Meal Planning Made Easy

When it comes to meal plans, I’ve done it all.

Before we had kids, and especially when Hubs and I were first married, I created all kinds of new-fangled dishes (even trying to be creative with stale chips when we were broke) and followed recipes for no other reason than to make an impression.

I was all about making sure Hubs had the cooking-est wife on the planet.

Then something happened after we had children. You can only have cereal and frozen waffles for dinner so many times before it stops being an “occurrence” and becomes a lifestyle. Continue reading “Meal Planning Made Easy”

A Plumpin’ Pumpkin Pie

I don’t know what’s happening in the universe, where I would publish three kitchen-based blog posts in a row, but we’re going to roll with it.

I mentioned in this other post how Dad bakes pumpkin pies from actual pumpkins, and I was always super impressed by that. Then I started doing it myself, the first time being mostly unsuccessful, though I’ve only gotten better since.

I remember when Mom gave me her cookbook that had Dad’s super-secret pie recipe in it. Dad wasn’t all that thrilled Mom gave me the book, and had to make sure he had a copy of his beloved pie recipe. Continue reading “A Plumpin’ Pumpkin Pie”

The Recipe Your Family Will Fight You For (Apple Pie)

Earlier this week I posted about all the awesome pie productivity I had, and mentioned recipes were forthcoming.

I then realized Thanksgiving is ONE WEEK AWAY. After I recovered from my mini-anxiety attack (just kidding. Kind of.) I thought I should probably post the recipe in case any of you would like to prepare this as part of your holiday dessert, and quickly become the favorite member of the family.

Just sayin. Continue reading “The Recipe Your Family Will Fight You For (Apple Pie)”

Weekend A La Mode

a la mode weekend

Let me start by saying this weekend went nothing – n o t h i n g – like I had planned it.

I was supposed to go to a Mom’s event Saturday morning, have company over Saturday evening, go to church and then go shopping Sunday. None of that happened.

We (as in the whole family) came down with a coughing bug, and basically any time I speak, think about speaking, or blink my right eye, I go into a coughing fit. It’s the absolute worst in the mornings after I’ve been laying down all night, and it takes several hours for my lungs to calm the heck down. Continue reading “Weekend A La Mode”

Why I Stopped Eating Pork (once upon a time)

A while back, I sent a survey to my subscribers (that sounds so official) asking what they’d be interested in learning about me. I put in one answer just to take up space, knowing no one would take it seriously or give it a second thought.

Except I think every person who answered the survey checked that answer.

I don’t know why I didn’t think anyone would pick it. Then again I’m not sure why I chose that as my space-saver topic to make the quiz look meatier, as it were… Continue reading “Why I Stopped Eating Pork (once upon a time)”

The Best Wednesday Of My Kitchen’s Life

I’m not sure what you were doing last Wednesday night at 8:45, but I was rolling around on the floor in absolute awe and amazement.

Nothing freaky-deaky. Here’s what happened…

I was working away on my computer when I thought I should grab myself a glass of water. I turned around (my “office” is in a corner of our hallway, three feet from our kitchen) and caught a glimpse of our fridge.

“UGH. That’s so disgusting.” said Ma Val.

Handprints. Watermarks. Smears. Smudges. Dirt. Filth.

We, like so many modern Americans, have stainless steel appliances. I, like many frustrated housewives, have struggled to find a way to clean it and get it mark-free without the use of chemical cleaners. Norwex and water wasn’t cutting it. Shaklee cleaner wasn’t cutting it. Spit and elbow grease (calm down, I never spit on it) wasn’t cutting it.

NOTHING COULD GET RID OF THE YUCK.

I turned to my most trusted advisor for a solution: Google.

That’s when I came across this blog post that changed my life.

“Val, don’t be so dramatic. Cleaning doesn’t change your life.” Wrong. I love you, but you’re wrong.

When there is physical mess and clutter, I suffer from tremendous mental mess and clutter. I cannot think clearly or function properly in the midst of mess. The fridge smears were so distracting, I could not even quench my thirst and get a glass of water. I had to act right then, or lose sleep.

I grabbed one of Brent’s old t-shirts from under the sink, grabbed our gigantic bottle of vinegar (Thanks, Costco), and grabbed our bottle of olive oil.

I started with the dishwasher. The dishwasher has always bothered me, as it is always streaked with water stains. I followed directions and wiped (with the “grain”) using the vinegar first. Minimal change, but it made me feel productive, at least. There was some dirt on the t-shirt, so I knew it was doing something.

Secondly, I took a tiny bit of oil and started to buff the grain.

Oh.

My.

Word.

I had a brand new dishwasher. No joke, it SHONE. I heard the angel chorus. I started hollering to Hubs. “Look at this! Look!” In his ever-enthusiastic usual reply, he uttered, “Huh.”

I scooted over to the oven and shrieked in delight as I turned it into a brand new appliance. “This is unbelievable!” I may or may not have done a celebratory dance while sitting in the middle of the kitchen.

Then, I moved on to the real test. The filthy, disgusting fridge.

You guys.

In less than 20 minutes from the time I started scrubbing on the dishwasher, I had a sparkling kitchen and there was not ONE SINGLE grimy fingerprint on my refrigerator. I spun around from appliance to appliance marveling at the sheen. The shine. The shimmer.

I got my glass of water, but not before feeling one of the most incredible senses of accomplishment in my life.

Let me be clear: cleaning the kitchen is not my favorite thing. Not even close. That said, I’m really looking forward to being able to clean my stainless steel appliances again. Granted, these aren’t ~my~ appliances, because #littleapartmentontheprairie, but won’t management be pleasantly surprised when we move out (please, Jesus, now) and they think they have brand new appliances in the kitchen we’ve used for the last way-too-long-time-period!

I know you’re chomping at the bit to try this yourself, so I’ll wrap up. But remember this: if your bit is also stainless steel, now you know how to clean it without chemicals.

God bless vinegar and oil. Great on leafy greens, better on stainless steel appliances!

What’s Cooking?

I did something I haven’t done in ages.

It’s been so long, in fact, when I started doing it again I thought I might wither and die from the stress and strain.

My head was spinning, my breathing was labored, and by the end of it all I was pretty worn out.

I created… (drumroll) …a menu.

Hubs had made a Costco run to get our first stash of food for the month, and came home with the biggest pork loin I’ve seen in my life. I’m pretty sure it came from some unknown breed of dachshund pig, for how long it was. There were other groceries as well, but they weren’t near as impressive as the giant slab of meat.

Looking at my countertop covered with fresh bounty, I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility. How could I be entirely responsible, efficient, and effective, with all this food? We’re battening down the hatches with regards to our budget, so keeping a strict reign on our groceries is imperative.

“I know,” I thought. “I’ll make a menu to get us through the next couple of weeks, working around the food we’ve got on hand.”

Brilliant! … Right?

Probably, yes. But also very time consuming. And requiring my brain to function at full-capacity at the end of the day. Brilliant, but dangerous.

I sat down and started to make a list of everything I knew we had on-hand. My initial mistake was thinking we didn’t have much. When I started making a list of all the meat we had (including a pork loin as big as Little Man), the list kept growing. And growing. And growing.

We have so much meat.

It turns out, though I’ve spoken against it for so long, I was approaching my food with a scarcity mindset. Though we had cupboards, freezers, and a fridge full of food, I always told myself we “didn’t have anything to eat”. I’d think of something I wanted to eat, we’d make another run to the store for that meal’s ingredients, and each month we were spending inordinate amounts of money on inordinate amounts of food, and all the while I was thinking we didn’t have any, didn’t have enough, or needed different foods from what we had.

I was wasting my time, wasting my family’s resources, and blowing beyond our budget.

With a list in hand of what we currently had in stock, I started writing down meals I wanted to eat and knew I could make. Before I knew it, I had 10-days worth of dinners planned out.

Since school started last August, my daily routine has been something like this: Around 3:30, I think to myself, “Oh crap. What are we going to have for dinner tonight?” I walk to the kitchen, open a cupboard, and stare. This staring lasts for several minutes. I then close the cupboard and message my husband something like, “Anything in mind for dinner tonight?” to which he rarely provides a helpful answer. By 4:00 I’m in crunch-mode to get something thrown together so we can all eat a hot meal once he gets home from work.

It’s a stressful routine. Most often, we end up having only a main dish with no sides, because I haven’t thought that far ahead in my panic to put food on the table that night.

Hubs has been suggesting for a while we go back to planning a menu, to which I always scoffed in reply. I always manage to get dinner on the table one way or another. I don’t need anyone telling me what to cook my family! Except, I absolutely need someone telling me what to cook my family.

We used to subscribe to a menu service which provided the week’s menu and the accompanying shopping list. Some meals were hits. Some were total disasters. It did save us money each month, though, only buying what we needed for the planned menus.

I had a fresh Costco haul before me, though, with half the month’s budget spent, so I needed to get creative in a hurry. It was an exhausting process, but when I was done, I felt powerful! Capable! Superhuman!

Yesterday was the first day of putting my menu to use. I had dinner ready by 9:10 a.m. God bless the crock pot. We had beef roast, carrots, potatoes, and mushroom gravy. It was delicious. It wasn’t the least bit stressful. We polished our plates in no time.

For the next several days, dinner will be so much simpler. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

Too Many Leftover Mashed Potatoes?

One of my favorite coffee shops in town gives you a little donut on top of your cup when you order a hot coffee. One day (soon… I can feel it!) when the Lord moves us out into the middle of nowhere (and manages to provide high speed internet, I feel that, too!) , I won’t be able to make the trek to my coffee shop for coffee and donuts.

But that’s okay. I have a Nespresso Virtuoline coffee maker, and it has changed my coffee world for the better. And now? Well you’re not going to believe this, but I’ve found another reason to love the internet. I made donuts.

From leftover mashed potatoes.

mashed potatoes

Yep. I’m sitting here at my keyboard, getting all kinds of sugar granules in the keyboard as I sip my Nespresso (Melozio is my favorite blend) and shove my face full of donuts.

On Thanksgiving day, I asked my husband, “How many leftover mashed potatoes do you want?” to which he replied “Not many.” I set aside, then peeled the amount I would need. Then I forgot about those, and peeled and diced other potatoes. Then I found the ones I had already peeled.

We ended up with a ridiculous supply of leftover mashed potatoes.

After two meals with them, and using them in a leftovers-version shepherd’s pie, we still had an entire large bowl.

“Now what?”

Times like this are when the internet really comes through for me, and I fall in love with the wonders of the world. I found a recipe to make donuts from leftover mashed potatoes.

Up front – I added garlic, salt, butter, and milk to my mashed potatoes when I made them. Butter and milk (and even salt) are great donut ingredients. But… garlic?

Well, the recipe assumes you mash potatoes specifically for the donuts. That’s crazy.

I went ahead and used my garlicky mashed potatoes anyway, and they ARE AMAZING. I don’t ever have to leave home again. I accidentally-on-purpose didn’t measure the vanilla, put in a little too much, and that covered up the garlic for sure. These are sweet little bites of breakfast to be sure!

Back when Brent and I started Financial Peace University the first time and we were committed to eating healthier and making beans and rice all the time, we bought a Presto combo vegetable steamer and rice cooker. But we were tired of fishing rice from both the basket and the cooker, so we eventually converted it to our deep fat fryer. Because… health.

steamer fryer

These donuts are totally gluten free, if you do it like I did. And I fried them in coconut oil (which I was scared to do, because I do not like the flavor of coconut – but you cannot taste it AT ALL.) which means these are the healthiest donuts you will ever make, right? Maybe.

The recipe calls for: (as found here)

1/2 c mashed potatoes
1/2 c sour cream
1/2 c sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla
—— mix all of these together in one bowl
In another bowl, mix
1 1/2 c flour (I used a gluten free blend I picked up at Costco)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
—– add the flour mixture to the potato mixture and mix well.
Fry (in coconut oil! Trust me!) in oil heated to 375* until golden brown. Roll in sugar and set to dry on paper towel. Then watch them mysteriously disappear.

mashed potato donuts

Coconut oil is easily the best oil on the face of the planet – it’s good for skin, good for immunity, good for joint health, good for regularity, people use it to swish around in their mouth (I’m going to try it, because, why not?), and YOU CAN USE IT TO FRY DONUTS. I mean, if that doesn’t tell you coconut oil is a gift from God, I don’t know what else to say to convince you He loves us.

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” ~ Nehemiah 8:10

 

Southern Comfort To The Rescue

This would have made a great video, but I still don’t have a voice and am battling this cold, so a lengthy post will have to do. I’m one who never understands why people who post recipes have to go through some kind of historical-account dialogue before they tell me how make the daggum meal, but now I find myself needing to tell a story about this dish.

Many (many) moons ago, when I was away at college, I drove from Tennessee to Arkansas for the weekend to visit a family near and dear to my heart. The wife was about to start making dinner after I arrived, and asked me a few questions. The conversation went something like this:

Her: “Val, do you like tomatoes?”
Me: “No.”
Her: “Do you like chilies? Like, green chiles?”
Me: “No.”
Her: “Well what about mushrooms, do you like those?”
Me: “No.”
Her: “Shoot. I was going to make Rotel casserole, but if you don’t like those things…”
Me: “Make what you want to make! I’ll eat around it if I have to, but don’t worry about what I like.” (thinking: because if it’s not Taco Bell, I don’t like it.)

She whipped up this Rotel casserole and I fell in love. IN. LOVE. So much so, that I made it all the time for the rest of my 20s, and I even sang a song about it. When I almost died hiking up the mountain, I would break out into a song that kept me going, because when we got back to town that night, I was going to make this for everyone for dinner. The thought of serving this after a grueling day in the wilderness was absolutely delightful. I couldn’t think of a better way to heal my bruised ego than to shove my mouth full of “Ro-teeeeeeeeeeel Cass-uh-roooooooooole”.

I don’t make it often now. It’s rare when it makes an appearance. It’s far from healthy. I’m sure there are some changes I could make to make it a little healthier, but…. why? So even though I don’t like 50% of its ingredients on their own, this is a southern-comfort-food that quickly became a favorite.

As we’re preparing over here in North Dakota for snowpocalypse this weekend, I thought this would be a great warm dish to share on those freezing cold evenings.

southern rotel

Ingredients:

1 lb. hamburger (or ground turkey)
1 can Rotel tomatoes & chiles*, undrained
1 can corn, undrained
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 c. minute rice**
1 (big) bag of nacho cheese Doritos, or plain corn tortilla chips
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese (at least!)

In a large skillet, brown and season your meat. I always season my meat the same way: with onion, garlic, and chili powder. Add the can of Rotel, the can of corn, the mushroom soup, and the rice. Stir to mix well and let simmer together over low to medium heat for 20 minutes. In the bottom of a greased 9 x 13 pan, crush some Doritos in a layer to cover. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese to cover. When meat mixture has heated through, add half of meat mixture to pan. Layer more crushed Doritos on top, sprinkle more cheese, and add the remaining meat mixture. Top with more crushed Doritos and more shredded cheese.

If you have cheese or Doritos left over, you’re doing it wrong. Live a little.

Bake at 350* for 20 – 30 minutes until cheese is melted through. Voila!

*I am at a stage in my life where my sensitivity to spice is worse than it’s ever been. I can’t even use mild Rotel anymore. So I use petite diced tomatoes. They have to be petite diced, because regular diced tomatoes are really just “lazily cut huge chunks” of tomato.

**We don’t buy minute rice. So I cook rice ahead of time and add it to the skillet mixture to simmer with the rest. I guess that’s one way I improve the nutrition quality of this meal. Look at me, being an example.

Warm up, and enjoy this delish dish of good ol’ southern comfort food. You’re welcome.

How A Chicken Keeps You Sane

chicken

Many moons ago, someone submitted a survey suggesting I post recipes. Whoever you are, if you still read my blog today, this post is for you.

Really, it’s for anyone tired of cooking the same thing repeatedly, running out of creative ideas, and who doesn’t want to spend an entire Saturday bagging things up to put in the freezer so you can forget to thaw them in time to put them in a crock pot one day.

First, a story. Once upon a time, I tried to embrace our situation and make the most out of it. As much as I detest living in an apartment, I made a decision to make the best life possible here, now. That’s how the whole “Little Apartment On The Prairie” came about. Playing what you’re dealt and doing it without being a sourpuss is how Ma Ingalls spanked me into a big ol’ reality check.

Little Apartment on the Prairie isn’t just a cutsie hashtag phrase. It’s a reminder we still very much walk in the Lord’s blessing, He’s gotten us through a lot worse, and He has a plan for much better.

Now… what does that have to do with cooking? One thing I grow tired of is having to think of, prepare, then cook dinner every day. I love cooking, and I’m quite good at it (save for the time we invited friends over and I ruined it and had to go buy pizza…), but I don’t live to cook. Recently, I’ve been traveling, trying to get various family members over their illness bugs, and I’m flat out tired.

Previously, this would warrant a trip through the drive through, or to the frozen food section of the grocery store for a quick fix. That only makes us sicker and heavier, though, so I’ve stopped doing that. What I do instead is put my big girl panties on and cook.

It’s not as much of a headache as it was, though. I’ve learned some tricks and I’m going to share one with you today.

We all know how amazing the crock pot is. If I had room to store several, I would own several. Crock pots are so versatile and can be used in cooking, canning, reheating, making cider… I could easily have an entire crock pot kitchen. Not to mention they don’t put off near as much heat as an oven, and in the summer time, that does wonders for keeping your home’s interior cool. Don’t think you have to use a crock pot only for a roast or for something you’ve spent a whole day chopping and putting into a freezer bag.

Just this morning, I put a whole chicken in the crock pot. I cut up an onion, minced some garlic, seasoned the chicken with our favorite dry rub, put the lid on, and we’ll have dinner ready in a few hours.

But wait – there’s more!

I have four mouths to feed. Two of them don’t eat much at all, no matter how we plead with them. One whole chicken will feed us at least three times. But who wants to eat the same old chicken three nights in a row? No one. I can’t stand eating the same thing over and over. And I don’t have to.

Today, I roasted a whole chicken. We’ll most likely eat the legs and thighs for dinner tonight. Whatever we do, we’ll have plenty of chicken left over. I’ll be able to divide the leftovers in half and make two more meals.

Tomorrow, we’ll have chicken pot pie. The next night, we’ll have white chicken chili. We’ll have chicken three nights in a row, but different meals so we don’t get bored, and one $6 chicken just fed my family three times. (Don’t like those meals? Chicken and rice, chicken salad, chicken and pasta, bbq sandwiches… the possibilities are endless.)

But wait – THERE’S MORE!

The bones and carcass that will remain after I’ve stripped the chicken meat won’t go to waste. I’ll throw those into my stock pot and make my own broth.

One chicken. Three healthy, wholesome, home-cooked meals. Plenty of broth. $5.94.

You’re welcome.


Crock Pot Chicken:

  • 1 Whole Chicken, rinsed (and not frozen)
  • 1 – 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 Onion, coarsely sliced
  • Dry rub seasoning

Cut the onion garlic and place in the bottom of the crock pot. Carefully cover outside of chicken with dry rub. You may coat the inside as well, if you’re crazy about the flavor of your dry rub. Place on top of the onions and garlic. You don’t need to add additional liquid – the chicken will provide plenty. Cook on low for 6 – 8 hours (the longer and slower it cooks, the better the flavor and tenderness of the meat. You can cook it on high for 4 hours, but it probably won’t be the best chicken you’ve ever had.).

Chicken Pot Pie:

  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, finely chopped
  • 1/4 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large chicken breast (or equivalent amount of meat), shredded or chopped to bite-sized pieces
  • 1 1/2 – 2 c. chicken broth
  • pie crust(s)
  • ** you may include whatever veggies are your favorites. Potatoes, corn, peas, green beans, etc. all go well. Make it to suit your taste – you’re the one who’s going to be eating it! I’ve even used okra in a pot pie before!

I find it best to have the bottom pie shell already baked before filling the pie.

Sauté the celery, carrot, and onion in some butter (I use at least 1 Tbsp. of butter, you can use more or less) until tender. Add some of the chicken broth (enough to adequately cover) and simmer until broth has cooked down and veggies are nice and tender. Add chicken to pan, and whatever additional veggies you want to add to your pie. Add the rest of the chicken broth (and possibly some cream of tartar or cornmeal, if you want a slightly thicker gravy-sauce consistency) and simmer until heated through. Add your seasonings (salt, pepper, garlic, etc.) to taste. Remove from heat, and let cool slightly (and allow the sauce to thicken). Pour into the baked pie crust, cover with second pie crust dough (or with mashed potatoes if you’re looking for more of a shepherd’s pie) and bake until top is browned (usually 10 – 15 minutes at 375* does the trick).

White Chicken Chili:

This recipe might drive you crazy if you’re a person who needs exact directions. This is really all about how you like to eat your food. I am NOT a spice person (in fact, I have severe reactions to spicy food, so I am the queen of mild flavor), therefore I won’t put chilies in my chili. Counterintuitive, I know… Season this to your liking, and feel free to experiment. You can even add non-white beans to white chili. SAY WHAT?! You heard it here first, folks. Make a meal you’ll eat with what you’ve got. Keep It Simple, Silly.

  • Whatever’s left of your chicken! – best if shredded
  • White beans (Navy, Great Northern, heck, throw some chickpeas in there!)
  • Seasonings & Spices (typically salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, oregano, bay leaves, chili peppers)
  • You’ve still got 1/4 of an onion to use – throw it in here, too!

Get your crock pot ready again, because you can get this ready in the morning and then forget about it until dinner time! It absolutely works on the stovetop as well, however, and you can bring everything to a low boil, reduce heat and let simmer for a good 25 minutes or so.

Throw the beans and chicken in the pot. If your beans don’t have a lot of moisture, you’re going to want to add enough water to barely cover, and check on this throughout the day. If you prefer a soupy chili, add more water. If you prefer a thicker chili, only add liquid as needed. If you add bay leaves, make sure to remove them before serving.

You can cook this on low all day in the crockpot, or follow the cooking instructions listed above for the stovetop.