Prisco’s Family Market

1108 Prairie Street, Aurora, IL 60506 | 630-264-9400

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Tips for Grilling Peppers- Tuesday, July 11, 2017
  • You will want to seed and stem your peppers before grilling.

  • Next, toss them in a very light coat of olive oil. This helps protect the skin and even out the heat.

  • Set up your grill so you can roast the peppers directly on the heat source – if using charcoal, make sure you have an even layer of coals. Or you can use a rack directly over the heat source.

  • Peppers should be roasted on high heat – over 450 degrees F, or with bright orange charcoals.

  • Grilling the peppers for about 5 minutes on each side should produce a nice char – watch carefully and adjust for your level of char preference.

  • Decide whether you want to eat your peppers with skin on or off. If you want to remove the skin, let the peppers sit in a bowl under plastic wrap right off the grill for about 15-20 minutes. This loosens the skin and you can peel it easily.

Here is our recipe for Grilled Assorted Peppers

Serves 4

Preparation: 5 min. Cooking: 10 min. Total: 15 min.

Ingredients

      • 2 sweet peppers - red, yellow, orange, purple

      • 2 hot banana peppers

      • 2 Gypsy sweet peppers

      • 3 Tbsp. olive oil

      • 1 tsp kosher salt

Heat a grill to medium-hot. You can core and halve or quarter the peppers, and remove the seeds, or grill smaller peppers whole. Brush the skin side of each piece with olive oil, place the peppers on the grill skin-side down, cover and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove skin, if you like, or let diners do it themselves. Sprinkle with salt and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

 

Sweet, refreshing cantaloupe- Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Everyone has their favorite summer melon. For most, the watermelon has become iconic; look at stock photos of picnicking families and you will see it frequently, often alongside sandwiches, hot dogs or burgers. The reality is, come warm weather watermelon is available everywhere, and it dominates the produce department from May all the way through August. But the second most recognizable melon, the cantaloupe, is available year-round and never goes out of style. Unlike its more watery cousin, the cantaloupe is popular because its flesh is similarly sweet but much more dense, making it far better for recipes and anyone who prefers to bite into a firmer fruit.

[info courtesy of nutrition-and-you.com & organicfacts.net]

Many varieties of cantaloupes are grown all over the world. However, two common types have become popular in the western world. The European cantaloupe (Cucumis melo cantalupensis) derives its name from the Italian papal village of "Cantalup" and features lightly-ribbed, pale green skin that looks quite different from the North American cantaloupe. Galia melon and charentais belong to this category. North American cantaloupe (Cucumis melo reticulatus), famous in the United States and some parts of Canada, is named reticulatus due to its net-like (or reticulated) skin covering.

In general, cantaloupe fruits feature round or oblong shape, measure 4.5- 6.5 inches in diameter and weigh 1-2 pounds. Internally, its flesh color ranges from orange-yellow to salmon, has a soft consistency and juicy texture with a sweet, musky aroma that emanates best in the completely ripe fruits.

What's so great about cantaloupes?

They help boost the immune system. Cantaloupes not only have the beta-carotene and phytochemicals working in its favor against free radicals, but also a healthy dose of vitamin-C. Vitamin C similarly scavenges disease-causing free radicals and act as an important line of defense for a healthy immune system. Also, vitamin-C stimulates the production of white blood cells, which seek out and destroy dangerous bacteria, viruses, and other toxic substances.

Cantaloupes may help in preventing cancer. Cantaloupes are rich sources of beneficial nutrients, including beta-Carotene, an essential carotenoid that the body requires and a powerful antioxidant. It has been linked to reduced chances of a number of different types of cancer, and the phytochemicals present in fresh fruit like cantaloupes have also been linked to anti-tumor behavior.

Cantaloupes contain substances which are known to help maintain eye health. Cantaloupes contain carotenoids, which are associated with a reduced risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, as is the vitamin-C content of cantaloupes.

Cantaloupes have a high amount of dietary fiber, which is an essential component of healthy bowel movements and digestive health. Eating a proper amount of dietary fiber can bulk up your stool and reduce your chances of becoming constipated, and can make your bowel movements more regular and consistent. By insuring a smooth flow through your digestive tract and colon, you reduce your risk of colorectal cancer and other dangerous gastrointestinal conditions.

Eating cantaloupes is good for your skin. Cantaloupes are wonderful places to find beta-carotene, which is the precursor to vitamin-A. The body converts the beta-carotene into vitamin-A, which enters the skin and stimulates the membranes of skin cells and increases regrowth and repair.

They help reduce stress and anxiety. Potassium is one of the essential nutrients found in cantaloupes. Potassium has been shown to relax blood vessels and reduce blood pressure. Excited levels of blood pressure can act as a stressor on the body, and can even induce the release of stress hormones like cortisol. Potassium also increases the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain and reduce the presence of stress hormones in the body, which can seriously reduce symptoms of anxiety.

The phytochemicals in cantaloupe also have anti-inflammatory qualities. This means that having a proper amount of cantaloupe in your diet can help prevent oxidative stress on your joints and bones, thereby reducing inflammation. Chronic inflammation of these vital areas can lead to conditions like arthritis.

Cantaloupe Recipes

There are plenty of ways to consume cantaloupe aside from raw... Not that there is anything wrong with a nice, juicy slice or cube of cantaloupe. However, eating raw cantaloupe is common; most of us have enjoyed melon slices and fruit salad numerous times over the courses of our lives. Consider this an opportunity to experiment a little with this wonderful fruit, rather than doing the same old thing!


Grilled Sea Bass with Cantaloupe-Lime Salsa

Chicken Cantaloupe Salad

Cantaloupe and Blueberries with Vanilla Sauce

Easy Fruit Tarts

Cold Melon Soup

 

Gazpacho - This summertime cold soup is not only delicious, it’s healthy! - Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Unfortunately, far too few Americans have ever enjoyed this delicious summertime treat, and it’s a real shame because it is quite tasty; and once you see how healthy it is, you will want to add it to your regular summer meal plans.

Originally from the Andalusian area along the south Mediterranean coast of Spain. History tells us that it has many different influences, from Greece and Rome, as well as from the Moor's and Arab culture. The original soup was blended stale bread, olive oil and garlic, with some liquid like water or vinegar that was pounded together in a mortar. Different vegetables and almonds that were available were also added. This soup evolved into different varieties, the most popular around the world being the tomato-based variety, which is served cold.

It was common for Roman soldiers to carry dried bread, garlic and vinegar to make the basics of this early soup. Christopher Columbus probably took this soup with him on his voyages from Spain. When he brought back tomatoes, cucumbers and different peppers, that is when the soup evolved to its present state. Now all kinds of things are added, such as watermelon and cantaloupe.

Here are some of our favorite homemade recipes. Note the nutritional information and the ingredient list and you will see why it’s really worth getting acquainted with.

Tamar's Gazpacho

Calories

Fat

Carbs

Protein

Fiber

Sugar

Cholesterol

Sodium

88 cal.

0.6g

20 g

3.2 g

4.7 g

12 g

0 mg

120 mg.

 

Mexican Gazpacho

Calories

Fat

Carbs

Protein

Fiber

Sugar

Cholesterol

Sodium

86 cal.

0.5g

21 g

3.6 g

3.9 g

12 g

0 mg

100 mg.

 

Gazpacho Andaluz - Cold Tomato Soup

Calories

Fat

Carbs

Protein

Fiber

Sugar

Cholesterol

Sodium

56 cal.

1.0g

11 g

2.2 g

2.4 g

6 g

0.2 mg

54 mg.

 

The term Gazpacho has also become synonymous with any soup served cold. Here are a few of our summer favorites:

 

Blackberry Gazpacho

Calories

Fat

Carbs

Protein

Fiber

Sugar

Cholesterol

Sodium

210 cal.

3.8g

34 g

2.5 g

8.3 g

23 g

6.3 mg

9.4 mg.

 

Chilled Strawberry Soup

Calories

Fat

Carbs

Protein

Fiber

Sugar

Cholesterol

Sodium

200 cal.

0.9g

49 g

2.0 g

6.1 g

40 g

0 mg

4.2 mg.

 

 

Salmon - A popular seafood choice for Americans- Tuesday, April 25, 2017

After shrimp and canned tuna, salmon comes in as the third most consumed seafood in the US. The average American consumes 2 pounds/year. When you consider the large number who either don’t like or eat much seafood, or those with limited access to seafood, it means that some folks are eating quite a lot of salmon. While it truly is popular, there is a lot that most folks just don’t know about salmon.

The thing about salmon that makes them very recognizable versus other species of fish is their distinct pink color. We’ve even coined a name for the color, which you will find in clothing store catalogs and paint samples. “Salmon” (or “salmon pink”) is meant to describe a delicate, reddish-pink hue that has become extremely popular in recent years. However, the famous salmon color is not something that is dictated by the fish’s DNA. Instead, salmon get their color thanks to their diet. Specifically, the color comes from an anti-oxidant carotenoid called astaxanthin. This chemical is produced in the chloroplasts of yeasts and algae. Salmon don’t feed on algae and yeast, but the smaller fish on which salmon feed -- and which make up the majority of their diet -- do. Once again, it goes to prove that we are what we eat.

The most compelling thing we should know about salmon is that, generally speaking, it is good for our health. Salmon is one of the most nutritious types of fish to add to your diet. It supplies iron, zinc, niacin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, in addition to a whole host of other nutrients.

Salmon is also a source of unsaturated fats -- healthy types of fat that help protect your health -- called polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. Both kinds of healthy fats help normalize your heartbeat and ease inflammation, which is a response from your immune system that can increase your risk of cancer and other chronic illnesses. A 3-ounce serving of wild Atlantic salmon supplies 4.9 grams of unsaturated fats, and the same portion of coho salmon contains 4.4 grams. Three ounces of sockeye salmon have 2.5 grams of unsaturated fats, and a 3-ounce serving of farmed Atlantic salmon provides 7.4 grams.

Salmon contains a specific type of unsaturated fat called omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids lower your risk of dying from heart disease, according to Mayo Clinic. The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon help keep your heart healthy by protecting the health of your blood vessels. They help lower triglycerides, reduce your blood pressure and prevent blood clots, effects that go a long way toward protecting your heart. Choosing salmon over red meat can help lower your cholesterol -- the waxy substance that can build up in your arteries and increase your risk of heart attack -- because salmon is much lower in saturated fat than beef, pork, and some cuts of poultry.

In addition, salmon is a very good source of protein. While the specific protein content varies depending on what type of salmon you're eating, a 3-ounce serving contains an average of about 20 to 21 grams. Eating a serving of any kind of salmon is a nutritious way to make sure you're getting plenty of protein.

A few cooking tips regarding salmon

  • Dealing with the bones - You should remove the pin bones—but carefully. Pulling them up and out of the salmon will rip up its flesh, which is not a good look. Take tweezers and carefully pull out the pin bones in the same direction the bones are oriented in the salmon’s flesh.

  • Skin, keep it or remove it? Skin is tasty and will enhance the flavor of your fish. So when you’re cooking salmon, keep that skin on. The meat itself is quite delicate and the skin provides a safety layer between your fish’s flesh and a hot pan or grill. Start with the skin-side down, and let it crisp up. Then it's easy to slide your spatula under the salmon’s skin to turn it and the flesh won’t stick to the pan. There is an exception to the keep on the skin rule, however: When poaching salmon, you will want to remove the skin first with a sharp filleting knife.

  • When poaching, add flavor to your water – There is no reason to poach your salmon in plain tap water. Add zest and flavor by spiking the water with lemon or a half head of garlic. Another good idea is to poach the salmon in dry white wine. Not only will these ideas add flavor to your fish, they go a long way in preventing your kitchen from smelling like a fish house.

  • Don’t overcook it – We’ve all heard the phrase, “Cook it till it flakes”.Turns out that this in one of the most common mistakes made when cooking salmon. If using a grill or a pan, sear salmon skin-side down on high heat until the skin is crispy, then, whether you flip your fish or not, finish cooking it on low heat. The fish’s sections should give and pull apart easily, not flake into dry pieces.

  • Enjoy the leftovers – How often do you hear people say, “I’m not saving the leftovers because reheated fish is never any good”? Perhaps that is true, but who says that you need to reheat the leftover salmon? Cold, day-old salmon is delicious; flake it into a salad, turn it into a sandwich, or just eat it straight from the fridge.

Hope we’ve piqued your taste buds and have you thinking of delicious, fresh salmon. Here is a collection of Salmon recipes that you might like to review.

 

All about eggplants- Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A member of the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes and peppers, eggplant is a fairly common staple throughout the world, especially in Asian countries. As Americans, many of us are familiar with the most common/classic eggplant variety -- the deep purple, somewhat pear-shaped type carried by the majority of grocery stores. However, not many of us are acquainted with all the other varieties available... and there are many!

Eggplant varieties

Here is a list of the more common types of eggplant. Note: Most of these are available year-round!

White Eggplant

Eggplant got its name because it was originally small and white, and thus looked like eggs hanging from the plant. Today, the white eggplant has a tough skin and a creamy, delicate flesh.

Italian Eggplant

Smaller, slimmer versions of the classic American eggplant; useful for sauteing if you want small slices.

Chinese Eggplant

Long and violet to purple in color, the Chinese eggplant is sweeter and more tender than a typical American eggplant. Its skin is soft, so it is rarely peeled. It is interchangeable in almost any eggplant recipe.

Japanese Eggplant

Similar to the Chinese eggplant, it has a thin skin and a sweet, delicate flavor. The Japanese eggplant is slender and can be green, pink, white, lavender or purple. Its calyus, or stem, is most often dark purple.

Indian Eggplant

The Indian eggplant is known for its tenderness and sweet flavor. It is small and round with smooth skin and a red-purple color. The skin does not need to be peeled; it can be used interchangeably with the American eggplant.

Choosing and storing an eggplant

Eggplants should be firm but not hard, and heavy for their size. Their skin should be glossy, with no bruises or brown spots, and the cap should be fresh-looking and bright green.

Eggplant can be kept for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator; after that it can become bitter. Keep it uncut in an open plastic bag. (Eggplants that were purchased wrapped should have their plastic covering removed before storage).

Health benefits of eggplant

The iron, calcium and other minerals in eggplant supply the essential nutrients required by the body.

Eggplants contain certain essential phyto nutrients which improve blood circulation and nourish the brain. (Most of these nutrients are concentrated in the skin of the eggplant.)

Eggplant is low in calories, with just 35 per cup. It contains no fat and its high fiber content can help you feel full.

A few delicious eggplant recipes

 

[Info courtesy of thenibble.com & gardeningknowhow.com]

Meal Prep Made Easy- Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Everyone knows that the best way to control your weight and keep a healthy lifestyle comes down to what you eat and incorporating regular exercise into your daily routine. In a perfect world, you'd cook all your own meals. You'd never pick up jelly doughnuts on the way to work, eat fast food for lunch, or order pizza because you're too stressed to even think about dinner.

Sadly, it’s just not that easy to eat the way we know we should. However, with some preplanning and a little work you can make the challenge of eating healthier a whole lot easier. The secret? Meal prep. Essentially, it's the practice of spending a few hours each week making huge batches of whole grains, proteins, veggies, and snacks, ensuring that you're prepared to fight fast-food temptation with tasty, clean, home-cooked meals all week long.

For starters, why not use one of the most versatile and easy to prepare meal bases -- pasta. That’s right, toss your favorite noodles, a bunch of raw ingredients and some water into a pot, and in just a matter of minutes you can have a tasty dinner for you and your family.

Here are some recipe suggestions for pasta meals to get you started.

Pasta Primavera

Shrimp Scampi Pasta

Easy Carbonara

Tagliatelle and Italian Sausage

Spaghetti with Pesto Sauce

 

 

Asparagus, the "food of kings"- Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Asparagus may not officially be royalty, but it sometimes is referred to as the “food of kings,” and "the aristocrat” of vegetables. Cultivated for more than 2,000 years, asparagus was prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans for both taste and the medicinal properties they believed it possessed. King Louis XIV of France loved asparagus so much he had special greenhouses built, so he could enjoy the vegetable year-round.

Not only does asparagus taste delicious, it offers us a rich supply of nutrients. Asparagus is a very good source of fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells. It’s also a good source of antioxidants. This is just the beginning of a long list of health benefits attributable to asparagus, but we all want to eat it, not think about it. Why not consider some of these asparagus recipes and see if you don’t feel a bit more regal?

Asparagus and Jack Cheese Frittata

Risotto with Portobello Mushrooms and Roasted Asparagus

Asparagus Soup

Marinated Asparagus Salad

Steamed Asparagus

Chicken and Fresh Asparagus Casserole

 

Want to reduce your carb intake? Try cauliflower in your favorite recipes.- Tuesday, January 24, 2017

It's an unfortunate fact that ingredient-limited diets, especially those programs that require reducing carbohydrate intake, can be highly unpleasant for beginners. In many cases you're required to sacrifice most if not all of your favorite foods, leaving you feeling both hungry and miserable. However, it's important to stay the course even if you experience some discomfort. Don't let the initial side effects of a low carbohydrate diet stop you from eating healthy. Once you are over the hump and your body begins to adapt, you will find yourself feeling much better.

While this is good news, it does not address the loss of your favorite foods, which can be distressing for many people and make it difficult to persevere in their new dietary regimen. In order to make eating low carb satisfying and manageable over the long term, physically and mentally, you need to find a way to re-incorporate some of the foods you love. And one of the best ways to do that is to substitute low carb ingredients for the high carb ones in your favorite recipes.

This week, Prisco's Family Market is featuring cauliflower – one of the best low carb food substitutes out there. This amazingly versatile vegetable can fill in for just about anything "bready" – and in the spirit of experimentation, cooks have come up with plenty of new and interesting ways to use it.

Here is a list of recipes using cauliflower as a replacement for breads, pastas, and starches, while keeping your favorite flavors intact...

Cauliflower “Everything Bagels”

The quintessential New York food. Pair them with some fat and a protein source to make a complete breakfast. They’d be delicious with an avocado and some lox or turkey slices!

Recipe courtesy of lexiscleankitchen.com

Ingredients

  • 1 head cauliflower, riced (about 3 cups)

  • 2 tbsp almond flour

  • 1 tbsp coconut flour

  • 1 tbsp organic corn meal

  • 2 eggs

  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder

  • 1/4 tsp sea salt

"Everything" Topping

  • 1/2 tsp poppy seeds

  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds

  • 1 tsp dried minced garlic

  • 1 tbsp dried minced onion

  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a food processor, or using a hand grater, pulse/grate cauliflower until rice consistency

3. In a bowl combine eggs, cauliflower rice, almond flour, coconut flour, corn meal, garlic powder, and salt

4. In a separate bowl combine "everything" topping ingredients

5. Lay parchment paper on a baking sheet

6. Make 4 even sized balls and lay onto parchment paper

7. Sprinkle "everything" topping and slightly press them into the top

8. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until bread-like consistency (it might be longer depending on the size you make)

9. Remove from baking sheet and let cool directly on a cooling rack

Optional steps: Broil on high for 3-5 minutes after baking. For extra crisp, remove from baking sheet and do the broiling step with the buns directly on the oven rack.

 

Cauliflower “Rice”

For those of you who are accustomed to eating rice, this is a recipe for you.

Recipe courtesy of thepaleomom.com

Ingredients

  • 1 small head of cauliflower (4-5 cups riced)

  • 3 Tbsp cooking fat (such as coconut oil)

  • 2 tsp lemon zest (approximately 1 lemon)

  • 4 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

  • 1/8 tsp salt , to taste

Instructions

1. Trim cauliflower and place florets in a food processor (you may have to do this in batches). Pulse until chopped to rice grain size. Set aside.

2. Heat cooking fat in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add cauliflower to the oil and cook, stirring frequently until cauliflower is cooked al dente (about 6-8 minutes).

3. Stir in lemon zest, parsley and salt. Cook 1 minute. Enjoy!

 

Cauliflower Pizza Crust

Cauliflower crust is thin and crispy, perfect for anyone who likes pizza with a nice crunch on the bottom. And since you’re making it yourself, it’s easy and fun to get really creative with the seasonings. (Note: You can also use that crust for calzones, pizza pockets, or just about anything else you’d otherwise use pizza dough for.)

Recipe courtesy of foodnetwork.com

Ingredients

  • 1 head cauliflower, stalk removed

  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Break the cauliflower into florets and pulse in a food processor until fine. Steam in a steamer basket and drain well. (I like to put it on a towel to get all the moisture out.) Let cool.

3. In a bowl, combine the cauliflower with the mozzarella, Parmesan, oregano, salt, garlic powder and eggs. Transfer to the center of the baking sheet and spread into a circle, resembling a pizza crust. Bake for 20 minutes.

4. Add desired toppings and bake an additional 10 minutes.

 

Cauliflower “Breadsticks”

A big basket of breadsticks can really bring the table together, and they’re delicious dipped in some homemade marinara sauce! Fortunately, cauliflower comes through again with a way to make them lower carb.

Recipe courtesy of fastpaleo.com

Ingredients

  • 1 head of cauliflower

  • 1 tablespoon of oregano

  • 1/2 tablespoon of basil

  • 1 tablespoon onion powder

  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

  • 2 eggs

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

1. You can either put the whole head of cauliflower in a microwave safe dish and put in the microwave for 10 min. Then remove and put in a food processor until smooth OR you can put the cauliflower in the food processor first until you get a rice consistency and then put in a microwave safe dish and put in the microwave for 10 min.

2. Let the cauliflower cool slightly then place in the refrigerator until cooled completely.

3. Once cooled, mix the rest of the ingredients in the cauliflower.

4. Grease a cookie sheet and place cauliflower on it. Use your hands and pat down cauliflower until it is about 1/2 in thick. Place in an oven set for 425 degrees for about 25 min or until slightly brown.

5. Remove from oven and turn to broil at 500. Cut your cauliflower in the desired sticks you want and flip over. Place back in the oven until both sides are brown and desired crispness. Enjoy!

 

Cauliflower "Macaroni & Cheese"

Nobody can really pretend that cauliflower is shaped like macaroni, but if you’re looking to dig into a big pile of rich, cheesy goodness, cauliflower mac is just the thing.

Recipe courtesy of grassfedgirl.com

Ingredients

  • 5 cups cauliflower florets

  • Sea salt and pepper to taste

  • 1 cup coconut milk, canned

  • 1/2 cup homemade broth

  • 2 tbsp coconut flour, sifted

  • 1 soy free organic egg, beaten

  • 2 cups grass-fed cheddar cheese/raw cheese

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 350.

2. Salt the cauliflower then steam it until al dente.

3. Then place the florets in a greased baking dish.

4. In a skillet heat up the coconut milk with a pinch of salt and pepper over medium heat.

5. Add the broth and keep stirring.

6. Add the coconut flour to the mixture and let the sauce bubble.

7. Remove the sauce from heat then whisk in the egg.

8. The sauce should thicken and then pour it over the cauliflower.

9. Add the cheese evenly then bake for 35-40 minutes.

10. Turn the oven to broil for 3-5 minutes to get a nice color on top.

 

Crock Pots and Slow Cookers -- The Working Mom's Helper- Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The usefulness of crock pots and slow cookers really can't be overstated. They are incredibly valuable appliances, particularly for individuals who work full time and may not have the energy or interest to prepare a meal from scratch when they get home.

There are a number of advantages to using a crock pot. Firstly, the lower temperatures reduces the risk of scorching foods which tend to stick to the bottom of a pan, or which may burn easily in a conventional oven. In fact, slow-cooking makes it almost impossible to burn food even if it's cooked much too long (while your food may end up with a somewhat unpleasant texture, at least you won't end up with charcoal briquettes for dinner!).

Slow cookers are also perfect for preparing less expensive and/or tougher cuts of meat, such as chuck roasts, chuck steaks, beef stew meat, venison, or any other variety of meat that contains a lot of connective tissue and collagen.  The longer cooking times utilized by crock pots and similar appliances results in a breakdown of that unpleasant tissue, thereby tenderizing the meat and making it significantly more palatable.

Last, but most importantly, slow cookers are super convenient!  Many recipes do not require much fuss from you; simply load the requisite ingredients into the cooker and leave it alone.  In fact, some models include timers or thermostats which bring food to a given temperature, and then lower it automatically to minimize the likelihood of over-cooking, so you can expect the best possible outcome from your recipes.  Also, cooking your meals in a single pot, rather than an array of pots and pans and other hardware, reduces the amount of time spent washing up afterward -- and the low cooking temperature and glazed pot make cleaning easy.

So for you moms (and dads!) out there who don't have a lot of extra time on your hands, consider getting a crock pot or slow cooker, and you may never find yourself without a plan for dinner again.

A side note for new crock pot owners (courtesy of About.com):  Whenever you purchase a new slow cooker, use it the first few times, on HIGH and on LOW, before leaving it unattended.  There's always a potential for the crock pot to boil the food if it operates at a higher temperature than other pots, so you should determine what to expect from the different temperature settings.  Also, remember to place the cooker on a cookie sheet, granite countertop, the stovetop, or a similar surface, as the bottom can get quite hot.

Click here for some slow cooker recipes.

 

'Tis the season for something soothing…- Tuesday, December 20, 2016

With Christmas rapidly approaching, it can be difficult to relax and simply enjoy the season. The weather has been bitterly cold and we've already had a couple of large piles of snow dumped into our laps; in spite of the inconvenience, though, you have to admit that -- with pristine white snow yet on the ground -- it's a beautiful landscape we are presented with. One well worth taking a load off and appreciating for a while from the comfort of our homes.

Now, most peoples' go-to for staying warm in the winter time is a hot meal, with soups and stews being especially popular, but where's the fun in that? Okay, yes, cooking and eating a good meal is a wonderful way to de-stress and get back some of that lost heat, but for a truly pervasive comfort, your best bet is something belly-warming and boozy.

Seasonal and Winter Wines

[info courtesy of food52.com & biltmore.com]

Unless you live someplace balmy, January is probably not the time you feel like drinking wines that are light, or crisp, or especially refreshing. Instead, think about wines that have layers, like the way you dress when it's cold. Wines that have texture and layers have a lot of dimension to them, in terms of aroma and taste.

Full-bodied reds are king in winter since they pair well with heartier dishes, but sparkling wines have a starring role at the holidays, too. Here is a list of good winter wines:

  • Malbec

  • Syrah

  • Zinfandel

  • Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Bordeaux Blend

  • Oaked Chardonnay

  • Sparkling Wine

...........................................................

Mulled Wine

Mulled wine is a classic. But it’s easy to find versions (especially from bars and restaurants) that are too sweet or overly spiced. This drink has the perfect balance of flavors, and making it yourself means you can spice up your life as much as you please.

Recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1 bottle red wine (750ml) merlot

  • 1/4 cup brandy

  • 3 cups unsweetened apple cider

  • 1/4 cup honey

  • 4 cinnamon sticks

  • 1 vanilla bean, cut lengthwise

  • 1 tsp cloves

  • 3 star anise

  • 1 cup chopped orange

Instructions

In a large pot on low-medium heat, bring the wine, brandy, apple cider, and honey to a low boil.

Add the cinnamon, vanilla bean, cloves, and star anise. Turn down the temperature to low, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Just before serving add the chopped citrus. Mulled wine can be left on the stove to heat for many hours. It can also be stored in the fridge and reheated the next day.

...........................................................

Mulled Ciders

[info courtesy of thekitchn.com]

Hot mulled cider is a must-have for winter gatherings, or just spending a quiet day at the house. It's probably a holdover from when we all lived in New England and the frigid winters necessitated lots of hot beverages. The great thing about making mulled cider is that it's relatively uncomplicated, and a good cider can be made in your slow cooker; the recipe can be started in the morning before you head to work or go about your household chores. When you get home or finish your tasks for the day, your house will smell amazing -- and you'll be able to kick off your shoes and wash away the day's troubles with some liquid comfort.

Recipe:

Slow-Cooker Spiked Mulled Cider

Makes about 16 (8-ounce) drinks

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon fresh apple cider or unfiltered apple juice

  • 1 medium orange

  • 1 (1 1/2-inch) piece fresh ginger

  • 5 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks

  • 1 tablespoon whole cloves

  • 5 star anise pods

  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups bourbon, brandy, or dark rum (or more to taste)

  • Orange slices, for serving (optional)

Instructions

Pour the cider or juice into a 5-quart or larger slow cooker.

Cut the orange into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Cut the ginger into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Add both to the slow cooker.

Add the cinnamon sticks, cloves, and star anise. To make it easier to serve, place the cloves and star anise pods in a tea ball first, or place in a double layer of cheesecloth or coffee filter, gather it up into a sachet, and tie closed with kitchen twine.

Cover the slow cooker and cook until the flavors meld, 4 hours on LOW. Add the bourbon, brandy, or rum and stir to combine. Let sit for 10 minutes for the flavors to meld. Keep warm and serve in mugs garnished with orange slices.

Recipe Notes:

  • Apple cider: Buy fresh apple cider or unfiltered apple juice for the best flavor. Do not use sparkling cider, spiced cider, hard cider, or clear apple juice.

  • Storage: Leftover cider can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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Boozy Cocktails

[info courtesy of greatist.com]

Sometimes you want a bit more of a punch -- no pun intended -- when it comes to relaxing at the end of a long day. The great thing about cocktails is not only are they more potent than mulled ciders, but they can be made individually rather than in batches. You can also add some festive elements to them to help you relax and get into the season even if you are tired and stressed.

Recipe ideas:

Spiced Apple Cider Champagne Cocktail

Got five minutes? Then you have plenty of time to make this delicious cocktail. Simply mix fresh apple cider with champagne and apple brandy, and the drink is ready. To make them look slightly fancier, add a cinnamon stick to each glass.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces apple brandy

  • 2 ounce fresh apple cider

  • 3-4 ounces chilled champagne

Instructions

Pour the apple brandy into the bottom of each glass. Add the champagne and top with a splash of the fresh apple cider. Enjoy!

 

Hot Buttered Hazelnut Whisky

Even those who don’t care for the taste of whiskey can get behind this winter beverage. With only four ingredients (six if you include whipped cream and cinnamon), it’s easy to have this hot and ready in minutes. Snow days just got WAY better.

Ingredients

  • 4 parts milk

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • 2 parts whisky

  • 1 part Frangelico or hazelnut liquor

  • 1 tablespoon whipped cream per individual serving pinch of cinnamon (for garnish)

Instructions

Bring the milk and cinnamon stick to a simmer in a thick-bottomed pot over low heat. Allow to gently simmer for 15 minutes, stirring constantly (if you don’t stir constantly, the milk on the bottom of the pan will start to cook onto it, and the next time you stir the pot little cooked milk bits will mix into the liquid. Not so fun.) Remove from heat, remove the cinnamon stick, and pour the milk into the serving glass. Add the whiskey and the hazelnut liquor and stir to combine. Top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Serve immediately.

 

Christmas Coffee Cocktail

Four different kinds of booze and strong coffee may sound like a dangerous combination, but it’s worth the experiment.

Ingredients

  • 4 oz strong coffee

  • 1 1/2 oz amaretto liqueur

  • 1 1/2 oz coffee liqueur

  • 1 oz butterscotch schnapps

  • 1 oz creme de cocoa

  • fresh whipped cream

  • grated chocolate, for garnish

Instructions

Combine strong coffee and liqueurs in a glass. Stir to combine and top with fresh whipped cream. Garnish with grated chocolate.

Serve warm or over ice.