Posts Tagged ‘family meals’

August 11th, 2011

Tips For Cooking With a Crock Pot

Crock pot cooking tips from Operation Letter to Santa and Santa's blogA slow cooker or crock pot is a useful tool for any busy household. All that is required of you is to add your ingredients to the crock pot and be ready to eat a delicious home cooked meal when you and your family all gather around the dinner table. Slow cookers come in many sizes to accommodate both single people or larger family units. Before you begin to lick your lips, here are some basic tips about how and what to cook in your slow cooker.

First, there are slow cooker cookbooks on the market, and most crock pots come with a recipe booklet included in the box.Here are some links to some great slow cooker cookbooks on

A crock pot can turn some of our favorite stove top and oven recipes into slow cooker sensations. Dishes you may never thought of cooking in a crock pot cooker can be prepared without you even being there. You can even bake banana bread with an optional insert!

What you must remember when cooking anything in a slow cooker is the liquid component. There must be some type of liquid in the bottom of the cooker to begin the cooking process. Without it, your meal will stick to the bottom and burn. There doesn’t need to be a lot of it, just enough to cover the bottom in most cases. The juices within the meat will mingle with the other liquid during cooking to create more of a stock.

When using a crock pot it should be at least half full for maximum cooking potential. Keep in mind that the more food you add to the cooker, the slower it will cook. The temperature will cook the food evenly without overcooking if the heat settings are adjusted accordingly. If you aren’t careful and don’t adjust the crock pot heat settings, you may find that an eight hour setting cooked your dinner in two and spent the other six drying it out.

Meats are the most common food cooked in a slow cooker. People use a crock pot to cook main dishes for dinner since this is the meal we struggle with preparing most on a busy schedule. Any meat used needs to be thoroughly drained before adding it to the cooker. Since meat takes longer to cook, they need to make up the bottom layer. This will also help keep the meat moist since it will cook into the liquid underneath.

For safety, cook meats at least three hours so that an internal temperature that is high enough for proper cooking can be reached. This is not usually a problem since many use the crock pot at its lowest setting (six to ten hours depending on the brand of cooker). Just a word of advice, whole chickens should not be used in a slow cooker. The internal temperature needed to safely cook that much chicken properly can’t be reached in time for eating at such low temperature settings.

If you plan to cook vegetables in your slow cooker, here are some tips. Tough fibrous veggies like carrots and potatoes can be tossed in at the beginning with the meat. It takes longer for the fibers to be broken down and the vegetables to be cooked all the way through. More delicate vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and mushrooms should be added half an hour before the meal is done.

Slow cooking makes dinner a cinch when you are on the run. Just be sure to experiment with various dishes the first time to get an idea of how long your slow cooker takes to create the particular meal. Layering foods correctly and testing heat settings will ensure your meal will be delicious every time.

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April 30th, 2011

Healthy Homemade Soups on the Go

Healthy Homemade Soups on the Go by Operation Santa ClausIn this day and age it can be hard to eat healthy. With your busy schedule, especially if you have children, many people find it easier to grab whatever is available and the quickest and deal with the health consequences later. With the following tips for soups on the go you’ll learn how to make sure that the food you grab is of the healthy variety.

The problem with dealing with the consequences of unhealthy eating habits is that later is actually closer than you might think. Later is right now. Sadly, we are a nation of obese adults and just as many, if not more, obese children. Our unhealthy eating choices have caught up with us. You might be asking yourself, “How can I eat healthy when I’m crunched for time already?”

One way is to make foods that can be taken with you on the go. One of those foods is soup. Soup is tasty, filling, and good for you anytime, but especially on a cold fall or winter day. There are hot soups and believe it or not even cold soups. Many of the warm soups are even good eaten cold or lukewarm.

First, choose your favorite soup. A popular choice of many is the infamous chicken noodle soup. There’s nothing better when you are under the weather than the warm chicken broth soothing your throat. Campbell’s has a wonderful soup in a microwave container perfect for eating on the go, but we are going to make our own soup for an even healthier choice.

The one thing that is best about homemade food is that you know what is and is not in it. Since we are concerned with health, preparing your own soup creations at home is the best way to go. No matter which type of soup you choose to make, be sure to use fresh ingredients. The other items you’ll need are plenty of cups with lids and a blender.

Now it’s time to actually create your time saving soup. A good soup always starts with the stock. For chicken soup, make the broth by boiling the remains of the chicken you had for dinner. Add the herbs and seasonings of your choice and boil until the chicken bones come out clean. Any remaining meat will be included in the broth. Once the broth cools completely, ladle it into air-tight jars or containers for storing.

If you’re more of a beef and vegetable soup lover, you can use commercial canned broths or bouillon cubes for the base of your soup. Season the stock really well and boil before adding any other ingredients. Once the stock is ready, all that is left to do is toss in your favorite veggies. Again, wait until the soup is completely cooled before pouring into storage or serving containers.

Now, what about that blender? It’s a bit difficult to eat soup the traditional way while driving and if you are serving to your kids, the combination of a car and soup in a bowl is a disaster waiting to happen. Here’s where the blender comes into the picture.

Pour some of the soup into the blender and blend until the pieces are small enough for you to swallow without choking. You can even puree the soup completely if you’d prefer. For a thicker texture, add a bit of cream soup. Now, your soup is ready for distributing in your to-go cups.

The ideal cup would be a coffee mug with a lid. These types of cups have a wide opening perfect for drinking soups from. Be sure to prepare enough soup for the entire week. You can take the soup with you while you’re out shopping, working in the garden or to work. A cup of soup is packed with healthy nutrients and it won’t mess up the car or cramp your busy lifestyle. The next time you don’t have time to eat, reach for a cup of healthy homemade soup instead of pulling into that fast food drive thru.

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