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This week for Mission: Appliances, I chose an appliance I actually do use on occasion, but I wish I used more: a slow cooker, or crock pot. Slow cookers are so cool, there are even whole blogs devoted just to them. So that inspired me to try to find a recipe unlike any I had ever tried before so I could stretch myself a little. Let’s see how it turned out!

mission-appliances2

We actually own 2 slow cookers, the Proctor Silex 33015 1.5-Quart Round Slow Cooker and Hamilton Beach Stay/Go Slow Cooker. One is small and other is large. I’ve used both equally in the past, mainly to transport food to a potluck or a party, and a few times to cook ribs. For this particular experiment, I used the small one.

Slow Cooker Vital Statistics

  • Brand: Proctor Silex
  • Average Price: $20
  • Power: Keep Warm, Low, & High settings
  • Size: 1.5 quart capacity, 5.6 pounds
  • Features: Dishwasher safe stoneware and lid
  • Complexity: Very easy to use
  • Versatility: Slow cooks just about anything
  • Cleaning: Very easy to clean stoneware as long as you do not let it sit out too long to dry
  • Storage: Unit is pretty compact so fits well inside a cupboard
  • Safety Tips: Heating elements get hot on High setting
  • Pre-series Location: Inside a deep cupboard; must remove several other appliances and pots first
  • Pre-series Use Level: Used on occasion to keep foods warm or to cook ribs

crock-pot

Project Slow Cooker

In my search for a creative recipe to try with my slow cooker, I found a popular one on allrecipes.com: Slow Cooker Pot Roast. A pot roast might not seem all that creative to some of you, but I had never made one before, let alone bought one! It was actually kind of fun to try a new meat that was relatively inexpensive. I went with a 2.35 lb Angus Beef Bottom Round Roast and modified the recipe some to enhance the flavors:

GRAVY:
2 10.75 oz. cans cream of mushroom soup
1 1 oz. package of dry onion soup mix
1 cup beef broth
¼ cup red cooking wine
1 TBS Worcestershire sauce

RUB:
2 TBS flour
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp onion powder
2 tsp Italian seasoning
2 tsp rosemary

Directions: Mix rub ingredients together in a small bowl. Coat roast with rub. In a skillet in olive oil, sear all sides of the roast until brown to lock in the juices. Meanwhile, mix all the gravy ingredients in the slow cooker. Place the seared roast inside and cover with the gravy. Cook on high for 4 hours and low for 2 hours.

crock-pot-ingredients

I found the prep to be pretty fast and after you get the ingredients inside the slow cooker, you basically just have to wait! I do like slow cookers in this way—I was able to prepare most of dinner before lunch and we just ate when it was done. One thing I tend not to like about slow cookers is that they seem to cook the snot out of some things. For meat this could be perfect—who doesn’t want tender, falling-off-the-bone ribs or what not? But for veggies, I prefer a little texture and crunch. That’s why I left veggies out of the gravy.

crock-pot-cooked

After 5 hours, I prepared my two sides (garlic mashed potatoes & frozen corn) and then after 6 hours everything was ready. Clean up was pretty easy and I made sure I rinsed out the stoneware before it got too cool and dry. Overall we really enjoyed the roast! I’m not a big fan of roasts in general (I’m more of a steak person), but the sauce was quite good and the meat was moist and tender.

crock-pot-meal

The Verdict

Well, I’m convinced to try more slow cooker recipes! I really have wanted to, but I just haven’t done it. Maybe I’ll get a slow cooker cook book or visit a slow cooker blog. In any case, this is one of those staple appliances that really does offer a lot of versatility.

Reader Reflection

What is your favorite recipe to make in your slow cooker?

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This week for Mission: Appliances I pulled out a fairly common appliance, my blender. The thing is, I barely use it! One of those typical wedding gifts, the blender seems to be touted as a necessary gadget in everyone’s kitchen. But as far as I remember, I had only used it once before. Why not? Let’s find out.

mission-appliances2

The blender we own is the Black & Decker 48-Ounce Glass-Jar Blender. We received it for our wedding after having registered for it at Target. Now that I look at the reviews for this particular blender on Amazon, I fear we might have made a bad choice! Hopefully our unit doesn’t die like many others supposedly did (according to Amazon reviewers). I guess not all blenders are created equal.

Blender Vital Statistics

  • Brand: Black & Decker
  • Average Price: $50
  • Power: 500 watts
  • Size: 10 X 7 X 14 inches; 9 pounds
  • Features: 48-ounce chip-resistant glass jar, 5 speed settings, plus pulse and ice-crush functions
  • Complexity: Very easy to use
  • Versatility: Blends various foods or beverages
  • Cleaning: Very easy to clean since unit comes apart
  • Storage: Unit can be stored in separate pieces, so is a little easier to fit in tight spaces than other appliances
  • Safety Tips: Blending blades are very sharp
  • Pre-series Location: Inside a tall cupboard only reached with a chair
  • Pre-series Use Level: Used once before

blender

Project Blender

My husband and I really love dessert drinks, so we decided to use our blender to make chocolate milkshakes. Shakes are pretty costly ($3.50 for a 16 oz at Culver’s) so making them at home proves to be very cost effective. Furthermore, we had the ability to choose the ingredients so (we hope) our shakes were a little ‘healthier’ than Culver’s.

After some research on the Internet for milkshake recipes, I created the following recipe that we ultimately used for our own shakes:

2 cups vanilla ice cream
1/3 cup skim milk
4 TBS chocolate syrup
½ tsp vanilla extract

(makes 2 small-medium servings or 1 large serving)
(can add 2 TBS malt powder and/or 2 TBS peanut butter if desired)

blender-ingredients

We put all the ingredients inside the glass jar and began blending. We started with low speeds and worked up to higher speeds gradually. The problem was, we had to continually stop the blender to manually mix our ingredients because they were not blending! Additionally, the motor was beginning to smell because it was being overworked. Hmmmm.

blender-shake

After we finally got everything blending nicely, we enjoyed our milkshakes no doubt. But I’m a little concerned about the performance of the blender unit. If it can’t handle soft ingredients like ice cream and liquids, then how will it handle ice or other solids?

The Verdict

Well, it’s apparent from my analysis that we do not own the best blender on the market. However I hear that really awesome blenders can be quite expensive. All that aside, we still enjoyed great milkshakes, drinks we could not have prepared without the blender. I think in the future we will just have to be more careful about not overworking the motor since we now know that it is pretty sensitive. Not all appliances are perfect, right?

Reader Reflection

What kind of blender do you own? Have you ever had problems with the motor burning?

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During these difficult economic times, families seem to flock to fast food restaurants because they somehow think they are saving money. Fast food is ‘cheap’ right? Well, my gut tells me it isn’t. It may just appear cheap because in the end, most people don’t take the time to calculate the average cost of a home-cooked meal.

Well, my husband and I have been curious lately about how much our home-cooked meals actually cost. I love to cook and I have a lot of fun experimenting with all sorts of recipes. But when compared with fast food, does cooking at home really save money?

fast-food

McDonald’s vs. Hamburger Casserole

I don’t have too many guilty pleasures, but McDonald’s is definitely one of them. I especially love their french fries and apparently I have eagerly sought them out since I was a baby according to my parents. To be sure, my husband and I do not frequently dine at McDonald’s, or any fast food restaurants for that matter, because we understand that the food is just plain not good for us.

Health standards aside here, I would like to calculate the cost of an average meal from McDonald’s versus an average meal I cook for us at home. I want to find out what costs more and hopefully prove a point with some plain math.

  • Below you will see the cost breakdown for an average meal that my husband and I order at McDonald’s:

2 crispy chicken ranch snack wraps @ $1.59 each
1 large french fries @ $2.00
1 medium soft drink @ $1.90
1 Chicken Ranch BLT Extra Value Meal @ $6.00
Tax @ $0.72

Total cost= $13.80
Leftover potential = NONE

  • Now here’s the cost breakdown of a common hamburger casserole I make at home:

1 lb ground hamburger @ $3.70
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes @ $0.63
2.5 cups macaroni noodles @ $0.50
1 green bell pepper @ $0.50
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese @ $1.00
1 10.5 oz can cream of mushroom soup @ $0.70
1 6.5 oz can french fried onions @ $2.50

2 glasses of milk @ $0.40

Total cost = $9.93
Leftover potential = 3 more dinners worth

The Verdict

Obviously my experiment here is in no way scientific or even 100% accurate because I had to estimate a few prices I could not find. But the results speak for themselves. The dinner at McDonald’s cost us $13.80 and we had no leftovers. The casserole cost us $9.93 to make and it lasts for 3 more dinners beyond that first meal. So that, in effect, makes each night’s meal cost about $2.50!

One might argue that it takes time to cook meals at home and fast food is easy. Well, what about your driving time, or the price of gas? All in all, fast food is not an economically sound way to spend your money during hard times, or even good times. A treat every once and a while is fine (hey, I’m not ready to give up my fries), but making a habit out of it is not a wise way to spend your money.

Reader Reflection

Do you eat at fast food restaurants to ‘save’ money?

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Good morning everyone! I hope you all had a nice weekend. Our weekend was marked by extremely cold temperatures (again) so we couldn’t really get out and try our new (used) cross country skis yet. But I digress. On to meal planning!

Our new recipe from this past week (Artichoke and Sun-Dried Tomato Fettuccine) was a much better success than our new recipe the previous week (Pizza Biscuit Bake). However there was one funny hang-up involving the artichoke.

I wasn’t able to find artichoke hearts by the jar in oil as the recipe called for, so I decided to buy my first ever fresh artichoke heart and learn how to cut it! I read this article and watched this video. But when it came time to cut my own, I realized my tiny artichoke heart was only one artichoke heart and of course needed several! My husband joked, “ya, we’ll be asking each other: did you get the artichoke heart or did I?” I decided to leave it out because one little heart wasn’t going to go very far. Silly me! Instead I substituted some roasted red peppers I had left over from a previous recipe.

Overall, the recipe was full of great flavors so I’ve decided to include it here. I originally got it from allrecipes.com (called Carrie’s Artichoke and Sun-dried Tomato Pasta), but I made some modifications of my own before cooking it myself and decided to rename it since I ultimately left out the artichoke hearts. So here’s the recipe as I made it:

Roasted Red Pepper & Sun-Dried Tomato Fettuccine

Ingredients:
1 12 oz. package fettuccine noodles
4 TBS butter
1 tsp minced garlic
1 medium onion, chopped
7.5 oz. roasted red peppers, chopped
3 oz. packaged sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 7 oz. jar mushroom pieces and stems
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 TBS lemon juice
1 cup white cooking wine
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp black pepper
1 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

Directions:
1. Cook fettuccine until al dente. Drain and set aside.
2. Melt butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. Sauté onions with minced garlic until onions are translucent. Stir in roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Then add the lemon juice, the wine and the Italian seasoning. Boil and cook until liquid is reduced by a half (about 20-25 minutes).
3. Toss pasta with sauce. Top with parmesan cheese, pepper, and basil. Serve.

Enjoy!

meal-plan-mondays

Monday 1/26/09

Leftovers

Tuesday 1/27/09

Leftovers

Wednesday 1/28/09

Grilled Hamburgers and Pineapple

Thursday 1/29/09

Mini oven-baked pizzas and Pineapple

Friday 1/30/09

Superbowl Weekend Madison Trip

Saturday 1/31/09

Superbowl Weekend Madison Trip

Sunday 2/1/09

Superbowl Weekend Madison Trip

* * * * * *

I posted my weekly menu to the I’m an Organizing Junkie blog, so be sure to check it out and participate if you’d like!

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Last week I talked at length about organizing your tomato harvest and finding creative ways to save time and money. It has come to my attention this week that various readers are curious about what they can do with their green tomatoes beyond attempting to ripen them indoors. So today I thought I’d share two recipes that I use for my green tomatoes, plus several links to recipes around the web that I thought looked interesting. Enjoy!

Green Tomato Soup

This recipe I adapted last year by checking out the wide assortment of green tomato soup recipes out there and fine-tuning it to meet my tastes. While it isn’t a soup I make regularly, it is a fun autumn dish to use those leftover tomatoes in a unique way.

Ingredients

1 TBS olive oil
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 large onion, diced
2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
2 14.5 oz cans chicken broth
2 large potatoes, diced
4 large green tomatoes, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 TBS honey
1 14.5 oz can coconut milk
½ cup-1 cup fresh cilantro
Fresh mint (optional)

Directions

  1. In a large soup pot, heat garlic in olive oil. Add onions and sauté until translucent, stirring almost constantly.
  2. Add curry, ginger, cumin, and crushed red pepper. Stir for a few more minutes to cook in flavors.
  3. Add 2 cans of chicken broth. Boil.
  4. Add potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and honey. Turn down heat and simmer, covered, for at least 30 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.
  5. Puree in a blender or food processor OR use a potato masher to mash up solids.
  6. Add coconut milk. Simmer for 10 more minutes.
  7. Add generous amounts of cilantro (and mint if available) just before serving.

Fried Green Tomatoes

When I first made fried green tomatoes, I prepared them southern style (cornmeal, eggs, etc.), but I found that I personally prefer them prepared Italian style.

Ingredients

1 TBS olive oil
4-6 TBS butter
½ cup flour
½ cup bread crumbs
½ cup parmesan cheese
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
3-4 green tomatoes, sliced

Directions

  1. Melt butter in a small bowl.
  2. Combine flour and half of Italian seasoning in a second small bowl.
  3. Combine bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, the other half of the Italian seasoning, garlic, and salt & pepper in a third bowl.
  4. Heat olive oil in a large skillet.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare green tomato slices by first dipping the tomato slices into the seasoned flour, then the butter, and finally the bread crumb mixture.
  6. Fry each slice until golden brown on both sides. Serve warm.

When in doubt ask Google

In a quick Google search this morning, I came up a good list of links to other unique green tomato recipes on the web. Here are just ten to get you started:

Reader Reflection

Do you have or know of any green tomato recipes you’d like to share?

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