These warmer sunny days make one dream of where and what to plant in the next few weeks. The pansy bed has been weeded and mulched, thanks to a very special helper of mine. All the beds have vegetable organic mulch, which makes everything look so much cleaner and neater.I made a new friend this week and enjoyed lunch at her lovely home - a real treat because I am usually the one who entertains in my kitchen. Thank you, Anne, it was such fun.There is nothing better than a slow cooker cooking ever so slowly while the aroma fills the homestead. A friend recently asked me how many slow cookers I have and I replied, "more than four." And if you own one, or more, you know they all have "personalities" of their own. Some take longer to get to high, another one boils things after three or more hours. And then, there is the size of the pot to consider. When I need one for a big batch of soup, I'm going to the eight quart. Then, we can freeze leftovers.Recently, I had success making baked beans and tamale casserole, which I consider real winners.Dee Dee's Baked BeansI started with a pound of white Great Northern Beans. I picked through them, rinsed them-then soaked them in a glass bowl with water covering about 4 inches above the beans. I added three tablespoons of salt and stirred that in. I covered the bowl and it soaked all night. The next morning I rinsed and drained the beans, removing traces of salt. The salt seems to break down any thick skins. All dry beans, I soak this way. Ingredients needed:2 scant teaspoons salt1/4 cup light brown sugar1/4 teaspoon black pepper1 teaspoon powdered mustard1/2 cup molassesAbout 5 slices bacon, chopped into small pieces and lightly browned in the microwave (can drain off, or use the bacon drippings)1 peeled whole onion (I used a yellow sweet one)On the stove top, gently simmer beans for about 20 minutes, using enough water to cover ( about 2 inches.) Place onion in slow cooker. Drain beans and pour the beans over the onion. Add sugar, salt, pepper, mustard and molasses dissolved in 1 and 1/2 cups hot water. Add to beans. Add enough hot water to just cover the beans. Place bacon on top and cook on high for 6-8 hours. I check them frequently and add more water as needed. I got a rave review from the Mikester and my daughter-in-law, who normally prefers only black beans.The secret, I think, is slow cooking over many hours. I did reduce the cooker to low the last couple of cooking hours. One can cut up and eat the cooked onion, or discard it.Thompson's Slow Cooking Tamale CasseroleThis takes about 4 hours on high.1 pound ground beef (We prefer grass-fed, no added hormones.)1 large egg1 and 1/2 cups milk3/4 cup yellow cornmeal1 can (15 and 1/4 ounces) whole kernel corn, drained1 can (14 and 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes undrained1 can (2 and 1/4 ounces) sliced ripe olives, drained1 envelope chili seasoning1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt1 cup (about 4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheeseIn a skillet, cook beef over medium heat until no longer pink; drain. In a bowl, combine the egg, milk and cornmeal until smooth. Add corn, tomatoes, olives, chili seasoning, seasoning salt and beef. Transfer to a greased (or sprayed with Pam) slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours and 45 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese; cover and cook 15 minutes longer or until cheese has melted. This recipe serves 6.Tender TenderloinThis is easy and delicious! what could be better?Two one pound pork tenderloinsRegular sized can cream of mushroom soup (10 and 3/4 ounces)Can Golden mushroom soupCan French onion soup (10 and 1/2 ounces)Place pork loins in a slow cooker. Combine soups in a bowl and stir until smooth, then pour over pork. Cover and cook on low for 4-5 hours, or until meat is tender. This is delicious served with mashed potatoes, and a green salad. This easily serves 6. Note: I have made this using reduced sodium soup, and Healthy Request- works well; one can always add salt before eating.The next time you plan a lunch or dinner with friends, ask each guest to bring a dish of their choice; each couple can bring two things. We tried this recently and it was a huge success. Everyone fixed what they liked or had made many times before. I was a little concerned that we would get all appetizers, or desserts, but we didn't-what fun. Also, when we do this next time I am going to suggest each person bring a copy of their recipe and I'll copy them off and send everyone a little "Dinner with Friends" cookbook.Let's get counting on how many more winter days until spring flower and vegetable planting. Until then, have a good week.