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Using Your Slow Cooker Year-Round

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Using your slow cooker year-roundOnce you start digging out your slow cooker and using it to cook delicious homemade meals, you will quickly become a fan. Many of us start to think about soups, stews, chilis, and all sorts of other delicious fare that lends itself to slow cooking (pot roast anyone?) when fall and cooler temperature come around.

A lot of people love to use slow cookers during the cooler months of the year, but come spring, they stick their slow cooker back in the cabinet and forget about them for the warmer months. If you ask me, that’s a mistake. Slow cookers are wonderful appliances year-round. Yes, they are perfect for those hearty winter dishes that we used to cook at the back of the stove in the darker months. But believe me, that pot of beef stew tastes just as delicious in the spring or summer.

The main reason many of stews and roasts are winter dishes is because they had to cook and bake for a long time. In the hot summer months, we don’t want to heat up the house any more than necessary. And running the stove or oven for several hours before dinner will certainly do that.

But guess what doesn’t heat up the house? Your slow cooker. It puts up a lot less heat and it’s portable. That means that on a really hot day when your air conditioner is barely keeping up, you can go plug in the slow cooker on the porch and have dinner cooking while you hang out in the backyard with the kids.

Your slow cooker also comes in handy anytime you’re grilling in the back yard. No more slaving away in the kitchen fixing side dishes while everyone else gets to hang out in the yard and watch your husband grill burgers. Instead, you do a little prep work in the morning, start a side dish in the slow cooker (scalloped potatoes are always a favorite around here) and you can grab a drink and join the fun in the yard.

Of course those same dishes will also come in handy at the annual company barbecue, or the extended family 4th of July cookout. When you’re asked to bring a side dish, cook it in the slow cooker and bring everything along. Just plug it in and those baked beans, or the squash casserole you made will still be piping hot when it’s time to eat.

You’ll find the slow cooker is also handy at potlucks throughout the year and let’s not forget about the holidays. There’s always a lot of cooking going on and you have to do a whole lot of planning to make sure you have room on the stove and in the oven to get it all cooked in time. How much easier would your holiday cooking be if you could have a couple of things simmering away in your slow cookers? You can start them in the morning and don’t need to worry about anything until it is time to eat.

I tell you, there’s no reason to pack away that slow cooker. Use it year-round. Take it with you on vacation to cook simple meals your kids will love right in the beach house or motel room. Adjust the flavors and seasonings and the types of dishes you cook depending on the season. Take advantage of this cooking appliance throughout the year.

Right now you can get this awesome plan for summer slow cooker meals that you can make ahead and store in the freezer!  It’s incredibly streamlined and organized, to make it super simple for you to make a bunch of meals in under an hour!  Check it out.

Summer Freezer-to-Slow-Cooker Meal plans!

 


Getting the Grocery Budget Under Control

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Grocery prices just seem to keep going up, and I don’t know too many people that don’t comment about the dent in the budget that food and household items make.  When trying to trim the overall household budget, while things like mortgage/rent, utilities, and car payments are generally fixed, the grocery budget can usually flex.  Whether you’re having a temporary need to free up some cash, or a long term financial goal to meet, it is possible to spend less at the grocery store without having to go hungry!

Over the years I’ve learned many different strategies that have helped us raise a large family, often on a single income.  Cooking from scratch, eating at home instead of going out, gardening, food preservation, couponing, bargain shopping, and other approaches have all been incredibly helpful to our family.

 

Slash Your Grocery Budget AndEatAWholeFoodsDietWithAldi

I really, really like this book!  Author Carrie Willard is a busy mom of 7 kids, and she has done a terrific job of explaining the ins, outs, and whys of shopping at Aldi while eating a primarily whole foods diet.  Carrie’s personable style is engaging and fun, while also being very informative without taking up a ton of your time.  If you’re new to shopping Aldi, or new to eating a healthy whole foods diet, you’ll find plenty of helpful tips and insights here.  Included are two weeks of healthy menu plans and shopping lists based on items you can purchase at Aldi.  

TheGroceryShrink

In The Grocery Shrink, author Angela Coffman provides a quick but comprehensive guide to many different aspects of cutting your grocery costs.  Some of the topics covered include:

  • advance planning for meals and pantry staples
  • keeping a price book
  • knowing how much your recipes cost to make
  • shopping with cash
  • strategic store navigation
  • alternatives to the grocery store
  • gardening
  • and more!

Regardless of whether or not you want to utilize all of the ideas in The Grocery Shrink, you are sure to find some fresh inspiration and new tools that will be of use to you.

 

 

 

 

 


Whole Chicken + Slow Cooker Makes For Frugal Meals

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When money is tight or you’re just in the mood to cook something you can then turn into a few different delicious meals for the coming days, look no further than a whole chicken and your crockpot.

Chicken is such a versatile meat and once it’s cooked it’s easy to add it to sauces, casseroles, salads… you name it. And it all starts with nothing more than a whole chicken from the grocery store.

Slow Cooking The Chicken

Get out your slow cooker and look around for some veggie scraps, onions, carrots or the like. It doesn’t take much. All you want is to line the bottom of your slow cooker with a few sliced vegetables so your chicken doesn’t stick. Of course the vegetables will also add flavor.

A sliced onion will do, but this is also a great time to use up that celery that’s starting to go limp, or that open bag of baby carrots that doesn’t’ look fresh anymore. Slice your onion, break your celery into chunks and toss in your baby carrots. If you’re in the mood for it, add a garlic clove or two to the mix for extra flavor.

Take your chicken out of the bag. Check for the little baggie stuffed inside the chicken with the neck, liver, gizzards etc. Toss those in your crockpot and rinse your chicken. Pat it dry and lay it breast side up on top of the veggies. Season with salt and pepper.

Close the lid and cook your chicken on high for about 6 hours or on low for 8 to 10 hours. You know it is done when the legs start to pull away from the body.

The chicken will be tender and falling from the bone. You’ll also notice some cooking liquid in the pot. Pull the meat off as best you can, focusing on the large chunks of breast and leg meat. Set the meat aside, but leave everything else in the slow cooker.

Making Chicken Broth

What makes this a frugal chicken is that we’re going to make use of every little bit, including the bones, skin and bits of meat that are left in the slow cooker along with the veggies. It’s time to turn this into delicious, wholesome chicken broth. You can sip the broth as a hot drink when it’s done or use it as the base for soups, stews, beans and the likes. This is good stuff and has a lot more flavor and nutritional value than the stock you buy at the grocery store.

When you’re done pulling the meat off the chicken, add plenty of water to the slow cooker along with a splash of apple cider vinegar if you have it. The vinegar is optional and is there to help leach as many minerals as possible from the bones. Skipping it won’t affect the flavor of your broth.

Turn the slow cooker on high until your mixture comes to a boil, then simmer the broth on low for a few hours. The longer you cook it, the more intense the flavor will get. You can easily cook it overnight.

Get out a large bowl, pot, or heat-safe pitcher and a strainer. Ladle the finished broth through the strainer. Discard the bones and veggie scraps.

Allow the broth to cool until it is safe to handle, then pour it into containers. Glass jars work well, as do plastic freezer containers. If you plan on freezing your broth, leave some room in the containers when you fill them. You can even pour some of the broth into ice cube trays, freeze them and then use the little cubes of frozen broth when you’re cooking veggies for added flavor and nutrition.

As the broth cools, you’ll notice that it will thicken up and that there is a layer of fat on the top. That’s what good homemade broth is supposed to look like. It has plenty of healthy fat and the main part of the broth has thickened up with the collagen you’ve cooked out of the cartilage of the chicken bones.

If you want low fat chicken broth, set the container in the fridge for a few hours. The fat rises to the top and solidifies. You can grab the whole solid chunk and remove it from the broth. Otherwise, stir it back in as you are heating the broth for cooking.

Get Creative

Serve a chunk of the freshly cooked chicken with rice and a salad or some steamed veggies the first night. After that it’s time to get creative. By day two you also have some delicious chicken stock to work with.

Make a batch of chicken and rice soup with some of the shredded chicken, a cup of rice, the broth and whatever vegetables you want to add.

Add the shredded chicken to sandwiches (chicken salad anyone), serve it in tacos or burritos, add it to your favorite chicken casserole recipe, or make some creamed chicken. The broth makes a great base for any type of soup or stew and you can even cook your dried beans in it for another frugal and nutritious dish.

Step it Up!

all chicken recipes meal plan

If you are looking for more great, time-saving chicken meals, I encourage you to check out the plans at Freezeasy!  This smart system will have you making 10 meals in under an hour!


Planning Your Slow Cooker Meals

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Planning your slow cooker meals

Do you know you’ll have a day this week when you’ll be running around all day? Do the kids have a full schedule of after-school activities that have you driving from one ball field to the next? That’s the perfect day to plan a slow cooker meal.

Pick a one pot dish like beef stew, chili or a chicken and rice casserole with broccoli and get it going in the morning. Just put the ingredients into your slow cooker, turn it on low and go about your busy day. When you get home, be ready to walk into a home that smells like home-cooked dinner. Grab some crackers, make some toast and dinner is ready to be served. It doesn’t get much easier than that and all it takes is a little bit of prep work in the mornings.

If your mornings are too crazy or you just can’t see yourself assembling a slow cooker meal at 7am (it really isn’t that bad), do it the night before. You can either toss everything into a large plastic storage bag, or mix it right in your slow cooker crock insert and store it in the fridge overnight. In the morning just put it in the slow cooker and turn it on.

Of course this type of meal prep takes a little bit of planning. Start by trying a variety of different slow cooker meals and find out what your family likes and doesn’t like. Pay particular attention to those recipes that don’t call for a lot of prep work before everything is ready to go into the slow cooker.

Once you have your list of meals, write out the recipes and keep them somewhere handy. When you know you need to plan one or two slow cooker meals for the week, go through that stack of recipes. Make sure you shop for everything you need well ahead of time. Don’t forget to check on seasonings, spices, and other shelf stable stuff that you don’t’ usually buy.

If you’re already planning your dinners and making out your shopping list based on what you’re planning to cook for the week, this will be an easy process. Just plan a slow cooker meal a few days per week. If you’re not meal planning yet, give it a try and at least plan these particular meals.

Prep what you can as soon as you get back from the store. For example, if you know you’ll make beef stew in the slow cooker tomorrow and it calls for browning the meat before you add it, go ahead and do that now. Then store the browned beef in the fridge until you’re ready to assemble your stew in the morning. The same goes for chopping veggies. Believe me, you’ll be glad you did in the morning.

Ready to Ramp Up Your Skill Level?

If you’re looking to get the ultimate advance plan skills for using your slow cooker to make your busy days easier, you’ll want to check out the awesome freezer-to-slow-cooker plans at Freezeasy.  These meal plans combine the smartest and best methods of meal planning, batch cooking, and freezer meals into one!  AND, you can make a whole bunch of meals in just an hour!!!  Check out what they have right now:

Summer Freezer-to-Slow-Cooker Meal plans!

Slow cooking and planning slow cooker meals is all about making it easy for you to get delicious home cooked meals on the table even on the busiest of days. Give it a try.  I think you’ll find it a huge help not to have to worry about throwing something together when you finally walk in the door at 7pm. And no matter what you make, it will be healthier and better for your family than the fast food you usually pick up on crazy days like this.

 

 


How To Choose The Right Slow Cooker

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How to choose the right slow cooker for youAre you ready to give cooking in a slow cooker a try? It’s a wonderful way to prepare your family’s meals without having to spend hours in the kitchen stirring. Make a pot of beef stew that tastes like you’ve slaved for hours over the stove, when all it really took was dumping a few ingredients in your slow cooker and turning it on. And since you’re only using one pot, clean-up is a breeze as well.

Start with any slow cooker you currently have and make it work. See if you like the dishes it creates and if slow cooking works well for you and your family. If it does and you’re ready to shop for a new model, use the tips below to guide you in your purchasing decision.

Slow Cooker Sizes

How many people are you feeding? If you are planning on making mostly main meals, soups and stews for 4-6 people, a six quart model will be your best bet. If you’re doing a lot of cooking for crowds (church potluck anyone?), you may want to go with a bigger model. And if you’re cooking for two, or only plan to make side dishes and desserts in the slow cooker, a four quart one will suffice. If you’re not sure what to get, stick with the standard six quart version.  

This is very similar to my main slow cooker that I use multiple times a week to feed 6-10+ people. It cooks evenly, doesn’t burn anything, and is reliable.  Mine is a 6 quart size and is big enough for everything I do.  I also have a 4 quart slow cooker that I sometimes use for side dishes, potatoes, or desserts.

 

Popular Brands

There are quite a few different brands out there that make quality slow cookers. Favorites include Crock-Pot (of course…), Hamilton Beach, Cuisinart, and Kitchen-Aid. Sticking with a popular brand not only guarantees you’ll get a quality product, it also makes it easier to find parts down the road, should for example the lid fall and break.  Checking the reviews on Amazon is a huge help as well, because you get the benefit of other people’s experience.  Even if you’re buying off the shelf at your local store, hop onto Amazon on your phone and check the reviews for the item you’re considering.  Knowing what works for others has helped me make buying decisions that I’m happy with!

 

Used or New?

One question we haven’t addressed yet is if you need to buy a new slow cooker at all. As mentioned earlier, start with what you got. After that, it’s perfectly fine to look for a used model. You can find them very inexpensively at your local thrift store or yard sales. Heck, you may even have a friend or family member who will give you theirs. So many people have a slow cooker sitting in the back of their kitchen cabinet and never use it. Ask around, you may get lucky. And if you do, don’t be surprised if they ask for it back once they see, smell and taste some of the amazing meals you’re making in it.

 

What Bells And Whistles Do You Really Need?

There are some fancy slow cooker models on the market today. And there are some very affordable basic models that function with no more than a high or low cooking feature and they may do everything you need your slow cooker to do.

Think about what functions you really need. Retractable cords are nice, but it’s also not that hard to tuck the cord under the slow cooker when you store it. Having a “keep warm” feature is helpful. Do you need a programmable timer so the chili can start cooking itself even if you’re out running errands or just getting back to the office after a quick lunch? Take a look at what’s on the market and decide what you can and can’t live without. If this is your first slow cooker, start with a very basic model. You can always add another one with more features down the road.

(I used to have a slow cooker that had digital programming, which I thought would be nice for times when I wanted to switch to low or warm before I would be home, but the down side was that if there was a power outage, or if a child accidentally unplugged the crock pot for a minute, when replugged or when the power came back on, the crock pot didn’t! Instead it would sit there waiting to be re-programmed. Not cool!  I’m home most of the time, so the manual slow cooker works great for me.)

Having more than one slow cooker is definitely not out of the question if you enjoy this way of cooking. You can fix pulled pork in one, and still have room for Mac and cheese or a squash casserole to cook away in the second one as a side dish. And smaller models come in handy for hot dips, appetizers and desserts. Multiple slow cookers really come in handy around the holidays when you’re fixing a variety of different casseroles and the likes. If you can prepare a few of them in your slow cookers, you don’t have to worry about using up precious oven time. And it’s one more thing you can set and forget.

Head on over to Amazon or take a walk through the small appliance section of your local super store and see what your options and price ranges are. Take a look at the reviews on Amazon and see what folks like and what they don’t like. Then make an informed decision and get your first slow cooker. When you get it to the house is when the real fun starts… cooking with it.

 

Make it Smart and Easy!

Once you’re ready to start using your slow cooker more, I would encourage you to check out the awesome frezer-to-slow-cooker plans at Freezeasy!  The creator, Erin Chase, has thought of everything to make batch cooking, freezer cooking, and slow cooking super easy for you.  In fact, when you follow her easy instructions (she even has a video and goes through the whole process with you!) you can make a whole bunch of meals in under an hour!

Summer Freezer-to-Slow-Cooker Meal plans!


How to Save a Ruined Dinner

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It happens to all of us at one time or another. We discover dinner didn’t go as planned and we don’t have a backup plan.  Unless you burned it to a crisp, there’s probably a trick you can use to make it better.  Here are just a few:

Too much salt added to your recipe? This has happened to many of us. You toss in a few of your go-to seasonings and a bit of salt for good measure, only to accidentally dump in way more than you planned on. Here’s what to do: Peel a potato and toss it into your pot, letting it simmer along with the rest of your ingredients.  Magically, the potato will soak up some of the excess salt!  Toss the potato when the meal is done cooking.  Voila!

Is the dish too spicy? Whether by accident or by design, sometimes a recipe ends up with a little too much kick for your liking.  You’ve got a couple options for fixing it:

  1.  Double all the ingredients except for the spicy ones, and then save the extra batch in the freezer.  So efficient!
  2. Sometimes adding a little bit of sugar or honey can reduce the spiciness of a recipe.  Add just a teaspoon or so at a time, stir well, and taste it.  Adjust as needed.
  3. Adding a little plain yogurt (Greek or regular), sour cream, or cream cheese can help calm down the spicy heat in a recipe while also increasing the creaminess of it.

Is your recipe lacking flavor? This is an easy one! Garlic, basil, and oregano are all great herbs to have on hand for quick flavor boost.  Start with a teaspoon of any one that you think will work with your recipe, then stir well and taste test.  Adjust as needed. 

Burned, baby, burned!  If you burn the edges or bottom of your pot as you’re cooking, stop stirring immediately. Remove the dish from heat and quickly remove the non-burnt part from the pan right away to prevent the spread of the burnt taste. Put the non-burnt food into a new pan and then do a good sniff and taste test to see if it is ok.  If so, you’re in the clear!  If you lost a significant portion of your food to the burn, you can always fill in with an extra side dish so everybody gets plenty to eat.  Frozen veggies are perfect for this and they only take a few minutes to prepare! 

 

Sometimes things don’t go as planned, whether in the kitchen or in life. It’s the nature of the thing, right?  Have you learned any tips or tricks that have helped you save dinner?  Please share in the comments!

 

 

 


You’ll love these make-ahead freezer meal plans!

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Freezeasy Freezer Meal Plan

Freezeasy Freezer Meal plans

Freezeasy Freezer meal plans
I’m not one to reinvent the wheel. When someone else is doing something awesome that I didn’t get around to yet, I’m so happy to help spread the word.

Well, I am **super excited** about this wonderful new meal plan that walks you through every step of make-ahead freezer meals for the slow cooker!

That’s right. I said it. It’s the whole enchilada rolled into one! You get a meal plan, a shopping lists, step-by-step instructions on how to assemble each meal and cook it when you want it, but ALSO, you get VIDEOS of the lovely Erin Chase in her kitchen showing you the best methods for quickly and easily putting together all of these meals quickly and efficiently! It’s SO well-done, beautifully laid out, very practical, and the price is incredibly affordable!

A couple weeks ago we tried out the All Ground Beef Recipes and enjoyed every single one.  It didn’t take long to put together, and boy-oh-boy I sure did enjoy having ready-to-roll meals waiting for me in the freezer!  Time to make some more, and this time I think I’m going to try the All Chicken Recipes and the 10 Skillet Meals as well.

You can start slow and easy with the All Chicken Recipes, All Ground Beef Recipes, All Pork Chops Recipes, a Combo Plan, OR take advantage of the Summer Meal Plan in one handy bundle for 30% off right now! Click here to check it out!


Free Monthly Menu Planner!

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March is here, so I’m gonna go crazy and call it spring! I know that a lot of you aren’t totally over with winter yet, but we need some hope, don’t we? 🙂

Spring is a great time for something fresh and pretty, so today I’ve got this free printable Monthly Menu Planner for you. It’s perfect for outlining which meals you’ll be having on which days, and it looks nice too. 🙂 Simply click the image to download.

Monthly Menu Planner preview


Brainy Breakfasts will make your mornings better!

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Brainy Breakfasts: Over 40 Grain-Free Breakfast Recipes!

We’re told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but so often our morning meal is composed of sugar and simple carbs. What our brains and bodies need is protein and core nutrients! Trisha Gilkerson has created a terrific new resource that not only offers the protein and nutrition that we need for breakfast, but she’s managed to do it all without grains!  For those of you that are gluten-free or avoid grains in general, you are especially going to love this!

Brainy BreakfastsIn this book you’ll find over 40 different breakfast recipes, including eggs, smoothies, baked goods, cereals, and more that are both kid AND grown-up friendly!  The full-color photos will get you inspired to try grain-free breakfasts, you’ll get a black and white version that’s perfect for printing if you don’t want to use a lot of printer ink, and you’ll love the printable recipe cards, too. Click here to buy. 


Cheesy Veggie Chowder

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Cheesy Veggie Chowder

Are you ready for this gorgeous, warm, soothing soup? Oh yes!

 

 

Ingredients branded

In process 1 branded

Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped carrot
1 celery stick, finely chopped (feel free to add more celery if you like celery; I don’t, so I don’t add much)
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
4 cups chicken broth
2 large baking potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 Tablespoon flour
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup milk
2 cups chopped broccoli
2 heaping cups shredded cheddar cheese

In process 2

Melt the butter in a large soup pot.  Add the onions, carrots, and celery.  Saute over medium heat until tender.  Add the garlic, then cook for a minute or two.  Add chicken broth and potatoes.  Bring to a boil and cook til the potatoes are tender.  Mix flour with water, add it into the soup and simmer until it thickens slightly.

in process 3 branded

Add the milk and chopped broccoli.  Cook until broccoli is tender and the soup is heated through.  Stir in the cheese til melted, and serve!  Yummy!

In process 4 branded

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