Monday, January 17, 2011

Babies 'R Us Sweepstakes Sponsored by Baby Brezza

If you're expecting a new baby soon, you've probably already registered for your must-have baby items at Babies R' Us. Is the Baby Brezza on your registry? The Baby Brezza is an affordable, one step baby food maker that allows you to easily prepare fresh, healthy homemade food for your baby. I so wish I had one of these bad boys when my guys were little! Learn all about the ease and benefits of the Baby Brezza here and be sure to "like" Baby Brezza on Facebook here

I'm sure after learning about Baby Brezza you'll want to add it to your Babies 'R Us registry. After you do, you might just win your entire registry including the Baby Brezza! Babies 'R Us is hosting a sweepstakes sponsored by Baby Brezza right now. When you add the Baby Brezza to your registry you are automatically entered to win your entire baby registry (up to $3,500)!! Enter and get all the details from Babies 'R Us here.

Be sure to spread the word about the sweepstakes to friends who are expecting. Just copy and paste this link and send it to them:

*In full disclosure, I was entered to win a Babies 'R Us gift card and a Baby Brezza One Step Food Maker in exchange for this post. No monetary exchange took place. And I still totally would have posted about it anyway.* :P

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Slow Cooked Bolognese Sauce

This rich, slow cooked sauce makes for a hearty supper. It's what we had for dinner last night and it's always a crowd pleaser. It requires a little more prep. than your average crock pot recipe, but the results are worth it. You can save yourself a little time in the kitchen by chopping up your veggies the night before. The prep. time is about a half an hour, the cook time is 8 1/2 hours, the recipe serves 8. The best part is that it's about $1.50 a serving.

Here's what you need:

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter (The recipe calls for unsalted butter.If you don't have unsalted butter on hand, don't run out and buy it. A seasoned chef could probably give you a long list of reasons why unsalted butter is required...I am not a seasoned chef, I'm just a Mom and I use what I have. I've used plain old salty butter in this recipe a number of times and it's worked out just fine.)
1 small onion, chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped (I generally use 3 or 4)
1 carrot, finely chopped (Again, I generally use 3 or 4)
2 lbs. lean ground beef (You'll want the leanest beef your budget can afford since you're not draining the grease after the meat is cooked.)
Salt and pepper as per your taste buds
Pinch or two of nutmeg
1 cup whole milk
1 cup white wine
2  28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes 

Here's what you do:

1) Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, celery and carrots. Saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Crank the heat up to high and add ground beef. Cook until no longer pink. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

2) Pour milk and wine in and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 15 minutes.

3) Transfer to crock pot. Stir in crushed tomatoes, cover and cook on Low for 8 hours. Remove lid, stir and continue to cook an additional half hour with the lid off to let the sauce thicken a bit. 

Serve sauce over pasta with grated Parmesan cheese. I made Perciatelli for the first time last night with this sauce. Think a drinking straw come to life as spaghetti. It's fun to eat. And by all means, dinner time should be fun. :)

Friday, January 14, 2011

What can I do with a can of black beans?

Last night I assigned myself the task of cleaning out and organizing the cabinets in our kitchen that house our pantry items, cans and dry goods. Not what the average person decides to do at 9 o'clock at night, no. I do weird shit at weird times. It's all part of my charm. Or so I'm told. Or so I tell myself...

I digress. 

At any rate, I found many hidden gems in the cabinets, including (7) cans of black beans. Yes, really. I know what you're thinking: What white girl in their right mind has that many cans of black beans in their pantry?

Black beans are really versatile and can be used in so many ways. They're very inexpensive (I've paid as little as 25 cents a can) and can be used to replace meat in some meals. Not that I've got anything against meat. :)

And here's your quick health lesson for the day: Black beans are also really good for you! Black beans are a great source of dietary fiber which has been shown to naturally help lower cholesterol. Black beans also have a high fiber content which helps keep blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly after a meal, making them a great choice for people with diabetes or hypoglycemia. They're also virtually fat-free and a high quality source of protein. New research proves that black beans are rich in antioxidants as well. Antioxidants destroy free radicals and when eaten regularly, have been shown to offer the body protection against heart disease, cancer and aging. All that from a can of black beans. 

Sooo...if you've got a can or two (or 7) of black beans sitting in your pantry, here's some ideas on what to do with them! 

Photo courtesy of Paul Goyette:

You can use this recipe to stretch a cheap pound of ground beef into a big meal for the entire family. 

Here's what you need:

1 Tablespoon oil
1 large onion, chopped (about a cup and a half) 
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 lb. ground beef
1 Tbs. chili powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 can diced tomatoes in juice
1/2 cup sofrito tomato cooking base from a 12 oz. jar (Goya)
1 CAN BLACK BEANS, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups uncooked rice
Optional: Fresh cilantro and tortilla chips

Here's what you do:

1) In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, pepper and garlic. Stir frequently and cook until they've softened and really start smelling fabulous, about 7 or 8 minutes. Add ground beef to pot, break it up and give it a minute to hang out with the onions, pepper and garlic before adding chili powder, salt and cumin. Cook until browned and fully cooked through, about 5 minutes.

2) Next add the tomatoes with their juice and the sofrito to the meat mixture and bring it up to a boil. Stir in black beans and turn the heat down from medium to low. Put a lid on it and give it a stir every now and again until the tomatoes have softened and the flavors have all gotten acquainted, about 25-30 minutes. 

3) In the mean time, cook your rice according the package directions (can't beat Minute Rice). Serve beef and black bean chili over rice and garnish with cilantro and/or tortilla chips if you so choose.  

Delicious, healthy alternative to traditional Stuffed Peppers.

Here's what you need:

Non-stick cooking spray
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1 CAN BLACK BEANS, drained and rinsed
6 tall green bell peppers, tops removed, seeded and cored
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup salsa
1/2 cup sour cream
Fresh chives, chopped

Here's what you do:

1) Generously spray skillet with non-stick cooking spray. Saute onions until golden. Add cayenne pepper, oregano, cumin and chili powder. Remove from heat.

2) Transfer onions to mixing bowl, add half the black beans to onions and mash using an old fashioned hand masher or a fork. Then stir in the other half of the beans into mixture. Do not mash further.

3) Spoon black bean mixture into bell peppers, then place bell peppers in crock pot. Sprinkle cheese over peppers, then pour salsa over cheese. Cover and cook on Low for 6 - 8 hours or on High for 3-4 hours. Serve each pepper with a dollop of sour cream and chives.

A little over 50 cents a burger. Much more cost effective than the frozen black bean burgers found in the grocery store. This recipe makes 4 burgers, it can easily be doubled or tripled. 

Here's what you need:

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 CAN BLACK BEANS, rinsed and drained
1 Tbsp. cumin
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs (try Panko, it's the bomb)
Salt and pepper to taste

Here's what you do:

1) Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with foil and mist with non-stick cooking spray. Warm oil in skillet over medium heat. Add celery and onion, cook until softened, 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.

2) Pour beans into a large bowl and use a potato masher and/or a fork to smush beans into a thick paste. Put veggies from skillet in bowl with bean paste. Stir in egg, cumin and bread crumbs. Season with salt and pepper to your taste. I add a glug or two of hot sauce as well. Use your fingers to form bean mixture into 4 patties. Be careful not to over mix.

3) Place patties on baking sheet and bake until firm and set, about 8-10 minutes on each side. Serve on a bun with lettuce, tomato and red onion.

Cheap, easy and yummy.You can change it up by using a combination of black beans and another type of bean if you like (navy beans, kidney beans, etc.) You can also add a can of whole kernel corn or a can of diced chilies just before the end of cooking time to add some color and flavor and/or a few shots of hot sauce.

Here's what you need:

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 CANS BLACK BEANS (do not rinse or drain)
1 16 oz. jar salsa
1 cup chicken broth
2-3 hot italian sausage links
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper

Here's what you do:

1) Warm olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, stirring frequently, until onion is softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Combine onion and garlic mixture, black beans (with their liquid), salsa and chicken broth in crock pot. Stir well, cover and cook on Low for 5 hours.

2) Add sausage and cook for 1 more hour. Use tongs to remove sausage. Slice sausage into bite-sized pieces and return to crock pot. Stir in cilantro and season with salt and pepper. Serve soup hot, garnish with sour cream.

Throw some extras in with filling before wrapping up your enchiladas, like cheddar cheese or green onions.

Here's what you need: 

2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 small white onion
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
2 CANS BLACK BEANS, drained but not rinsed
1 tsp. cumin
2 Tbs. tomato paste (look for tomato paste in a tube at the store, it's the greatest invention since sliced bread)
Salt and pepper to taste

Here's what you do:

1) Heat garlic in oil in skillet until it starts to pop around and make a little noise. Use a hand grater and grate onion right into skillet. Add jalapeno pepper, cook for two minutes. Add black beans and use the back of a fork to smash them up. Stir in cumin and tomato paste and season with salt and pepper to taste.  

2) Use filling for enchiladas as you would meat. I'll def. have to do a post devoted to Enchiladas at some point. Remind me. Love them.

Get on out to the kitchen and dig out that can of black beans hiding in the back of the cabinet. Hopefully you've got some new ideas for what to do with it. :) 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


 Rubber chicken? It doesn't sound too appealing, does it? I call cooking a whole chicken in a crock pot "rubber chicken" because you're able to cook one chicken and stretch it out into two meals, plus some healthy homemade broth. 

Buying a whole chicken is one of the best ways to get the most bang for your buck and stretch your budget at the grocery store. You'll want to buy the chicken when it is on sale, of course. I like the Extra Meaty Oven Roaster Chickens from really is extra meaty. :) The chicken I cooked last night was just over 6 lbs. and cost $5.98, under a dollar a pound. If you're feeding less mouths (mine is a family of five) or using the chicken for only one meal, you could get a smaller bird and get it even cheaper. I got a smaller chicken a few weeks ago and paid three dollars and some change for it. 

There was a time, a few years back, when I was totally skeeved over the idea of handling a whole chicken. In fact, the first time I cooked a whole chicken I wore plastic gloves and used two sets of tongs to manipulate it when it was raw. Once you do it once, you'll get over it. It's really not bad. Pinky promise.

It takes a whole chicken 2 days to thaw in the fridge, so you're going to want to take it out of the freezer 2 days before you intend to cook it. I double bag mine in plastic grocery store bags before putting it in the fridge. Then when I go to get it ready to put in the crock pot, I untie the bags, cut the top of the plastic the chicken is packaged in and rip it down the sides to get the chicken out. This way all the blood and gross chicken goop is contained in the bags and not all over the sink or counter. 

Don't forget to remove the bag of whatever chicken guts are inside the cavity of the chicken. Drop it right into the plastic bags. I then transfer the chicken to a colander in the sink. It's easier and less messy to rinse and then season the chicken that way. Give the chicken a thorough rinsing. Be sure to "fill and spill" the cavity to rinse that out as well. After you've cleaned the chicken, it's time to season it.

If you're just cooking the chicken to use the meat and not eating it for dinner that night, you can season it with just good old salt and pepper. If you're eating the chicken for dinner that night, you might want to use other seasonings too. Garlic powder and paprika works. I like to use seasoned salt, rosemary and thyme (gives the broth a nice, rich flavor.). 

Set your crock pot up, mist it with non-stick cooking spray (to make clean up easier) and turn it on Low. Place the chicken in the crock pot, put the lid on and forget about it for at least the next 7 hours. There's no need to add water or any other liquid to the crock pot. The chicken has plenty of it's own juices that will keep it moist while it cooks. 

7 hours later you will have a delicious chicken that's ready for eating. If you're not going to serve it for dinner, let it cool down a bit then remove all the meat from the bones. Gotta pick that chicken clean to get the most out of it.(Leave the liquid in the crock pot to make broth.) You can use the meat for anything else you would use cooked chicken for: soups, casseroles, pot pie, etc, etc. 

After you've removed the meat from the bones, put the bones back in the crock pot with the liquid that's there from cooking the chicken and add 5 cups of water to the crock pot. We don't eat the chicken skin so I throw that in there too to add flavor. Put the lid on the crock pot, set it on Low and cook the broth overnight. I throw a splash of vinegar in as well. It helps draw the minerals and nutrients from the bones. When you wake up, your house will smell like a combination of Boston Market and a Chinese Buffet. It's all good, spray some Febreze. Use a slotted spoon to strain out the bones and other little bits that may be floating around. 

You now have homemade chicken broth! Not only did it not cost you anything, it doesn't have the preservatives and crazy crap that store bought chicken broth has. Pour the broth into tall containers. Leave an inch or two of space at the top of the containers. Put the containers in the fridge to cool. When the broth has cooled completely, there will be a big layer of fat at the top of the containers. Scrape it off with a spoon and you're broth is ready to go. You can use it right away or freeze it for up to 6 months. I got roughly 70 ounces of broth from the chicken I cooked last night. 

Here's what last night's dinner cost:

I'm going to use 4 people instead of the 5 in my family since the average family is 4....and since my two year hasn't eaten dinner in a year, so he really doesn't count. :)

The chicken was $5.98, so we'll say $6.00. Divided by 4 people that's $1.50 a person.

I served the chicken with Stove Top Chicken Stuffing that I got on sale when it was 10/$1.00. I bought 5 boxes and used a $3.00 off when you buy 5 coupon, so I paid $2.00 for 5 boxes of stuffing. That's 40 cents a box 1 box divided by 4 people is 10 cents per serving. (You have to stock up on Stove Top when it goes on sale 10/$1.00 in the summer. They don't put it on sale that low during the colder months when people are more likely to want to buy it.)

We also had corn, which was 40 cents from Shop Rite's Can Can Sale, which is also 10 cents a serving.

That's a $1.70 a person for dinner. $6.80 for dinner for a family of 4. It doesn't get much cheaper than that. Plus I got 70 ounces of broth from it and 1 1/2 cups of left over chicken. I'll be using half the broth and all of the chicken to make chicken and rice soup tonight for tomorrow's lunch and then I'll freeze the remaining broth to use later. 

6 bucks for one whole chicken and I'm getting a dinner, a lunch and leftover broth to freeze out of it. :)