Archive for the ‘Kitchen Tip Tuesday’ Category

a slow cooker Oval Crock Pot

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You’ll see in my menu plan this week that I am planning on bringing back dinner.  The midday meal of yesteryear!  Whether a larger midday meal works for your family or not, crock pot cooking is extremely convenient.  So, if you are a “High for 4 hours” or a “Low for 8 hours” kind of gal, read on!

In theory, if I can plan ahead and get dinner (otherwise known as “lunch” :)) in the crock pot in the morning, either before or during breakfast prep, this should work like a dream.  Think about it!  This will mean that the bulk of the supper prep dishes that are usually staring at me (and often laughing) when I come downstairs after tucking the kids in will be done before noon.  Oh, that sounds so good.

The problem with crock pot cooking is that it can mean a lot of trial and error to find recipes your family loves.  And, if you are into eating real food, like we are, it can be difficult to find truly healthy crock pot dishes.  No canned cream soups allowed!  The following are some of my favorite sources for real food crock pot dishes:

  • Soups and stews – Just about any of your favorite soups and stews can be modified to cook in the crock pot.  If you plan to use ground beef, brown it before putting it in your crock pot.  Beans will need to be cooked ahead of time, or use canned, if you plan to eat the soup at noon.  If you plan to cook a cream soup in the crock pot, don’t add the cream or milk in the beginning.  If you add it about half an hour before serving, the results should be delicious.
  • Large Family Logistics – Kim Brenneman (who inspired me to use my crock pot more for the lunch meal!) has five yummy recipes specifically for the crock pot.  If you are not into eating meat, or are looking to save money by eating fewer meals with meat, these can easily be converted to meatless as well.  Also, check her easy lunches here.
  • Make It Fast, Cook It Slow – Stephanie O’Dea is a wonderful writer in addition to being a fantastic source of amazing crock pot recipes.  I happen to own both of her cookbooks, but all of those recipes, and many more, are available on her website.  And, bonus – they are also gluten-free!
  • Nourishing Crock Pot Carnival – Lindsay from Passionate Homemaking hosted a Nourishing Crock Pot Carnival back in 2009.  Who knew I would still be loving it in 2012!  There are definitely treasures in this link up.

These should absolutely be enough to inspire and motivate you to drag out your crock pot or to add a few new recipes to your usual line-up.  Come back here and let me know if you find any gems!  Or, just post your favorite recipe for us all right here in the comments.

I’ll be sharing this post with the readers over at Kitchen Tip Tuesdays hosted by Good Cheap Eats.

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Flanders, Netherlands

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A dry morsel.  That does not sound yummy.  Makes me thirsty just thinking about it.  During my Bible study the other morning, I came across this verse:

Proverbs 17:1 “Better is a dry morsel with quietness,

Than a house full of feasting with strife.”

Huh.  That sure says a lot.

I am definitely not going to get theological and delve into a huge study on this verse.  But, I will tell you what it spoke to my spirit as I read it.  “Don’t let feeding your family stress you out so much that it is unpleasant to prepare and share a meal with you.”   I would love to be able to say that has never been an issue for me.

The reality is that feeding my family causes me much stress.  Planning meals, making grocery lists, buying food, shopping for the best bargains, cooking just about everything from scratch to save money and be healthier – all of this is done as an expression of my love for my family.  But are they really receiving it that way?

My kids are not really old enough to make wise decisions about food for themselves, so if I fed them boxed foods and store-bought sweets everyday, they wouldn’t know the difference.  If nutrition was all equal no matter what we ate, I would be thrilled with the convenience of the box!  But, I do know the difference.

So, if I am not willing to sacrifice nourishment for convenience, then how do I avoid the stress and strife that comes with not-from-a-box cooking?

Proverbs 17:1 doesn’t say that I must feed my family dry crust in order to avoid strife.  It simply says, if serving a feast is going to send me into a tailspin, then I did something wrong.

Meal planning is my saving grace when it comes to maintaining sanity when feeding my family, and I highly recommend you make this part of your goals for 2012. 

It saves me time, money and strife and, as long as I have a system to follow, it is relatively painless!  I have used several systems over the years that served me well for the season in which I happened to be.  In the next few weeks, I will be sharing some of my favorite meal planning systems with you.  Just one small thing you can do to start the year off well!  I guarantee it will have a huge impact.

Do you need help developing a system or maybe tweaking the one you are using now?  Do you just need to commit to actually using the system you have already?   I’d love to hear what your challenges are, so hopefully I can help you find your groove!

Read my second post in this series:  Menu Planning – The Theme System

I am sharing this post at Works For Me Wednesday and Real Food Wednesday today!

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I realize I mentioned already that some of my favorite holiday traditions involve food, and Chocolate Fondue for New Year’s Eve is no exception.  Forget the party hats and streamers – bring on the bath of warm chocolate!

Actually, I am really surprised that my kids haven’t started talking about it already.  Is it possible that they have forgotten?!

I don’t own a fancy fondue pot, or even an extremely outdated ugly one for that matter, but I do own a crock pot :).  Just combine the ingredients in a small crock pot (I use my 2 quart), and cook on low until everything is combined.  Just remember to stir occasionally.  Depending on the size of your batch, it will probably take 1-2 hours to be ready to devour.  If you don’t own a small crock pot either (or have the patience to wait for one to melt your chocolate), just place a glass mixing bowl over a pan filled with hot water on the stove top.  It acts like a double-boiler and melts the chocolate without scorching.

My Homemade Double Boiler

With many little ones participating in the magic of dipping, you’ll want to serve the chocolate with a ladle into individual bowls.  No need to share more than the fun :).

Chocolate Fondue

(I always double this recipe  – seriously, who wants to run out of chocolate?!)

from the kitchen of Stephanie O’Dea and her cookbook Make It Fast, Cook It Slow

1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (semisweet, dark, milk, white – your choice)

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Some Dipping Possibilities:

Apple slices, frozen (or fresh) banana slices, Christmas cookies :), pretzel sticks, marshmallows, strawberries, dried pineapple (or other dried fruit), Oreos, Nilla wafers, graham crackers, pound cake . . .

Can’t wait to ring in the New Year!


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Česky: Pšenice. Deutsch: Weizen. English: Whea...

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I have said in previous posts that we are really blessed to not have any medical reasons to avoid wheat at our house.  But, we are also trying to avoid creating any medical issues when it comes to wheat.  I have been reading quite a bit lately about the negative effects of over-consumption of wheat, and I have been inspired to cut back.  Not cut out, just not overdoing it.

I have found that wheat can be fairly easy to avoid at breakfast time, as we tend to keep it simple with yogurt, oatmeal (gluten-free oatmeal is available here) or homemade granola with fruit most days.  Dinner is still pretty easy if we are eating a meat main dish or soup.  It is lunch that seems to be the tricky meal for me.  So, I thought I would share with you some of the wheat-less, easy lunches we have been enjoying.

1. Vietnamese Fried Rice – or any quick version of fried rice, this recipe just happens to be insanely delicious :).

2. Lettuce Wraps – These are really versatile, and we honestly do not miss the bread one bit.  Fill them with refried beans, tuna salad, chicken, veggies, cheese, leftover fried rice . . .  And here is the weird one, but I’m telling you it is worth a try – PB & J!  Or PB & honey if you prefer.  Ooooo – and add sliced bananas!

3. Soup and smoothies – I make soup quite a bit during the cooler months, and the leftovers make a fantastic, quick lunch.  Just make sure you plan ahead and double your recipe so you actually have leftovers at lunch time :).

4. Ants on a Log – Classic.  Just plain fun.

5. Baked Potatoes – These can be really versatile as well.  Try topping them with chili, pizza sauce and cheese, taco fixin’s, veggies and ranch dressing, broccoli and cheese . . .

6. Eggs – Scrambled, Over Easy, Omelets – all quick, easy and nutritious.

7. Beans and Rice – Or why not just beans?  A bowl of pinto or black beans topped with cheese, lettuce, salsa and guacamole is so yummy.  Or just top with shredded cheese and chopped tomato to really save time.

8. Lentils and Spinach – This recipe really is tasty.  Much more so than its boring name would lead you to believe.  I usually make a huge pot with lentils and brown rice.  Top with fresh chopped tomatoes and cucumbers.

9. Cottage Mac and Cheese – This is my box-less version of a kid favorite.  Make with brown rice pasta.

I would love to hear from you now!  Help me add to my repertoire – what are your wheat-free favorites?

To see one of my gluten-free menu plans using simple foods we all recognize, click here!

Join me at Kitchen Tip Tuesdays for more ideas!

This post is also linked to Real Food Wednesday and Works For Me Wednesday

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Free Bucket From the Bakery

Buying dry goods in bulk to save money is somewhat counter-productive if you have to turn around and spend $45 on buckets in which to store them.  You’ll probably realize your savings in several years, but wouldn’t it be nice to find storage for FREE?

Well, look no further than your local bakery or bakery department at a grocery store.  Who knew that Walmart gave anything away for free to someone who is not a crazy coupon lady?!  Walmart, Sam’s Club, Jewel, and anywhere else you are brave enough to ask, are usually willing to just hand over their empty food grade buckets for absolutely nothing.

You can call ahead and ask them to set buckets aside, or you can just roll up to the bakery department while you are already there and ask if they have any empty buckets and lids you can have.  Easy as that!

Gamma Lid

You can use the free lids they give you if you can’t afford to spend any money (or prefer not to), or you can pop for gamma lids.  LOVE GAMMA LIDS.  I buy them through Country Life Natural Foods for $5.95 each.  They pop onto the top of the bucket and have a screw on/screw off easy-peasy lid.  Very convenient, and worth the money, if you not only store your goods in the buckets but don’t have a smaller container to grab from on a daily basis.

All these buttercream frosting containers do start to look alike, so I suggest placing a piece of Scotch tape labeled with the contents on the top or the side, or both.  That way you can determine what is inside without having to open the lid and look.  And the reason for the tape would be so that you can easily re-label if you decide to change the contents.  Just peel off the old and stick on the new!

Follow this link back to Kitchen Tip Tuesdays or Works For Me Wednesday for more!

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Should this post be entitled “How to Make Homemade Chicken Stock” or are we past that?  For now, I am going to assume that you don’t need a tutorial or a recipe for the stock itself, but I am going to share with you some of my favorite tricks for freezing it once it is made.

Oh, I will sneak in one pre-cooking tip as well.  I always buy whole chickens from local farmers, so I have the neck (a la A Christmas Story) and the bones to contend with after I roast the bird.  While the chicken is still fairly hot, remove as much meat as you can and freeze that for soups and such later.  Remember to date your freezer bag.  Then, pop the carcass in another freezer bag.  When I have four carcasses in the freezer, I know it is time to make stock.

I prefer to do two large pots of stock at a time, since it is less work to do two in one day than it is to make one on two separate days.  So, I have quite a bit of stock to deal with when it’s done.

For a giant turkey, however, I just make the stock the next day as we drag out the holiday decorations and watch White Christmas :).

Here is what I do:

1.  Place a large colander over another large container/pot that is heat proof.  A third stock pot is perfect if you have one, but the inside of your crock pot or rice cooker works, too.

2.  Strain the contents of one pot into the empty container.  Now you can pick through the carcass again and take out any meat that came off the bones.  Discard the veggies, bones and skin.  Repeat with the second pot.

Big Ol' Pot of Stock

3.  Now, what to do with a giant pot of stock?  Grab your freezer bags and label them with the contents, the date, and the quantity.  Do not forget to label with the quantity.  Trust me.  So annoying to have several bags of frozen stock in the freezer and have no idea which one you should defrost :).  I usually do some 4 cups, some 2 cups, and sometimes 8 cups.

Labeled Bag

4.  To prevent your bag from flopping over as you fill, turn the top over and set the empty bag in side another bowl.  Measure your stock and pour it into the bag.  Turn the top back over and seal.

Put Your Freezer Bag in a Bowl and Turn the Top Over

5.  I lay the bags flat on a big cookie sheet which fits in my chest freezer.  Freezing the bags flat seems to be the best way to store them once they are frozen.

And, if you live in a cooler climate, you can stick the bags out in the garage or on the porch to cool for a bit (or freeze solid in 30 minutes, depending where you live) before putting them in the freezer.

Let me know if you’d like me to post how I actually make the stock.  Next week I will be posting a couple yummy chicken/turkey soup recipes to use up the homemade stock and shredded poultry.

For more kitchen tips, visit Tammy’s Recipes.


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The Finished Loaf

This lofty golden loaf came out of the oven several hours ago.  About twenty minutes after it came out of the oven, I took it out of the pan.  After it cooled completely, I double bagged it in two reused bread bags from purchased loaves.  I have always found that homemade bread doesn’t fit in a Ziploc, and this is my cheap skate solution!

My Loaf in Used Bread Bags

We don’t actually plan to eat the bread until lunch on Friday.  So, I will be putting this recipe to the test.  Ann and her Dad assure me it should still be soft.  Perfect!

To read my final thoughts on this recipe, click here.  To see other handy kitchen tips, visit Tammy’s Recipes.

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Brunch Quiche

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Entertaining is not something I do often.  We have five small children, my husband works most evenings, and we run Blessed Roots Farm in our “spare” time.  Whatever down time we do have, we like to spend together.  But, occasionally we have the opportunity, or make the time, to have guests.

While having people over for dinner doesn’t usually work for us, I have found that hosting a brunch works beautifully.  Many of the dishes can be made ahead of time, the kids don’t have the entire day to undo all of the cleaning you did the night before, and guests appreciate not having to give up their evening or worry about what to do with tired kids at bedtime.  If you are on a tighter budget, brunch is usually less expensive to host than dinner.

Use this menu for a baby shower, a wedding shower, a birthday celebration, or just because.  As the holiday season approaches, bless your friends with a relaxing morning of yummy food and refreshing fellowship.

I personally think a brunch buffet should have a mix of sweet and savory, breakfast and lunch.  Here is my formula for a beautiful make-ahead (or buy ahead if that is more your style :)) brunch spread:

  1. Egg Dish – This could be an egg casserole, a baked french toast, or a quiche.  Make it the day before and either bake it or warm it up in the morning.
  2. Fresh Vegetables and Dip – Healthy and easy.  Make a homemade dip like this Ranch Dip.
  3. Sweet BreadsMuffins, coffee cake, bread, breakfast cookies, sweet rolls – whatever your specialty.
  4. Yogurt with Homemade Granola and Berries – A simple station with vanilla yogurt, fresh or dried berries and crunchy granola.  Perhaps even some maple glazed nuts.  Just be sure you have a stack of little cups or bowls for guests.

    Pumpkin Spice Granola

  5. Fresh Fruit – This could be a fruit salad, a tray of orange wedges, or chocolate covered strawberries – something in season.
  6. Meat and Cheese – You know your guests – this can be fancy shmancy for the grown-ups or cubes of cheddar for the small ones.
  7. Crackers and Dip – A baked Spinach and Artichoke dip is always a favorite, but anything goes!
  8. Dessert – I tend to think that any time you entertain there should be chocolate involved.  Around the holidays, add Christmas cookies or candies.
  9. Coffee and Tea – Have a fresh pot of coffee brewing when your guests arrive, and a tea station with hot water and several options of tea bags.  Make sure you have cream, sugar, milk and honey as well.  Hot chocolate is also lovely in the cooler months.
  10. Juice – Orange juice is always good, but cranberry is nice this time of year as well.

So, pick a day, invite your friends, tidy up the main floor, shut the bedroom doors, and enjoy your brunch!

What are your favorite brunch recipes?  Leave a link in the comments so I can go check it out!

Looking for more kitchen tips?  Visit Tammy’s Recipes!

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29 cents per lb!!!!

 I felt as if I had gone back in time.  Was it 1993 or had I really just seen a sign for 29 cents/lb bananas??  This was no joke.  And I was not kidding around.  I grabbed as many as my mom would allow without refusing to be seen with me.  We were at a Super Target, supposedly shopping for dolls for my girls.

My kitchen tip for today is obviously – GRAB THE BANANAS!  No, that’s too obvious.  My real kitchen tip for the day is what to do with these speckled beauties once you get them home.

We use bananas in smoothies almost every day, and frozen bananas work just as well as fresh.

Here’s the system:  Set out two large bowls, a cutting board, a knife, and enough freezer bags to hold all your bananas.

  1. Open your first freezer bag, fold the sides down and prop it up in one of your large bowls.
  2. Peel a banana.
  3. Toss the peel into one of the bowls.
  4. Take off all of the funky stringy things.
  5. Cut bananas in half or in thirds (easier on the blender).
  6. Place banana pieces in the freezer bag.
  7. When your bag is full, but not too full – you want to be able to lay it flat and freeze the bananas separately to avoid one giant banana chunk – seal it up and pop it into the freezer.

Now you have bananas ready to go for baking, smoothies, or one of our favorites – Banana Ice Cream!  And, another bonus tip for the day – remember my tip on letting your smaller children cut their lunches to pieces?  Well, here is another way for you to get a task done and let them cut.  Once you train them, you have just freed yourself from another time-taker in the kitchen.

For other tips, join me at Kitchen Tip Tuesday.

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We are in a pancake phase right now.  We have eaten these Pumpkin Pancakes several times in the last few weeks, and I plan to keep making them as long as I can find canned pumpkin and farm fresh eggs.  I was able to grab several cans of organic pumpkin at Trader Joe’s today.  Yay!

Today’s kitchen tip is a simple but useful one.  I cook our pancakes on my electric griddle (is that what you call that thing?) because I can make seven at a time.  Works pretty well for my family of seven.  I don’t want to grease the entire griddle, because that is just overkill.  I don’t want to grab the whole stick of butter and get my hands or the wrapper all funky.

Solution – take a hunk of butter and stick it on the end of a fork!  This way you have a handle, and you can apply the butter only where you really need it.

Now I’m hungry.

Join me at Kitchen Tip Tuesdays and These Chicks Cooked for more ideas to simplify your time in the kitchen.

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