Pop Popped Popcorn

Well, I learned something new about popcorn today. I’ve known there was a difference between the shape & size of popcorn that we make at home and the stuff that is coated in caramelized sugar yumminess on carmel corn or kettle corn that we get from fairs and other commercial popcorn vendors.

One is type larger and rounder — more ball shaped. The other is more irregularly shaped, less round, with more poofs sticking out like lobes or wings.

What I didn’t know, was what the actual difference was. Color? There are yellow varieties and white. There’s multi-colored popcorn too with reds and blues.

We made a nice batch of home-popped popcorn yesterday for an impromptu movie night which was really just an excuse to make popcorn. But then, MOVIE! So bonus. Anyway, I’d purchased some white popcorn from the farmer’s market a month or two ago, and I hadn’t used it. So yesterday we used both yellow and white popcorn.

There are differences between yellow and white, but they are still the same basic shape. So I looked up more info about popcorn online. Thank you, Internet.

Apparently there are two major kinds of popcorn shape.

There’s Butterfly-shaped popcorn and Mushroom-shape popcorn. Both can grow on the same cob of corn, but there are also hybrids that produce more-or-less exclusively Butterfly- or Mushroom-shaped popcorn. The Mushroom-shaped hybrid was developed only as recently as 1998. Growing conditions can make a difference too.

By the way, a popped kernel is called a “flake.” (Something I also learned today. So if anybody ever calls you, “a flake,” maybe you should consider it a compliment. Popcorn is pretty and yummy. And it’s popular for movies. So another plus.)

Butterfly-shaped popcorn (sometimes called, snowflake-shaped) is the kind usually popped at home. It is reported to be more tender, be more fragile, and have fewer noticeable husks than Mushroom-shaped popcorn. So it may feel better in your mouth when you snack on a bowlful of light & fluffy Butterfly-shaped popcorn. All (or almost all) of the (un-popped) popcorn that you find in a typical grocery store will be Butterfly-type popcorn.

Mushroom-shaped flakes are rounder, more like a ball or a bell, with far fewer protrusions. These flakes are denser, have more noticeable husks in the popped product, and are more durable. Since they’re tougher, they hold up better for pre-popped commercial popcorn purposes especially the kind coated with sugar like carmel corn or kettle corn. Some of the pre-popped popcorn you find in grocery stores may be Mushroom-shaped popcorn. But you’ll have a hard time finding this variety un-popped to pop at home. It can be ordered online, and may be available from some gourmet providers.

Yellow and white butterfly popcorns have differences too though.  Along with the obvious one, kernel color, there’s a slight difference in taste and texture. Some people prefer one over the other — much like some people prefer white corn-on-the-cob and others, yellow.

Generally, white flakes are a little smaller, more tender, and, some say, more flavorful. Both look white when popped, but side-by-side, the white popcorn is a brighter white than the yellow.

There are other factors that make differences too like freshness, growing conditions, and popping technique.

Any kind of popcorn can be a healthy snack with a large amount of fiber, as long as you don’t load it up with too much butter, salt, or sugar.

Hot-air-popped popcorn is healthiest because it’s popped without oil, but I find the texture to be tougher and overall not as appealing.

Microwave popcorn is, probably, the easiest to make, but offers few options to experiment with different types of popcorn kernels. I’ve also heard that the fumes aren’t healthy to breath (individual results may vary). So it’s good but not the best.

You don’t need a special popcorn popper to make popcorn at home. We go for a balance of ease and flavor by cooking it in a pot with coconut oil and adding a variety of toppings. We’ve purchased white, yellow, and multi-color popcorn and tried organic and conventionally grown. I plan to order some Mushroom-shaped popcorn soon too.

How we pop:

To make yummy popcorn, we add about a rounded Tablespoon of coconut oil along with 3 Tablespoons of un-popped kernels to a medium-sized stainless steel pot that has a tight-fitting glass & metal lid. It’s nice to see the kernels as they pop. A plain metal lid will work fine too though.

Heat on medium-high heat (depending on your stove). Too low, and the kernels won’t build enough pressure inside for the steam to make them explode (which is the mission-critical pop). The kernels will just lightly toast and mostly remain un-popped. Heat that’s too high will burn the oil and your popcorn too. Adjust as needed.

You can heat the oil first and add three kernels of popcorn to the pan. When they pop, add the rest of the kernels to the pot.

Keep the lid on (or you’ll have a mess), and shake the pot back & forth several times per minute. Kernels should start popping in a minute or two. Shaking keeps the un-popped kernels rotating in the heat at the bottom, so they can pop. The fluffy popped kernels will rise to the top up off the hottest heat so they don’t burn.

When the popping stops or slows to only a few pops in 20 seconds (or when the pot looks full), remove it from heat and take the lid off. You don’t want it to burn, and you’ll want to let the extra steam escape. (If you start to smell something burning that’s another good time to remove it from the heat.) Turn off your stove. Put the finished popcorn in a bowl or other heat-resistant container, and season as you like.

We add salt, pepper, butter-flavored seasoning, white-cheddar seasoning, garlic powder, dried herbs, or even a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. (Not necessarily all at the same time.) Sometimes we add no oil after it’s popped, but a small drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or a hint of real melted butter is extra yummy. These also help the other seasonings to stick better. Yummy!


Copyright 2017 Deb L Kapke. Sharing is permitted with attribution and stuff. Contact for commercial use.


Tea for Tuesday on a Thursday – Just Peachy I

Along with classic iced tea and sweet tea, I especially love a good peach tea. So began a search for a great peach tea that I could make at home.

There are three major roads to peach tea.

1. Scratch recipe with real tea and fruit.
2. Peach-flavored tea leaves in tea bags or loose.
3. Instant, peach tea powder or liquid drops.

Today’s blog covers peach tea from scratch. There are still some excellent peaches to be found. Get ’em while you can!

Peach Tea from scratch. 

The process is fairly simple. This makes about 3 cups of peach iced tea. It partly depends on how juicy your peaches are. (Scale up the recipe for more tea.)

1.) Make 2 cups of iced tea concentrate. My process is here. Let the tea cool some while you work on the peaches.

2.) Peaches! Start with 3 cups of cut up juicy ripe peaches. (Cut out any bruises.) This is a great way to use up super ripe peaches.

3.) Finely chop peaches in a food processor or blender.

4.) Add about a half tablespoon of lemon juice to the peaches as you blend. This perks up the taste and helps keep the peaches from oxidizing (turning brown) too quickly. (I know the tea is brown, but …)

5.) Strain the blended peaches. If you like it pulpy, use a mesh strainer with larger holes. If you hate chunks and pulpy bits, then use a fine mesh strainer or a even strain a second time through a coffee filter (it will drip through slowly though). The leftover peach pulp can be used for frozen ice pops or peach purée in baked goods or peachy apple sauce, etc.

6.) Add the nectar (juices) to tea that has cooled some.

7.) Sweetener or sugar can be added to bring out the sweetness of the peaches. Start with about a tablespoon or two of sugar. Adjust to your liking. Mix in the sugar before you put the tea in the fridge so it can dissolve well. You can also use a non-sugar sweetener, but keep in mind the peaches add a lot of sweetness on their own. So taste as you go.

8.) Keep your fresh peach tea in the fridge.  Serve over ice. Yum.

Variation Z.

Zombie* Peach Ice Tea

I make what I call Zombie* Peaches anyway and this makes it easy and quick to make real peach iced tea. This yields about 2-1/4 cups of peach tea (not including ice).

1.) Make iced tea.

2.) Make Zombie Peaches. (You’ll want to make them ahead of time by several days if possible.)

3.) Pour the tea over ice. Zombie Peaches already have sugar dissolved in them, so you don’t need to add more. But you can adjust to your liking by adding extra sweetener. If you add extra sugar, add it before the ice.

3.) Stir peach liquid into tea. Add about 4 or 5 tablespoons of the syrupy juice from a jar of Zombie Peaches per 2 cups of iced tea. Use more or less to taste. You can add some peach chunks too (or not). And you can add a squirt of lemon too. Stir well. (Keep in mind that remaining Zombie Peaches should always have enough liquid to cover any peach chunks to prevent mold, so it’s best to use some chunks as you use up the liquid. Chunks can be frozen into super yummy home made Popsicles. Served as a topping for ice cream. Or just spoon them in your mouth because, yum.)

The beauty of Zombie Peach Iced Tea is that it is usually fairly clear and not cloudy like blended peaches. Zombie Peaches last for weeks in the fridge so it’s easy to make ahead of time and whip up a glass of peach iced tea when you like.

This same process can be used with other fruit like raspberries and strawberries.


*I know the name “Zombie Peaches” may not sound very appealing. When I originally named them, had been thinking “zombie” because the fruit seems like it should be dead but it lives on and on. Zombie, right? Plus my daughter had a zombie ranger summer camp that she loved! So we had zombies on the brain. But zombies get pretty yucky looking. Vampires, on the other hand, stay relatively youthful and well preserved. And this is about preservation. So maybe I should call it Vampire Peaches? Both zombies and vampires are forms of the undead, right? Humm. Maybe I’ll post an updated recipe with a new name.
Copyright 2016 Debora Kapke

Fixing Pie (saving an undercooked pie)

This year’s Thanksgiving pumpkin pie came out less than ideally cooked, and we were able to save it from a runny fate by rebaking it. Here’s what happened. 

It was one of the frozen pies my mom purchased from my daughter as a fundraiser for the the school’s music department. Last year we thought these pies were actually quite yummy, so we looked forward to enjoying them again.

The instructions on the box said to bake the pie at a temperature 50 degrees lower if baking in a convection oven. So my mom thought this would be a good time to try out the convection feature of her new oven. Needless to say it resulted in an undercooked pie even though she let it bake for a few extra minutes. Those 50 degrees made a huge difference.

Perhaps it was somewhat the result of unfamiliarity with a new oven, but I don’t think convection instructions are always correct when they tell you to bake at a lower temperature. Why is this anyway? I thought a convection oven was supposed to cook quicker. That doesn’t happen when baking at a lower temperature.

Anyway, come time that any of us felt like squeezing another morse of food into our stomaches after stuffing ourselves with turkey, gravy, sweet potato casserole, and stuffing, we took our bites of pie and hesitated. Parts of the crust were doughy and the pie was runny in the center even though it had throughly cooled in the fridge.

We ate our pieces anyway because … pie. The flavor was still very good, but overall that poor little pie really needed more heat.

So we re-baked it.

We’d already cut a couple of pieces out of the pie so now there was a gaping hole left behind where those pieces had been. We needed a way to keep the filling from running into the crevasse when it got hot and even runnier as it re-liquified.

So we formed a sort of placeholder out of greased aluminum foil. A slices-of-pie shape cup was fashioned to sit where the eaten pieces had been. Then we filled that foil cup with some water to weigh it down, and keep it stable. This prevented the pie filling from oozing too much as it reheated. It also helped to stabilize the temperature.

We then popped pie in the pre-heated oven at the higher (non-convection) temperature and 35 minutes later — voila. Fixed pie.

The crust was now a lovely golden brown instead of the pale doughy impostor it had been, and the filling was now able to stand up on it’s own without wandering about the pie plate.

This process may not work with every pie. But it saved this particular doughy, undercooked excuse of (delicious) pumpkin pie goo and made it into a real, stand-up, yummy pumpkin pie.

(This post is also for NaBloPoMo.)

Adding a footnote since this is a popular topic on Thanksgiving 2018. I hope this helps save few a pies from a runny fate this turkey day. Thank you for visiting and feel free to leave feedback in the comments.

The temperature should be as high as the original temperature, at least 350 degrees. Use a thermometer to be sure. If you think your oven is running cool, but you have no thermometer you might want to crank it up to 375 or more. Check the pie regularly to make sure it’s not burning to a crisp.

If I was going to do the same again, I’d cover the edges of the crust. There were some slightly burned areas after the rebake. Make a ring of foil around just the edges. Remove it the last 10 minutes to make sure the crust is golden and flaky.

Also adding that since some pumpkin pie contains raw eggs, it’s probably not a great idea to eat the pie raw or undercooked. Heating completely through should take care of any nasties. But if the pie sat out at room temperature semi-raw for days or if there’s any evidence of a foul taste or smell, then probably best to toss it.

Also, this rebake method should work with many other pies that suffered from too little heat and ended up doughy or runny. Just be careful about burning the crust on the rebake. May not be quite as good as getting it right the first time, but better than tossing the whole pie. A rebaked pie is better than no pie.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Secret to All Things Yum (Stuffing Edition)

I’m starting to think that the secret to all things yum is caramelized onions.

Well, caramelized onions for savory, cooked food. It would probably be the wrong kind of secret ingredient for cherry pie. Or Jell-o. And probably a little weird for peanut butter & jelly. But spicy peanut sauce may be another story …

For cooked and savory — if you have time to properly caramelize onions it will make practically everything taste better.

It’s like adding pure yum extract. More

Summer Remnants, Zombie Fruit Recipe

Crud, I started this post before summer was over and here it is, autumn already. Happy Autumn, folks!

I love fall, but I’ll miss summer and one of my favorite things about summer — all the yummy, fresh, local produce. Never fear, summer fruits are still to be found. The fresh local ones will be gone very soon though! Around here, this weekend will be the last for pit fruits like peaches.

Luckily, I can take some of summer’s fresh fruit with me into fall by making macerated fruit. These juicy morsels stride the line between fresh fruit and preserves like some kind of zombie fruit. Living and dead. Summer and Autumn. Maybe I should call it Zombie Fruit? I think I will. The yummy goop doesn’t smell anything like zombies. As far as I know zombies don’t smell peachy, but the macerated raspberry juice can look kind of like blood so there’s that.

Like jams, jellies, and pickles, a lack of free water and a high concentration of sugar (or salt or acid like vinegar) actually helps prevent or slow the growth of mold and bacteria. Check out the science behind it here at wisegeek.org. That’s part of how jam came to be — folks used the process as a way of preserving their fruit harvest. But even great jam tastes like jam and not so much like fresh fruit. So without cooking or freezing we can keep some of that fresh-fruit taste in the fridge for weeks (or sometimes even months) by making macerated fruit in sugar. Even with the added sugar, the juices and wee morsels of fruit are softened but manage to keep a lot of the fresh fruit taste since it isn’t exposed to heat.

All it takes is fresh fruit and sugar and a refrigerator and, for some fruit, a little bit of a product called Fruit Fresh. Spices can be used too. Note that this will work best if you use the FULL amount of sugar. This isn’t the time to watch carbs. The sugar draws the water and juices out of the fruit and is a critical part of preventing nasties like mold and bacteria growth. While it will take some time to completely dissolve without heat, it will eventually dissolve though it may take a week. If a small amount doesn’t dissolve it will settle to the bottom where you can scoop it out when you’re done with the rest of the goop and add it to hot tea or oatmeal.

Zombie Peaches and Zombie Raspberries Zombie Peaches and Zombie Raspberries (aka macerated peaches and raspberries) after several days.

Zombie Peaches (aka Macerated Peaches)

1 cup fresh peaches cut up

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (preferably raw sugar)

1 1/2 teaspoon Fruit Fresh

The peaches should be cut in to bite-size pieces or medium-to-thin size slices to allow the juices to flow. Be sure to cut out any bad or bruised spots. You can leave the skin on (wash really well before slicing) or you can remove it.

Mix the Fruit Fresh powder into the cup of sugar. Using a clean, sanitized mason jar put a layer of the sugar mix in the bottom of the jar. Spoon a layer of sliced peaches over the sugar. Add another layer of sugar mix over the peaches. Repeat until you’ve used all the peaches and sugar or until the jar is full but not overflowing. Finish the last layer with sugar so that the peaches are covered. Put the lid on the mason jar and allow the sugar to dissolve in the peach juice. The sugar will draw the juice out from the peaches and then gradually dissolve. There will be a lot of juice! This can take quite a few days (even a week) since we’re not using heat to speed it up. Air from between the peach pieces and granules of sugar will slowly bubble out. In the first few days, stir the sugar up from the bottom once or twice per day to help it along. (Lick the spoon. It’s yummy.)

Alternative method: mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl then spoon into mason jars. Then follow as above, stirring regularly. I find it less messy to do the layers in the jars.

Store covered in the fridge for weeks.

We spoon the mix over ice cream, pancakes, shortcake, or fruit salad. Use the syrupy liquid to flavor beverages. Sometimes we eat some on a spoon ’cause it is sooo good. While obviously sweeter than fresh fruit, it retains a lot of that fresh fruit taste and nutrition that is usually cooked out during canning or making jams. This also makes a great start to jam or preserves so you can also cook it down later and can it later for even longer preservation. You can also freeze it later too.

variation: Spiced Zombie Peaches

Same as Zombie Peaches, above, but add:

1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon

Mix cinnamon with the dry ingredients and layer as above. Cinnamon does more than just add flavor, it also suppresses bacterial growth so it can help the concoction last even longer. It does taste like cinnamon, obviously, so you gotta like cinnamon. 1/8 of a teaspoon may not seem like a lot, but the juices and sugar will draw out the flavor and you will definitely notice it.

Zombie Raspberries (aka Macerated Raspberries)

1/2 cup raspberries

1/4 cup sugar

Put a layer of sugar in the bottom of a mason jar. Then add a single layer of raspberries, then another layer of sugar. Repeat until you’ve used all your ingredients or until the jar is full. Try to finish the last layer with sugar so that the raspberries are covered. Since we aren’t cutting up the raspberries, press lightly on the top to squish the raspberries a little. This will help get the juices flowing. Cover and store in the fridge, stirring occasionally, as the sugar draws out the raspberry juice. Scientifically the solution is trying to reach a balanced concentration of sugar and water.  Juices flow out of the fruit through osmosis. This reduces the free water in the fruit which slows spoilage when kept in the fridge. Keep stirring periodically until the sugar dissolves. It can take several days.

Store covered in the fridge for weeks (up to a couple of months). We spoon over ice cream, pancakes, french toast, shortcake, or even fruit salad. I use the syrupy liquid to flavor beverages. This also makes a great start to jams, preserves, or even cobblers which you can cook later.

You can use the same process with other types fruits too. For really juicy fruit, like nectarines, you’ll want to use the larger amount of sugar (like Zombie Peaches) while fruits with less water content, like blackberries, use less sugar (Zombie Raspberry recipe). 

Note that this process doesn’t preserve the fruit as thoroughly as jams, so it must live in the fridge. It will, however, last a lot longer than keeping plain fresh fruit. I’ve had a couple of jars last almost a year. I’ll warn you right now, too, that there can be a small amount of fermentation. But even if fermentation starts, it will stall out with all that sugar and the refrigerator will keep it to a minimum. So you won’t end up with much of an alcohol content — about as much as a ripe banana.

Fruit Fresh

Fruit Fresh is in the tall, green, sprinkle jar. At this store I found it near the Jell-O along with the Sure-Jell and fruit pectin used for canning.

Fruit Fresh is a product usually found near the mason jars and other canning supplies in a lot of grocery stores. It’s a powdered mix containing mostly citric acid and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) which help prevent oxidation, so Fruit Fresh keeps fruit from turning brown. It’s really helpful for peaches, apples, and other fruits that turn brown quickly once you cut them. It’s like lemon juice but without adding any extra liquid or lemon flavor. It also ups the acidity so it may help to preserve the food some just like lemon juice or vinegar. It can also affect the taste so keep that in mind. This is usually fine with foods that work well with a little tartness, but you’ll want to be careful with food like bananas or avocados.

Note that this yummy fruit goop isn’t shelf stable so you’ll need to keep it in the fridge. You can also freeze it or can it later following typical canning protocol for food safety. As a general rule, if something goes wrong and it smells bad or tastes bad or it ends up growing mold then don’t eat it. If that happens, it means you should use a higher sugar-to-fruit ratio for future batches.

Here’s the process in pictures:

IMG_0912 IMG_0913 IMG_0921 IMG_0925 IMG_0929 IMG_0931

IMG_0902IMG_0906IMG_0992 IMG_0935 IMG_1011IMG_1013

The last two photos were taken after several days of sitting in the fridge and stirring periodically. Remember ALL the juice you see in the jars came from the fruit. I didn’t add any water! So don’t throw that juice away, use it, drink it, mix it into stuff. It’s crazy yummy!

Copyright 2015 Debora Kapke

Cooking Brown Rice: Rule of Thumb Method

Years ago a friend showed me how to cook rice measuring the water using only her hand. Today, I use the same basic method but instead measure with my thumb or finger. I felt a little weird plopping my whole hand in the pot.

This actually works great. I love that I don’t have to get out a measuring cup. It scales it up or down. It’s very easy. I’ve thought about purchasing a rice cooker, but we’re short on space and this works with the multitasking pots we already have.

Brown Rice Method:

Put rice in a pot. The pot should be a good size for the amount of rice — use a larger pot for a lot of rice and a smaller pot for a little. The uncooked rice should have room to cook and expand, but be deep enough in the bottom so that it comes at least 1/3 of the way up the side of the pot.

Rinse the rice if you do that. I find that brown rice doesn’t need as much rinsing as white, but I know some people don’t even rinse white.

Keeping the tip of your thumb at the top of the rice, pour water into the pot so that the water comes up to the first knuckle on your thumb. On me, this is about 1 inch.

Bring water to a boil on medium heat. Then cover with a tightly fitting lid. Turn heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. DO NOT remove the lid. (Treat it like it will release a cloud of poisonous fumes if you do.) Clear glass lids can help resist the temptation to remove the lid and take a peek.

Turn off the heat and allow the pot to sit for 15-25 minutes. Leave that lid on the entire time! Once a minimum of 15 minutes is up, you can remove the lid and fluff with a spoon or fork before serving.

Cooking Brown Rice, A Recap:

1.) Put rice in a pot that has a tightly fitting lid. Use a big pot for a lot of rice, small pot for a little rice. Uncooked rice should come at least 1/3 up the side of the pot, but leave enough space at the top for rice to expand. Rinse rice if you do that.

2.) Fill pot of uncooked rice with water so that water line sits about 1 inch above the uncooked rice. On me, this is to the first knuckle on my thumb.

3.) Using medium heat, bring rice to a boil.

4.) Once it’s boiling, pop that tightly fitting lid on the pot and resist the urge to remove it while the rice cooks.

5.) Turn the heat down to low. And simmer for 30 minutes.

6.) Turn off the heat. LEAVE that LID ON! Let the pot sit for a full 15-25 minutes.

7.) Fluff with a spoon or fork and enjoy!

White Rice Variation:

Generally speaking, white rice doesn’t need as much water or to cook for as long as brown. I measure water for white rice to the first knuckle of my index finger. This is about 3/4 of an inch.

Bring to a boil, put the lid on, and simmer on low for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit for 15 minutes. Done and yum!

Note that this method is not for quick-cooking rice.

Summer Remnants, Recipes

One thing that makes this time of year extra yummy is harvest — there are still lots of yummy fruits and veggies to be had from gardens and farmers’ markets. I’ve been seeing a lot of farmers’-market specials, many adding bulk discounts as they have lots of ripe produce and want to move it while it’s still sooo good. It’s great to stock up if you have room in your freezer or for canning. Or just make lots of yummy stuff to eat soon!

One recipe that can help:

Cowboy Caviar

Contrary to the name it doesn’t require cows, boys, fish eggs or eggs of any kind. This is basically a bean salad with corn, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. It can be eaten like a salsa with corn chips. It can be a topping on a salad. It can be heated and spooned over rice, added raw or heated to burritos, tacos, or nachos.  

It’s fairly healthy with protein, fiber, and fresh veg. It goes quickly around here so I usually double the recipe.

Cowboy Caviar ingredients:

1 can (15 ounce) black beans, drained (or equivalent)

1 can (15 ounce) black-eyed peas, drained (or equivalent) I like the seasoned kind.

1 can (14.5 ounce) diced tomatoes, lightly drained (good using diced tomatoes with chilies) or about 1-1/2 cups of fresh, diced tomatoes. That’s what I’m talking about. 

1 can (15 ounces) corn, drained or 2 cups fresh-cut or frozen corn

1/2 red (or green) bell pepper diced (or similar amount of other sweet peppers) 

1/2 small onion, diced

2 or 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (or 2 teaspoons garlic powder)

About a cup or half a bunch of chopped cilantro (leave out if you don’t like cilantro)

About a 1/2 cup or 1/4 of a bunch of fresh chopped parsley

1 or 2 fresh chopped jalapeño peppers (to taste) 

Salt and pepper (to taste, it doesn’t need much salt, just a couple of pinches)

2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup Italian salad dressing (Paul Newman’s Lite Italian works nicely)

Mix it all in a large bowl adding the vinegar, olive oil, and Italian dressing last. We like to let it sit out of the fridge for an hour to let the flavors mix. Enjoy!  

Store covered in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. The vinegar in the apple cider vinegar and salad dressing helps to preserve it longer than if it were just fresh-diced ingredients.

What I Cooked with Our Balcony Garden Harvest

Stuffed Gypsy Peppers.

With quinoa, caramelized onions & garlic, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), corn, diced tomatoes, southwest seasoned grilled chicken, salt & pepper, and the bunch of herbs in the photo from the other day (spicy oregano, flat & curly parsley, Thai basil, and maybe a sprig of mint).  Topped with a blend of mozzarella and parm and roasted in our convection toaster oven until the peppers looked a little roasted and the cheese was melty and lightly browned. For the two of us who like spicy, I topped them with sliced semi-ripe jalapeño peppers.*

It turned out really yummy! We all liked it and ate all the leftovers before they could become leftovers.

I have Julia Child to partly thank for the yum factor. We saw her kitchen at the Smithsonian the other day. When we got home I was inspired to stream the movie Julie and Julia. I’d never seen it. It was a cute movie. Julia is amazing. Then I looked up Julia Child on YouTube and watched some of her old PBS show The French Chef. One of the sections was on French Onion Soup.

I’ve never been a huge fan of onions — probably due to the fact that I think I’m partly allergic to them. Too many (cooked or raw) and I feel like I’m coming down with the flu — achy, tired, sore throat, etc. But even when I most disliked onions, earlier in my life, I still kind of liked French Onion Soup and blooming onions too. So as my daughter loves onions (how is she even related to me?) I decided to put onions in our stuffed Gypsy Peppers.

Until watching Julia Child again on YouTube, I have to admit I never properly caramelized onions. Oh, I could brown the heck out of them, but I completely missed the part about actually cooking them before browning them. It makes quite a difference.

I took the “busy mom hack” approach to cooking my onions and zapped them in the microwave until cooked. Then I put them in the frying pan on low heat with some butter and olive oil. They got beautifully caramelized! It added so much flavor to the quinoa and the overall filling for the gypsy peppers.

We had more filling than gypsy peppers, so we just served extra on the plate next to the stuffed pepper — kind of made it look like it was spilling out of the pepper onto the plate. Topped with a sliced cherry tomato and sprig of Thai basil for a garnish. I think it adds a bit of 1970s je ne sais quoi.

They gypsy peppers themselves were to die for! Letting then ripen may have meant fewer total gypsy peppers for our harvest, but the sweetness and flavor were amazing. So sweet! Beautiful color! They are really ideal for stuffing as I didn’t pre-cook them at all. The skin was perfect just filled with our stuffing mix and then cooked in our convection toaster oven.

I only hope that our remaining gypsy peppers get this good. And I hope I can duplicate this again.

*I’ll try to add actual measurements at some point. I didn’t use a recipe. But it was about a can of garbanzos (drained), 2 cups of cooked quinoa, 1/2 a medium-large sweet onion (diced and caramelized), several cloves of garlic, and 1 large diced tomato. Herbs, salt, and pepper to taste. I used all of the herbs seen in the photo here.

Misc Mex Meat Goop: A Slow-Cooker Recipe 

I make no bones about wanting crock pot recipes to be easy. I want them to save time – not just shift time around. I’m not getting up at 3:30 am to dice peppers and pre-cook onions. That’s laundry or writing time (and sometimes even sleep time)!

Short of dumping a single, whole chicken in a crock pot, I want something easy and hopefully nutritious and flavorful. (Humm, maybe I should try dumping a single, whole chicken in a crock pot.)

Cooked and yummy  is our preference, but I can be a little flexible on week nights. I consider it success if we’ve all eaten a sufficient amount of nutritious stuff without too much bad stuff. There’s wiggle room. I definitely like it best when food is so yummy we all want seconds. That’s usually what we have with Misc Mex Meat Goop.

We love taco night at home, but cooking the meat, dicing, chopping fixin’s can take a long time.  Misc Mex Meat Goop makes it much more do-able on a weeknight since I can throw the meat goop together in the morning, and  it’s mostly ready to go when I get home. Likewise I can buy pre-shredded lettuce and cheese or cut a few veggies ahead of time. Also, I make enough for leftovers so we have several meals. If you have a big family you might want to double the recipe. (There’s only three of us.)

Misc Mex Meat Goop Ingredients

3-4 lbs boneless chicken* breasts and / or thighs or beef or pork (left whole or cut in half if really large, frozen or fresh is fine) 

1 can enchilada sauce – red or green or make your own or use canned tomatoes with chili peppers or about a Cup of fresh diced tomatoes 

3 packets taco seasoning mix (or equivalent bulk or homemade seasonings) 

2 tablespoons olive or coconut oil (optional) 

2 bell peppers cut in very large, wide slices (no need to dice). I like red or mix red & green. 

1 onion, cut in large slices 

1/2 cup whole baby carrots (optional) 

3 cloves of garlic, pealed and cut up a little 

1 jalapeño pepper cut in large chunks  (if you like some heat – leave out for mild). 

1 cup corn (fresh or frozen) or 1 can drained (optional)

1 can black beans (or pinto beans) drained (optional)

Put everything in an appropriately-sized slow cooker EXCEPT the corn, the beans, and HALF of the taco seasoning mix. You can just dump it all in and toss a little to coat and mix. I usually haphazardly layer the ingredients – a few slices of pepper and onion on the bottom, then pieces of chicken, then some more pepper and onion slices, then more chicken, seasoning, etc. Until it’s all in the pot and I pour the enchilada sauce over it all. But you can put it all in at once. Seriously, this does not and should not take long. 

Put the lid on. Turn slow cooker to Low and leave it for 6 to 10 hours.  

If you have a slow cooker that has a timer that can be set to change from Cook (Low or High) to Warm, then set it to Low for about 6 hours and it can stay on Warm until you’re ready to eat. Otherwise you can let it cook on Low for up to 10 hours.  (Note that some cookers get hotter so keep that in mind. Add more liquid like enchilada sauce or a little water if you have a cooker that runs hot.) I like the chicken texture better at 6 hours. When food is done cooking,  I drain off most of the extra liquid (if there is any) and reserve it for soup stock at a later date. 

Take two forks and pull apart the chicken (or other meat) to shred it like pulled pork. It should be very tender, pull apart easily, and go quickly. Remove any large chunks of fat. The large chunks of veggies will break up as you go. This makes smaller chunks so you don’t need to dice anything before cooking. We’re fine with some small chunks and some larger – it’s rustic. About halfway through shredding I add the last half of the taco seasoning. The meat is still hot so the seasoning packet will cook as you go. I don’t add half at the beginning because if you end up with a lot of liquid that you need to drain off, then you’ll be draining off a lot of seasoning and end up with a bland meat mixture.

Then add 1 cup or 1 can of drained corn and 1 can of drained beans. Again, the meat goop should be hot enough to warm the corn and beans. I like corn to taste like corn and beans to be a little firm, so adding these at the end works well for us. Stir.

If you like, you can leave the goop in a crock pot set to Warm while you eat your first helping. It will be warm and handy for seconds.

We eat this in tortillas as filling for burritos or enchiladas, in taco shells with toppings, or spoon over corn chips for a great start to taco salad. Add lettuce, tomatoes,  avocado, cheese, salsa, black olives, etc for toppings. 

Eat leftovers the same way. Warm in a pot on the stove or in the microwave.

When and if you have only one or two helpings of Meat Goop left you can add it back to that extra liquid for a yummy Tortilla soup.        


*For this recipe I use large boneless chicken breasts and thighs. Larger breasts usually come from older chickens and that means meat that is less tender. That is OK — good even. Perfect for slow cooking. And I can often find these for a lower price. Slow cooking makes them pull apart tender, so I put the breast and thighs in whole (or cut in half). You can sub a cheap cut of beef or pork for the chicken or even mix ’em if you like. Check out more notes on Slow Cookers or Crock Pots here.    

“Time-Saving” Food

After blogging about time-saving “food” here’s my take on the flip side – “time-saving” food.

Last year I broke down and joined the legions of cooks and moms who own and use a slow cooker. Since then I’ve discovered a new pet peeve. I hate to see recipes for slow cookers that label themselves, “time-savers,” but in reality are far from.

Time-saving recipes need to save time. Just because food is cooked in a slow cooker and could be ready when I get home doesn’t mean it saved time. If I had to get up at 3:00 in the morning to prep the food then I will probably be too tired to eat it when I get home. Zero time saved. Or if a recipe calls for only 4 or 5 hours of cook time, then it is not a weekday recipe that will save time. I’m not going home on my lunch hour to make dinner!

I want recipes like this:
1.) put raw food in Crock Pot
2.) cook on low for 9-10 hours
3.) enjoy!

But there are recipes aplenty that require lots of prep like chopping, layering, and cooking the food before it goes into the pot. Why would I want to pre-cook anything before I put it in a COOKER? Except maybe double-cooked pork, but that’s … Oh you know what I mean.

I get that browning adds flavor, but I wonder how much of that flavor really holds up when food is cooked in a slow cooker all day. I’ll try a comparison some time. Even if it does enhance the taste, is it worth it on a regular basis?

To save time you can start with food that’s already totally cooked like rotisserie chicken. If you shop around you can find rotisserie chicken that don’t cost much more than buying a raw chicken. These can be a huge time-saver! But you can’t feed your family only rotisserie chickens, and you’ll want to watch salt and other flavorings that might be added to store-bought rotisserie chicken. For that matter, you can slow cook your own chicken in a crock pot. Save the bones from either, put them in a slow cooker all day, strain and you’ll have a great (not too hard) chicken stock. This is one if the times home-cooked makes a big difference in taste. Freeze or refrigerate and you can use it to make lots of easy soups.

There are time-saving ways to cook food out there! But not all slow-cooker recipes are created equal.

When Taste of Home shared this recipe for Slow Cooker Enchiladas on Facebook it was the perfect example of a not-so-time-saving recipe. There was a lot of good and bad feedback:

Slow-cooker Enchiladas

Yes, it looks totally delish! And I would love to try it. But it has everything that bugs me about a “time-saving” slow-cooker recipe — ingredients that must be chopped and pre-cooked twice before the goop is then layered multiple times with tortillas in a slow cooker and left to cook for only 5-7 hours. What part of that is supposed to help with a busy schedule?

I wouldn’t be so bothered if it just advertised itself as a tasty recipe and left it at that. I will make time for increased yum factor on a weekend, some weekends anyway. (And I still take issue with pre-cooking food before I put it in a Crock Pot.) But the cook describes herself as a “busy wife and mother” and says this is a handy recipe. The implied saving of time – that’s kind of where it lost me.

Because in the amount of time it would take me to prepare and cook these enchiladas I could have prepared and cooked an entire Thanksgiving turkey! With stuffing! And cranberry sauce. Not all from scratch, mind you, but it would be yummy food.

The slow-cooker enchilada recipe apparently allows the author to cook dinner after lunchtime and keep it warm until the entire family is home for dinner. I’m sure it works well for people who are home after lunch and can chop, cook, re-cook, layer, and turn on a crock pot for dinner.

But what about people who can’t do that? I don’t think those tortillas will stand up to 10 hours in a slow cooker. I tried that with pasta once. It was delicious-smelling paste!

Once you cook everything as the recipe suggests, I’m worried that the tortillas will get mushy even at 5-7 hours. Maybe refrigerate the cooked goop then spoon it out and reheat in an oven, toaster oven, or microwave when you get home? You could even eat it another day. Reheating it in an oven or toaster oven could even give the tortillas brown, crispy edges and it’s probably less than 20 mins to the table once you get home. Still too much work?

With the slow-cooker in mind, the recipe is basically salvageable with a few busy-mom hacks:

1) Dump raw meat into slow cooker along with seasonings and canned foodstuffs.
2) Cook on low for 8-10 hours.
3) Warm tortillas in toaster oven or a hot pan. Or not. Or use corn chips or crispy tostadas.
4) Spoon goop over tortillas (or chips or tostadas) and top with cheese. ENJOY!

If you sub corn chips for the tortillas, you probably can’t call these enchiladas anymore. So top with some lettuce and tomatoes for a delish taco salad.

If you’re worried about how much fat may be in the dish when you can’t drain the meat ahead, then start with a very low-fat meat. OR skim the fat after everything is cooked. It floats to the top. Cook with free-range, grass-fed beef, and you’ll want to eat a lot of that healthy fat anyway.

I’m going to suggest yet another variation on this, and later I’ll post a simple Slow-Cooker recipe for Misc Mex Meat Goop. Cook it in a slow cooker and eat it how you like — in soft flour tortillas for burritos, over corn chips, in taco shells, or rolled into enchiladas and topped with a quick sauce. Real time-saving food!

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