Homemade Chicken Nuggets

Have you heard about Momables?  Before you roll your eyes and wander off at yet another lunch post, just bear with me.  I’m really digging this site lately for lunch inspiration and great recipes that give you alternatives to processed foods and ways to make your time go further.  How to freeze rice is genius! (I used a large cookie scoop to make portions.)  But my current favorite is the homemade chicken nuggets recipe.  

I’ve been tinkering with it for a few batches now, and I’ve finally found the version that makes my family say “YUM!”.  They reheat nicely and the kiddos scarf them down.  We get our ground chicken from the local butcher shop at a ridiculously cheap price, so these are also extremely economical.  Add to that, this latest batch used homemade breadcrumbs* from homemade bread and a DIY taco seasoning mix (recipe below), and we’re talking delicious food on the cheap.   This version is toddler approved and makes a large batch, perfect for freezing.

2014-03-02 14.52.23Nuggets, frozen and ready for storage (unbaked).

Large Batch Homemade Chicken Nuggets

Adapted from Momables

Ingredients

  • 4lbs ground chicken
  • 1 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 cup shredded jack cheese
  • 4 teaspoons taco seasoning, divided
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs

Directions

In your food processor, pulse oats, cheese, and 2 teaspoons taco seasoning until combined.  Add chicken and oat/cheese mixture to your stand mixer and stir until combined using the paddle attachment. (Alternatively, you could mix by hand or do in batches in your food processor.)

In another bowl, combine remaining 2 teaspoons taco seasoning with breadcrumbs and mix well.  (You can also shake the mixture in a jar or bag before pouring into a bowl.  A perfect job for that helping toddler!)

Form chicken mixture into small patties and press into breadcrumb mixture. Place on parchment lined baking sheets and bake at 375 degrees until a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees (roughly 15-20 minutes).

Freeze unbaked chicken nuggets on parchment lined baking sheet for 1-2 hours.  Transfer to freezer bags or vacuum seal.  When ready, bake following directions above, adding roughly 3-5 minutes to cook time.

2014-03-02 14.52.49Homemade taco seasoning.

Taco Seasoning (Pepper Free!)

Adapted from Spoonful

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup Black Canyon chili powder**
  • 1/8 cup cumin
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a mason jar.  Close lid and shake well.

*I used the instructions from The Homemade Pantry, which are perfect if you’re using frozen bread.  I have a bag in the freezer and throw ends and slices in as available, making up a batch when the bag is full.

**Black Canyon chili powder is from Savory Spice Shop.  Available online or in store.  Feel free to substitute regular chili powder.

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Peas and Light

I don’t know about you, but I’m already dreaming of spring, sunshine, and the gardening that comes with it.  The seed catalog is dog-eared and marked up, there are gardening books littered around the living room, and I’m spending way too much time on the Pinterest gardening boards.

I took a seed inventory a few weeks ago and visited nearly every gardening/urban farm store in town. (Two of them had chickens, one had shop cats, one had a shop dog.  Rex had a great time.)   I held myself back and only purchased a few packs of seeds to add to my collection.  Some of those seeds happened to be the ones I could plant first: peas! (I know, I know.  I’m a little early for my growing zone.  But I just couldn’t help myself. And yes, I know I could just direct seed them when the time comes, but I like starts so much more.)

I planted on January 19th and BEHOLD!  It’s alive! MUHAHAHHAHAHAHA!

wpid-IMG_20140126_114414.jpgCascadia Snap Peas (Uprising Seeds)

wpid-IMG_20140126_114407.jpgMaestro Shelling Peas (Territorial Seed Co.)

Want to check out my super fancy seed setup?

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I spared no expense with my dollar store bins, newspaper pots (I used this tutorial on YouTube), and recycled lamp that was destined for the Goodwill. I purchased some “natural spectrum” CFLs ($12 for a 2-pack) to give my little green babies some happy light and keep my power bill down. (Seedlings need at least 12 hours of light a day, and there’s no way we’re getting that yet.  Plus, all of my well-lit windows are not plant friendly, aka dog, cat, and kid accessible).

What are you growing this year?

A Lovely Loaf

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Take a moment to drink in that beautiful bit of bread.  Is your mouth watering yet?  Good.

I recently picked up the Better Homes & Gardens The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking for a whopping $4 (used, from Goodwill online via Amazon).  When I received it, I noted that pages had been dog-eared and took that as a good omen.  That beauty above is the first loaf from this book and it did not disappoint!  It is the basic White Bread, the first recipe in the book.

The description states, “This tender classic with its golden crust and delicate flavor is the bread supermarket loaves aspire to be.”

This loaf lives up to that lofty expectation.  It is soft and light and delicious.  When I gave Sam a slice to try, Rex stole it from him and ran away.  It’s that good.

Loaf specs: 

  • “White Bread” from BHG Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking
  • 1.5lb loaf
  • Basic bread setting
  • Light crust

Winning Pins

Today, I’m sharing some winning pins that are now on permanent rotation in our house.  I’ve had a streak of good luck trying recipes and DIY food things from Pinterest and I’m hoping you like them as much as we do.

Homemade Freezer Biscuits

These are ridiculously easy and really tasty!  I’ve always been afraid of making biscuits because of the cold butter thing and the rolling.  Turns out, it’s not that hard.  Or at least, this version isn’t.  These biscuits are a huge hit with both the adults and kids and really do cook up nicely from the freezer.  I let them thaw about 30 minutes or so before putting them in to bake and they turn out nice and fluffy.  The entire recipe takes 5 ingredients, and you can pronounce them all.  I usually make up a batch when I need them, and have the time, and freeze the other half for when I need them, but don’t have the time.

Whole Wheat Waffles

These are a recent addition to the Tried and Awesome board.  We were recently graced with a visit from the Shunn Clan (minus Puck and Tucker) and they braved my first attempt at these waffles.  The verdict?  We are whole wheat waffle converts!  The addition of cinnamon and honey really takes this waffle recipe to the next level.  The use of whole wheat flour gives the waffles a more complex flavor and makes them cook up just a bit denser.  I think the next batch I make will be doubled so I can have freezer waffles on hand for easy toasting.

Condensed Cream of Whatever Soup

I hate canned condensed cream of (insert flavor here) soup.  There. I said it.  It is so salty and tastes like chemicals.  No longer do I have to bring that crap into my house.  This homemade version takes 5 minutes in the microwave and can be made into whatever flavor you need.  I left mine plain and it still worked beautifully. My only piece of advice is to make this soup right before you need it.  Otherwise, it sets up a bit and you have to warm it and whisk it back to the right consistency.

Homemade Spreadable Butter

This is another one of those foods that you think, “Oh, I couldn’t make that.  It’s a specialized thing.”  I now say, “PFFFFFT!”

Seriously.  Spreadable butter is ridiculously easy.  My 2 sticks of rock hard butter transformed into a beautiful, spreadable whipped butter.  I ended up with around 14oz of olive oil infused butter with a cost of $1.25 vs. $4 for 15oz of questionable canola infused butter.  Add to that the convenience* of making it at home and I’m sold on the homemade version.

*Yes, making it at home is more convenient for me than pre-packaged because I don’t have to cart the baby to the store.

Baked Ravioli

Oh. My. YUM! This dish is so easy and so delicious.  Frozen ravioli (we used the spinach and cheese kind from Costco), spaghetti sauce (in our case, leftover marinara), and cheese (a block of shredded mozzarella). Layers of pasta and sauce and cheese, all baked together to form a gooey dish of awesome for your tummy.  This dish makes great leftovers and reheats well.  We served it with steamed mixed veggies.

Bread Machine Cornbread

A month or two ago, I scored a Breadman TR800 on Craigslist for $20.  Since then, I haven’t bought a single loaf of bread.  This cornbread is simple and goes great with chili.  On my machine, I use the cake setting and it turns out fluffy and golden.  Whenever I make this cornbread, the kids wolf it down.  I like mine with butter and honey.

So there you have it.  We have been trying very hard to cook from home and be frugal and these recipes have allowed me to put my grocery budget to better use.  Hopefully some of these great recipes will make their way into your kitchen rotation.  Happy cooking!

Office in a Closet

One day in October, I was getting my daily dose of RSS when I was hit with a post that lit up the lightbulb in my head so bright that it could have powered a small city.  It was this post on OrgJunkie, written by Deana Ward of Your Happy Stuff.

An office IN a closet?  A space where toddlers don’t pass by, causing an avalanche of papers with their wandering fingers.  A space that can be safely cordoned off with the use of certain child-proofing devices.

It was a positively brilliant idea.

My previous setup was a desk in the corner of the dining room. Besides taking up space, it gathered piles of stuff.  I usually ended up working at the table, rather than the desk, because it was easier.  The drawers of the desk proved too tempting for our neighboring toddler, who would open them, looking for implements of injury.  

It just wasn’t working.

Enter the hall closet.  Upon moving into this house, we were shocked at the number of closets.  There are more closets than bedrooms and it is glorious.  The hall closet is actually more like the living room/dining room/entry closet.  It was housing the vacuum, two guitars, and some other miscellaneous items.  After reading the post linked above, I ran out into the garage and grabbed an unused plastic shelving unit.  Of course, I didn’t measure first and then tried to shove a 36″ shelf into a 30″ closet.

Woops!  Time to rethink the plan.

A couple weeks went by and the state of my desk deteriorated.  With the money tree in hibernation, buying a new shelf wasn’t in the cards.  I needed to make do with what I had on hand.  A few days ago, I had a small cleaning fit and tidied up the kitchen, reorganizing some of the foodstuffs.  While doing so, I noticed my unused IKEA kitchen cart.  In our previous residence, it had been the side table at my chair.  But in this house, it had been shoved into a corner of the kitchen and been used as place to put things that didn’t have a home.  At the moment, it was housing some empty containers, a sad looking house plant, and being used to keep the blinds up (by tying the string to the cart).

So, I repurposed that sucker. I cleared the cart out, re-homed a few items in the closet, and transferred my desk to the cart.

image

The top of the cart houses the items I need often (envelopes, stamps, pens, etc.).  The middle shelf is the “IN” box. Incoming mail and things to be filed go there.  The bottom shelf is my filing folders. They contain manuals, paid bills, medical records, and other important information. Not pictured is my shred box, which is still looking for a permanent space, and the shelf of the closet.  The built-in closet shelf houses a box of batteries, a box of tape and scissors, and a box of candles.  (I was having a hard time getting a picture of the new setup, as Rex was trying to get to the guitar.)

The roll of paper next to the cart will soon be moving downstairs where it will be joined by the unused cupboard in the garage and the desk that is now empty.  Those will be setup as an art station in the play room.  This solution will free up a large amount of space in my dining room, just in time for Thanksgiving!

I’m finding this solution to be even better than a shelf, as I can pull the entire cart out when I need to do paperwork.  I just wheel it out to the table, deal with the paperwork, and then put it away.  It is out of sight when not in use, and more importantly, inaccessible by toddlers.

Total cost of this new setup = $0!  Yay for using what was on hand!

Tortilla Cracker-Chips

The original goal was to make homemade tortilla chips.  But the consistency doesn’t come out quite right for that.  Instead, these warm pieces of floury, salty goodness are not quite crackers, but not quite chips.  


Tortilla Cracker-Chips

Ingredients: 

  • 4 soft taco sized flour tortillas
  • Kosher salt
  • Coconut oil
Directions:

Use a pizza cutter to slice tortillas into fairly uniform pieces.  Spread pieces out on a cookie sheet and brush with oil. (Or, you can place the pieces in a lidded container or zip top bag, pour in the oil, and shake.)  Sprinkle salt to taste.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until desired crispiness is reached.  Remove from pan and consume as soon as they are cool enough to handle.

Notes:

  • You could put salt and pepper or cinnamon and sugar or whatever flavor you like on your crackers/chips.  Go crazy and experiment!
  • If you sub in corn tortillas, you may need to adjust your cooking time.
  • Coconut oil is not essential, but it was what we had on hand and was delicious.
  • This is totally cheaper than buying a bag of tortilla chips from the store.  I buy my tortillas in bulk (a large 3 pack) at Costco and then freeze them, thawing as needed.

(Confession: I made these originally on Tuesday night, but didn’t get any photos before they were scarfed down in their entirety.  So I had to make another batch.  The things I do for the blog…)

A Rant About Food

Pay day… It happens not nearly often enough and not nearly enough $.  Since I quit my corporate job, pay days seem fewer and farther in between.  How did we go from two incomes to one and still survive?  I learned to cook.  And I don’t mean boil water.  I mean really *cook*.  And I learned to shop to facilitate that cooking.  And I learned to make do.  Here are a few of the ways we make it to the end of each pay cycle with at least a few pennies in the bank account.

  • Eat at home.  I know this sounds simple, but it really isn’t.  When you work full time or are out running around all the time, making it home to eat or remembering to bring a meal is tough.  I eat breakfast at home in the mornings;often hubby and I eat together.  He likes oatmeal (less than $1 of oats will feed him breakfast for a month) and I like bacon, eggs, and toast (not as cheap, but still cheaper than going out to eat).  For lunches, he takes the fixings for quesadillas because sandwiches are not his thing.  A pack of tortillas, some shredded cheese and a few chicken breasts cooked with an onion will make lunch for about a week at a time.  I generally make a fruit protein smoothie at work since lunchbreaks are just a pipe dream.  Leftovers also make good lunches.  Dinners are where we live it up.  I am learning how much fun it is to experiment with different recipes.  If you don’t have much knowledge of cooking, see the end of this post for a never-fail, super-easy dinner recipe.
  • Cut down on the lattes.  I have been limiting myself to one coffee out a week and it has made a huge difference in my weekly spending.  When you think about it, the typical coffee is $3.  Multiply that by 5 days a week and that’s $15 a week or $60 a month.  Your wallet (and your waistline) will thank you.
  • Buy food as close to it’s original state as possible.  I don’t mean go out and purchase a cow.  I mean buy things that haven’t been prepped or pre-cooked.  You will save lots of $ just in that alone.  Pre-shredded cheese comes with a premium price over a plain block of cheese that you shred yourself.  Why buy packs of instant oatmeal when you can buy a can of it for $3 that will feed you for at least 4 times as long.  Think of those things that have the most packaging and those are probably the ones you could find in the bulk section.  Which brings me to…
  • Buy in bulk.  No, you don’t have to stock up on 10 years worth of deodorant.  In fact, I rarely buy non food items in bulk.  But find a grocery store with a good bulk section.  Just because you are buying from the bulk section doesn’t mean you have to buy a ton of it.  I have containers for certain things that we buy from the bulk section and that is as much as I buy at a time.  Things like flour, popcorn, oatmeal, etc. can be much cheaper when you purchase by the pound rather than by the container.
  • Make it yourself.  Convenience foods are the downfall of our society.  (Ok, there are lots of other downfalls too, but this is the one that irritates me the most.)  I know that you can’t make *everything* yourself.  But you can make a few key things to cut your grocery bill.  Here are my top five.
    1. Bread.  Find a good recipe that works for you.  My new favorite is the No Knead Whole Wheat Honey Sandwich Bread recipe from Baking Bites.  If you want white bread, the Homemade Sandwich Bread recipe from The Hungry Mouse is awesome too.
    2. Coffee.  (See the rant about lattes above.) Buy a good coffee maker or an AeroPress and figure out your perfect cup o’ joe.  And yes, I grind my beans at home.  They taste fresher that way.
    3. Yogurt.  This one is new to me, but I don’t think I can go back to store bought.  A half gallon of milk + a packet of stater (or a 6oz cup of plain yogurt) + 1/3 cup powdered milk = 8 cups of yogurt.  Rough price estimate is $3.50 total for the entire batch.  Last time I checked, even a 4 cup container of plain yogurt was around $5.
    4. Granola.  This is another one of those convenience foods that’s soooo simple to make it’s crazy.  You can see my adventure with granola here.
    5. Popcorn.  Homemade popcorn couldn’t be simpler.  And all the crap they put into microwave popcorn is awful.  Kernels + oil + heat = popcorn.  It’s that simple.  Throw some oil in the bottom of a tall pot, add the kernels and shake to coat.  Turn the temp to medium high and put a lid on slightly ajar.  Wait for the popping to begin and remove from heat when the popping stops.  Yes, it really is that simple.
  • Shop local and seasonally.  If you have a farmer’s market, go to it.  If you have a co-op, go to it and (if you can) become a member.  If you know of a farm that sells fresh produce and/or meat products, visit it.  The closer food is, the less expensive it is (usually).  If you don’t have any of those things, shop the sales, especially for what’s in season.  Right now strawberries are in season, so I split 3 flats with a friend.  I am processing and freezing them to use later in the season when strawberries cost $5 for a pint.  The 1 1/2 flats cost me $22.50 and I’m going to have more strawberries than my freezer can hold.
  • Keep a good stock of seasonings on hand.  You’d be amazed how many times you can eat the same key ingredients by just changing up the seasonings.  I splurge on seasonings from Pampered Chef, but also make some mixes of my own and buy many seasonings in the bulk aisle (Curry, anyone?).  Seasonings last a while and really brighten up a dish.
  • If you love something expensive, learn to make it yourself.  For us, it’s almond milk.  My hubby is crazy about the stuff, but at $3.50/half gallon, it gets pricey fast.  I found an easy recipe online and learned to make it.  A big bag of almonds at Costco is around $10 and a cup of almonds makes a quart of almond milk.
That’s all the advice I can give you today.  No, I’m not perfect and yes, we still eat out.  But our grocery bill continues to shrink as I learn to make more things and make do more often.  And now, without further ado… The recipe that we use several times a week.

Chicken + Veggies + Carbs (Optional) = Dinner

What you need:

A large pan or skillet.
A splash of oil in said pan or skillet.
Enough chicken breasts or tenderloins to fill said pan or skillet.
Some frozen or canned vegetables that you like to eat.
Seasonings you have on hand.
About 20 minutes.
Carbs if you want ’em (pasta, rice, potatoes, etc.)

What you do:

Heat oil up in the pan for a few minutes while you dig the chicken out of the fridge or freezer.  Set the heat to medium and toss the chicken in the pan, sprinkle with seasonings, put the lid on, and ignore for a few minutes.  Dump the vegetables into a microwave safe container.  If you’re cooking frozen veggies, add a splash of water.  If you’re using canned veggies, don’t drain them.  Microwave until hot (usually around 3 – 5 minutes, depending on whether your veggies are frozen or not).  Once the veggies are in the microwave, flip the chicken over and season again.  Once the chicken is cooked through, you can cut it up and mix it with the veggies or leave it whole and serve beside the veggies.  Serve with carbs of your choice if desired.