Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Experimenting with Split Chicken Breasts

Continuing with my theme of better meal planning and prepping ahead of time. I gave split chicken breasts a shot- for a few reasons
  1. Pure curiosity
  2. They were on sale for $0.99/lb
  3. I haven't found boneless skinless chicken breasts on sale in awhile
  4. You can make chicken broth by boiling the bones
So I got a bunch and the first batch - a few weeks ago - I just deboned by hand, used the chicken for various recipes and threw the bones in the freezer to make chicken broth later. It was surprisingly easy. Once I got the hang of it, all 6 split breasts went pretty quickly. I found it was easier to just look at the chicken as I was cutting and make it look the way it should. Reading other people's description of what they did, just made it more confusing, so just go with your gut.

So now, it's time to do some more cooking for this week, so I pulled 2 more packages of split chicken breasts out of the freezer, partially defrosted them by running them under cold water and tossed them in the crock pot. I needed shredded meat for this week, so I decided that by cooking the chicken in the crock pot {with chopped onion, oregano, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and water}, I could probably get some chicken broth out of the deal too! 

I let the split breasts go for about 3-4 hours on High before testing them- the meat shredded off perfectly and had a nice taste. The broth tasted pretty good too, but since we figured the longer the better, we left the broth going for about 6 hours total on High. Since I have a small crock pot, I could only do 1 package at a time (2 split breasts), so I did the whole process twice.

With the meat from the first package (~4.5 cups), I made Buffalo Chicken Taquitos. They are delicious, definitely a go-to meal around here! We had enough for dinner, a snack and lunch, plus about 5 that got tossed into the freezer. I also got about 4 cups of chicken broth after straining off the spices and bones!

Some of the homemade chicken broth
So for that one package it cost $2.58, which was about 2.6 lbs (including bones)-- I got more than 2 boneless skinless breasts worth of meat (since you also have 2 tenderloins in there), plus a container's worth of broth (~$2.99). It makes the whole process pretty cost effective since you get chicken and free broth. Especially since I haven't seen boneless skinless chicken breasts on sale under $3.99/lb in some time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

First Attempt at Freezer Cooking

 EDIT: I actually wrote this post a while ago and never posted it. So this was all actually done on August 26th, and since we've eaten all but the Spinach Lasagna Rolls (dinner tonight), French Dip and the Sour Cream Enchiladas. Everything so far has been great! We're starting to plan our next freezer meal adventure now!

Command Central
After weeks {okay, fine months...} of saying I was going to try to do better at meal planning and prepping things ahead of time, I dove in this past weekend! Between Pinterest freezer cooking pins and some other recipes I've found over the past few months, I picked out my test recipes. Fortunately, Greg is wonderful and helped out with the shopping and prepping and cooking! Yeah, be jealous :)

As you can see in the picture above, Lion was being incredibly helpful. I think they enjoy watching while we slave away. Plus, he's not even supposed to be on the table to begin with!

We picked out 7 recipes {my sources are linked}:
Buffalo Chicken Taquitos -- Dinner Sunday & Lunch Monday (it was absolutely delicious!)
Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells -- Dinner Monday & will there will be lunch leftovers
Skinny Sour Cream Enchiladas -- Freeze (one meal with leftovers)
Stuffed Bell Peppers -- Freeze (separated into two meals)
Baked Penne with Sausage and Ricotta -- Freeze (one meal with leftovers)
Lasagna Spinach Rolls -- Freeze (one meal with leftovers)
French Dip Sandwich with Au Jus -- Freeze (one slow cooker meal with leftovers)

We packed all the shopping, prep and cooking all into one afternoon after church {whew, it was a lot of work!}. We cooked for about 4 hours total! Fortunately, with 2 of us working it wasn't too bad and sometimes Greg did some cleaning while I was still putting things together.

We started by throwing about 6 chicken breasts into a big pot of water to boil. After about 25 minutes, we had a big bowl of shredded chicken for the 3 chicken recipes. We also had an almost constant pot of water boiling for pasta cooking {we had to do lasagna noodles, penne, and jumbo shells} in the beginning.
Boiling Chicken
Lots of pasta always cooking

Then we did some chopping & dicing prep. Onion and garlic were the most commonly called for ingredients, I realized that for the onion and had it all chopped. But for whatever reason, didn't do that with the garlic, so about halfway through, Greg minced a bunch of garlic since I kept asking for them one at a time!

At this point, it started to become easier to work on one at a time. So one recipe at a time, we started to put things together. We usually worked on one each separately, and sometimes had a third going in the background. The Baked Penne with Sausage and Ricotta had a 30 minute long simmer, so I was glad we started it in the middle, not at the end. The French Dip was super easy, since it was just put stuff into bag and freeze. I did the Taquitos and Sour Cream Enchiladas back-to-back since they are the same concept-
Filling for the Sour Cream Enchiladas

1. Make filling
2. Stuff filling and cheese into taco shell
3. Roll like burrito & place in pan
4. Add sauce (only for the enchiladas)

Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures of the Buffalo Chicken Taquitos.... but we had them for dinner and they were delicious! And contrary to what a lot of people commented on the recipe, mine stayed together really well!
The lasagn rolls were the most time consuming for me. Well it was either that or they were last and I was exhausted by the time I was doing that, but nevertheless, we finished rolling and placing!

So overall, I would say it's a success! Next time, I think I would stick with 4 recipes and make double of each {which is what a lot of other bloggers have said}. But now we have a variety in the freezer, so if we continue we should be able to build up a reserve of delicious meals that we can quickly pull out and cook. Which will really help remove that temptation to stop by McDonald's on the way home from work {sorry Dad, but the new Mighty Wings are pretty good!}
Frozen Stuffed Ball Peppers (2 separate meals)

Baked Penne with Sausage and Ricotta
Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells

I managed to miss a few meals in the pictures, but trust me, it was a hectic few hours. But we ended up with 7 separate recipes, and got 8 different meals out of it, with tons {and I mean tons} of leftovers!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

New Kitty Room

Now that we have a bunch of nice new furniture, eating dinner while staring at {and occasionally smelling} cat food was much less appealing. So we decided to move the kitty feeding area to the basement, into one of our two closets by the garage. But they looked like this....

 Actually, I snapped those after I pulled out a few don't want to see what it looked like before. The one on the left was mostly paper products, and the plastic drawers (which act as our medicine cabinet). The one of the right- well it was a mess. It pretty much had a little of everything in it, including a couple of boxes that we never unpacked.

So after so reorganizing and removal of stuff that really just needs to be donated, we had this...
 Yes, those are my high school prom dresses... I have no where else to put them, haha. I should probably just find a charity to donate them to. I did manage to get an extra wear out of them by using them for sorority formal dresses (and trading with other people for formal). Anyways...

So we decided to turn the smaller of the two closets into the kitty room. But being the nice people that we are, we didn't want the kitties to have to eat in the dark, and since they can't use a light switch {at least that we know of... Lion does open cabinets}, we needed a lighting solution. I know, I know... cats have great night vision, but it makes us feel better....
We found that Leviton motion sensing light switch at Home Depot for about $19. It was super easy to install, and it worked! At least it did for us, not so much for the kitties. They are too low to the ground and it senses 180 degrees horizontally. We thought about turning the whole outlet on it's side {so the switch would sense 180 degree vertically}, but that started to be difficult when the electrical box wouldn't easily come out.

Throughout all of this, Nutmeg was extremely helpful.... can you tell? Yes, as a matter of fact, those are the instructions that tell you how to install the switch that Nutmeg is attacking...

So back off to Home Depot to figure out a new solution.... we ended up deciding on these things that you screw into the light bulb socket and then screw the light bulb into. They have lots of varieties, but this one has a motion sensor. It works really well and the kitties are able to activate it! We also picked up the wire hanging shelve at Home Depot for about $10 which has dry food containers and a water jug stored on it. On the actually wire shelve above that, we have kitty toy storage, cat health products (grooming, flea medicine, nail trimmers, etc), and extra dry/wet food storage. We also added that wood shelve from some scrap we had lying around to hold some wet food and their food bowls.

We still have to pick out a cat door to add so that we can keep the door closed. But overall I'd say this was a success! Our cats might be a little spoiled.... But hey, at least we don't have to look at their food anymore while we eat!

Friday, August 10, 2012

The moment we've all been waiting for....

No, not a completed laundry room. We've still gotta pull the washer and dryer back out and put the finishing touches on there. This is our new furniture! Well really it's old furniture, from Greg's parents, but it's new to us! Well at least me, Greg grew up with most of it.

That's my new mixer stand! It's awesome. I've used it soo much already. It's nice to finally have it down where I can easily get to it. Instead of it's previous resting spot- on top of the refrigerator. How did I get it down you might ask.....

Christa: Greg... I want to make pizza dough (or insert other dough, dessert, etc).... I can't reach the mixer....
Greg: Okay... I'll be there in a few minutes.
....wait approximately 30 seconds.....
Christa: Has it been a few minutes yet?
...Greg pulls down mixer....

 Yeah, you get the picture. Mixer stored high where I can't reach it = unhappy Greg, especially if I'm in a baking mood for a few days in a row.

Our new hutch! It has 2 shelves that I hadn't put in yet when I took this picture. I haven't decided exactly what we'll store in the open portion of it. But it has 3 drawers below which are great storage! 
Drawer 1- Placemats, finally a place to put these!
Drawer 2- Tupperware. Now my cabinets under the island can finally be organized!
Drawer 3- Platters.

 Isn't the stained glass pretty? I may have to find a way to install some lights inside so you can see them. Right now you can only appreciate them when the doors are open. Oh, and of course Nutmeg had to inspect the new furniture. Nosey kitty...

 Even though the bench had been sitting there for 3 or so days at this point, Lion of course had to examine it right in the middle of all of my pictures! It's a bench made from an old horse carriage. It's a nice way to add a little additional seating in the living room.

The pie safe! Isn't it pretty? The lamp may or may not end up there, we'll see. We have some decorating ahead of it.
It has tons of storage inside too- see?

And there's still more to come as we move things in from the garage and get them set-up!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Finally! The moudling is done!

 Wahoo! One {long, drawn-out} project that can finally be marked off the list! If you go back and check out this post, you'll see what the kitchen used to look like, and what it looks like without those cabinets obstructing the view! We hung the light fixture back in February with the help of Greg's dad. So now we got around to adding the moulding around the edges and painting! It looks so nice now!

One reason it took so long, was we just didn't have the right tools. So we finally got around to buying an air compressor and brad nail gun. Once we had those, the moulding was up in about 10 minutes! Plus the air compressor will come in handy when we use an air spray gun to paint the cabinets later this year {probably a winter project}.

So what else is new around here? Well Greg's parents brought us down some awesome furniture from their old house in Rochester. The picture below is just the beginnings of the awesome-ness! It's a mixer stand that Greg's grandmother used to have. We've gotten tons of use out of it already! Stay tuned for lots more picture of the great furniture pieces, and a lot of reorganization since we finally have some extra storage!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Laundry Room Update

We're taking it slow on the laundry room remodel. We don't want to rush and mess anything up, or have it look bad at the end, so step-by-step we are making progress. Plus, I don't always feel like working in a tiny laundry room after a full day at work!
(P.S. sorry for the poor picture quality- for some reason my cell phone focuses, and then unfocuses everything I take a picture)

We still have to put down the grout sealant to protect it. But that's not until after we clean the 'grout haze' off the top of the tiles. Then put down the threshold transition piece. But seriously, I needed to do laundry! So we put the room back into a usable state. We put up one of the wire shelves and might just leave it at that, we'll see. I think the room color looks awesome with all the white appliance! And a super bonus- we realized that the former owners never pulled off the plastic wrap that protects the surface, so now the washer and dryer are shiny white instead of that yellowed color.Yay!

Check out our first accessories for the laundry room- a Fire Island light switch panel (free! it was from Greg's room at his parent's house), and a cute wooden lighthouse trashcan ($3.75 at a consignment store nearby!)
 I don't think I've mentioned the light fixture we bought. I think it's going to be super cool and match the lighthouse/ocean themed room perfectly! It almost looks like a ship's lantern! We got it at Restore, and I can't really remember how much we paid, I think around $30. I found something similar online for $130, Restore is awesome! You can't tell in the picture but it has the super cool old school bubbled glass look.
Stayed tuned for us to (disassemble, tear....) the laundry room again to finish up with the flooring and floor moudling. Hopefully that'll happen this weekend!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Pet Couponing

We've been slacking on the blogging lately, but that'll change as we finish up the laundry room and a couple of small projects over the next few weeks. So I thought I'd share something I've gotten into lately, Couponing!

It's very addicting. We've been couponing for grocery type stuff for almost a year, give or take a few months when I haven't done much, if any. I go on the blog sites, make my list, and usually save about 30-40% without too much effort. And that's buying stuff we USE, not like the crazy coupon show where they buy 100 of one thing and save like 98%. That's not realistic. You can't eat 100 toothbrushes. Okay, that was all of my gripe for now...

The point of this post was supposed to be Pet Couponing, so I'll get back to that. I never really thought much about it, other than using the occasional Fancy Feast or Friskies coupon that comes in the circulars. That is until they built a new Petco down the road from us, and I went on a Saturday morning because we were out of food and the kitties were grumpy with just dry food (yeah they are rotten). So I signed up for the Petco card while I was there, and the cashier was telling me all about their coupon policy since the store was practically empty that early. Turns out they accept all competition coupons (I've since found out that Petsmart does too), and conveniently there is a Pet Supermarket right down the street that puts out $2 or $5 store coupons every week! It opened a whole new world of couponing to us! And since Nutmeg has to eat high quality food (or he has poop issues), it's works out awesomely that we can get the high quality food for the same price as or cheaper than the normal Fancy Feast or Friskies.

 So the without coupon total from this transaction would have been $30.43, and we saved $18.25, for a total of $12.18 OOP (Out of Pocket). That's 40% savings! We bought a brush for $6, so take that away and we only paid $6.18 for the food, that's equal to 26 cents a can! For food that is normally 87 cents a can (Nutromax 5oz.).

So how? Well Petco had a sale, so if you bought more than 10 cans, you got 10% off the food. We had a Pet Supermarket $5 off $25 purchase, so that counted as a store coupon. Plus, we had two $5 Pals Rewards Dollars. Basically like loyalty points, and those are the reason that I now think Petco has better deals than Petsmart.
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