Empanadas–Worth the Work!!

I’ve been eyeballing the Empanada recipe in Nourishing Traditions for a while, but couldn’t set aside the time (or energy) to make them.  They aren’t complicated…per say…?  but because they have to be individually made an my family of six eats like a family of 10…well it wasn’t a Rachel Ray 30 minute meal for sure.  From start to finish I think it was about 2 hours with some additional bake time for the last few.  But I would count it well worth the effort.  There was some down time during the process and I did take the time to make these with my 9 year old daughter, attempting to teach her as many basic kitchen skills as possible.   

We’ve had 2 different versions of Empanadas in St. Augustine.  And I must say if you are there you must try The Spanish Bakery.  They’ve been in business for almost 40 years and run a killer lunch special of just over 5 bucks for an Empanada, a cookie, a roll, and a drink…all homemade.  I know that is a ton of carbs, but it would be perfect for a day of walking through Old City and the Fort.
After trying a couple different ones and talking with a Cuban friend of mine about what she put in her Empanadas, I came up with this.  I doubled the recipe, and my enormously hungry family ate 19 of the 32.  If that gives you any reference point.  It may also take less time if you aren’t doubling it.  This recipe can be made and then frozen (before baked) on a cookie sheet and then transferred to a container to be baked for a quick meal later.
Recipe makes 16
The Crust:
2 1/2 cups of unbleached flour (I haven’t tried sprouted flour, but I assume a 1:1 ratio with unbleached would work okay)..Nourishing Traditions also has a recipe for Yogurt soaked pie crust that would be interesting to try.
1 tsp. of sugar
1 1/2 tsp. of sea salt
1 cup of fat ( I like a combination of animal fat and butter at a 1:1 ratio.  Butter for flavor, animal fat for texture.  I used 1/2 tallow and 1/2 butter on this…delish!  All butter will work fine, lard would also be a great option.)
A small amount of cold water
Add dry ingredients to food processor.  Pulse to mix.  Add in fat, cut into pieces.  Run processor until fat is incorporated.  My tallow took a little work to get mixed in because I had it in the fridge and it was super hard.  Drizzle in water slowly.  A little at a time until the dough forms a ball.  Remove dough from food processor, wrap double in plastic wrap, and place in the fridge.  (Your dough is done when the texture is consistent throughout.  If parts are still crumbly, just put it back in the food processor and add a little more water and mix a little longer.)
Be very careful not to add too much water at once or you will ruin your dough.  Pie crust takes a little practice, but once you’ve got it, you’ve got it and you can whip up a crust without thinking!  My rule of thumb with pie crust is a generous pinch of salt and sugar both.  A larger pinch of salt if I’m making something savory, a larger pinch of sugar if I’m making something sweet.
The Filling:
1 1/2 lbs of ground beef (choose grass-fed if you can)
2 carrots, shredded
1 yellow or white onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 small jar of green olives, chopped
1/4 cup (or a handful) of raisins, chopped
1 1/2 tsp of oregano
1 1/2 tsp of cumin
2 tsp of sea salt
1 small can of tomato paste
Brown ground beef.  Add in carrots, onions, and peppers.  Cook until they are soft. Drain some of the fat/liquid if it is in excess.  I usually never do this, because I believe in the nutritional value of saturated fat, especially from animals raised on grass, but if your mixture is too greasy, it will leak out and ruin your crust. Add in the olives, raisins, spices and tomato paste.  Turn off heat.  Mix until incorporated. You may have to add a tsp of water to get the tomato paste mixed in.  Your final product should be thick, but not runny and mixed well.
Now for the fun part.  Each Empanada will take about a handful (or golf ball) sized ball of dough.  Roll out your dough in to hand-pie sized circles.  I used the 6″ circle on my Pie board and rolled each one out between layers of plastic wrap.  Add 2 TBS of filling and fold over gently and then pinch the edges shut. Don’t press around the filling.
My daughter and I worked together on this part.  Whether that saved time or not…there’s no telling.  But it did make for good quality time.  If your dough gets too warm or sticky.  Put it back in the fridge for a little while.  If all of it is too sticky, just dust with flour as you go.  You probably added a bit too much water.
I baked mine on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat.  But I don’t think the mat is totally necessary, neither is greasing the pan.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  I used the Quick Bake (convection option) on 1/2 of my Empanadas, but couldn’t really tell the difference.  It still took 30 minutes to bake them. When a couple of brown dots appear on the surface of the crust they are done.
Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool until you can hold them without playing “hot potato”.  Enjoy!  We had ours with Blue Corn chips and lacto-fermented salsa.
I wish I had more time to prepare things like this, but that just isn’t my reality right now.  I must say when I do take the time to do something really special for my family, I never regret it.  We spent the night watching a movie and talking about our trips to Old City.  It was well worth it!

Homemade Steak/Burger Seasoning

If I am truly honest, I must admit most of my cooking skills came from watching Rachel Ray on 30 minute meals.  I have to say, I may favor other chefs on the network for their style or region of influence.  (My absolute favorite recipes have come from Giada De Laurentiis- I love the way she integrates her Italian heritage with her California local.  It keeps this rural southern woman feeling glamorous in the kitchen!)

On the subject of Rachel Ray, I do so appreciate the time she takes to explain technique.  When I started cooking I didn’t know the difference between chop or dice and let’s just face it julienne wasn’t even in my vocabulary.  But by watching her show I learned to distinguish frying, pan-frying, and sauteing.  Or what it meant to roast something as opposed to bake it.
One of the things Rachel Ray is always using is Montreal Seasoning.  It is generically marketed for Steak, but the flavor is great for any basic beef dish.  Since I now steer completely of seasoning mixes, I thought this would be one I could whip up on my own and just in time for grilling season.

Montreal Steak Seasoning

Ingredients:
4 Tablespoons sea salt, or real salt
2 Teaspoons of  ground black pepper
1/2 Tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tablespoon thyme
1 Tablespoon rosemary
1 Tablespoon onion powder
1/2 Tablespoon garlic powder
Mix all of the ingredients together and pulse in a spice grinder.  I use my coffee grinder and just wipe it out when I’m done.
I’m excited to have a new all-purpose grilling seasoning.  We just had it the other night on some grass-fed steaks with friends.  Which seriously, eating steak with 8 children in one house and only 2 of them could use knives properly, but not well.  That translates into adults, trying to have a conversation, but instead spending the entire evening cutting steak into bite-size pieces for tiny mouths…good times!!

Mr. Larry’s Raisin Walnut Bread

Every Friday I get to visit one of my favorite people on this huge spinning ball we call earth.  My Milk Farmer.  Well, to reduce him to that it almost a crime.  He is a good honest man, dedicated to the local real food movement.  I am honored to have created this loaf for him and his wife.  It is Raisin Walnut Bread, their favorite and weekly breakfast staple.

Made with freshly ground flour, and soaked overnight to maximize nutrient absorption.  I bake it like my Soaked Bread, in my grandmother’s dutch oven.  And do my best to deliver it warm to him each Friday.

My most pleasurable moments are when he finds it still warm, and must cut off the end.  We sit and chat about the Old School New Body and how we can fathom this fitness program. My children play with his barn cat and chase his chickens.

At this moment in the week I feel connected.  To mankind. To the earth.  To the beautiful Jerseys that chew on the grass I walk on and make me white gold.  It will drip from my children’s mouths and sit on their upper lip.  It will be in my coffee first thing in the morning, or wash down my chocolate chip bedtime snack.  I dream of ways we can all begin to interconnect our needs with each other.  Not in socialism, or capitalism, but in respect for one another’s work, and care for our fellow human beings.
I know, it’s just milk, and it’s just bread.  And you can pick it up at the gas station on your way home to the suburbs in your big SUV.  But does it have to be that way?  This bread takes time, this milk, the utmost care and then, it is so, so much more!

5 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (freshly ground if possible) 

1 cup of unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup of rolled oats
1 Tbsp. of cane sugar
2 tsp. of sea salt
1/2 tsp. of instant yeast
1/3 cup of kefir, yogurt, or whey
approx. 3 cups of filtered water
1 cup of organic raisins

1/2 cup shelled walnuts (halved or chopped)

Mix all of the dry ingredients together (not the raisins and walnuts).  On low add kefir and once incorporated begin adding water slowly until a slightly sticky or shaggy dough forms.  Add in raisins and walnuts until evenly incorporated.  Cover and allow to sit 7+ hours or overnight.

Preheat oven with a covered dutch oven in it to 500.  While heating, turn dough out onto a floured surface, form a loaf the shape of your dutch oven.  Be careful not to knead or overwork the dough.  A couple of turns is all it needs.
Cover and allow to rest until oven is preheated.
Remove dutch oven from oven and place loaf carefully into the pot.  You can dust the bottom with cornmeal, or not.  I have stopped doing this, because it is so hard to find organic corn meal, and the loaf doesn’t stick when you don’t use it.  Sometimes a couple raisins will remain, but the loaf comes out undamaged.
Put lid on and return dutch oven to oven.  Bake for 30 minutes.
Reduce heat to 400.  Remove lid.  Bake for an additional 10 minutes.
Remove from oven, let sit for 10 or so minutes then shake out from the pan onto a cooling rack to continue cooling…if you can resist not cutting into it immediately!
(That’s the hardest part 🙂
Hope you try the recipe!  And more so I hope you contemplate your own relationship to bread and milk, the earth and mankind.  Blessings if you find new truth for yourself.

Brown Rice & Quinoa Salad With Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette

During the cooler months I roast 2 chickens almost every week to take some of the pressure off life when it comes to fixing meals.  Now that the deep south is heating up, I am trying to use my oven a little less and send my husband out the back door to the grill.  I just found my rotisserie attachment and I can’t wait to use it on my whole chickens, but this week he grilled up some boneless skinless breasts for us to use in meals.
I must say boneless skinless meat is not my favorite for flavor at all and it tends to get dry easy.  I do however recognize how convenient it is and I can tell from cruising Pinterest that it is the most popular form of chicken people use.  My husband is AH-mazing on the grill, but even his perfect chicken breast, I won’t just sit down and eat.  But they do make a perfect addition to grain-based salads or tossed salads, where I can soak them with lots good fats like my Homemade Probiotic Ranch Dressing or this simple Vinaigrette I want to share today.
This is a salad a friend of mine created a few years back, and after she shared it at a picnic it became a mainstay in the spring and summer months in our house.  You can use green beans or asparagus, which ever is in season.  You can even use the frozen and it will still be good.
It was originally made with all quinoa, but when forced to improvise (like at 4:45 when I realized I had only 1 cup of quinoa and the nearest store that sells it is 20 minutes away), I tried making it with brown rice.  I have to say I think it is a little better.  The chewy texture of the brown rice melds well with the creaminess of the quinoa.  It also doesn’t hurt that brown rice is quite a bit cheaper!
This recipe makes a lot of salad.  You could easily half it or keep the extra in the fridge for quick lunches.  Because it’s mayonnaise free and is good cold or at room temp, it would be great for all of those summer picnics too!

Simple Brown Rice & Quinoa Salad w/Lemon Basil Vinaigrette

For the Salad mix together in a large bowl:
4 cups of cooked & cooled Brown rice and/or Quinoa (important that it is cooled or it will melt your cheese)
12 oz of asparagus or green beans, steamed and cut into 3/4 inch pieces
3 grilled chicken breast cut into bite size chunks (shredded chicken would work too)
4-6 oz of dried cranberries
4 oz of crumbled Bleu or Gorgonzola Cheese
A handful of sliced almonds (optional)
For the Vinaigrette:
Juice of one large lemon, seeds removed (approx. 1/8th of a cup)
1 tsp. of honey
1 tsp. of salt
2 tsp. of dried basil or 2 Tbsp. of fresh basil chopped finely
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
Whisk together ingredients and pour over salad.  Mix well and serve.
This will save well for extras for a few days.  If you leave out the chicken it makes a great side dish.  And just in case you are like I was when I first started cooking, here are directions for how I make fool-proof brown rice.
2 cups of uncooked Brown Rice or Quinoa (I like a combination of both best 1 1/2 cup rice, 1/2 cup quinoa)
4 cups of filtered water or chicken stock
1 tsp. of sea salt
2 Tbsp. of butter
To cook rice combine all ingredients in a medium sauce pan over high heat.  Bring to a boil.  Turn to low and cover for 30 minutes to an hour.  Try not to stir, this is easier said than done.  When liquid is absorbed, remove from heat and let set 10 minutes before fluffing and serving.  For the salad, add rice to a bowl and put in the freezer until it cools.
I know you are thinking, seriously lady?  I know how to cook rice, but I do have to say this was not a skill I had.  I was perplexed by the burned pot of sticky goo years ago and would only use those nice little “minute” bags.  I was finally very thankful when someone broke down the process for me.  We all have to start somewhere!  And trust me my “somewhere” was a very sad place.
Well, keep enjoying the summer, I know I will a little more when my tomatoes come in.

Super-Glue in My Eye

Okay…the title says it all.  I got Super-Glue in my eye.  Yup!  Of course it was two hours before my dinner guest was going to arrive.  I was just about to finish dessert and toss a salad and I saw this little teapot my daughter had broken and left on the counter for me to fix.  In the spirit of having a spotless house when I have company (because that is the only time I even try), I grabbed the Super-Glue to fix this little pot so I could get it put away.

It was a little crusted on the top, so I picked off the dry piece and when I did, I released the pressure from the inside and the stuff shot in my eye.  It instantly bonded to my eyeball and dried.  It was the weirdest feeling.  I then completely melted down into a panic attack.  I can usually exhale my way through pain and things, but this freaked me out.
Maybe it was because I had just listened to the details of my Aunt’s cancer surgery and reconstruction of her entire throat and neck…maybe I’ve just seen too many weird things on TV or the fact that I must be literally knocked out of commission for at least 48 hours before I even consider seeing a doctor.  But I literally could not breathe thinking about doctors removing this piece of glue from my eye with tweezers or thinking about the last time I got super glue on my skin and how painful it was to remove and the fact that this was on my eye!.. or needles…what is it with doctors and needles?!
With one quick google search, my husband had a solution of baking soda and water for me to rinse with and told me to calm down because it would take several hours for this piece of glue to slowly make it’s way out of my eye.
So that’s what we did.  It hurt so much.  The baking soda solution stung so much, but seemed to offer momentary comfort, so I kept using it.  About 5 hours later I could tell it was starting to loosen and I was able to fall asleep.  It was gone by morning, my eye was just a little crusty, like I had a cold.  I should also mention we still had our guest and an amazing dinner complete with 2 veggies, salad and cobbler.  I will probably follow up with my eye doctor next week before I start wearing my contacts again.
Have you ever done anything ridiculous like this?  I was most surprised by the panic attack I had.  I’ve only had one other panic attack and that was when I went into be induced with my son.  I really didn’t want to be induced, but because of a bunch of circumstances I was pressured into doing so.  And I panicked when they went to put in my IV…like I couldn’t breathe and was crying uncontrollably.  I know the word panic attack is over used in our Xnax-loving society…but these were times when I was literally out of control of my body and mind.  Pretty scary.  I also couldn’t help but thinking I would be a total failure if I ever attempted to have a home-birth (which is my plan if Number #5 ever graces our presence).
Sorry to ramble.  Couldn’t help but share this freakish occurrence   It will probably never happen to you, but if it does…STAY CALM and flush your eye!

Three Chicken Slow Cooker Freezer Meals

Our halls are decked here and we are taking a break from school, so I’ve been busy cramming my freezer with ready-to-go meals.  Today I stumbled upon some marked down organic boneless skinless chicken thighs.  I love thigh meat, it holds up to long cooking without drying out.  It will shred nice, but also will stay in nice chunks if you cut it up.  I am a big proponent of eating the whole chicken, but there is much to be said for the convenience of boneless skinless meat.  I only buy it when it is organic and on markdown.   

While my hubs grilled up one pack, I put together some freezer meals for the other packs I bought. I must mention again that I have a large family, so these could easily be cut in half for two meals for a family of 3-4.

Cranberry Ginger Chicken

(this would also work with a pork tenderloin or pork roast)
2-2.5 lbs of boneless chicken thighs
2 bags of fresh cranberries
2/3 cup of organic sugar, sucanat or evaporated honey
(you could sub. a can of canned whole cranberries)
1 tsp. of ground ginger
2 tbsp. of arrowroot powder or corn starch
4 oranges, quartered then sliced
2 small onions (or one large) sliced
1 tbsp. of sea salt or real salt *
3 tbsp. of whole-grain mustard
1 cup of chicken stock (*if you are using store bought, leave the salt out until the end of cooking and then adjust accordingly, I use homemade stock and it doesn’t have any salt)
Combine all ingredients (except stock) in a freezer bag.  Freeze flat.  This fits tightly into a 1 gallon bag, but could easily be split between two.
On day of cooking add ingredients to slow cooker.  Cook on high for 4-5 hours or low 6-8.  Shred chicken if desired and serve with mashed potatoes or rice.
I love to serve this tart/savory sauce with goat cheese smashed potatoes.  The combination of flavors is amazing.

Tropical Curry Chicken

2-2.5 lbs of boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch peices
3 bell peppers sliced
2 small onions (or 1 large), sliced
2 mangoes diced
1 whole pineapple, cored and diced
1 can of additive-free coconut milk
1 1/2 tbsp. of curry powder
1 tbsp. of sea salt or real salt
1 cup of homemade stock
Combine all ingredients (except stock) in a freezer bag.  Freeze flat.  This will fill a 1 gallon bag pretty tight. On day of cooking add ingredients to a slow cooker add stock.  Cook on high for 4-5 hours or 6-8 hours on low.  Serve with Jasmine Rice and fermented veggies like kimchi.

Fajitas (Oven or Slow-Cooker)

2-2.5 lbs of boneless chicken thighs, cut into strips
3 bell peppers sliced
2 medium red onions sliced
2 generous tablespoons of taco seasoning
4 tbsp of lard or butter

Combine all ingredients in a freezer bag.  Freeze flat.  I like to defrost these and cook them in the oven, but you can also dump it all in the slow cooker.  If using the slow cooker, add 1 cup of chicken stock.  Serve with tortillas, or over rice.  Add cheese, salsa, sour cream, avocado, hot sauce, lettuce, tomatoes and cilantro to taste.

When you layer the food in the bag start with the fruit or veggies.  Intermingle the spices into the center parts of the bag, that way they won’t be stuck to the sides.  And put the meat on the top.

Make sure you cut all of the pieces into bite-size, especially if you have little mouths!
Grocery List
7-8 lbs of Chicken Thighs
6 bell peppers
2 red onions
4 yellow onions
1 pineapple
2 mangoes
2 bags of cranberries
4 oranges
1 can of coconut milkCheck you Pantry/Fridge for:
taco seasoning (make some!)
ginger
whole grain mustard
arrow root powder or corn starch
sugar/sucanat/evaporated honey
curry powder
sea salt
Chicken Broth (make some!)

Well that’s one less thing to worry about during the holidays.  Now as I start my cleanse from sweets in January I will have some yummy meals ready to go in my freezer.  And this only took the better part of an hour!

Taco Seasoning

Who doesn’t love tacos?  I would literally fall over dead if I met some one!  I’ve been trying all sorts of homemade taco seasonings I found on Pinterest and think I finally came up with one my family loves.  It’s not too spicy, but some we tried along the way were.  But here’s the final recipe:
Ingredients

1 cup of Chili powder 

1/2 cup of Onion powder
1/3 cup of Ground Cumin
1 tablespoon of Garlic Powder
2 tablespoons of Paprika
1 tablespoon of Sea Salt or Real Salt
1/8 teaspoon Cayenne (this adds a minimal amount of heat, but you can leave it out)
Makes 1 pint, so get out one of those lovely ball jars.  Add all of the ingredients and shake-it-Oh-Baby-Now!  That’s it.  It couldn’t be simpler–it is literally simplier than going to the store to buy it, and then searching for that skinny little packet in your pantry…seriously.  And if you consider all of the MSG you will be avoiding or $$ you will be spending on the facny organic packs–How can you go wrong?
We go through a lot of taco seasoning here.  I use this on fajitas, in chili, shredded chicken, burrito filling, refried beans, and of course taco meat.  There are also a lot of quick recipes floating around that use taco seasoning packets.  I think somewhere near 2 tablespoons would equal a packet, but the beauty in not using a packet is you can adjust to your taste!  You can store it in the pantry in a glass jar for up to six months.

Homemade “Biscuick” Mix

So many of my staple party recipes and treats this time of year involve biscuit mix.  But it doesn’t take a 5-year-old to turn that box of mix around and see the ingredients are all garbage.  For the sake of shelf-life, this box contains a whole host of preservatives and hydrogenated oils that noone needs to have.  But what about the sausage balls?  Ha Ha!

 

Here’s how to whip up a quick batch of biscuit mix.  This is in no way a substitute for the homemade biscuit recipe in Nourishing Traditions, but it is good for subbing that yellow (or blue box if you’re a Jiffy family) in all of your favorite recipes.
I have been messing with this recipe for a while, I wish I could say it is great with all sprouted flour or even whole-wheat flour for that matter, but the truth is it just plain isn’t!  But if you do half and half like I suggest you will get some fiber and still get a nice fluffy (not gritty) result.  Plus most importantly, this recipe removes the nasty trans-fats from that biscuit mix and replaces them with soul satisfying, quickly absorbable and converted into energy saturated fats.  I must say I can do some damage in the way of drop biscuits, I’ll share my Red Lobster knock-off recipe later this week, but the saturated fat in these makes them so filling and it is easier to say “when”!
Ingredients
3 cups sprouted whole-wheat flour (or regular whole wheat flour)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons aluminum free (non-gmo) baking powder
1 tablespoon of sea salt
1 cup of lard (yes, lard!  It is complete awesomeness!) or organic shortening (palm oil)- a mix of the 2 works as well
Combine all dry ingredients.  Bring lard or shortening to room temperature (this is especially important if you keep your lard in the fridge like me).  Add the lard or shortening and cut it into the flour with a fork or pastry cutter.
I just use a fork, basically you are just pushing the fat through the flour until the pieces of fat become smaller than a pea size.  This is where you will be happy you let it come to room temperature, otherwise your hand will feel like it is about to fall off!
Okay that’s it!  Now you can store this stuff at room temp as long as it isn’t too hot, or I keep mine in the fridge for a month or more.  It will work cup for cup just like the boxed stuff.
For quick drop biscuits or on top of a pot pie style dinner, mix dry mix with enough kefir or buttermilk to make a sticky, but not runny batter.  Drop onto a pan or dish of meat and veggies and bake in a 375 degree oven until firm.  Times will vary based on the size of biscuits or of the entire dish.  Here’s to one less thing you need from a store!

Simple Sauerkraut and Kefir Cheese

I started my day with two slices of my soaked bread, slathered with grass-fed, cultured butter, and raw local honey.  Does it get any better than that?  I should have had some raw milk, but I was too full!  Besides cleaning, packing, and school lessons, I’ve been trying to use all of the fresh food in my fridge or get it frozen or preserved.

I made a batch of simple sauerkraut.  It took about 10 minutes, including the time it took to get enough whey from some kefir.  The recipe couldn’t be easier, and it will be ready to be transferred to the fridge when I get back from my sisters.  Here’s how I did it.
Simple Kraut (lacto-fermented)
Ingredients:
1 medium head of cabbage shredded (I use my food processor’s slicing attachment)
1 tbs. of sea salt (this is the mac-daddy of salt)
4 tbs. of whey (see a quick way to make whey below)
Tools:
a mallet/or tenderizer
a large bowl
a large mouthed jar (large enough for the mallet to fit into)
Put all ingredients in a bowl.  Mix.  Mash with the mallet until the juices start to form.  Nourishing Traditions recommends 10 minutes.  It will vary based on the shred size.  You want a good amount of juice.  Transfer the cabbage and all of the juices to the jar.  Mash it down as much as you can.  The goal is to have all of the cabbage fully submerged in the liquid.
Glass and metal aren't optimum, but this is what I have.
Glass and metal aren’t optimum, but this is what I have.

Here’s my easy way to make whey…that makes me giggle a little…I’m such an English nerd!  I take a simple 49 cent dish towel from Ikea, a plastic pitcher, and a stainless steel colander.  My contraption looks like this.  I’m sure if you dig through your cabinets you can find something to use.

Very quickly there is enough whey to use for the kraut.  Then I hang it like this.

You are waiting for the the kefir (or yogurt) to be the consistency of cream cheese.  Then remove it from the towel, and put your extra whey in the fridge.  Whey will store for months and it is useful for fermenting veggies and sauces (like ketchup), soaking beans and grains, and adding protein to smoothies or salad dressings.  The possibilities are endless, so if you are hesitant, thinking you won’t use it…trust me you will!
Oh!  The cheese, I almost forgot.  My favorite way to eat the kefir (or yogurt) cheese is on bread.  I mix it with just enough Grade B Maple Syrup to cut the sourness and add some chopped walnuts and spread it on THICK!!  It would also be good on sliced apples.

Three Freezer Slow-Cooker Meals

WARNING: Freezer Cooking is addictive!!  Freezer meals are all over blogs and Pinterest.  I can totally understand why.  I had done freezer cooking in the past, especially when I was nesting prior to one of my little love’s arrivals.  My third love was so late, I just kept cooking and freezing, I didn’t have to prepare a meal for a solid month after she was born.  That was such a blessing in those sleepless days.

There are several strategies to freezer meals.  There is the once a month approach where you shop, cook, and freeze an entire month’s worth of meals.  Another, is to always double anything that takes considerable time (i.e. enchiladas or lasagna) and then freeze the second.  Finally, and this is what I am doing here, is to take what produce you have access to via sales, gardening, or CSA and preserve it by freezing it in meal size portions with recipes all ready to go.

The three recipes I chose were all for the slow-cooker this time.  They are Slow-Cooker BBQ (inspired by Stephanie at Mamaandbabylove.com), Chicken Teriyaki (inspired by Jaima at ringaroundtherosies.net), and Ginger Beef from MomswithCrockpots.com.  I changed quite a bit of these recipes so I’ll post the entire recipes that I used.  I packed these in 1 gallon bags and I didn’t add the meat to them, because my meat was already frozen.  I think this will maximize my savings, because I buy all of my chicken on markdown and my beef from a local farmer, so it is already frozen.  Then I can make the freezer meals when I get the produce on sale or from my garden and then I have saved all around.  (If you can’t tell frugality is very important to me. I think it is rubbing off on my kids, today my daughter was cleaning up after dinner and she asked me if I wanted to save the hot dog water to use for something else!!)

**I used a full recipe in each bag.  This should be enough to feed my family of 6 and have some leftover for lunch the next day.  If you have a smaller family you should consider splitting the recipes between 2 bags.

Slow-Cooker BBQ Chicken
(I fell in love with Stephanie’s idea of having so many veggies in BBQ, my main changes are in the ingredients in the sauce.  If you have a special way you like to make your BBQ sauce, by all means change it up!)
Ingredients:
2-3 lbs of chicken thighs or legs
3 sweet potatoes diced
2 green bell peppers chopped
1 red bell pepper chopped
2 zucchini chopped
2-6oz cans of tomato paste
2 tbs. paprika
1 tsp. chili powder
2 tbs. unsulphured molasses
2 tbs. worcestershire sauce
2 tbs. whole grain mustard (or spicy brown)
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 tsp. of salt
1/4 cup of quick cooking tapioca
1 cup of smoky stock (or regular stock + a dash of liquid smoke)

Combine all ingredients, except stock in a freezer bag.  Freeze.  On day of cooking, add all ingredients to slow-cooker, add stock.  Cook on high for 4-6 hours.  (I will add the chicken the day of cooking, I do not think the chicken would have fit into the bag, if you are splitting it into to 2 meals the chicken will fit.)

Chicken Teriyaki
(This recipe had the ingredients of Sweet and Sour Chicken with Teriyaki sauce, I cooked it once before I froze any of it.  It was good, the peppers were a little mushy, so I will leave them out until the last part of cooking next time).

Ingredients:
2-3 lbs of chicken thighs or breast (weight varying on whether meat is bone in or boneless)
1 pineapple cored and cut into 1 inch chunks
2 red bell peppers cut into 1 inch chunks
2 chopped onions chopped
2-16oz bags of baby carrots
1 cup tamari, liquid aminos, or soy sauce (read here why fermented soy is better for you)
1/3 cup sucanat, honey or brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground dried ginger
1 tbs. garlic powder
2 tbsp. quick cooking tapioca

Combine all ingredients (except peppers) into a freezer bag (or 2).  Put peppers into a smaller freezer bag and tape the smaller to the larger.  On day of cooking, empty large bag into slow-cooker.  Cook on high 4-6 hours.  Add peppers in last 30 mins-1 hour until desired tenderness. Finally, tasted the sauce, adjust to your tastes, more soy sauce if it is too bland.  More honey if you don’t think it is sweet enough. Serve this with rice and top with lo mein noodles if desired.

Ginger Beef

Ingredients:
2-3 lbs of stew meat or roast cut into cubes (preferably grass-fed and local)
1-16oz bag of baby carrots
1 red bell pepper chopped
1 green bell pepper chopped
1 onion chopped
1-8 oz pack of mushrooms sliced
2 tsp. of grated ginger
1/2 cup of Hoisin sauce (gluten-free variety)
1 cup of beef broth (if using homemade stock or broth, you will probably have to salt to taste or add salt initially- I usually do a good palm full for a 6 quart crock meal, and then salt to taste at the end, homemade stock is always your best gluten-free option)
1/4 cup of quick cooking tapioca
toasted sesame seeds (optional
garnish)

Add all ingredients (except peppers) to a 1 gallon bag or split between 2.  Bag peppers separate, label both bags and tape them together.  On day of cooking dump large bag into slow-cooker.  Cook on high for 4-6 hours, adding peppers last 30 mins-1 hour until they reach desired tenderness.

While I was at it I made a couple of bags with chopped celery, onions, and carrots to make a quick pot of chicken soup when I have leftover roasted chicken.  All in all, it was a couple hours that will save me many!  Give it a try!  You will not go back to cooking every night again.