Thursday, June 25, 2015

     I've been on a freezer-Crock Pot cooking rampage lately. I have just spent another 6 + hours preparing meals, but I should get 21 meals out of the ones I made today, if I include the leftovers. That's pretty awesome! Several of my friends asked me to describe my recipes and I've put together this rather long post describing how I freezer cook. Obviously, everyone is different. I hope you can find some inspiration and grab a tip or two while you're here. So come on in, sit down, have some sweet tea, and let's talk food.

     When I want to prepare a set of freezer meals, I pretty much get started at

Step 1: review available recipes. There are dozens of websites that feature freezer cooking, and dozens more that feature crock-pot meals. Rarely, I will adapt a recipe to be a crock pot recipe, but for the most part, I look to other people who’ve already done it ;-)

Step 2: select several recipes, more than you actually plan to make. My goal is usually 10 meals, give or take, so I pick out about 10-12 recipes, understanding that for my family, many of the recipes actually provide 2 meals for us.

Step 3: narrow the recipes by grouping the ones that have the same meat, the same veggies, etc. The more similarity you have, the easier it is to do the prep. The drawback of course is that you run the risk of feeling like you are just eating the same food repeatedly. It is a balancing act. This is also where you have to face the reality of your dietary needs. My family does not eat pork because I can’t eat it except in very, very small doses. I mean like 1 slice of bacon and I’m done (I have gout). So our recipes are mostly chicken, ground beef, steak, etc.

Step 4: inventory what you already have. You might not need to buy corn or broccoli if you already have it in the freezer. Be sure to include your spice cabinet in this inventory.

Step 5: draw up your grocery list. I do this very simply: I start with the first recipe. I write down the ingredients I don’t have, and THEN list the quantity. For example, I will write “boneless skinless ck thighs” (which, by the way, I 100% recommend over boneless skinless breast pieces for crock pot cooking). If that particular recipe calls for 2 pounds, I will usually just make 2 hash marks after the ingredient. With onions & peppers, I will keep up with how many I need for each recipe. With things like potatoes, carrots, broccoli, etc., I usually mark it in pounds. It just depends on how the recipe refers to it. I go through each recipe, and when I’m done, I have a list that looks a bit like this:
Boneless skinless chicken thighs IIII
Ground beef III
Steak: I top round or flat iron
Onions: IIII
Green bell pepper: II
Red bell pepper: I
This tells me I need 4 lbs of chicken, 3 lbs of beef, 4 onions, 3 bell peppers total, etc. After listing this, I check for my other groceries like bread, milk, etc., and add those to my list. I then double check it, because NOTHING is getting purchased that isn’t on the list.

Step 6: Prep day. Refer to your original list of amounts. I print out each recipe so I have the directions before me, and I make a list of the recipes I will be making that week. That way, I can make sure I’m accounting for all of the food and getting everything I wanted out of the prep day. I always start with browning ground beef and go from there. It’s actually pretty rare that something needs to be pre-cooked unless it is ground beef. Once the actual cooking prep work is done, I get out all the veggies. I usually start with onion and just do one at a time until I have just about every bowl I own full of chopped, sliced, diced, grated, shredded, whatever veggies J lol. Then I arrange the recipes in order from simplest to most complex. Then I’m ready to actually bag it.

Bagging means:

Write on freezer bags the name of the recipe and how long to cook it. Sometimes I don’t put stuff in the bag, like I make my own “cream of” soups the day I’m going to cook. So I’ll write on the bag “add 2 cups ‘cream of’ soup” or something like that.

Start with the simplest recipe and fill up the bag. I put meat first, then veggies, then seasoning, then liquid unless the recipe calls for it to be done a different way. I am a total rebel, too. If I can’t see a reason to combine it before placing it in the bag I won’t. BUT super important: DO NOT CROSS CONTAMINATE. Raw chicken is gross. Don’t let it touch ANYTHING but the cutting board and the tongs or whatever. IMMEDIATELY wash your knife, board, etc. It’s easy to forget when you are prepping 10-15 meals that you had raw chicken there. YUCK. Don’t do that.

 Proceed through each recipe until you’re finished.

After you fill each bag, squeeze out all of the air and seal the zipper. Then kind of smoosh the bag out flat so it freezes well. I stack them up on a ½ sheet pan as I’m filling and then I put them all in the freezer at once. If Jerry is helping me, he will take a couple at a time and put them in the freezer as I get them filled. Either way is fine.

When you’re freezing the bags, only stack up about 2 bags or 3 at the MOST to freeze them. If you stack 3, you should rotate the bags after about 4-5 hours to ensure that the food is freezing fairly evenly. I never use anything hot in the bags (I refrigerate the ground beef after cooking while I’m chopping veggies) so I’m not making bags that might actually get some sort of icky thing growing inside, but food safety is ALWAYS important!

Finally, you will notice that I very rarely use boneless, skinless chicken breast. I greatly prefer boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Breast dries out and tastes like banquet chicken. Thigh just gets better the longer it cooks. That’s just my preference. If you want banquet chicken all white meat, by all means use breast.

The recipes I used for this session of freezer cooking are

Italian sausage with peppers & onions (found on Baked in the South)
Café Rio chicken (found on Make Ahead Meals (for busy moms)
Savory pepper steak (found on 6 cents)
Scalloped potatoes and chicken (adapted from 6 cents)
Salsa chicken (found on 6 cents)
Italian chicken bake (adapted from Make Ahead Meals (for busy moms)
Enchilada casserole (adapted from A Busy Mom's Slow Cooker Adventures)
Puerto Rican beans (found on Side-tracked Sarah)
Honey Teriyaki chicken (found on Dragonfly Designs)

I've also added to my family's recipe rota:
Chicken with mushrooms & bacon (adapted from Real Simple)
Mexican casserole (another one from Side-tracked Sarah)
Cheeseburger casserole (adapted from Lynn's Kitchen Adventures)

And finally, 

My go-to “cream of” soup recipe 

Italian sausage with peppers & onions **dairy free**
1 ½ lb Italian sausage links
1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 large green bell pepper, cut into strips
1 medium onion, cut into strips
2 cups or 1 can (~15 oz.) diced tomatoes
Fresh garlic or from the jar minced garlic – to your taste. We like lots of garlic  :-)

Put the sausages in the freezer bag and then pile on the remaining ingredients. Squish out the air. Freeze. Cook in the crock pot from frozen (but put the frozen food in the cold crock pot and THEN turn it on). Suggested cooking time low, 6 hours. Serve this on hotdog buns! Yumm-o!

For our family of 3, I put 12 or so oz. of sausage in each bag and split everything else, except I did use 1 can of tomatoes in each bag. Larger families will obviously want to keep everything together

Café Rio chicken **dairy free*
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
4-6 ounces (½ to ¾ cup) zesty Italian dressing
½ Tbsp minced garlic or to your taste
1 pack of ranch dressing mix, blended with ½ cup water
½ Tbsp chili powder or to your taste
½ Tbsp ground cumin

Put the chicken in the freezer bag and add the rest of the ingredients. Most places tend to sort of roll their b.s. thighs into loaf looking blobs, so make sure your chicken is unrolled and gets all of the good stuff all over it. Squish out the air. Freeze. Cook in the crock pot from frozen (but put the frozen food in the cold crock pot and THEN turn it on). Suggested cooking time: low 8 hours. Remove the chicken and shred it with forks, then put it back in the sauce. Makes excellent taco/burrito filling. Also tastes really good served over rice with black eyed peas as the side dish.

Savory Pepper Steak **dairy free**
2-3 pounds of round or flat iron steak cut into strips. *tip: look for meat marked “for fajitas” which at our Wal-Mart turned out to be a good bit cheaper for the same amount of steak not pre-sliced. Go figure.
~ ½ cup flour
Salt & pepper to taste
1 large onion, chopped
Garlic to your taste.
1 large green bell pepper, sliced
1 large red bell pepper, sliced
2 cans of Italian style diced tomatoes (these come in no salt added, how awesome is that?!)
2 Tbsp of beef bouillon powder (or if you use HerbOx salt free, 4 packets)
4 tsp of Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp steak sauce (like A1. Heinz 57 wasn’t good in this)
2 Tbsp of dry steak seasoning like McCormick or Mrs. Dash shakers

This recipe is designed to make 2 bags. Put the flour, salt, & pepper in a large Ziploc bag. Coat each piece of steak with the flour mixture and place into your freezer bags. Divide all of the veggies between the 2 bags. Mix the sauces and bouillon powder together and pour over the veggies & beef. Squish out the air. Freeze. Cook in the crock pot from frozen (but put the frozen food in the cold crock pot and THEN turn it on). Suggested cooking time: low 8 hours. Good on rice and serve with a salad.

Scalloped potatoes and chicken*
*this recipe originally called for ham, but I can’t eat ham.
2 lbs of potatoes, washed, peeled, and sliced into round-ish slices
2 cans “cream of” soup plus 2 cans of water
2 lbs chicken (or 2 ham steaks) cut into cubes
8 oz cheddar cheese
4 cups of broccoli
Salt & pepper to your taste

After you cut the meat into cubes, season it to your taste with salt & pepper. Put it in the bag, then put the broccoli, soup and water, potatoes, and cheese. Squish out the air. Freeze. Cook in the crock pot from frozen (but put the frozen food in the cold crock pot and THEN turn it on). Suggested cooking time: low 8 hours.

Just try not to eat it all cause it’s that good.

Now, this recipe is for one bag, but it makes 2 bags for my family. I don’t add the soup before freezing, because I make homemade ‘cream of’ soup. I just write on each bag “add 2 cups ‘cream of’ soup and 2 cups water.” Easy peasy.

This recipe could be adapted to be dairy free by (1) removing the cheddar cheese and adding in a butter substitute and parsley and rosemary to your taste (essentially making a type of herbed potatoes instead of cheesy potatoes) and (2) making the “cream of” soup with rice or soy milk instead of dairy milk.

Salsa Chicken **dairy free**
2-4 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs, depending on your family size
1 big (1 lb) bag of frozen corn kernels
2 cans of Rotel-type tomatoes (but I use regular ones because we don’t like Rotel tomatoes)
2 cans of black beans
1 jar of thick salsa – 16-24 oz.
1 pack of taco seasoning or 2 tsp adobo seasoning plus ½ tsp ground cumin plus ½ tsp chili powder (or to your taste)
2 cups of cheddar cheese

This recipe is designed to make 2 bags. Split the chicken between the 2 bags and set aside. In a BIG bowl, mix the corn, the beans (don’t drain them), the salsa, the tomatoes (don’t drain them), and the taco seasoning and stir well to combine. Split the mixture between the 2 bags. It will almost fill 2 gallon bags; it’s a LOT of food J. Do NOT add the cheese to the bags. Squish out the air. Freeze. Cook in the crock pot from frozen (but put the frozen food in the cold crock pot and THEN turn it on). Suggested cooking time: low 8 hours. This can be served over rice, on corn tortillas, or however you like Tex-Mex entrees. If you omit the cheese from the serving it is dairy free.

Italian chicken bake*

*not a crock pot recipe

16 oz bag of fresh spinach or “family size” bag of frozen spinach
About 4 cups of cooked, chunked chicken. This is about 2 rotisserie chickens, 2 bags of that pre-cooked chicken stuff, or about 1 ½ lbs of chicken thighs
1 box pasta (about 16 oz., we prefer spirals)
2 lbs ricotta cheese
2 c Parmesan cheese, grated
2 c. Mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 large eggs, beaten
Salt & pepper to your taste

Creamy sauce:

2 pints heavy cream
¾ tsp chicken bouillon powder
2 cloves minced garlic
1 ½ c Italian cheese blend
Salt & pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top

Okay, obviously this is NOT light or in any way good for you, but oh my, it is DELICIOUS. I made this in two of those disposable roast pans rather than tie up my Corelle bakers.

Step 1: If you have fresh spinach, wilt it. (boil about ½ cup of water in a sauté pan, and put all the spinach into it, stirring it for about 1 minute until it is all shriveled up). Drain it very well and set it aside. If using frozen spinach, pour it into a colander set over a mixing bowl to thaw/drain.

Step 2: shred or chop the chicken

Step 3: cook the pasta to just al dente. You don’t want it too done here or it will be mush by the time you go to eat it.

Step 4: mix the ricotta, 2 c. Parmesan, 2 c. Mozzarella, eggs, and salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Stir in the chicken and the spinach. Gently combine this mixture with your cooked and well-drained pasta.

Step 5: make the sauce by heating the cream in a medium saucepan, and then adding the remaining ingredients and stirring until the cheese is all melted and the sauce is a creamy texture.

Step 6. Divide the cheese/chicken/spinach mixture between 2 pans. Divide the sauce evenly and pour over the cheese mixture. Sprinkle with Parmesan.

Step 7: EITHER (a) bake at 350 for 30 – 40 minutes OR (b) cover tightly with plastic wrap, then heavy-duty foil and freeze for up to 3 months. Cook from frozen at 350 for 1 hour.

Notes on this one. I like to add Italian seasoning to the cheese mixture because it’s delicious ;-)

Enchilada Casserole

Small flour or corn tortillas – enough to line your crockpot bottom 3 – 4 times.
½ - 1 lb ground beef, browned & seasoned to your taste
1 can of black beans, well drained
1 jar of thick salsa
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can of enchilada sauce (there are red and green sauces available. I prefer the red myself).
2 c of Mexican, co-jack, cheddar-jack, whichever is your favorite shredded cheese
Salt & pepper to taste
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder

Mix everything except the tortillas in a freezer bag. Squish out the air. Freeze. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Spray your crock pot with cooking spray or use a crock pot liner. I’d spray it either way. Put down 1 layer of tortillas. You can cut them to fit better. Put about 1/3 of the filling on top of those tortillas. Repeat. Repeat. For the last layer, put tortillas on top of the casserole. Either reserve a small amount of the mixture or use a bit of salsa or even more enchilada sauce over the top tortillas. You can add extra cheese here if you like. Suggested cooking time: low 4 hours.

This one is really versatile because you can make it with chicken or beef. You can make it hot or mild by changing the spiciness of the enchilada sauce and the salsa. You can make it a really soupy type casserole by adding more enchilada sauce, or you can make it more firm by sticking with the recipe as written.

Puerto Rican red beans **dairy free**

1 cup of ham or bacon, optional
1 Tbsp oil
½ c. red Sofrito (Goya’s is YUMMY)
1 bag of red beans (1 lb)
1 can of tomato sauce
Garlic or adobo to taste, or use a Sazon for vegetables packet
½ cup fresh chopped cilantro
2 c. water (or enough to cover the beans)

Step 1: cook the ham or bacon in the oil, if applicable.

Step 2: mix all of the ingredients EXCEPT the beans in a freezer bag. Squish out the air. Freeze. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight. The night before cooking, prepare the beans according to the package. Generally this means you should pick through the beans to make sure no rocks or other unseemly things are in with them, and then soak them overnight. In the morning, rinse the beans, and put the beans and the sauce in the crock pot. Suggested cooking time: low 7 – 8 hours.

This makes exceptionally tender and tasty red beans. You can add smoked sausage, cooked chicken, ham, etc. to this dish, or you can serve the beans without meat. Goya & Sazon products are in the Hispanic section of the grocery store. I recommend them over the national brand spices like McCormick because they tend to be cheaper for better quality spices. The only drawback is that the packages are usually in Spanish, so I am not always sure what I am buying lol.

Honey-teriyaki chicken **dairy free**

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
½ c. diced onion
2 tsp diced garlic
½ c. honey
¼ c. ketchup
¼ c. soy sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil
½ tsp cayenne pepper

Put everything in a freezer bag. I suggest putting everything except the chicken in, sealing the bag and squishing it around to mix it up, and then adding the chicken. Squish out the air. Freeze. Cook in the crock pot from frozen (but put the frozen food in the cold crock pot and THEN turn it on). Suggested cooking time: low 4 – 6 hours. About ½ hour before serving, mix 4 Tbsp of corn starch with ½ c. water and add to the sauce to thicken it.

Chicken with bacon & mushrooms **dairy free**

½ lb bacon, diced
2 – 4 lbs chicken (you know I prefer boneless skinless thighs)
¼ c apple juice + ¼ c water (if you want, you can use ½ c white wine)
½ to 1 lb mushrooms, sliced
1 c frozen baby onions, thawed (okay, pearl onions)
6 cloves of garlic, chopped or the equivalent amount from the jar
1 ½ tsp dried rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste

Step 1: saute the bacon until crisp (or bake like I do. Easy, peasy). Set aside. Brown the chicken in the bacon drippings, set aside. Deglaze the pan with the apple juice/water mixture and scrape up the brown bits. Pour this sauce over the onions, mushrooms, garlic, and rosemary. Cool all the ingredients in the refrigerator for at least an hour (you don’t want to put hot food in the freezer)

Step 2. Place the chicken in the freezer bag. Top with the bacon, and then pour the sauce over the meats. Squish out the air. Freeze. Cook in the crock pot from frozen (but put the frozen food in the cold crock pot and THEN turn it on). Suggested cooking time: low 4 – 6 hours. Remove the chicken, bacon, and veggies to a plate and keep them warm. Pour out the sauce into a saute pan and mix 4 Tbsp of corn starch (or flour) with ½ c. water and add to the sauce to thicken it. Cook it for about 5 minutes and pour over the chicken stuff.

We ate this with garlic mashed potatoes, Hawaiian rolls, and a salad. It was so good we ALL had seconds and Jay and Jerry had thirds. It was supposed to be enough for 2 meals but there was only a little smidgen left over. We have actually had this recipe 3 times in the last 2 months.

Mexican casserole

1 lb browned ground beef, seasoned to your taste
1 med onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 can kidney beans, drained & rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes
8 oz can tomato sauce
¼ c. water + 1 pack taco seasoning
1 Tbsp chili powder or to your taste
1 1/3 c instant rice
1 c cheddar cheese (sharp is best)

Put everything except the rice and cheese into the bag. Squish out the air. Freeze. Cook in the crock pot from frozen (but put the frozen food in the cold crock pot and THEN turn it on). Suggested cooking time: low 4 – 6 hours. About ½ hour before serving, add the instant rice. AFTER turning the crock pot off, add the cheese and just before dishing it out stir the cheese in very well.

Cheeseburger casserole

1 bag frozen hash browns
1 ½ c shredded cheddar cheese (sharp is best)
2 c milk
3 Tbsp butter (not margarine!)
Salt & pepper to your taste
1 lb browned & drained ground beef, seasoned to your taste.

Put everything in the freezer bag. Squish out the air. Freeze. Cook in the crock pot from frozen (but put the frozen food in the cold crock pot and THEN turn it on). Suggested cooking time: low 4 – 6 hours.

The longer you cook this one, the more the potatoes get soft. This was another one that really should’ve been 2 meals, but it was basically gone after one. We’ve made it multiple times, and it gets gone every time. It’s good stuff. ;-)

My “cream of” soup recipe

1 c. veggie – sliced or chopped
½ c onion, chopped
½ c low-sodium chicken broth (I’ve also used bouillon)
1 Tbsp parsley
½ tsp garlic powder
2/3 c. evaporated milk
2 Tbsp cornstarch or flour

Cook the veggies in the chicken broth until they are soft. Puree this mixture in a blender or with an immersion blender until it is very creamy. Mix the cornstarch or flour with the evaporated milk and cook this until it thickens. Add the veggie mixture back into this.

I’ve made cream of onion using 1 ½ c onion
Cream of potato using 2 c potato and ½ c onion
Cream of mushroom using 2 c mushrooms and ½ - 1 c onion
Cream of shrimp did NOT work using this recipe. I don’t really know why; maybe you would have better luck.

This is really easy. You CAN freeze this soup, but if you do you MUST use it in a recipe as it will NOT be good to eat by itself after freezing. It’s so easy & quick to make fresh though that we just usually make it right then & there. The potato is absolutely delicious by itself on a rainy, yucky day.

So, this is pretty much a wall o’text. I hope this helps you make some freezer meals successfully. It has helped my family 3 ways:
      We don’t eat out as much. When you are disabled or mostly disabled, you don’t always know how the day is going to go. When I am in a lot of pain, I honestly can’t think about food, so often “just run to McDonald’s” becomes the default option. I don’t actually like McD all that much. They have great tea! But the food is too greasy and makes me sick to my stomach. So having these meals makes it where we don’t have to do that. We actually cook a crock pot meal every 2 or 3 days, without question. That way, there’s no question at the end of the day “what’s for dinner?”
      We have all lost weight. We joke a lot about being on the “no money – no food” diet, but truthfully it’s because we’ve been planning our food. Not running to McD’s helps obviously, but each of these meals has a plan about what to serve it with, and most of them have a substantial bit of veggie built right in. We don’t end up eating only one type of food (meat, okay, meat). We don’t end up ordering or buying high salt, high fat, high calorie foods. We also see that we are more satisfied with our meals, and we stay satisfied for a longer time. We aren’t “grazing” for something to eat after only an hour or so. I believe this is because the food has a mix of nutrients so we aren’t missing one (or more) that we try to find by grazing on snack foods.
      We get a lot more out of a very limited budget. Planning the meals means we know what we will be eating. There’s much more security than grocery shopping with a “might make this” or “might make that” mentality. I know the items on my list will be used, because they came straight from a recipe. I know that there will be a meal available for a set period of time, because I know how many meals the food I am buying will make. I know how much peanut butter, jelly, and bread to get to “fill in” the gaps for lunches, etc. because I know how many dinners are taken care of. We get more out of about $140 a month than we were getting out of over $200 per month. Now if milk wasn’t so darned expensive…

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Super-delish Shrimp Alfredo

We try to be low-sodium around here, so we have to go it alone in the search for yummy pasta sauces. I plan a series of posts on sodium in foods, but for now, let's just say there are many hidden sources of sodium, and jarred pasta sauce is a major culprit!
The thing is, though, we love pasta and sauce, so we do a lot of experimenting to get good sauce. Here's a recipe for Shrimp Alfredo that we've pretty much perfected

You'll need
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1 can evaporated milk
24 ounces water
2-4 large cloves of garlic, crushed
olive oil cooking spray
chipotle chile powder
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan/Romano blend
1 lb frozen uncooked shrimp, thawed, peeled, & deveined
pasta of your choice

Liberally coat the inside of a large, deep skillet with the olive oil spray. Heat it on medium until a drop of water dances when dropped into it. Saute the garlic until it is deeply brown and nutty. Don't let it burn!

Add the evaporated milk and about half of the water to the garlic. Add about half the remaining water to the chickpea flour. Whisk the flour-water mixture until smooth. Add the flour-water mixture to the garlic mixture, and stir with the whisk to combine. Continue stirring until the sauce begins to thicken up. If the sauce is too thick, add more of the water. If it is too thin, cook and stir for several minutes until it thickens up. Add the cheeses and cook the sauce for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, cook the pasta according to the package directions. Add the shrimp to the sauce mixture and cook until no pink and curled up. Mix the pasta into the shrimp mixture. Sprinkle with a dash of the chipotle chile powder and enjoy!

If you use gluten free pasta, this recipe is celiac disease friendly.

Rural kids: Car Seats

When most parents think of car seats, the automatic association in for babies and toddlers. Did you know, though, that car seats are mandated for many kids? That's right, your school-aged kids might still need to be in a booster seat.

Here in Georgia the law is that all children under age 8 must be restrained in the back seat in a booster seat (belt-positioning boosters are best). There are some exceptions; if a child is 4'9" tall, he or she is exempt from the law, if the child has a medical condition which prevents booster seat use, or if the child is riding in a vehicle with no back seat.
A good general rule of thumb is this: if your child's shoulder reaches the top of the back seat and they weigh 90 pounds or more, they are ready to move to a seat belt only while sitting in the back seat. Otherwise, keep them in that booster!

Follow the Five Step Test - be safe out there!

Information for this post came from AAA,, and Visit these websites for more information on how booster seats can save our kids' lives in the event of a crash!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

3-meal Crockpot chicken

Part of living a country life, for me at least, is living frugally. For us, this means that instead of buying boneless, skinless chicken breast at around $2.99 a pound, I've been trying to buy whole chicken at around $1.00 a pound. It really depends on where I buy it. I have to be careful, because I'm on a sodium-restricted diet. I can't buy the kind of chicken that is full of "a solution," because that stuff is about 15% salt-water. Besides, it isn't very frugal to pay for salt water when you're meant to be paying for food!
You have to understand what a gross thing this is for me. Raw chicken makes me literally ill. I'm not quite as bad as my friend who can't even eat meals she cooks out of raw chicken, but the barrage of information we have about pathogens found in raw chicken, and how easily it can contaminate things in our kitchens leaves me feeling very sick. My way of dealing with this was to only purchase boneless, skinless breast of chicken and freeze it immediately. That was, if I did have to touch it, it was only to quickly transfer it to the crock pot or to a pan in a frozen state.
Enter the need to save money. We aren't being frugal just because we have a very limited income, but also because it's the right thing to do. Waste not, want not, after all. Still, I can't justify purchasing something at 3x the price just because it grosses me out. Pity, that.
In order to be able to handle the raw carcasses I place them in the sink and wash them down with cool water. I quickly remove the packet of icky innards and place it in the grocery bag to be thrown away. Ewww. Once the chicken has been rinsed thoroughly, I dry it with paper towels and then transfer it to the crock pot.
Then, I coat the chicken with a drizzle of olive oil and some spices. I like to use Mrs. Dash Garlic & Herb blend.

Place the cover on the crock pot and cook the chicken on low for 8 - 10 hours. I usually cook it overnight. You can cook it on high for 4 - 5 hours if you need to.
Remove the chicken from the crock pot very slowly - it will fall apart if you are not careful!
This is the time to clean it up and get the bones out. I used the breast meat for meal #1 - cut it carefully and crisp it up in the oven under the broiler for about 3 minutes. Serve with veggies and a salad for a yummy chicken dinner.
Remove the skin and bones from the rest of the meat. Return the skin and bones to the crock pot, fill it up with water, and cook for several more hours. This is the most delicious chicken stock ever! To save it, carefully use a slotted spoon to remove the solids from the broth. Once you've gotten them mostly out, use a cheesecloth (or paper towel) lined colander to completely strain the broth. Ladle the broth into plastic cups and freeze. Once completely frozen, quickly dip each cup into hot water and dump the frozen broth into a freezer bag. When you're ready to use, just open the bag and add the frozen broth to a saucepan. It only takes about 5 minutes or so for the broth to melt and you have the perfect base for chicken soup, broth to make yummy mashed potatoes or rice, or stock for delicious chicken gravy.
Meals 2 and 3 of my 3-Meal Crockpot Chicken are made from the rest of the deboned chicken. I usually take about half of it and make chicken fajitas. I've made chicken and pasta with the other half. This deboned meat also freezes well. You can use it to make barbeque chicken, chicken pot pie, or any other recipe calling for cooked chicken.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rural home: the Home Inventory

The Rural Romantic is all about living peacefully and fully. Part of peaceful living is peace of mind, and for me, that means knowing that I am prepared for things that could come my way.

Part of that is knowing what I have in case I need to file an insurance claim, and a great way to do this is to create a home inventory.

Making a home inventory can be easy and fun. Just follow these simple steps, and in no time at all you'll have a home inventory too!

1. Pick a room and make a video log or take lots of pictures of the items in the room. If it is your living room, for instance, you might take several photos of the TV and any multimedia equipment, game systems, DVDs or VHS (if you still have those), as well as some shots of the furniture. Don't forget your artwork or knick-knacks! Be sure to get images of the insides of drawers and cabinets!

2. Document everything. An easy way to do this is to use your video or photographs and write down objects as you see them in your recordings. Another way is to go room-by-room, starting with big-ticket items like TVs or computers, and working your way down. Either way, make your list as thorough as possible

3. Save a copy of your new home inventory in your home, but make sure you have at least one copy in a well-protected area away from your home. If the unthinkable happens, you'll know you have a safe copy as a back up. One great thing about current home inventories is the ready availability of free internet storage. Why not keep a copy on a cloud drive somewhere? is just one of many companies that offer free cloud storage for documents and photos.

4. Don't forget to update your list whenever you buy or sell items!

Do you have enough insurance? Make sure you can count on your insurance company. I rely on State Farm, and my agent Danny Edmonds! I don't know what we'd do without him!

State Farm has created a great home inventory worksheet! The Insurance Information Institute has an online inventory tool that is absolutely free! Both of these can be awesome resources as you create your own home inventory.

Take the Home Inventory Challenge with me! Use IIIs online inventory tool to create your home inventory, and post here about your experience. Was it easy? Was it too complicated? I am going to be transitioning from a paper inventory to their online inventory, and I will let you know how it goes!

Information in this post came from AAA, State Farm, and the Insurance Information Institute.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Cheesy Chicken Florentine with Pasta

In order to stretch a cooked chicken as far as its little poultry wings will go, I have been testing recipes that use cooked chicken. This is quickly becoming a family favorite.

1/3 of a cooked chicken
1 box of tri-color rotini pasta (ours is from Aldi)
1 large cup of frozen chicken broth (32 oz worth)
1/2 cup, more or less to taste, chopped bell pepper and onion
1 box (8 oz) cream cheese
2 big handsful baby spinach leaves (about one bag of pre-washed leaves)
2-4 tablespoons of flour
2, 15-oz cans of stewed tomatoes, juices reserved

Melt the frozen chicken broth in a large saucepan or deep skillet-type pan. Once it's thoroughly melted, set it aside. Use either no-stick cooking spray or a very small amount of olive oil to saute the bell pepper and onion. Once they are crisp-tender, add the stock back in and season to your taste. I always season with garlic powder and black pepper. Add the stewed tomatoes and cook on medium heat until reduced by half. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the packaged directions.
Once the tomato-broth-onion mixture is reduced by half, add in the previously cooked chicken. Add in the cream cheese and stir to melt and fully incorporate the cheese. Whisk the flour into the reserved tomato juice and add to the chicken mixture. Add the cooked pasta to the chicken mixture. Just before serving, add the spinach and cook just until it wilts, about 2 minutes.
Serve with sprinkle cheese (parmesan/romano or a blend).
This recipe is a very adaptable recipe. If you don't like spinach, just omit it. It's good with broccoli or green beans, too. Like more onion/pepper/garlic? Add it. Want it thicker? use more flour. Want it thinner? don't use the flour/tomato juice mixture. More chicken? Less chicken? Not chicken? it's all up to you.
If you change this and like it, let me know in the comments. I'd like to try YOUR version!

Natural Hair Care

Having a family goal of saving money and using more natural products has led me to some strange places, but one I'm actually enjoying is natural hair care. I have long hair, and I don't use anything on it like mousse, gel, hair spray, etc. I used to use just shampoo and conditioner, every other day. However, I suffer horribly from dry scalp and flakes. My mom-in-love suggested I go to a no-shampoo method. I had tried once before, following the curly girl method (though I'm still not too sure about the plop!). I didn't like the way my hair looked using CG. My m-i-l reassured me that this was different. I was skeptical, but I thought I'd give it a try. So here we go.

I used a mixture of baking soda in water instead of shampoo. I wet my hair as usual, and right there in the shower, mixed up about a tablespoons' worth of baking soda with the hot shower water in a cup. I slowly poured it over my head and massaged it in, then rinsed thoroughly.

After my shower, I used a spray bottle and thoroughly sprayed my hair with vinegar. I only had the regular kind, so I used that. Oh vinegar, what a tangy smell you have. Truth? It made me crave some salt-n-vinegar chips...

Anyway, I was able to use my pick to comb my hair with very little tugging, so the vinegar did the job of de-tangling well enough. It took about half an hour for the smell to dissipate, but eventually it vanished, leaving me fresh smelling hair.
Now it's a day later. This is usually my skip-it hairdo day, during which I *might* brush or pick it out, but usually just ponytail it and call it good. Today, though, my hair feels very soft and is not tangly (unusual!) so I have left it down.

(don't laugh at my admittedly laughable self-portrait skillz)

So far, so good. My head hasn't itched, which means this method hasn't made my dry scalp act up, I haven't had any yucky flakes, and my hair's not tangled. I'll let you know how this goes.

(and money-wise, you can't beat it...a tablespoons' worth of baking soda is about $0.03 worth, and even using a thorough spritzing of white vinegar is not even $0.01 worth! So 4 cents per cleansing, 15 times per month, approximately, and 12 months per year is about $7.20 per year!)