Saturday, August 30, 2008

These blasted dishes!

My new dishwasher, purchased this summer with some of our "economic stimulus" money. It's been getting a good workout lately since I haven't been buying paper products for serving meals.

The dishes are piling up in the sink AGAIN, this time because I haven't been buying paper products for serving our meals lately. A budget crackdown of late has kept me out of the store except only when absolutely necessary, and then only to buy what is absolutely necessary, so I just haven't bought any of the plates, cups and bowls that I like to have around.

I started buying paper plates, etc. last summer when the kids had a lot of their friends over. I was driving myself nuts trying to keep all the dishes washed, so I gave up and gave in to buying paper. I always feel bad about making so much trash but my sanity is also very important.

The bowls seem to be the main problem. We eat a lot of cereal and ice cream, and sometimes I serve the kids their meals in bowls. Now without the paper bowls the sink fills quickly with plastic bowls. To top it off, no one rinses their bowls out (the kids do from time to time) so I'm left with a sinkful of sticky, crusty bowls. GROSS.

It doesn't take long for the sink to get full of all these bowls.

As far as cost goes, I wonder if it's not cheaper for me to buy paper instead of using a lot of water and soap to wash all the regular dishes, or at least the same price. Hmmm ...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Roast Beef with ... Coffee?

Yes, you read that right! That does say Roast Beef with Coffee!

The recipe from All Recipes says not to pass this up just because it sounds strange. No joke! I do love roast beef cooked in the slow cooker and I do love coffee; I'm just not sure about the combination. I have to try it!

Roast Beef with Coffee

4 pounds chuck roast
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups prepared strong coffee
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water

Preheat slow cooker to low setting OR preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Using a sharp knife, make 5 or 6 deep slits around the top and side of the roast. Push the whole cloves of garlic down into the slits. Place the meat in a slow cooker OR a 10x15 inch roasting pan and pour the coffee over the meat.

Cook in slow cooker on low setting for 6 to 8 hours OR bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 2 to 3 hours.

When roast is done, remove from slow cooker OR oven, and pour the drippings into a small saucepan over medium low heat. In a separate small bowl, combine the cornstarch and water. Mix well and add slowly to the drippings, stirring constantly. Simmer until thickened.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Use your leftover coffee grounds!

This coffee tip came from a frugal blog a few years ago. I mentioned it a few days ago in my Kitchen/Food Tips post but it bears singling out, if you ask me.

It seems a bit weird, maybe even gross, at first but I guarantee if you try it you will be impressed.

Use your leftover coffee grounds to make the next pot of coffee! When you make a pot of coffee, save the grounds until the next time you make coffee. Put half the amount of fresh coffee grounds that you normally use in with the leftover grounds. For instance, if you use two scoops of fresh grounds, place one scoop of fresh grounds on top of the leftover grounds. Brew the coffee with the same amount of water you normally use.

You can't taste the difference, or at least I can't!

You can do this at least once and I've even used the leftover grounds twice.

(Now if I could just cut back on the amount of sugar and creamer I use I'd really be getting somewhere.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

School lunches

My kids usually eat lunch in the cafeteria at school, but some days the lunch is just icky and I let them take their lunch to school.

At night I prepare the dry part of the lunch (chips, cookies, etc.) by placing small amounts in snack size plastic baggies (I have to buy name brand plastic baggies for food because the store brand ones make your food stink, or to me they do.) I put that and a piece of fruit in their lunch bags (got some nice basic ones at Target for $3.99 each) at night before I go to bed. In the morning they usually like to make their own PB&J sandwiches, and then I cut them up into halves or fourths and put them in sandwich size plastic baggies. The last thing that goes in is a juice box or water bottle. (I haven't had either this week so they've gotten milk from school.)

The hardest thing with school lunches is getting the girls to remember to bring their lunch containers home!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Good ole PB&J

Thank goodness for good ole PB&J! My kids love it and eat it for snacks and quick suppers. They take their lunch to school sometimes and they usually rather have that than a sandwich with meat and cheese.

My six-year-old literally ate PB&J for every meal a couple of days ago. She wanted to make her own lunch for school, but the sandwich turned out a bit messy so she decided to eat it right then instead of trying to put it in a bag. She still wanted PB&J for lunch, so I made her another one and put it in her lunch bag. She picked at her supper that night and ate three -- count 'em, three! -- PB&Js afterward.

Needless to say we are running through about a loaf of bread a day and a lot of peanut butter and jelly.

Our favorite kind of peanut butter is the Kroger brand roasted peanut butter with honey, followed closely by the Kroger creamy peanut butter. We aren't picky on brands/varieties of jelly so we just usually grab whatever. I like the kinds that smear easily, and I'm partial to blackberry. For bread we love Nature's Own wheat bread and we've just tried the Market Pantry brand of wheat bread at Target and we just love it. It's so wheat-y! We also buy the Kroger brand wheat bread a lot.

I love PB&J myself but I love PB&B (banana) even better. It's excellent with thick peanut butter and thick bananas on wheat bread and washed down with a vanilla cola.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Chicken and Veggie Pasta

You can have a delicious hot cooked meal in mid-August without heating the house up! All you need is a slow cooker and an electrical outlet outside.

We loved this Chicken and Veggie Pasta, another one of my meals cooked in the slow cooker outside. The variations are countless, so you could basically have this same meal for days on end without any complaints

Chicken and Veggie Pasta

6-8 chicken thighs
1 lb. package angel hair pasta
1 cup frozen veggies (I used corn, peas, carrots, and green beans)
Medium onion
Salt and pepper to taste

Place chicken, cut up onion, and salt and pepper in the slow cooker. Plug up outside and cook for a few hours on high or several hours on low.

When the chicken is done, drain the juice out into a pan and add a little bit of water if necessary. Break the pasta into thirds and place in the pan. After a minute or so, add the vegetables. Cook until the pasta is almost done (Be careful, angel hair pasta cooks very quickly.) Drain the pasta and vegetables over the slow cooker so that the juice goes back to the chicken.

Serve the chicken either beside the pasta or torn over the pasta. Salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Kitchen/cooking tips

A friend emailed me some great kitchen/cooking tips. I added some tips of my own (and some comments). Here they are:

Eat bananas the easy way
Peel a banana from the bottom and you won't have to pick the little strings off of it. That's how the primates do it. (My husband does this sometimes.)

Ripe bananas
Take your bananas apart when you get home from the store. If you leave them connected at the stem, they ripen faster. (I like mine ripe so I won't be pulling mine apart.)

Storing cheese
Store your opened chunks of cheese in aluminum foil. It will stay fresh much longer and not mold!

Peppers with 3 bumps on the bottom are sweeter and better for eating. Peppers with 4 bumps on the bottom are firmer and better for cooking.

Frying ground beef
Add a teaspoon of water when frying ground beef. It will help pull the grease away from the meat while cooking. (We don't even use ground beef but this is a great tip to share!)

Rich eggs
To really make scrambled eggs or omelets rich add a couple of spoonfuls of sour cream, cream cheese, or heavy cream in and then beat them up.

Brownies, only better
For a cool brownie treat, make brownies as directed. Melt Andes mints in double broiler and pour over warm brownies. Let set for a wonderful minty frosting.

Add garlic immediately to a recipe if you want a light taste of garlic and at the end of the recipe if your want a stronger taste of garlic.

Heating leftover pizza
Heat up leftover pizza in a nonstick skillet on top of the stove, set heat to medium-low and heat till warm. This keeps the crust crispy.

Easy deviled eggs
Put cooked egg yolks in a zip-seal plastic bag. Seal, mash till they are all broken up. Add remainder of ingredients, reseal, keep mashing it up, mixing thoroughly. Cut the tip of the baggy, squeeze mixture into egg. Just throw bag away when done easy clean up.

Expand your cake frosting
When you buy a container of cake frosting from the store, whip it with your mixer for a few minutes. You can double it in size. You get to frost more cake/cupcakes with the same amount. You also eat less sugar and calories per serving.

Warming refrigerated bread
To warm biscuits, pancakes, or muffins that were refrigerated, place them in a microwave with a cup of water. The increased moisture will keep the food moist and help it reheat faster. (My husband always does this.)

Sticky stuff in the measuring cups
Before you pour sticky substances into a measuring cup, fill with hot water. Dump out the hot water, but don't dry cup. Next, add your ingredient, such as peanut butter, and watch how easily it comes right out.

Clean stains off the counters
Use baking soda to clean stains (red juice, etc.) off of the kitchen countertops.

Mopping the floor
Use vinegar and water to mop the kitchen floor and you'll find your floor has never been so clean. Just run a sink about half-full of water and add a cup of vinegar or so. It's safe to use on all floor types.

Throw away your disgusting kitchen sponges and scrubbers and recycle instead! Use the mesh bags that produce like onions and apples come in. Place a wash rag inside and scrub your pots, etc. The stiff ones that onions come in work best for tough jobs. After a few uses, discard and get another one.

Stretch your coffee
Keep the leftover coffee grounds from the last time you made a pot of coffee and use them again! Just add half the amount of coffee grounds you normally use to the leftover grounds and brew as normal. (If you use two scoops, just add one scoop of grounds to the leftover grounds. You can use leftover grounds at least once and I've done it twice.) The coffee tastes just fine.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Crockpot Pizza Chicken's Busy Cooks newsletter sent what I thought was a very interesting recipe this morning: Crockpot Pizza Chicken. Intrigued, I had to see just how to make it. There are just a few staple ingredients involved, and you can start cooking it in the afternoon. I was planning on putting some chicken in the slow cooker (outside on the back porch of course) early this afternoon so the kids can have a good supper after school and a work appointment this afternoon, so I may toss in the extra ingredients to make this pizza chicken. If I don't do it today I'll definitely do it in the next few days.

Crockpot Pizza Chicken

8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 onion, chopped
2 bell peppers, cut into 1" pieces
2 cups pasta sauce
1 cup shredded pizza cheese

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and place in a 3-4 quart crockpot. Top with onions and bell peppers and pour pasta sauce over all. Cover crockpot and cook on low 4-5 hours until chicken is thoroughly cooked. Stir well, then sprinkle with cheese and let stand 5 minutes to melt cheese. Serve over cooked pasta or rice. 8 servings

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Slow Cooker Chicken Stroganoff

It's cooled off a bit thanks to the lovely rain of late but I'm still cooking meals out on the back porch in the slow cooker.

Here's a good recipe for that:

Slow Cooker Chicken Stroganoff

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves - cubed
1/8 cup margarine
1 (.7 ounce) package dry Italian-style salad dressing mix
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup

Put chicken, margarine and dressing mix in slow cooker; mix together and cook on low for 5 to 6 hours.

Add cream cheese and soup, mix together and cook on high for another 1/2 hour or until heated through and warm.

This can be served on rice but pasta (like egg noodles) cooks faster so I'll probably put it over noodles and serve with steamed veggies.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

One Pot Lunch #2

Here's another recipe for a One Pot Lunch. It's again inspired by not wanting to heat the house and not having tons of groceries in the house but still having several kids to feed! The main ingredients are a couple of kid favorites -- macaroni and cheese and hot dogs!

One Pot Lunch

Two boxes macaroni and cheese
Several hot dogs
1 cup mixed vegetables
Shredded cheese
Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

Boil the macaroni and cheese from both boxes. When it gets close to being finished, add the vegetables. When it's almost done, drain the pasta and vegetables and mix in the milk and cheese from the packages. Add salt and pepper if you like. Toss in the hot dogs and let it sit for a minute so they get warm. Sprinkle shredded cheese and Parmesan cheese on top.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

One Pot Pasta Lunch

With the temperature only getting up to 79 yesterday, I got bold and decided to use the stove to cook lunch for the kids. The boldness didn't extend to using any more than one eye on the stove so I cooked everything in the same pot together, hence the One Pot Pasta Lunch.

Depending on how many kids you have to feed you should have some left over. I have five and we have plenty of leftover pasta and broccoli that we can put with a different kind of meat today.

Another great thing about this dish is you can completely change up the ingredients for a totally different meal the next time you decide to make this.

One Pot Pasta Lunch

Chicken stock, packaged broth, or bouillon cubes
1 lb. pkg. farfalle pasta (or any pasta)
1 pkg. turkey sausage link (or hot dogs)
2 cups frozen broccoli (or any frozen veggie)
½ can cream of mushroom soup
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese

Prepare pasta in the stock/broth according to package directions. When it's almost done, drop in the meat and frozen veggies. Be careful to not overcook. (I usually remove my pasta and/or veggies off the stove right before they get done since they continue to cook.)

When the pasta is done, drain everything, return to the pan and remove the meat. Stir the pasta and vegetables with the soup, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle with extra Parmesan cheese and serve with the meat.

If you are out of stock and/or soup or your kids prefer plainer/drier food, you can eliminate either or both.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Favorite kitchen smells

For all my dread of all things involving the kitchen, there is one thing I really enjoy about it ... the smell of freshly brewed coffee emanating from that room!

I have always loved the smell of freshly brewed coffee, even when I was a child and did not like coffee.

(The smell of stale coffee isn't offensive but just not nearly as pleasing.)

My second favorite kitchen aroma would have to be the smell of meat cooking in the crock pot with onions and seasonings.

I do so hate the smell given off by a sinkful of dishes that you keep putting off, and of course the odor in the fridge when something has evidently died in there. Yuck.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Picky Tiffany's Crockpot Gravy and Chicken

With all my slow cooker cooking out on the back porch lately, Picky Tiffany's Crockpot Gravy and Chicken caught my eye!

She made gravy right in the slow cooker with the chicken by adding flour a bit at a time to some ready-made broth in the pot.

I will be trying this within the next few days! I hope mine turns out pretty good.

Thanks Picky Tiffany!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Parmesan Pasta with Turkey Sausage

I mixed up this yummy dish yesterday. I was actually going to put chicken in it (I had some chicken I had cooked the day before in the slow cooker out on the back porch) but as I was looking through the fridge I discovered a package of smoked turkey sausage! So yummy. I used to eat real smoked sausage in my days of super-high metabolism but I can't do that anymore. If you're not in the habit of eating the real thing, turkey sausage is really good!

Preparing the sausage was kind of tedious. I wanted the peeling (I think you actually call it casing) off of the sausage since my one-year-old would be eating it. I ended up slicing the sausage in circles and then peeling the casing off each circle of sausage, kind of like how you peel an apple. I couldn't help but wonder if there is a product out there on the market especially for peeling sausage casings. I'm sure there is.

It was worth it because my son loved the sausage. His six-year-old sister did too!

Parmesan Pasta with Turkey Sausage

Package of elbow macaroni
1/2 smoked sausage turkey link
1/2 can cream of mushroom soup
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese

Cook the macaroni according to package directions. While it's cooking, cut up the sausage and remove the casing. Drain macaroni and mix together with sausage, soup, seasonings, and Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle a little extra Parmesan cheese on top.

You can add more sausage and use a whole can of soup, but I was trying to conserve the soup and I was getting tired of peeling sausage!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Quick and Easy Parmesan Pasta with Chicken

Here's a good way to give the kids something hot to eat while your cabinets are pretty bare AND you're trying not to heat up the kitchen.

Quick and Easy Parmesan Pasta with Chicken

Can of chicken
Package of pasta
Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta (half a package to one can of chicken) according to package directions. While it's cooking open the can of chicken and drain. When the pasta is almost done, drain it and mix it with the chicken, butter, salt and pepper, and Parmesan cheese.

Top with extra Parmesan cheese.

This would be better with something to hold it together (preferably cream of mushroom soup or cream of chicken soup) but I didn't have any. It worked fine like this. My husband mixed some vinaigrette dressing up with his.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

She's on to something here

My niece thinks Parmesan cheese is a snack food all to itself. She saves the packages that come from the pizza place to nibble on and enjoy all by themselves.

We never really kept Parmesan cheese in the house until a friend came over and bought groceries to cook spaghetti. He got some Parmesan cheese, and left it for us to use. I've sprinkled it on the kids' food and had it some myself. I decided it was a good thing to have around.

The other night I was going to eat some macaroni and cheese that the kids' didn't like (if you ever think you should see how whipped salad dressing tastes in macaroni and cheese, don't) and I was looking for something to put on it. I was first hunting in the refrigerator for some ketchup and discovered a container of Parmesan cheese. I dumped a good bit of it on my macaroni and believe it or not, it actually made the less-than-pleasing dish quite eatable!

Needless to say I was surprised and decided my niece must be right about the Parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Back Porch Beans

Here's another take on back porch (or front porch or carport or just anywhere besides in the house) cooking!

Back Porch Beans

Brown beans
Meat (optional)

Rinse beans thoroughly and place in slow cooker with water and seasonings. (I used juice from my Back Porch Pot Roast along with some water in mine.) After a few hours, slice up an onion (and some frozen meat like a turkey leg) and place it in the pot, and plug the pot up outside. Cook on high for a few hours, until done.

Serve with crackers.

Enjoy your hot meal that didn't heat up the kitchen.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Back Porch Pot Roast

The pot roast and potatoes I cooked in the crock pot out on the back porch the other day was great!

We ate on it all weekend, and I kept the leftover juice to use for some beans.

I've given the recipe a name, and here it is!

Back Porch Pot Roast


Load your slow cooker up with the roast, seasonings, and onions. Plug it up out on the porch (rather than in the house) and cook on high for a few hours (or low for several hours). When it's almost done, peel several potatoes and cut them up in chunks. Place them in the slow cooker with the roast.

Enjoy your hot cooked meal and your nice cool kitchen!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Beating the heat!

It's been so hot lately and I haven't cooked (much) all week long. It's made a big difference in keeping the temperature of the house down but I'm ready for some cooked food. I'm sure the kids are too.

This morning I pulled a big roast (my husband got it for less than half price, I think, it was $5) out of the freezer, put it in the crock pot with some onions and seasonings, and plugged the crock pot up out on the back porch!

The pot is actually almost within reaching distance of where I am sitting right now and I can smell it.

After while I'm going to put some potatoes in it. We should be able to eat three meals from it. We had one of these roasts a couple of weeks ago and we ate on it for three meals. Delicious!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Easy Chicken Noodle Casserole

This recipe is very similar to some of the casseroles that I make. I want to try this version as soon as the temperature dips under 100!

Easy Chicken Noodle Casserole

2 chicken breasts, boiled, reserve water
1 1/2 cups spiral pasta
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can of sweet corn
Crushed potato chips

Boil chicken in about 3 cups of water until done, about 20 minutes. Remove chicken, add pasta to water. Cook for 7 minutes. Drain. Preheat oven to 350 degree. Shred the chicken. Add chicken and pasta to 9 x 13 baking dish. Stir in canned soups and drained corn and mix well. Smooth top of casserole and cover with crumbled potato chips. Bake for 30 minutes.