Friday, January 31, 2014

Chalkboard Menu for the Pantry Door

Look what my kids let me make this week? (ha. ha.) I meal plan every week. Now instead of having our menu for the week on a post-it on the fridge, I have this cute chalkboard sign to let the world know what we're eating. And it was easy - no stencil painting!

I simply bought a large framed chalkboard for $9.99 from Joann's and hot glued twine in the grid pattern (after measuring and marking even spaces, of course), then Mod Podged scrapbook letters for the title and days of the week.

And I love it. And I'm making dirty rice tonight - my husband's favorite.

Ground Beef in the Crock Pot?

Genius! A friend of mine mentioned it to me a while back and I thought it was so smart. I buy our ground beef in bulk from Costco and like to cook it all up then freeze it for later use. I do this so I don't have to deal with thawing raw meat, then cooking it, then turning it in to dinner, all in the same day. I prefer ease and efficiency when it comes to dinner time.

The only issue was that using one frying pan to cook up 6 lbs. of meat is time consuming, usually pretty messy, and sometimes rather difficult with a 1 and 2 year old tugging at my legs. So I decided to give my crock pot a whirl and I'll never go back.
Step 1: Put all the raw meat in the pot. Add fresh garlic, maybe some herbs and definitely a little Lawry's. (Don't worry about under seasoning. When you thaw the meat later on you can add more.) Cook on low for 4-5 hours.

Step 2: When the meat is fully cooked, strain it. Make sure you put a large mixing bowl under so all the grease isn't sent down the drain.

Step 3: Divide up in freezer bags and freeze. I usually put 2 lbs. in each bag.

When you take the meat out to use it for dinner simply add a little more seasoning to fit the meal. (Cumin and Chile seasoning for tacos, Monterey Seasoning for dirty rice, or simply add to dishes like chili or spaghetti sauce.) This will cut your cooking time by least!

This can also be done with chicken. Simply cook the chicken, shred it, divide it in bags and freeze it. Great for chicken salads, chicken tacos, enchiladas, chicken lasagna, soups...the list goes on and on.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lessons from a Crock Pot

I know I say it all the time but I love my crock pot. I use it so often I'm surprised it hasn't gone ka-put! But the crock has schooled me on more than one occasion. Sometimes I'm so excited for a meal and by the time it's dinner we're all completely disappointed by a sloppy, weird textured pile of food on our plate. I know recipes don't always turn out as pictured but come on! I've made some hideous entrees! Here are a few crock pot failures that I've learned from:

1. Never put noodles in a crock pot. Really. I've tried it many different ways and I never like it. The noodles don't cook evenly or cook too fast so they get overcooked or they cling to the side and burn (crunchy noodles...yum). I've come across many recipes saying to add the noodles right away or later in the cooking process or at the very end. Quite honestly, I never think it tastes as good as cooking it the old fashioned way in a boiling pot. This especially goes for tortellini or ravioli - they turn to mush every. time. Big disappointment.

2. Season with caution. We don't eat a lot of salt in our family. At least not regular salt, we prefer herbs and garlic with an occasional sprinkle of Lawry's. But table salt? No, we don't use that much at all. So when I found a recipe for ranch chicken tacos on Pinterest that called for 1 seasoning packet of ranch and 1 seasoning packet of taco seasoning, I was hesitant. Against my better judgment I added both. It wasn't necessarily gross but it was so incredibly salty that I was thirsty for a week. When using seasoning packets I recommend NEVER adding more than one. You can always add but you can't take away - lesson learned! Unfortunately we were entertaining for that meal...sorry friends!

3. Don't add veggies until the end. I like my vegetables to have some integrity. Every time I've let a meal cook with veggies the whole time, they become so overcooked you might as well call it a puree. If it's a frozen bag of veggies, wait until 30 minutes before it's done. If they're raw, wait until an hour is left. The only exception would be soups. Typically for soups it's okay to have them in there the whole time.

4. Don't cut your sweet potatoes too small. Sweet potatoes cook much faster than regular potatoes. If you cut the sweet potatoes too small, they over cook and start disintegrating in the meat juice or sauce. It makes the texture of everything a little weird and makes the meal look sloppy. We're big sweet potato fans in this family but they have to be done right.

5. Don't freeze your dumplings. I love chicken 'n dumplings. And I have a great recipe here. But guess what I learned the hard way? Biscuit dough does not cook well when it's been frozen with a soup mix. The texture is thick and dense and doughy. These are best added straight from the refrigerator. If you are determined to freeze your dumplings, try tortillas. Yep, you heard me! Cut up tortillas and put them in your soup. They make great dumplings. I learned this from a friend who visited family in the South - and them Southern folks know how to cook!

6. Cook your meat on low. I don't care if the recipe says 8 on low, 4 on high (even if I told you), meat is ALWAYS cooked best on low. When you cook meat on high, even in a crock pot, even with enough liquid, it is likely to dry out and taste pretty amateur. If you cook your meat on low (especially large cuts) it will much more likely blow your family's mind. 4 on high works best if the meat in the freezer meal is already cooked or if there isn't any meat at all (example: chilis, spaghetti sauces, soups).

Part of the joy of crock potting is having an easy meal you know your family is going to love. These are the lessons I've learned from my crock pot to make certain meals more loveable.

Comment and tell me what kind of failures you've had in your crock pot adventures - I always love feedback!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Crock Pot Meal of the Week: Two Step Crockpot Mango Salsa Chicken Enchiladas

As many of you know, I love my crock pot and I'm constantly experimenting with recipes in it. Sometimes they are complete failures. Other times they are the BOMB.COM. This week I made Mango Salsa Chicken Enchiladas and everybody had seconds (even my husband had thirds).

Here what you'll need:

1 cup Mango Salsa (we used the kind you get from Costco but any kind will do)
1/2 cup Medium Salsa
3 chicken breasts (seasoned with cumin and chile powder)
1 8 oz. package of cream cheese
1 cup corn and/or black beans

Cook in the crock pot on low for 6-7 hours. The chicken should easily shred/fall a part. That's how you know it's ready. Shred the chicken being sure to mix the salsa and cream cheese well.

Fill 8-10 tortillas with the filling, sprinkle a little cheese, roll them up and place in a 9x13 baking pan(preferably). Leave behind about a 1/4-1/2 c of sauce and pour on top of the rolled enchiladas. Add more sprinkle cheese (yes, I call it sprinkle cheese). Bake for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

This would also make a great freezer meal. Enjoy!