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.