Category: Quick Meals


Good grief, it’s been almost a year. A year!! SO MUCH has happened in that year, and I wasn’t sure if I would ever get to come back. I’ve wanted to, but it just hasn’t been in the cards until now. I wasn’t sure if anyone would even care at this point if I came back. But I’ve heard from a few loyal readers (I have loyal readers! I had no idea!) and they’re asking for more. That is so incredibly gratifying, you guys. Seriously. It almost made me cry. I’ve always said that if my blog helps one person enjoy food a little more, I’ll keep going. So here I am, in the kitchen again, with recipes to share. I have some truly amazing food to show you, starting next week 🙂

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Ridiculously enough, the Super Target in Duluth (Minnesota, about 40 minutes North of us) has already cleared out their summer seasonal section and is in the process of building their back to school displays and stock. Last week’s ad already had back to college/school deals, even. It’s July for crying out loud! As cringe inducing as it may be, it’s almost time for a new school year to start. Not only does that mean buying school supplies and clothes but it also means, hopefully, coming up with ideas for lunches for your kids. With the new school lunch guidelines (unrealistic demands) firmly in place and making lunch miserable for the majority of schoolkids, it’s often better to feed kids a home lunch anyway. The school my kids go to is extremely small (only about 300 kids total and it’s PreK-12 in one building), so the lunch team makes a lot of their foods from scratch. Their hearts are certainly in the right place but, thanks to the aforementioned dictates, their food still isn’t my kids’ preference a lot of the time. To say the least, it’s a challenge to come up with interesting ideas sometimes; sending lunch 5 times a week can seem an impossible task. Thankfully, there are SO many easy, tasty ideas that can be packed into a lunchbox! One of the simplest lunchbox items out there are the infamous-yet-wildly-popular Uncrustables; the little round, crustless PB&J sandwiches that can be found lurking in the freezer section. These tiny sandwiches are chock full of unpronounceable ingredients- including high fructose corn syrup- and are insanely overpriced. With one simple gadget, your own ingredients, and about a minute and a half you can make your own homemade uncrustables! And they are every bit as tasty as the ones from the store- even more so because you can fill them with anything you want. PB&J or honey? Of course! But how about ham and cheese, turkey and guacamole, or even Nutella and strawberries? When you make your own you can get creative and end up with something WAY more interesting than what you can get pre-made and the price tag is far more manageable.

To get started, you’ll have to make a small investment: at least one pocket sandwich cutter (as opposed to cutters that just cut shapes). You’ve probably seen them at the store, jumping out at you from hangers in the condiment or bread aisles. Or perhaps you’ve seen them on bento or home chef sites. Here are the two I have:

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The metal cutter is a gift from my BFF and will run anywhere from $4.00 (on EBay) to about $20 (from Pampered Chef on Amazon). This has lasted me about 3 years so far and I expect to be using this for years to come. The plastic square cutter was $1.00 from Dollar Tree. It works well, but is starting to curl along the edges from being pushed down to cut the crusts off of sandwiches. I use fairly sturdy wheat bread instead of mostly air white bread, so the cutter has some work to do. It will probably only last another year or two. It’s up to you which you use, but I would recommend getting the best quality cutter you can manage.

Let’s make some sandwiches! Zachariah is still staunchly against cold meat sandwiches, so he gets PB&J or PB&H. **This is important: if you’re going to make a PB&J or PB&H sandwich that’s going to have to sit for more than about 20 minutes, you need to put a protective layer on both slices of bread or the jelly or honey will seep through. That’s terribly unappetizing! You can use either a thin layer of peanut butter on the top slice or, even tastier, a thin layer of softened butter. (Trust me on this: try the butter!)

The classic Uncrustable combination:

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Liliana & Gloriana love them some ham sammiches, but Liliana has to have cheese but no mayonnaise and Gloriana has to have hers with mayonnaise but no cheese. They’re twins but definitely their own people 🙂

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To make pocket sandwiches of any kind you’ll have to be careful that you put all of the ingredients within the shape that will be made after you’ve used the cutter. If it helps, you can press the cutter very lightly into the bottom slice of bread to get a faint outline to use as a guide. Also, make sure you don’t over fill the sandwich or the top slice of bread will burst open when you press down on the cutter. As you can see, these sandwiches didn’t turn out perfect like they usually do. I tried a different brand of bread and it obviously isn’t going to work for these because it isn’t quite as soft as it needs to be. But that’s ok; you live and learn. I’ll go back to the bread I was using 🙂 Once you’ve made a few pocket sandwiches you’ll have a feeling for where things need to be placed and in what amounts.

These are just the super basic models; use whatever your kids love or get creative and have some fun. And happy new school year, ready or not!

So after being informed by my BFF that the print feature I added awhile back actually prints the entire blog post instead of only the recipe like I wanted it to, I have (with a little help from a more experienced blogger) figured out how to make only the recipe in each post printable. Yay! So from now on you will be able to print only the best part of each post: the recipe! And when I get time here and there I will go back and add the feature to all of my other posts (which number 72 as of today, so it may take me a little while to get it done). Thank you all for sticking with me thus far! ❤

Ok, seriously; I cannot even begin to tell you how much I love this sauce! Remember when I told you that my husband loves my sausage gravy so much he wants to eat it in a bowl like soup? Well that’s me with this sauce. And I can do that because this sauce is actually good for you! I’ll get into how I eat it in a bowl later. But first, I’ll get right into the recipe…

This sauce is so ridiculously simple that you’re going to wonder why you ever bought sauce at the store. It’s incredibly inexpensive to make too! These ingredients hardly cost anything:

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I suppose I should clarify: if you have all of these ingredients on hand, this recipe hardly costs anything. If you don’t have them on hand, you should. I’m perfectly serious. Go out and buy these ingredients if you don’t have them. The herbs will last you awhile and will allow you to make SO many other dishes! And having cans of tomato products on hand will allow you to easily and cheaply make your own sauces and soups without the cost and additives/preservatives the store bought stuff has. Ok, enough about that. Moving on…

So I have picky kids when it comes to onions. The girls like the idea of onions; meaning that they like the flavor that onions add to certain foods, but if they bite into a piece of onion then it’s game over. They won’t eat another bite for fear of getting another piece of onion. Any my son is just now starting to branch out beyond the realm of chicken nuggets and mac & cheese, so if he can see pieces of onions he won’t even allow the dish to appear on his plate. To combat this I got creative. Ok, sneaky. Same thing sometimes. Anyway, I grated the onion when I started playing with this recipe and it worked perfectly! Even I prefer it that way and I LOVE onions! So now I grate the onions on the small holes of the grater every time. When you grate the onions, do it on a plate or over a bowl to catch the juice as well as the pulp.

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Now mince your garlic. You do not need a garlic gadget! Use your chef’s knife and hone your skill with it.

Holding your knife as usual, use your off hand to keep the tip of the knife on the board (putting your fingers on the TOP of the blade to steady it) and your dominant hand to do the actual mincing by lifting up and down while also working the blade back and forth over the pile of garlic. It’s MUCH easier than it sounds. You’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly. You’ll end up with a pile of minced garlic…

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Super easy! And it only takes a couple of minutes. Now that those two things are done, all you have left is opening a can and measuring herbs and spices. How much easier can homemade get?! You do have to make a choice, though. You can use olive oil for this sauce and it will turn out amazing. But I use bacon fat to saute the onion and garlic and the slightly smoky flavor it imparts makes the sauce stellar. I recommend using bacon fat, but the choice is yours. So choose one or the other and put it into a large saucepan over medium heat. Saute the onion first, adding the juice as well. It may sizzle a bit, so be careful. Once the onion is beginning to turn golden, add in the garlic.

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Let the veggies cook for another 2 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn’t begin to burn. Give it a stir every 20-30 seconds to prevent burning. The picture above is as dark as you want it to be; much darker and the garlic will turn bitter and ruin the sauce. Go ahead and add the tomato sauce and mix well. Add the brown sugar (sadly not pictured above), basil, oregano, thyme, white pepper, the smaller amount of salt, and the bay leaf into the pot.

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SO much flavor going into this sauce! Give this a good stir to distribute the herbs, cover the pot, and bring the sauce to a boil. Back the heat down to a slow simmer and set a timer for 30 minutes. If you think of it, you can come back and give the sauce a stir. But even if you don’t stir it at all in that 30 minutes, the sauce will be fine. This is one of those wonderful times that you can set a timer and just let the sauce do it’s own thing while you go do yours.

Once half an hour has gone by, take the lid off and give the sauce a good stir. While it should definitely be a sauce, and as such should be pourable, it should still be a bit thick. It should not be runny or watery. If it is watery, let the sauce continue to simmer uncovered until it looks like this:

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If your sauce was too watery after its covered simmer, it most likely means that the can of tomato sauce you started with was of lesser quality; they added too much water in the process of turning the tomatoes into sauce. That way they can use less tomato and make more money. In short; you got ripped off if you bought the super cheap “bargain” brand. Some bargain or store brands are great and work just fine. But then there are those that really do rip you off. Unfortunately sometimes it’s a matter of living and learning and figuring out which ones do and which don’t. So I usually go for the mid priced tomato products. Not the super fancy “premium” brand that costs a ridiculous amount, but not the super cheap “bargain basement” stuff either. Once again- moving on…

Assuming your sauce is the proper consistency, go ahead and give it a taste. Add more salt if you think the sauce needs it (I almost always do) and the red chili flakes if you want to use them. Remember that if you do use red chili flakes, let the sauce sit for a couple of minutes after you add them for them to take effect then give it another taste and readjust the seasoning if needed. If you want a spicy, arribiata type of sauce, go ahead and add the red chili flakes at the beginning with the herbs. But be warned: it will be SPICY! We like a little kick but still want to be able to feel our lips when we’re done eating, so I add just a little and only at the end.

Just like that, you’re done! And oh; the things you can do with this sauce! You can can this sauce in jars or freeze it in bags or containers. Or it will keep for about a week in the fridge. This amount makes one batch of lasagna or spaghetti with meat sauce for me. If I want to make pasta with no meat, I use what I need and save the rest (trust me; you’ll find a use for it). It’s perfect as a pizza sauce, but you can also make pizza fondue. Really; it’s one of my family’s favorite fun meals! Heat the whole batch of sauce in a fondue pot over low heat (if using an electric pot) or a couple of tea light candles if you’re using an old school fondue pot. Cut up your favorite pizza toppings and lay them out. If you want veggies that aren’t crunchy, saute them lightly before you set them out. I use cooked and sliced Italian sausage, ham, pepperoni slices (they’re easier to eat if they’re cut in half), and pineapple for a super easy spread of toppings. Cut some mozzarella into cubes (the block stuff will do but it won’t be nearly as good as the softer, “fresh” mozzarella you get packed in a little water) and some hot french bread into slices. Spear a cube of cheese and then your favorite toppings with your fondue fork and dip it all in the sauce. Slide the contents of your fork onto a slice of french bread and enjoy! I usually get 2 dips out of one slice of bread, so that helps fill up the hungry tummies gathered around the fondue pot 🙂

OH! I said up above that I would tell you how I eat this out of a bowl… it’s so simple and SO good…

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I make crustless pizza in a bowl. Stay with me on this! Put about half an inch of sauce in the bottom of a microwave or oven safe bowl then put some shredded or cubed mozzarella cheese in the sauce. Cover the bowl and heat it until the edges of the sauce are bubbly. Then add a few pizza toppings evenly over the surface. You don’t want to add a ton or the sauce won’t heat through well- just like real pizza. Cover the bowl again and heat until everything is good and hot. In all honesty, this is one of my favorite meals if I’m making something just for myself. But ONLY if I’m using this sauce. It’s just that good.

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The Recipe:

29 Oz Can Tomato Sauce (plain, no flavoring added)

1 T Bacon fat or Olive Oil

1/4 Large Onion, Grated Fine

8-10 Cloves Garlic, Minced

3-4 t Brown Sugar (start with the smaller amount and add more if needed after the sauce is simmered)

1 1/2 t Dried Basil

Scant 1 t Dried Oregano

1/4 t Ground Dried Thyme (or about 1/2 t dried thyme, unground)

1 Bay Leaf

1/2-3/4 t Kosher Salt (start with the smaller amount and add more if needed after the sauce is simmered)

1/4 t White or Black Ground Pepper (or to taste)

1/8-1/2 t Red Pepper Flakes (or to taste)

The Method:

*Grate the onion (on the smaller holes) onto a plate or into a bowl to save the juice as well.

*Mince the garlic.

*Add the bacon fat or oil into a large sauce pan over medium heat.

*Once the pan is ready, saute the grated onion (with its juice) until it begins to turn golden brown.

*Add the garlic to the pot and saute for about 2 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning.

*Pour the tomato sauce into the pot and stir to incorporate the veggies.

*Add the brown sugar, basil, oregano, thyme, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Stir well.

*Cover the pot and bring the sauce to a boil. Back the heat down to a slow simmer and leave the sauce to cook for 30 minutes. You could give the pot a stir a couple of times if you think about it.

*Once 30 minutes is up stir and check for proper consistency. If the sauce is too watery let it simmer uncovered until the right thickness is reached.

*Add the red chili flakes if you’re using them, more brown sugar, salt, and/or pepper to taste.

*Use as desired immediately, can, freeze, or store in the refrigerator for about a week.

We are preparing to delve into the world of homeschooling this year. We’ve felt the need to homeschool for years but were never in a position to be able to until now. So we won’t have the hustle and bustle of trying to get out the door in time to meet the bus this year. However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be mornings that we need to get in the car and go somewhere earlier and in more of a rush than I’d like- especially since it’s a 40 minute drive from our little village to get anywhere. On those mornings it’s SO nice to have a breakfast that I can put into containers or baggies so we can eat it in the car. And it’s even nicer to know that this “fast food” is homemade instead of processed and super unhealthy. Try to get that out of the little packages of muffins from the store!

Since I like to make these as easy to eat as possible, I tend to make these into mini muffins. They’re easily popable that way and the crumbs are kept to a minimum. They are just as tasty as regular muffins, so use whatever kind of pan strikes your fancy. And speaking of fancy, these make great baby bundt cakes! You can ice them with a simple glaze and presto- you’ve got a pretty little dessert!

One of the great things about these muffins is that they use everyday items that are probably in your pantry and fridge as we speak…

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The second great thing about these tasty little gems is how simple they are. All you have to do is mix your dry ingredients…

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Then mix your wet ingredients well…

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Then all you have to do is mix them together…

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Ta da! Done! Now you just fill the liners and put the pan in the oven…

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It doesn’t get much easier than that! From start to finish these muffins take about 20 minutes (depending on what size you make them). And if you don’t want chocolate chips in them, no problem; use whatever you like. Peanut butter chips (or half chocolate chips, half peanut butter chips), toffee chips, mint chocolate chips, dried fruit, your imagination is the only limit! Oh- and if you really want to make these a little decadent, whip up some cream cheese frosting and smear a bit on top of the muffins. That will brighten the dreariest day 🙂 And you can even make a big batch of these and freeze them for later. Then you can just thaw some on the counter overnight and have a quick breakfast in the morning. Or you can put a frozen muffin in your lunch bag and have a tasty treat at midday.

Autumn is fast approaching (thank goodness!!) and with it comes busier schedules. I hope this simple recipe brings a smile to your hustle & bustle the way it does to mine 🙂

The Recipe: 

1 1/2 C Flour

1/2 C Sugar

2 t Baking Powder

1/2 t Salt

1 Egg

1/4 C Sour Cream (or yogurt; vanilla yogurt adds a nice, subtle flavor)

1/2 C Milk

1/4 C Oil

1/2 C Chocolate Chips (I use mini chocolate chips- especially if I’m making mini muffins)

 

The Method:

*Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

*Prepare your muffin pan by either greasing and flouring each well or lining them with paper cups.

*In a medium bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center into which you can pour the wet ingredients.

*In a small bowl, whisk together all of the wet ingredients.

*Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and stir until well combined. Don’t worry if there are a few lumps in the batter.

*Scoop the batter into the prepared pan. A small ice cream/cookie scoop works well for mini muffins.

*Bake 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

*Keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Or you can freeze in a zip top bag or well wrapped in plastic wrap and then foil for up to 2 months.

 

The last few days here in Northern Wisconsin have been just heavenly; highs in the low to mid 70’s, a cool breeze all day, and chilly nights to cool the house off to be ready for the next day (saving a ton on the AC bill). This is what I envisioned summers to be up here and I love it! It’s a very welcome break from the unusual heat that’s been hanging around and making a nuisance of itself. And it may return, so I’m going to make the most of these cooler days and get some things made to help when it’s too hot to do any real cooking. One of the items on that list is lemon garlic chicken breasts. There are 2 huge advantages to this chicken: 1) you can put it in a zip top bag with the marinade ingredients and put the whole thing in the freezer until you’re ready to use it and 2) it’s super versatile, which is always a plus! These chicken breasts can be served just as they are with some sides, they can be sliced and put over salad veggies, they can be made into a sandwich, or they can even be chopped up and made into a creamy, garlicky chicken salad with just a hint of zing from the lemon zest. They’re fantastic year round, but they definitely hold a special place in my summer line up!

To get started, here’s what you’ll need:

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Yes; that is honey mustard salad dressing- and it can be any brand. When toying with the marinade the first time I made this chicken I found something really lacking in the flavor. I stood at the fridge after dinner that night, searching for something to add and my eyes settled on a bottle of honey mustard and the light bulb went off. I added some the next time I made this dish and it solved the problem perfectly! So the salad dressing is optional; the flavor doesn’t stand out in the finished dish. But there is definitely a lack of *pop* in the dish when the honey mustard is left out.

There are 2 options for the chicken breasts; you can either buy chicken cutlets, which are chicken breasts that come packed in thin slices (horizontally), or you can buy regular boneless, skinless chicken breasts and slice them into cutlets at home. The latter option is SUPER easy and is what I do most of the time. Here’s how you go about such a thing…

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(**Note: The Humble Food Snob is still married! You can’t see it here, but the nail on my ring finger is very bad off. I had a wound on the side of my nail get severely infected over a month ago- I actually had to go to the emergency room in the middle of the night it was so bad. Thankfully I didn’t have my wedding rings on when it started swelling, so they are still intact. Now I’m STILL waiting for the swelling to go down completely so I can start wearing them again!**)

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See? Super easy! Don’t worry about making the two slices exactly even- you won’t be able to. What you’re going for is two cutlets of comparable thickness so they cook evenly. It’s not brain surgery, so don’t fret if things aren’t perfect.

So now that you have the hard part done, I’ll give an explanation of why I have lemon zest in that picture up there instead of the juice. Did you know that the acid in lemon juice actually cooks meat instead of marinating it? It’s true. If you look up the recipe for ceviche (a popular Latin American dish of raw shrimp or fish with herbs and spices) you’ll see that the dish isn’t cooked in any way except by the citrus juice it’s steeped in. That citrus juice does the same thing to any other meat you put it on. With chicken that results in tougher meat that needs more tenderizer (basically salt) in the marinade. The easy fix for that is to use the zest instead of the juice of whatever citrus fruit you’re wanting to use. And aside from not cooking the meat, I prefer the zest to the juice because of how much more flavor you get from the oil in the zest. But certainly don’t throw the juice away! Zest your fruit then juice it and pour that juice into an ice tray. I put one tablespoon of juice into each compartment of an ice tray and when I need “1 tablespoon of juice” here or “2 tablespoons of juice” there I have them ready and waiting in the freezer. Very handy!

Next you’re ready to put all of this together. Whisk all of the marinade ingredients together and make your decision: cook the chicken today or freeze it for another time? If you want to cook the chicken today, pour the marinade over the breast slices in a pan or large bowl, cover with plastic, and put it in the fridge for up to about 8 hours.

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If you want to put the chicken in the freezer for another day, put everything in a zip top bag, squeeze out as much air as you can, seal it, and into the freezer it goes! One bonus of freezing meat in marinade is that as it thaws the meat draws in more of the marinade and is more flavorful overall.

Let 6 hours or so pass…..

Now that your chicken has marinated properly, it’s time to cook it! We don’t have a grill just yet 😦 I’m bummed about that, but the fact that the other things we’ve had to spend our money on are for a house that we own makes up for it 🙂 So if you have a grill or a fire pit (you can read more about easily cooking over an open fire here) by all means, use it!! But if, like me, you have to pan fry your chicken that’s ok; it still turns out wonderful!

Put your pan over medium heat and add just enough oil to cover the bottom. Since the marinade already has a good amount of oil in it, you’re just taking out a little insurance that the chicken won’t stick to the pan. If you’re using a non-stick pan you can forgo the extra oil all together. Once the oil shimmers, remove your chicken from the marinade and put it in to cook for 4-5 minutes. Carefully flip the chicken over and cook 3-4 minutes on the other side. You want to make sure that the chicken is cooked through and also that it has a nice bit of browning on it.

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Once the chicken is done cooking, remove it to a platter and cover it with foil to rest for at least 5 minutes before serving to let the juices redistribute. If you couldn’t fit all of the chicken into the pan the first time around, go ahead and finish cooking the rest. Just make sure all of the meat has a chance to rest before serving.

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Hopefully the weather in your neck of the woods is fair and pleasant and you’re enjoying your summer (or winter, depending on which half of the globe you’re on!). And I hope that you enjoy this chicken as much as we do- and in as many ways 🙂

The Recipe:

2 Lbs. Chicken Breast Cutlets OR Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts sliced into cutlets

Zest of 3 Lemons

6-8 Cloves Garlic, Minced

2 t Italian Seasoning

1 t Kosher Salt

1/2 C Olive Oil

1/4 C Honey Mustard Dressing (optional, but recommended)

The Method:

*If needed, slice the chicken breasts into cutlets by running your knife horizontally through the chicken breasts lengthwise.

*In a bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients and whisk well.

*Put the chicken in a bowl or baking dish large enough to hold everything. Alternatively, you could put the chicken and marinade in a zip top bag and seal it.

*If making this dish for a later date, squeeze as much air as possible out of the zip top bag, seal, label, and put in the freezer for up to 2 months.

*If you plan to serve the chicken the same day, simply put it in the refrigerator to marinate for up to 8 hours. I usually do about 6 hours and it turns out perfect. The full 8 hours gives a stronger flavor. Take care in going past that though; the flavor gets overpowering.

*When ready to cook the chicken, grilling is preferable however not always accessible. To pan fry, heat a large frying pan over medium heat, covering the bottom with oil.

*Once the oil shimmers, add a few pieces of the chicken to the pan. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan.

*Cook on the first side for 4-5 minutes, depending on the thickness of your chicken cutlets.

*Carefully turn the chicken over and cook for another 3-4 minutes.

*Remove the chicken to a foil covered platter and let rest while the next batch cooks.

*Make sure all of the cutlets get at least a few minutes to rest before serving.

I’ve had some requests for a “print recipe” feature, so I looked around and found one of those! You can now find a new button on each post. It’s labeled “print and PDF” and it can be found at the very bottom of each post along with the sharing buttons. You’re welcome and thanks for your continued support! ❤

I’ve never been one to keep my opinions on the costs of store bought foods to myself. I fully believe that with a few basic ingredients, the know-how, and a little time, you can make those things at home- usually with better results. There are few departments in the store that illustrate that better than the average supermarket deli, specifically  the meats (and veggies) that come pre-stuffed, pre-marinated, and/or pre-cooked. One of the easiest things to replicate at home is the rotisserie chickens that you can buy in the deli- and that is one of the items with the biggest markup. Here in my little corner of the world a whole deli rotisserie chicken sells for $8-$10, depending upon whether or not it’s on sale. That is absolutely ridiculous!! It’s robbery! Grocery stores must think I’ve completely taken leave of my senses to charge that much. I can make the same thing at home for $4-$6, depending on what kind of sale is going on for whole chickens. And I know that it’s freshly cooked and hasn’t been sitting under a heat lamp for who knows how many hours. AND I can use my oven or my slow cooker. So I can have “rotisserie” chicken year round, without heating up my house too much in the summer! (I’ll put the instructions for that at the end.)

This really isn’t a recipe, it’s more of a method. This is all you need:

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FOUR ingredients. That’s it! Now, you can play around with the flavorings as much as you like. You could use lemon pepper, garlic and herb, ranch, just about anything you can dream up. So play around with it a bit!

First, mix the steak seasoning and the paprika together. You’ll end up with a pretty fair amount.

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That’s a full 1/4 cup of seasoning. It’s more than it looks like, really. Next, take 1 tablespoon of the seasoning and mix it with the butter. A fork works nicely for the job.

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You just made compound butter- well done! A little extra for you: you can roll this into a log using parchment or plastic wrap, freeze or refrigerate it (wrapped well), and cut off pats to put on top of cooked steak. It’s FABULOUS!! Ok, back to the task at hand… Now you need to work on the chicken a bit. This butter needs to go under the skin of the breasts. To do that, you need to create a pocket for it to go into. And to do that, you need to carefully put your index finger under the skin and separate the membrane from the meat- like so:

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Very gently work your finger all the way down the breast. The skin may tear a little, but that happens. Just try to keep that to a minimum. Do this on both sides of the breast.

Next, take half of the butter and create a somewhat rectangular patty. Something like this:

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That butter needs to go under the skin, of course. Gently push the butter into the pocket you created and then massage the outside of the skin to get the butter all the way down the breast. You should end up with the chicken looking like this:

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Repeat on the other side and you’re ready for the next step, which is seasoning the rest of the bird. Take about half of the remaining seasoning and sprinkle it all over the inside of the body cavity. That works best if you hold the chicken vertically (sorry I don’t have a picture of that- not enough hands). The rest of the seasoning goes all over the outside of the chicken.

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I didn’t exactly get it evenly on the outside. Whoops. I’m not perfect. We knew that. Moving on! Put this beautiful bird in the oven and roast it for an hour and a half OR until the temperature in the thickest part of the thigh reads 165-170. Once you reach that temperature, take the chicken out of the oven, tent the pan with foil, and let the whole thing sit for about 20 minutes to rest.

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Isn’t that pretty! Do you see how the skin split on top? That is why you want to be as gentle as possible when creating the pockets under the skin. I created a tear (you can see it above) and the skin tightening made the tear much bigger. This chicken is fine- but any bigger a tear would have had bad results for the meat.

Now take the chicken out of the pan and put it on a platter or large cutting board and either carve it to serve as a meal or let it cool enough to handle and debone it. I made this specifically to use for other meals; I wasn’t planning on serving this to anyone as dinner. I just took all of the meat off the bone. Here’s what I ended up with:

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I kept the legs whole because my daughters love them. The rest will just go into the freezer, divided into portions to use in other meals (casseroles, soups, pot pies, etc.). I should note that I’m not great at stripping the meat off of carcasses. I cannot stand to eat gristle or a lot of fat. So yes; there was meat left on the bones that I didn’t bother with because I just can’t stomach it. Other people will probably get more meat than I did. Either way, this is still WAY cheaper than buying a rotisserie chicken from the store. And the flavor is worlds better than store bought! Not to mention the amazing aroma the roasting chicken sends through your home 🙂

The Recipe:

1 Whole Chicken, 3-4 Lbs.

3 T Montreal Steak Seasoning

1 T Paprika

1 Stick Butter, softened

The Method:

*Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

*Mix seasonings together.

*Stir 1 T seasoning mixture into the butter. A fork works well for this.

*Create pockets under the skin of the chicken breasts, gently working your index finger under the skin on each side.

*Divide the compound butter mixture in half. Form a flattened rectangular shape out of each half and slip one rectangle in each pocket you created.

*Carefully massage the outside of the breast skin to spread the butter all the way down each side of the breast.

*Turn the chicken so the cavity hole is facing up (the chicken will be vertical)  and sprinkle half of the remaining seasoning all over the inside of the chicken.

*Lay the chicken down in the roasting dish again, breast side up. Rub the rest of the seasoning all over the outside of the chicken.

*Roast the chicken until a thermometer stuck in the thickest part of the thigh reads 165-170. It usually takes an hour & a half to an hour & 45 minutes for my oven, but those times vary; the thermometer method is safer than just timing it.

*Once that temperature has been reached, remove the chicken from the oven, tent the pan with foil, and let the whole thing rest 15-20 minutes.

*If serving as a meal, carve and serve.

*If using for other dishes, remove the chicken to a platter or large cutting board. Let cool until easily handled, and debone. Divide the chicken into proper portions (according to the dishes you plan to use it in), store in freezer appropriate containers (I use plastic and then foil), mark said containers with the date and contents, and freeze. Use as desired.

*When using in other dishes, keep in mind that this chicken will add flavor to the dish. You will need to adjust the salt and pepper of the final dish accordingly! 

*For the Slow Cooker:

*Prepare as above.

*Spray or otherwise lubricate the crock of a large slow cooker (mine is 6.5 quarts and the chicken fits perfectly with no extra room on the sides. A smaller crock would be too small).

*Fold an aluminum, disposable pie tin into thirds and place on the bottom of the slow cooker. This is to keep the chicken off of the bottom of the crock. Alternatively, you could make large balls of aluminum foil to put under the chicken. If you have a roasting rack that fits in your crock, that’s fine too. The point is: keep the chicken off of the bottom of the crock for this method!

*Place the chicken on the tin (or whatever you used to hold it up), put the lid on the crock, and set the slow cooker to high. 

*Cook the chicken 4-5 hours, until the temperature reads as stated above. Remember: when you take the lid off of a crock pot you add about 30 minutes to the cooking time. So do this judiciously. 

*Once cooked, continue as stated for the oven method. 

I’m originally from Indiana, where it’s crazy humid. I grew up in the mountains of Northern Colorado, where the winters are long, crazy cold & windy. So I figured I knew what I was getting into when we moved to South Dakota. Turns out I didn’t quite have it all figured out. The combination of cold, wind, and humidity are just plain bone chilling! People warned us- and it’s not that we didn’t listen, because we did. But you never REALLY know until you experience it. We are just getting into the start of the colder weather- it’s not truly cold yet. But while the temperature claims to be in the 40’s the windchill makes it feel at least 15 degrees colder. And as for the wind… well it blows what they get in Colorado and Wyoming pretty much out of the water. We’re kind of in the apex of the wind curve, if you will- so it’s strongest blowing across our little corner of the world. That being the case, it’s a good thing I have a cache of stick-to-your-ribs, warm-you-right-down-to-your-soul winter favorites that I can make to keep my family’s stomachs cozy and full! This soup is part of that cache.

I found the original on a recipe site and it was called something like “chicken, bacon, corn, and potato chowder”. It was ok- but not really what my family called stellar. And it certainly wasn’t chowder. It was barely thicker than a regular broth soup, despite having thickener in the recipe. So I fiddled around with it a bit and came up with a good soup that my family likes. I still use some flour to make it thicker than a regular soup, but it’s still definitely soup. If you wanted to make it a chowder, you certainly could- just use more fat and flour to make the roux thicker.

Here’s what you’ll need:

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As the name implies, I am using bacon. HOWEVER you could easily substitute ham or even smoked sausage or kielbasa- any of those would give the soup great flavor. And they are a bit cheaper than bacon (about $5 a pound in my neck of the woods!), which helps when making this as Broke Food. If you make one of those substitutions you’ll need to use butter or olive oil to saute the onion.

As for the potatoes, yes; those are frozen potato cubes, better known as Southern Style Hash Browns. They work a treat in soups and stews, actually. Most of the time I use actual whole potatoes from the produce section. But sometimes I just really need things to be easy and quick. So if you have frozen potatoes, now is the time to use them!

For the chicken, I simmered one chicken breast (about half a pound- I’m making a half batch because it’s just the kids & I) in the broth I would be using for the soup for about 2 hours so it would shred super easily… and then realized I didn’t have cream for the finish… and THEN realized I didn’t have an inch of space for a container of broth in the fridge. Yes; I had to throw it away 😦 So if you have your poop in a group better than I did, simmer your chicken breast in the broth you will use for the soup (adding water at the end to make up for any evaporation). Or you could use leftover chicken- that works super well too.

Moving on! Cook your bacon over medium low heat to render as much fat out of it as you can. Drain the bacon with a slotted spoon and set it aside. Reserve about 1/3 cup or 5 tablespoons (which will probably be all of it, but you never know). If you have extra, put it in the fridge for future use. (If you use ham or sausage of some kind, now would be the time to fry it as well. Sometimes those things can be greasy and you want the fat rendered out before you put it in the soup.) Saute your diced onion in the bacon fat on medium until soft, 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the onion and stir.

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Cook the roux for about a minute to get rid of the raw flour taste, and then whisk in the broth. Add all of the ingredients except the cream, salt, and white pepper. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and let go for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally- it’s going to want to stick because of the roux. At this point all you’re doing is cooking the potatoes and corn through. Once those 2 are done, shut the stove off and stir in the cream. Give the soup a taste and add salt & white pepper to your liking. Remember to use white and not black pepper- no one likes little black floaties in their light colored soup!

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This is a wonderful soup to warm to you right down to your toes after a long, cold, and- here- windy day! Add some hot biscuits with butter (and maybe some honey) and you’re set. I’m looking forward to sharing some more of my winter proof meals with you 🙂

 

The Recipe:

1/2 Lb. Bacon, diced

1/2 Onion, diced

1/3 C Flour

8 C Chicken Broth

1 Lb Chicken, cooked and shredded (can be halved and still have plenty of chicken)

2 C Potatoes, diced

2 C Corn

1/2 C Heavy Whipping Cream

Salt and White Pepper to taste

 

The Method:

*In a soup pot, cook the bacon over medium low heat to render as much fat as possible.

*Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Measure out 1/3 C of fat and put the rest in the fridge for another use.

*In the same unwashed soup pot, saute the onions in the 1/3 C bacon fat on medium heat until they are soft- about 3-5 minutes.

*Sprinkle the flour over the onions and bacon fat and stir for about 2 minutes.

*Whisk in the chicken broth until smooth.

*Add all ingredients except cream, salt, and pepper.

*Cover and bring to a boil, then back down to a simmer.

*Simmer 10-20 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. Stir fairly often- the roux will make the soup want to stick to the bottom.

*When the potatoes are done, add the cream and taste. Add salt and white pepper to taste.

 

 

 

When Ron & I started dating I was a single mom of 15 month old twins and to say that money was tight would be a gross understatement. Ron was a student, so his finances weren’t any better. Most of our dates consisted of staying in and watching a movie after the girls went to bed. That continued after we got married (10 months after we started dating). For our first anniversary I wanted to have a special dinner, but we didn’t know anyone in the town we had moved to so we couldn’t call a sitter. And money was still an issue. We were quite fond of our evenings in, but I didn’t want our anniversary to be just another date night on the couch. So ’round about April (3 months before our anniversary- I like to be prepared well in advance) I started really thinking about what I could do to give the two of us a special evening. I started by making a playlist on Youtube of romantic songs to listen to while we ate. Then I decided on dinner: pan seared filet mignon, Caesar Salad, good, crusty, fresh bread, and cheesecake for dessert (to find the recipe for the AMAZING cheesecake I make, click here). I know what you’re thinking “Filet mignon?! How is that cost conscious??” But if you watch the sales at a lot of grocery stores, you’ll find they offer filet mignon as part of a 2 for $5 (-ish; stores differ, but they usually offer them at a price that’s far less than what you’d normally pay) special at least once a year- usually 2 or 3 times. That makes it completely affordable! And I’ve found that deal in three different states in three different parts of the country, so there’s a good chance you’ll find it where ever you live. If I can get the steaks on sale I can make the whole dinner for about $25-$30 or so, give or take. Try getting 2 steak dinners with cheesecake for dessert at a nice restaurant for $30 or less and you’ll know why I’m perfectly fine with staying home and making our special occasion dinners when we’re low on money!

Once the night of our anniversary arrived, we put the girls to bed as usual and then set up the living room with a small coffee table in the middle of the room set with candles and Ron’s laptop set up next it for the music. Ron sat at the breakfast bar in the kitchen while I cooked and we talked. When dinner was ready we sat in the dark living room at the candle lit table, talking about our life together so far and what we’d like the future to hold as we ate a delicious dinner and listened to music that we both loved. By the end of dessert we had decided that the evening was so wonderful that we didn’t miss going out in the least. In fact, Ron requests the exact same dinner for his birthdays- even when we do have the money to go out. It’s truly a magical experience for us!

For our anniversary this year Ron had to work. For some, that means having a late dinner. For us that means postponing it completely because for now Ron spends Sunday night through Friday afternoon away from home, on the road with the railroad. So I had to plan the big night for the weekend after. I wanted to go all out this year because this is the first time in 4 years we’ve been able to have our special meal. I even bought flowers for the centerpiece this year. I’ve included pictures of the table for our special evening. But for now, I’ll give you the method for the steak I cook…

You’ll need 2 bacon-wrapped pieces of filet mignon. Sometimes the ones that are on sale come vacuum packed in a package of 2. I got this year’s steaks from the butcher counter at my local grocery store. About a day before you plan to cook them, coat both sides with seasoning. I’ve used McCormick’s Montreal Steak Seasoning on these (I haven’t gotten around to making my own yet- but I will soon). Press the seasoning onto both sides so it sticks. IMG_20140719_204407536 Wrap the steaks in plastic and put them in the fridge until about 30-40 minutes before you plan to cook them. Let them come to room temperature while you let the oven heat up to 400 degrees. Yes; my anniversary is in July. Yes; I did this anyway. It was worth it!

Once the steaks are at room temperature and the oven has heated up, put a small oven proof skillet on medium high heat and add enough oil to coat the bottom. When the oil shimmers (it will happen fast so stand and watch it) put the steaks in and cook on the first side for about 2-4 minutes. My steaks are only about an inch to an inch & a half thick, so they will only take about 2 minutes to sear. It may seem like the seasoning is going to burn- don’t worry; it will be fine. So long as you put a good thick layer of seasoning on, it will form a crust instead of actually burning. If you don’t want a crust of seasonings, just sprinkle the steaks with a little seasoned salt. Or you can leave them plain too.

Cook the steaks for about a minute on the second side and then put the whole pan into the oven. Let the steaks cook for about 10 minutes for rare. (Despite the color on the outside of the steak in the picture below, it really was rare in the center.) This will give you time to plate up the sides you’ll be serving. I just did mixed greens and bread because we were going to be eating dessert immediately after dinner and I didn’t want us to be stuffed from a huge meal and therefore unable to truly enjoy our dessert. Well, that and other reasons 😉 If you make sides other than salad and bread, you’ll need to have them ready and standing by for when the steaks are ready to go. Once the steaks come out of the oven, plate them with the other sides and you’re ready to go! IMG_20140719_210231824

(Note: because of the lighting in my kitchen at 9 pm, the steak looks darker than it was. In reality the color was about a shade & a half lighter than in the picture.)

Here is what this year’s anniversary dinner looked like: IMG_20140719_210422052

 

In the light when I set this table up it looked like this: IMG_20140719_193756588_HDR

 

It’s super easy to turn a table that seats 6 into cozy seating for 2 or 3. See the stepped risers the candles are on? They’re made of these: IMG_20140719_193907100

Yep. Four 12 packs of soda. The single cans are for stability and the gallons of water are to help insure the top boxes don’t move around. Throw a (clean!) bed sheet over the whole thing and you have a beautifully appointed romantic table for 2, complete with ambiance! And all for WAY less than you’d pay in a restaurant. For fun, Ron & I did the math. Including decorations (which we already had but we included into the price to account for people buying them specifically for this dinner), rum to go in the sodas we had, and all of the ingredients, we had dinner for less than $50. Money isn’t an issue for us now, but it’s always wise to be judicious with the resources we have. And it feels good to know I can provide a top-notch meal for less than we’d have to pay elsewhere.

 

Over dinner we discussed our favorite memories from the last year and from the 8 years we’ve been together. That’s our anniversary tradition, and this year it was extra sweet 🙂 It was a beautiful evening with my beloved.  After all we’ve been through and with how bright our future looks, it was wonderful to have a special dinner just the two of us with great food and a romantic atmosphere. Ron was happy to have our special dinner again and I was happy to be able to make it for him. I’m very lucky to have the life I have and I really couldn’t ask for more. Life is good 🙂