Tuesday, January 31, 2012

CrockPot Buffalo Chicken Lasagna

Kristin Molitor credits her sister, Hannah, for finding this unusual recipe in Stephanie O’Dea’s “Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking.”

“We’ve got the ‘crockpot bug,’ ” Kristin explained. “That’s why we bought the book. We think this recipe is fun because it is different from most traditional ‘crockpot’ recipes like goulash or roast beef. It’s one of Hannah’s favorites — she puts buffalo chicken sauce on everything.”

I’m glad that Kristin brought this recipe to my attention. It’s not only a surprising flavor combination for lasagna but also an unconventional way to cook this classic oven-baked dish. I’ve added it to my “give this a try soon” list. Maybe you will, too. CJK

CrockPot Buffalo Chicken Lasagna
(Kristin Molitor) 
From a Stephanie O’Dea Recipe

4 cooked chicken breast halves, chopped
1 jar of pasta sauce
1 cup buffalo wing sauce
12 uncooked traditional lasagna noodles
1 (15 oz.) tub ricotta cheese
3 red, yellow or orange bell peppers, chopped
2 cups shredded mozzarella and cheddar blend cheese

1/2 cup bleu cheese crumbles
1/4 cup water

Spray the crock liner of a 5 quart-size (or larger) slow cooker with no-stick spray.

In a large bowl, combine the chicken, pasta sauce and buffalo wing sauce. Ladle a spoonful of the sauce into the bottom of the slow cooker. Cover with a layer of uncooked lasagna noodles — break them to fit properly into container.

Spread some of the ricotta cheese onto the noodles. Add a layer of bell peppers and sprinkle with a handful of the shredded cheese.

Repeat layers until these ingredients are all placed in slow cooker. Distribute the bleu cheese crumbles over the top. Pour 1/4 cup water into empty pasta sauce jar and shake. Pour liquid over lasagna.

Cover and cook on “low” for 6-7 hours or on “high” C for 4 to 5 hours. When the cooking is complete, unplug and take the lid off of the slow cooker. Let the lasagna sit for 20 minutes before cutting and serving. (This step is important — otherwise it will fall apart.)

Yield: 10 servings

A note from Kristin: First, make sure you grease the liner. This step was not mentioned in the original recipe and we found that without it the ends get very hard and crusty and difficult to remove from the sides of the stoneware crock.

Also, we’ve tweaked the flavor for a greater “kick” by adding more hot sauce than the recipe called for. We’ve used a lot more than one cup of Frank’s® RedHot hot sauce (instead of the buffalo wing sauce) and found it wasn’t too hot. Our family really likes spicy food!

A note from Carol: Kristin Molitor is the Marriage Course and Fully Engaged Coordinator in the diocesan Office of Marriage and Family. Kristin, the second oldest in her family, and her seven sisters — Melaine, Leah, Hannah, Maria, Abby, Angela and Maggie — are the daughters of Joseph and the late Shirley Molitor, whose family attend Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Rockville. Melaine is a second grade teacher at St. Alphonsus School in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. Leah is married to Adam Brix and they are the parents of two young sons.

Stephanie O’Dea is a New York Times best-selling author, award-winning blogger and mother of three. In 2008 she made a New Year’s resolution to use her slow cooker every day for a year and write about it in her blog, “A Year of Slow Cooking.” Sharing those recipes on her blog was inspiration for two books: “Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking” and “More Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: 200 Brand-New, Budget-Friendly, Slow-Cooker Recipes.” She created her CrockPot Buffalo Chicken Lasagna recipe when she “stumbled across” a version of this dish (which is baked in an oven) on another blog.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Slow Cooker Italian Sauce

Terri Schmitz remembers when she brought her rich, savory, meaty “Italian Sauce” to a potluck where she worked. One of the men would not try it because in his culture if a man doesn’t see the woman making the sauce he would be afraid that a “love spell” would be cast on him.

I have been dreaming about creating a batch of it very soon myself. It sounds so full of flavor, alluringly aromatic and colorfully appetizing — I think I’m already under its spell.

Serve this versatile sauce with your favorite type of pasta. Terri has used it in lasagna, over cheese-stuffed manicotti, with ravioli, penne — you name it. The recipe makes enough for a large family-size meal — plus. It also freezes very well.

Terri developed this recipe herself over time and has been preparing it for more than 20 years. She shared it in “Come to the Table,” the centennial cookbook published in 2010 by Holy Cross Church in Onamia, Minnesota, where her parents, Dennis and Mary McColley, are parishioners. CJK

Slow Cooker Italian Sauce
(Terri Schmitz)

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. hot Italian sausage, ground*            
1 lb. ground beef
Photo by Bill Vossler
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 yellow pepper, chopped
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
1/4 cup capers
1 (2.25 oz.) can sliced black olives
1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. oregano
1 tbsp. basil
Salt and pepper to taste

Pour a small amount of olive oil into a large Dutch oven set on medium heat. When pan is hot, crumble Italian sausage and ground beef into oil; add onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until brown. Drain. Add peppers, mushrooms, capers and olives. Heat until peppers and mushrooms are tender. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce and paste, sugar, herbs and spices.

At this point, you could choose to heat the sauce to boiling, reduce to low and simmer for several hours on the stovetop.

Or — spray the crock liner of a slow cooker with no-stick spray. Pour the sauce into the stoneware crock, set the temperature on “low” and simmer for 8 to 10 hours.

Yield: 16 servings

A note from Terri: When I prepare this sauce in a slow cooker I chop the vegetables the night before, then cook the meat and mix the ingredients before leaving the house in the morning.

The sausage you use will dictate the flavor of your sauce. Make sure you know how much seasoning is in it. I typically use a mixture of hot Italian sausage and ground beef but, at times, have used all hot sausage. Also, if you can’t find bulk sausage, use links — just slice them or remove the casing.

A note from Carol: Terri, the revenue manager for the Sheraton Old San Juan Hotel & Casino, moved to Puerto Rico in March 2010. She fell in love with the “Island of Enchantment” and its interesting history during her interview for the hotel. Both the El Morro and San Cristobal fortresses are in Old San Juan as well as the Cathedral de San Juan , where Ponce de Leon’s remains are entombed, and the convent used in the opening of the “Flying Nun,” which is now a hotel.

A member of St. Francis Parish in Old San Juan, Terri is the mother of four adult children and grandmother to two. She grew up in Faribault, Minnesota, but has fond memories of spending school vacations and summers near Onamia, where her maternal grandparents, Albert Sr. and Selma Hein, were longtime members of Holy Cross Parish.

At one time, Selma was a cook for the Crosier Community. Terri credits Selma for teaching her how to cook, can and sew. She particularly remembers her grandmother’s homemade lefse and hamburger buns, donuts with mashed potatoes in the batter and “sugar cookies to die for!”

“Come to the Table” cookbooks may be purchased at the church after the weekend Masses for $10 each or may be ordered by calling the parish office at 320-532-3122 or sending an email to hconamiaparishoffice@yahoo.com. (An additional $4.95 shipping and handling will be added to mail the cookbooks.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Slow Cooker Southwestern Chicken Chili

Have you decided how you’re going to commemorate “National Soup Month”? You could simply observe this “annual holiday” by opening a can and microwaving the contents but wouldn’t it be much more celebratory to create your own soup?

Mary Lisson’s Southwestern Chicken Chili is one of the 462 recipes featured in a cookbook published not too long ago by Christ the King Catholic School in Browerville, Minnesota. She’s been making the chili for about five years and has frequently been asked for the recipe for this satisfying soup that she describes as “tasty and simple to prepare.”

By the way, I can’t resist telling you that January is also “National Oatmeal Month,” “National Hot Tea Month” and “National Wheat Bread Month,” to name a few. And, today is actually “National Peanut Butter Day.” (You’ll have to wait until November, though, to beat the drum for “Peanut Butter Lovers Month”!) CJK

Slow Cooker Southwestern Chicken Chili
(Mary Lisson)

2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 cup warm water
2 cans (15 oz.) great northern beans, drained
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes with juice
1 (4 oz.) can chopped mild green chilies
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1 can (15 oz.) corn, drained
2 cups cooked chicken, diced
1 small zucchini, chopped (optional)

Dissolve bouillon cubes in cup of warm water. Spray crock liner of slow cooker with no-stick spray.

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Cook on low for 3 to 5 hours.

Yield: 6 servings

A note from Mary: The original recipe called for two cups frozen southwestern chicken breast strips but I’ve never been able to find them. Diced chicken with the addition of chili powder works very well in this recipe. Two teaspoons of chicken base can be used in place of the bouillon cubes. If I’ve had a small zucchini on hand, I’ve added it, but often have made it without. I usually serve the chili with crackers or corn bread.

A note from Carol: A member of the Board of Education for Christ the King School, Mary, and her husband, Bill, and their children, Emily and Cody, are members of Christ the King Parish in Browerville.

“Christ the King Family Recipes” cookbooks can be purchased for $12 each (plus postage and handling) from the school. Contact Roxanne Determan, school secretary/bookkeeper, at 320-594-6114 or ctkoffice@embarqmail.com to purchase one.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Slow Cooker Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Photo by Cathy Behrens

“I have never tasted a creamy wild rice soup in any restaurant that is as good as my Mom’s chicken wild rice soup,” Megan Behrens said of the recipe her mother, Cathy, adapted from a Betty Crocker cookbook three or four years ago. “It’s my favorite soup recipe,” Cathy added. “It’s so easy and so good! I make it quite often.” CJK

Slow Cooker Creamy Chicken 
and Wild Rice Soup
(Cathy Behrens)

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
Photo by Cathy Behrens
1 (14 oz.) can chicken broth
1/2 cup uncooked wild rice
1/4 cup onion, chopped
2 (10 3/4 oz.) cans condensed cream of celery soup
2 cups fresh carrots, sliced

1 cup half-and half

Additional half-and-half or milk, optional

Spray stoneware crock of a 3 1/2- to 4-quart slow cooker with no-stick spray. Place chicken pieces in crock.

In a large bowl, whisk garlic powder into chicken broth. Stir in wild rice, onion, soup and carrots. Pour over chicken.

Cover and cook on “low” for 7 to 8 hours. Close to serving time, stir in half-and-half; increase setting to “high” and cook, covered, about 15 to 20 minutes.

If the soup is too thick or to cool it for eating, slowly add more half-and-half or milk and gently stir to desired consistency or temperature.

Yield: 8 servings

A note from Cathy: At times, I’ve used chicken bouillon mixed with warm water in place of the chicken broth. I always use chicken breasts when I make the recipe.

It’s easy to reduce the ingredients for this soup to make two to four servings. If you do, use a smaller slow cooker and cook on “high” for four hours.

A note from Carol: Wild rice soup is one of my all-time favorites! Cathy’s recipe in the “Fruit of the Spirit” cookbook published by St. Donatus Parish in Brooten, caught my attention right away. It looks so delicious and, after talking with Cathy and Megan, I’m convinced it’s also a cinch to prepare. I plan to make it for supper tomorrow night — I can hardly wait to taste it!

When Cathy learned that I wanted to feature her recipe on FFF, she was a “sweetheart” and not only cooked a batch of her special soup but also took the pictures of the ingredients and the enticing finished product! 

Members of St. Donatus Parish in Brooten, Cathy and Megan (23) are both graphic designers who freelance from their home. They specialize in graphic and website design, illustration and photography. They also have an online business together called Foto Odyssey Design where they design high-end digital templates for professional photographers. Products in their design lines include albums, boutique cards, image boxes, wall riders and many other items. Custom branding for businesses and individuals is another service they provide.

In the next year or so the mother/daughter team hopes to begin taking trips to other countries, serving the poor and needy through mission work. They might help dig wells in third-world countries, assist in building schools or work in orphanages. As they travel they will also glean cultural designs and inspiration for their business and translate their experiences into new design lines with authentic ethnic flavor. Ten percent of the profits from each line will go back to the particular mission where they volunteered.

Keep your eye on Cathy and Megan — they are women of faith who love life, care deeply for others and are out to “pay it forward” with their God-given talents. 

To order the “Fruit of the Spirit” cookbook, contact the St. Donatus Parish office at stdonatus@tds.net or 320-346-2431. They are on sale for $20 each or two for $30. (Shipping and handling is $5 for one book or $7 for two.)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tips from slow cooker pros — Take 3

One thing I had not thought about before is that using a slow cooker in hot weather doesn’t heat up the kitchen like an oven does. What great logic! I’m definitely going to keep that in mind on those hot and humid days next summer.

Slow cookers also come in handy for taking food to a potluck even if the dish wasn’t prepared in it.

One woman I read about utilizes a “crock pot” so she has a casserole ready for Sunday dinner when she gets home from church. She prepares and bakes the combination on Saturday and then refrigerates it. On Sunday morning, she puts the casserole dish into her slow cooker and turns it on “high” for 30 minutes and then sets it on “low” while she’s at church. (It seems to me this crafty re-heating method would work for any occasion on the other days of the week, as well.)

Herb and spice advice

• If you have them on hand, use whole or leaf herbs and spices rather than ground or crushed varieties in slow cooking.

• Ground spices and herbs tend to lose some flavor with this method of cooking so if you are using them, add during the last hour.

• Adding one-fourth to one-half cup of red or white wine to a soup or stew tends to bring out the flavor of other seasonings.

Using the “old noggin”

• Are mornings around your house too hectic to prepare a “crock pot” meal? Assemble your entire recipe (in the lift-out liner) the evening before and place the mixture in your refrigerator overnight. In the morning, put the crock liner in the electric base and arrive home to a delicious dinner.

• An alternative idea is to cut up the vegetables for your din-din the night before and store them in plastic bags in the refrigerator overnight. This step also cuts down on preparation time in the morning.

• Have you thought about using your slow cooker to “bake” potatoes? Cook washed potatoes all day on “low” and voila — they’re ready for dinner or other dishes such as potato salad or fried potatoes.

• You can cook a chicken, turkey breast or beef roast in your “crock pot” to use in salads or casseroles.

• Do you use a lot of hamburger for your slow cooker recipes? Contemplate browning a large quantity of ground beef, seasoning it with onion and garlic or whatever suits your taste. Drain, cool and freeze it in one-pound packages. The meat will be ready-to-go when preparing a “crock pot” recipe that calls for it. Just think — there’s no extra prep or clean-up time! CJK

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Tips from slow cooker pros — Take 2

Some cooks swear that sautéing vegetables or browning meat in a skillet beforehand adds a lot to the creation’s flavor and appearance. Others say the beauty of using a slow cooker is that the entrée cooks in the appliance reducing the need for additional prep work. Individuals need to make their own decisions on this point and they may vary depending upon the recipe and time available.

It’s a good idea to trim as much visible fat as possible off of meat before placing it in the appliance to avoid greasiness.

If you’re making a dish that involves gravy at the end, you may choose the extra step to brown the meat first and then scrape all the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet into the cooker along with the meat to add more flavor to the sauce.

Thickeners like cornstarch and flour don’t work well in slow cooking methods. Add quick-cooking tapioca at the beginning when you want thick gravy — it thickens as it cooks. Or, thicken foods that are too thin with a cornstarch and water mixture before serving. Remove the meat and veggies, turn the setting to “high” and let the liquid boil for about 15 minutes.

It’s likely best to defrost meat or poultry before placing it in a “crock pot.” An alternative is to cook combinations containing frozen meats an additional four to six hours on “low” or two hours on “high.” Don’t cook large amounts of frozen foods, such as roasts or chicken unless you add at least one cup of liquid with the meat — the liquid acts as a “cushion” to prevent sudden changes in temperature that could crack your stoneware crock.

What cuts of meat are best?

• A slow cooker is perfect for less tender cuts of meat such as round, flank or Swiss steaks; pot or chucks roasts; short ribs and corned beef brisket. Because the meat is simmered in liquid for hours, it becomes tender and juicy.

• The higher the fat content of the meat, the less liquid is needed. If you cook meat with a lot of fat or marbling, place thick slices of onion underneath it so that the meat will not sit on and cook in the fat.

• Seafood is not suited for extended cooking in a “crock pot.” It should be added within the last hour before serving.

• Vegetarian burgers may be cut up and used in place of ground meat in slow cooker recipes.

Thoughts on veggies…

• When you’re preparing vegetables and meat at that same time, put the vegetables on the bottom and sides where they will be kept moist — especially if you are using cooking on “low.” (Meats generally cook faster than most vegetables so if you are planning to cook your dish for a few hours only, make sure that the vegetables are thinly sliced or chopped.)

• On the other hand, if you want crisper veggies such as green peppers or onions, consider stirring them in during the last hour or two. Mushrooms are another item to think about adding towards the end of cooking, depending upon the texture you want them to have.

• Dry beans should be boiled before adding to a recipe. Cover the beans with three times their volume of unsalted water and bring to a boil for 10 minutes. (Discard the water after boiling.)

• To prevent potatoes from turning dark, stir one-half teaspoon cream of tartar into one cup of water. Slice the potatoes and stir them into the mixture. Drain them, place in the cooker and continue with the rest of the recipe. 

• It is necessary to have some liquid in a vegetable-type casserole to prevent scorching on the sides of the crock.

What about pasta and rice?

• Cooked rice or pasta should be added during the last hour of cooking to prevent them from disintegrating.

• Actually, rice does not need to be previously cooked. If a recipe calls for cooked rice, feel free to stir in the raw rice with all the other ingredients and add one extra cup of liquid per cup of uncooked rice.

• If you are planning to cook a dish all day (on “low,” of course) use long-grain converted rice for best results. Don’t use minute or quick-cooking rice for slow cooking.

• Pasta should not be overcooked if you’re planning to add it to a dish that’s simmering in a slow cooker. Cook noodles, macaroni and so on only until slightly tender because they will continue to soften in your “crock pot” concoction.

When should dairy products be added?

• Ingredients such as milk, cream and sour cream curdle and separate when cooked for a long time. Add them during the last 20 to 30 minutes, if cooking on “low” or the last 10 minutes if the temperature setting is on “high.”

• Evaporated milk and condensed soups work perfectly for slow cooking. CJK

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tips from slow cooker pros — Take 1

I definitely promote families sitting down and eating dinner together whenever they can. Entrées prepared in a “crock pot” make that easy, especially when everyone is home at the same time. But, fare from the slow cooker is also perfect for busy households with individuals coming and going at various intervals — it accommodates each person’s schedule when they are ready to eat.

What makes the difference between a good slow cooked meal and a great one? In this weekend’s postings I’ll share some tips I’ve learned from slow cooker pros.

Plan ahead for easy clean up

• If you spray the inner stoneware liner of the your slow cooker with no-stick cooking spray before adding the ingredients, you’ll be thankful for your foresight when it’s time to wash it.

High or low?

• One hour on “high” equals approximately two to two-and-a-half hours on “low.” (“High” is approximately 300°F and “low” is approximately 200°F.)

• The temperature setting you choose depends upon how long you want the food to cook. If it’s morning and you want your meal ready in the evening, select the lowest setting. But, if you’re short on time, you can cook the dish on “high” in about half the time it would take on “low.”

• When cooking on “high,” the food should be stirred every once in a while to ensure even cooking. (Don’t do it too often as you’ll lose steam and heat when the lid is removed — which translates to needing extra cooking time.)

• One cook mentioned she likes to start her slow cooker on “high” while she’s getting ready in the morning and then switches it to “low” when she leaves the house.

• To be properly cooked beef, pork and poultry require at least seven to eight hours on “low.” The same is true of most uncooked vegetable and meat combinations.

• The interior of the food inside your slow cooker should reach 140°F or higher within four hours to be safe to eat.

• The stoneware crock of a slow cooker will not withstand the shock of sudden temperature changes. Do not preheat a “crock pot” unless the recipe specifies it. Never preheat the electric base before adding the stoneware bowl.

How long and how much?

 • Many factors can affect how quickly your comestibles will cook — the water and fat content, the starting temperature and size of the food. For example, meat that is cut into pieces will cook faster than whole roasts or poultry.

• Most slow cookers perform best when no less than half-full and no more than three-fourths full. (If your slow cooker is less than half-full, reduce the cooking time.)

• With soups and stews it’s necessary to leave at least a two-inch space between the top of the lift-out crock and the food so that the combination can come to a simmer.

Crock-Pots® come in a number of sizes and designs to accommodate a range of servings and fit a multitude of occasions — it’s amazing to see the variety of models that are available today at reasonable prices. It’s no wonder that many home cooks end up with more than one slow cooker over time.

Don’t peek

• It’s as tempting to remove the lid from a slow cooker for a look at the simmering food, as it is to open the oven door when items are baking. Both are no-nos! The steam that condenses on the lid helps cook the food from the top. Every time you remove the lid, that steam and significant heat is lost and it takes 15-20 minutes for the cooker to regain the steam and return to the former temperature.

• To get an idea of how things are going inside your “crock pot,” spin or jiggle the lid to clear off the condensation so you can assess the situation.

What’s the lowdown on liquid?

• Food prepared in an oven is cooked by dry heat but food in a slower cooker is simmered. Very little liquid evaporates. It is a common mistake to add too much liquid to mixtures in slow cookers. Usually you’ll have more liquid at the end of cooking instead of less.

• We tend to forget that foods have natural juices in them and those juices, as well as added liquids, remain in the “crock pot” as the concoction cooks.

• One cup of liquid is usually enough for any recipe unless it contains rice or pasta.

 • If you are making your favorite soup, stew or sauce (using a recipe intended for the stove-top), reduce the liquid or water called for in the original recipe. If it turns out too thick, more liquid can be added later.

• It’s next to impossible to overcook in a slow cooker. Due to this extremely moist heat method of cooking, it’s good to know that your food will not burn (with the temperature on “low”) if you get home late and the meal continues to cook beyond it’s designated time.

• Suggestions for reducing some of the liquid include sticking a toothpick under the edge of the lid to tilt it slightly, which allows steam to escape, or removing the lid about 45 minutes before serving time and cooking the dish on the “high” setting. (Otherwise, always cook with the cover on.)

Play it safe

• When removing the lid, always tilt it so the opening faces away from you to avoid being burned by steam.

• Use hot mitts to remove the lift-out crock from the heated base.

• Let the crock and cover cool before washing them in hot, soapy water. Rinse and dry. (Both items may also be washed in the dishwasher.)

• Wipe the electric base with a damp cloth but don’t use abrasive cleansers. Never immerse the base in water!

• Removable stoneware bowls are ovenproof and microwave safe but should never be used on gas or electric burners or under the broiler. CJK

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Of ‘crock pots’ and slow cookers

Recently I realized I’ve been under-utilizing my “crock pots.” Not only that, I’ve been calling them by the wrong name for years.

I can’t actually remember when I first started preparing meals in one of these time-saving appliances but with a little research my memory has been jogged to recall that the Rival company designed a slow cooker in the early 1970s and trademarked the name “Crock-pot.” The original motto — “Cooks all day while the cook’s away” — describes the convenience that their arrival brought to homemakers then and continues to provide some 40 years later. 

If you’re of “a certain age,” you’ll call to mind that the inner pottery lining in the first models was attached to the cooking base. Washing them was a bit of a hassle as, of course, the electric cord could not be immersed in water. The invention of the removable crock lining was sheer genius, if you ask me.

I understand now that there is really no such thing as a “crock pot” because Crock-Pot® is the brand that invented the “slow cooker.” But, I imagine I’ll always use those terms interchangeably just like I do with “Kleenex®” and facial tissue, “Band-Aids®” and flexible adhesive bandages or “Jell-O” and flavored gelatin.

I’ve made many a roast over the years in the Crock-Pot® slow cookers I’ve owned but I don’t recollect using what I would call a “recipe” for those. I’ve prepared them surrounded by onions, potatoes, carrots and canned tomatoes or other similar combinations. They’ve always turned out to be delicious meals waiting to be enjoyed when we’ve arrived home at the end of a day at work.

I’ve served hot dips at parties from these convenient gadgets and warmed up dishes for potlucks at work. But — this is where my “under-usage” has occurred. In researching recipes and reviewing techniques for a slow cooker collection for FFF, I recognize I could do so much more with this great invention.

So, please check back often this month to brush up on tips for improving slow cooker skills or to add a few new “crock pot” recipes to your collection. CJK

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A fresh start…

I am the new year.

I am an unspoiled page in your book of time.

I am your next chance at the art of living. I am your opportunity to practice what you have learned about life during the last 12 months.

All that you sought and didn’t find is hidden in me, waiting for you to search it but with more determination.

All the good that you tried for and didn’t achieve is mine to grant when you have fewer conflicting desires.

All that you dreamed but didn’t dare to do, all that you hoped but did not will, all the faith that you claimed but did not have — these slumber lightly, waiting to be awakened by the touch of a strong purpose.

I am your opportunity to renew your allegiance to the One who said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

— Author unknown