Sunday, September 26, 2010

It's Fall! It's Fall! + a recipe that needs help!

That's right! Fall is officially here! It may not feel like it just yet, but it's only a matter of time. So many fun events are on the horizon: Fall break at school (which is really only one day for me), Halloween, and various arts and crafts festivals in the area. The unfortunately named Possum Hollow was yesterday in nearby Dexter, GA. We had a lot of fun! Wyatt especially loved looking at the fair rides spinning and zooming about. I kept telling him that he's still a bit too young for those rides!

I recently attempted this slow cooker recipe with less-than-stellar results. It should have been great - pork tenderloin cooking in apple cider all day? Hello? But, the result was under seasoned and dry pork. I made minimal changes to the recipe - I used apple juice instead of apple cider, because I had it in my fridge. I also did not brown the pork beforehand. Like one All Recipes commenter said, "Don't make anything more time consuming than it has to be." I couldn't agree more. Still, these changes should not have affected the overall outcome. So, instead of delicious awesomeness, we ate so-so okayness.

If anyone has a tip to improve upon this recipe, feel free to comment! I'm more than willing to attempt this again.

I hope everyone is enjoying the beginning of the greatest season of the year!

- Mother Nature Mom

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Waiting for Autumn

I know, I know, fall doesn't officially start for another week or so, but I'm couldn't resist dressing the blog up in her autumn colors a bit early!

Autumn is by far my favorite season of the year. (Fun fact: if Wyatt had been a girl, Autumn might very well have been her name.) It really is a shame that we live in Georgia, where the seasons go a little something like: hot, really hot, why is it so hot?!, chilly. I might be exaggerating a little, but sometimes it truly feels like cooler weather will never get here and we'll be stuck in a perpetual heat wave. Even North Georgia gets to see the beautiful changing leaves for more than a couple of weeks, unlike here in Middle Georgia. Ah well. At least I'll get to reflect my love for the season in my food. I'm sure my slow cooker is going to see a lot of use in the coming months - soups, stews, chili, gumbo... the possibilities are endless! I'm also on a mission to make a squash dish that Kenny will like. How can someone not like squash? I will never understand...

I'm beginning to wish that we had planted at least a few herbs and vegetables back in the spring, but with a new baby, we obviously had other things on our minds. Next year, I plan on growing a few herbs (lemon balm, rosemary, lavendar, basil, and anything else that strikes my fancy) as well as trying my hand at growing squash, zucchini, and tomatoes. True, neither I nor Kenny particularly like tomatoes, but their uses are about as endless as my slow cooker's! Garden fresh tomatoes in a homemade spaghetti sauce? Yes, please.

I honestly don't know where this sense of domesticity came from. If you've known me for any length of time, you know I haven't always been like this! People change, I guess.

-Mother Nature Mom

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Slow cooker gumbo - Louisiana fare the easy way! + recipe

Kenny's been bugging me for awhile to make gumbo, something I had never made or even tasted before. I was willing to try, but with our schedules the way they are, I wasn't willing to stand over the stove for any great length of time in the evening, losing precious time that could be spent playing with Wyatt, doing homework, making baby food, etc. So, I searched the information super highway for a slow cooker gumbo recipe and found quite a bit to work with!

Kenny's family is from Louisiana, so he's used to having really great, authentic Cajun and creole cuisine. No competition, right?

I have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised with how my slow cooker gumbo turned out. I had my reservations about it, but with a little tweaking, I think this will become a great stand-by recipe. Kenny liked it, too, and he's super picky about his gumbo. Actually, he's super picky about everything, defying my logic about all things male...

I used this recipe as a guide:

3 cups chicken broth
1 lb chicken breast, cut into pieces
1 lb spicy sausage, cut into pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 cups okra, sliced
1 green pepper, chopped
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper
salt to taste

1/3 cup flour
1/3 oil

I omitted the okra, added chopped tomato, left out the red pepper, and subbed garlic powder since I didn't have any garlic on hand. I'll probably use okra next time, and may or may not add tomato. I liked it, but Kenny didn't care for it.

I also didn't make the roux from scratch, like I thought I would. Kenny found instant roux at the grocery store, so I used that instead.

For homemade roux, stir together the flour and oil in a saucepan until smooth. Cook over medium-high heat for 4 minutes, stirring constantly. (Important!) Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring constantly (!), for about 15 minutes more or until roux is dark reddish brown. Let roux cool.

Add the chicken broth to your slow cooker, and stir in homemade or instant roux. Add all other ingredients, cover, and cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 4-5 hours. Serve over rice. You could also add shrimp towards the end of the cooking process. Just add them to the slow cooker about 20 minutes before you plan to eat.

This made a lot! I made this on Thursday, and we finished up the leftovers this afternoon. Of course, there's just the two of us, but we did go back for seconds quite a bit!

I can't stress enough just how much my slow cooker helps bring a little more order into my hectic schedule. If you don't already have one, it's well worth the investment!

-Mother Nature Mom

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Where does all the time go? + easy green bean and sweet pea purees

It's as busy as ever in my neck of the woods. I tried (and sort of failed) to spread out my bigger projects in my various classes over the course of the semester. Instead, it seems I have a lot of stuff due at the beginning of the semester, and a lot of stuff due at the end. Maybe somewhere in the middle I'll get used to this hectic routine, but I'm not getting my hopes up. ;)

One thing I did in an attempt to reduce my stress level and save a bit of time is to transfer jobs. I still work for Starbucks, but I work in Milledgeville now instead of Macon. It just makes sense, considering I go to school in Milledgeville, too. I'm still only working weekends for now. This store is much slower business wise, so maybe I won't feel as exhausted after a shift as I did before. Of course, that also means less money in tips, but I'll take sanity over tips right now. =)

Somehow in the midst of all this crazy, I'm still finding time to make baby food for Wyatt. Now that's he's a bit older, he's eating more at a time, and he can handle somewhat thicker textures, which means adding less water to the puree, which means one squash/sweet potato/carrot doesn't stretch quite as far as it once did! It's still easy though, and a lot of fun! I love trying out different combinations to see what he likes best. (He prefers veggies over fruits for the most part, with the exception of green beans. He's not a fan of most fruits by themselves, to be honest, but he loves bananas!) I really racked up on organic veggies today at Kroger: three organic sweet potatoes for $1.04 a piece, a big organic acorn squash for $3.12, two big bags of organic baby carrots for $5.00 (because I learned my lesson last time!), and an organic avocado (technically a fruit, but whatever) for $1.29 since he's never tried it before. Is buying organic more expensive? Yes, but I absolutely feel that it's worth it. It's also important to note that the only organic produce that was sold by weight was the sweet potatoes and the acorn squash. In fact, most of the organic produce I saw was not sold by weight. I also bought a smallish bunch of bananas for $0.90 and another big jar of Mott's Natural Applesauce for $1.61 (which beats my previous price of $2.39! Does that equal out to 3.5 cents an ounce? Why yes it does...)

Buying applesauce in a jar is a great time saver. Another time saver that I've implemented is using bagged frozen green beans and sweet peas instead of fresh. Taste is probably being compromised here, but Wyatt doesn't really care for either of these anyway and they just wind up being hidden in another food that he does like. Also, frozen green beans and sweet peas are inexpensive and there's no shelling involved whatsoever. Win/win if you ask me. Always be sure to check the ingredients, though. The bags should say just green beans or peas, and nothing else. I was able to find green beans with no additives fairly easily, but sweet peas proved to be a bit of a problem. Almost every brand included salt, which babies don't need. I finally found what I was looking for at our local Super Walmart.

Pureeing both of these is really simple. Just empty the bag of green beans or sweet peas into your steamer basket and let the water work its magic. (I was able to fit two bags worth at once.) Once they're tender, puree the veggies in small batches with water reserved from the steaming process. I should probably note that it's damn near impossible to achieve a smooth puree with either of these since there are skins involved, but Wyatt doesn't seem to mind. (He may not even notice, since they're usually mixed into his sweet potatoes or squash. Considering his age, I'm not really going for smooth anymore anyway.) Once everything is pureed, pour it into your ice cube trays and pop them in the freezer. Doesn't get much easier than that.

Since it's the wee hours of Thursday morning, I'll be prepping the slow cooker pretty soon. At Kenny's request, I'm going to attempt to make chicken and sausage gumbo. I'm also going to try and make my own roux, which is daunting in and of itself. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on this one! If it turns out well, I will post the recipe tomorrow night. If it doesn't turn out well, I guess I can tell you what not to do with gumbo!

Here's hoping you have all the time in the world!

-Mother Nature Mom