Estimating your water needs is important if you are considering installing a rainwater harvesting system for your home. A quick look at your water usage (and the demand for it) provides a clear answer as to whether or not a rainwater harvesting system is right for you. However, from a practical perspective, I don’t know why you wouldn’t harvest rainwater. We all think of the obvious when we think of our water usage, but let’s look a little farther. As you read this article you will notice a few, “Oh, yeah” moments of things that didn’t come to mind to consider when determining your water needs. Read more
We often overlook our gardening mistakes with the hope that others will too. This year let’s take them one by one and fix them. The top eight mistakes and remakes are below…. I know, I could have said makeovers, but it didn’t rhyme.
The grass ISN’T greener on your side of the fence
This ranks number one. Why? Read more
Inexpensive quick Christmas gifts always come in handy and allow us to give gifts to friends and neighbors that haven’t been figured into our budget.
It’s always nice to give a little gift to
- the mailman
- the trash removal man
- the children’s’ teachers
Minimalist living allows more living for less… Let me explain. When you look around you, do you see more or less? As a rule, MORE comes with debt, upkeep, responsibility and often clutter that leads to mental clutter and depression. Meanwhile, LESS comes with not having to care for ‘things’ creating more time for relationships, allows for less mental clutter, along with the freedom of being debt-free and saving money for your future.
So, having MORE ‘stuff’ allows you less time for the things that truly matter in life. Having LESS things allows for more time to enjoy the things that truly matter in life. Thereby, less is more and more is less.
Are you still with me? I seemed to have had a Dr. Seuss moment there…
When we look at the minimalist lifestyle for the first time, we don’t see what is in front of us.
Looking at the minimalist lifestyle for the first time there is a tendency to go into shopper’s panic rejecting the thought of not having all the latest and greatest fads in our closets and snacks in our pantry. That is not at all how the minimalist lifestyle works. In a nutshell, minimalist living is having the very best that you can afford of the things that you use everyday; plus the things you use seasonally and your most cherished sentimental items.
Minimalist Living Is A Conscientious Intentional Lifestyle
The conditioning of our current society is that if you are a person of influence you must own a lot of stuff, live in an over-sized home and drive new cars. Not only does this raise the questions, ‘Why do we think this?’ and ‘Why would we want to go into debt to put on this charade?’ but, how does debt-ladened consumerism benefit us?
I read this years ago and found it to share with you here:
Recently I overheard a mother and daughter in their last moments together at the airport. Standing near the security gate, they hugged and the mother said “I love you and I wish you enough.” The daughter replied, “Mom, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I wish you enough, too, Mom.” They kissed and the daughter left.
The mother walked over to the window where I was seated. I asked her, “When you were saying good-bye, I heard you say ‘I wish you enough’. May I ask what that means?” She began to smile. “That’s a wish that has been handed down from other generations. My parents used to say it to everyone”.
She paused a moment and looked up as if trying to remember it in detail and she smiled even more. “When we said ‘I wish you enough’ we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with just enough good things to sustain them”. Then turning toward me she shared the following as if she were reciting it from memory:
I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final good-bye.
Here are some pretty scary facts:
- There are 300,000 items in the average American home (LA Times)
- Even though the average size of an American home has tripled in the last 50 years, 1 out of every 10 Americans rent off site storage for even more of their stuff (New York Times Magazine)
- We spend one year of our lives looking for lost items. (National Association of Professional Organizers)
- The average 10-year-old owns 238 toys, but plays with just 12 daily (The Telegraph)
- 23 percent of adults say they pay bills late (and incur fees) because they can’t find them. (Harris Interactive)
- There is a direct correlation between a woman’s Cortisol (stress) levels and the amount of clutter in her life (UCLA study)
- 80% of the clutter in your home or office is a result of disorganization, not lack of space (National Association of Professional Organizers) Click Here To Learn More!
- They can’t afford a nice gift for their Valentine.
- They have waited to the last-minute and are empty-handed.
- They just decided to be Valentines.
- They were given a Valentine gift and have nothing to give in return.
So, we will fix that with our two ingredient one minute fudge recipe, in the microwave.
This will be my Valentine gift to you.
Now, I’m known for not using microwaves – I hate them, but drastic times call for drastic measures and if we are going to make you a Valentine Superstar in a minute well, I will bite the bullet and give you directions using the dreaded microwave.
I will add that my favorite way to make fudge – anywhere at anytime – includes putting the two ingredients in to a quart canning jar, putting on the lid and either leaving the jar in the sun for a little while or setting the jar in a pan of hot water for a bit.
But we are talking about making you a Valentine Super Star!
Let’s do this.
Two Ingredient, One Minute Fudge Recipe
1 can Eagle Brand Sweeten Condensed Milk
1 12oz. Package of Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
Prepare 2 square plastic containers (like you would store a sandwich in) by spraying very lightly with cooking spray. Set aside
- Pour the sweetened condensed milk in to a microwavable bowl
- Dump chips on top of milk
- Microwave on High for one minute
- Stir to incorporate the chocolate chips in to the sweetened condensed mild
- Pour 1/2 of the mixture in to each of your prepared containers and refrigerate until cool (1/2 hour or so)
- Turn fudge out on a cutting board and cut in to desired shapes.
Note: This fudge is very rich, almost like a Tootsie Roll. Cutting it in small cubes works best, because larger pieces melt in your hand . Each plastic container yields about 25 cubes of fudge.
Fudge is particularly nice served with strawberries and champagne by candlelight with incense fragrancing and perhaps soft music playing. Maybe later a bubble bath for two?
If you’re going to be a Valentine Super Star
rock it and give them something to remember!
What makes this Awesome Slow Cooker Banana Bread so awesome is that it is a family recipe handed down through the generations and it is made in a slow cooker. Of course as with any quick bread recipe this makes wonderful muffins as well.
It seems that there are always a couple of bananas that don’t get eaten before they get freckled that are perfect for making banana bread. This recipe couldn’t be more simple. We use the smaller silicone bread pan to set right in the slow cooker to bake the banana bread. If you have a smaller slow cooker that a baking pan won’t fit in to don’t worry. Just line the crockery dish with foil, spray it with cooking spray and bake your bread in the foil.
Awesome Slow Cooker Banana Bread Recipe
2 Bananas, mashed
¼ cup Butter, melted
½ cup Brown Sugar
1 ¾ cup Baking Mix
¼ tsp Salt
1 tsp Vanilla
½ cup Nuts or Chips
• Whisk all ingredients together.
• Line the slow cooker with foil strips to lift out hot pan.
• Dump mixture into a baking pan that will fit your slow cooker that has been sprayed with cooking oil.
• Prop your lid open with something small like a chopstick.
• Cook on Low for 4 hours, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
• Carefully lift out the hot pan with the strips of foil and let bread cool before cutting. Even with the foil strips I use my silicone oven and bbq gloves to keep from burning my hands or wrists reaching in to the crock.
Note: Always use the best pure vanilla that is available in baking. Vanilla is the base flavor component in a large number of baked goods and can make or break your flavor profile.
Freezer to Slow Cooker Recipes, How And Why We Do It.
One of the main reasons that people have slow cookers is to prolong the cooking time of a meal so that the meal is ready when the person is ready to eat.
With today’s longer working hours and the commute to and from work, often adding after work activities or afterschool activities, we need to extend that time even longer. Since most slow cooker meal recipes take 6 to 8 hours on low to prepare, using the guidelines that we are learning here, we can prolong the cooking process safely in a few ways.
One way to prolong the cooking time of your meal and maintain its integrity is to start with frozen ingredients. By pre-packaging and freezing the ingredients for the meal we’ve also cut down on the time you need in the morning to put your meal into the slow cooker. By taking this simple step you will add at least one hour to your cooking time. As far as a bacterial concern, I don’t have one with this method. Even though your food is starting out frozen, and it will be getting up to 200° on the low setting in the slow cooker for 7-9 hours. You can read about what science says about food poisoning and the slow cooker here.
Note: You want to put these frozen ingredients into a slow cooker that has NOT been turned on because common sense tells us that if you put something ice-cold on to hot crockery it could break.
Extending Cooking Time Even Longer
For Freezer To Slow Cooker Recipes
If you need to extend your cooking time even longer, you may wish to consider an outlet timer added to the method above. If your ingredients are already frozen they will stay within a safe temperature range for at least an extra hour in your slow cooker with it turned off. With your timer turning on your slow cooker, at the end of that hour, you have probably added another half hour to the total cooking time. In addition to that, you now have the option of turning your slow cooker off at a designated time with your timer. According to the US Food and Safety documents, it is safe to leave your meal (now at a minimum of 200°F) for up to two hours in your slow cooker before you need to be concerned about refrigeration or reheating it a bit for eating. Now, you have your entrée for 9 1/2 – 11 1/2 hours in your slow cooker, plus ½ hour on high when you get home to bring the meal up to a nice hot serving temperature.
|Stove Top & Oven Cooking Times||Slow Cooking on HIGH Cooking Times||Slow Cooking on LOW Cooking times||Slow Cooking on LOW from Frozen Cooking times||Slow Cooking on LOW from Frozen w/timer Cooking times (see above)|
|15 – 30 Minutes||1.5 – 2.5 Hours||4 – 6 Hours||5-8 Hours||6.5-9.5 Hours|
|45min – 1 Hours||3 – 4 Hours||6.5 – 8 Hours||7.5 – 9 Hours||9-11.5 Hours|
|1.5 – 2.5 Hours||4.5 – 6 Hours||9 – 12 Hours||10-13 Hours||11.5-14.5 Hours|
|3 – 5 Hours||5 – 7 Hours||12.5 – 18 Hours||13.5 – 19 Hours||15-20.5 Hours|
As with all rules there are exceptions about what you would cook this long and number of things such as rice, veggies that you would like more al dente or are delicate you would add in the last ½ hour of cooking while you change into clothes that are more comfortable for the evening. We are back to that common sense thing.
You will understand better, how this works when you start reading the freezer to slow cooker recipes and applying the methods explained.
Get a slow cooker that fits your needs. The more full the crock the more time to cook. Your slow cooker should be between ½ and ¾ full to produce the steam necessary to maintain heat and moisture for proper cooking so that your meal doesn’t dry out or burn.
In putting together the recipes to be frozen there are as many methods as there are people freezing them. Some people like to buy a ton of groceries and freeze meals for a month at one time. I don’t. When I prepare a recipe to freeze I usually prepare two family-sized meals. That way if I don’t like it or am not in the mood for it, there is no harm done. I also don’t have the patience or knees to stand in the kitchen chopping for four hours at a time.
What do I freeze the meals in?
If you choose to use the zip type bags for freezing, this is not the time to be cheap, buy the good ones. You will have to set the bag in warm water for a minute to loosen the frozen food to put it in the slow cooker. I usually snip off the zipper end of the bag after the edges have thawed enough to dump the contents so the frozen part slips out easily.
Do NOT use zip bags with the ‘slider’ on the zipper part of the bag – they leak. They are not made for this application.
You can use oven roasting-bags to freeze meals in and store them in the freezer in a zip type bag. This is handy in that the roasting bag goes right in to the crock for cooking and cuts down on the food sticking to the zip type bag.
You can freeze in Food Saver bags. They will last a long time in the freezer and you can set them in the slow cooker full of room temperature water to cook on low in the bag as well.
Note that if you chose to freeze in some sort of bag you want the frozen food to conform to the approximate shape of the slow cooker so that it will fit in nicely to cook. One way to do that is to set the bag of food in a Pyrex dish similar in shape as your slow cooker, in the freezer to freeze, then when the meal is frozen stack the blocks of frozen meals.
You can also freeze in canning jars ( I prefer pint wide mouth) and allow for family members to personalize their meals. Kids eat what they prepare. Some people don’t like onions or peppers in their recipe, while others have dietary restrictions. Personalized meals allow for that. With the jars, in a bath of room temperature water and lids sitting on top and the bands lose; set the slow cooker on low.
Preparing freezer to slow cooker meals is a great way to save time on a busy day, money at the grocery buying tougher cuts of meat and sales items, as well as guaranteeing that your family has a hot delicious meal when they need it. All with very little fuss or mess.
We have all heard the battle cry on the Internet of those that are thumping their chest and waving their hands about food poisoning, especially when it comes to using the humble slow cooker.
Here are a few of their statements on the matter:
- “Food doesn’t get hot enough 2 kill bacteria if reheated in a slow cooker”
- “(Slow) Cooking with frozen food significantly increases the amount of time it takes for your food to reach this safe temperature and thus significantly increases the chances of you and your family getting food poisoning I for one WILL NOT take that risk with my loved ones. But you are free to weigh up this risk for you and your family.”
- “Jane, you mentioned turkey – do you do a whole turkey in the sc? I’ve googled and some articles say yes and others say it’s a food poisoning risk. I’d love to know for next Christmas!.”
- “you could go high and then after two hours before going to low. This is so meat reaches correct temp quicker so you don’t get food poisoning.”
These people are so busy being ‘right’ and insisting that others follow their teaching that they haven’t done the homework to get the facts.
Read on to have your paradigm shifted.
Is Foodborne Illness a Real Concern With Slow Cookers?
The short answer, NO. There is no more danger of foodborne illness using a slow cooker than any other type of heat source. More foodborne illness is caused by food being left out after it’s cooked than before or during the real cooking process.
“The concern is unfounded and is perpetuated ignorance.”
The US Department of Agriculture states that the slow cooking method is a safe method of preparation because the steam created within the tightly covered pot combined with the lengthy cooking time destroys the bacteria that might be present in the food. For the slow cooker to produce enough steam to kill the bacteria, it must be at least ½ full.
How do slow cookers work?
A slow cooker is a covered ceramic crock set into a double-walled outer aluminum container. Electric coils in the walls of the outer container slowly heat the inner crock, which holds the heat exceptionally well, maintaining a consistent temperature with little energy use (200 to 300 watts of electricity per hour). The low and high settings the low setting for most slow cookers is about 200°F for the high setting is about 300°F.
Slow cookers are closed systems like an oven and can be used for most things that you use an oven for. The lid design creates a tight seal, trapping heat and moisture within the crock and allows little evaporation. The condensation of cooking liquid drips back down the crock keeping the food moist allowing the meal to be left unattended for several hours without having to worry about your meal burning or drying. The lids are clear so that you can see what is going on inside without lifting the lid and dropping the inside temperature. If there is condensation on the inside of your lid just to give it, a little jiggle and the moisture will roll off, and you will be able to see inside your pot. If you do need to lift the lid, know that you also increase the cooking time by letting the steam escape and bringing down the temperature; adding 15 minutes for low and 10 minutes on high to your cooking time.
The food poisoning concerns debunked by science.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are more than 2,000 strains of salmonella bacteria, but only a dozen or so make people sick. Most often, salmonella poisoning results in gastroenteritis, a severe stomach illness. Salmonella is most often contracted by eating raw or undercooked meat, poultry, or eggs.
If you think you might have salmonella poisoning, consult your doctor. The illness typically runs its course in a matter of days even without treatment, though doctors urge patients to drink plenty of fluids to prevent the dehydration that sometimes results from vomiting and diarrhea.
According to CDC.gov (the Center for Disease Control),” Many cases of botulism are preventable. Foodborne botulism has often been from home-canned foods with low acid content, such as asparagus, green beans, beets and corn and is caused by failure to follow proper canning methods. However, seemingly unlikely or unusual sources are found every decade, with the common problem of improper handling during manufacture, at retail, or by consumers; some examples are chopped garlic in oil, canned cheese sauce, chile peppers, tomatoes, carrot juice, and baked potatoes wrapped in foil.
Because the botulinum toxin is destroyed by high temperatures, persons who eat home-canned foods should consider boiling the food for 10 minutes before eating it to ensure safety. “This is why foods of this nature are brought to above 140°F.
Notice that there was no mention of cooking with a slow cooker. In trying to verify or dispel the myths and mysteries of the use of slow cookers, in this day and age, I set about doing my research. The research in and of itself was enough to write volumes.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll keep this section matter-of-fact… or I may get a little snarky, and we don’t want that.
My first stop for researching the safety of the slow cooker method of food preparation was the government food safety sites. I don’t know if you ever subjected yourselves to these sites, but they are quite interesting. My questions and answers are as follows:
- At what temperature do bacteria grow on food and how long must food stay at that temperature for the bacteria to be a health issue?
Most foodborne bacteria grow between 40°F and 140°F. That is to say, that the temperature of the food itself must be between 40°F and 140°F for bacteria to grow and it must stay between 40°F and 140°F for one to two hours minimum for bacteria to START to grow. The fluctuation in times depends on the temperature of the food according to the USDA website. Food temperatures closer to 40°F can be left at that temperature for two hours while foods that are closer to 90°F bacteria may well have started growing after an hour.
As an interesting aside the USDA went on to say that most of this foodborne bacteria dies at 165°F. I think that perhaps that’s why so many of their suggested food doneness temperatures are 165°F.
- Is it safe to cook frozen meat and poultry without thawing it first?
According to food safety.gov, “if you don’t have enough time to thaw meat or poultry, remember it is safe to cook from a frozen state. Your cooking time will be about 50% longer than cooking fully thawed meat or poultry.” But according to the USDA, “you should always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker. If using commercially frozen slow cooker meals, prepare according to manufacturer’s directions.”
The government has contradicted itself.
I went to the government’s chat function named, Ask Karen, to ask about the discrepancy in these two web pages. I copied and pasted the above and then ask ‘her’ what the difference was between my freezing meals and meals commercially frozen when putting them into a slow cooker. Her reply, “I see no difference as long as the meat and produce are cut into similar size pieces as a commercial product.”
If you have an interest in such products, the Crock-Pot website sells and ships frozen meals to be taken from the freezer to your slow cooker which should ease any concerns about the validity of the method.
- The next thing I noticed on the USDA website was that it stated “that when roasting meat and poultry to use the oven temperature no less than 325°F.” The low setting on slow cookers is 200°F so again I went to Ask Karen to see if this meant that roast beef, pork, and poultry should not be cooked in a slow cooker at all.
I was relieved when she replied “If you are cooking food in the oven they recommend
325 °F or higher. The slow cooker doesn’t have temperature settings, but ‘low’ for a slow cooker is safe because with the heating element surrounding the food causes it to heat up quickly.” You just got to love Mr. Naxon!
The government guidelines on food safety are ‘guidelines’ meant for our well-being and are written to best protect the least intelligent of us; they are written at different times by different people with different mindsets and backgrounds for different purposes. Application of common sense needs to be applied. Often when the government gives a guideline, it is because they have not had the time, funds or desire to test the item in question, so the answer is always ‘don’t do it.’
So what have we learned from asking the government and looking at the practices of the major corporations, with major legal staffs, recommendations for use of their slow cookers?
- The temperature of the actual food must stay for 1 – 2 hours between 40°F and 140°F for foodborne bacteria to start to grow. Frozen food that is not to 40°F is not a factor and once the food reaches 40°F it will heat just the same as food that started at 40°F.
- A lot foodborne bacteria die at 140°F and even more at 165°F.
- You may cook frozen food cut in chunks in the slow cooker, noting that it will add about 50% to your cook time. The transference of heat will not keep the food between 40°F – 140°F for an extended period because “the heating element surrounding the food causes it to heat up quickly.”
- You can prepare roasts in the slow cooker because of “the heating element surrounding the food causes it to heat up quickly.”
Now that you have some science-based information you can speak with authority and perhaps your science – based information will ‘trump’ the wives’ tales of food poisoning relating to slow cookers.
This family recipe is called Easy Slow Cooker No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread, because it is just that. The dough is made in just a few minutes with few ingredients and to have that smell of fresh bread baking makes memories your family will cherish for years. Having a loaf of this bread will be the start of your family’s new dinner tradition.
The Recipe for Easy Slow Cooker
No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread
Yields three loaves – Baked in a 3-quart slow cooker
- Add the first three ingredients together.
- Sprinkle the yeast on top of the sugar-water and wait 15 minutes. Your yeast will look partially foamy.
- While you are waiting for your yeast, in a large bowl combine the salt and both flours in a large bowl.
- Stir the yeast into the sugar-water. Pour liquid into the bowl with flour mixture and stir until all flour is wet and you have a sticky dough.
- Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let the dough rise for 2 hours or until it has finished rising and started to deflate looking flat on top.
- Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 2 weeks.
- Line your slow cooker with foil, spray with oil and turn slow cooker on warm.
- Take 1/3 of your cold dough out of the fridge and using your hands fold in under on itself around the edges forming a smooth ball.
- Set the ball in the slow cooker, cover cooker with a towel.
- Turn off slow cooker and let the bread rise for 90 minutes or until doubled in size.
- Take off the towel, place the lid on slow cooker and turn on High for 90 minutes.
- Check your bread by touching the top. If it feels ‘doughy’ give it another 10 minutes or so until it doesn’t feel ‘doughy’.
- Lift the bread from the slow cooker using the foil and allow to cool to room temperature. Cutting bread while too warm will make the inside gummy.
Note: I use a timer and do other things while this is going on. There is no need to babysit the bread.
Below are the items used to make this recipe. Click to have them for yourself.
We have always baked bread to allow ourselves the freedom of knowing what its made of, the luxury of fresh-baked bread with meals, having dough in the fridge ready to bake, and having fresh bread for pennies instead of dollars per loaf.
Being able to bake bread in the slow cooker is a blessing. The expense of using the oven and heating up the house are not a problem when you enjoy this bread anywhere you can use your slow cooker.
Risotto is normally a very fussy, time-consuming creamy rice dish; but not any longer. This is a no fuss perfect creamy slow cooker risotto recipe.
Using your imagination, to change the liquid used, and adding cooked items from the fridge, you can have a very impressive meal on the table in no time. We love to add cooked meats and veggies to create original delectable meals that always impress; and were no fuss at all.
Recipe for Perfect Creamy
Slow Cooker Risotto
This makes for a satisfying creamy rich risotto entrée served with warm bread.
1 ¼ cup Arborio Rice, Uncooked
¼ cup Olive Oil
¼ cup White Wine (We use Chicken Broth)
3 ¾ cup Chicken Broth
1 tsp Onion Flakes
2 Garlic Cloves
1 tsp Kosher Salt
¼ tsp Black Pepper
2/3 cup Parmesan, Grated
• Place everything but the Parmesan Cheese in the slow cooker and stir.
• Cover and cook on high for 2 to 2 ½ hours or until the rice is tender.
• Stir in the grated cheese and leave uncovered for about 20 minutes letting some of the moisture escape leaving you with a creamy rice dish.
Note– One question that we get a lot about this recipe is why we use onion flakes. The onion flakes add a mellow depth of flavor that you don’t get with fresh onions.