Better Choices, Better Results

Archive for January, 2012

MYO – Canned Chicken

Imagine that you’ve come home from a tough day at work and you are, as on most days, exhausted.  However, this morning you forgot to lay out something for supper, and everything you have requires thawing or a long cooking process.

Time to just call it a day and go out for dinner, right?

Not if you have some staples in your pantry that are ready to use!  Canned meats are something that I keep on hand and they’ve proven themselves to be very helpful on those crazy days.  When I have something like…canned chicken…I can have a healthy and nutritious meal thrown together in less time than it would take to drive to the nearest nice restaurant.

You can purchase canned chicken in the grocery.  In fact, I used to buy large cans of it from Sam’s or Costco to keep on hand for chicken salad.  However, since I started canning my own, there is just no comparison in the taste and texture.  Mine ROCKS!

If you’ve never canned your own food before, don’t be afraid to try it.  After your initial monetary outlay for the pressure canner and jars, you’ll find that you save a lot of money.

If you can find your chicken on sale, of course, your price-per-ounce goes down.  If you like dark meat and don’t mind dealing with bones and skin, you can get cheaper cuts and save even more money.  I, on the other hand, was almost out of canned chicken, I don’t like dark meat and I don’t like messing with the skin and bones, so I bought skinless, boneless chicken breasts at Sam’s Club.

It starts with getting some chicken!

I may do some canning tutorials later on, but for now, let’s just see what the results are from this canning session.

I had enough chicken for 5 quarts of chicken and broth.  Each jar contains about 30 oz.  That’s 150 ounces of chicken and broth.  I spent $24.64 for the chicken, and had everything else I needed on hand.  That comes out to 16.4 cents for ounce.

 

Five quarts of delicious, ready-to-eat chicken!

 

Costco has large 12.5 ounce cans of chicken packaged in 6-can units.  The cost is $13.99, or 18.6 cents per ounce.

Costco's version....

WIN!

Again, we each have to choose if the extra time spent in preparation is worth it to save roughly 2 cents per ounce.

Well, here’s my 2-cents worth.  (See what I did there?)

  1. I’ve had both, and my chicken tastes better.
  2. The texture is better.
  3. The broth in my chicken is useable; the store-bought chicken is packed in water.
  4. I know what’s in it, although I wish I had more control over the chicken itself.  I’d much rather find a local organic supplier, and maybe I will someday.

How do I use my chicken?  Any way that you would use chicken in any recipe.

  • Chicken Salad
  • BBQ Chicken Sandwiches
  • Chicken Soup
  • White Chicken Chili
  • Chicken Fried Rice
  • Chicken Tacos
  • Buffalo Chicken Dip
  • Chicken Pot Pie

I could go on and on…..

I’ve also canned cubed steak, and hamburger meat.  I’ve canned sausage patties, and hope to do ham in the near future.

What types of ready-to-eat foods would you like to keep on hand?

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Never Fear – The Salad Artist is Here!

Today I was craving a big salad.  A big, fruity salad.  With chicken.  I had lettuce from my salad drawer, I had kiwis, fresh pineapple and madarin oranges.  I had all the makings for a great salad.  Everything, except the dressing.

We had ranch dressing, but that didn’t seem right.

We had a light olive oil & vinegar, but that didn’t really strike my fancy, either.  I wanted a sweet dressing, but had nothing on hand.  At least, nothing already made.

I had ingredients, though!  And here we go!

I pulled out some Olive Oil Mayo (lower in calories than traditional mayo), low fat sour cream, honey, poppy seeds and a can of mandarin oranges (canned in their own juice).

Orange Poppy Seed Dressing
– Dervied from this recipe

  • 3 tb. Mayonnaise
  • 3 tb. Low Fat Sour Cream
  • 1/4 cup Mandarin Orange Juice (poured straight from the can)
  • 1 tb. Honey
  • 2 tsp. poppy seeds

Whisk together well.

After I put together the dressing, I pulled out the rest of a rotisserie chicken that I bought at Sam’s Club yesterday.  I cut up about 8 oz. of chicken and poured about 2 Tb. of teriyaki sauce over it.  I stirred that together, then put it in a skillet to warm.

While the chicken was warming, I peeled 2 kiwis and chopped up some pineapple spears (also purchased at Sam’s).  I finished draining off the juice from the mandarin oranges.

Once the chicken was heated through, I pulled out a jar of lettuce and dumped it in a large plate.  I added dressing, 4 ounces of the chicken, half of the fruit and some of the dressing.

Here is the finished product:

 

My latest creation: a Fruity Salad with poppy seed dressing! (I think the picture would look more appetizing on a darker plate. Lots to learn about food photography!)

 

 

Just Checking In…

I said I’d post once a week to fill you in on my physical activity progress…

Friday, January 20th:  22 minute trail workout on the treadmill

Sunday, January 22: Stability Ball Workout

It’s a start.

Weekend Breakfast!

I love breakfast.  I especially love it when I have enough time to cook and be creative with it.  I can’t believe there was a time in my life when I skipped breakfast.   Even worse, I can’t believe there was a time in my life when I got my breakfast in a paper sack thrust at me through a drive-thru window!  Almost exclusively!  Good grief…what was I thinking?

For the past year, I have eaten breakfast at home almost every day.  Sadly, there have been a few days when I was running late for work and was forced to stop at a drive-through, but I didn’t like it.

For the past couple of months, I have been blessed to have someone with which to share those breakfast duties; my mother recently retired and she has been gracious enough to cook on many days.

This morning, I cooked.  I made my favorite high-protein pancakes with granola.  Instead of syrup, I topped with Biscoff Spread and finished the presentation with a sliced banana.

 

This stuff is fantastic!

This recipe is so easy and incredibly good.  I make it with rolled oats for fiber and good carbs, cottage cheese for protein and dairy, and egg whites for more protein.  A little baking powder makes them rise, and a little vanilla gives it extra flavor.  Sometimes I’ll have ham or bacon with the pancakes, but not today.  Today was all about the pancake!

It tasted as good as it looks!

 

Recipe

  • ½ cup rolled oats (uncooked)
  • ½ cup cottage cheese
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla

Place all ingredients into a blender (I used my Magic Bullet) and blend until smooth.  Spray a skillet with non-stick cooking spray and cook ¼ cup of the mixture at a time.  Sometimes I’ll sprinkle a tablespoon of granola on the top of the mixture wile the first side is cooking.

Wait until bubbles form over the entire surface of the pancake before flipping.  This recipe will make four or 5 filling pancakes.  I serve two at a time.

You can used your favorite syrup, but today I chose to use Biscoff Spread.  Peanut butter is good, too.  Tip:  it’s easier to spread the peanut butter or Biscoff if you warm it in the microwave until it’s pourable.

Enjoy!

Just LOOK at this!

Look at this!  Just look!

My current stash.

I am the world’s worst at buying a new gadget with the intentions of putting it to work for me.  Sometimes, it works out great.  Those gadgets are usually kitchen-oriented in nature.  On the other hand, I find myself spending a lot of money on other items that just gather dust because the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Exercise.  I hate it.  I don’t want to hate it.  I want to love it, but I can’t get past hating it in order to love it.

I have bought so many exercise “gadgets” over the past 25 years. It’s kind of scary, really.  I’ve joined gyms, thinking that if I have a place to go, I’ll go.  Nope.

I’ve bought new work-out clothes and shoes, thinking that if I looked the part, I’d BE the part.  Nope.

Back in the days of the VCR, I had Sweatin’ to the Oldies, volumes 1, 2 & 3.  I had other tapes as well.  Did I use them?  Rarely. I always felt so silly bouncing around the living room by myself.

My Walking collection.

I’ve bought rollerblades.  Nope.

I’ve bought weights and jump ropes.  Uhn-uh.

I’ve bought DVD’s.  No.

This box hasn't even been opened yet!

I bought a really great bike last year!  It’s sad, really.

BUT…

I have been at a plateau in my weight loss for 2 – 3 months.  I’m bouncing back and forth between 55 – 60 pounds lost, and it’s driving me crazy.

Neither has this one....

It’s time for an intervention.

I have to add some physical activity into my life.  There’s just no way around it.  It has to be done.  I’m not happy about it, but I have a goal, and that goal is to reach my goal weight this year, and if I don’t get back to losing, history shows that I’ll get back to gaining.

NO!

So, I am pledging to myself to start out doing 3 days per week of some type of physical activity.  I have lots of options from which to choose.  I’ll report weekly on what I did.  Being accountable to you, my readers, is the ONLY way I’m going to make it work for me.

Also, I have a running instructor scheduled to speak to our support group on April 4th with the goal of training those who attend for a 5K by September.  I fully plan to take part in that, too.

And that bike in our storage building?  We are going to get more acquainted come spring.

Who’s with me?

MYO – Freezer Lunch Entrees

I don’t know about you, but I have bought hundreds of Lean Cuisines, Smart Ones and Healthy Choice meals over the last 10 years.  I shudder to think about the amount of money that I’ve spent on them.  And, while they are generally OK, they are also generally lacking in both flavor and quantity.  The biggest selling point for me is that they are quick to prepare and come in a lot of varieties.

I recently decided to try my hand at making my own freezer lunches to see if it would save money.  The biggest bonus to me is that I know what’s in my food when I make it myself, but if I can save money too?  Jackpot!

One of my favorite Lean Cuisine dishes is the Santa Fe-Style Rice & Beans.  My main issue with this particular entrée is that it just doesn’t keep me satisfied long enough.   It needs more protein.

I decided to make my own version of this dish, but I needed to know what was in it so I could copy it. Here is the list of ingredients, copied from the Lean Cuisine website:

Ingredients:

BLANCHED ENRICHED LONG GRAIN PARBOILED RICE (WATER, RICE, IRON, NIACIN, THIAMIN MONONITRATE, FOLIC ACID), SKIM MILK, TOMATILLOS, WATER, ONIONS, BLACK BEANS, CORN, PINTO BEANS WITH WATER, ROASTED RED PEPPER PUREE, CHEDDAR CHEESE (CULTURED MILK, SALT, ENZYMES, ANNATTO COLOR), 2% OR LESS OF BUTTERMILK POWDER, GREEN CHILES AND CITRIC ACID, CHILE PEPPERS, DEHYDRATED SOUR CREAM (SOUR CREAM (CULTURED CREAM, NONFAT MILK)), MODIFIED CORNSTARCH, CILANTRO, SOYBEAN OIL, GARLIC PUREE, CULTURED WHEY, SALT, SPICES, JALAPENO PUREE (JALAPENO PEPPERS, SALT, ACETIC ACID AND CALCIUM CHLORIDE), BLEACHED WHEAT FLOUR, SUGAR, POTASSIUM CHLORIDE

This isn’t the worst ingredient list I’ve even seen.  Almost every item on there is recognizable.  However, I thought I could do a better job with much fewer ingredients.  I decided to use:

  • Chicken (extra protein!)
  • Salsa
  • Low-Fat Cream Cheese
  • Black Beans
  • Corn
  • Brown Rice

I started by putting my rice in the oven.  Yes!  I bake my rice.  It turns out beautifully every time, it doesn’t boil over and I don’t have to watch it.  I use Alton Brown’s method, which can be found here.

Put my rice in a baking dish...

...add water, butter and salt...

...cover with foil...

...and bake for one hour at 375 degrees.

While the rice was baking, I boiled the chicken in some water and gathered the rest of my ingredients and the reusable containers that I would need for freezing everything.

Once the chicken was done, I shredded it.  This was done very easily by putting it in my stand mixer.

What?  The Kitchen Aid?  What do you mean?

I read on Pinterest that putting hot chicken into a stand mixer with the paddle blade, then turning it on low for about 20 seconds, would yield perfectly shredded chicken.  This turned out to be completely true!  No more cutting, dicing or shredding with 2 forks!

Perfectly shredded cicken in 20 seconds!

With all my ingredients in place, it was very easy to open and drain the corn and beans.  You must also rinse those beans, or you’ll end up with a very ugly finished product.  The juice from black beans discolors everything!

Put the chicken, salsa, corn, beans and cream cheese into a medium pan.  Turn the heat on the lowest setting and allow the cream cheese to get soft enough to stir everything together.   Make sure you have all the ingredients mixed thoroughly.

Rinse those beans!

Add corn...

...salsa and cream cheese...

...and chicken.

After the rice bakes for an hour, it’s ready to pull out of the oven.  Fluff it with a fork and it’s ready to use…or eat!

I placed ½ cup of the rice and ¾ cup of the chicken mixture into each of my freezer containers and had a little bit of the chicken mixture left over.  I ended up with 7 complete meals.  Sometimes I’ll add some additional vegetables to the container for variety.

I'm controlling my portion size. I love it!

It’s time for the math:

If you can find frozen meals on sale, you’ll pay about $2 – $2.25 each.  That $14 – $15.75 for 7 meals.

I paid $12.22 for all the ingredients for my version.  That’s $1.75 each.

Proof of what I paid.

BUT WAIT!  There’s more!

For your $1.75, you also get chicken in your homemade version!  If I removed the chicken, my total for 7 meals reduces to $6.24, or .89 each.  In addition, I weighed the containers and found I get about 12 oz. of food per serving.  A typical frozen entrée from the grocery has 9 – 10.5 oz.

This MYO is a win:

  • Lower cost
  • Fewer ingredients
  • Better taste
  • Bigger quantity

They heat the same way as any other frozen entrée.  I take off the lid and nuke for 3:30, stir and nuke for an additional minute.  It turns out perfectly.

Right now, I do not know how long these meals will keep in the freezer.  They are not air-tight or vacuum-sealed, so the freezer shelf-life will be considerably shorter.  I would not advise making 50 of these at a time.

Next on the list…a spaghetti entree!

Something for Nothing – MYO

I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone that we use a lot of jars in my house.  Canning food is only half the job…we also eat from our jars on almost a daily basis.  Because of this, the stock has to be rotated to make sure that we are using the oldest items first and also to make sure that we haven’t forgotten what we have.  This actually happens to me often because some of my full jars are stored behind closed doors.

This weekend I was rotating stock and putting away empty jars and ran upon 2 boxes of potatoes that I’d forgotten about.  These were from my harvest back in August, so they have been sitting around for 5 months or so.  They were pretty scary looking, so I decided to just go ahead and use them up.

 

These were left over from the harvest back in August. It was definitely time to use them!

 

They are kind of pretty, in a weird sort of way.

 

I started by peeling them.  My mother started feeling sorry for me after awhile, and she started helping.

Thanks, Mom!

Then I put them on to boil for a few minutes.  I knew that no matter what I made, the potatoes would need to be cooked to some degree first.  I pulled out my 16-quart pot and it was nearly full!

 

I had enough to nearly fill my biggest pot!

 

After letting the potatoes cook for a few minutes, I pulled out some of the bigger ones to cool because I had plans for those and knew they needed to be cooled off completely before I could use them.

These will be used later on...

For my first dish, I decided to make mashed potatoes.  I filled my Kitchen Aid bowl nearly full, added in some butter, low-fat sour cream, low-fat cream cheese and half & half. I put the paddle in place and turned on the mixer.  I left the potatoes somewhat chunky….because that’s the way I like them!

No boring mashed potatoes for me! Spice 'em up!

I salted and peppered and onion powdered the potatoes according to my taste, and then I measured out what I had.  I figured up the nutritional values and packaged according to the amount we’d need per meal.  I ended up with nine bags (2 servings in each bag) of mashed potatoes for the freezer, and enough left over for supper (Sheppard’s Pie) that night!

Nine bags for the freezer.

Next, I decided that some cheesy-potato soup was in order.   I poured off all but about 3 cups of the water remaining in the pot with the potatoes and put it back on the stove.  I turned on the heat, got out the manual potato masher and went to work.  I broke apart the spuds and by doing so, had a thick and creamy base for my soup.

Mmmm...

I added a can of succotash, a can of chili-ready tomatoes, a small block of low-fat Velveeta (yes, I know Velveeta isn’t REAL cheese!), chicken broth and seasonings.  Before I knew it, I had a very nice and filling soup.  Again, I added up the nutritional information and packaged according to the serving size I knew I’d need per meal.

Enough soup to last awhile!

I had 11 containers of soup…9 went to the freezer and 2 went into the fridge to be eaten for lunches this week.

Finally, I had my cooled potatoes to use.  I knew that I wanted to make hash browns, so I pulled out my food processor with the shredding blade.  I shredded and realized that I had let my potatoes cook a little too long because they got a little gummy in the shredding process.  I didn’t let that stop me, though.

Shredded and ready for packaging.

I processed, measured and packaged my hash browns.  I ended up with 11 bags (2 servings in each bag) for the freezer and enough for my breakfast one day this week.

Breakfast, anyone?

So, let’s do the math.  I had EVERYTHING on hand that I needed, so I didn’t make a special trip to the store, which saved time and gas.  The potatoes were FREE and from my own garden.

I’m not going to count seasonings in with my totals because I don’t know how much I used and the cost would be negligible anyway, so why bother?

I used (prices approximated):

¼ cup LF Sour Cream                     .30

½ block LF Cream Cheese              .50

1 cup Half & Half                               .60

1 Tb. Butter                                         .20

1 8 oz. package of LF Velveeta      3.00

1 can of spiced tomatoes                  .90

1 can of succotash                              .90

2 cups chicken broth                         .80

1 onion                                                 .25

1 stalk of celery                                   .10

Total:                                             7.55

I spent less than $8 for 18 servings of mashed potatoes, 11 servings of soup and 22 servings of hash browns!  That is .15 per serving!

Something for nothing?  Almost……