Archive | 2012

5 Reasons to Use Your Crock Pot More Often

Tags: How To Use Your Crock Pot, Slow Cooked Meals,

5 Reasons to Use Your Crock Pot More Often

Posted on 08 March 2012 by noelskitchen

The crock pot  is one kitchen appliance that I don’t think I could live without as a working mom outside of the home. The mission of this great appliance is to make your life easier and your meals tastier.  Today’s guest post is from Mariana Ashley. Mariana is giving us 5 Reasons To Use Your Crock Pot More Often. So come home to savor a great meal- and enjoy the extra time with your family because you didn’t have to cook.

Enjoy today’s post!

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If you cook often, you have probably already discovered the magic that is the slow cooker. Don’t have time to slave over a stove? Just throw it in! Need breakfast ready when you wake up? Let it cook over night! But, as handy as it is to use our slow cookers, it’s easy to brush the slow cooker aside and stick with our regular cooking routine. With a little planning, though your slow cooker can really be your kitchen savior. If you’ve forgotten what makes a crock pot so great, read on, and get going on some of those recipes you’ve been meaning to try today!

1.      Save Time

This is the most beautiful part of using a crock pot. When you use a slow cooker, the machine does all the work for you, and you are free to do other things. If you have some busy days ahead, plan to throw a meal in the slow cooker in the morning, cook it on low throughout the day, and enjoy a warm and delicious dinner when you get home. It’s also great for stay-home moms who need all the extra hands they can get throughout the day, but still want their loved ones to come home to a hot meal.

2.      Save Money

If you plan efficiently, using your slow cooker can cut your grocery bill significantly! You can buy less expensive meat, because the crock pot will naturally tenderize it while it slow cooks. You also save energy costs if you use a slow cooker frequently. It takes much less energy to leave a slow cooker on all day on low than it does to fire up a 350 degree oven. Slow cookers also allow you to use very simple ingredients and make them taste great. All the flavors will soak together during the cooking time, and you are left with a delicious meal for much less.

3.      It’s Healthier

As opposed to frying or baking, the slow cooker is a much healthier cooking option. Meats can simply cook down in their own sauce, and veggies cook in steam and liquid, rather than by frying or baking. You can also easily create healthy meals that would take more effort on a stove top, like soups, stews and oat meals.

4.      Easy Prep and Clean Up

One of the best things about using a slow cooker is the absolute lack of complicated prep and clean up. The most you may have to do is brown meat before you put it in the slow cooker, mix liquids in separate bowls, or chop veggies or other produce on a cutting board. Also, there are no pans to clean when it’s all done.

 5.      Big Portions in a Snap

If you need a large amount of food, but don’t have the time to create a huge feast on your own, you can use your slow cooker to make full meals for groups. You can fill it to feed groups of up to 15. Or cook for your family and have enough left over for a full second meal the next day.

Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to mariana.ashley031 @gmail.com.

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Chicken Stir Fry

Tags: , Main Dish, Rice, Stir Fry,

Chicken Stir Fry

Posted on 07 March 2012 by noelskitchen

This week I’m working on quick weeknight meals. I’m using ingredients that are right in my freezer, pantry and fridge. I’m adding a few new dishes to the week’s menu giving my family a variety of great tasting meals!

This meal idea came from a bulk purchase of ingredients from Costco of sweet red peppers, broccoli and chicken breasts. Once I got everything  home, I broke these ingredients down to meal size portions, place in zip-loc freezer bags and placed in the freezer. This worked out well for my meal prepping day and allows me to pull out from the freezer with ingredients already prepped to use when I need them for another meal.

A few changes to this meal:

  • Meat: use beef or pork instead of  chicken
  • Veggie Ideas: spinach, green peppers, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, baby corn, snow peas, zucchini, green onion
  • Sauce: any type of oriental sauce will do like Terryaki, Peanut Sauce, Sweet and Sour
  • Rice: This would be great over spaghetti or rice noodles, or even soba, whatever you have!

Chicken Stir Fry

Serves: 6

Ingredients:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 3 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth, plus 1/4 cup
  • 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 cups broccoli
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced carrots
  • 1 1/2 cup sweet red pepper, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar

Directions:

  1. Place the chicken pieces in a medium bowl.  Drizzle lightly with soy sauce and sesame oil. Add chicken broth. Set aside.
  2. Have all of the vegetables cut up and ready to be added as you cook. (very important step in stir fry)  In a small prep bowl, combine 1/2 cup soy sauce with 3 tablespoons brown sugar.  Stir well and set aside.
  3. Heat a skillet or wok over high heat.  When it is heated, add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.  Add the chicken to the skillet and fry quickly, stirring around for 2-3 minutes.  When brown and just cooked through, remove to a separate bowl with a slotted spoon.  Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to the skillet.  Add onions and cook for 1 minute.  Add red pepper and cook for 30 seconds.  Add garlic and stir well.  Add the carrots, stir well, and cook for 45 seconds.  Add the broccoli, stir well and cook for 45 seconds.
  4. Pour in the 1/4 cup chicken broth and soy sauce mixture.  Add in 1 teaspoon rice vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil.  Return the cooked chicken to the skillet and stir.  Add the soy sauce/brown sugar mixture. Stir together, then turn off heat.  Sauce should become thicker. Serve over cooked rice.

 

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Tags: , ,

Week 6 of the Just In Time Family Meal Planning Challenge

Posted on 05 March 2012 by noelskitchen

Planning a weekly menu helps you make the most of what you already have and serves your family delicious meals without spending a lot of money.

Need ideas for your weekly meal plan? This week, for my Just In Time Family Meal Planning Challenge, I’m sharing easy meals created from what’s already on hand in my freezer and pantry.

Weekly Meal Plan

This week, I’m replenishing my freezer with more make-ahead meals. Yesterday, my day started with:

To Do List:

  • Homemade Pizza Dough-4 balls
  • Chicken Enchiladas
  • Baked Ziti
  • White Bean Chicken Chili
  • Hamburger Patties
  • Scones
  • Banana Muffins
  • Cranberry Oatmeal; Chocolate Chip Cookies

The Weekly Meal Plan:

Monday: Chicken Stir Fry 

Tuesday: Just Plain Good Hamburgers 

Wednesday: Spicy Pork Tacos

Thursday: Spaghetti Carbonara

Friday: Grilled Chicken Quesdadillas

Saturday: Spicy Meatball Hoagies

Plan Your Meal By What’s On Sale!

As you’re writing out your weekly meal plan, remember that there are some items that are always going to be on sale at the grocery store. This month, college basketball’s March Madness, so there’s going to be lots of great deals on classic ballgame-watching foods–chips, dips, veggies, cold cuts for sandwiches, and ground beef.

Seasonal fruits and veggies items on sale: fresh strawberries, naval oranges, limes, lemons, cuties (kids love these!), avocadosasparagus, broccoli, green peppers and cucumbers .

Remember to keep an eye out for those extra coupons this week in your local grocery store ad on Wednesday.

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Tags: Freezer Cooking Tips,

Find Magic With a Little Help From Your Freezer: Guest Post

Posted on 05 March 2012 by noelskitchen

Having a well-organized freezer, is essential when it comes to meal planning. Keeping your freezer clean and organized can help you keep track of what you have and use it in a timely manner, avoiding unnecessary food waste.

 

Today’s guest post is from Ana Brady. Ana shares tips on how we all can organize our freezer to save time and money.

Enjoy today’s post!

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Before I moved in with my husband I hardly ever used the freezer. Now the freezer is my new best friend and it can do magic. Ever since I gave in to advice from many sources and started freezing food, I started noticing how I’m spending less money on food, and more time with my kids.

Whenever I cook meals (usually on weekends), I make large quantities and freeze meals for the week to come. It’s maybe a bit more of a hassle on weekends, but it definitely pays off on work days. My freezer is now packed with freezer bags filled with chopped up ingredients, or ready-made meals. No more junk food for me.

In order for this to work, though, you really need to have a clean and organized freezer.
Throwing away food from a messy freezer where no food is labeled and you never know what’s edible will NOT contribute to saving your budget.

Here are a few tips on how to organize your freezer a little better:

8 Great Tips on Freezing Food and Saving Time/Money

  1. If you’re completely reorganizing your freezer, you should clean it first. Take out everything, throw away food with an unknown “best before” date (hopefully you’re throwing away food for the last time), turn off the freezer and clean it. When you’re done, turn it on again and make sure it’s set to 0°F. This is very important.
  2.  Separate your freezer into sections where you’ll keep different kinds of food. For example, left is for meat, right is for vegetables, door pocket for ice-cream… Whatever makes the most sense to you.
  3. Groceries and cooked meals should all be kept in waterproof food packages – plastic bags, containers, aluminum foil, etc.
  4. Watch out for freezer burns. If there’s any air left inside the food packaging, it dehydrates the food and makes it inedible. If you don’t want to waste food, make sure you package your food well and avoid freezer burns
  5. Once you defrost food, you should not freeze it again. That’s why it’s smart not to pack food in large quantities, but in smaller packagings. The best way to do this is to pack one serving size in one bag/container. Ice cube containers are also a good way to freeze small quantities of food (for example, baby food). Once frozen, ice cubes can be placed inside a plastic bag.
  6.  Labeling food plays a major role in not letting food go to waste. Use strong freezer labels for your food packaging, and neatly note what is inside of it. Write down the date you bought or prepared the food, and the date it is best used by. That way you’ll always know what you’re dealing with in your freezer.
  7. Whatever food can be pressed, that’s the way to keep it inside the freezer, so as not to take up too much space. That’s very valuable when you have many bags and containers in the freezer, like I do.
  8. The right way to thaw food is to take it out of the freezer the day before you want to use it, and put it in the fridge. Defrosting in the fridge, it thaws evenly and keeps all its nutrients, moisture, etc. If you forgot to do it the night before, one more acceptable solution is to thaw your meal in cold water, but don’t take it out of the secure food packaging.

When you realize how easy it is to whip up a healthy meal quickly, using what you have in the freezer, you’ll be better equipped to lay off junk food.

About the author:

Ana Brady is a full time mom and writer. She works with a group of designers on a project on food packaging labels, and she spends time writing about nutrition, family, healthy living, and other fun stuff.

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What’s For Dinner: Home Style Macaroni and Cheese

Tags: , ,

What’s For Dinner: Home Style Macaroni and Cheese

Posted on 02 March 2012 by noelskitchen

Tonight’s Family Meal Plan idea is Home Style Macaroni and Cheese served with Sun-Dried Tomato Sausage. The ultimate kids’ favorite and a life-saving dinner dish for parents. Our children prefer this home style version macaroni and cheese to the store bought box version. It’s creamy, cheesy and a fast and easy casserole dish! Here are some ways to create Macaroni and Cheese at home:

  • Add 1 cup of chopped fresh, ripe tomatoes
  • Add 1 cup of Make-Ahead Ground Beef seasoned with a little salt and pepper.
  • Spoon the macaroni and cheese into a serving bowl and top with strips of grilled sausage.

Need a little meal planning inspiration? Check out my Recipe Index which is updated daily with new recipes that include a grocery shopping list!

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Are you wondering what to make for dinner tonight for your family? You’ll love my easy, make-ahead and money-saving recipes on what to cook your family for dinner! You are encouraged to not only list your dinner plans below, but to request ideas, make suggestions and of course add your favorite recipes!

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