Fat Free Zucchini Muffins

courgettesI’m a big fan of zucchini muffins.  They are great for breakfast or an afternoon snack.  Plus, they are easy to make.  Over the summer, I’ve made zucchini muffins more times than I can count and each time they were a little different.  My husband teases me and says that I never make something the same way twice.  I must agree.  I usually cook with what I already have in my kitchen.  It’s a great way to decrease cost and it helps prevent food from going bad.

My most recent zucchini muffins are very different than the rest.  All of the recipes that I have used call for oil and eggs to keep the muffins moist.  However, oil and eggs add a significant amount of fat.  I wanted to add some protein and try to decrease the fat content in my muffins.  I decided to use Greek yogurt instead of oil and eggs and the final product taste great.  Here’s my final recipe (which I think I will stick with for now on) and the links to a few other good ones.

Fat Free Zucchini Muffins

1 cup Fat Free Greek Yogurt

1 cup honey

1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

3 cups white whole-wheat flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups shredded zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix the yogurt, honey, and vanilla until fully combined.  Add the dry ingredients and stir until the dry ingredients have absorbed all the liquid.  Last of all, add the zucchini and mix well.

Pour the batter into lightly greased muffins tins and bake for 15-20 minutes.  You should end up with around 18 muffins.

The final result isn’t as sweet as other muffins, so keep that in mind if you have a sweet tooth.  Here are the other recipes that I have used and recommend.

http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2010/06/25/recipe-zucchini-bread/

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/100-whole-wheat-zucchini-chocolate-chip-bread-recipe

Batch cooking, round 2

A few weeks before Spring Break we finished off our last frozen meal.  I was already planning on spending time during our Spring Break cooking and freezing more meals.  During those few weeks before our break, I realized  how convenient frozen meals were.  Supper took more time and effort to fix, and I missed the convenience of my frozen meals.

So, I started planning out what I would cook.  We enjoyed all of the meals I made last time, but I wanted to make some new dishes this time.  I also didn’t make any soup this time; I assumed since it would be spring soon, we would start to  have some warmer weather.  Although, it did snow the first 2 days of our Spring Break.

turkey-shepherds-pie

Along with the 2 Shepard’s pie,

http://www.laaloosh.com/2011/01/21/turkey-shepherds-pie-recipe/

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I also made 3 Chicken and Pasta Casseroles,

https://sollmomsrealfood.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/chicken-and-pasta-casserole/

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2 Taco Casseroles,

https://sollmomsrealfood.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/taco-casserole/

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and 2 Chicken and Potato Casseroles.

https://sollmomsrealfood.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/chicken-and-potato-casserole/

The following day I cooked a 15 pound turkey in the oven, separated it into 1 pound bags, and vacuumed sealed them.  I also fixed 4 green bean kits and 5 meat loaves.

I have a feeling we will be well stocked until the summer.  I’ve come up with a few tips to help when planning on cooking a big batch of meals.

1. Potatoes that need to bake or boil get priority.

2.  Cook as much meat ahead of time as possible.

3.  Have a plan for the order in which you will fix the meals.

4. Keep in mind the pots that you will use and try to use as few as possible.

5.  Make sure the kids are not at home.

6.  Be very certain that you have all the ingredients you need.

7.  Find recipes that use very basic ingredients that are easy to fix.

8.  Find recipes that use similar ingredients. * Notice that 2 of my meals used potatoes which are very inexpensive.

I only spent $175 on all of the food, and I expect to get a total 50 servings.   Which, in the end, means that each serving will cost around $3.

Keep in mind that all the meat and fresh produce are organic and nothing I used was highly processed or pre-made.  I made all of the chicken broth (which was used in almost all of the recipes) from the chicken scraps, bought the cheese in blocks and shredded them, and used dried beans that I soaked the night before.

It took me about 8 hours to put everything together.  I was very tired at the end of the day but was proud of what I had accomplished.  If you haven’t tried cooking in bulk yet, I highly recommend you do it.  Start out small if you need but at least give it a try – and be sure to let me know how it goes.

Chicken and Potato Casserole

100_2887I love potatoes.  Fried, hashed, baked, stuffed, mashed, twice baked, you name it…  I love them. Most casseroles don’t use potatoes as a main ingredient.  Usually it is either rice or a pasta.  So, I was really excited when I found one online that used potatoes.  This dish can be made ahead of time and then frozen if desired.  I changed the recipe a little and added chicken in order to increase the protein in the dish.  Here’s my updated version as well as the original recipe.

Chicken and Potato Casserole

2 pounds red skinned potatoes

Olive oil

Kosher Salt

5 slices of bacon

3 cups shredded cooked chicken

1 cup whole milk

1/4 cup melted butter

1 cup sour cream

2  1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese – keep the 1/2 cup set aside for the topping

3 green onions sliced

2 tsp dried parsley

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp of pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Scrub potatoes, puncture each with a knife to vent, toss with olive oil and salt and place on a pan. Bake at 400 degrees F for 45 minutes or until tender.

Cook the bacon till crisp and then break into small pieces.

Once potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice them in half lengthwise, then slice them in half again. Place into a large bowl. Add 2 cups of the Cheddar cheese, 3 cups chicken, and half of the bacon. Set aside a big pinch of the green onion for garnish and add the rest to the potatoes.

Mix together the milk, sour cream and melted butter. Add parsley, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Pour mixture over the potatoes and gently toss. Use a potato masher to break down the chunks to desired texture.

Pour mixture into greased baking dish, cover and bake at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes or until heated through. Remove, top with the remaining 1/2 cup of shredded Cheddar cheese, return to the oven, uncovered, until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Garnish top with remaining bacon and green onion.

* If freezing the casserole, go ahead and add the remaining cheese and bacon before freezing.  You can easily pull it off once the dish thaws and then add it back for the last 5 minutes.

This link will take you to the original recipe.  http://www.deepsouthdish.com/2012/08/cheesy-loaded-twice-baked-potato.html

Chicken and Pasta Casserole

100_2888As I was planning my menu for the next few months, I wanted to have a chicken pasta dish.  I didn’t want one that had an Alfredo sauce or a tomato based sauce.  I found this tuna noodle casserole and decided to use chicken instead of canned tuna.

It turned out great and makes for a nice chicken pasta dish.  I cooked a whole chicken in the crockpot and shredded it.  I used to bones and scraps to make the broth.  I also made bread crumbs from my homemade bread.  The most expensive ingredient in the dish is the mushrooms.  That’s mainly because I made my own cream of mushroom soup and used organic mushrooms.

Overall, it’s rather inexpensive to make and very delicious. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

http://onceamonthmom.com/lighter-tuna-noodle-casserole/

Taco Casserole

100_2886I have always been a  fan of Mexican dishes and casseroles.  I love the mixture of flavors and textures.  So, when I came across a Taco Casserole recipe, I was excited.  It included simple ingredients and would be inexpensive to make; however, I still made a few changes in order to meet our budget and lifestyle.   Here’s my version and a link to the original recipe.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Taco Casserole

Ingredients:

2 Tbls olive oil

1 bag of pre-sliced frozen mixed peppers and onions (could substitute 1 green pepper and 1 cup of chopped onion)

2 garlic cloves minced

1 lb ground turkey

3 Tbls homemade taco seasoning ( or 1 store-bought taco seasoning packet)

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup salsa

2 cups soaked black beans or 1 15 oz can

1 cup frozen corn

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350.

Saute peppers, onions, and garlic in olive oil till tender and most of the water is evaporated. Add turkey and cook until no longer pink. Add taco seasoning and mix well.

In a small bowl, combine the cheddar cheese and the salsa. In another bowl, mix the beans and corn.

Cover the bottom of your greased casserole dish with the ground turkey mixture.  Top that with the cheese and salsa.  Add the beans and corn for the next layer.  Last of all, cover the top with mozzarella cheese.

Cook in the oven for 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Here is the original recipe that I used. http://www.budgetsavvydiva.com/2012/03/taco-casserole-recipe/

 

Green Bean Kit

Part 100_2823of the goal of eating real food is to incorporate more vegetables and fruits into our meals.  One way that I try to meet this goal is to have a green vegetable with supper.  I came up with the idea of creating “Green Bean Kits” based off of my pizza kit idea.

Buy a big bag of fresh beans and snap the ends off.  Freeze the ends along with other scraps to make veggie broth.

100_2807Separate into 1/2 pound sandwich size ziplock bags.

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 In a snack size bag, combine 1/4 cup of chopped onions and 2-3 tsp. of garlic.  Freeze the bags together in order to create your “kit.”

When you want some green beans with supper, boil the beans for about 5-10 minutes.  I like my beans crisp, so I only boil them for about 5 minutes.  In another pan, brown the onion and garlic with a little salt. Once the beans are done boiling, add them to the skillet with the onions and garlic.  Add salt and pepper as needed.  Saute for about 5 minutes and then enjoy.

Taking Inventory – The home cooked meals that are still in the freezer

images-2.jpegIt has now been a little over a month since my first big cook, https://sollmomsrealfood.wordpress.com/2013/01/20/my-first-big-cook/ , and I decided to take inventory of what we ate and what was left.

This past month was the least stressful month for me in the kitchen.  I went to bed knowing what we would have for supper the next night and never had to dread cooking when we would get home from work.  Cleaning the dishes in the evening was easy b/c there weren’t any pots or pans to clean.  I even had energy to work out after supper.  The best part, all of the meals were delicious!

Throughout the past month, we ate the following precooked meals:

2 Turkey Shephard’s Pie

1 chicken enchilada

1 lasagna

1 chicken pot pie

2 gallons of Taco Soup

1 Meat Loaf

We were able to get at least 4 servings out of each meal.  We also used up the precooked turkey meat and green beans.  Along with my frozen meals, we also have some frozen meat from my parents (turkey and barbeque) that we had about once a week with some veggies.

I’m guessing the rest of my freezer meals will last about a month and then my adventures will begin again.  Next weekend, I’m going to precook some meat for this month, and I’ll need to make some new bags of frozen green beans and other veggies.  Other than that,  there isn’t a lot of precooking that I’m going to do this month.

I HIGHLY recommend making at least a few meals ahead of time and then freezing them.  It made a big difference this month.

We’ve decided to keep the Shephard’s Pie and Lasagna but are going to switch out something else for the enchiladas and pot pie.  We enjoyed the other meals, but I don’t want us to get burned out by eating the same foods every month.  Now I just need suggestions on what to cook next.  I would love some suggestions or ideas.

Pizza Kits

Two_Kids_Eating_Pepperoni_and_Cheese_Pizza_Royalty_Free_Clipart_Picture_100404-001305-189053  So, one word that my kids know all too well is pizza.  I guess with there being a Little Caesar’s on the way home from work, that was bound to happen.  We are big fans of a Hot and Ready pizza after a long day of students and lesson plans.

One of my goals is for our family to eat mostly wheat bread.  Why?  Well, our bodies digest food best when it is in its most natural state.  I can tell a different in my energy level, digestion, and weight when comparing white to wheat bread.  However, I have tried numerous whole wheat pizza dough recipes, and they just weren’t working.  So, instead, we were picking up pizzas on our way home.  It just didn’t make sense to me to keep buying processed fast food pizza when I could make it at home.  So, I decided to try a new recipe and used ½ white ½ wheat flour.  And guess what, it worked.  It’s not as healthy as I would prefer, but it is far healthier than Little Caesar’s.

The recipe that I found makes enough dough for 2 pizzas.  So, I came up with the idea of making pizza kits and freezing them.  Although it wasn’t “Hot and Ready” when we got home, it was easy to make and very enjoyable.

4 Pizza Kits:pizza dough

The first step – make the dough: I doubled the following pizza dough recipe.  I had to make the recipe twice because my mixer isn’t big enough to hold all the ingredients.  It wasn’t that big of an issue though.  I substitute ½ of the white flour with wheat flour.

http://onceamonthmom.com/homemade-pizza-dough/

While the dough was rising, I made the pizza sauce and shredded the cheese.

 Second step – make the pizza sauce:  Store bought pizza sauce has a lot of salt and sugar added, plus it really doesn’t taste all that great.

pizza sauce

Here’s the recipe I’ve created:

4 6 oz. cans tomato paste (I’m sure you can buy a bigger can of tomato paste and adjust the measurements.  I was just using what I had on hand)

¾ cup olive oil (it’s cheapest to buy this in bulk at Sam’s or another)

¾ cup water

¼ cup Italian seasoning

1 tablespoon garlic powder

2 T sugar

Mix all ingredients together.  I like my sauce to be thick.  If you want it thinner, just add more water or oil.  You can also adjust the seasoning and sugar to get the taste you want.

Third step – shred the cheese.  I’ve mentioned before how handy my food processor is.  It was much easier and faster to shred cheese for 4 pizzas in the processor than doing it by hand.

By this time, the dough should be done rising.  Follow the instructions for freezing the dough that are on the website.  I divide the sauce into small Ziploc bags; I think it ends up being about 2 cups per bag.  I divide the cheese into small Ziploc bags also.  It should be close to 2 cups or ¾ a pound.  It depends on how thin the cheese is shredded.  When freezing shredded cheese, it helps to add about ½ – 1 tablespoon of flour to the bag and then shake till it is spread throughout.  This helps prevent the cheese from becoming a big frozen block of cheese.  It will not affect the taste or consistency.

Put all the bags into the freezer and let them freeze.  Once they are frozen, put a bag of sauce, cheese, and dough into a big Ziploc bag.  On the day you plan to have pizza, take out all ingredients and let them thaw in the fridge (if you remember to in the morning) or on the counter for a few hours if it’s later in the day.  If everything isn’t thawed when you are ready to cook, you can soak them in hot water, just be sure not to let any water get into the bags.

The pizza dough will be difficult to roll out at first.  Honestly, it can take me about 5 – 10 minutes.  You have to get a lot of the air rolled out before it will soften up and spread out.  Just be patient!  Like it said, it’s not hot and ready, but it is cheaper and healthier.  Once you have you shaped and rolled out the dough, cook it for about 6 minutes at 450 before adding any toppings.  This helps to make sure the crust will be cooked throughout without burning the toppings.  Finally, add your toppings, cook for about 6 – 10 more minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Let sit for about 5 minutes, and then enjoy!

Overall, it took me about 2 hours to fix the kits (which I did on a Saturday during nap time) and 30 minutes to make and cook the pizza.  It probably only cost about $3 for the tomato paste and the other ingredients I keep on hand.  I guess it cost around $1 per pizza.  Like I said, not hot and ready, but it is cheaper and healthier.  This doesn’t mean that we will never stop and pick up a pizza.  I would like for that to be my goal.  However, I prefer to make realistic goals, and I don’t think that would be very realistic for my family right now.

I enjoyed making the kits and found it relatively easy to put together.  One goal that I’m setting for this blog is to help other people find ways to make cooking easier, cheaper, and healthier.  If you have any ideas of kits you would like to have but have no clue how to do it, let me know.  I’ll be more than happy to help brainstorm ideas and offer suggestions.

My first big cook

First of all, you may want to get a cup of coffee and snack before you start reading.  This ended up being a lot longer than I planned.  So, here it goes…

Recently I cooked enough food to provide about 55 meals and each meal averaged out to being about $2 each and that’s without using coupons. The meals are all frozen and will make cooking dinner much easier. All of the food is made from scratch and does not use any processed ingredients. Not only does this save money, but it also cuts down on salt, extra preservatives, and artificial ingredients.

Some people have asked me for the recipes that I used.  I decided to provide the link to the recipes along with some suggestions and other ideas.  The day before I cooked all my food, I cooked 3 whole chickens and about 6 pounds of turkey meat.  I cooked the chickens in the oven – it only takes about 3 hours each.  I then made chicken broth with the bones and scraps.  To save time, I cooked the turkey in the crock pot.  It is easy to clean up and much more efficient than cooking all of it in the skillet.  Keep in mind that I doubled all of these recipes so that I could have 2 of each frozen.  I figured if I’m making one, I may as well make 2.  We have tried all of the frozen meals, and they all turned out great.

1. Shepard’s Piturkey-shepherds-piee – We don’t eat beef, so I cook with ground turkey.  I ended up probably tripling the meat so that there would be plenty of meat in this carb-heavy dish.  I changed the mashed potato part of the recipe though.  I just boiled the potatoes, mashed, and then added cream cheese, a little milk, and salt and pepper until I got the consistency and taste that I wanted.  It was much cheaper and used fewer ingredients.  It turned out great and was very easy to make.

http://www.laaloosh.com/2011/01/21/turkey-shepherds-pie-recipe/

2. Chicken Pot-pie – I’ve kinda gotten on a chicken pot-pie kick lately.  They are easy to assemble and taste great.  The recipe that I use hasCPP 22 all the ingredients made from scratch.  Sometimes I make the crust by scratch, but I have also bought pre-made crust.  The ones from scratch taste much better, but I recently found some on sale and used them.  The pre-made ones also have all the same ingredients as the homemade ones, so I was able to justify buying them.

http://cookingwithkrista.blogspot.com/2011/10/chicken-pot-piefrom-scratch.html

 

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3. Chicken Enchiladas – these were rather time-consuming since I made the tortilla shells from scratch.  I spent some time looking at the ingredients in the store-bought shells and just couldn’t breakdown and buy them.  The shells are easy to make, it is just time-consuming to roll out 20 shells and then fry them.   However, in the end, they are much cheaper than store-bought and taste a whole lot better, so the extra work is worth it.  Here’s the link for the shells: http://www.the-girl-who-ate-everything.com/2008/10/post-trick-or-treating-soup.html.  I use ½ whole white wheat flour and ½ white flour.  Makes them a little healthier but still has a great taste.   I am out of homemade salsa, so I had to buy some from Sam’s.  They have one that has fresh ingredients and no preservatives.

http://www.myrecipes.com/r

ecipe/chicken-enchiladas-10000000488990/

4. Lasagna – This was a simple basic lasagna.  The recipe came off of the box for the whole wheat lasagna noodles.  I was able to use one box to make both lasagnas.  I also tripled the meat in this dish b/c it is so carb heavy.  I used some organic tomato sauce.  I don’t buy the grated Parmesan cheese to cook with.  Take a look at the ingredients and you’ll figure out why.  Instead, I buy some shredded Parmesan from Sam’s that doesn’t have the preservatives.

5. Doris’ Meatloaf – This is the recipe for my grandmother’s meatloaf.  I made two of them using homemade ketchup and breadcrumbs from my home

made bread.

https://sollmomsrealfood.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/doris-meat-loaf/

6. Taco Soup – I ended up making 5 gallons of this.  The recipe uses canned beans, but I used dry ones that soaked the night before.  It took all day for this to cook and I think I added some different beans than what was called for.  Also, I increased the meat and used my own taco seasoning.

taco seasoning

http://www.the-girl-who-ate-everything.com/2008/10/post-trick-or-treating-soup.html

http://onceamonthmom.com/homemade-taco-seasoning/

 

 

I also pre-made a few side dishes:

1. I had some black-eyed peas left over from New Year’s Day.  I went ahead and soaked them and split them up into bags.  I added some chopped onions, ham scraps, garlic, and seasonings.  We had some of these with the meatloaf last week.  All it took was dumping the entire bag into a pot, adding some water, and then letting them simmer until soft.  Very easy!

2. I also went ahead and got a few bags ready to make re-fried beans.  I used the following recipe, but split it up into small bags.  I used the ingredients that they listed, but I could’ve just used some of my homemade taco seasoning.

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/refried-beans-recipe/index.html

3. I fixed some green beans also. I bought fresh beans at Kroger, snapped and rinsed them.  Then froze them along with some onions and seasoning.  I let them boil until soft, then cooked them in the skillet with a little bit of oil and garlic.

All in all, it took me 2 days to fix all of this food.  Three days if you include the day I cooked the meat, although that took very little effort.  The first day took the longest b/c I made the tortilla shells that day. Here are a few other cooking suggestions that helped save time:

1. Buy a food processor if you don’t have one already.  Mine has a blade to shred cheese which saves a lot of time and effort.  I use the regular blade to shred the chicken.  I use it for almost all of my recipes.  Here’ a link to the one that I have: http://www.walmart.com/ip/Black-Decker-PowerPro-Wide-Mouth-Food-Processor/16944966

2. I got an apple peeler/corer for Christmas from Andrea, my sister-in-law.  I used it for the potatoes in the Shepard’s Pie.  It saved a lot of time when it came to peeling the potatoes and they cooked faster since they were sliced.  Here’s the link to the apple peeler she gave me: http://www.amazon.com/Andersons-Baking-Peeling-Coring-Machine/dp/B000EI7ZC

3. Have a plan in mind.  I knew what needed to be done first and what could wait.  I made the soup to begin with b/c I knew it would need to cook all day.  I soaked the beans overnight so that I could make the soup.  I also cooked the meat the day before so that I would have the chicken cooked and the chicken broth.

4. I stored the chicken broth in pitchers.  Sounds gross I know, and make sure your kids don’t get it confused with apple juice.  The pitcher made it easier to measure and pour.

5. I froze the meals in disposable aluminum pans that came from Sam’s.  You can buy these at any grocery store though.  Here’s the link for these:  http://www.samsclub.com/sams/bakers-chefs-aluminum-foil-steam-table-pans-half-size-30-ct/200080.ip?sprodId=200080

6. When it’s time to cook one of the meals, take it out the night before and let it sit on the counter top.  In the morning, put it in the fridge.  It took most of them about 1 hour to cook.

All the work was definitely worth it in the end.  However, don’t feel like you have to cook all of the meals.  Try out a few and see how it goes.  We also have a deep freezer which we store the meals in.  I suggest buying one if possible.  You can usually find them on Craigslist if you don’t want to buy one at full retail price.

So, this ended up being a lot longer blog than I planned, but I wanted to include as much information as possible.  Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions of meals for my next big cook, which hopefully won’t be for a few months.  And keep in mind, a small step is better than no step at all!