Monday, November 24, 2008

Homemade Hashbrowns

I have to admit that I've never once attempted to make hashbrowns from scratch. Normally, I buy them frozen, but have never truly been satisfied with the result. They seem soggy to me. The hashbrown that are packaged fresh at the grocery are too expensive for my taste. I was fixing brunch on Sunday and needed another side dish I had a few potatoes on hand and got the recipe right out to the Betty Crocker cookbook. There simply wasn't enough there- everyone wanted more. I think next time I'll make a bigger batch, cut back on the butter and use the electric nonstick griddle. This might become a lunch time staple with a little ham and cheese added.

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20-30 minutes
Serves: 8-10
Cost: Approx. $1.50

8-10 medium potatoes (about 3 pounds) ($1.50)
4 tablespoons finely chopped onion
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 cup butter

Wash potatoes well and pare. Do not remove skins. Shred to measure 8 cups. Rinse well; drain and pat dry. Mix potatoes, onion, salt and pepper. Heat butter until melted. Pack potato mixture firmly a dn leave 1/2 space around the edge of pan.

Cook over med-low for 15 minutes or until bottom is brown. Flip potato mixture adding more butter to pan if needed. Cook about 12 minutes longer or until bottom is brown.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Jerk Turkey Soup

I few months ago I pulled a turkey from the bottom of the freezer that had been hiding since last winter. I roasted it and then froze the turkey meat. It's been fun exploring new ways to use it. This was one of our favorites. Just in time for this year's Thanksgiving turkey leftovers!

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Serves: 8-10
Cost: Approx. $2.50 if made with leftover turkey

1 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 cups of turkey meat cut into chunks (leftovers)
3 Tbsp Jerk Seasoning
1 medium onion diced ($.25)
2 Tbsp diced garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 large can diced tomatoes undrained ($1.00)
1 small can black beans rinsed ($.75)
5 cups hot water
5 Tbsp chicken granules or 4 chicken bouillon cubes ($.25)

In a skillet heat olive olive oil. Add onion and garlic and cook until onions are translucent. Coat turkey with Jerk seasoning in a plastic bag. Add seasoned turkey to skillet and heat through.

Add all ingredients to crockpot and heat on low for 2 hours.

Like most soups this can be made into a double batch and half of it frozen. It makes for a quick lunch. We just had it today:)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Seven Layer Beef Stew

This is an hardy stew that can be made with just a few ingredients from your pantry. Best of all it's done in the crockpot. I use my mandolin to cut the vegetables right into the crock.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Serves: 12-14
Cost: Approx. $6.00

1 pound ground beef browned ($1.50)
1 medium onion sliced thin ($.25)
5 carrots sliced thin ($.25)
4 medium potatoes sliced thin ($.50)
1 can peas undrained ($.75)
1 can corn undrained ($.75)
2 small cans tomato soup ($2.00)

In the crockpot layer potatoes, onion, carrots, peas and corn being sure to salt and pepper each layer to taste. Top with ground beef. Spread tomato soup evenly over top of mixture. Cook on high for 3 hours or on low for 5 hours.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Warm Vanilla Cream Sauce

We ran out of syrup for our pancakes so I pulled together this sauce at the last minute. Everyone liked it so much that I don't think we'll be buying syrup any time soon. I was surprised that such a small amount served all nine of us. The trick to this is STIR CONSTANTLY.

Cook Time: 5 minutes
Serves: 8
Cost: less than $1

5 Tbsp butter ($.50)
5 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4-1 cup milk
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla

Melt butter in a sauce pan on medium heat. Incorporate flour while stirring constantly. When a smooth paste has formed add sugar and mix well. Slowly add 3/4 milk and turn up heat to medium high until the sauce begins to bubble. Continue stirring and turn heat down to medium. until sauce thickens to a gravy consistency. If needed add additional milk to thin.

Remove from heat and add cinnamon and vanilla. Stir. Serve warm.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pizza Pockets

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20-30 minutes
Serves: 12
Cost: Approx. $8.00

3 tubes of crescent rolls ($3.00)
3-4 cups mozzarella cheese ($2.00)
1 package of pepperoni or 8 oz of cooked sausage ($2.00)
1 can of pizza sauce (1.00)

Remove crescent rolls and separate each package into 4 rectangles. Gently roll with a glass to remove perforations.

Place 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese and meat of your choice in the center of the rectangle. Fold over and pinch edges well to seal. Wrap each pizza pocket in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil before freezing.

To cook, unwrap frozen pizza pocket and place on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with warm pizza sauce for dipping.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

White Chicken Chili

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 6-8
Cost: Approx. $6.25

1 small onion chopped ($.25)
2 t garlic powder
2T olive oil
2 jalapeno peppers minced (optional)
4 oz can chopped green chilies, drained ($.50)
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1 t dried oregano
1 t salt
3 C chicken broth ($2.00)
1 small can cooked northern beans, drained
16 oz cooked chicken breast, cubed (about 4 cups) ($3.50)

1/2 C chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Combined all ingredients and simmer on low for 30 minutes. Or combined all ingredients in a freezer bag. To reheat, place frozen chili in crockpot on low for 3 hours.

I like to top our chicken chili with 1/4 cup Monterey Jack cheese and a few tortilla chips on the side.

**Cooking you own beans and making broth from chicken stock would be a great way to cut costs on this meal**

Cheesy Potato Sausage Bake

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook Time:
Serves: 6
Cost: approx $6.75

6 potatoes diced and boiled until tender ($.75)
1 small can cream of chicken soup ($.75)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese ($2.00)
1 cup low fat sour cream ($1.00)
1/3 chopped green onions ($.25)
1 lb smoked sausage cut and browned ($2.00)

Mix all ingredients together well. Place in freezer bag.

Unthaw and place in baking dish. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes covered.

Make Ahead Sandwiches

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time:
Serves: 10-12
Cost: Approx $6.50

1 1/2 pounds ground beef ($2.50)
3/4 cup chopped onion ($.25)
3/4 cup ketchup
3/4 cup chopped dill or sweet pickles
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese ($1.50)
12 hot dog buns, split ($2.00)

In a saucepan, cook the beef and onion until meat is no longer pink; drain.

Stir in ketchup, pickles, salt, pepper, garlic powder and hot pepper sauce; heat through. Stir in cheese.

Place about 1/3 cupful in each bun; wrap individually in heavy-duty foil and seal tightly. Freeze for up to 3 months.

To use frozen sandwiches: Bake in foil at 400 degrees F for 30-35 minutes or until heated through.

Chicken Burritos

Cook Time: 15 minutes
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Serves: 8-10
cost: Approx. $7.00

4 boneless chicken breasts ($3.25)
1/2 jar salsa ($.75)
1 small can fat-free refried beans ($.75)
8-10 tortillas
low-fat shredded cheese ($2.00)

Place 4 boneless chicken breasts in a medium saucepan. Add 1/2 a jar of salsa and enough water to cover chicken. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until chicken is white all the way through (about 20 minutes or so). Remove chicken from pot and let cool until easy to handle. Shred the chicken and return to the pot. If chicken mixture looks too thin, bring to a boil to reduce liquid.

Spread about two tablespoons of fat-free refried beans on a flour tortilla. (Buy the thicker 'homemade' variety if available; they are much better and won't tear so easily. Tortillas are easier to work with if you warm them first. I microwave mine a bit until soft, then wrap them in a kitchen towel and remove one at a time.)

Add 3-4 tablespoons chicken mixture down the center, sprinkle on a tablespoon or so of low-fat shredded cheddar. Fold the sides of tortilla in a bit, then roll from the bottom.

Repeat the procedure with remaining tortillas. Wrap each burrito in plastic wrap or wax paper, then place all the burritos in a large freezer bag and freeze.

To reheat, remove the plastic wrap and microwave on high until hot all the way through (time will vary depending on size of burrito and power of microwave.)

If the burritos are too soggy for your taste, microwave until the burrito is just thawed. In our microwave, this takes 3 1/2 to 4 minutes. Then, bake on lightly greased pan another 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees. They get lightly browned and slightly crispy on the outside.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Freezer Cooking Co-op: The Party

The invitations have been sent, the recipes chosen, the assignment list distributed and the shopping and preparations complete. Now the fun begins. It's cooking night!

The first time that I held one of these events, there were 9 recipes to be assembled and it took us three and a half hours! We got started a little late. A few of the recipes required extensive assembly (egg rolls, stuffed shells and pizza pockets). By the time we ended I wasn't sure that anyone would want to participate again. We were spent!

Since that time I have done my best to streamline the process and this past Friday with six ladies present we completed the work in one hour and fifteen minutes. Choosing on one labor intensive recipe (chicken burritos) was really where the time is saved.

Here is a rough outline of how a cooking party is conducted and some short cuts to make everyone's night more enjoyable.

1. Set the time and stick to it. It usually takes 15 minutes for everyone to set up their tables and unload their cars. If a person is running late, go ahead and get started. Someone can go ahead with the assembly for the late comer and then they can add their cooked meat when they arrive.

2. Each lady should open/prepare her ingredients at her station before we begin. It works best if everyone goes to one station at once with the bag or bowl to retrieve the ingredients rather than having one person walk around to each person. There is more time spent working than waiting and there is less chance for a big spill.

2. Don't be afraid to make a mess. Have a big trash can open in the middle of the room and a sink filled with hot dish soap so that people can was their mixing bowl as needed. Trust me, there will be a BIG mess, but there are also half a dozen other moms there to help you clean up:)

3. Assemble the recipe right in the freezer bag. Most soups, stews and casseroles can be mixed right in the bag. Save yourself a step of cleaning a bowl and spoon.

4. Have a printed copy of each recipe to be assembled. Each lady should have received an email of these previously, but just in case someone forgot theirs, it's nice to have it handy.

5. The final step is the best- clean up, load up cars and sit down for some chocolate and coffee.

I hope that this series has inspired you in some way to consider integrating cooking in community into your kitchen. There are many ways to participate in a freezer cooking co-op and recipe books devoted to this sort of thing. I would love to hear about any freezer cooking co-ops you may be planning. And please do come back again and visit The Full Table.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Freezer Cooking Co-op: shopping and preparations

Since our cooking party is planned so far in advance it gives plenty of time for each person to shop at their convenience and find the best bargains out there. I usually carry around my assignment list with me for a few weeks during my regular shopping trips to make sure that I don't miss any good deals. Because we don't collect receipts and split the cost evenly, using coupons and shopping sales really pays off. Once when my recipe was stuffed shells, I was able to buy all the pasta for free with coupons and the cream cheese for half price bringing my total to next to nothing. My only cost for the 8 meals was the meat and eggs and cheese. What I can't find on sale I purchase in bulk at Sam's or GSF. I will often call the store to ask for a price quote so that I don't have to shop at both stores.

Since meat is a large portion of the cost, it is necessary in order to find the best prices. Being able to buy chicken breast at $1.87/lb is quite different than picking it up at the last minute for $3.99/lb. Because I often buy our meat at Kroger's on Manager's special it needs to be cooked right away. I asked the butcher about these marked down meats and was told that they need to be cooked within 24 hours of purchase in order to be considered safe. But because I already have my assignment list, I can prepare the meat as I'm fixing dinner that night and put it in the freezer for the cooking party.

Aside from the meat, there is other preparation to be done for cooking night. Each lady will need to bring all the ingredients in her recipe already prepared for the group. This means that if something needs cooked, like potatoes or pasta, then it is done at home. Also, items that need to be chopped or diced should also be done ahead of time. Some like to separate all the prepared meals into individual bags for each person and others bring it in a big pot or bowl to be scooped out. Both ways work well.

There are some other preparation short cuts in this post that you might find helpful.

Tomorrow will feature the final post in the series, which the best part of all- Cooking Night! I appreciate all the email and comments. I would love to hear about any plans you are making for yourselves or further questions you might have.

Hope you are able to come back Saturday for the recipes that have been requested!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Freezer Cooking Co-Op: Making Assignments

Now that the recipes have been selected, the next step is to make a master list of what each person is to bring for the cooking party. Each lady is responsible to provide her own meat for each of the dishes that will be assembled that night. This works best for several reasons. Many people already have a stockpile of meat that they could use. Some people prefer a certain grade of meat or may choose to only eat organically. I've found that going this route is the best way to save money and remain flexible.

Each person also will bring the non-meat items of their assigned recipe for the entire group. For example, at our last party my recipe was Taco Soup. Since there were six of us, I brought the equivalent of 6 cans of diced tomatoes, 6 cans of corn, 6 large cans of tomato juice, 6 bags of cheddar cheese and 6 bags of corn chips, as well as enough taco seasoning to flavor everyone's meat.

This is where the savings happens. Instead of buying these cans individually, I took advantage of Aldi and GFS and spent approximately $25 to supply my ingredients to the group. My meat for the night cost around $12 due to the fact that it was purchased on manager's special and had been waiting patiently in my freezer. Altogether, I was able to provide six meals for our family of 9 for $37. This averages to be about $6 per main dish. Many in our group have smaller families and split these dishes in half making the average $3 per meal!

Aside from the ingredients, a list is provided of supplies that will be needed to make our night run smoothly. We learned after our first cooking experience together that a lot of time can be wasted waiting to use a can opener!

Here's an example of our last Assignment List:

Here is what you will need to bring with you prepared for our cooking night:

The non-meat items for your recipe x 6

½- 1 pound of cooked smoked sausage

4 boneless chicken breasts cooked with ½ jar salsa and then shredded

2 cups diced ham

16 oz cooked chicken breast cubed (4 cups)

1 ½ pounds ground beef cooked with 2/3 cup onion

1 pound of ground beef browned

8x8 baking dish

10 gallon sized freezer bags

Plastic Wrap


Large mixing bowl

Large Spoon for mixing

Measuring cups/spoons

Card table (if you have one)

Tomorrow I'll share specifics regarding preparing for the recipes for assembly as well as some more shopping tips.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Freezer Cooking Co-Op: Choosing Recipes

When choosing the recipes for a cooking party I enjoy allowing each person to have a chance to share a family favorite with the group. This may or may not be something new to the others, but it will no doubt have a different element that other families will enjoy trying. I love it when my kids rave about the meal and then ask, "Whose is this mom?" I can reply, "It's Mrs. Paasch's. It was her favorite when she was little. Her grandma made it for her," because we talked all about it at the party.

After the invitations have been sent and the RSVP date has been reached, I then contact the ladies asking for two recipes of their choice. Each recipe must serve 8 people or more and involve no raw meat. I do not require that it be a recipe specifically for freezing. It just must be a recipe that can be assembled fairly easily and is tried and true. Normally, I ask for recipes five weeks before cooking night and allow one week for a reply. It's always helpful to have a good month to make sure that various sales can be hit in preparation.

Once the recipes come to me, I then choose one of the two suggestions based on a few things. First of all, I try to achieve a balance in the types of meat used. For instance, we might prepare two chicken, two ground beef and one sausage and one vegetarian meal. Next, I choose a recipe based on its ethnic flavor. This way we won't end up with five Mexican dishes or four Italian. Finally, the recipe makes the cut if it has ingredients that will assemble easily and freeze well. Oftentimes, potatoes or creamed mixtures change consistency during freezing and thawing. These ingredients might need to be added at a different time in the cooking process.

At our last cooking party we prepared these meals:
Chicken Burritos
Cheesy Potato Bake
Ham Noodle Casserole
Make Ahead Sandwiches
Taco Soup
White Chicken Chili

Some other meals that we've enjoyed in the past:
Stuffed Shells
Chicken Egg Rolls
Pizza Pockets
Chicken Divan
Pizza Casserole
Beef Stew
Sloppy Joe Casserole
Beef Enchiladas
Tamali Pie

Do you see any recipes here that you'd like to have? I'd be glad to pass them on.

For those of you just stopping by check out earlier posts here and here. Tomorrow I will discuss how to make the ingredient assignment list and who pays for what. Thursday will cover the food preparation and Friday will feature the cooking night itself. Hope you are able to come back.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Freezer Cooking Co-op: Getting the Word Out

The best thing about having a cooking party is that it is a one time event. No one is signing up to do this for life and if the recipes aren't your family's favorites, then you only have to eat them once. Or better yet, if you know your family will definitely not appreciate what you bring home you 'll have something on hand for another family in need.

We host a cooking night through our homeschool group mom's activities. The date and time are set in advance and the ladies sign up a few months prior to the event. With about 42 ladies, about 8-12 have been interested. Usually as time passes the group is reduced to 6-9. This works out to be a perfect number for this sort of thing. A MOPS group, play group, neighborhood association, women's ministry, Sunday School Class or Bible Study might provide such a group to draw from.

Emphasizing upfront that the purpose of the cooking party is for fun and fellowship really is the draw, but the benefits go far beyond. There is an exchange of recipes, cooking techniques, casual conversation and much more. This is a great way for women to spend time together blessing one another's families in the process.

Once the invitations have been sent out allow two weeks for the women to clear their schedules and RSVP. This is so easily done through email or Facebook invitation.

Our homeschool event is called "Whatcha' Got Cookin'" and here is an example of our description and invitation. It's nothing fancy, but it gives all the important information upfront.

Event: Watcha got cookin’?

Age Group: Moms only

Dates: Friday, November 7th

Time: 7:00 p.m.

Cost: Recipe Dependent

Details: Tired of wondering what's for dinner? Want to try a new recipe? Would you like to spend time with friends and blessing your family simultaneously? Then join us for a fun and productive evening of fellowship as we prepare simple meals for our freezers. Each lady will be responsible for providing a recipe and all of the non meat items for the group and will then lead us through the assembling that meal. We'll take turns and in no time have a great variety of meals at our fingertips! Of course we'll have to follow up our hard work with some chocolate and coffee. Hope to see you there!

Contact: Name, phone, email address


Tomorrow I'll highlight how to choose the recipes for your cooking party.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Crustless Quiche

I love quiche, but my kids don't like the crust. So I have adapted the recipe and can make it in a jiffy with what we have on hand. I normally serve it with muffins and fruit salad. Now they request it all the time and there is never any leftovers.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 6
Cost: Approx. $2.00

4 eggs ($.50)
1 cup milk
1 tsp salt
pepper to taste
1 cup chopped broccoli (fresh or frozen) ($.25)
4 strips of bacon crumbled or 1/2 cup diced ham ($.50)
1/2 cup cheese ($.50)

Beat until frothy the eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Place broccoli, bacon and cheese in the bottom of a pie plate. Pour egg mixture on top. Bake at 375 for 25-35 minutes or until solid and beginning to brown on top.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Freezer Cooking Co-op

I would not have survived the first five years of parenting had it not been for my friend, Beth, and her suggestion to make freezer meals together. There is no better feeling for a mom of lots of little ones than knowing that dinner involves making a selection, defrosting and reheating. Weekly planning, shopping, preparation and cleanup is SO much easier when all the work is 75% done before you even start.

Since that time I've been freezer cooking in large groups, with one friend and by myself at times. Different seasons demand different measures. But no matter the circumstances, freezer cooking has saved our family lots of money and time, as well as been a great way to build relationships.

This past year I've enjoyed freezer cooking as a fellowship time with other homeschooling moms. Once a semester we get together for an evening to bless each other with fellowship and food. It's like a very production Mom's Night Out. Tonight is one such evening. Early November is a great time to prepare meals ahead of time because the holidays are quickly approaching and each of us will be in need of some relief from kitchen duty in the coming weeks.

Next week I'll be posting a series on how to hold a freezer cooking party as well as some of our recipes. So stay tuned and pass the word along.

Monday- getting the word out
Tuesday- choosing recipes
Wednesday- assignment list
Thursday- shopping/preparations
Friday- cooking night