The little birds...

If you watch little birds you will see they are busy and happy! Using whatever they can find they create the most gorgeous little nest.
I would be the little bird with some glittery thread in her nest!
We can be like this. Happily working away with the things that are available to us to create a beautiful and happy home.
All the while with a little song in our heart.

Banner by Free Pretty Things for You.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Crock Pot Cooking series no 2.

Last week we started off with some setting ourselves up. Finding dishes, racks etc. that fit your crock pots is an ongoing thing. And even with my list I forgot some things! Why oh why manufacturers don't make the fittings I have no idea but as far as I know none do. Maybe I need to design my own!

This week I'm going to cover the things I made since last post as they are useful things.

Firstly I made Chicken Stock. My large crock pot makes 5 liters of soup or stock. It doesn't matter what size you have though. Stock is great because you can save all kinds of left overs and use up things. I pop things in the freezer all the time towards the next stock. You can use any recipe or make any kind you want. The long slow cooking will extract the maximum flavor and goodness from your ingredients.

My basic chicken stock recipe is....
A chicken carcass raw or cooked OR chicken pieces on the bone or some raw chicken... ideally stock should include bones as a lot of goodness comes from the bones. But this week I just used a few bits uncooked chicken. In lamb or beef broth bones cut through release wonderful bone marrow. When the girls were little this is how I made baby food. It would be bones with a little meat on them and lots of vegies then blended. So healthy.  oops back to the recipe...
Some cloves of garlic chopped.
Some celery.
A couple of onions, plus leeks if you have them.
A couple of carrots.
3 bay leaves.
A sprig of rosemary.
A few (sprigs) of parsley.
A few of thyme.
Black pepper or peppercorns.
As much water as will fill your pot.

This is all very flexible. Think flavor, goodness and using up whatever vegies you have. If I have zucchini, pumpkin etc that goes in too. In this case I had chopped parsley and a bag of celery in the freezer. The herbs in the garden. Bay from Mum's tree... I had carrots, garlic on hand. I used raw chicken fillet. Save all the celery tops to go into your stock, nothing adds to stock like celery. Carrot peelings can go in. So many things suddenly are worth saving!

The advantage of the crock pot is it can go all day and it won't boil dry or catch. You can make stock while you sleep. You will end up with a deep flavorsome broth full of nutrients and all natural.

In order to not have to strain all this I use a stainless steel steamer that fits nicely into my crock pot. You could use a colander, steamer.... anything that will fit and the lid with still fit firmly. Mine is from my saucepan set.



I fill the crock pot 3/4 full of water and sit my steamer in the middle. Then I pack that steamer with all my chicken, herbs and vegies.... Once that is packed I might add more water if there is much room left in the crock pot. Always leave some gap at the top so it doesnt overflow when bubbling.



The whole point is then at the end you just lift your steamer up and let it drain and voila you have clear broth and the bones etc are contained and easy to manage. A couple of times during cooking I jiggle this around a bit to ensure water and ingredients are all flowing freely but the slow boil takes care of that pretty well.

I put my mix on and let it go all day. Longer is better than shorter with stock.

At the end it is a really good broth.

So now you have made a beautiful stock mostly from left overs!

I refrigerated a pot of stock and a bowl of my solids as well.

The next day I put some of the stock back in the crock pot. I fill the crock pot to about 1/4 full only. Then I fill it up with chunky pumpkin, onions and sweet potato. A couple of carrots sometimes. Then let that go on low all day or if you are around until it is all tender.  If I think there might be too much liquid I remove a couple of cupfuls with a ladle. It is easier to add it back in than reduce it. I like it to be thick! Then I blend with a stick blender until smooth, taste and season if needed. That is it. Now I have about 5 liters of beautiful thick pumpkin soup.



I serve this with a little cream and cheese. It is so nice. Sometimes I take a cup of this and add it to scone mix and then you have pumpkin scones. For children this soup can be used as a pasta sauce with the addition of cheese. It also freezes well. Made even thicker it is baby food.


The other bowl with the saved chicken and vegies... I fished out the bay leaves and thyme stems. Added liquid stock, soup beans, corn, more onion and let that cook slowly all day. You could add chopped carrot, small pasta shells or alphabet noodles, anything you like... then you have chicken soup. This can be served as is or blended to make cream of chicken soup.

So I ended up with about eight liters of beautiful stock and soups. Some stock was frozen.
Making your stock first then your soup gives you wonderful flavor.

So this alone is a very good, healthy, economical way to make your crock pot work for you. Stock is also wonderful as a glaze over vegies or as a base of a sauce or gravy or in risotto. Rice can be cooked in stock anytime to fill it with nutrition and flavor. Stock can be frozen to be ready for soup making also.

You can make any soup you like, use your own best recipe or try any flavor you think your family will like. Soup is such an easy thing really and so comforting and good. I make soup according to the specials. If cauliflowers are on special then it will be cauliflower cheese or cauliflower soup!

Next I made Creme Caramel.
The reason I do this in the crock pot is then I don't have to deal with a tray of boiling water out of the oven. That always is difficult and I slosh it etc. In the crock pot I can just lift the dish out of the water. Later when that water has cooled I empty it on a plant. It is just so much easier!
Cooking creme caramel, baked custard or baked rice custard in a tray of water is what gives you the smooth velvety texture. It is one of those little miracles.



You can use any recipe for any of these that you might have. I do not bother with the toffee on the bottom so technically this is not a true creme caramel in its entirety. (usually you put toffee over the base of the dish. Then when you flip it and turn it out this becomes the top. Alternatively you can pour toffee over the top) If you want to do the toffee just use a traditional recipe or make a toffee glaze for this.
The one I usually do has the lovely velvet smooth texture and vanilla flavor. But any baked custard, rice custard recipe works in the same way.

Mine is....

1/3 cup castor sugar (fine white sugar)
2 plus 1/3 cups milk,
4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla. (I use thick vanilla concentrate as I LOVE vanilla)
Blend all this until perfectly smooth.
Pour into a baking dish.
Bake in tray of water (in this instance your crock pot) until set.  Mine was 2 hours on high from cold water to set time.

This serves 4.

I put some water into the crock pot. Carefully test out how high to put your water by putting your dish in empty and press it to the bottom or put your dish in and then very carefully add the water around it. You want water 3/4 up the sides. If you put too much water it will end up in your custard. So work this out first. The water must be cold. If you hurry it up with boiling water you don't get the smooth texture. Don't ask me how I found this out....

Then sit your dish of custard in this. You could also do 4 individual dishes which looks lovely to serve. (A bit fancier)
Turn on the crock pot to high. Place a tea towel/kitchen cloth under the lid...



This catches the drips. This is what you do for anything like cakes, bread, custards...
Mine from beginning with cold water to done takes two hours. This is going to depend on the size of your crock pot, dish etc.
It's like anything.... do it once and see how it goes and next time you will have the timing perfect. Two hours is my perfect time. The custard should be set softly. If done and you are not ready to serve it then take the lid off, turn it off... it will stay warm for ages.
I serve this with a strawberry on the side. It is lovely. It is good cold too.
Baked egg custard, creme brulee (this is similar but thicker and richer as made with cream) baked rice custard... all beautiful. All cooked in the crock pot in this same way.

These are simple nutritious and economical things that are delicious and the crock pot does most of the work for you.  In the case of stock the long slow cooking works for you. In the case of the custards the slow delicate cooking works perfectly for these.

Coming home or just after a busy day at home, beautiful soup already made is so good. It is winter here so that is why soups are featuring! I usually add cornbread, pumpkin scones or even toasted cheese sandwiches and dinner is done. I will have soup for lunch everyday too if I have it. Also it is good to keep some serves of soup in the freezer for emergencies. We virtually never have take away as if I know it's going to be a busy day, or we will not be home I will have dinner cooking. Otherwise I will have a meal from the freezer.

Next week I will cover stews, casseroles, pies and Shepherds Pies. In this case you get great casseroles and the let overs make the most wonderful tender pies and Shepherds Pies which are a new meal and can be frozen for another night. These are real family fillers and so good!

Thank you to everyone who sent links to tutorials! I have decided to do a post about good tutorials and link to them all. Nanna Chel even made a tutorial especially! Hers is how to make lovely soap with Calendula flowers and with a no caustic soda method which will suit a lot of us. It looks amazing. But she also has recipes for other methods as well. If you ever wanted to make soap this would be perfect to get you going! Thank you Nanna Chel! Nanna Chel's soap tutorial.

Have a wonderful week! Every new skill we learn or skill we get better at is a big help to our household! xxx

26 comments:

  1. Annabel, thanks for those great ideas. My crockpot is getting a good workout but I think I will put it in the laundry so my hubby doesn't turn it off like he did twice last week :-)

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    1. Oh no! WHY did he turn it off!? Once is one thing. TWICE! Poor you Nanna Chel. Once you overcome this "glitch" I hope things work for you!
      Have a great week. I am going to be trying out the soap recipe. Thank you.xxx

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    2. Chel,

      Especially when it's a holiday's feast prep time, I often put my Crock Pot "elsewhere" when it's in use. The ability to put our dinner (or part of it) out in the chilly garage, outside the slider door on the deck, on the picnic table in the park (plugged into an extension cord), even on the dryer in the laundry room frees up counter space for all the other goodies I'm preparing... and in a hot kitchen in the Philippines or on Guam, that's such a blessing!

      Also, I make my Do-Ahead Gravy the "day before" and when done, put it into my 4-quart Crock Pot. (I want PLENTY of gravy!). On the "day of," I take the Crock Pot out of the ref in the morning, turn it on LOW and it stays hot for as long as I want it. I can even add the turkey drippings to it! That morning, after cooking and mashing the potatoes, I fill my larger Crock Pot with them turned on LOW, drop a huge pat of butter on the top and park that Crock Pot next to the Do-Ahead gravy. I place a pretty antique dish in front of each Crock Pot to hold the serving ladle or spoon. This works wonderfully indeed!

      Don't you love this series here with Annabel's Bluebirds?!?!

      Hugs and happy highways,
      Kelley~

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  2. Dear Annabel, Thank you for starting this wonderful series. I love the idea of the strainer in the slow cooker...why didn't I think of that?
    I also notice that your slow cookers tend to be large... I know that you have some smaller ones, but I'm thinking of investing in a rectangle one as well. I use my slow cookers each week and I know that this series is going to be wonderful!
    Love Helen xxx

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    1. Dear Helen,
      I do use my largest slow cook the most. But if you have a medium one/round one that is fine just find round dishes for your custard etc. Also depending on size dishes can be deeper or more shallow... but it will work just the same.
      Even though theres two of us I am endlessly cooking for others as well and it also gives me a second and third meal ie a stew then two pies from left overs... or just a meal to freeze.
      Thank you for your encouragement! Have a wonderful week, love Annabel.xxx

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  3. What an amazing website you have here. SO MUCH you do that is lovely and practical for all who are here. I just adore seeing your baby , and daughter, and that blanket you made with sparkles is enchanting. THANK YOU for your time and love for the hOME--- you are amazing and a gift to all--Merri

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    1. Dear Merri,
      What a kind and lovely thing to say, thank you. Comments mean a lot to me. In the scheme of things Bluebirds has quite a few comments and a nice little community! But overall in the blogging world comments are from only a few readers. Most days about 1000 people read and of those about 15 comment! So this is a long winded way of saying how much I appreciate feedback! It is really encouraging Thank you so much, Love Annabelxxx

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  4. Annabel, You have so much wisdom to share! Once again, I'm learning so much and having pictures helps me tons! Thank you!

    You are so right about wonderful stock made from bones or chicken, meat, etc. I also use whatever herbs and veggies I have and I add about a tablespoon of cider vinegar to get more nutrition from the bones. You are so lucky to have your mom's bay tree to have fresh leaves! And all your fresh herbs. I generally use all my dried veggies (celery & leaves, carrots, zucchini/squash, etc.) and I so enjoy the way our house smells-so warm and inviting! :)

    The rice custard I made was delicious but I baked it in the oven. I don't currently have a dish that fits inside my crock pot. I'll have to work on that one. lol

    Thank you, again. Teri :)

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    1. Dear Teri,
      THank you for this tip about cider vinegar. I saw that Patsy said this and I couldnt understand the vinegar. Now I understand about it drawing out the goodness. I hadnt heard it before. I will do that now.
      I will have to find out if its legal to post Bay leaves as I could send you some.
      Im glad your rice custard turned out well. It is a great way to use up a little left over rice. I pop left overs in the freezer and these are the ones I use in this.
      Wherever I go I have a bit of paper traced with the shape of the bottom of my crock pot in my purse. So if I see dishes in op shops etc or colanders, or dividers ... I have my template to see if it will fit! This is how I get so many things that will fit nicely in there. Once you have these they make things much easier.
      I hope you have a good week. We had a long weekend here for the Queens Birthday. Lots to do tomorrow. With love, Annabel.xxx

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  5. I am a crock pot lover and yet had never thought of putting a steamer/strainer in it! What a great idea! Keeping you in the blog roll so I won't miss an "episode"!

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    1. Thanks Kathy, once you get something that fits right this is a real help.
      Next week I am also doing baked apples I think... I have a few things planned this week!
      I am glad it is helpful to you! I am learning as I go too! Many thanks.xxx

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  6. I would never have thought of putting the strainer in with stock! Brilliant!! Thanks so much for the tutorial and all the tips on custard making as well, Annabel. This is all such wonderful information and a big help. xoxo

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    1. Hi Kaye! Thank you... yes this makes stock much easier. No fishing around for bones or tipping hot liquid through a strainer.
      I am so glad if anything is helpful.
      I have baked apples planned this week and casserole and pies... so they are next.
      I hope its a good week for you, love Annabel.xxx

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  7. Annabel, I'm already learning so much from you about ways to use my crockpot that had not occurred to me. Using the strainer is just one example! Thanks for such useful information!

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    1. Thank you Patsy, I am thrilled if anything is helpful to you. Collecting things that fit is the thing, then you are set. Thank you so much for linking to this also! With love, Annabel.xxx

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  8. Hi Annabel,
    I love this series. I am learning how to use my crock pot in ways I have not done before. Thank you!!

    My goodness, the cream pudding sounds delicious. I will definitely have to try that. I LOVE vanilla, also, and always add extra to recipes. I'm not much of a chocolate fan at all.

    All of your tips and information are so helpful. It is now summer here and hot, so the crockpot will be a real blessing to use.

    Hugs to you.

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  9. I just told The Highwayman that I learned the key to non-curdled flan (your créme caramel): cold water in the pan. Have never made it due to fear of the curdling. Some restaurants have perfect flan; others serve "Flan Fail." Wonderful info to know.

    In the Philippines, all their grocers, markets, department stores sell a variety of wire mesh (think window screen) wired baskets. They are marvelous for my Crock Pot meals for sure. I use them as steamer baskets and fill them with the side dish, adding them in the last hour of slow-cooking. Perfect every time.

    Today I made all this in ONE 4 quart Crock Pot: 4 ears fresh corn-on-the-cob went in first; an hour or so later, 4 pork cutlets went in that I had dry rubbed earlier that morning with a mix of pink Himalayan salt/cumin/dill/thyme; a few hours later, a sweet potato went in.

    When The Highwayman got home from playing golf with three pastors, he showered, cooled off for an hour relaxing, the whole time licking his chops. "Smells good in here!" At dinner I served all this with a garden salad and a huge sliced tomato. Annabel, we ATE IT ALL! It was SOOOO good!

    The only thing I paid for of that meal was the pork cutlets. A lady had brought to our door a box filled with produce from the corner farmer's market! In it were the corn, the tomato and the potato, among MANY other wonderful goodies. (Well, the salad/dressing we paid for-- ha!)

    My girls are sold on slow-cooking, too. Their mama taught them! You're so right about this method, Annabel. Grasp ahold and it'll change the way one thinks about doing dinner.

    Hugs and happy highways,
    Kelley~

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    1. Your dinner sounds beautiful Kelley! I can hear you have "got it" and how much it helps you.
      I wonder if I should go explore Asian grocery stores for these baskets? I wonder if they would have them here? These sound just right. I will give it a try I think. Thank you so much for that.
      The non curdling "technique" was an accidental discovery. it always turned out perfect and one day I thought I was a genius and added hot water to hurry things up. And it was awful. So lesson learned.
      Thanks or such a great comment! xxx

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  10. Hello Annabel :) My little vintage orange and brown crockpot has been a godsend these last few days. We've all had a terrible virus and the ability to put the meal on in the morning when one has a 'good' moment, and sit down to a home cooked meal that night, is almost like having Mum here to look after us. In fact, my daughter suggested we rename the crockpot 'Grandma'. I wonder what my Mum would think of that idea if she were here...lol! I'm loving your ideas. I just reposted a Baked Apple recipe on my blog from years ago. It gets the craziest amount of views! I've never thought to do them in the crockpot, but I will now! Love, Mimi xxx

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    1. Mimi,

      I am a living witness: CROCK POTS ARE NOT
      MADE LIKE THEY USED TO BE! Your "Grandma" is a well-made ol' gal and much better quality than the one we bought a few weeks ago for our caravan (in the US, that's called an RV: recreational vehicle). I can't get over the difference from the two Crock Pots we have in our Manila townhouse.

      I'm going to go check out your baked apples now. I caught a flash of them in my Reader. A great dessert, I'm sure, for those wanting to cut out the fat and calories of an apple pie crusts! And so easy indeed!

      Hugs and happy highways,
      Kelley~

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    2. Mimi I think a crock pot is just like having Grandma in the kitchen or Mum. I am sure youre Mum would take it as some kind of compliment. And that right there might be why old fashioned recipes get so many views... people associate them with Mum and Grandma, warmth and love. Which is correct! xxx

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  11. For your pumpkin soup, could you substitute the chunky pumpkin for canned pumpkin such as libby's? I ask because fresh pumpkin is not available right now but I have a couple of extra cans of pumpkin from last thanksgiving.

    Thanks so much,

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    1. I think that should be fine, maybe use less stock as the canned is already moist, and add in some sweet potato, carrots if you have them. You could even add a couple of potatoes and your onions. Good luck! xx

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    2. There are lots of wonderful soup recipes using canned pumpkin on the Web, perfect for your needs. I'm a living witness!

      Hugs,
      Kelley~

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  12. hello annabel,
    thanks for the recipe and wonderful tips!!!
    you have a lovely blog!
    have a nice weekend,
    regina

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    1. Thank you Regina! I am looking at your lovely blog! Welcome to you it is great to have someone from Germany! xxx

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