Macaroni and “cheese” and chickpeas and carrots – A Quest for something the kids’ll eat

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes you gotta break a few eggs if you wanna make some mac.

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Let’s be real.

Kids suck sometimes.

(Ack! That sounded crazed… Back-peddle! Back-peddle!)

I mean, don’t get me wrong, my kids are wonderful and amazing and I love them so much more than words can describe.

But they’re also little twerps who infuriate me.

“Why?” you might ask.

Because they won’t eat “vegables”. Or sleep through the night. Or treat each other with human decency. (Anyone else’s kids know the right pitch of “MINE!” to shatter glass? No, just mine? Sigh.)

If nothing else, I can tackle the “Vegables” thing. Maybe then they will be less prone to blood-sugar-crashing tears of rage. Maybe with a full belly they’d sleep through the night.

(Yes, I’m aware I’m delusion. Give me my moment. Hush!)

My oldest is going through a phase where anything new is poison, half the things she’s seen before are poison, and the only things she can trust are macaroni and cheese, and a few other “golden brown” foods that make my inner mommy (and outer mommy) weep.

Enter my desperate bid to make mac’ healthy.

As with many quests, this one was not successful at first try. Pro tip: Don’t mix cow beans and sweet potato when you’re trying to be stealthy. Pre-schoolers may not be the savviest connoisseurs of the culinary world, but they can taste when mommy goes cray-cray with the “healthy stuff”.

You may have noticed quotes around “macaroni” in the title. That wasn’t an oversight. There’s no cheese in my recipe, but you can add as much as you want and it definitely improves the situation. With this version, I’ve reduced the “bad foods” and upped the vegetable factor by a million, seeing as it composes ninety percent of what my eldest will eat. So if you’re only eating this once in a blue moon: Add cheese.

However if, like me, you’re trying to prevent scurvy and need to eat this stuff for a month, you can leave the cheese out.

Carrots are the “kid approved” vegetable for this one, but I’ve heard that butternut squash works nicely as well. Sub that in for a little bit of variety.

Macaroni and “Cheese” and Chickpeas and Carrots

Bonus: The carrots really give the sauce that “electric orange” colour found with “leading boxed mac brands”!

Ingredients

  • All the water.
  • 4 large Carrots
  • 1 can Chickpeas
  • 750g / 1.5lb Macaroni
  • 6 Tablespoons total of Oil/Butter (I like a ratio of 2 butter to 4 Olive Oil)
  • 4 Tablespoons Flour
  • Seasonings:
    • 1/3 Cup Nutritional Yeast (if you don’t have this, use a little dry bouillon and half the Soy Sauce)
    • 1 Tablespoon Nutmeg
    • 1 teaspoon Onion Powder
    • 1 teaspoon Mustard Powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon Cumin
    • 1/2 teaspoon Chili Powder
  • 3 Cups Milk (or milk substitute)
  • 1/8 Cup Soy Sauce or salt to taste

Tools

  • Two large pots
  • Whisk
  • A couple of wooden spoons
  • Food processor, blender or immersion blender
  • Instant pot, steamer, or pot
  • Optional: large baking dish and an oven

Directions

  1. Steam your veggies and canned chickpeas until the carrots are tender. I use my instant pot for 8 minutes. Stovetop takes about 20. If you want, you can boil them instead. Really, the main thing is that they’re mushy for the food processor so you can fool the kids.

  2. Meanwhile, Boil the pasta. If you’re baking the thing, turn the oven to 350F to pre-heat.

  3. Meanwhile, Add the oil to a large wide-bottomed pot and warm it up to medium heat (4/10 on my stove). If you’re using butter, wait until it’s fully melted. If not, give it about 5 minutes.

  4. Add the flour and seasonings to the oil, and stir them around. If they get lumpy and dry, add a drop more oil. You’re looking for a “almost runny oatmeal” consistency. Yes, we’re making a roux.

  5. Give the flour about 4 minutes to brown, then Add the milk, whisking constantly for about 30 seconds. Keep whisking every couple of minutes until the sauce starts to get thicker, then stir almost continuously until it’s even and thick. You can tell it needs attention when the whisk “mushes” across the bottom of the pot. Dig deep and make sure that “mush” doesn’t burn onto the bottom.

  6. Add the Soy Sauce at some point before the sauce is too thick. Most of the time I forget this part.

  7. Drain and set aside the macaroni when it’s cooked.

  8. Puree the veggies and chickpeas. You may need to reserve some of the water from steaming/boiling the veggies to get a puree-able consistency.

  9. When the sauce is thickened, Add the pureed veggies and chickpeas to the sauce. Mix thoroughly.

  10. Add the macaroni to the sauce (or vice versa).

  11. If you have 10 minutes to spare and your kids aren’t clawing at your leg for “uppies” Spread evenly in a baking pan and optionally top with cheese and breadcrumbs (about 1/2 cup). Pop in the oven for 12 minutes.

  12. Serve.

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10-Minute Pizza Toast

Pizza is the best! Pizza-Toast is a close second…

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Pizza has got to be one of the most universally loved foods. No matter what you like, there’s something for you: everything from meat-lovers heaven to vegan-approved artichoke and bean-curd “cheeze”.

Unfortunately, making “real” pizza takes planning to make sure you have the right dough and toppings. But when you’ve forgotten the slow-cooker and have 15 minutes before you have to be out the door again, you need something, anything that won’t elicit grumbles and disagreement from the family.

Hence 10-minute Pizza Toast.

Pizza Toast can be made from pretty much anything you have in the fridge. At a minimum you need sauce, bread and cheese, but anything else can add some variety (turkey pepperoni and mushrooms are a great combo, as are olives and sweet peppers).

10-Minute Pizza Toast Recipe

Make as few or as many as you need all at once. For an adult or teenager, 2 slices, for younger kids 1 slice should do.

Ingredients

  • 1 slice Bread
  • 2 Tablespoons Tomato Sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons Cheese
  • Toppings, for example:
    • Olives, red peppers and feta cheese
    • Pepperoni and mushrooms
    • Hot peppers, sweet peppers and olives
    • Just plain cheese

Tools

  • Oven or Toaster oven
  • Baking tray and Spatula

Directions

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 350F. This makes sure the cheese melts quickly.

  2. Place your bread on the baking sheet.

  3. Add 2 Tablespoons of tomato sauce per slice.

  4. Add your toppings, but don’t overload the bread. You should still be able to see the sauce. Get the family involved, have them make their own. Good combinations include: olives and sweet peppers; pepperoni and mushrooms.

  5. Add the cheese, making sure to spread it out. If you don’t have any other toppings, add another Tablespoon of cheese.

  6. Bake for 5 minutes on 350F, or until the cheese melts.

  7. Serve immediately. Slice them diagonally for a more “pizza” feel.

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Meal Planning – April 2016

Thirty days have November, April, June and September…. So I only have 4 weeks of meal planning to prepare for April. Good!

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March is complete, with another five whole weeks of meal planning under my belt. Two working parents somehow made twenty-five home-cooked work-night meals. No fish-fingers. No KD. All homemade.

I’m also happy to report that – finally – I’ve succeeded in staying under my weekly budget – by $2 for a whole month – but still, I was under budget. This was thanks in no small part by Gord’s gracious sacrifice of eggs. That’s right, we ran out, and I was too close to my goal to let him have a yummy breakfast.

I’m mean like that.

But it worked.

In terms of time, I have to say, top-loading the meal plan has really lifted some stress from the weekend chores. It does take me an hour or two to complete at the beginning of the month, but once that one-time chore is finished, I only have to follow through. Shopping list, prep tasks, what to cook… they’re all ready, just waiting the month to progress.

With that insight, I think I’m ready for another month. This one’s only 4 weeks long, so *phewf* there’s that much less to prepare.

Learning from last month’s experience, I’m also going to split my shopping into two deliberate trips this month. The “must-have” staples for the beginning of the month, and a booster in the middle.

I have a feeling that by breaking it up this way, I may realize I didn’t really need that bottle of vanilla or that bag of chocolate chips after all. Rather than having to guess if a quarter-bottle of vanilla will do me for a month, I can simply wait until the mid-month shopping top-up to decide.

Plus if we run out of eggs again, Gord’s going to go on strike. I don’t think I could handle getting up early enough to make breakfast…

So yeah… onto this month’s meal planning.

First, I’m using my meal planning worksheet, which should help a lot! On we go!

#1: Identify your goals

I’m shifting focus this month. After two successful months of low-carb and meaty meals, I’m going back to weekday vegetarian, meaning my meal plan is all veggie, all the time! Otherwise, I’ve got similar goals to the last couple of months.

Let’s break it down. In April, I want to plan meals that…

  1. are healthy, except for a treat on “Fun” Friday. Gotta have the fun!

  2. are vegetarian during the week.

  3. include slow cooker meals Tuesday/Thursday to support out-of-the-house activities.

  4. are quick to prepare Mondays, because Mondays are already hard enough.

  5. stay on budget of $130 per week for a family of 3 in Newfoundland. This one’s tough, but I’ve done it two months in a row. Now for the trifecta!

  6. yield leftovers to make work lunches easier.

#2: List out recipes that help you achieve your goals

Vegetarian-focused meals are going to take a bit of creativity to keep from getting repetitive, so I see a lot of potential for more OhSheGlows . Let’s see what I can come up with:

  • Peanut butter soup – This one tops the list because of how much my toddler loves it. It can be found in the OhSheGlows cookbook.

  • Tacos / Taco Salad / Taco Soup – Spread ’em out and they’ll be tasty taco oasises oasees oases throughout the month.

  • Santa Fe Rice and Beans – This is one of my favourite meals, which disappeared during my “low carb” meal plans. It’s back for a visit. Yum!

  • Curry / Veggie Butter Chicken – Curry still hasn’t lost its appeal. I’m going for the family fave Butter “Chicken” as well as a potato-based Pakistani curry.

  • Pizza – This has “Fun Friday” written all over it!

  • Cauliflower “Wings with Mac & Cheese – More “Fun Friday” potential.

  • Veggie Shepherd’s Pie – OhSheGlows strikes again. A hearty vegetarian meal that’s as satisfying as the real thing.

  • Broccoli Quinoa Cashew-cheese burrito bowls – While the recipe calls for “wraps”, I enjoy them as a casserole. This recipe is the best combination of nutty, cheesy, chewy-yet-crunchy and hearty. This has OhSheGlows written all over it…

  • Veggie Burgers with Tahini Mayo – Yes, another OhSheGlows recipe, both the burgers and the mayo. What can I say, I’m a glutton for, well, good food…

  • Celebration Squash Soup – Depending on the price of squash, this may show up in the rotation.

  • Spaghetti Squash and tomato sauce – Another “depends on the price” meal. Spaghetti squash is delicious, healthy and easy to make, but if it’s not in stores for a reasonable price, I’m going to skip it.

  • Spaghetti – This classic is always in style.

  • Potato Corn Chowder – A different flavour from some of the other recipes, this should help add variety.

  • Pass the Peas Stir Fry – Easy-peasy! (I’m so horrible with the puns)

  • Pasta Alfredo with Broccoli – Easy, quick, yum!

  • Tuna Salad – I was going to list this one, but it’s Tuna. Tuna’s not a vegetable (depending on who you ask). Off the list!

That’s a good variety, so we shouldn’t get bored of the leftovers. Because there will be leftovers.

#3: List each day and assign a recipe to each day

I’ll start with the taco meals, because I don’t want them to be on the same week. While I’m at it, I’ll fill in the slow-cooker-compatible meals.

April 2016
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
4Taco Salad 7Celebration Squash Soup (slow cooker)
28One Pot Pasta (slow cooker)

Good, now for Fun Fridays…

April 2016
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
4Taco Salad 7Celebration Squash Soup (slow cooker)
28One Pot Pasta (slow cooker) 29Pasta Alfredo with Broccoli

…and fill in the gaps…

April 2016
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
4Taco Salad 6Curry – Veggie Butter “Chicken” 7Celebration Squash Soup (slow cooker)
18Veggie Burgers with Tahnini Mayo (with side veggies)
25Pass the Peas stir-fry 28One Pot Pasta (slow cooker) 29Pasta Alfredo with Broccoli

#4: Plan to Plan

Using my handy worksheet I can quickly work out my prep tasks for each week:

Prep tasks and tally
Week 1
Task or food itemTally for the weekComplete on…
Sweet Potato – diced2Sunday
Black beans – soaked and cooked1Saturday
Chickpeas – soaked and cooked1Saturday
Bread – bake it!1Sunday
Onion – diced4Sunday
Sweet Pepper – diced4Sunday
Butternut Squash – chunks1Sunday
Carrots – chunks3Sunday
Carrots – sticks3Sunday
Carrots – shredded2Sunday
Mushrooms – sliced portions2Wednesday
Week 2
Task or food itemTally for the weekComplete on…
Potatoes – diced7Sunday
Onion – diced5Sunday
Mushroom – sliced portions5Sunday
Sweet Pepper – diced5Sunday
Sweet Potato – diced1Sunday
Black beans – soaked and cooked2Saturday
Week 3
Task or food itemTally for the weekComplete on…
Black beans – soaked and cooked3Saturday
Onion – diced4Sunday
Sweet Pepper – diced4Sunday
Sweet Potato – diced2Sunday
Potato – diced3Sunday
Carrot sticks5Sunday
Carrot – grated3Sunday
Week 4
Task or food itemTally for the weekComplete on…
Onion – diced5Sunday
Peppers – diced4Sunday
Cauliflower – diced1Sunday
Mushrooms – sliced portions3Sunday
Sweet Potato – diced1Sunday
Cashews – soak a portion1Tuesday night

#5: Prepare a shopping list

Based on my worksheet pantry checklist, I have a full list of items, plus the fresh produce from my prep list above. Now that I have my list, I can go shopping. My rough estimate puts me well under budget and on track for a second shopping trip in a couple of weeks.

I’ll update once I get back from the store on the weekend…

So, to recap:

Meal Planning for the month of April, 2016

  • Identify your goals. In April, I need meals that:

    1. are healthy, except for a treat on “Fun” Friday.

    2. are vegetarian during the week.

    3. include slow cooker meals Tuesday/Thursday.

    4. are quick to prepare Mondays.

    5. stay on budget of $130 per week for a family of 3 in Newfoundland.

    6. produce leftovers to make work lunches easier.

  • Find recipes that work with your goals (shown in the calendar below).

  • Assign recipes to a day (summarized in the calendar below).

  • Plan to plan. and identify anything that can be done in advance to make work nights easier.

  • Prepare a shopping list that you’ll stick to when you go shopping

April 2016
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
4Taco Salad 6Curry – Veggie Butter “Chicken” 7Celebration Squash Soup (slow cooker)
18Veggie Burgers with Tahnini Mayo (with side veggies)
25Pass the Peas stir-fry 28One Pot Pasta (slow cooker) 29Pasta Alfredo with Broccoli
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Naan Bread

Na-na-na-na-naan Bread!

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Bread is one of those things that’s found in pretty much every culture. One of my favourite non-loaf varieties is Indian naan bread. Naan is a flat bread that’s perfect for picking up curry veggies or for soaking up that last drop of delicious curry sauce.

We make a lot of curries in my home (as you can probably tell by its regular appearance in my meal plans), so naan bread is always in high demand. While a full-time job means I can’t make this during the work-week, when I get the chance to make naan bread on the weekend, my family loves the treat!

You may notice that the basic process for making naan bread dough is similar to making regular ol’ bread dough. The main difference is that naan bread has a bit more milk powder in it, giving it a slightly different flavour than if you just cook regular dough.

However, because of how naan bread is cooked, you can use regular bread dough in a pinch. If you do, just make sure to add a bit more butter to the pan, and you can make up for a bit of that missing flavour.

Naan Bread Dough Recipe

Ingredients

  • 250 grams flour plus extra for dusting
  • 3/4 cups warm water
  • 1+1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1/2 of an 8-gram pack)
  • 1 teaspoons + 1+1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1+1/2 teaspoons oil or butter
  • 5 Tablespoons skim milk powder
  • butter for the pan.

Tools

  • Mixing bowl and wooden spoon (or stand mixer)
  • Large flat surface for kneading and rolling the dough
  • Rolling pin
  • heavy-bottomed frying pan or large cookie sheet

Directions – Dough only

2016-03_naan-bread-alt1
  1. Dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar in 3/4 cup hot tap water. Set aside for 10 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients. It should be foaming after a few minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, sift the flour, remaining sugar, salt and skim milk powder into a mixing bowl. Stir it together so the dry ingredients are mixed evenly.

  3. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour the liquid ingredients – the yeast mixture and oil.

  4. Mix until there are no dry spots. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time if the dough is too dry.

  5. Knead for 10 minutes.

  6. Set aside for about an hour in a bowl covered with a damp tea-towel. It should be about double in size after an hour.

  7. Knead the dough again for just long enough to work out any air bubbles.

  8. At this point, you can freeze for later use, or you can make naan bread immediately either on the stove or in the oven.

Directions (The Easy Way) – Oven-baked Naan bread

2016-03_naan-bread-alt2
  1. Preheat the oven to 450F, with the baking sheet in the oven. You want the baking sheet hot.

  2. While the oven is heating, separate the dough into 4 balls. Hand-squish them and pull until they’re more-or-less flat, about 1/4″ thick.

  3. When the oven is heated, slap two “loaves” of naan bread onto the pan and put it in the oven. It should sizzle.

    2016-03_naan-bread-alt4
  4. Bake for 4 minutes, flip, then bake for 2-3 more minutes. You’re going for golden-brown on each side.

  5. Cover with a dry tea-towel until ready to serve

Directions (The Hard Way) – Stove-top Naan bread

2016-03_naan-bread-alt3
  1. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan such as a cast-iron skillet. Add a small amount of butter and make sure it coats the pan evenly.

  2. While the pan is heating, separate the dough into balls about 2 inches in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and flatten them out so they’re about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick. Do this one at a time, while the previous one is cooking.

  3. When the pan is heated place a naan “loaf” into the pan and cook until the dough rises a bit, about 2-3 minutes. Flip it over and cook for another few minutes until both sides are a nice golden-brown.

  4. Place cooked naan bread on a plate and cover with a cloth or napkin while the rest are being cooked. Add more butter to the pan as it dries up, and repeat until you have all the naan bread you need. You may have some leftover dough, which you can freeze for later, if desired.

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Slow Cooker Chicken Soup Five Ways

Five ways to enjoy that classic Chicken Soup… with a twist!

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I love chicken soup, and what’s not to love? It’s healthy, curing anything that ails you (so long as what ails you is a cold). It’s comfort food. It’s so easy to throw together in the slow cooker.

Not to mention, my toddler always asks for “more sauce” – something that always lets me sigh in relief. A toddler can never eat too much nutritious food.

Yup, chicken soup great.

The varieties I’ve shared with you below are my five favourite varieties, and while my directions are for a slow cooker, you could adapt this to a stove-top quite easily.

The varieties I’ve chosen are ones that I use in my meal plans:

  • Jiggs Dinner Chicken Soup

  • Mushroom Pepper Chicken Soup

  • Broccoli Potato Chicken Soup

  • Mexican Corn Chicken Soup

  • Tex-Mex Tomato Chicken Soup

Jiggs Dinner Chicken Soup was inspired by Newfoundland Sunday Dinner. Cooked root veggies, plus a dash of Mt. Scio Savoury give this a bit of that sunday dinner flavour, without all the gravy.

Side note: for those of you not from Newfoundland, yes, it’s actually “Savoury” and not “a seasoning which is savoury instead of sweet”. We use it like mainlanders use sage. Because it’s better. There ya go.

Mushroom Pepper Chicken Soup was inspired by my refrigerator. Yes, that’s right, I only had mushrooms and peppers to go with my chicken one day, so that’s what I made. And it was good. So it got put into the meal plan on regular rotation.

Broccoli Potato Chicken Soup was created when I got tired of the same-old same-old. This creamy soup features Broccoli prominently, and the potato and chicken back it up. The secret weapon that makes this so amazing is that ubiquitous vegan delight, nutritional yeast. While this recipe isn’t vegetarian, it’s actually surprisingly improved by nutritional yeast.

Mexican Corn Chicken Soup was inspired by Mexican corn chowder, and while my version is not creamy, it’s still got that tasty Tex-Mex flare that I love. Don’t tell anyone, but I only stumbled across this version because I ran out of cream of chicken soup when I was trying to make Mexican corn chowder. I mean, totally meant to do that… *shifty eyes*.

Tex-Mex Tomato Chicken Soup is another “oops, I don’t have enough ingredients” sort of recipe. What got thrown in the pot smells a lot like chili, and the soup itself definitely has a bit of a tasty kick. The secret to this one is chipotle chili powder, which gives it a slightly different flavour from the Mexican Corn version.

Now that you’re acquainted, here’s how you make the soup:

Chicken Soup 5 Ways Recipe

Ingredients – All varieties

  • 2 large chicken breasts
  • 1 diced onion
  • 3 stalks diced celery
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Litre chicken broth
  • Salt, to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon, or two light dustings)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin

Ingredients – Jiggs Dinner Chicken Soup

2016-03_slow-cooker-chicken-soup-four-ways-2
  • “All Varieties” ingredients above
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 1 small turnip, diced
  • 2 small potatoes, diced
  • Seasoning:
    • 2 Tablespoons summer savoury
    • Pepper, to taste (about 1/4 teaspoon, or one light dusting)

Ingredients – Mushroom Pepper Chicken Soup

2016-03_slow-cooker-chicken-soup-four-ways-1
  • “All Varieties” ingredients above
  • 1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
  • 1+1/2 large peppers, diced
  • 1 medium jalapeno, minced (optional – adds a bit of a spicy kick)
  • Seasoning:
    • 1 teaspoon chili powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
    • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional – also adds spiciness)

Ingredients – Broccoli Potato Chicken Soup

  • “All Varieties” ingredients above
  • 2 cups broccoli florets, in chunks
  • 2 small potatoes, diced
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • Seasoning:
    • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Ingredients – Mexican Corn Chicken Soup

  • “All Varieties” ingredients above
  • 1+1/2 cups frozen corn
  • 1/2 large red pepper
  • Seasoning:
    • 1 Tablespoon chili powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
    • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon thyme

Ingredients – Tex-Mex Tomato Chicken Soup

2016-03_slow-cooker-chicken-soup-four-ways-3
  • “All Varieties” ingredients above
  • 1 large can diced tomatoes (about a Litre)
  • 1/2 large red pepper
  • Seasoning:
    • 1 Tablespoon chili powder
    • 1 teaspoon Chipotle chili powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
    • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon thyme

Tools

  • Slow cooker
  • Knife and cutting board

Directions

The directions below apply to all varieties, except where noted. It’s the same process, just different ingredients.

  1. Season your chicken breast and place it in the bottom of the slow cooker. Drizzle with oil. Make sure all the seasonings dust both sides of the chicken.

    It’s important that the chicken be on the bottom, as this makes sure it’s completely cooked quickly, avoiding food safety issues.

  2. Add the diced onion and celery.

  3. Add the rest of the veggies in layers, dusting with salt, as desired.

  4. Add the broth and cream-of-chicken soup (if applicable). If you’re using a low-sodium broth, make sure to add a bit more salt to the veggies before you add the broth.

  5. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 3 hours.

And there you have it! Five ways to make chicken soup in a slow cooker, each with their own unique twist.

So, what’s your favourite chicken soup variety? Share them in the comments below!

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Meal Plan Check-in – March 2016

We’ve past the ides of March…

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March madness has been in full swing: Two parents working full time while we rush past St. Paddy’s day and jettison toward the third-most chocolate-filled holiday of the year.

So how close have we come to meeting our goals for this month?

For March, I need to plan meals that:

  1. …are Healthy for a growing toddler.

  2. …stay on budget of $130 a week.

  3. …rely on slow cookers on Tuesdays/Thursdays to accommodate out-of-house activities.

  4. …are quick to prepare (30 minutes) on Monday and Friday.

  5. …have carbs on the side for a moderate carb intake.

  6. …leave leftovers for lunches during the work week.

Meal Planning for March 2016

March halfway results…

Most of the meals, have indeed been healthy for my little girl. They balance her needs of a broad range of colourful veggies, some protein and some carbs, all (during the weekdays, anyway) made from scratch at home. Some of our weekends have been a bit more loosey-goosey (chicken fingers have made the roster at least once this month) but during the week, she’s fuelled by homemade goodness.

As for the budget, it’s half way through, and I’ve spent $648 for five weeks worth of meals, for an average of $129.60 per week. My goal is $130 per week, so it’s borderline under budget, but only if I don’t spend a penny more in March.

We’ll see, March meal plan, we’ll see…

Slow cooker Tuesday/Thursday meals is working out spectacularly. The only qualm I have is that I made too frequent use of that ever-tasty chicken soup. I think we may scale back chicken soup next month. Maybe only once or twice instead of many, many times.

In terms of cooking time, meals have all been quick to make, so I’m on track for that goal.

Carbs are on the side. I’m eating them, but they’re on the side. We’ll call this one a pass, if only because low-carb meals are for stronger constitutions than mine.

As for leftovers, I’ve got leftovers coming out my ears. Neither Gord nor I have had to eat a lunch to-go, so another victory! Yay!

In summary:

  1. Success! Healthy for a growing toddler.

  2. Borderline on track… Within budget of $130 per week – At $129.60, this target is borderline, I’m going to have to carefully execute my plan for the rest of the month.

  3. Success! Use slow cookers on Tuesdays/Thursdays.

  4. Success! Quick to prepare (30 minutes) on Monday and Friday.

  5. Success! Have carbs on the side for a moderate carb intake.

  6. Success! Leave leftovers for lunches during the work week.

Overall, a bit better than February.

Challenges

One of my biggest challenges this month has been making sure to prep ahead of time. I’ve had a couple of slow cooker soups made the morning-of, rather than the night before.

It just goes to show that even the best planning doesn’t mean diddly squat if you don’t, you know, follow through.

Thankfully, I’ve chosen meals that don’t take a lot of prep, so I’m somewhat saved by being prepared to make something specific on each of the days, even if it is from scratch on the day-of.

Another challenge I’m having is staying on budget. This one is due in part to a poor plan on how to handle essentials that are missing.

I’m going to update my monthly meal plan worksheet to include an essentials checklist so I don’t have to run out to the store when I run out of salt.

And soap.

And toddler socks.

At the same time.

Not to mention, it’ll be time to feed the Easter bunny soon. Gotta make sure the bunny is full up on carrots so he’ll have enough energy to hide some eggs filled with goodies. So there’s that…

Two challenges: Actually doing the prep, and accommodating those unexpected trips to the store. The first one is helped by having a plan in the first place, and the second will be helped by not leaving it to my memory: Checklist, checklist, checklist!

I’ll make it easy for you. At the end of this month I’ll post my updated meal plan worksheet including an essentials checklist. It’ll take the guesswork out of shopping, and leave chance out of the equation.

No dice-roll for me, I’m sticking to the plan!

Unexpected successes

One final note, I’ve had some surprise successes this month, by way of extra help from Gord and our daughter. Even though she’s too young to “cook”, she’s been eager to help. Seeing her so involved has helped keep me on track more than I would without that level of interest.

Second, Gord’s been a gem, picking up a few of the meals I would have neglected, making ours a fast-food-free house for another couple of weeks.

To use a sports metaphor I don’t quite understand: It’s easy to score a home run when you’ve got a pinch hitter in the bag. Or something like that…

I think I’ll stick with the anime metaphors (GO! Heart of the Cards!).

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Chocolate Pudding

Creamy, smooth, delicious chocolate pudding… Yum, yum!

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Chocolate pudding reminds me of summer day-camp when I was a tweenager. I had to pack a lunch for myself.

So I ate pudding.

A lot of pudding.

Why did I eat a lot of pudding? Because I was old enough to decide for myself, and myself wanted pudding. After all, pudding was perfect! It offered something deliciously cool in the middle of those warm summer days. Plus it was chocolate. Like I said: Perfect!

Now that I’m an adult, I’ve discovered that chocolate pudding does not grow fully-formed, plucked from pudding-cup trees. In fact, I have discovered that I can make it on my own, with ingredients I already have. While wearing pyjama pants. Because that’s how I roll.

Pyjama pants or no, this easy-to-make dessert-slash-snack is a winner. I’ve tried it cool, like the recipe recommends, but I’ve also “taste-tested” it warm (who wants to wait 2 hours, anyway?), and it’s arguably better. Think hot chocolate, but thick, silky and sumptuous. Yum!

While I’m sure “real” chocolate pudding is made with 200%-milk-fat cream, ten pounds of butter and a plantation’s-worth of sugar, this version uses corn starch as a thickener, has a modest amount of sugar and uses no added fat. It has all that deliciousness, and is still so ooey-gooey, but it offers a modicum of pretending to be healthy.

Don’t let that low-fat title fool you, though. This is still chocolate-sugar-snack. And it’s still delicious.

Now that you’re fully informed, you can make this choice of your own free will. We both know you’ll make this choice. Because it’s the awesome-ist choice there is!

You’re welcome.

Chocolate Pudding Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 cups skim milk
  • 2 heaping tablespoons corn starch
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips or chopped baker’s chocolate
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Tools

  • small saucepan/pot with a wooden spoon
  • measuring cup
  • jar with lid, or a cup and fork

Directions

  1. Add 1/3 cup milk to the jar and combine with the corn starch. Tightly close the lid and shake well. If you don’t have a jar, thoroughly stir the corn starch in the milk with a fork, making sure there are no lumps.

  2. In a cold saucepan, add the milk/corn starch, remaining milk, and sugar, stirring until combined.

  3. Gently heat the milk on a low-medium heat. Make sure to stir often to avoid lumps. The milk is done when it has thickened like syrup.

  4. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate.

  5. Cover tightly and set in the refrigerator to cool for 2 hours.

  6. Serve chilled. Store leftovers for no more than 2-3 days.

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Pasta Alfredo

This easy recipe replaces pre-packaged side dishes, adding a tonne more flavour.

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This was the first recipe I ever threw together without referring to a recipe. Yes, I had made similar recipes before, but all carefully following a step-by-step guide of how to do it. This was the first one where I used my own creativity instead of relying on someone else’s.

That being said, so long as you use a thick cream-based sauce, it’s hard to get Alfredo wrong.

Between how easy it is to make and my nostalgia (being a stepping-stone to greater food improv), this has become a great meal to have in my weekday arsenal. Throw in some steamed broccoli and chicken, and it becomes a balanced meal. Put it with some cod and cauliflower, and it becomes a veritable blizzard of all-white-food yumminess.

I prefer Alfredo sauce on some long noodles (yes, that’s spaghetti in my picture), but you could also use rotini or macaroni and capture the same flavour.

The best thing about this recipe? It replaces that instant-noodle stovetop/sidekick with all its high salt and preservatives, and tastes a bajillion times better (it’s the butter, isn’t it?).

Low-fat, this is not, so if you’re looking to cut back on butter and oil, skip this recipe and go for something lighter, like my Celebration Squash Soup (creamy without the dairy) or Veggie Taco Salad (low-fat and quite tasty, if you enjoy tex-mex).

PSA done! Now onto that sumptuous pasta!

Pasta Alfredo Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 servings Pasta, Linguini, Fettuccine or rotini.
  • 3/4 cup Olive Oil
  • 100 grams Butter
  • 180 grams white flour
  • 3 cups milk (cream is thicker, but I never have it handy so I just use skim milk)
  • 2 cloves minced Garlic
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons Parsley
  • Pepper to taste, about 1/4 teaspoon for mildly spicy to 1 teaspoon for spicier kick.
  • Salt to taste, about 1/4 teaspooon

Tools

  • Large pot and pasta strainer
  • Large saucepan, big enough for Alfredo sauce and the pasta
  • Cheese grater
  • 2 wooden spoons
  • Whisk – make sure it’s safe for the saucepan, especially if the pan is non-stick coated.

Directions

  1. Heat the oil and butter until the butter is melted. Add the garlic and pepper and mix through the butter. This is the base of a roux, so the butter has to be completely melted.

  2. Add the flour and whisk into the oil and butter. Don’t be too vigorous, or some of the hot oil will fly out of the pan.

  3. When the flour is evenly mixed, let the flour fry for a few minutes, making sure not to let it darken more than light golden in colour. Avoid burning the flour, so stir with the whisk occasionally.

  4. Add the milk, whisking the whole time, and make sure the flour is incorporated into the milk. From now on, stir with the wooden spoon. You’re done with the whisk..

  5. Cook the pasta while the milk is heating.

  6. Gently stir the milk with the wooden spoon, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan so the flour doesn’t stick to the bottom. Mix in any lumps so you avoid lumpy sauce.

  7. Strain the pasta and let sit for 2 minutes to drain all the water. We want to avoid watery pasta as this will water down the sauce.

  8. When it’s thickened up, remove the sauce from the heat and quickly stir in the cheese. Add salt to taste.

  9. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir through.

  10. Serve with a side of cheesy garlic bread.

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Homemade Bread and Dough

Golden, delicious homemade goodness!

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Bread is a staple for many households, and mine is no exception. Even when I’m eating low-carb, bread still gets made for the rest of my family to enjoy.

With that in mind, it probably doesn’t surprise you that I’ve perfected several varieties of bread and bread dough, which I use to great extent in my home. I’ve shared some of my favourites below (white, whole wheat and multigrain), all of which use the same steps, just with different ratios of ingredients.

Now, as much as my family loves fresh-baked bread, it’s hard to find 2-4 hours at the end of a work-day to bake it. Between supper, out-of-house activities and early bedtimes, this is usually a weekend recipe for us. I have managed to pull of a couple of mid-week loaves, but I had to stay up until 11:30 to do it. Not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure!

As for the recipe, the flour measurements I used are in weights because I started with bakers ratios, which are based on flour-to-water weights.

Back in the day, I picked up a cheap ($10) 2kg plastic weight scale and it’s served me well for more than 5 years. If you don’t have a kitchen scale (I highly recommend one), you can approximate the weight as 125 g per cup (so about 4 cups for this 500g recipe).

If you use cups instead of weights, you may need to adjust the amount of water. Make sure to note your differences, so you can make it again.

However you weigh it, the end result should be the same golden-brown deliciousness that is home-cooked bread!

Homemade Bread and Bread Dough Recipe

This recipe takes 2-4 hours start to finish and yeilds 2x400g loaves.

Ingredients

  • 500 grams flour plus extra for dusting
    • 500 g white flour for white bread.
    • 400 g whole wheat flour and 100 g white flour for whole wheat bread.
    • 400 g multigrain flour and 100 g white flour for multigrain bread. Omit 1/4 cup water for this recipe.
  • 1+1/2 cups warm water
  • 2+1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 8-gram pack)
  • 1 teaspoon + 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon oil or butter
  • 2 Tablespoons skim milk powder (optional)

Tools

  • Mixing bowl and wooden spoon (or stand mixer)
  • Large flat surface for kneading the dough
  • bread pan, roll pan, or baking sheet (depending on whether you want loaves, rolls, or frozen dough)

Directions – Dough only

  1. Dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar in 1/2 cup hot tap water. Set aside for 10 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients. It should be foaming after a few minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, sift the flour, remaining sugar, salt and skim milk powder into a mixing bowl. Stir it together so the dry ingredients are mixed evenly.

  3. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour the liquid ingredients – the yeast mixture, oil and 1 cup of hot tap water.

  4. Mix until there are no dry spots. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time if the dough is too dry.

  5. Knead for 10 minutes.

  6. Set aside for about an hour in a bowl covered with a damp tea-towel. It should be about double in size after an hour.

  7. Knead the dough again for just long enough to work out any air bubbles.

  8. At this point, you’ll have dough that you can form into bread, or you can freeze it for later use.

Directions – Bread

  1. Grease two medium sized bread pans.

  2. Separate the dough into a manageable size. I find 4 balls for 2 loaves (2 dough balls for each loaf) is a good size.

  3. Fit the dough into the bread pans and cover with a damp tea-towel. Let rise for about an hour or two until double in size.

  4. Preheat the oven to 400F and bake for 10 minutes.

  5. Reduce heat to 350F and bake another 30-40 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Loaves should be dark golden brown.

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