Budget-friendly crock pot meals

Budget-friendly crock pot meals

By: Leanne Ely

 

It seems like the more you do to feed your family properly, the harder it is to keep the grocery budget in check.

Using the crock cooker is a great way to stretch a dollar for several reasons.

• You can use tougher, less expensive cuts of meat
• Traditional crock cooker meals like chili and soup tend to go a long way
• The convenience of this appliance saves you from spending money on take out
• Crock cookers use less electricity than stoves

Today, I’m going to share some tips with you to help you save even more money with this beloved kitchen appliance.

Make your own stock. If you know me at all, you know I’m pretty big on making stock. With a slow cooker, you shouldn’t ever have to buy canned or boxed broth again. Simply save up bones (I keep one zipper bag for chicken bones and one for beef), trimmings and juices from your roasts and freeze them until you have enough to fill your crock pot about half full. When you have enough, put them in the crock pot, fill the crock 3/4 full with water and let it cook on LOW for 8 hours or so. Then, you can use this homemade broth in your crock cooker recipes and for other uses.

Cook more than you need. Buy a very large, inexpensive chuck roast. Even if it’s much more than your family needs—as long as it will fit in your crock pot, bring it home with you. Put it in the crock pot, fill the crock cooker half way with water (which I would do only for cheap cuts of meat), and let it cook on LOW for 8 hours. Portion the meat and use it throughout the week in lunches and dinners. You can even freeze some of the meat to take out later in the month.

Buy from the Clean 15 list. Even if you make an effort to buy organic whenever possible, you can save a little bit of money on your grocery bill. Use crock cooker recipes that call for ingredients from the Clean 15 instead of the Dirty Dozen list so you can buy the less expensive, conventionally grown option over organic. (You can learn more about the Clean 15 at ewg.org by the way.) Many Clean 15 items are great for slow cooking, including onions, sweet potatoes and cabbage.

If you’re coming up short on crock cooker meal inspiration, are you in luck!

We have a great promo going on right now on our Crock Cooker Classic and Paleo Menus. Find out more here!

Budget Crock Cooker Ideas

Herbaliciousness! (I’ll explain…)

Herbaliciousness! (I’ll explain…)

By: Leanne Ely

 

When I’m looking at a big rack of dried herbs in the grocery store, I often think of dollar bills chopped up and put into bags. For many dried herbs, you might as well just chop up a few dollar bills and sprinkle them on your food for the amount of flavor they add to anything! (Dried parsley? I don’t think so!)

Fresh herbs are used very frequently in my home. I use them in my salads (chop some fresh dill into a bowl of greens and you may never want to eat it any other way ever again!), my soups, with my roast meats, chicken dishes, sauces and the list goes on and on and on.

Fresh herbs don’t only taste great, but many of these fantastic aromatic little green wonders are just packed with nutrition. Sage, rosemary and thyme are much more than just a Simon and Garfunkel hit! These herbs are extremely healthy for you.

herbs1

Fresh herbs: the basics

Fresh herbs add a certain something to your dishes that you just can’t duplicate with the dried variety. Once you start you won’t want to go back!

Cooking with fresh herbs can be intimidating at first, but it’s really pretty simple. You figure out which herbs go best with your favorite dishes, and you go from there!

But where do you start?

How about by learning which herbs go with what foods! Here’s a cheat sheet for you:

Basil: Amazing on pizza! Basil is almost peppery in flavor, it’s very fragrant and has a wonderful spicy bite to it. Basil almost a must for any dish containing tomatoes. The little leaves at the top of the bunch will be the sweetest.

Dill: Your fish will never the the same again! This grassy herb with its feathery leaves is often paired with fish dishes and it’s amazing in a vinaigrette.

Mint: If you plant your own mint be VERY careful. It is a prolific plant that can easily overtake your entire garden. It’s wonderful in beverages, with lamb and with peas. It’s also nice to chew on to freshen your breath!

Oregano: This wonderful earthy herb is a must for pizza but it’s also fabulous on eggs! Oregano is the one herb that is actually just as good dried as it is fresh.

Parsley: Parsley is great for everything from freshening your breath to chopping into salads, hummus, guacamole, soup – pretty much anything, really! It lends a nice freshness to anything you put it on. But the dried version? A waste of money.

Thyme: This citrusy herb is wonderful with seafood, poultry and many Mediterranean dishes. Here’s a tip for you! It’s a pain to tear off the tiny little leaves from their woody stems so use fork tines to strip them!

Sage: Another easy one to grow at home, this aromatic herb is just wonderful with duck, turkey and sausage.

Rosemary: One of my favorites, rosemary has a flavor that’s almost like pine. It’s wonderful in meat, soups, stews and even breads.

Cilantro: This one seems to be loved or hated! Popular in Mexican, Asian and Indian cooking, cilantro looks like flat leaf parsley but it’s much different in flavor. Some describe it as tasting soapy!

When you bring your herbs home from the store, rinse them in cold water to remove any dirt or bugs (hey, when you buy organic, it happens!). Store them in water in the fridge, covered with a plastic bag and they should keep for a few days. This method does NOT work with basil. Instead, put it in water and leave it on your counter.

PS – The 21 Day Knock Out is happening!!! I’ll sneak you in, but you gotta come right now!!

Perpetual Salad! (love this idea!)

Perpetual Salad! (love this idea!)

By: Leanne Ely

 

I don’t know about you, but I have a really hard time buying produce that I can easily grow myself. At my house, we eat a lot of salad. As many of you know, I serve a large green salad with almost every meal that goes on the table. All of those heads of lettuce can add up!

So, I recently started looking into some ways to grow my own lettuce indoors and I thought I would share what I’m learning with y’all.

All you need is:

• A large round pot, about 6 inches deep (or a container of some sort with roughly the same depth)
• Organic potting soil (look for the kind with perlite in it—thats those little round white balls)
• Mesclun mix seeds (or whatever lettuce you like best)
• Water
• A sunny window

You’ll need a window that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. If your lettuce doesn’t get enough sun, it will get tall and spindly and that isn’t what you want.

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To grow your lettuce:

1. Fill your container to the halfway mark with soil. You can sprinkle some fertilizer on there if you want to. Moisten the soil and sprinkle a couple pinches of seeds on top. Sprinkle a little more soil over the seeds and spritz the surface with more water.

2. Water daily and keep the pot in the sun or under a grow light. The seeds should sprout up in about seven days and your first harvest should be ready in about a month.

To harvest your lettuce:

After you cut your lettuce the first time (leave the growing crowns alone!), you’ll only have to wait another two weeks for a fresh crop.

And it’s pretty much just that easy!

Fresh lettuce greens are just the best, aren’t they?

PS – The 21 Day Knock Out starts TODAY!!! I’ll sneak you in, but you gotta come right now!!

 

Good oil/bad oil. Now you’ll know the difference.

Good oil/bad oil. Now you’ll know the difference.

By: Leanne Ely

 

There is a good deal of confusion around which oils are good for cooking and which are not.

Fat is essential for human health. We need fat in our diets for hormone health, cell building, energy, and even for keeping our skin in good shape. There are certain vitamins (A, D, E and K) that require fat to help us absorb them as well.

Unfortunately, however, the average American’s diet today is high in poor quality fats, specifically, vegetable oils. Vegetable oils are relatively new to the human diet (within the past hundred years or so), and they are actually doing more harm than good in the human body. Especially when they are used in cooking.

Canola oil, corn oil and margarine are all examples of vegetable oils that increase inflammation and free radical damage in the body.

The majority of your fat intake should be coming from healthy oils like coconut and olive oil (the main two oils I personally use), and whole foods like avocados, salmon, grass fed animals, nuts and seeds.

With all the oils that look up at you from store shelves, which one should you use for what so that you get the most that you can out of those good fats?

Different sorts of cooking oil, close-up

Good Fats

• Coconut oil
• Olive oil
• Avocado oil
• Fish oils
• Walnut oil
• Macadamia nut oil
• Grass-fed butter
• Ghee
• Flax oil (but needs to be kept refrigerated and is very unstable so not recommended)

Fats to avoid

• Margarine and other artificial trans fats
• Vegetable oils
• Oils made from GMO grains
• Grape seed oil (it’s very high in Omega 6 fatty acids which we need to be consuming less of)

You want to cook with stable cooking oils like avocado oil and coconut oil.

EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) should never be heated up because doing so not only destroys the benefits of the olive oil, but it can also turn that healthy oil into a damaging trans fat that will actually harm your health.

This may be the first time you’ve heard of there being a significant difference between olive oil and extra virgin olive oil. EVOO is what you get after the first press of the olive. The result is a rich, pungent oil, best for drizzling over salads or breads.

When the oil is pressed multiple times, you have a lighter oil that is best for cooking. The more the olives are pressed, the lighter the oil.

I wouldn’t recommend cooking with nut oils, they’re so expensive they aren’t really a reasonable option anyway. Flax is excellent for you, but I don’t recommend buying it in a liquid oil form because of how unstable it is. It goes rancid very quickly.

At the end of the day, you need to know that vegetable oil is to be avoided at all costs (margarine, canola oil, corn oil). Save those fancy nut and seed oils for salad dressings and use coconut oil, avocado oil, ghee for cooking.

Did you know you are allowed good fats on our NEW 21 Day Knockout? Check it out here!

My 7 Favorite Anti-Inflammatory Foods

My 7 Favorite Anti-Inflammatory Foods

By: Leanne Ely

 

While getting regular exercise and reducing the amount of stress in your life are key components to reducing the inflammation in your body, we can also add certain anti-inflammatory foods to our diet, (all the while cutting out sugar and processed food), to optimize our health.

The following seven foods are anti-inflammatory super heroes and you should eat them frequently, or at least three-four times per week:

7-foods-to-lower-inflammation-in-your-body

1. Cold water fish. Cold water fish like wild salmon, cod, sardines, haddock and sole are all high in fats that have great anti-inflammatory properties. Keyword: WILD (skip the farm raised)

2. Vegetables. Surprise! Vegetables are good for you. However, most North Americans aren’t getting enough plants into their diets. You should be eating at least 8 or 9 servings of veggies every day. That means you should have vegetables with each meal. Make them bright and colorful, and leafy and green!

3. Seeds and nuts. Walnuts, sesame seeds and almonds all contain omega-3 fats that reduce inflammation.

4. Fruit and berries. Blueberries, pineapple, raspberries, cherries, strawberries and apples are all examples of fruits that may help reduce inflammation within the body.

5. Turmeric and other herbs and spices. Turmeric, ginger, garlic, basil, oregano—take your pick because all of those herbs and spices are very very high in nutrients and fight inflammation. Try chopping a bunch of herbs and combining with garlic and olive oil for an anti-inflammatory meat marinade!

6. Chocolate. Every once in a while some good chocolate is a great thing to eat. I’m talking about chocolate that’s at least 70% pure cocoa and no more than one ounce at a time. Make sure it’s organic!

7. Green Tea. Whether it’s hot or cold, green tea sort of acts like a liquid vegetable, putting up an inflammatory fight within your body. And please make sure that tea is organic.

Now that you know what foods you should eat to reduce that inflammation, here’s what you should avoid!

The top foods to avoid in order to reduce inflammation:

• Margarine and other trans fats
• White flour
• Sugar
• Deep fried foods
• Excessive alcohol

As you know, anti-inflammatory foods have been a hot topic lately here at Saving Dinner.  That’s a big reason why we added the Autoimmune Menu, which is high in anti-inflammatory foods, to Dinner Answers!   Click here to learn more

 

Red, yellow, green or orange?

Red, yellow, green or orange?

By: Leanne Ely

 

Not all bell peppers are created equal. First there are the colors – red, orange, yellow, and green are the most common. Second is the flavor – from sweet to hot. It is all from the same plant. The only difference is when they are picked. As the pepper gets riper, it gets not only a better taste, but it also gets more nutritive value. A red pepper is actually a fully ripened green pepper with a milder flavor.

Red Yellow and Green Bell Peppers Vegetable Stall Display

Here’s Today’s Trick:

Bell peppers freeze well without being blanched, but it is better to wash them first. For maximum flavor and nutritional value, store them whole. Sweet peppers lend themselves well to drying and keep at least 1 year when dried. They are also good marinated.

Here’s a Tip:

Red pepper has more vitamin C than oranges and are also high in beta-carotene.

And your Recipe:

Chicken Verde Fajitas
Serves 6

ASSEMBLE:
Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds green tomatillos, husks removed
1/2 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 medium limes, juiced
2 small jalapeño peppers, seeded and diced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 pounds bone-in chicken breasts
2 tablespoons cumin
3 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons paprika
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
1 green bell pepper, sliced

To assemble:
Preheat broiler to high.

Slice the tomatillos in half lengthwise, and place cut-side down in a baking dish. Roast under the broiler 6 to 8 minutes, until skin takes on a darker color. Remove from the oven and let cool.

In a food processer, add cooled tomatillos, chopped onion, garlic, lime juice, jalapeños, salt, pepper, and cilantro. Blend until a puree is formed. Pour this mixture into a small freezer bag, remove excess air, and seal.

In a small mixing bowl, mix together cumin, chili powder, and paprika. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over chicken breasts. Place seasoned chicken in a freezer bag, remove excess air, and seal.

In a final freezer bag, place sliced onion and bell peppers, remove excess air, and seal.

To prevent freezer burn, place the filled bag in a second 1-gallon freezer bag; carefully squeeze the bag to force out any air, then seal. On the outside of the bag, label with the recipe name and date of preparation; place it in the freezer

THAW:

Defrost your freezer meal the night before in the fridge. If you don’t have a full thaw at cooking time, remove it from the holding bag and place it in a sink of water to speed-thaw your food. New rules allow for thawing in hot water (100 degrees) with no issues regarding quality or safety (old rules said to use cold water for thawing, but this is no longer necessary – hot water is fast, effective and safe).

COOK:

At time of cooking ingredients:
2 ripe avocados, sliced
1 head romaine lettuce

Cooking instructions:

In a large crock cooker, add half of the tomatillo puree. Place chicken breasts on top of tomatillo puree. Add all vegetables and the rest of the tomatillo puree.

Cover and cook on high for 4 hours until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from crock cooker. With two forks, remove chicken from bone and shred. Return chicken to crock cooker and mix well.

Serve in romaine lettuce cups topped with fresh avocado.

Dinner Answers will give you what you need to get all your meals on the table, pronto. Click here!

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