? I’ve never seen them, but I guess because I don’t have to.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and all through the house

The A/C was running, for we live in the South.

Yep. We’re waiting to see how Mother Nature treats us this year. It was quite warm last year, and I was in shorts Christmas Day. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like icy cold watermelon chunks. That could be the case this year, even though we’ve been shivering cold for quite some time–and so have my friends in Houston, too.

Let’s get serious with our slow cookers, shall we?

Longtime readers know about my affinity for slow cooking, and my more recent affinity for the waffle maker. Last weekend I used my Cuisinart Griddler not for waffling, but for making BF some pancakes. I used the flat griddle plate to make them right on the counter top. (I still haven’t replaced the drip tray, but we weren’t making bacon or anything that required it.) He got the biggest kick out of it–“you and your gadgets!” he said. Look at it this way: I didn’t have to turn on the stove for a little bit of cooking.

Yesterday was a 2 pound pork loin roast slow cooked with some olive oil and Italian seasoning. BF ate that right up with some baked sweet potato fries.

That’s the thing about the slow cooker–you really do just set it and forget it. It takes some advance planning, but so does cooking a standard meal. The other day I put two turkey thighs in BF’s 4 quart slow-cooker, and dinner was done when we got home. Added some Waffled Hash Browns, which took about 15 minutes to create, and we had. . .meat and potatoes, ready to have in less than 30 minutes.

Then I got ahead of the game by slow cooking.

I also started cooking the next day’s meal that night, before we sat down to the turkey and hash browns. There is a back-story to this.

Recently I was introduced, on Facebook, to a lady named Stephanie O’Dea, who is the author of a number of books and a blog called A Year of Slow Cooking.  I write a food blog, and would cook every day in the slow cooker if I could. . .how did I miss this?

Apparently Mrs. O’Dea decided she would be slow cooking every day for a year, and blogged about it. She’s since written several books on the subject, and has more slow cookers than we do at Casa de Rurale. So I eagerly signed up for her emails, and read them. This lady goes all out, OK? The other day, she sent one about making tamales in the slow cooker. I’ll try that one day, too, when we’re in the mood for Mexican food. But the one that caught my eye was the Crock Pot 16-Bean Soup Recipe.

Say what?

Mrs. O’Dea admits to being somewhat lackadaisical towards many things. . .OK, she’s lazy.

I have walked by the bags of soup mix in the grocery store a hundred million times. I’ve even picked one up, read the print on the bag, and taken it for a ride in the shopping cart. 

But then I chicken out and put it back on the shelf with it’s friends.

It just seemed like a lot of work.

I, um, actually don’t really enjoy work. 

I’d really like a house full of forest creatures like in Snow White or in Enchanted to come do it all for me so I can spin around in circles singing. 

So far the closest I’ve gotten to that dream is a six-year-old wearing a two-sizes-too-small rooster Halloween costume running around with a feather duster…

But it’s a nice dream, nonetheless.

We all think like this from time to time, right? Well, after reading this email, I had some time before I had to pick up BF, so I stopped at HEB. . .I mean, Walmart. . .on the way home and picked up a few ingredients I needed.

Unfortunately, this is Louisiana, so we only get 15 beans, not 16 beans in our soup packages. (I miss my HEB.) I take what I can get, check out, and head home to the Casa.

And I started cooking tomorrow’s dinner!

When I picked up BF later that evening, I told him, “I am on it.” He gave me that cute look of quizzical confusion that he often does, and I explained myself.  I saw this email, and I acted on it! The turkey thighs were ready when we got home, but the soup would cook all night, and he could have some to take to work the next day. Thumbs up on this one. . .but no pictures this time.

slow cooking

Really–just let it go.

I did as she instructs, tossed out that chemical “flavoring packet,” (no need to tell me twice) and altered it slightly. No tomatoes, BF has a problem with them sometimes. Beef stock and water from the pantry, and an inexpensive one-pound packet of cubed ham from the meat case. Boiled the beans and let them sit for an hour, and then started loading up the 6-quart slow cooker.

This soup smells wonderful while it cooks. The soup was slow-cooking all night, and we really enjoyed it the next day. BF became “all beaned out,” so I froze the rest for another day.

This soup is highly recommended. Slow cooking it makes it really easy. Check out the recipe and the “customizations” for making it yours. Yum.

Slow cooking a full holiday meal?

Absolutely–Mrs. O’Dea has you covered! Check out this Christmas Ham in the Slow Cooker with honey and ginger. Ham not your style? Heck, she’s got a myriad of slow cooker recipes for the holidays parked right here on this page.

Slow cooking apples

Slow cooking apples

Need an extra slow cooker? Borrow one a day or two before if you’re afraid of going out to the mall this holiday season like I was in Houston. If you haven’t planned anything yet, well, better get a move on! Both links have recipes suitable for holiday gatherings, but you have to plan ahead.

Please note that despite the fancy fixtures that come attached to modern slow cookers, they are not essential. Last time, I told you about the web-enabled model with the smartphone app from CrockPot. I don’t have one of those, nor the one where you can brown and bake before the slow cooking. Mine are 13-year-old Crock Pots bought in 2003 or 2004 at Big Lots in Texas before I moved out of the GER’s house. I also have a “little dipper” I bought to get the cooking smells out of the kitchen. BF’s is a Hamilton Beach 4 quart, just like my Crock Pot. I refer to them as “dumb terminal models,” because you control them from the little knob on the front after you plug them in. (Eight years in IT, I know stuff like this.)  I know, I know, there are slow cooking marvels with all kinds of bells & whistles and apps and all that. You do not NEED it. If you spend that much on a slow cooker, that’s less you can spend on food. Your choice.

Wrangling the whole thing together.

The best advice I’ve ever heard for planning any kind of special occasion was from The Barefoot Contessa in Foolproof. Write it all down, figure out how long everything will take to make, create a schedule and work backwards. In other words, if your turkey will take 4 hours, and dinner is at 5:00 pm, you put it in the oven about 1:00 pm, making sure your oven is at the temperature you need (usually 350F.) Potatoes will take an hour, so those go into the oven about 4:00 pm–and at 350F, you can easily bake them at the same time on a different rack. I mean, why not?

And you can always drop the potatoes in your CrockPot, right? Slow cooking can indeed help with Christmas dinner as well as parties and other celebrations.

What’s on the HeatCageKitchen menu for Christmas?

Well, nothing yet, but there likely is going to be some slow cooking going on. Especially if I don’t make much.

BF mentioned the other night that he wanted to have ham for Christmas. I wouldn’t mind if it was *this* ham, but he says he wants it “baked.” How is this not baked if it’s slow cooking at 300F or 350F for several hours?

If he wants something with Coke and sugar all over it, or requires the use of any kind of “enclosed packet,”  I’m roasting a Lemon Chicken for myself. And I’m not doing *everything* I did for Turkey Day, although I wouldn’t mind making those Perfect Mashed Potatoes again. But we haven’t heard from the kids, nor anyone else, so it might just be the two of us with the critters.

But whatever we do, there’s a good chance a slow cooker’s going to be involved. And there’s a good chance that something will be waffled.

Remember too that there are recipes posted on this page. Most are favorites that I’ve tried many times, and that may be just what you’re looking for, including some slow cooking, too.

And if you’re not hosting. . . .

Are you going to someone’s house for Christmas lunch/dinner? Bring something tasty and delicious, whether you’re slow cooking or not. A Year of Slow Cooking is a great place to start, as is Pinterest.

And if it’s looking like you’re going to be home alone on Christmas, as I was for many years, enjoy it. Enjoy the peace and solitude, watch whatever TV shows you want, (I highly recommend British TV, especially a comedy if you can find some, turn on the CC,), enjoy the best meal you can cook up,  and don’t feel “alone.” Slow cooking something delicious will free you up to watch your favorite holiday DVDs, listen to your favorite music, and spend time with yourself. There are folks who will be working on Christmas and would be happy to be home. Many are first responders (fire, police, medical personnel, etc.) so please don’t make their job harder.

It’s OK to be alone on Christmas.

If you’re really not happy about the holidays (there are more than one) remember that Christmas comes but once a year. . .and in a week or so, it will all be over. No more carols blaring from the PA system everywhere you go. No more drunks wishing you a “Cherry Mistmas.” No more red and green everything. Come January 2nd, the trees will be heading to the recycling bin, the lights will come down, and people will start packing stuff up to put away for another year. Some might not finish until March, but you get the idea.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and Happy New Year!

I’m probably not going to publish a post again until after Christmas, so I will wish all of you Happy Holidays, whatever holiday you want to celebrate. (Hey–if there’s food involved, there’s a good chance I’ll be celebrating it, no matter what religion it’s from.)  Whatever it is you like to cook, make it tasty, healthy, and make enough for everybody, OK?

There’s a good chance I’ll be in the back doing some sewing while I’m doing some slow cooking.

Enjoy!