Saturday, December 30, 2017

Recipes to Help Keep Your Sanity in 2018

First things first - Happy Holidays!  I love Christmas time.  Taking time off, being SUPER lazy, seeing friends and family, and having time for lots and lots of cooking!  What's not to love.  

Us at the end of the day on Christmas.
I am writing this on Friday December 29th, or day 7, DAY SEVEN, of taking off of work for Christmas and New Years.  Can't remember the last time I was able to unplug this much! Ok I did go by the office today for a minute, and did a little bit of emailing yesterday, but that doesn't really count because both were brief and completely stress free.  This break has been very relaxing and fun so far.  No big trips - have just enjoyed low key good ole Prattville Alabama.  Have had some family gatherings and friends in town for the holidays.  Saw the new Star Wars movie.  And I still have 3 more days off to go!  

I have been looking forward to cooking, cooking, and more cooking, and my break did not disappoint.  This post is about ideas and recipes of things to do ahead of time, so you will be less likely to eat out and more likely to eat healthier in the new year!  Let's face it - it's HARD to cook on work days.  So I'm all about doing things ahead.  This post will be in 2 parts.  First is using the crockpot to make things for later when things get most certainly nuts; second is more make ahead ideas but with your stovetop and oven.

Slow Cooker Chicken Fajita and Quinoa Soup
Slow Cooker Red Bean, Sweet Potato, and Chicken Stew
Make Ahead Western Omelet "Muffins"
BBQ Beer Pulled Chicken

Part 1 - Use the crockpot to keep you sane

I love using the crockpot.  But having to do the chopping and prep sometimes can defeat the purpose of not having time to cook during the week.  So I did two things - 1) I made a soup, portioned and froze for later, and 2) chopped and prepped another that I can dump in the crockpot straight from the freezer and wha-la.  

Slow Cooker Chicken Fajita and Quinoa Soup
If you aren't eating quinoa you need to be.  It's super healthy and filling and I make it all the time.  The only perplexing part of cooking with it has been rinsing it. It's TINY.  Rinsing takes off this outer coating that can taste bitter (so you need to rinse it).   For Christmas I got a set of three fine mesh strainers, perfect for quinoa rinsing!! (they will also be great for stock straining, rice rinsing, etc).  This recipe is from Eat Yourself Skinny.  After cooking I portioned into ziploc freezer containers (two servings per container), cooled overnight in the refrigerator, then put them in the freezer.  Labeled with sticky notes so I'll remember what the heck it is later when it's a solid block of frozen goodness.   

Rinse yo quinoa

Add everything to the crockpot

Take out the cooked chicken and shred

All done! 

Slow Cooker Red Bean, Sweet Potato and Chicken Stew
One idea that really helps out when things are busy is doing the entire meal prep ahead, dumping it all in a single freezer bag, freeze, then the day off dump it in the crock pot and go.  It can be that simple! Well pretty much.  For this recipe, you will add the stock/broth the day off (but how hard is opening and pouring in an entire carton, no measuring!), and then stirring in peanut butter near the end right before you eat.   Like the previous recipe, you can freeze this after cooking if you don't want a lot of leftovers.  

Makes 6 servings

2 - 15 ounce can no-salt-added red beans, rinsed and drained (or one can chickpeas and one red beans)
4cups peeled, cubed sweet potatoes (about 1 pound)

  • 8ounces boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

  • 8ounces boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces

  • 32 ounce carton reduced-sodium chicken broth

  • 2 1/2cups chopped green sweet peppers (2 large)

  • 114 1/2 ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained

  • 110 ounce can tomatoes and chopped green chiles, undrained

  • 1tablespoon Cajun seasoning

  • 2cloves garlic, minced

  • 1/4cup creamy peanut butter
  • chopped cilantro (topping)
  • chopped peanuts (topping)

    With a sharpie, write the directions on the front of a large gallon size freezer bag.  Add all items except the chicken broth, peanut butter, and toppings to the bag.  (You don't want to have to be hunting around for the recipe and how long you cook it at the crack of dawn). Seal, flatten, and put in the freezer.  

    Day of cooking - Run warm water over the bag to so that you can break it up slightly and fit it all in your crockpot.  Dump everything in the crockpot.  Pour broth into crockpot.  Cook on low 10-12 hours or high 5-6 hours.  When it's ready, mix peanut butter with about 1 cup of the liquid in a separate bowl, then add back in and serve.  Top with cilantro and peanuts. 

    Part 2 - More Make Ahead Ideas

    This next part has two recipes, one for breakfast and one that is just meat that you can use in all kinds of ways.  Meat is a struggle for me on busy days/weeks because it takes forethought with buying, thawing, and cooking.  Granted fresh vegetables and fruit take forethought, but for me far less than meat.  So, making a lot at once and freezing in small portions is genius! 

    Make-Ahead Western Omelet "Muffins"
    Makes 12 muffins or 6 servings

    This recipe is adapted from the SkinnyTaste cookbook, which I highly recommend owning.  The website ( is great too and I make recipes from there all the time.  The great thing about this recipe is you can really adapt it to other veggies, cheeses, and meats you like or have on hand and need to use up. 

    6 large eggs
    6 large egg whites
    3 oz chopped ham (or turkey if right after a holiday and you have leftovers)
    3 oz shredded smoked cheddar
    1/2 cup chopped bell pepper (red or orange preferred, but any color works)
    1/4 cup chopped chives or green onion tops (green part)
    pinch of salt and pepper

    Preheat the oven to 350F.  Spray 12-count muffin tin with cooking spray.  In a large bowl beat the eggs and egg whites.  Add in the rest of the ingredients and mix together.  Pour about 1/4 cup mixture into each muffin cup.  Bake 22-25 minutes.  

    To Freeze:  
    After cooking, let completely cool to room temperature on a cooling rack.  Individually wrap each in plastic wrap, then place all of them in a gallon size freezer bag.   When you are ready to eat them, unwrap and microwave for about 1 minute.  2 muffins = 1 serving.  

    I put too much in each tin, so I actually made 11.  That just won't do so I ate one.  

    BBQ Beer Pulled Chicken

    This last one can actually be made in the crock pot or on the stove top.  Since my crockpot was busy making the Quinoa soup, I made this on the stove top.  It honestly was more fun too on the stove top.  Recipe is from Half Baked Harvest (they also have a very tasty cheddar popover recipe on the same post as the chicken).  

    This may seem really weird, but when I was ingredient shopping I came across whole chickens on sale at Whole Foods, and felt a strong desire to buy it so I could break it down.  I've broken down a whole chicken a few times, but it's been a while.  Something about it makes me feel very accomplished when I'm done......So, for the chicken, I broke down a 4.5 lb chicken and used both breasts, both tenderloins, and both thighs.  I've put the drumsticks and wings in a freezer bag in the freezer for later.  


    Simmer, simmer, simmer

    Stir near the end to keep from sticking to the bottom
    Portion into small freezer size bags for one meal for however many folks you have.  The skies the limit on how to use it, but few ideas come to mind:
    • on a bun (brilliant, right?)
    • on a baked sweet potato.  This is my favorite of this list.  I make a lot of "baked" sweet potatoes and then pile things on top that I have around.  Canned black beans (rinsed) with some cheese and avocado is a good idea. To "bake", wrap a washed sweet potato in plastic wrap, microwave for 4-6 minutes depending on size. Done. 
    • on a salad
    • on chips (nachos)
    • in a tortilla shell - BBQ tacos
    I hope you enjoyed these recipes and tips on how to make life more sane during your busy work week! 

    I'll end with Fritz, because, well, he's adorable.   For some reason he hangs around a lot while I'm cooking, looking like I'm going to drop something.......(because I often do).

    Good luck to everyone in the New Year! 

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