January 18, 2013

Low and Slow Cooking

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Margaret's Morsels | Crock-Pot Good and Easy Stew

Until I started writing this blog, I had no idea there were days that celebrated various foods.   Some, like National Peanut Butter Cookie Day and National Pigs in a Blanket Day, are observed once a year (June 12 and April 24 respectively).  Others have a whole month devoted to them. For instance, January is National Slow Cooking Month.  I love cooking with a slow cooker, also known as a crock-pot, and post a recipe every January in honor of this time saving appliance.

Over the last 2 1/2 years, I've shared a number of slow cooker recipes: Chicken a la King; Chili; Queso Dip; Barbecue Chicken; French Dip Sandwiches; Pot Roast with Vegetables.  Today, I want to share my favorite stew recipe.  It's different from a lot of stew recipes in that the only vegetable it uses is mushrooms.  This is ideal for me since I don't like meat in vegetable soup and I don't like vegetables in my stew!

Stew meat -- boneless precut cubes usually from tougher cuts of meat -- is combined with dry onion soup mix, beef broth, mushroom stems and pieces and a can of undiluted cream of mushroom soup.  Put the mixture in the slow cooker, cover with the lid and turn to low.  I cook the stew eight hours, but it can be cooked as long as 12 hours.   

Margaret's Morsels | Crock-Pot Good and Easy Stew
Ready to be cooked.

Margaret's Morsels | Crock-Pot Good and Easy Stew
Cooked eight hours.

The broth is thin so I thicken it with a slurry at the end of the cooking time. Slurry is a fancy name for a thin paste made from equal parts water and starch -- cornstarch or flour -- used as a thickener.  I prefer cornstarch for several reasons.  One, it has twice the thickening power of flour.  One tablespoon of cornstarch is equal to two tablespoons of flour.  Two, cornstarch keeps the broth clear; flour turns it opaque.  Three, cornstarch only needs to be mixed with cold water, unlike flour which has to be cooked to lose the raw taste.

You can whisk the cornstarch into the water or, what I do, combine the ingredients in a small bowl with a lid and shake until the cornstarch is dissolved.

Margaret's Morsels | Crock-Pot Good and Easy Stew
 Slurry made from cornstarch and water.

If I have time, I stir the mixture into the slow cooker and let the stew cook another hour.  If not, I put the slow cooker liner on the stove top, stir in the slurry and cook until the broth is thickened.  Not all slow cooker liners cans be used on the stove top so read the directions that came with your slow cooker before you attempt this.

Margaret's Morsels | Crock-Pot Good and Easy Stew
 The thickened stew.

I serve the stew with noodles and a vegetable.  I serve English peas in the winter and coleslaw in the summer.  The stew is also good with mashed potatoes in place of the noodles.

Margaret's Morsels | Crock-Pot Good and Easy Stew

There's nothing better than coming home to the aroma of a fully cooked meal.  With a slow cooker, that can be a reality all year long!

Good and Easy Stew
8 Servings

2 1/2 lb. stew meat
1 (1.15 oz.) envelope dry onion soup mix
1/2 cup beef broth
1 (10 3/4 oz.) can cream of mushroom soup (undiluted)
1 (8 oz.) can mushroom stems and pieces, drained

Combine the ingredients.  Place in a slow cooker, cover and cook on low for 8 to 12 hours.  If desired, thicken gravy.  Serve over noodles or mashed potatoes.

© Margaret's Morsels

January 11, 2013

No Spoon Needed

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Margaret's Morsels | Oatmeal Muffins

For many people, the start of the New Year is about making resolutions or implementing changes.  With that in mind, the last two Januaries, I've posted recipes that use healthier cooking methods than their traditional counterparts:  baked -- not fried -- salmon patties; steamed broccoli with -- not cheese sauce -- lemon; sauteed -- not fried -- pork chops; baked -- not fried -- Mozzarella cheese sticks.  This year, I thought I'd do something different and share a recipe that's a tasty way to add fiber to your diet.

According to newspaper and magazine articles, most people don't eat enough fiber.  Fiber can be found in a variety of foods including beans, whole grains, nuts, berries, bran and oatmeal to name a few.  If you like to get your fiber from oatmeal, break the monotony by putting down the spoon and picking up an oatmeal muffin instead!  The recipe I'm sharing uses oats in both the batter and the topping.  With some prep work the night before, the muffins can easily be mixed up in just a few minutes the next morning.

Combine the dry ingredients -- flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt -- in a mixing bowl.  You can use either old fashioned or quick cooking oats, but not instant.  Instant oatmeal has been precooked and, as such, won't work in baked goods.

Margaret's Morsels | Oatmeal Muffins

Combine the topping ingredients -- oats, sugar, cinnamon -- in a small bowl or resealable plastic bag. 

Margaret's Morsels | Oatmeal Muffins

The next morning, combine the wet ingredients -- egg, milk, oil -- in a small bowl.

Margaret's Morsels | Oatmeal Muffins

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring only until combined; it's ok if the batter looks lumpy.  You don't want to overmix the batter or the muffins will be tough.

Margaret's Morsels | Oatmeal Muffins

Put the batter into greased muffin cups, filling each cup 3/4 full.

Margaret's Morsels | Oatmeal Muffins

Sprinkle the topping evenly over the batter.

Bake the muffins for 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and let the muffins cool five minutes.  Run a knife around the edge of the muffins to loosen them from the pan.  Lift the muffins out and place them on a cooling rack.  Don't turn the muffin pan over or the topping will fall off!

Margaret's Morsels | Oatmeal Muffins

The muffins are a nice change of pace for breakfast and they can easily be packed in a bookbag, purse or briefcase for a snack later in the day.  Not only does fiber make you feel full, it also helps lower cholesterol.  The muffins are so tasty, your kids won't even realize they're also good for them!

Oatmeal Muffins
12 Servings

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup oats
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup oil (I use canola)


2 Tbsp. oats
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large mixing bowl.  In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and oil.  Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients; stir just until combined (batter will be lumpy).  Spoon batter into greased muffin cups, filling each 3/4 full.  Combine the topping ingredients in a small bowl; sprinkle evenly over batter.  Bake at 400° for 15 to 20 minutes or until done.  Let muffins cool five minutes before removing from the pan.

© Margaret's Morsels