Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Creamy Black Bean Crockpot Chicken

By this time of the holiday break, I am ready for something very simple to make for dinner that is different than ham, roast, or turkey. This recipe is so quick to prepare and everyone loves it!

Place 3-4 frozen chicken breasts in your crockpot. Add 1 can of corn, drained. Add 2-3 cups black beans. (I use precooked beans from the freezer, but you can drain and rinse 2 cans of black beans.) Add 2 cups of salsa - mild, medium, or hot depending on your family's preference. Mix and cook on high for 3-4 hours until chicken in done. Cube an 8 oz brick of cream cheese and stir in just before serving. (You can also drain plain yogurt to use as a cream cheese substitute. Look here for the instructions.) Serve over cooked rice. 

I always make a large batch so we can have leftovers. I shred any remaining chicken and mix the rice right in. I then bag up the leftovers in a ziplock freezer bag and freeze to pull out another night. It tastes great rolled in tortillas with a little shredded cheese added.

If all you have is canned chicken or turkey, you can make this recipe as my leftover version from the very beginning. You would only need to warm everything through since your meat is already cooked. Dinner could be ready in about 10 minutes!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Meat Pasties

Meat pasties are basically single serving size meat pies. History tells us that miners used to take them in their lunches in place of a sandwich. It is one way to trade up the way you serve beef or chicken stew. I've done them with canned meats and dehydrated vegetables and they turn out deliciously! I also use items from my freezer sometimes. This time, I mixed frozen peas and carrots with hashbrown potatoes. I stirred in some precooked hamburger and then made a thick gravy using reconstituted powdered milk, flour, beef bouillon, onion, and garlic. I mixed all of this together for the filling.

Roll out pie crust (I always keep some in my freezer ready to go.) and place filling on top.

Fold over and crimp the edges well. Cut a few slits for ventilation. (These pasties can be frozen at this point for up to 3 months.)

Bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until the crust is lightly browned.

Enjoy with your favorite side dish - we opened some bottled fruit to make it an easy night.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cinnamon Applesauce Ornaments

Everyone has their own loves during the holiday season. We're all about the Homemade Country Christmas at our house. We love popcorn garlands, gingerbread cookies, homemade candies, and singing carols together. The kids love to get in on some of the homemade fun. This is a very easy and low-cost activity. The ornaments turn out darling and they look great hung on the tree or tied to a jar or gift bag of goodies to give away.

This project only takes two ingredients - Applesauce and cinnamon. (I buy cinnamon in bulk at our local grocery store and keep it in pint jars.)

Start with 3/4 cup of applesauce or so. It's all a bit of a guess with this recipe. Mix in enough cinnamon to make a stiff cookie dough consistency. (Be careful when young children are helping you. Too much cinnamon can be harsh on young skin. I try to do most of the mixing with a spoon to avoid any issues.)

Here is our dough.

Roll out between two sheets of plastic wrap to about 1/4 inch thickness.

Remove the top piece of plastic and cut into desired shapes.

Place on a waxed paper lined baking sheet.

Use a drinking straw to cut a small hole in the top of each shape. Bake at 200 degrees for about an hour. After an hour or so, I just turn the oven off and leave the tray inside. The remaining heat helps dry out the ornaments completely. I'm sure you could make them in a dehydrator also. You just want to have them dry all the way through.

When done, you can paint with glitter glue to give them a shiny, glittery appearance. They also look fun with a small gingham ribbon glued on them. String a piece of yarn or thread through the hole to hang them on your tree or decorate up a package.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

All Purpose Christmas Cookie Dough

This time of year it is helpful to have shortcuts that still turn out fabulous. Last year, I tried just making one dough and using it in many ways. I reviewed the recipes to some of our favorite Christmas cookies and saw how similar they were. Using the recipes as a guide, I came up with this recipe that has been wonderful! Now I start making multiple batches of this same dough in November and freeze it. As Christmas approaches, I turn it into all these different cookies. I've included it in the pantry mix section, it really is a freezer mix though. It does save so much time during the holidays!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Family Haircuts

I pulled these pictures from our family archives - 

Sarah at about age 3 - don't you just love that face?

Spencer at about age 2 1/2

Ben at about age 3 - Ben's hair came in so slowly that he didn't get his first full haircut until his 3rd birthday. Doesn't he look excited for this special day!

Learning how to cut hair has saved our family hundreds of dollars over the years. It cost me $40 to buy a good set of hair clippers and a pair of hair cutting scissors. I now give four haircuts every 3 weeks to James and my boys. Even if we went to an inexpensive salon, we would spend $40 every 3 weeks - that adds up to nearly $700 a year! Add in a few trims for my girls and the total adds up to thousands of dollars in savings over the years.

I don't mean to downplay the skills that those who professionally train at a beauty school receive. They can do many more styles than I have figured out. I simply mean to share the fact that when we take the time to gain certain skills, it can save our family time and money in the long run. Rethink what you pay someone repeatedly to do. Ask yourself if it is something you could figure out doing with a little training. Get creative - you just might find a great way to save!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Freezing Pumpkin

My kids have learned over the years that our Halloween jack-o-lanterns serve two purposes. We always carve them the night before Halloween and let them be decorations for just a couple of nights. The morning after Halloween, I always remind the kids as they leave for school that their jack-o-lanterns will be cooked up by the time they come home. If they begin to object, I remind them how much they like pumpkin pie, pumpkin waffles, pumpkin muffins, etc. They all agree that they would rather enjoy their jack-o-lanterns this way then just watch them rot or get thrown into the street.

Cooking pumpkin is very easy - you do it like any other winter squash. Freezing it preserves it so it is ready for use in a multitude of delicious dishes.

When cooking the huge pumpkins, it is easiest to cut them into smaller pieces. One benefit to cooking up our jack-o-lanterns is that their guts have already been scraped out. This makes my day go much faster.

I stack as many pieces in my large roasting pan as I can. These are heaping because I have a lid and I know they will cook down as they soften.

Pour in a few cups of water so the bottom of the pan is covered. This helps keep the pumpkin moist as it cooks.

Cover your pan. If you don't have a lid you can use foil. Bake until soft at 350-400 degrees. This large of a pan took 3-4 hours. Just check every now and then to see if the flesh is soft.
You can roast the pumpkin on a baking sheet without a cover. The pumpkin will soften up  just fine, but you are left with a dry, leathery outer layer that you have to throw away so you lose some of the edible flesh. You can also cook the pumpkin in a covered microwave dish if you are doing a smaller batch. I had 4 large jack-o-lanterns to cook up so I filled my roasting pan two times before the day was over.

Here it is all cooked down. The edible flesh is soft and ready to puree.

Once it has cooled a bit, scrape the soft flesh off the skin. (I transferred it to a baking sheet to cool so I could refill the roasting pan and continue to bake pumpkin while the oven was hot.)

Place in food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Some varieties of pumpkins are more stringy than others. The food processor usually does the trick. You will notice that this puree is much lighter in color than what is in the can. It can also be more runny. They don't usually use the huge jack-o-lantern pumpkin for canning. They often use a sugar pumpkin which has a darker color. I have found that my homemade puree works just as well in all the recipes. Even though it is more runny, I usually don't have to make any changes. If you are concerned, you can always reduce the liquid in your recipe by 1-2 Tbsp. when you are using your homemade puree instead of the canned.

Place your puree in freezer containers. I reuse butter and cottage cheese tubs.

Label and freeze. It will last for a year or more in the freezer. We've already enjoyed pumpkin waffles, muffins, cake, and pie since Halloween this year. I saved a couple of pumpkins from our garden that we did not carve in the garage. They are holding very well. I'll cook them up in the next few weeks when I have room in the freezer for more puree.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ham and Corn Chowder

Who can resist a bowl of hot, creamy chowder on a cold winter night? This is one of our favorite recipes!

Combine onions, carrots, potatoes, and corn in 4 cups of hot water. Add bouillon. I used dry onions and carrots with fresh potatoes and canned corn. This soup is great using all dried vegetables as well. You just may need to add a little more water.

Whisk white sauce mix and 2 cups of hot tap water together in a bowl. For the white sauce mix recipe click here. I use the white sauce mix in all my cream soups - it is a huge time and money saver!

Pour the white sauce mix into the soup a couple of minutes before serving. Stir and allow soup to boil for 2 minutes to thicken.

Stir in cheese, ham, and bacon bits just before serving. Enjoy with a nice hot roll or slice of homemade bread. Oh, it's one of my favorite tastes of winter! There's no better way to chase away the chill of the evening.

Ham and Corn Chowder

1 cup chopped onions (½ cup dry)
½ cup + 2 Tbsp white sauce mix
1 cup diced carrots (½ cup dry)
2 cups hot water
2 ½ cups cubed potatoes (1 ¼ cup dry)
2–3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
2 cups cubed fully cooked ham
2 tsp chicken bouillon
10 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
4+ cups water

Cook vegetables in 4 cups water and bouillon until tender. Whisk white sauce mix and 2 cups hot water together in a bowl. Pour into soup. Stir until thickened. Stir in cheese, ham, and bacon bits just before serving. Using dehydrated vegetables may require more water. Add enough to make the consistency you like. I always use the precooked real bacon bits in this recipe to make it easy.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Make Ahead French Toast

My mornings start earlier this year since my oldest daughter just started Middle School. I've found it very helpful to have some breakfast options in the freezer to allow us to get her out the door on time to catch the bus. French Toast is easy to make in large batches. It freezes well and reheats in the toaster in a flash.

Mix eggs and milk in a shallow dish. I also like to add a little cinnamon and vanilla.

Mix well with a fork.

We have a Wonder Bread Thrift store near us where I can get bread for $.50 -$.80 cents a loaf. We also love French Toast made from homemade whole wheat bread. The Texas Toast is sliced thicker and makes delicious French Toast. When I find it at the bread store, I snatch it up.

Dip slices in egg mixture.

Cook on a hot griddle.

Flip when golden brown.

Cool slices on  a wire rack. When completely cool, package up for the freezer. I just put it all back in the original bag.

Store in the freezer for up to 3 months. It is easy to grab as many slices as you need for a quick breakfast another day. I often do 2-3 loaves at a time. I can do the cooking in the middle of the afternoon instead of getting up extra early - I love that! Knowing that it stores in the freezer, I can count this as one of my storable breakfasts.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tis the Season to Stock up on Baking Supplies

This is the time of year that all the baking supplies drop in price. I just go down the baking isle at every store I'm in and check to see what they are charging for flour, sugar, evaporated milk, brown sugar, powdered sugar, sweetened condensed milk, chocolate chips, etc. I've kept a good record over the years so I can recognize a "stock-up" price when I see it.

It usually takes a few weeks of watching, but I can usually find all of the products that we use on a regular basis for baking hit their low price of the year between now and New Year's.

This week I picked up flour and chocolate chips. Next week, it will probably be something different - Just keep your eyes open. To review my "Prices to Watch For" list click here. These prices were current a few months ago, but food prices have been going up as I'm sure you are all aware. If you find something that is close count it and buy what you need for your 3 month supply.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Books Available For Gifts!

Now available on Amazon.com

I have had many requests from people who would like to purchase multiple copies of my book to use as Christmas gifts this year for friends and family members. I am so grateful that many of you are finding it helpful as you work to be more prepared as a family.

I just received a large order here at my home for those of you who live in the Boise area. It will always be available on Amazon and you are more than welcome to purchase it from there. But, for those lucky enough to live close by, you can send me a quick email and work out coming over to pick some up and save a few dollars in the process.

My email is tamaraprice@lightningcreekpress.com

Let me know - 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Stovetop Shepherd's Pie

We probably all have a version of shepherd's pie that we have grown to love. Here I will share some tips on speeding up the preparation process and limiting the dirty dishes - who doesn't want less dirty dishes by the end of the day?

Combine 2 cans of soup in a large soup pot. I used 1 can of tomato and 1 can of cream of mushroom. We also love this done with two cans of cream of mushroom or 2 cans of tomato. By mixing them, you get a creamy tomato. Mix the soup together well. Do not add any water. Next, stir in two cans of green beans and a pound or so of pre-cooked hamburger. (I always keep pre-cooked hamburger in the freezer so I just microwave it long enough to break it apart before adding it to the pot.) When I use tomato soup, I like to add a bit of oregano and garlic to the pot. If I just use cream of mushroom soup, I don't add any seasonings. Now heat this mixture on the stovetop until warm, stirring occasionally.

In the meantime, bring some water to a boil in another pot. Add instant mashed potatoes. We like to use the potato pearls you can purchase at the LDS cannery.

Allow them to sit in the water for just a bit before stirring. They turn out creamier if they have a chance to absorb most of the water before stirring. If you are using another kind of instant potatoes, just follow the directions. You need 3-4 cups of mashed potatoes when they are done.

Whip them up a little to get all the lumps out.

Spread the hot potatoes over the heated soup mixture.

Sprinkle with shredded cheese and cover long enough for the cheese to melt. 

There you have it - one of my secret food storage recipes that allows me to have dinner on the table in about 15 minutes - And only have 2 pots to clean. My entire family loves it so that is an added plus!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Our Annual Trip to the Orchards

Every year in the late summer and early fall, I begin to yearn for a trip out to the orchards. Sometimes I truly ache for the chance to see the rolling hills and rows and rows of trees. I have made this trip nearly every year since I was 7 when my family first moved to this area. I've missed a few years when I was on my mission or on bed rest with a baby on the way - those were years I truly missed it and couldn't wait for the chance to come around the next year.

In the Boise area, we are blessed to have many orchards within a short drive. In an hour or less,we can leave the busy-ness of the city and be out in the country. 

These pictures are of my trip out to the Williamson Orchards near Marsing, Idaho. Here you can see rows of apple trees.

What a view!

Many of the orchards have little fruit stands set up for you to be able to purchase tree ripe fruit for far less than we can in Boise.

My kids have learned to look forward to these trips each year as well. My older kids were bummed that we went on a week day this year when they had to be in school.

What a great variety of squash! We didn't come for the squash this time though. We were on a mission to fill our van with peaches.

Tim and Emma enjoyed apples right away - there was no convincing them to wait!

There were stacks and stacks of crates ready for shipping to grocery stores and canneries.

My kids loved the tractor with the huge tires.

Here we are loaded down with 26 boxes of peaches - that is 13 bushels! We got them for 1/2 the price of what they were going for in town. We saved a great deal of money and enjoyed a day in the country - perfect in my book!