October 27, 2007

The Crockpot--A Writer's Best Friend (And this is an interactive blog!) posted by Leann Sweeney Thank goodness some semblance of autumn finally arrived in southeast Texas this past week. For me, that first real cool front means it's time to make chili. And I did. I do a good chili, but not Texas chili, Yankee chili. I know. You can the girl out of Yankee-land but you can't .... Anyway, it's also time to pull out the best kitchen invention ever--the Crockpot. What better way to free up daytime hours to write than to throw everything you can in a pot, put on the lid and forget about it for hours? This week I made baby back ribs that fell off the bone and Swiss steak that melts in your mouth. But did you know you can make a great lasagna in your Crockpot (don't have to cook the pasta) or even dessert? Like apple crisp and pudding cake? You can even take the time to stuff peppers with couscous or the more traditional ground beef and rice. One of my favorite things to do with the Crockpot--I have the BIG one, but also several others in various sizes--is dump a frozen turkey breast in there (the bone-in kind), salt the skin, crinkle a little foil on top and let it cook from early on until dinner time. The bone-in breast makes a wonderful broth that in turn makes a fantastic gravy (I do add a bouillon cube, usually an herb & veggie one, to my gravy). Voila. Hot turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce on the side. Many of you may know one of the very best Crockpot recipes ever. Pot roast. All you need is a chuck roast (or leaner cut if you like), a can of mushroom soup and a box of onion soup mix. I've had to adapt this recipe a couple ways. Early on I used golden mushroom soup rather than the creamy version because my kids were (and still are) allergic to milk. Then I discovered that I can't tolerate preservatives or MSG. Sorry, but Campbell's cream of mushroom is full of all kinds of those things. But Health Valley makes a perfect substitute. And then there's the dry Lipton soup--bad ingredients for me. But Campbell's--who, as I said, puts all kind of stuff in their condensed soups--makes a dry onion soup mix with simple natural ingredients. It's all about reading those labels! The great thing about Crockpot pot roast is you can throw in potatoes, carrots, onions, celery or root vegetables galore, mix the two soups together and pour them over the meat and veggies and you've got everything you need for a great meal. Next day, if you have leftovers, use your food processor and chop everything together, add some ketchup, maybe some herbs and heat it all up in a skillet. Yup. You've got hash! Now for a couple recipes I love besides the pot roast: Swiss Steak 1 1/2 lb round steak cut into serving pieces and dredged in salt and peppered flour 2 onions, sliced 1 TB. Worcestershire sauce, 1 TB brown sugar mixed with 2 cups of stewed tomatoes Put steak in the bottom of pot (no need to brown it), cover with onions, throw in garlic or celery or carrots if you want and than top with the tomato mixture. Cook on low until meat is fork tender. Serve over rice or noodles, add a salad from a bag if you need something green. I don't! Easy Potato Soup 6 cups diced, peeled potatoes+5 c. water+2 c. diced onion+1/2 c. diced celery+1/2 c. carrots+ 1/4c. butter+ 4 tsp. chicken or veggie bouillon granules (or 2 cubes works)+2 tsp. salt+ 1/4 tsp. pepper. Cook all this for 7-8 hours on high or until veggies are tender. Then add 12oz. evaporated milk and some parsley (fresh or dried). Mix this all together and then stir in 8 oz cheddar or Colby cheese, shredded. Heat thoroughly until cheese is melted. YUM!!! Okay--and here's a little fall dessert that doesn't use a Crockpot but is soooo easy! Mix together a can of pumpkin, a yellow or vanilla cake mix and the spices on the back of the pumpkin can for pumpkin pie. Pour into an 8x13 pan that's been Pam-ed. Cook at 350 until it looks and acts like a cake. No need for eggs or mixers or oil or whatever. You have pumpkin pie cake in a jiffy! Now it's your turn! Send me those Crockpot recipes people!!!!!!!!!! (And by the way, I will be gone for the month of November as I travel to Seattle to be with my new granddaughter and my family. See you back here on December 7th! In my place will be Kate Flora blogging about all kinds of things. Thank you, Kate.)
O BRAVE NEW WORLD Posted by Sheila Connolly I am writing and sending this post from my new computer. To most of you out there, this should be no big deal, but this is the first computer I have researched, purchased, and set up all by myself. I am patting myself on the back. I know, most kids today could do this while watching television, listening to their MP3 player, and eating lunch, but for me it’s a major achievement. I remember life before computers (gasp). Back in the Dark Ages when I was in high school, my (bedroom-suburb-of-New-York) enlightened school decided to offer its first computer science class. The textbook was a clutch of mimeographed pages. The class itself made a weekly excursion to the local college, which had dedicated a small house to its computers, for hands-on experience. The computer itself was about the size of my Volkswagen, and had to be kept cool. And it took key-punched cards, oh my. (We used to save the punches–or are they chads?–to use as confetti at our football games, and boy, are they hard to get out of your hair!). The process was laborious: there must have been a dozen people in the class, and we would have to draft our program, using Fortran and a cute little plastic template for boxes (I still have it), then wait for our turn at the key-punch, then wait for our turn to run the cards through the computer (which, after all the waiting, took about two minutes). Then we would get a printout and try to figure out what we had done wrong. One aspect of the class that was interesting was the cross-section of the students, evenly divided between math nerds (mostly male) and future secretaries (uniformly female), which at least resulted in gender equity. I don’t recall that either group outperformed the other in terms of getting results. Sometimes I wonder if those girls who took the class–who very intelligently saw which way the wind was blowing toward the future–did well for themselves, armed with this new technology. Fast forward just a few years (we’re still in the ‘80s here). I was working for a top-tier investment banking firm, in municipal finance, and we structured a lot of multi-million dollar bond issues. In those days we used an off-site company to run the numbers (five figures per run, easy–so you didn’t do it too often). Someone higher up the line in the office had the brilliant idea to buy one of them new-fangled PCs. It was ordered and it duly arrived–and they handed it to me and told me to set it up. Yeah, right, like I knew anything? But I guess I knew more than the bankers did, so I forged ahead, and by gum, the thing worked. I can’t even remember when we got our first "home" computer. Both Spouse and I used computers at work, so it was inevitable that something would slop over to the house. But if I recall correctly, the first one was Spouse’s territory, and he kept it out in his garage-office (at least until he froze a printer out there). I’m pretty sure we bought the next one around 1996–and we still have it, although at the moment it functions more as a large solitaire/minesweeper game plus calculator when Spouse balances his checkbook. But in its day it did good work for us–and I wrote my first book on it, and my second. In 2002 I took the plunge and purchased my first laptop. But I let the nice geeks at Gateway put it together and install all the software for me, so it was ready to go when I took possession of it. Of course, I kept adding things over the years, piece by piece. That one is still with me, sitting next to me now as I type, clicking and wheezing. I would probably have stuck by it, except that I completely filled the hard drive, which made everything work in slow motion. Once upon a time I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but it happened, over the course of a busy five years. (And I still need to transfer a lot of data from it.) So when my external hard drive died and my poor laptop kept sending me dire messages, I gathered up my courage and said, I shall go forth and buy a new computer. I polled friends, expert and other. I read reviews. I looked at all the writers loops, with all their conflicting opinions. I made a decision–and then I had to track my target down. My choice had a list price, and a sale price, and the latter seemed to change hourly. I stalked it all over the internet, sometimes placing orders only to be told that it was out of stock yet again. I kept trying, and I finally scored a machine–at the lowest price I had seen. Yay me. It was delivered the following day, and I took it out of its shipping carton, and I set it on the floor next to my desk, still in its box. And there it sat for the next six weeks. So help me, I was scared of the poor thing. And I had to review all my software, didn’t I? At which point I decided everything I had was way out of date, so then I had to research the new stuff and find the best price on that, and so on, and so on. So yesterday I finally opened the box. I pulled it out. I read all the handouts with their warnings. I sent up a silent prayer (is there a god, or goddess, of computers?), plugged it in, and booted it up. And behold, it works. I managed to establish an Internet connection, and I loaded up all my shiny new software, and it still works! And, what’s more: I have installed a wireless router! This from someone who has never used a wireless connection...

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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