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 things...you 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.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Help Furkids Win a Car!

I just wanted to take a second to write about Furkids, the no-kill animal shelter Greg and I volunteer for. They are in a competition on Facebook to win a car, which would help the organization tremendously! It'll just take a few seconds of your day to help.

Go to https://apps.facebook.com/nalleydrivenforacaus/contests/224746/voteable_entries

You'll have to authorize the app (which you can revoke after you vote if you want in your settings). Then vote for Furkids! It would be amazing if you could vote everyday until June 30th!

Furkids is currently in 2nd place, and we need your help to take 1st! Furkids cares for over 650 animals EVERY DAY! That's a lot of cats and dogs! Greg and I have been volunteering with Furkids for about 2 years, and let me tell you it's truly an amazing organization. They take in as many animals as they can, and they don't turn away from the days old babies and difficult medical cases. My baby Nutmeg, we found on a car outside Petsmart (after someone choose to leave him there instead coming to talk to us about surrendering him) when he was only about 2 weeks old, a Furkids foster took him in and bottle fed him. Trust me when I say Furkids does EVERYTHING in their power to make sure they can save as many animals as possible and another car would help with that!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Garden Tomatoes!


I was able to pick our first harvest of tomatoes from the garden last night- 2 better boys, and 4 romas. Aren't they pretty? One of the roma variety was close to normal size, but the others were all smaller than expected. So hopefully as the season goes on, they'll get larger in size. I got to cut open the 2 better boys this morning to go in a pasta salad we'll be having for lunch today. So excited to eat them!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Backyard Upgrade: Part 3- The GRASS!!!

You got to see our plan, the prepping steps, and now, finally, you can see the grass! Or the beginnings of it anyway. It's been pretty rainy/cloudy here for several days, so hopefully it will clear up so the grass (and the garden) will shoot up!



It's starting to fill in, but there's still a lot that hasn't sprouted yet. We'll probably give it another week and then maybe reseed the empty areas. Since it has been kind of rainy, some of the seed probably got washed away. It's a pretty dramatic change from how it looked back in December when we moved in, and we are super happy with it! Now we'll just have to add some garden art in here and there to make it more 'us'.

You can see where I already got a solar powered kitty to watch over the garden. It was a yard sale find a few weeks ago, I'd seen the same one at Big Lots, but just wouldn't pay $12 for it, but for $2, it was perfect!

Here's what the backyard used to look like, in various stages of progression. Unfortunately, we didn't take any pictures of the backyard when we moved in, but just image 2-3 feet of decaying pine straw and leaves, that's basically what it looked like.
And after adding the tiles and watching the grass grow in!
It's still got some more growing to do. And probably another round or two of reseeding. But we're excited! You can't see it quite as well in the aerial view as you can when you look at it. That's probably due to my 5 year old camera....Oh and just to throw a note in about our rain barrel- it's awesome, since building it like a month ago, we haven't had to use anything else to water the garden or the grass!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Laundry Room Remodel- The Plan

This all started a few weeks ago when I started reorganizing the laundry room. I decided that if the top shelf was just a few inches higher, I could put laundry baskets on the lower shelves. Three of them to be specific, one for lights, one for darks, and one for linens. So it has all snowballed now into a complete laundry room remodel. Once it's done, it'll be our first finished room in the whole house! So exciting!
This is the before picture (sorry for the poor cell phone quality)-



It's messy, unorganized, and there isn't room on the shelves to put any laundry baskets, so I just end up putting them on the dryer and then it's in the way.






And this is my vision so far-

Presented in the lovely 3D model I whipped together in Google SketchUp. I'm a dork, I love 3D modeling. Gotta use that engineering degree, right? No dimensions yet. That's because we haven't decided on them yet. And lots of blank space on the space, because other than the baskets, I'm not sure what's going to go there yet.

Most of the differences are subtle. Like the shelves are going to be at different levels, even though they'll be the same wire shelving. I'll be changing the light fixture (it's just a plain 1980's/90's globe light), that's what the yellow cylinder represents. We already chose the wall color, it's close to what's displayed in the 3D, kind of a bluish-minty green. We're going to go with a beach & ocean feel for the laundry room. Most of that will be in the finishing decorating touches. The black rectangles are the laundry baskets I'll use to sort laundry, there's 3 of them, it's kind of hard to differentiate in the model.

One of the biggest projects we'll be tackling with this is tiling the floor. Right now, it's ugly yellowed vinyl flooring, yuck! After a quick brainstorming session of 'how can we make this better,' we decided that it's just going to be much better to go ahead and tile it. The space is only 3' x 5', so it'll hardly take any tiles, and it's just a square room, so not too much tile cutting to do. Once we rip up the vinyl flooring, we'll have to assess the condition of the plywood sub-floor and see if that needs to be replaced, then add some concrete board, then tile. Simple enough, right?? We'll see...

I think the room will be so much better, and it will be 'finished', as in we won't mess with it anymore and we can focus elsewhere. Plus, I can pretend that I like laundry, when I'm really just staring at how pretty the room is going to be!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Catnip Kitties

I thought we would share our recent discovery- Lion loves fresh catnip! We bought a little catnip plant that we have on the deck in a pot (since it's an invasive plant otherwise), and for the first time pulled off a few leaves for the cats. They love them! And we managed to catch Lion on video since it was so entertaining.

Maybe we'll have to find a way to incorporate the fresh leaves in some catnip toys. P.S. the catnip leaves actually smell really good! Like mint, which makes sense since they are a member of the same herb family. Enjoy!


video

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Veggies- Month 3

I'm a few weeks late posting the 3rd month pictures of the garden, but I'm sure you'll forgive me! The garden is doing great! It could use a little more sun, but not much we can do about that. 


The onions are tiny, we actually pulled them up this weekend. They didn't do well.

The cucumbers have grown even bigger! They are almost ready for picking.


Lots more Romas are forming!

The better boy tomato is hiding!

Blackberries are doing well!

Just had to show my little clementine tree :)
Most of those pictures I took a week or so ago, so I'll add some new ones in another post this week. My second zucchini flower opened this morning (the first one died before getting pollinated...sad), so hopefully this one will fare better!  I can tell the tomato plants are going to start going crazy any time now, there are so many flowers on them! No eggplants are growing yet, but there are flowers so hopefully soon. The bell peppers are getting bigger, but no flowers yet. Stay tuned for another garden post. We did a lot to the backyard recently, so I'll have to share that as well!

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