Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Squeeze Every Last Penny Out of Your Whole Chicken

My local grocery store was selling whole chickens for 85 cents a pound, which was a good 15 cents cheaper than the rest of the grocery stores in the area. (They were really trying to undercut the competition I guess.) I bought one that was slightly over 5 pounds for $4.39 and when I brought that little guy home, I meant to milk him for every cent.

I use chicken stock in so many recipes that when I buy whole chickens, I like to make my own stock. My way to make chicken stock is slightly adapted from Martha Stewart's Cooking School book.

Chicken Stock: A How-To

When I buy a whole chicken, I usually roast the chicken first, use it in another recipe and then I make chicken stock out of the carcass.

To roast the chicken, I put it in a roasting pan, tress up the legs, drizzle olive oil over the skin and sprinkle it with salt. I toss it in a 425 degree oven, stick a thermometer in the thigh area (I use the one that you can keep in the meat and hang it on your fridge) and when it hits 165 degrees, I take it out and let it cool so I can shred the meat for whatever I am using it for that day (soup, fajitas, chicken salad. etc.).

As I am shredding the chicken, I have a large stockpot next to me where I can dump the bones and skin into after I pull all of the meat off.

After you've finished getting all of the meat off and have put all of the chicken remains in the stockpot, fill it with water so it is a few inches above the highest chicken bone. Bring that to a simmer. Meanwhile prep your aromatic veggies.

2 carrots, peeled and quartered
2 stalks celery, quartered
2 onions, quartered
1 bay leaf

Once your stock begins to simmers, add your aromatic vegetables and give it a stir.

Bring it back to a simmer (and by simmer, I mean one or two bubbles should just barely break the surface -- the flame should be nice and low.) Allow that to softly simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours depending on how dark you like your chicken stock. I usually let mine go for 2 hours or so.

Place a really large bowl with a fine-meshed sieve over the top. Start removing some of the solids with a big spoon and straining the liquid through the sieve. Do not press on the solids. Pour every last drop into the bowl.

Use immediately or if you've made the stock to portion off and freeze, let it sit out to cool down substantially.

Once it's cool, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and store it overnight in the refrigerator. This is very important. After you let it sit overnight, all of the fat floats to the top (yuck!).

So when you are ready to portion it off and freeze, take a spoon and lightly skim all of the fat off of the top. Then measure it in a glass measuring cup and place in the freezer.

I usually use chicken stock in recipes (and not as a base for soup) and in recipes, I tend to use 1 cup here and 2 cups there, so I mix it up a bit. This time, I froze three, 1 cup portions, two 2 cup portions and one 1 1/2 cup portions.

So I got 8 1/2 cups of chicken stock, plus meat for two dinners for $4.39. And as my mom said: I don't think there was one last penny I could have squeezed out of this chicken!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Everybody Shout What's the Big Idea -- Imagination Mover's T-Shirts

We are all about Disney Junior in this house, so when I saw that the Imagination Movers were going to be in town for a show, I had to get tickets for my niece and oldest daughter.

And since the movers wear blue jumpsuits with their names on the front, I just had to try and make blue personalized t-shirts for them. After a little trial and error, it worked!

Here's how I did it:

  • So first, I created the red and yellow image for the front with their nicknames. I used Photoshop to do this. Then I searched online for the Imagination Movers logo and found the perfect one!

  • Using the Hane's software program the iron-on transfers came with (which I must admit, it is kind of an antiquated program. My husband and I joked it was from 1983), I prepped the images for print. It only came with five transfers, so I wanted to conserve space and print two images to a sheet.

  • After you print it onto the transfer, you simply cut out the image.

    Listen very closely. This is very, very, very important. Before you print, MAKE SURE the mirror image box is UNCHECKED. Otherwise, you're going to print out backwards images and have a backwards image on your t-shirt. I never iron-on transferred anything, so when it printed out backwards, I thought that was normal and that when you iron it on, you must flip it or something. That simply wasn't the case:

    After this happened, I was so discouraged. It was the night before the show (procrastination much anyone, anyone?) I decided to iron right over it with another one (the right way, of course) to see what would happen and it worked! It smudged a little at the bottom, but I think I kept the hot iron on it too long. Who knew. (My question to the makers of this software: WHY WOULD THE DEFAULT SETTING BE MIRROR-IMAGE???)


    • Anyhow, you adhere the transfer using an iron set on the highest heat, no steam and with no water. You place the parchment paper it comes with directly over the transfer and iron in a complete motion for about 30 seconds. They all came out great.

      I seriously loved it. I couldn't believe how cool it looked. I think I was more excited than the girls. The next morning, my husband came downstairs after his shower and was looking for his shirt. I told him I didn't make him one and I think he was seriously so disappointed. It was too funny because he went on and on and on about how he thought he had one...

      The concert was awesome!

      And the kids loved their shirts!

      This was a very inexpensive way to make memorable t-shirts that will hopefully hold a memory for a lifetime!

      Sunday, March 27, 2011

      Bowl-Scraping Vegetable, Bean and Quinoa Soup

      Although the calendar says spring, it feels like Old Man Winter lost his keys and has decided to stay the weekend to liesurely look for them. In my book, that means it's soup weather.

      I started making this Quinoa and Vegetable Soup last winter. One of the first times I made it, my mom happened to be over and we had some for lunch. Later that night, she asked for the recipe and has been making it ever since. I always want to freeze some for a quick lunch, to stash in my husband's lunch or for a fast dinner later, but every time I make this, I never have any to freeze for later. That's when you know something is good. Everyone gobbles it all up.

      It's one of those recipes that is so simple, yet somehow turns out tasting so delicious and complex. I usually try to make this in the afternoon, so I don't have to spend my time chopping during the hub-bub rush of dinner.

      I also like to give it a few hours to sit and stew in the refrigerator before serving. But it's just as wonderful right off of the stove into bowls. This is a hearty, naturally gluten-free soup. If you can't find quinoa, you can try substituting barley, but then of course, it would not be gluten-free (but it would still be hearty!).

      Vegetable, Bean and Quinoa Soup


      1 tablespoon olive oil
      1 large onion chopped finely
      4 medium carrots, chopped finely
      1 stalk celery, chopped finely
      2 cloves garlic, minced
      1 can (19 ounce) dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
      1 can (14.5 ounce) stewed tomatoes, undrained
      2 cups water
      1 cup quinoa
      1/2 - 3/4 of 10 ounce bag of fresh spinach, torn
      Salt to taste
      Parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated


      Heat oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions, carrots and celery. Salt generously. Allow to cook until softened about 5 - 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

      While that cooks, take one cup of beans and mash them with a fork. This will give the soup some body. Set the rest of the beans aside.

      After the vegetables have had time to soften, add the chicken stock, water, mashed beans, whole beans, stewed tomatoes and quinoa. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. Break up the stewed tomatoes with a wooden spoon and add the spinach. Salt again to taste.

      Cook for a few more minutes or until the quinoa is tender. Serve soup sprinkled with the parmigiano-reggiano cheese.

      As I mentioned before, you can serve this right away or let it sit in the refrigerator to mature a bit. If you do put it in the refrigerator, reheat in a stock pot over a medium flame.

      And because my youngest daughter has to be dairy-free, I was able to turn this soup into baby food so she could enjoy it as well.

      I simply put it in my Babycook and processed it for a few second and voila: baby food!

      My husband sometimes likes to add crushed oyster crackers or eat it with a crusty roll with butter. It would probably be equally good with a gluten-free roll of some sort, but I am just not that advanced in the world of gluten-free breads. Some day!

      I hope you enjoy it!

      Saturday, March 26, 2011

      No-Sew Fleece Blanket

      I started making no-sew fleece blankets because it's really difficult to find a nice heavy blanket that washes well, has a cute, personalized pattern on it and doesn't cost the proverbial arm and leg. And it's also a nice project to do with kids. They love that they helped make their very own blanket. My daughter loves loves Thomas the Train, so naturally, she would have a Thomas blanket, right?

      In addition to my kids, my niece, brother and sister-in-law also received no-sew fleece blankets from us for Christmas. I guess my husband was feeling left out. One night as he curled under our younger daughter's cupcake blanket, he declared that he too wanted a no-sew blanket of his own.

      So that's exactly what my oldest daughter and I made him for his birthday.

      I had no idea what I was doing when I began, so I had to reference a lot of online sources to get a complete picture of what to do and I still had to wing some areas. So here's a simple step-by-step guide on how to make your own no-sew fleece blanket.

      The fleece blanket uses two different pieces of fleece. More often than not, there's some sort of pattern (and you can really get virtually anything you want) and then a solid color that matches the pattern. It's usually on sale at JoAnn's for 50% off of the price per yard (or sometimes higher, you just have to watch the fliers and coupons).

      Here's exactly what you need:

      2 yards of a patterned fleece
      2 yards of a solid matching fleece
      Yard stick
      4x4 piece of scrap paper

      First lay your solid fleece down with what will be the back of the blanket to the ground and the inside facing upwards. Next, lay your patterned piece of fleece on top with what will be the front of the blanket facing the ceiling.

      Smooth the wrinkles and line up the top side so the edges match perfectly. It's time to trim your fleece. You need to cut the selvage off. The selvage is the uncut edge of fabric that is either not part of the pattern, has a distinct edge to it or a line of holes.

      Mine had a white edge on the pattern fleece and a distinct ridge on the red fleece that needed trimming.

      Next, place the 4x4 piece of white paper in each corner and cut out around it.

      This will allow your corners to be tied properly and without bulk.

      Then, lay a yard stick (or some sort of measuring tape) from corner to corner four inches up from the bottom of the edge. It should line up with the top corner of your cut out box.

      Now you're ready to cut your tabs. Measure roughly an inch per tab and cut the fleece four inches up (it should reach the top of the yard stick). So each tab will be 4 inches high by 1 inch wide. Don't worry if some are bigger than others; try to get them all 1 inch wide as best as you can.

      Repeat this process around every edge.

      Now you're ready to tie each tab. Double-knot each set of tabs. I double-knot them because they hold better with rough wear and tear and they stay tied better in the washing machine and dryer.

      Once you've finished tying each tab, you're finished. It's really that easy!

      To wash these blankets, I use the warm cycle with regular detergent and fabric softener and throw them in a medium temp dryer until completely dry. When I take them out, I sit on the couch and quickly go through all of the edges to retie any tabs that may have come undone.

      This clearly isn't a complex, challenging project, nor is it a super-cute and unique craft, but it's useful, cost effective and a great afternoon project with kids. Oh and I think it makes a great personalized gift!

      Tuesday, March 22, 2011

      Nachos Supreme Casserole

      Monday dinners signal the end of the week for me. I go grocery shopping every Tuesday, so by the time Monday rolls around, what I had planned the Monday prior is pretty much a joke. I plan dinners for the week, but with my husband's work schedule and plain ol' life, Monday's dinner plans are always last minute ideas pulled together with what's left in the refrigerator. This is precisely how the Nachos Supreme Casserole was born.

      Nacho Supreme Casserole

      This is what happens when you have one half of a pound of ground chuck, half a packet of taco seasoning, sour cream, cheddar cheese, salsa and tortilla chips left in your house. I didn't say it was the healthiest thing I ever made, but it sure was gooey, oozy good (oh and it's naturally gluten-free* too!).


      1 tablespoon olive oil
      1/2 pound ground chuck
      1 onion, diced
      Salt, to taste
      2 garlic cloves, minced
      1 cup salsa
      2 cups sort of crushed tortilla chips
      1 1/2 - 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
      1 cup sour cream
      1/2 packet taco seasoning of choice
      1/4 teaspoon chili powder
      1/4 teaspoon paprika
      1/4 teaspoon cumin
      1/4 teaspoon onion powder
      1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
      1/4 teaspoon salt

      9/1/11: I updated the ingredients to exclude taco seasoning and include a yummy spice mix from your pantry!


      Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

      Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and allow to cook for a few minutes -- until the onions soften a bit. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the ground chuck and brown until the meat is no longer pink. Drain off fat.

      Mix the taco seasoning and sour cream together. (I had about 1 cup of sour cream left, so I did this right in the sour cream container -- less cleanup.)

      Pour 1/2 of the salsa in the bottom of a casserole dish. (I used an 8x8 glass dish. If you want to use something bigger, I would increase the amount of ingredients proportionately.) Add 1/2 of the semi-crushed chips. Next, add a third of the cheddar cheese and then half of the ground chuck mixture. Top with half of the sour cream mixture. (It will not cover the whole layer; I just dabbed it here and there and spread it with a spatula.) Repeat these layers once more. Finish with the last third of cheddar cheese.

      Pop it into the oven for 20 - 25 minutes. The cheese should be melted and there should be some bubbling action along the sides.

      Optional embellishments that I didn't have, but in retrospect would be delish sprinkled on top after it's out of the oven: sliced black olives, chopped green onions on top, sliced jalapeƱos (if you're into that).

      I didn't really know what this was going to taste like. After a few bites, it reminded me so much of souped up nachos (hence the title). It was so good, warm and comforting. And it was really quick and easy to pull together.

      Hope you enjoy it!

      *What do I mean when I keep saying "naturally gluten-free?" I just mean that I didn't do anything special to make this gluten-free, like use a special ingredient in place of another gluten-filled ingredient. It is gluten-free because all of the ingredients are naturally gluten-free. Which in my opinion, is the best kind of gluten-free! Just remember to always check your ingredients for hidden gluten.

      Monday, March 21, 2011

      Easy to Assemble Bridal Shower Gift Basket

      There's just something about a gift basket that I find so cheerful and nice. Ten years ago, I went to a baby shower with some co-workers and one of them gave a gift basket with bath supplies. I thought it was so cute, so since then I really try to do the same thing each time I go to a shower. It doesn't always work out given the items on the registry, but I try!

      My three-year old and I attended a bridal shower yesterday and packaged all of their gifts in a pretty basket alongside a card I made one night after the kids went to bed.

      Here's how to do it easily, cost-effectively and fast:

      • Buy a few like items off of the registry.
      • Keep an eye on your craft store circulars. When the baskets go on sale (which seems to be every other week), take a trip there and pick out one that is a good size to fit your items.
      • Clip your coupon from the sales ad and use that to buy the cellophane to wrap your basket. Or use it to buy the ribbon to tie the cellophane. Whatever makes the most sense.
      • Wad tissue paper into balls and place in the bottom of the basket.
      • Place the gifts in the basket.
      • Roll out enough of the cellophane to cover the entire basket (or one portion of the basket if it's large) and place the basket in the middle.
      • Cut the cellophane and gather it on top of the basket.
      • Secure it with some kitchen twine.
      • If it's a large basket roll out another piece of cellophane and repeat the process until the basket is sufficiently covered.
      • Cut your ribbon and tie it around the kitchen twine.

      I think it's nice to coordinate the basket with the card.

      This card is nothing fancy and something that seriously takes a half an hour to make:

      • Stamp a piece of paper with your message and cut out your paper to your desired width and height.
      • Add a .5 inch to these dimensions and cut a coordinating piece of paper.
      • Add a 1.5 to 2 inches (eyeball it based on your shape) to these dimensions and then double the measurement of the height. This will be you card. Cut it out.
      • Fold the card in half using a bone folder and adhere the two other pieces of paper to the front.
      • Cut a piece of paper for your inside message that is .5 inch less than the size of the inside.
      • Adhere it to the inside and write your message.
      • Add anything else to make it cute (I used a heart sticker I had). And that's it!

        If you're a sucker for gift baskets like I am (but not a sucker for the price of prepackaged gift baskets), you'll see it takes no time at all to assemble one of your own!

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