Friday, March 29, 2013

Crockpot Chicken & Weekend Plans

So, since the time change took effect, the morning sun has become quite the prankster around 10am. Right about this time it shines through one of the skylights at my office building onto my work station. Today, in acknowledgment of the nice spring day we’re supposed to have, I wore a low cut bright purple shirt. Now it’s like a sign from God is pointing right at my boobs. I regret my fashion choice. 

Anyway, it’s Friday! YAY! Happiest day of the week! I am personally thrilled about getting this weekend started for many a reason. #1, I have softball practice and it’s actually going to be decent outside! #2, I get my hair cut tomorrow! #3, Tomorrow is grocery shopping day! (I know, I’m weird) #4, Tomorrow I get to try a new red velvet cupcake recipe and send it with my hubbster to his game night! #5, Tomorrow is game night! That means Milo and I get mommy/baby time…something I look forward to all week long.  

Back when he was teeny & we had all the time in the world.

And I have an extra special project for Milo and mommy Sunday afternoon! Milo gets to help mommy make Easter cookies! Milo and I have tried cooking together before. Around Christmas he helped me make sugar cookies. He did pretty well, but he was still pretty fuzzy on following instructions. He has grown up so much since then that I think he’ll be able to actually help out with the stirring, rolling and cutting. Plus, he loves to cook with his little pots and pans…this should be a great experience for him. I even have a new cookie cutter in the shape of a bunny! He’ll love it. I will be sure to post pictures. 

This was about all the help I got at Christmas.
 Anyhoo...I'm not doing anything overly special for Easter this weekend. I don't have the $$ to go see my family in Des Moines :( and no one has the $$ to come see us unfortunately. So, it'll just be me, daddy and Milo hunting for eggs and cooking whatever the heck we want (pesto ravioli) on Sunday! And that's still pretty darn good. However, I was feeling a little "out of the holiday spirit" this week, so I decided I would cook something big and fancy-ish anyway. It wasn't a ham, but it was still really dang tasty! 

Yeah, baby.
That my friends is a whole fryer chicken, stuffed & thrown in a crockpot on a comfy bed of foil. Is that an orange piece you see in there? Why yes, yes it is. Normally what you'll see gracing the inside cavity of a fryer chicken would be lemon, but I was out. I think I ought to be applauded for not panicking of crying. Nope! Instead I grabbed an orange, thought to myself Why the hell not? and trudged forward bravely. I happened to have some fresh dill & thyme, so I threw that in there as well along with some liberal salt and pepper inside and out. 

Not exactly a beautiful shot, but hey, I did the work so someone besides me has to observe.

Now, I know that lots of people are afraid of cooking/handling/dressing a whole bird. To these folks I say: More for me

I can't for the life of me get this picture the right way up, but I didn't want you to miss it.

Not really. Though seriously, you need to suck it up. This is the easiest method you can find. No stuffing the chicken with a beer can and propping it up on some weird wire looking contraption. No checking internal temp every five seconds to make sure the sucker is done in the oven. No basting. NOTHING. Here are your instructions:

1) Unpack your chicken in the sink, check the interior for giblets (make gravy if you want or just throw them away) and rinse that puppy off well inside and out. Pat dry.

2) Lay your chicken breast side up on a cookie sheet with an edge to keep juices from going all over. Wash your hands, and go choose your stuffing. If you plan on eating the skin, douse it with your favorite spices. If not, pull the skin back a little on the breast and sprinkle some salt and pepper on the breast and inside the cavity for a little more flavor. Then stuff that puppy full! I recommend either a full lemon or orange and a few sprigs of your favorite spice. Then get under that breast skin again and stuff some orange slices and more spices in there. 

Packed as tight as it can get!

3) Get out your crockpot. Get out some foil. Now, create a foil "sling" for your chicken. Take two long sheets of foil and lay them on top of each other to create a double layer. Set your chicken right in the middle. Now, use half of an orange, lemon, onion, or a big ball of foil and place it right in the middle of your crock pot. This and the sling will keep your chicken from touching the bottom of your crock and burning. Easy! Now, take your sling filled with chicken to the crockpot and nestle it down in there. 

4) Fold the excess foil over the side of your crock pot. Crank your crockpot on to either high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours and let it go! Don't even think about it again until dinner! When it comes out, use the foil sling to get the bird to your carving surface because that puppy will be so tender it may loose some pieces if you try to lift it off the sling.


Mmm...chicken & roasted veggies. Nothing better at the end of a long day.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lemons. For God's Sake, Lemons!

.39 cent lemons at HyVee this week according to the ad. *shudder* You can't tell just looking at your screen, but that was definitely a shudder of pleasure. I flipping LOVE lemons. They are so versatile (use them for cleaning!), delicious and they smell like what I hope heaven smells like. Really, any citrus fruit tends to trip my trigger, but lemons in particular. And next week, I'll be using a ridiculous amount in my dinner menu. Orange chicken, pineapple chicken stir fry, citrus and herb stuffed Cornish game hens... I'm going to be in hog heaven.

Last weekend, the citrus drive was hitting me hard. Milo had gone into his room for some quiet time (he likes to sit and "read" through his books), so I started browsing my Pinterest page in earnest. Almost at the bottom of my Breaking the Fast board, I found the solution to my problem : Lemon Baked Mini Donuts. Now, I haven't spent much time exploring Mrs. Schwartz's blog, but if her other recipes are as good as this, you can bet they'll be featured on here again! Like a crazy person, I started flying through my cupboards to see if I had all ingredients on hand... CHECK! So I began.

First, I put all my wet ingredients into my mixing bowl.

See that lemon zest in there? YUM.
Then I threw my dry ingredients together...

Boring, I know. Let's get to the fun stuff!

Then I combined them. By the way, taking this picture wasn't easy...

That is a HEAVY ceramic bowl.

Time to MIX!

The smell was fantastic.
Now, herein lies my perpetual donut dilemma. I do not own a donut making device. No pan, no machine, nothing. So, what's a gal to do? The batter was plenty thick by the time I was done, so I thought to myself -

Self, I think we can get away with piping this dough onto a cookie sheet in the shape of a donut. We'll leave some room for expansion and resign ourselves that it may not be pretty, but it'll darn sure be tasty. Okay? Okay. 

Yes, that's exactly how that went in my head. So! I used one of my biscuit cutters as a circle guide and piped them out.

I really need to invest in a donut pan.
Um...okay. Yes. They look like something your dog would leave on the front lawn, but I was able to get past that because of the way they filled my kitchen with the magical scent of lemon. Oven time!

At this point, Milo was done with his quiet time and wanted to know what the heck I was doing out in the kitchen without him. He wants to help! So, the first thing he did was toddle over to the oven to see what was going on. Once the contents met with his approval he ran over to the pan cupboard and brought out 3 different pans and started reaching his tiny fingers up for his "ingredients." At this point I handed him some minced onion, garlic powder, salt and pepper and a spoon. He proceeded to shake the spices into the pan and stir them around while going, "Sssssss," like mommy's pans do when she stirs things.

Sauteed cheerios... nothing better!

While Milo cooked, mommy made the lemon glaze. There are no pictures of this step because I was constantly rotating Milo's ingredients to keep him happy. Both hands were definitely full. Anyhoo... since I was so busy, I didn't bother to check on the donuts until my timer went off. There is also no picture of them coming out of the oven because I was holding Milo off with one leg and pulling them out of the oven with both hands. Again, hands definitely full. However, here they are after I glazed them!

I know. I know. Donut pan. Shut up.
Okay, so yes, they spread out more than I thought they would. Yes, I need to invest in a donut pan. All this is acknowledged.

But guess what? Shape aside, these things were AWESOME. The donuts themselves were light and fluffy, definitely not a cake donut consistency. Surprisingly, without the glaze, they weren't that sweet and didn't scream lemon at me. Oh, you could taste the lemon don't get me wrong, but in my heightened state of citrus need, I expected a slap of lemon across my taste buds! This was much more subtle. Then I dipped them in the glaze. HOLY LEMON PUNCH, BATMAN! The glaze sealed the deal for me. Milo devoured one almost immediately and shuffled off to start his hour long sugar high. Mommy may have had two. Or four. Who's counting?

Baked Lemon Mini Donuts

For the donuts:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
6 oz lemon yogurt (I used one container of Chobani lemon and it was perfect)
1/3 cup of milk
1/3 cup canola oil
zest of 1 lemon
For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the donut maker or oven to 325.

In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Whisk until incorporated.  Set aside.

In a different bowl, combine the egg, lemon yogurt, milk, oil and lemon zest.  Stir until combined.  Add the dry ingredients and whisk until no longer lumpy.

Spray the donut maker or donut pan.  In a donut maker it will take about 3-4 minutes to bake.  If baking in the oven and using a mini muffin pan bake for about 5 minutes but I can't guarantee this since I haven't tried it.  If using a regular sized donut pan, bake for 10-12 minutes. If you're like me and don't have any of this, just keep an eye on them. Once the bottoms turn just a little brown, take them out!

While the donuts bake, combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice.  Stir until combined.

When the donuts are fully cooked, remove them from the maker/pan and place on a wire rack.  After they are almost all the way cooled, dunk in the glaze and place back on the rack to drip dry.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Teriyaki Meatball Bowls & Old Man Winter

For the life of me, I will never understand people who enjoy snow. I get that it's pretty. Very pretty. Especially when viewed from my love seat with a steaming cup of cocoa in my hands and no reason to leave the house. Then I get my heating bill a week later and decide that snow isn't so hot. Haha.'s been a long morning already.

Mom, what the heck did you do???

In any case, winter is now in it's death throws here in Kansas. You can tell from the way little shoots of green stubbornly poke their way through the face of the frozen landscape and hang on despite another 3 inches of snow. It was 19 degrees on the way to work this's supposed to be 65 in 3 days. Can we do it? I certainly hope so! I have softball practice on Saturday!

When this clinging MidWest winter crap happens, I feel the need to defy it through action and word. Here is the word. DEFY! Action... well... I can kick the snow, but that only leaves me with cold & wet feet. So, instead of making stews and soups (I refuse to entertain the idea of a continued winter!!), I bust out my husband's favorite recipe. Teriyaki Meatball Bowls. So satisfying, filling, delicious, AND totally freezable so I can make it ahead of time. This recipe came to me from Beth at Budget Bytes. I could rave about Beth and her food all day, but suffice to say that the woman rocks my socks off. Her food is tasty, easy and won't knock a major dent in your budget. Hence the name : Budget Bytes.


My hubby mentions this recipe anytime I ask him what he wants for dinner over the next few weeks. And why not? It's as simple as making meatballs and throwing some sauce on them over rice! The homemade teriyaki glaze is sweet and thick, coating the meat with just the right amount of tang. And totally easy to make! You know those bottles of teriyaki you pick up at the grocery store for a few bucks? This stuff has that beat to the ground, and I bet you have most or all of the ingredients in your kitchen right now.

While Milo naps on Saturday, I will whip up the meatballs and pop them in the freezer on a cookie sheet to harden. Once they do, I will dump them all into a gallon zip top baggie. This way on Tuesday when we get home from work and daycare, all I have to do is warm up the oven and pop them in. While they cook up I mix up the easy peasy sauce and throw some rice in the rice cooker. 30 minutes later we have dinner plus leftovers for lunch the next day! And Milo LOVES these things. The meatballs are soft enough that he can chew them to death with his 9 teeth. Sometimes I even make tiny little Milo meatballs just for him. Can you tell I'm in love with my son? He's my most honest food critic. If the toddler will eat it, it's worth posting about :) Anyway, without further ado, here is the recipe! All credit goes to Beth at Budget Bytes.


1 lb. ground turkey (Beth calls for ground pork, but turkey is cheaper around here)
1 large egg
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
1 clove garlic, minced
2 inches of fresh ginger
1/2 tsp soy sauce (I use reduced sodium)
2 whole green onions
1/4 tsp black pepper

Teriyaki Glaze

1/2 cup soy sauce (I use reduced sodium)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 TBSP sesame oil (I use whatever I have on hand, like veggie oil)
1 TBSP rice vinegar
2 inches of fresh ginger
2 TBSP corn starch
1 TBSP sesame seeds

Don't forget to get yourself some rice! Just use about 2 cups and cook it according to package directions.

1) Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Chop up your green onions & peel and grate your ginger. Grate your ginger over the bowl so you catch all the juice! YUM! Take all the meatball ingredients, dump them in a bowl and mush them all together with clean hands. Do this until it's all evenly combined.

2) Bust out a cookie sheet and cover it with foil. Roll your meat mixture into little balls (no bigger than a golf ball) and place them on your sheet. Bake for 35 minutes until golden brown. If you freeze them and cook them like I do, add 5 minutes to your baking time to make sure they get completely done.

3) Now, get your rice going according to the package. Let it rest off the heat once done. Cover it with a lid so it stays warm.

4) Time to prep your glaze. Grate your ginger into a nice big pot (it has to hold all your meatballs) and add all your sauce components except the corn starch and sesame seeds. Heat over a low flame until the brown sugar is dissolved.

5) Stir just enough cold water into your corn starch to make it pourable and stir it into the glaze mix. Turn the heat up to medium high until your mixture starts to bubble a little. This will make your glaze thicken up. Now, add the sesame seeds and turn off the burner.

6) Once your meatballs are done, throw them into the pot with the glaze and use a big spoon to stir them around until they are well coated with the glaze. Plate up some rice in a bowl and put 4 or 5 meatballs on top, adding some chopped green onion if you choose. Throw an extra TBSP of glaze on top for flavor and GO TO TOWN!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My Grocery Method

So, yes, I am a crazy obsessive compulsive list making freakazoid who gets special tingles every two weeks when I get to compile my menu and grocery list. This may sound weird, and it totally is. But you know what? This crazy bug has saved me a BUNDLE of money on my grocery bills. If I cut out a few of the luxury items we buy (mama's gotta have her green grapes & daddy has to have his bagels!) we would probably be down to a monthly grocery haul of $200. I don't generally ask what other people spend on groceries, but according to the internet that seems to be well below average! YAY!

How do I do this exactly? Step 1, plan out each meal. Step 2, use excel & list out each ingredient in each meal. Step 3, price it out and determine which store has the best deals on each item (I usually wait until the Wednesday ads come out for this step). Step 4, go through your kitchen and see what you already have. Step 5, shop & stick to that damn list!

It's hard! I know! Especially when you have kids. Milo recognizes his favorite foods in the store now (bananas, cereal, cheese) and will point them out and make a fuss unless you grab them. ALL of them. He doesn't understand that bananas aren't always on sale, or that mommy doesn't have a coupon for his cereal this week. You just have to muscle through and stick to your list. It helps to not shop hungry or with kids. If you can manage that, you should be okay.

Here is a picture of my obsessive compulsive crazy grocery list...

I know, I know, I'm nuts. Go ahead, take your shots. But look at that glorious total! This is my rough draft list before I go home and root out things that I already have. I know I have maybe 10-15% of this stuff at home. That puts me down to $119. Also, this week happens to see me at the end of my homemade laundry soap, so that's another $9 of stuff that I don't normally have to buy (my soap lasts me half a year or more). So, I will actually be looking at something more like $110 for everything all told. And from my list you can see that we don't eat Ramen & beans every night. Here is my menu for the next two weeks...

Saturday : Baked Mini Shells with Pork Sugo

Picture credit goes to

Sunday : Ravioli Pesto Bunnies (adapted from Ravioli Pesto Hearts
Monday : Creamy Mac n Cheese
Tuesday : Orange Chicken with Broccoli & Carrot Orzo

Picture credit goes to

Wednesday : Pineapple Chicken Teriyaki Stir Fry
Thursday : Spaghetti with Pizza Sauce

Picture credit goes to

Friday : Breakfast for Dinner
Saturday : Citrus & Herb Stuffed Cornish Game Hens with Wintery Mashed Potatoes

Picture credit goes to

Sunday : Cauliflower Crust Pepperoni Pizza
Monday : Chicken Cheese Orzo

Picture credit goes to

Tuesday : Drunken Italian Noodles

Picture credit goes to

Wednesday : Moroccan Style Braised Chicken with Roasted Veggies
Thursday : Leftover/Ramen Night

That's how we roll in my house! You'll see that I don't include breakfast at all or lunch during the week. Breakfast invariably ends up being toast on the way to work, or I whip up a big batch of pancakes to throw in the freezer to grab on the go. Lunch should only consist of leftovers. I make a double batch of nearly everything so this is possible. This way we aren't spending money on Burger King each week and I know that what my husband and I are eating is as healthy as I can make it. Milo eats at daycare.

This is my method! I wanted to make this clear before I started in on my recipe reviews and other nonsense. I wanted it to be clear that I'm not fooling around. I don't use super expensive ingredients, I coupon clip and I want the best nutrition and taste for my little family. As I expand my cooking & clipping skills, I want to share. I want to share because I was never taught how to watch my money when it came to groceries, so I learned the hard way... by spending money I didn't have!! Not good!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Monthly Groceries: $210

I love to eat. There is nothing more satisfying than to sit down with a big bowl/plate of something delicious and shovel the lot in my mouth. Right behind this is the joy I get watching my son & husband devour whatever concoction I've just pulled off the stove. The little mmms & clinking sounds of silverware are all I need to hear to know I've done a good job.

Of course, there is a kink in this elation. Most of it is headed right to my hips (why can't food land in my chest where I could use the boost??) or my stomach, resulting in extra rounds on the Wii Fit & a visit to my more harsh Zumba instructor. Ugh.

Despite this kink, I continue to spend hours every weekend cooking and preparing for my week so I don't have to do very much when I get home with my boys in tow. About 6 months ago, I realized that we had hit a cooking rut. Our menu was on a 2-3 week loop! With my son fresh into toddler-hood and a new & very BIG interest in solid chunks of food, I decided that had to stop.


Pinterest. Oh my lawdy, Pinterest. New meals galore! Easily stored at the click of a mouse for later perusal and trial. Which I did...until my grocery bill tried to spiral out of my control. I was serving up new and (mostly) delicious meals to my little family, but my meals were disjointed, not well planned and costing me a bundle. Like most families, we work in the confines of a very strict student loan bogged budget. Time to rethink, and attack from a place of strength.

For three months, I obsessively followed a single food blog called Budget Bytes. Beth is a genius with food & is such a food penny pincher it makes my OCD glands quiver with delight. Yes, that was a compliment. Gradually, I watched my grocery bill shrink and my recipe staples grow. I like to think of this as the time of much learning & dish washing.

Finally, after months of trial and error, followed by months of doing it the Budget Bytes way, I believe I am ready to strike out on my own again and find yet MORE recipes to try. There will be pictures, recipes and tales of the good, the bad, and the horrendously ugly. But this time, I will plan better, cook efficiently & spend less.