Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Slow Cooker Chicken Stock

Chicken Stock is a staple in the Ladybug house. It goes not only in soups, but in many other dishes throughout the week, so I always need lots on hand!

When I have leftover chicken bones from a big cook day or any other chicken meal, I save them and either freeze them or pop them in the slow cooker to make a batch of stock.

Slow Cooker Chicken Stock

Chicken bones from 1-2 roasted chickens, with some meat left on (you can use chicken thighs or legs instead)
2 Carrots, cut in half
3 Celery Stalks, cut in half
2 Onions, quartered
4 Cloves Garlic, whole
6 Sprigs Thyme
10 Peppercorns
Salt (optional)
12 cups Water

Add all the ingredients to a slow cooker and cover with water (however much fits, mine fits 12 cups usually). Cook on Low for 8 hours for the best flavour. Strain it into a big bowl (removing the meat & veggies). Let cool and skim off fat before using.

I freeze my stock in small plastic containers (usually a 1 & 1/2 or 2 cup size) or ice cube trays for easy use in soups or meals.

Now for some soup!

For more Freezer Friendly ideas for your Big Cook Day, check out my Freezer Meals page.


Monday, 29 April 2013

Freezer Meals: Big Cook Spring 2013

It's the end of April and I finally ran out of my stash of freezer meals from the last big cook day. I'm already going crazy with the thought of having to do one more day of cooking at meal time, so it's time to do a Big Cook Day again! 

I didn't have a whole day to devote to cooking today, so I did the shopping first thing in the morning, then I had a few hours in the afternoon to get the bulk of the cooking done and managed to squeak in a few more meals while I made dinner.

It was a multi-tasking day today!

First....preparation! If you haven't already read it, check out my Preparing for a Big Cook post and the post of my last Big Cook Day.

I shopped before cooking, so I had a huge stack of meat sitting on the table that needed to be dealt with right away ...food safety is important!

I started with the easy roasts that just needed to be divided up and prepared a bit: Lamb Roast x2 (just stuck it with a bunch of garlic cloves to "marinade" while it freezes), and pork tenderloins with onions and rootbeer for Easy Rootbeer Pulled Pork x2. Then off to the freezer...

Then we moved on to all the chicken dishes. 

First I shredded the roasted chickens (super cheap & easy way to get chicken if you don't need breasts), and made Slow Cooker Chicken Stock (12 cups) with the left over bones...

...and Creamy Chicken Lasagna x2 with the meat...wrapped up & off to the freezer.

Then it was on to the dump & pour chicken dishes...Greek Chicken x2 & Orange Chicken x3...off to the freezer with them too! 

I took a break here because I had to take over care for Uncle Ladybug while Daddy Ladybug got ready for hockey. We went for a drive in the country and a walk in a the park for an hour, then it was back home to make dinner.

Uncle Ladybug kept a close, hungry eye on the Warming Chili (x2...one for dinner, one for the freezer + leftovers in individual servings) simmering on the stove while I made more chicken dishes for the freezer...

The Chili was delicious and the freezer is now full! Uncle Ladybug is off to bed and now I can put my feet up after a busy day...good thing the kids are visiting Nana & Papa Ladybug today!

How's that...18 meals plus chicken stock in 4 hours (including shopping) spread over the day. 

Yay! Now I can quit cooking for a while! 


Recipes used in this Big Cook Day:

For many more freezer friendly ideas for your Big Cook Day or to see what I made for any of my other Big Cook Days, check out my Freezer Meals page.

Warming Chili

Warming Chili

2 lbs Lean Ground Beef
1 cup Celery, chopped
1 cup Onion, diced
1 cup Green Pepper, diced
1 can Red Kidney Beans, rinsed
1 can Six Bean Blend, rinsed
2 cans (28 oz each) Diced Tomatoes
1 15 oz can Tomato Sauce
1 cup Water
1 Tbsp Cocoa Powder
2 Packages your favourite Chili Seasoning (or 1/2 cup of home-made mix)
salt & pepper as desired

In a large stock pot, brown ground beef. Strain browned beef to remove any oil. Add celery, onions & green peppers. Cook for 5 minutes until veggies are tender. Add remaining ingredients and stir well. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 1 hour. Can also be made in the crock pot using pre-browned beef (High for 4 hours or low for 8). Great freezer meal. This recipe makes enough for 12 servings...lots left to freeze for another meal or lunches.

Serve with sour cream & shredded cheese.

Perfect way to warm up on a cold day.

For more Freezer Friendly ideas for your Big Cook Day, check out my Freezer Meals page.


Saturday, 27 April 2013

Hawaiian Chicken

Hawaiian Chicken

4 Chicken Breasts, chopped
1 Carrot, diced
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 can Pineapple Tidbits and juice

1/4 cup Butter, melted
1 cup Ketchup
1 cup Tomato Sauce
1 Tbsp Worchestershire Sauce
1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
1/4 cup Flour
1/4 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Pepper
1/8 tsp ground Cloves
1 cup Brown Sugar

Add first set of ingredients in the slow cooker in the order given. Mix remaining ingredients together and pour over chicken. Mix well. Cook on high for 4 hours (or 8 on low). 

Serve with rice. 

Great freezer meal and easy dump & pour meal for a Big Cook!

For more Freezer Friendly ideas for your Big Cook Day, check out my Freezer Meals page.


Thursday, 25 April 2013

Garden Fresh Pasta Primavera

Garden Fresh Pasta Primavera

Cooked Penne Pasta (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup Butter
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Onion, diced
2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 Carrots, sliced
1 bunch Asparagus, chopped in bite sized pieces
1 cup Fresh Mushrooms, sliced
2 Ripe Tomatoes, diced
1 cup Light Cream (half & half)
1 tsp Italian Seasoning
Salt & Pepper (to taste)
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated

In a large skillet, melt butter and heat oil together. Sauté onion until soft and add carrots & asparagus  Cook until tender-crisp. Add Mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic & seasoning  Cook for 2 minutes then add cream. Cook until heated through. Add parmesan cheese and salt & pepper as desired. 

Serve hot, this dish is best freshly made.

Perfect for a beautiful spring day!


Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Easy Rootbeer Pulled Pork

Easy Rootbeer Pulled Pork

2 Pork Tenderloins
1 Onion, diced
1 can Rootbeer
1 bottle BBQ sauce (we like Bullseye's Guiness BBQ Sauce)
6 Kaiser Buns
Garlic Powder

Put diced onions in the bottom of a slow cooker. Add pork tenderloin on top and empty a can of rootbeer over the meat and onions. Cook on Low for 8 hours (or high for 4 hours). Remove meat and onions and place in a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup of rootbeer liquid from the slow cooker. Shred the pork with two forks and mix in bottle of BBQ sauce.

Serve piled on garlic kaiser buns, cut in 1/2. Spread butter on each half of the bun and sprinkle with a little garlic powder. Broil in oven until lightly browned. 

Delicious with a side of Coleslaw.


Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Slow Cooker Herb & Garlic Chicken Stew

Slow Cooker Herb & Garlic Chicken Stew

4-5 Chicken Breasts, cut in bite sized pieces
1/3 cup flour
1 cup Yellow Potatoes, diced
1 Onion, diced
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 & 1/2 cup Carrots, cut in 1" pieces
1 & 1/2 cup Fresh Mushrooms, Quartered
1 & 3/4 cup Chicken Broth
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup (125g) Herb & Garlic Cream Cheese (use 95% fat free for a healthier option)

Combine chicken breast pieces and flour in the bottom of the slow cooker. Add potatoes, onion, garlic, carrots, and mushrooms in the order listed. Combine chicken broth and salt & pepper and pour over the stew. Cook in a slow cooker for 4 hours on High (or 8 hours on low). Add frozen peas and cream cheese for the last half hour.

Serve with Aged White Cheddar Biscuits and a wonderful salad for a hearty meal.


*If you want to freeze this, omit the mushrooms, peas & cream cheese for freezing and add them at cooking time according to directions. In my experience the mushrooms make the dish dark looking and unappetizing!*

Aged White Cheddar Biscuits

Aged White Cheddar Biscuits

4 cups Flour
2 & 1/2 Tbsp Baking Powder
1/4 cup Sugar
1 tsp Salt
2 cups Aged White Cheddar Cheese
2/3 cup Cooking Oil
1 & 1/2 cup Milk

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl and add cheese. Mix to coat cheese. Add wet ingredients and stir until just moist. Add more milk if needed to make a soft sticky dough. Break into 24 relatively equal pieces and place on baking sheets. Bake at 425F on middle rack for 15 minutes until tops are lightly browned. Serve hot with butter. 

Perfect side to comfort food like stew or soup.


Monday, 22 April 2013

Lil' Bakers

I make Banana Muffins about twice a week, it's a house staple for breakfast & snacks!

This time Lady & Bug seemed very interested in what I was doing and had to get in on the action. They dragged their little chairs over to the counter and asked to stir. I gave them a couple of bowls and my dirty measuring cups & scrapers. The also wanted to use the banana peels - why not, you can't make banana muffins without bananas!

They had a blast. Pretend baking is a daily part of play in the Ladybug house, so this time it seemed a little more realistic. They pretended to bake muffins and lucky for me, there wasn't a huge mess to clean up. I was only left with some dirty hands and dishes that I would have to wash anyway.

A little pretend baking never hurt anyone! Maybe one day I'll be brave enough to handle the mess and let them really help me make muffins.


Sunday, 21 April 2013

Death to the Pre-Dinner Stress: The Life-Saving Menu Planner

I try to keep my life as efficient and simple as possible. Time is precious to me and so over the years I've devised a menu planning system that works for me & my family's craziness.

A menu has been my life saver.

I'm sure most people can relate to staring at the inside of the fridge/cupboard when you're starving an hour past the usual dinner time, trying to figure out what to make. I sure know that feeling and it drove me insane.

When I went out to work, I found it extremely stressful to come home and try to figure out what to make. Now that I'm at home, it's just as hard, with two little ones hanging on my legs screaming that they're hungry and everyone else pecking around the kitchen like a bunch of chickens trying to find something to take away the hunger pangs.

Not any more!

I started with just one 4 week menu. I modelled it after the menus they had in the group home I used to work at - perfect for a revolving door of cooks and perfect for a busy house. There is a column for each day of the week and each day is broken down into three meals. I don't really use the breakfast or lunch spots like I should, but there are many days that I wish I did...one day I'll get there. Each meal includes the main dish and any sides to help keep a balanced & healthy meal.

I started using this menu about 3 years ago & it worked well at first, but over time I found that it was too much repetition. The same meal every 4th Monday became hard to deal with...so I tried a 6 week rotation. It worked better, but come summer we wanted lighter meals and BBQ. Last year I adjusted my meals a bit and created 4-week summer & winter menus. Of course I couldn't stop there, this year, I added fall & spring ones too!

Over the years I've added a few helpful things to my menus:
  • snacks/desserts to have available for the week (helpful for grocery shopping)
  • a list of the meals that can be done in a big cook (for quick reference)
  • a list of breads/desserts that I need to make for the week
  • the cooking time for each meal (so I can have dinner ready on time to keep the crying children and pecking chickens at bay)
  • a space for notes

I update these menus every season using the notes I've made; what was a hit and what wasn't, what needed to be changed to a different night or took too long, what cost too much $, or what needed more/less to feed us all. Over the years I've been able to save a lot of money on groceries and reduced the amount of wasted food, just because of a menu. It's a work in progress, but one I'm grateful for every day as 4:00 rolls around and I start to get into meal preparation mode.

Why do I need a menu?

  • saves the meal preparation/planning stress
  • saves time wasted trying to decide what to make
  • saves money
  • helps with grocery shopping - I always know what to buy each week
  • helps plan for big cooks (which save you time and money too!)
  • stress causes health problems...a menu planner could really be a life saver!

Did I mention that my menu is my life saver???

Now I look at the menu the night before and take out the meat needed or a pre-frozen meal (from my awesome big cook days) and make sure I have all the ingredients ready - no more staring into the fridge/cupboard trying to decide what to make and finally giving up and ordering pizza. There is very little stress with meal times now...sure the kids still hang on my legs crying for food and attention, but that time has been significantly shortened to the time it takes me to whip a salad up or make a side dish.

Feel free to use my Blank Menu Template to create a menu for your own family and relieve your dinner stress!


*Update*: Curious minds want to know what meals are on my menus...I will post all my menus in a later blog at the beginning of each season. My Spring Menu is already posted.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

All the Small Things

It was a cold day and we all wanted hot cocoa, but why have normal cocoa? We had to have them in my vintage Tupperware kids cups...mini marshmallows and all!

So much fun in a little cup.


Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Maple Coconut Apple Baked Oatmeal

Maple Coconut Apple Baked Oatmeal

3&1/2 cups Quick Oats (not instant)
1 cup Brown Sugar
2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 cup Shredded Coconut
1 Apple, Shredded
1 cup Apple Sauce
1/4 cup Oil
2 Eggs
1 cup Milk
1/4 cup Cream or Creamo
1/4 cup Maple Syrup
1 tsp Vanilla

Mix dry ingredients together in one bowl and wet ingredients in another. Combine and mix well. Pour into a 8 x8 baking pan and bake at 350F for 30 minutes. Serve with milk and brown sugar. Can be made the night before and refrigerated for an easy breakfast.

A sweet & delicious hot breakfast the kids will love.


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Bath Soap Crayons

Bath time is the favourite time of the day in our house. I can get Lady & Bug to stop doing anything when I say it's bath time! They got some special soap from our cousin who is the wonderful soap maker at Unicorn Sparkle and they played with it until the slice I gave them dissolved.

It gave me a great idea...I've seen these bath crayons on Pinterest (check out bathactivitiesforkids.com) and had to give them a try. Here's my attempt!

Bath Soap Crayons

8 squares Glycerine Soap (found mine at Michael's)
Gel Food Colouring (you can use regular, but my research indicated that the Gel is easier to clean...very important to me!)
Essential Oils (whatever you want)
Soap Moulds/Ice Cube Trays (mine are from Ikea)

First I cut up my 8 squares of soap and melted them in a measuring cup (30 seconds at first, then in 10 second increments until the soap is completely melted and hot...do not boil). Then I divided my soap into three small bowls and added colour to each. This needs to be done quickly because the soap will harden fast. If it does become hard, just pop it back in the microwave for 20 seconds. Mix the food colouring in well and add the essential oils. 

Pour into moulds and let harden for at least 30 minutes.

The finished product. 

We cut each stick in half so that they would last a little longer. Lady & Bug loved their bath soap crayons and it was an easy project!


Saturday, 13 April 2013

Almost Whole Wheat Bread

Almost Whole Wheat Bread

1 cup Warm Water
3 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 1/2 tsp Sugar
1 tsp Salt
1 1/2 cups Whole Wheat Bread Flour
1 cup White Bread Flour
1 1/2 tsp Active Dry Yeast

Bread Maker Instructions:
Add ingredients to bread maker in the order listed. Select dough setting and press start. Once cycle is complete, shape dough and place on a baking sheet. Let rise for 20-30 minutes. Bake at 350F for 20-22 minutes.

Delicious home made bread without all the work!


Sweet Potato Turkey Shepherd's Pie

Sweet Potato Turkey Shepherd's Pie

1 lb Ground Turkey
1/2 cup Onion, diced
1/2 cup Celery, diced
1/2 cup Carrot, diced
1 cup Mushrooms, quartered
2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce (optional)
1 cup Chicken Broth
2 Tbsp Flour (optional)
3/4 cup Yogurt, plain
1/4 tsp pepper
3/4 tsp Poultry Seasoning
2 Large Sweet Potatoes or Yams
3 Tbsp Yogurt, plain
1 Tbsp Butter (optional)
salt & pepper

Cube Sweet Potatoes or Yams and boil in a large pot until tender. 
In a large sauce pan, fry ground turkey until lightly browned. Add veggies and cook until tender. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Put in an oven safe casserole dish.
Mash topping ingredients together and spread over top of the meat mixture. Sprinkle with Paprika.
Bake at 350F for 1/2 hour until bubbly.

 Comfort food without the calories & fat. Perfect meal to serve to guests with dietary restrictions as it can be easily adjusted and still taste great for those watching their weight or Gluten Free.  

Great freezer meal.

For more Freezer Friendly ideas for your Big Cook Day, check out my Freezer Meals page.


Friday, 12 April 2013

Banana Muffins

Banana Muffins

1/2 cup Margarine, softened
1 1/4 cup Sugar
2 Eggs, beaten
1/4 cup Sour Cream
1 cup Bananas (very ripe & mashed)
1 tsp Vanilla
1 3/4 cup Flour
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Salt
2/3 cup Chocolate Chips (optional)

Mix the margarine & sugar together until well blended. Add remaining wet ingredients and mix well. Add flour, baking soda & salt. Mix until moist but lumpy. Add chocolate chips and stir by hand.
Fill muffin pans. Bake at 350 F for 20-22 minutes.

These are Ms. Ladybug's favourite snack with coffee! Make lots for the freezer or take some to a friend's house.


Thursday, 11 April 2013

Camping Packing List

The sun is shining and I've got a serious itch to go camping...but it's April. So instead of packing up the tent & the kids and heading to the lake, I decided to get things organized for the summer.

Last summer I had a list going of all the things I brought on each of our camping trips. I combined all the lists into one complete list to make this summer's trips a little easier to prepare for. I put them in plastic sheet covers so I can just check off the things as I pack them. This list goes into my camping binder. Yup, I'm a little crazy with the lists and the organizational binders.

If you need help packing for your next camping trip, feel free to use my Camping with Kids Packing List (to print out your own hard copy). 

This is our extensive list, I pick and choose things depending on the trip from this list. I've also included things from previous lists so you can use the baby/toddler versions too.

You might take different things, just use my list as a guide and add your own stuff! Keep in mind that we tent camp...not RV, so if you have an RV there will be other things you'll want to add to your list!

If you want to see more of my ideas for camping with kids - check out my Camping Page. Check out my new camping post 10 Great Meals for Camping with Kids!

Hope it helps make things a little easier or inspires you to take the plunge and go camping with the little ones!

Dreaming of camping...


Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Best Ever Chocolate Cupcakes

Best Ever Chocolate Cupcakes

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder\
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup coffee (brewed & black)
1/2 tsp vanilla

Mix dry ingredients, add wet ingredients & mix on medium high for 2 minutes.
Pour into lined cupcake pans and bake at 350 F for about 18 minutes (or until a toothpick comes out clean).
Cool & top with your favourite icing.

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Nice & fluffy & light, just like a cake mix but you actually know what's in it!


Monday, 8 April 2013

Home Made Yogurt

With many yogurt lovers in my house, I've started making my own to save some money. I have a yogurt-maker that I found pre-owned for cheap (a good investment if you plan to make yogurt often), but there are several great recipes online for making yogurt without a yogurt-maker.

Home Made Yogurt

Yogurt Maker
Cooking Thermometer or yogurt thermometer
1 L Milk (*recently purchased* whole, 2%, 1% or skimmed)
2 Tbsp Yogurt Started (plain/unflavoured yogurt with active live culture or 1 package of yogurt culture*)

Heat milk on medium-low heat in a sauce pan, stirring occasionally until almost boiling (about 190 F).

Let cool to 115 F. In a separate bowl, add yogurt starter and 1 cup of hot milk, stirring gently until starter is dissolved. Pour starter mixture back into the remaining hot milk and stir well.

Pour milk mixture into yogurt jars, put lids on and place in yogurt maker.
Put the cover on and adjust the timer to the desired setting (I usually do 12 hours because I like a thick consistency). Press start.

When yogurt is finished, place jars in the fridge & allow to cool for 4 hours before serving.

Serve plain, with fruit & granola, honey, or your favourite jam/preserves. Lady & Bug and Uncle Ladybug love their individual yogurts so I got some small Glad plastic containers and made individual flavoured yogurts with strawberry jam.

Don't forget to save 2 Tbsp of yogurt for your next batch!


*Yogurt Culture can be found at most health food stores

Mommy Retreat

As a mother, sometimes I give too much - give until there's nothing left.

Everything makes me angry or sad or I just totally shut down and don't feel anything any more.

This was my week.

I know I'm not the only mother or caregiver out there that feels this - I'm sure it's a pretty safe bet to say that every one who has the responsibility of caring for others feels this way at some point in their career (whether paid or unpaid)...maybe it's just occasionally, or maybe it's every day...all day. Some of us are better at taking care of ourselves than others, but we all face this point sometimes.

I'm trying to learn to take care of myself, but it's hard - I'm a giver - I love to help people and sometimes I'm the one that pays the price. The demands of life and the availability of life-giving activities that interest me during the "off times" (oh ya, what are those??) have made it difficult to find quality ME time. It usually ends up being an evening in front of the TV with a glass of wine, wishing I had the energy to go join a group, go to the gym or socialize with other adults. It almost never actually happens.

This time when I started to go nuts, I managed to find a chunk of time where everyone I am responsible for had other care and I took my opportunity to sneak away to a local place that refreshes me.

I got a massage, pedicure, soaked in the hot pools, walked along the beach & went out for dinner at a lovely Thai place ALL BY MYSELF! I don't think I've ever done anything like this alone before, so I have to say it was a bit intimidating at first, but I gathered up the courage and went.

It was amazing - after about 5 hours of "me time" I felt like a whole new woman. I smiled. Yup, those muscles have been so tired lately, I don't think they even knew what to do, but I smiled and it was natural!

I am doing this again and I'm encouraging other mothers and caregivers out there to take a retreat for yourself every once in a while to recharge those caring batteries.

Take some time for yourself, do something just for you, and remind yourself that you're a real person too!