Easy Slow Cooker Chicken & Rice Casserole

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Slow cookers are amazing, because you just put dinner in, go off to work or class, and come home to a fresh hot meal. I had a busy day planned, so I decided to use up some freezer food and make dinner a snap: I would make chicken casserole in the Crock Pot.
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Ingredients:
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 bag frozen vegetables
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Seasonings (Nature’s, black pepper and garlic)
Step 1: Put the chicken on the bottom of the sprayed pot.
Step 2: Mix rice & water, pour in.
Step 3: Cover with cream of chicken soup.
Step 4: Add the frozen veggies.
Then just cover tightly and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Make sure the chicken is cooked all the way through before serving. Makes about 4 servings. Simple, cheap, quick. Enjoy!

Urban foraging

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One of the many fringe benefits to going to walks/runs around the neighborhood is that I get to know where things are. If you just pay attention to your surroundings, there are so many interesting things to see! I am always on the lookout for a new source of free fruit, because the majority of people in a college town have no idea what a mulberry is, let alone will eat them. Therefore all the “wild” fruit goes to waste smashed on the ground or eaten by birds. I’ve heard that there is some law stating that any fruit which hangs over property lines is public property, but I’m not sure…
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Anyways, so I was jogging yesterday, and noticed a tree with dark purply-red leaves, with small smashed circles of pulp all around it. I stopped to inspect, and it was a plum tree! Tiny, golf-ball-sized reddish plums. I of course picked a few, and took them home to wash and try them. They were amazing! The flesh gave as soon as you bit into it, the outer pulp was sweet and soft, while the pulp closest to the seed was more sour and tangy.
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I had never had a plum like this from a store. And after 3, I did not get sick in any way, so I went back for more today! Just from what I could reach, and carry home, I got probably 4 dozen little plums. These will be great to snack on and take to the lake tomorrow for the 4th! And I feel no guilt, because judging from the amount of fruit on the ground, and the amount still left on the tree, even if the tree’s owners wanted some they will still find plenty.
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Another fruit tree I’ve found is a gigantic mulberry tree. This one was in front of a house for rent, and the porch was the perfect height to gather. The owner was home fixing it up, so I asked if I could pick the mulberries, and he said he didn’t even know what they are! Growing up, my grandmother had 8 mulberry trees, so our hands and faces were stained purple all summer long. I rushed home for a bucket and spent an hour re-living childhood…
Moral of the story is, get outside and be observant! You never know what free treats you may find.

Kale chips really are good!

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I am working on a CSA farm this summer, and we have begun harvesting and distribution. This week the take-home was:
  • 1 bag mixed lettuces.
  • 1 bag kale.
  • 1 carton snow peas.
  • 1 bunch radishes.
  • 1 bunch turnips.
  • 1 bunch pak choi.
  • Handful broccoli .
  • Herbs – spearmint, pineapple mint, oregano, thyme, farrow
I have been hearing so many people and blogs talk about how kale is bitter and hard to cook, but kale chips seem to be wildly popular. And they are amazingly easy to make! Then when searching recipes for turnips, I kept “turning up” (haha) mashed potatoes and turnips recipes. The pak choi lends itself well to stir-frying, add in some extra veggies and you’ve got yourself a meal! So my good (brave) friend and I embarked upon a cooking adventure to use up most of the farm food.
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Mashed Potatoes & Turnips:
2 large potatoes, diced
3-4 turnips, diced
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter/margerine
1/4 cup cream cheese or sour cream
Garlic powder
Step 1: Thoroughly wash veggies. Dice potatoes and turnips into small pieces. The smaller the pieces the faster they cook.
Step 2: Put the potatoes and turnips into a pot and cover with water. Get to a rolling boil, then boil for 20 minutes or until soft.
Step 3: When soft, drain and place in a large bowl. Break big chunks with a fork.
Step 4: Add wet ingredients, and blend well. Add as much garlic as you like!
The turnips have a soft taste to compliment the starchy potatoes, and of course you can experiment with other milk products and butter and spices or salt. But honestly, after you get used to the first few bites, mashed vegetables au natural tastes like nothing else! And it is delicious. We both had seconds.
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Pak Choi Stir Fry:
1 bunch pak choi
1 large carrot
~2 cups snow peas
1/2 cup broccoli
2 tbsp olive oil
Step 1: Thoroughly wash all veggies. Dice the carrots and broccoli into bite-sized pieces. Put the oil into the pan and put on medium heat.
Step 2: Add veggies in order of firmness, carrots and broccoli first, then snow peas, then pak choi for the last 5 minutes. Stir and keep covered throughout.
About 10 calories per serving, mostly from the oil! You can also steam the veggies.
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Kale Chips:
1 head kale
2 tbsp olive oil
~2 tbsp sea salt
Optional seasonings – we did one batch with chili powder to spice it up
Step 1: Tear the kale leaves from the main stem, and tear into bite size pieces.
Step 2: Place in a bowl and drizzle olive oil, in small amounts. Toss until just coated.

Step 3: Lay in single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake at 300 for ~20 minutes, tossing once. When chips are just beginning to turn brown and are crispy to the touch, they’re ready.

Crispy, healthy Kale chips!

These chips are light and airy, but totally delicious. It’s a strange sensation your first bite, but I guarantee it won’t be your last!

Dinner fresh from the farm!

Vegetarian couscous stuffed peppers

So I’m going to a dinner party, and planned to bring my old standby, stuffed peppers . However, at least one of the guests is vegetarian, and I am also trying to eat a more vegetarian diet. So I decided to get the best of both worlds, and make both! 
Veggie:
3 bell peppers (any color)
1/2 cup couscous
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup broccoli
3 large baby bella mushrooms
1/2 onion
1/2 cup diced red bell peppers
Lemon juice, soy sauce (optional)
Garlic powder, cumin, sea salt, olive oil
 
Step 1: Add 1/2 cup boiling water to 1/2 cup couscous and microwave 3 minutes.

 Step 2: Cut up all the veggies while its cooking.

 Step 3: To cooked couscous, add about 1 tbsp garlic powder, 1 tsp cumin and 1 tbsp olive oil. Fluff well & set aside.

Step 4:  Add a tbsp olive oil to a frying pan, and begin sauteing veggies, hardest one first. Broccoli and asparagus, then peppers and onions, and finally the mushrooms. I added a squirt of lemon juice and a dash of soy sauce too.

 Step 5: Add cooked veggies to couscous and mix well.

Step 6: Stuff the peppers with the mixture. Cook in oven at 350 for 1 hour, or a Crock Pot on high for one hour. Sprinkle with cheese if you like.
 
Tonight at the party we will see how well I did! I snuck a spoonful while stuffing though, and it tastes pretty darn good. I included some shots of my meat-eater stuffed peppers too, just to make you drool a little! =)
 


Cooking the meat and rice
Cooked meat & onions, rice, and tomato sauce stuffing!
Scooping the filling into the peppers


Mmmmm stuffed bell peppers!
 

 

Vegetarian Stir Fry

This is one of my favorite go-to meals because: 
a) it is quick
b) it is easy 
c) it is cheap
d) it is different and delicious every time! 
Stir fry is great because it is so versatile. Basically it’s rice and whatever else you want to put in it! I’m sure I will be stir frying a LOT this summer, because I’m working on an organic CSA farm (http://www.facebook.com/schoonerfarms) and will have a ton of fresh veggies once the growing season gets into full swing. Also, I’m trying to eat at least 2 full days a week vegetarian, for health purposes. So anyways, here is the stir fry du jour.
Ingredients
1/2 cup white rice ($2 for 24 oz)
2 large baby bella mushrooms ($1 for the pack)
Handfull snow peas (Free from the farm)
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped ($1 for pepper)
1/2 large carrot, shredded ($1 for 1 lb bag)
1/2 cup small broccoli pieces ($1 for a head)
1 stick celery (~1 for 2 lbs)
2 tbsp each soy sauce, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce
Garlic salt
Total cost: ~$2
 
Step 1: assemble ingredients, put oil in a frying pan on low. Boil water for the rice.

Step 2: Dice up all the veggies while the rice cooks.

Step 3: Begin cooking veggies, toughest one first. I put in the broccoli for about 2 minutes alone, then the celery and peppers, then the carrots and peas, and finally the mushrooms. It helps to add a few tbsp water and cover tightly to steam them for a few minutes.

Step 4: Add the cooked rice and sauces, fry everything together for a minute or 2, and enjoy! There are endless variations of this, you can add as much sauce and different kinds or none at all, you can scramble an egg or add meats if you like. This is also very frugal and budget-friendly because you can use up all the odds and ends of vegetables in your fridge before they go bad!

Thai-style tilapia and pak choi

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I love Thai food, and recently came across a recipe for Thai-style steamed fish. So of course I took it and made it my own based on what I had in the house. I had just brought home some fresh pak choi (an Asian vegetable like cabbage) from the farm I’m working on. I also had one more tilapia fillet in my freezer, and a lemon in my fridge. So…
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Ingredients:
  • 1 tilapia fillet
  • 4 small bunches pak choi, rinsed and roots cut off
  • 1/2 lemon + juice
  • Garlic powder
  • Sea salt
  • Thai red chili spices
  • Olive oil
  • Aluminum foil
Step 1: Cut a square of aluminum foil, roll up the sides a bit so the oil doesn’t run out. Pour about 2 tbsp oil in, add a bit of spices. Put the tilapia on top, and another sprinkle of spice. Then squeeze half the lemon juice, and add a slice or 2 for good measure.
Step 2: Arrange the pak choi around the fish, sprinkle garlic and sea salt over it all.

Step 3: Roll up the sides and seal the top, leaving space for steam to circulate. Put in the top part of a steamer.

Step 4: Boil water underneath the steam basket. Let this cook for about 20 minutes, or until the greens are wilted and the fish is white and flakes with a fork.

The greens have a tangy bitterness from the lemon juice, and the fish’s natural flavors complement the bite of the red Thai chili spices. It smells lovely, and tastes fantastic! Plus it is only 400 calories!

Nutritional Info
  • Servings Per Recipe: 1
  • Calories: 403.4
  • Total Fat: 30.6 g
  • Cholesterol: 55.0 mg
  • Sodium: 2,553.3 mg
  • Total Carbs: 13.9 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 6.6 g
  • Protein: 26.4 g

Steak salad

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In summer, everything tastes better on the grill. So when craving beef, it is only natural to want to grill a steak. I don’t have pictures of them, but I wish I did. Because I came home to a pound and a half steak that was bigger than my head!

So there was a sizable chunk left (of mine anyways) for the next day. Since I had also bought a head of romaine and I work on a farm, a salad with steak on top worked wonderfully. The farm I work on had radishes by the truckload, and some wild leafy greens that I had harvested 2 days before. Add to it the last leftovers of a veggie tray from a Memorial Day cookout, and a beautiful salad took shape.

Ingredients:
4 oz steak
2 cups torn romaine
1/2 cup leafy greens
1/2 cup baby carrots
2 radishes, sliced
Handful broccoli florets
Balsamic vinaigrette

Step 1:Place a handful or two of fresh washed greens on a plate. Put all the vegetables on top of the greens.

Step 2: Cook or microwave steak slices for a minute, add to greens, and top with 2 tbsp. balsamic vinaigrette. Tasty and super healthy!

Of course, you don’t need the steak on top if you’re vegetarian or vegan. You can also use any other kind of grilled meat you have.

Strawberry Banana Crepes

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I have always thought crepes were hard to make, so never tried it. But when my little sister took French and crepes became a common breakfast at my house, I saw that they were just as easy as pancakes, if not easier. You don’t even need a fancy crepe making machine, a regular frying pan will do.

So when I was searching breakfast recipes and found one for a smaller batch of crepes, I decided to try it. Not sure where I got the recipe from though, sorry. But it made 4 crepes, which is perfect for 2 breakfasts.

They also freeze well I hear, so if you wanted you could make a larger batch and freeze some. I had some left over strawberries and a banana that was turning brown, so strawberry banana filling was the best choice.

Crepe batter:
1/2 c flour
1 egg
3/4 c milk
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter

Filling:
4 Strawberries
1 tbsp strawberry jam
4 marshmallows
2 tbsp butter
4 tbsp cream cheese
1 banana, sliced

Step 1: Mix all the batter ingredients together. Mixing it in a large measuring cup is a good idea to make pouring easier. Then melt 1 tbsp butter in a frying pan, and pour 1/4 cup of the batter into the frying pan.

Step 2: Cook for about 5 minutes, the batter will start to bubble, and the bottom turns golden brown. To flip, use a spatula or get fancy and use your wrist to flip the crepe in the pan. Cook the other side until golden brown as well.

Step 3: For the filling, melt the butter in a smaller pan. Add the cut whole strawberries and cook a few minutes until soft. Add the cream cheese, strawberry jam, and marshmallows. Cook until everything is melted together.

Step 4: Take one crepe, fill it with the strawberry filling and banana slices. Wrap it up on both sides, and top with strawberry and banana slices. I drizzled chocolate syrup and maple syrup on top!

You can fill crepes with just about anything. I think of it as a breakfast food, but there are recipes that stuff it with veggies, meats, salads, all kinds of things. It can be used in lunch, dinner, or snacks. Just get creative!

Parmesan popcorn

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I am a huge popcorn addict, I can literally eat about five microwave bags in one night. But stovetop popcorn is the best! It’s healthier, cheaper, and you get to decide how much to make. There is nothing else like it. Toppings can kick the popcorn up a notch, and cheese is always super delicious! Best part, it is pretty healthy overall.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup popcorn kernels
  • 2 tbsp butter flavored salt
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese

Step 1: Put the oil, kernels and salt in a pan (one you don’t mind ruining…) and put the heat on high. Make sure you shake and swirl the pan often, especially once the kernels start popping.

Step 2: Once the kernels slow down and you count 3-4 seconds between pops, turn the heat off. Wait until you don’t hear any more popping, and pour into a large bowl.

Step 3: Coat the popcorn with 1/2 cup of the cheese, and proceed to inhale it.

Once you get about halfway through, add more cheese and shake to cover. The picture is what was left after 20 minutes of devouring, I wanted a picture for this blog before demolishing the rest! A great movie night snack. I imagine other types of grated cheese would also be delicious, and I have heard that adding spices like garlic or cayenne is tasty too.

Mini quiches

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These were made for my thesis defense because it was at 10:30 in the morning and these are breakfast-like, plus I had all the ingredients already on hand. And they turned out amazing!!! The best part is, the dough is super easy and cheap, and you can fill them with just about anything.
Dough (makes about 4 dozen):
3 1/3 cup Bisquick
2/3 cup butter or margarine
6 tbsp boiling water
Fillling (fills about 4 dozen):
Crab
1 can crab meat
1/2 block cream cheese
Lemon pepper seasoning
Vegetarian filling:
4 cups shredded zucchini and squash
1 bag shredded mixed cheese
Nature’s seasoning
Custard (makes ~8 dozen):
3 eggs
1 1/2 cup milk or half and half
sprinkle of nutmeg
Step 1: Mix the Bisquick and butter together. Add the boiling water and mix well. Roll 1 tsp. dough into a ball and place in a mini cupcake pan. Even out the bottom using a wooden tamper or a shot glass.

Step 2:  Mix whatever fillings you are going to use. Add about 1 tsp to the dough.

Step 3: Mix the custard well. Then add 1 tsp of the custard on top. If it covers the top of the dough, it’s fine. But be sure to use a VERY tiny amount, because if you put too much dough or custard in, they will explode.

Step 4: Add cheese and/or seasonings on top, bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees.

Step 5: Let them cool before popping them out of the muffin pans with a butter knife. Then enjoy! They are good to warm up the next day, or even at room temperature. These flew off the trays! I will absolutely be using this recipe again, and getting creative with the fillings in the future.

The fusion of food, fun, frugality, and curiosity.