Slow cooker tricks

To convert a traditional recipe for a slow cooker, adjust the cooking time as follows:
Recipe time Slow cooker (on low)
15 minutes 1.5-2 hours
20 min. 2-3 hrs.
30 min. 3-4 hrs.
45 min. 5-6 hrs.
1 hr. 6-8 hrs.
1.5 hrs. 8-9 hrs.
2 hrs. 9-10 hrs.
You’ll probably need less liquid, as well.

Doubling a slow cooker recipe is a little more complicated than with a normal recipe. Only add half again as much liquid as in the original recipe (for instance, 1 cup of broth in the original slow cooker recipe should only become 1.5 cups when “doubled”). You’ll also need to cook it about an hour longer; check it carefully for doneness and cook longer if needed.

On those cold winter days when your hair sticks to your face and the cat’s ears give you little static shocks, an unlidded slow cooker full of water (and any dried herb you care to add, optional) makes a passable humidifier. (If the cat will let you touch his paw with one hand, making skin-to-skin contact, you can pet him with the other hand without snapping either of you. Try slipping your hand under the paw rather than holding it, most cats object to having a paw trapped.)

Much of this information came from: Slow cooking for two : basics techniques recipes / Cynthia Graubart. Gibbs Smith, c2013. ISBN: 9781423633839.

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Baking powder and baking soda

Chemically speaking, baking soda is a base — alkaline — and produces a gas when mixed with an acid. This is the source of both its leavening action and the more explosive effect that makes it a popular drain-cleaner and component of baking-soda-and-vinegar volcanos. Lemon juice, buttermilk, honey, molasses, and chocolate are all acidic enough to trigger leavening. Do not let baking-soda-leavened batter sit too long before baking it or the chemical reaction will run its course and the batter will start to deflate.

Baking powder pre-combines baking soda with a dry acid or two to produce the same effect. The most common kind, double-acting baking powder, contains two acids, one that starts leavening as soon as it gets wet and another that doesn’t start working until it’s heated. Some recipes will advise you to let baking-powder-leavened batter sit briefly before baking it, in order to, as it were, get the maximum lift from the first stage before heat sets off the second stage.

Baking powder loses strength as it ages. If you’re not sure how long that can has been sitting in the cupboard, test it by mixing 1/2 tsp. of it into 1/4 cup of warm water; it will fizz if it’s still good.

A possible substitute for baking powder is to add 2 tsp. cream of tartar, 1 tsp. baking soda, and 1 tsp. salt PER CUP OF FLOUR (not in direct proportion to the recipe’s baking powder). Keep in mind, though, that you’re edging from cooking into chemistry here and this work-around won’t work for every recipe.

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Measurements

Measurements vary from country to country Many places not only use metric but weigh the ingredients rather than measuring by volume. The good news is that many recipes are forgiving enough that the difference won’t matter, or can be corrected by adding a little flour or liquid until it feels right (a phrase I normally despise, but there we are).

You can find conversion sites online, and there are also apps for tablets and, probably, phones. The trick is figuring out whether that “cup” the recipe calls for is US or metric, that tablespoon US or imperial. If the recipe calls for you to weigh things you’re used to measuring, like flour or sugar, it’s probably European of some kind (get a good-quality kitchen scale that does grams as well as ounces if you’re going to try many of these). The publisher’s location is also a good guide, if you can determine that, but watch out for books that are written in the UK (or Australia) and published in the US without editing.

By the way, what Americans call “corn starch” the English call “corn flour.” I’ll be posting a sort of mini-glossary later this winter, but thought you might want to know about that detail now, if you’re playing with international recipes.

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Hot peppers, chili powder, and a note on squirrels

Small pointy hot peppers tend to be hotter than large round ones. The little ones are hotter because they have more ribs and seeds, which have more capsaicin.

Chili powder is made of ground mild and hot chiles, oregano, and cumin. Some kinds also contain garlic and salt.

If your chili powder is getting old and needs to be replaced, it doesn’t have to go to waste. Sprinkle it generously over bulbs when you plant them to keep the squirrels out of them, or on top of the soil to protect established bulbs.

By the way, if you like to feed your neighborhood squirrels, you can reduce the amount of digging they do by cracking the nuts you put out for them (and not putting out very many at a time). They bury nuts to soften the shell; if they can get into the nut right away (and aren’t full) they’ll go ahead and eat it.

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Egg trivia

Officially, there is no difference between white and brown eggs, or between organic and conventional ones. However, many people claim to prefer the taste of brown eggs and I know several people who get a stomachache from eating too many conventional ones.

That said, freshness and feed do make significant differences and are difficult to track. These may be the factors that are really in play when people find differences between types of eggs. Free-range and pastured hens definitely have better diets and produce better eggs.

One way to test an egg for freshness by floating it in cold water. Fresh eggs will float on their sides while older eggs will “stand on end” in the water. Even better, crack open the egg and check the white. An old egg, while still safe to eat and legally “fresh,” will have a watery yolk that runs all over the pan; it takes a truly fresh egg to make the classic round, thick-edged fried egg.

To freeze eggs, break them into a container. Pierce the yolks with a fork and gently mix the whites and yolks, creating as little foam as possible — foam will dry out the eggs. Whites frozen by themselves do just fine, but separated yolks will do best if you add a bit of salt to those intended for cooking and a bit of sugar to those that will go into baked goods.

Note: a “no antibiotics” label on a package of chicken meat is of dubious value. Years ago, they experimented with antibiotics as a way to increase the weight of chickens, but found that it was not cost-effective — the drugs cost more than the additional weight could earn. Now, chickens seldom get antibiotics unless they need them.

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Dry milk

If you only use small amounts of milk, dry milk can be the way to go. Most milk powders mix in the same ratio, one part powder to four parts water. That means you can mix up a cup of milk using 1/4 cup of dry milk, or my favorite amount, a tablespoon of powder to 1/4 cup of water. Mix that up first, drop in three eggs and cinnamon to taste, and make about 6 slices of French toast (or, as it was called in medieval England, pan purdy).

As a side note, if you do have to drink the stuff, mix it up the day before and let it sit in the fridge overnight to dissolve more thoroughly.

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“Tired” greens

You can rehydrate droopy greens by letting them sit in cold water for an hour or three. Be sure to drain them well before putting them away, though. This can work for certain other vegetables as well.

Many leaf vegetables such as lettuce store longer if there’s a little bit of water at the bottom of the bag so the stem(s) can “drink,” but the leaves must be kept clear of it or they’ll rot. In some cases, like with asparagus, this is best achieved by putting them in a rigid container with a little water in the bottom, vase-style. Unless you’re going to use it right away, though, drop a plastic bag over the whole thing to keep the moisture in.

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