Category Archives: Feeding the frenzy

Feeding the Frenzy: Favorite Crock Pot Meals (recipes included!)

True Confession:  When Hubs and I got married, I didn’t know how to cook.  Toast and grilled cheese were my “specialties.”  In fact, I toyed with the idea of adding “I promise to do all the cooking” to Hubs’ wedding vows:) We received a really nice crock pot as a wedding gift.  For months, it sat in the unopened box in the hall closet.  The first time I used it, I made chili.  Actually, I made the chili on the stove and just used the crock pot to keep the soup warm!  Slowly, I learned to cook…a roast here, a meatloaf there. Hubs bought me a subscription to Fine Cooking and the techniques laid out on those pages took my budding skills to a new level.  I discovered that I loved cooking!

It took a few years and a few babies for me to discover the handiness of the crock pot.  The first few recipes I tried were…bleh.  Crocks full of mushy, flavorless goo.  Okay, maybe not that extreme, but definitely not winners.  A friend gave me a crock pot recipe for BBQ chicken that worked beautifully for a family get together.  From there, I began searching for more recipes, more ideas.  Now, our crock pot gets used once a week, usually on our busiest nights.  After a lot of trial and error, these are a few recipes that are “winners” for us…one is a new gem from my Mom.  Delicious!  Let’s start with that one…I don’t know what the original name is, but we call it:

Chicken with Tomatoes and Mushrooms (or ‘that delicious thing Mimi made’)

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 onions, chopped (we use one large, or 2 small)
  • 1 lb thick cut fresh mushrooms
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 C flour
  • 1 C chicken broth
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • Fresh basil for garnish

Place chicken in bottom of crock pot and top with remaining ingredients.  Cover and cook on low 7-9 hours, high 4-6 hours.  Garnish with basil.  We serve this with rice and a nice, big salad.  I even put the chicken in frozen!  I know, I live on the edge…

Crock Pot Swiss Steak

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 4-6 cube steaks
  • 1/2 C flour
  • 4 potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 4 carrots, sliced into 1″ pieces
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce

Heat the oil in a large skillet.  Coat the cube steaks with flour and brown in the oil.  Remove steaks from skillet and drain.  Place the potatoes, carrots and onion in the bottom of the crock pot.  Place meat on top of veggies and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Pour tomatoes and tomato sauce over meat.  Cover and cook on low for 10 hours or high for 6 hours.  We serve this with egg noodles and a big, green salad, though it would be fine without the noodles.  This is a great way to make cube steak (a very affordable cut of beef) flavorful and tender.

Asian Lemon Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 12-16 boneless, skinless chicken tenders (or chicken breasts cut into strips)
  • 1/2 C flour
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 6 oz frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp ketchup
  • olive oil for browning chicken

Dredge chicken strips in flour and brown in olive oil.  You aren’t trying to cook the chicken, just give it a nice outside color and crisp coating.  Place chicken in crock pot.  Mix remaining ingredients in a bowl and pour over chicken.  Cover and cook on high for 4 hours, low 6-8 hours.  Serve with rice.  We have also substituted orange juice concentrate and it is equally delicious.  Just cut back to 1 Tbsp of brown sugar.  Our kids LOVE this dish:)

and last, but not least, this great little recipe for BBQ chicken.  You can make double or triple the recipe to serve a crowd.

Crockpot BBQ Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 1 package boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 bottle BBQ sauce (your favorite flavor and brand)

Place chicken in crock pot.  Pour BBQ sauce over chicken.  Cook on high 4-6 hours, low 7-8 hours.  Before serving, take 2 forks and shred the chicken.  I mean, can you get any easier?!?  Such a great little recipe for a backyard party, family reunion, church picnic…you name it!   I love this recipe for summer…warm chicken sandwiches without heating up the kitchen!

So, what are your favorite crock pot recipes?  Wanna share any winners??

Next Sunday, we’ll talk about stress-free entertaining.  Really, you CAN have folks over with a house full of kids and enjoy it!

**For help with menu planning, read last week’s Feeding the Frenzy post on menus.**


Feeding the Frenzy…a series!

Food.  It’s a love/hate relationship for me.  I love to eat it, love to cook it, love to serve it.  But I hate how much it costs, hate doing dishes, hate the mundane of 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  And I go through these crazy ups and downs.  At my best, I clip coupons, buy organically, cook from scratch, use our nice dishes, and always have a plan.  At my worst, I’m digging the least oldest leftovers from the recesses of the fridge, slopping it onto paper plates and tossing it at the kids while they sit mesmerized by the TV.

Okay.  I’m exaggerating.  I don’t toss it at the kids.  I make sure they’re looking at me first.

Anyhoo, I’m always inspired by the cooler temperatures of Fall to turn over a new leaf (or spatula) and renew my efforts to make good, clean food, stay within budget, find new recipes, and make monthly menus.  For me, having a plan is the key to success in the kitchen.  My grandma taught me this little gem: always work ahead.  Applying this idea to my kitchen chores is especially helpful.  For example, after cleaning up the breakfast dishes, I defrost any meat we need for dinner, prep sandwiches for lunch, chop up veggies or fruits we need for the day, start pizza dough, etc, etc.  It only takes a few minutes, but it seems to ensure that meals will get on the table in a more timely manner.  After dinner, I lay out cereal bowls and boxes, make sure we have milk and/or juice for the morning, slice up bread, prep oatmeal add-ins, etc, etc. Thankfully, our oldest girls can make their own breakfasts, so that meal is a pretty simple event.  The same principle can be applied to meal planning and food purchases.

This week, I want to focus on menu planning.  BK (before kids, not the fast food chain) my idea of menu planning was to make a grocery list at my desk on my lunch break, pick up ingredients on my way home from work and throw something on the table.  Kraft mac n cheese and take-out Chinese were also regular “menu” rotations.  Fast-forward 12 years and we still eat mac n cheese and take out Chinese, but I’ve discovered that a more detailed, well-planned monthly menu works much better for our family of 7.  Not only do meals come together easier, we also save a TON of money.

I sort of stumbled upon this monthly menu planning method by hopping and jumping from one blog to another.  Over the years I’ve tweaked it to work for our family and I would encourage you to do the same.  First, I gather our family calendar and get a feel for what our activities are for the month…which nights we have activities, which nights we will be home; trips we have planned, company coming to visit.  Next, I work up an excel spreadsheet ( I love, love, love spreadsheets…I’m just that nerdy) that organizes the month something like this:

Mondays

Theme:

Side Dish:

9/3

9/10

9/17

9/24

I do this for each day of the week.  Sometimes (if I feel like being really organized and nerdy) I also include notes for each day of the week:  Hubs works late, soccer practice 4 PM, Bible study 7 PM, etc, etc.

You can see that I give each day of the week a “theme.”  Basically, I’m assigning either a method of cooking (crock pot, grilling, stir fry, etc), a type of cuisine (Mexican, Italian, Chinese, etc), or a type of dish (soups, salads, sandwiches, etc) to each day of the week.  We always have a “must go” night (usually on trash night) where we eat all the leftovers and clean out the fridge.  (My g’ma also coined that word for me…”mustgo.”  She was a clever lady…making leftovers sound kinda fancy:)   For the month of September, our themes look like this:

Mondays:  crock pot

Tuesdays: homemade pizza

Wednesdays:  must go’s

Thursdays:  homemade soups

Fridays:  casseroles

Saturdays:  grill night

Sundays:  roasts

After assigning a theme to each day of the week, I then assign a side dish.  For example, on grill night our side dishes are salad and baked potatoes.  Since I know we are having salad and baked potatoes every Saturday night this month, I can plan to buy a large quantity of potatoes in confidence and add lettuce to my weekly grocery list, knowing they will both be used.  From here, I start filling in specific dishes for each day of the week.  On Saturdays, I might plan to grill hamburgers and hot dogs, pork chops, chicken, and steak strips.  We already have baked potatoes and salad planned as side dishes so Saturday night dinners are planned for the month!  I repeat this for every day of the week and voila!  A month of dinners planned!

Because we homeschool and are generally all at the table for lunch, I make large dinners that can serve as leftovers for lunch.  For breakfast, we almost always do cereal and/or oatmeal. ( I’m just not one of those “get up early and make eggs and bacon for breakfast” kind of mamas…around here, everyone kinda fends for themselves.)  Even so, I find it helpful to go ahead and write out what we’re eating for breakfasts and lunches.  Again, it makes our meals more timely and saves moolah.

So, that’s it…that’s how we plan a month’s worth of menus, saving time, energy, stress, and money.  How about you?  Do you have any tried and true methods for menu planning for your family?

Next Sunday in our Feeding the Frenzy series:  Favorite Crock Pot Meals