Crockpots and Comfort Foods: Recipe Roundup #2

I accidentally took a hiatus from the blog this past month. Sickness, moving, guests, Thanksgiving vacation, more sickness...it's been full and slow and messy. In the midst of it all, our laptop completely crashed (it's so hard for me to write and create blog posts on my phone). But I am finally back to a semi-routine, sitting with the covers pulled up as some exciting cold weather brews outside, typing away at my new purple laptop that my husband insisted I buy immediately.

I still feel a little guilty about spending the money. But typing feels really nice, so, well, I guess I'll get over it.

This month I tried some fantastic new recipes and was inspired by a lovely new friend to plan out a whole month of meals. This took a tremendous load of cooking stress off of my shoulders! I thought that it would be so much work to do full-fledged meal-planning, but once I buckled down and began scrawling recipes onto the little squares of my calendar, I realized that this plan would be my jam. I am a planner at heart. Lists and calendars are like my friends. Combining that with food (my love language, incidentally) made this mama really happy. Zero percent stressed. I then made up a huge master shopping list and bought almost everything for the month in one grocery trip.

Holy crap that receipt was a little scary. It was a great idea until I got it all home and realized that our freezer is rather inadequate and my pantry space limited. But in the end I made it fit and went most of the month not having to stress about groceries, dinner plans, or if we had the ingredients to make that new recipe on Pinterest.

So here's the tried-and-trues for November 2017!


// MAIN DISHES //



Boeuf Bourguignon - I was inspired by Jen Hatmaker's hilarious reading of her own recipe (check out the audiobook Of Mess and Moxie on Hoopla; you won't be disappointed), and then this idea was reinforced by re-watching Julie & Julia. So I had to try this elegant French take on beef stew. It's not as scary as it sounds. Plus, you get to use an entire bottle of red wine. Feel bold. My family is small, so I was able to freeze half of this for later in the month, and even give some away to a neighbor. (It loses no flavor in the freezer, I promise.)

Check the size of your beef cubes. I made mine a little bit too small, so during the browning process I cooked them almost through, making them a bit tougher when the stew was finished. Luckily the decadent wine sauce made up for it.
Prep beforehand. This isn't a complicated dish, but it does require a decent amount of chopping. Take your time and enjoy it. Maybe crack open the bottle of wine and have a sip before it all disappears in your oven *wink.*
Make this dish a bit healthier. This main course is, as I said, rich & decadent (duh, it's French). Most people serve this with French bread, noodles, or mashed potatoes, but that just piles on the calories. Try mashed cauliflower, a salad, or a side of green beans to make this a bit easier on your stomach.


Crockpot Cheesy Bacon Ranch Chicken - that kind of feels like too many words for a recipe title, but gosh this combination is anything but too much. It is perfect. My parents were here when I made this and they raved about it. It is incredibly easy to make and super tasty.

Add your own flair. I'm not a huge fan of sour cream, so I usually add about half the amount that the recipe says. I also add an extra 1/2 or more packet of ranch dressing mix to bump up the flavor. SO GOOD. Add some of your own favorite ingredients to mix it up.
Frozen chicken works best. Take the chicken breast out of the freezer. Place in crockpot. Done. You don't have to add any water or anything. Just sprinkle the ranch seasoning packet on top and walk away for a few hours.
Make it health-friendly. Again, this is one of those low-carb, high-fat recipes that I make too much of. To keep it on the healthy side, I serve it with salad or roasted broccoli.


Cilantro-Lime Chicken - this recipe seems a little underwhelming when compared to the above recipes, but the flavors can't be beat. It's a perfect cheap main dish that you can pair with rice and/or beans, keeping it totally budget friendly (and might even remind you of the smells of Chipotle).

Cut your chicken breast in half more often. I found that this meal seemed to stretch farther than my other chicken meals do, simply because I cut the chicken to look like more pieces. Definitely need to do this all the time.
It's easy. This recipe is so easy I don't think I have any tips or changes to offer you!


Mini Spaghetti "Nests" - this has been a year of spaghetti squash. It's quite versatile and also gives me a serving of veggies while making me think that I am eating pasta. It deserves a medal. This recipe was quick and easy and I think kiddos would enjoy it as well!

Avoid the dishes. I confess that I didn't wan the hassle of washing a muffin pan, so I put the whole thing in a small casserole dish. It took a little bit longer to bake, but other than that there were no problems.
Tomato sauce. I've found very few pasta sauces that don't have added sugar; I have, however, almost always been able to find a pizza sauce without sugar. And I usually like the stronger flavors better!
Cooking the squash. There are loads of ways to do this - including using a crockpot - but this method avoids making you slice the giant squash open until it's been softened up in the oven. A real blessing for sure.


Crockpot Beans and Rice - cheap. Easy. Filling. Beans and rice are my go-to, and this recipe made that already simple combo even easier to accomplish. I've never liked beans, but if I serve them up right and season them well, I'll eat them. Why? Because they are a good source of protein that doesn't make me cry when I look at the receipt.

Use dried beans. Included in the recipes is a link for how to cook dried beans in a crockpot. This makes things even cheaper and more meal-planner friendly. I cooked up several cups of dried beans in my slow cooker the day before, then froze them in Ziploc bags in 1 1/2 cup portions. Now all I have to do is defrost a bag and add it to taco meat, serve it with fajitas, etc.
Flavor it up. Add lots of spices! This meal is simple - which sometimes can mean boring if you don't do it right. I added taco seasoning instead of just cumin and garlic powder. You could also add things like green peppers or fresh herbs or whatever comes to mind.


Chicken Pot Pie - this is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. The creamy, garlicky filling, the flaky, buttery crust...the veggies simply drowning in all those good flavors. Gah. We just had this for dinner tonight again, so it's all incredibly fresh in my mind. Yum.

Pick your favorite veggies. I subbed canned green beans for the frozen peas. Peas, blech. Yes, I'm still eight years old. I wouldn't suggest leaving out the celery or onion, though, because those create a fuller flavor overall.
Make your own pie crusts. I know this makes things harder, but working with flour and dough and rolling pins is so fun, and completely worth the extra effort. Those refrigerated pie crusts are so tempting (the Pillsbury doughboy wants to be your friend), but the texture and lack of flavor in those bad boys is extremely disappointing. I found an excellent recipe that I've listed below.
Go all in. I added some cream in place of some of the milk, and some leftover turkey gravy from Thanksgiving. These made the pies turn out incredibly rich and tasty.
Fresh is always best. If you're into garlic like I am, use some freshly minced garlic cloves instead of garlic powder. You can thank me later.
FROZEN PIE INSTRUCTIONS: To bake my pie, I used the instructions from a different recipe and it worked like a dream. First, freeze an entire pot pie (crust, filling, topped with a second crust). Then when you're ready to bake it, let it thaw on your counter for 30 min. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cover lightly with foil and bake for 30 min., then turn down the temperature to 350 and remove the foil. The pie should take a little less than an hour to finish baking properly. The filling will be bubbly and the crust a beautiful golden brown color.


// DESSERTS, BREAKFASTS, and EVERYTHING ELSE //


Puff Pancake (low-carb and THM "S" friendly) - I doubled the recipe and ate this for a week of breakfasts. I bought blackberries on sale at my grocery store and made some low-carb syrup and served it with sausage links. Heaaaaveeeennn. I'm actually getting re-excited about this pancake dish as we speak. Food makes me a little giddy #notashamed

Make low-carb syrup. In this recipe there's a link for her syrup recipe; make it now. It's easy, buttery, and makes you forget that you're missing out on anything. I did add a smidge of real maple syrup to the low-carb syrup, just for flavoring purposes.
Pair it with some good stuff. It is decadent, but not as filling as normal pancakes, so definitely serve this with a second protein source (yogurt, meat, eggs, etc.). To keep this "S" friendly for all you Trim Healthy Mamas, stick with berries if you add fruit.
Stevia. Stevia is so much better for you than all of those other "low-calorie" or "sugar-free" sweeteners because stevia is actually a real plant that grow in the earth. I used stevia in place of the Splenda. I recommend it to everyone!


[Healthy] Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins - I've been looking for a good breakfast muffin recipe for ages, one that is healthy but also cheap. Most gluten-free muffins involve special, expensive flours and sugars and that starts to get on my nerves after awhile. This recipe is different. You soak half of the batter on your counter overnight, like you would "overnight oatmeal." This breaks down the grains so that your body can eat bread but still be happy!

Sweeten liberally. Perhaps because their is an acidic element to the batter, it did not taste very sweet to me at all. I used coconut sugar for the first time. But I ended up added more sweeteners. Just taste the batter before sticking it into the oven so you know what you're dealing with.
Acidic liquid. Yeah, this term was new to me, too. I emailed the author of the recipe and she told me to use 1 T. apple cider vinegar mixed with one cup of water. It worked perfectly. You could also use lemon juice.
Be prepared to eat them all. For being healthy, hearty muffins, these satisfied my craving for blueberry bakery muffins in a gorgeous way, and I can't wait to make them again. Breakfast is suddenly amazing again.


Black Bean Brownies - I finally did it, folks. I tried black bean brownies. I've been tempted to go for this for quite some time now, but the time never seemed right. Also I think I was a little leery of the grainy texture beans tend to have. These turned out like dark chocolate sponge cakes, though (completely oxymoronic in nature - they were both dense and light). I rejoiced. May I never fear adding a vegetable or legume to baked goods again!

Blend well. Beans are, of course, an odd texture for a dessert (unless you live in Asia), so make sure you use a good food processor/blender. I used my magic bullet.
Make extra. This recipe made a very small pan of brownies. Just saying.


Perfect Pie Crust - I haven't tried a lot of pie crust recipes, but this one turned out really well, AND there's a secret ingredient that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Double or triple the ingredients. This one is my mom's tip. Pie crusts can be time-consuming, so why not make a bunch all at once? Purchase some foil pie plates at the store, place the pie crust dough inside, and stack them in your freezer. As long as your recipe is basic, you can use these crusts for literally anything - pot pies, fruit or cream pies, quiches...
Butter or shortening? I used all butter because I dislike the idea of buying shortening and had no problems with the dough.
Mixing methods. Using forks or your fingers to cut the butter into the flour works well, but it also takes more time - and softens up the butter or lot. Be sure to refrigerate the mixture before adding the other ingredients.


//

Phew, that was a lot! I made a lot of other new things this month - pan-fried salmon, poached eggs, a whole roasted Thanksgiving turkey, and a French silk pie. But those recipes haven't been perfected enough to warrant sharing. What are some new recipes you've tried? I need some suggestions for the month of January! Or what is one of your favorite holiday recipes? Please share below!

If you think of it, pray for my sick little one who has had a cough for ages, and for my husband who is dealing with some sort of infection/virus that won't go away, and for our old laptop's hard drive, which contains the rough drafts of the two books I'm currently writing...but God is still good and life is still full.

12 comments:

  1. Whitney KieschnickDecember 6, 2017 at 2:22 PM

    I love this, every bit ... just as I suspected ;-) Thanks, girl!

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  2. This all looks so tasty! I think the cilantro-lime chicken and the blueberry muffins sound really good!

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    1. I'm always stoked about blueberry muffins! It was refreshing to find ones that were healthy but didn't taste like lumps of oatmeal haha

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  3. What a great list of recipes! I'm definitely going to try that trick with the chicken to cut the breast in half.

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    1. Thanks! Yes it stretches the amount of food superbly.

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  4. Everything looks SO good! I love German Pancakes (puff pancakes) and was just telling my husband the other day there's got to be some way to make them lower in carbs! Sorry your November was so crazy, hopefully December goes more smoothly for you. Glad to see you're back to blogging!

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    1. Thanks girl! I'm all about the low-carb recipes lately. I have to remind myself to have some good healthy carbs to balance it out ;)

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  5. I’m in need of some comfort food! These recipes look delicious! I will have to try one!

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    1. I grew up on homemade comfort food. I'm addicted...

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  6. Oh man, sounds like a rough month! :( Hopefully December treats you guys a little better. You tried so many recipes and I'm really impressed with your month menu plan!

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    1. It's all good! I'm learning that life always shot through with rough patches, and it's okay. It makes me more grateful for little things and more focused on just taking the next step.

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