The Hail Mary Dinner

 

The “Hail Mary” Dinner. You know the one I speak of.

When you get home from your kids’ activities at 6:30pm and realize you don’t really have the time or the ingredients to make a substantial dinner.

I used to feel so smug because when everyone else was posting and complaining about Mondays, I was this stay-at-home / work-at-home mom and Monday was just another day for me. But now all 3 of our kids have dance on Monday nights which means our Monday afternoon schedule looks like this:
2:30pm – Get B&C changed into dance clothes, double-check A’s bag to ensure she has everything she needs; pack snacks for everyone and water or coffee for myself.
3:00pm – Leave and pick up A from school
3:30pm – Arrive at dance studio and help A change; do her hair up in a bun
4:00pm – A’s Tap & Jazz class; C usually naps so B & I sit in the car for awhile
4:30pm – Go inside and have snack
5:00pm – A has Ballet; B&C have Pre-Ballet; I work, read, or chat with parents
5:45pm – B&C finish class; go downstairs & get everyone into outdoor clothes; possibly read a book; collect all bags and miscellaneous STUFF
6:00pm – A finishes class & changes; we all head out to car
6:25pm – Arrive at home; make & eat dinner; homework
7:15pm – Start bedtime routine
7:30pm – Tuck-in Time
8:00pm – BED! A will sometimes stay up to read quietly in bed until 8:30

You can see why it takes ALL MY ENERGY to get through Monday afternoons. This past Monday I used some peppermint & wild orange oil aromatically and it actually gave me an energy boost better than the coffee ever does. (Yes, there’s an oil for that!!)

Which brings me to… The Hail Mary Dinner I whipped up yesterday.

I opened up the cabinets & fridge to see….
Nothing.
Nada.
Zip.
Zilch.
…at least that would be quick and nutritious.

But what did I have?!? Some egg noodles, some leftover chicken, some leftover veggies, and a cookbook. I figured I could whip up a simple sauce/gravy and throw all the stuff together. Kind of a deconstructed casserole, if you will. Sure, we’ll go with that.

So I got the water going for the noodles, pulled out my Betty Crocker cookbook, and opened it to the Sauces section. “Basic White Sauce.” PERFECT! Here’s how to make it:
In a small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter.
Add 2 tablespoons flour and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined and the lumps are gone.
Gradually add 1 1/2 cups milk, stirring all the while.
Season with salt & pepper, and heat over medium high heat until it starts bubbling.
Continue cooking until sauce thickens.
Because it was so bland, I added some garlic and onion powder to taste.

While the sauce thickened, I reheated and cut up the chicken into bite size pieces, and reheated the leftover veggies in the microwave. I cooked the noodles and added a pat or two of butter, stirring until melted & mixed.

I added the chicken into the sauce.
I spooned the noodles into bowls.
I sprinkled some veggies over the noodles.
I scooped the chicken sauce over the noodles, and….
BAM! DINNER!

 

HailMary dinner

It was actually pretty good! Thankfully, the chicken was well-seasoned, so when I mixed it with the bland sauce, it was perfect. The kids gobbled it right up. To be fair, they probably would’ve eaten anything at that point, since they were so hungry.

Regardless, it boosted my confidence that I could create a real meal in a pinch without too much trouble. (PS. Leftovers make an excellent lunch the next day.)

HAIL MARY

 

When have you made a delicious dinner in a pinch? What did you make?

Simple, All-Natural DIY Eye Makeup Remover

Something you should know about me: I’m picky about my eye makeup remover.

I found one that I absolutely love, but the thing is, it’s the only thing I’m ordering from this one online company. And the shipping is just as much as the product itself. I’ve been looking for alternatives for over a year.

I’ve tried the little makeup wipes. But they dry out quickly and I have to rub SO. HARD. to actually get my makeup off that my eyes hurt afterwards.

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I’ve tried other brands too. But most of them sting when I use them. Newsflash, manufacturer: putting something in your eye makeup remover that makes user’s eyes sting does not generate repeat business.

I’ve even tried kinds that just plain don’t work. They leave black streaks all over my face and I feel like I’m pulling my eyelashes out from rubbing so hard. Not pleasant.

So since I was running low on my favorite eye makeup remover, and I’m practically a total pro at DIY stuff now (ha!), I figured it was time to take a risk and make my own.

I did and guess what?? IT’S AWESOME!
1. It actually removes my makeup (imagine that!)
2. I don’t have to abuse my eyes
3. It doesn’t sting
4. It’s not super greasy
5. It’s simple, easy, affordable – actually, CHEAP even.
6. Now that I have the ingredients on hand (OHI!), I can just make a new batch whenever I run out! No more waiting for shipping! HOORAY!

Now before you go getting all, “There’s no way I can make a homemade eye makeup remover” or “I don’t even know where to get this stuff! It’s probably only in a specialty store” just remember who is writing this right now. I’m still the mama that shops at Meijer using mPerks. 😉

The thing I was most concerned about finding was the Vitamin E oil. But Meijer had a whole bunch of sizes for me to choose from in their skin care aisle. Right next to all the other face washes and lotions and stuff.

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I got the one all the way to the right. PS, did you know Vitamin E oil smells REALLY good??

The purified water I got from a regular ol’ water bottle. Yes, the kind you drink from. 😀

I purchased a 3-pack of travel-size dispenser bottles at the dollar store a few months ago that had so far gone unused. I pulled one out to mix this in. So the container was about $.33.

The rest of the ingredients are as follows:
25 mL (5 tsp) Vitamin E oil
10mL (2tsp) Fractionated Coconut oil
30mL (6 tsp) Purified Water
7 drops Lavender essential oil
7 drops Frankincense essential oil
5 drops Geranium essential oil

All you have to do is measure the ingredients, pour into the container, and shake! If you’re wondering how I measured, here’s your answer:

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Yes – One of those little plastic cups you get with your kids’ cough syrup. That you probably don’t buy anymore if you’ve converted to essential oils, because you’ve discovered the Cough Bomb and no longer need it. 😉

Your eyes will be moisturized, clean, and receive the added benefits of lavender, geranium, & frankincense oils (anti-aging and anti-inflammatory, to name a few).

Now remember to shake it up every time before you use it. I actually had to do this with the brand of remover that I used to purchase, so to me it was an indicator of an effective product, even before using it.

Happy DIY-ing! (Wow I never thought I would be typing THAT on my blog 🙂

I’m loyal to one specific essential oil company, because I’ve found their purity stands far above the rest, and their educational support is second to none. To learn which one is my favorite, use my contact form and I’ll reply with details.

Baked Brie with Orange Cranberry

I have never been really good at finger foods or fancy appetizers. My idea of hors d’oeuvres is mini hot dogs rolled up in Pillsbury crescent rolls. (Let’s be honest, I actually use the generic crescent rolls!)

Well guess what??? I found a really fancy looking, pretty, delicious “hors d’oeuvres”. And it’s EASY too!

Simply buy a round chunk of Brie cheese and cut the rind off the top. Then bake it in the oven for about 10 minutes, and put a mixture of cranberries with wild orange essential oil on top, bake it for another 5 minutes, and serve it all melty and amazing with crackers!

So officially you will need:
1 can cranberries (whole cranberry sauce, not the stuff that is the shape of the can when it comes out)
1 round of Brie
2 drops Wild Orange essential oil
Pecans for garnish (optional)

Check out this link which is where I originally got the recipe!

I’m loyal to one specific essential oil company, because I’ve found their purity stands far above the rest, and their educational support is second to none. To learn which one is my favorite, use my contact form and I’ll reply with details.

Chocolate Peppermint Pie

Choc Pepp Pie

So, as I referenced in my previous post about preserving & ‘marinating’ apples while making apple pie, my family celebrates Pie Night.

This year I wanted to make something new along with my usual apple pie. I searched and searched until I found an acceptable starting point for a chocolate peppermint pie. Then I put my own twist on it. I wasn’t sure how it was going to come out, but let me tell you, I wish I had made TWO! I will next year, that’s for sure. This is simply delicious, and also very easy and not a whole lot of actual hands-on time. Maybe 20 minutes to make everything, then 2 hours chilling in the fridge. Also you need to chill your whipped-cream-making equipment in the freezer or fridge. Just a heads up, because this isn’t really in chronological order. Caution: Read the recipe all the way through before you start! 🙂
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The easiest way to think of it, for me, is that there are 4 parts or layers to this pie. Here’s the breakdown, from the bottom up!

Step 1, Crust: Start with your crust. I bought an Oreo Cookie Crust from the store. Because I’ve tried to make a homemade Oreo crust and it is not pretty. Nope. So I didn’t even stress about it this time. Make your life easier: just get a store-bought one. Done? Okay, let’s move on 🙂

Step 2, Middle Layer: In a saucepan, pour 1 package (4-serving size) chocolate pudding and pie mix. What this is not: Instant Jell-O mix. What this is: a box that looks almost exactly like the instant pudding mix, but it says “pudding and pie mix” on it instead.
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Stir together with 1 1/4 cups milk and cook as directed on package. *NOTE: the package says to use 2 cups milk. Don’t.* Once it starts to thicken, turn the heat to low and add in 1 cup Hershey Special Dark Chocolate chips (or other brand) until they are melted and all the lumps are gone, stirring constantly. Add in 1-3 drops of peppermint oil (again, to your taste). Set aside to cool.

Step 3, Top Layer: This is your homemade whipped cream. MM! First chill your bowl (stainless steel works best) and beaters in the freezer for about 10 minutes or so. A little more is better but not necessary. I like to use my hand mixer to make whipped cream, even though you can’t multitask like you can with a stand mixer, because I have a better handle (ha! literally, I do – no pun intended) on the whipped cream. I can tell if the consistency is right or if I need to whip it longer. And that’s the hardest part – knowing how long to whip, and when to stop. So once you have that down, you’re golden – this is a CINCH. Measure 1 cup heavy cream into a bowl. Beat on low at first for 1-2 minutes, then at medium speed, and whip together with 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 2 Tablespoons powdered sugar. That’s it. It pretty much whips itself. It’s finished when the cream forms peaks. Cool, huh? Did you ever know that making homemade whipped cream could be this easy? 🙂 Now set aside.

Step 4, Bottom Layer: Your bottom layer is going to be almost like a cheesecake. You need 4 ounces of cream cheese (softened) and 1/2 cup powdered sugar. Beat them together with about 7-10 drops of peppermint essential oil. This stuff is strong, so start with 7 drops, and then add one at a time until you reach your desired pepperminty-ness. 😉 Fold in 1/3 cup of your homemade whipped cream. Now add a few tablespoons of Andes baking mints. I used about 3. Again, start with 2, then add another if you feel like you want more for texture. Use a baking spatula to scoop this mixture into the Oreo crust, then smooth into an even layer. Do this carefully and be mindful that you don’t break up the Oreo crust!

Step 5: Again using the Spatula, spread the chocolate mixture over top of the cream cheese layer.

Step 6: Spread the Whipped Cream over top of the Chocolate layer.

Now for garnish and crunch, you can add more Andes mints to the top of the pie:

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This is the only picture I have. Because it was eaten too fast to get any others! 🙂

Now dig in! And try not to eat more than one piece 😉

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Next year, I’m making TWO.

PS – if you have leftover whipped cream, use it to top off this Peppermint Mocha!! (At least… that’s what I do … 🙂 )

 *Note: if you don't have peppermint oil, you can use peppermint extract - but since my OHI was peppermint oil, I used that instead. Plus, it's more potent drop for drop and completely natural. See the original recipe (link above) for details. I also omitted the food coloring so everything was more natural and homemade.
I’m loyal to one specific essential oil company, because I’ve found their purity stands far above the rest and their educational support is second to none. To learn which one is my favorite, use my contact form and I’ll reply with details.

Crock Pot Chicken Tacos

I know I haven’t been super consistent with this series, but… it’s Crock Pot Wednesday!

I’ve seen lots of recipes floating around out there for chicken tacos in the crock pot, but most of them used a lot of store-bought ingredients. So I waited for the right time, when sales and time were on my side, and cooked this up! (See what I did there? 😉

What you’ll Need
Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs*
1 can diced tomatoes with chilies
1 batch Cassie’s Homemade Taco Seasonings (measured in teaspoons)
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*More often than not, the thighs are sold with bone-in and skin on. These were miraculously on sale one day and I knew it was perfect for this recipe:
#1. I like the thigh meat better – it’s more tender and juicy, and it’s also usually cheaper.
#2. I didn’t want to worry about pulling bones out of the crock pot, or worrying if there was a small bone mixed in with my child’s taco. If you can’t find the boneless skinless variety, you could probably skin them yourself and pick the bones out when it’s finished. But I was feeling lazy ;
)

This one’s really simple. Just put your chicken in the crock pot, season with some salt, and pour the taco seasonings over top.
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Use a pastry brush to spread across the surface area of all the chicken. Use a tongs to lift chicken thighs up and get the seasonings underneath as well.
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Then add the can of tomatoes & chilies and a thin layer of water (I think I used too much because I had to use a slotted spoon to remove my meat later – but use your discretion).
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Set on low for 6 hours. Or, since I was short on time but didn’t want my chicken to be overcooked, I set it on high for the first hour and a half, then separated the meat a bit, and then set on low for the last 2-3 hours. To separate the meat, just take a metal spoon or a flat wooden spatula and poke at the chicken until the pieces fall apart. It will be pretty easy.

Here’s what it looked like with the chicken separated and cooking up in the juices:
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If you have older kids that are in lots of activities, or if you and your hubby have opposite schedules one night, this is a great meal to make, because you can prep everything, and leave the crock pot to “Keep warm”. This way everyone can eat when they’re ready.

Then serve it on up with your favorite taco fixins! We use whole wheat tortillas, sour cream, salsa, limes, Mexican cheese, and I also made homemade guacamole (if you’ve read this recipe before, check it out again – I changed something that I completely forgot was the most important ingredient!).

Now wait, that’s not all… because tomorrow I’m sharing a REALLY good Second Meal using the leftover chicken!

Happy cooking!

Herb & Spice Rubbed Pork Loin

I tried a new spice rub tonight. I combined a few flavors I like, but honestly was taking a risk — I had no idea if they’d be good together. This is another example of me trying to be healthier – making my own seasonings instead of using store-bought, pre-packaged options with lots of preservatives.

Well, it was worth the risk!! The crust on the pork was a little sweet, a little spicy, a little salty. The pork was perfectly tender and juicy. Just look…

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The only thing I might change next time is to stud it with garlic cloves. Because, Yum! You can’t really go wrong with garlic.

Here’s the recipe for the rub:
2 Tblspn Ground coffee
2 Tblspn Brown Sugar
1 3/4 Tblspn Kosher Salt
1 Heaping Tblspn Thyme
1 Tblspn Oregano
3/4 Tblspn Garlic Powder
1/2 Tblspn Crushed Red Pepper
15 Turns of the grinder of Fresh Ground Black Pepper

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Combine in a bowl and whisk to mix

The pork loin I bought was just under 4 lbs. There was some rub left, so if you have a smaller loin, I’d half the recipe.

To prepare the pork, first pat dry with paper towels. Then, if you like, trim some fat off using a sharp knife.

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Fat adds flavor and keeps it tender, so don’t remove ALL of it.

Then begin to add the rub. I like to kind of pour it out of the bowl first…

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Then I use a large pastry brush to spread it and cover the entire surface of the pork, starting in the middle and working out to each side. Then flip it over onto or into your baking dish so the fat side is down (I used a sheet pan covered with aluminum foil for easy cleanup, but I’ve also used a glass dish). Repeat the rub process on the other side.

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After the flip, before applying the rub.

Make sure you cover all the sides as well.

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Completely rubbed pork

I let mine sit for 45 minutes or so in the fridge and then put it in an oven preheated to 350°. Bake for an hour, and then let rest for 10 minutes.

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Look at those yummy juices!

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Sliced, juicy, and tender after letting it rest

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Delicious rub! So much flavor

I’ll definitely be making this again. I served it with applesauce and steamed spinach. Nearly everyone had seconds, and I’ll use what is leftover for my Minezole soup tomorrow!

Happy Cooking!!

Quick Tip – Peeling Garlic

For awhile I’d heard this rumor that if you put a head of garlic in between two stainless steel bowls and shake it violently, it would remove the skin.

Sounds a little unreliable, don’t you think? Like, too good to be true?

I finally did try it, and guess what? It worked! And it’s so simple! Just put that garlic in between the bowls, and shake it like a Polaroid picture (Shake it! Shake, shake it!)… Okay, not really – more like a bartender shakes a drink mixer.

I did have to do this 3 times before it removed ALL the skin. So each time I separated the bowls to check on the garlic, I put the skin in one bowl and the garlic cloves in the other:

Separate the peel from the cloves, throw away the peel, and start again

Separate the peel from the cloves, throw away the peel, and start again

After 3 shaking sessions about 10-20 seconds each, I ended with this beautiful sight:

All cloves were free of peel!

All cloves were free of peel!

Now, if I only need 1 or 2 cloves, I probably wouldn’t use this method as it takes more time and effort than it’s worth; you should definitely wash the bowls to remove any residual oils or small pieces of peel. But when you need lots of cloves (I was studding a beef roast with them) it’s definitely a time saver. And it keeps your hands clean of that sticky garlic residue!

Plus, who doesn’t love a built-in workout? 😉

Semi-related articles: How & When to Plant Garlic and 5 Ways to Grow Garlic (because I want to this year!)

OHI Chicken Pasta

This is Meal #7 of the meal plan using chicken breast.

This is another version of my Second Meal pasta, with a twist!

What We’re Repurposing:
Chicken, sauce, veggies from Spinach Artichoke Chicken
*If you have broccoli leftover from our Baked Chicken meal, you can use that here as well.

You’ll also need:
1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced (make half-moon shapes)
Half an onion, chopped
Your choice bell pepper, diced (one or multiple colors)
1 can diced tomatoes in juice/sauce
1 jar pasta sauce (whatever flavor you like – the kinds with seasonings are best for flavor)
Whole Wheat Pasta (use the same shape you used in Chicken Noodle Soup)
Olive Oil
*OPTIONAL: Alfredo sauce (you can also substitute a couple splashes of half & half) – use this if you want more creaminess than the Spinach Artichoke Chicken gives you

Here are the pasta sauces I used this time:
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For this dish, I like to get the kinds with more veggies (in this case, mushrooms) and that already have seasonings (the roasted garlic). The point of this meal is that it’s quick, easy to throw together, and flavorful – even though it’s not a long process. So pick flavors that you like. Also, since we’re using the spinach artichoke chicken, you won’t need as much of the Alfredo sauce. Actually, you can replace the Alfredo sauce with whatever sauce is left from the Spinach Artichoke Chicken, and mix the spinach and artichokes in as well. Extra veggies! And one less ingredient, but with the same effect.
*Disclaimer: When I was working my way through this meal plan, I planned to make the Spinach Artichoke Chicken but ran out of time one day (See? Told’ya I’m not perfect! :), so I ended up just baking up another batch of chicken. In the pictures you’ll see plain ol’ baked chicken instead of the Spinach Artichoke chicken. 

First, cook your noodles. (There are tips here if you need them.) Prep your veggies and start your sauce while the noodles are cooking. Drain water from noodles and set aside.

Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Toss your veggies in pan, and let them cook for a few minutes. If you’re concerned about what order to add them, it’s always good to add onions first to pull the aroma out, then add them according to their firmness. Peppers are more firm than zucchini, so you add them first to get them softened up a bit.

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This time I used red and green pepper, zucchini, and onion

Then add the canned tomatoes:

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Next add your cooked noodles.
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Chop your chicken (I would suggest doing this on a non-wooden cutting board so it’s easier to clean up.) Add to your pasta:
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Then add your jarred pasta sauce, about 1/4 cup at a time, until you have your desired amount of sauce:
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I always think there should be enough to completely cover all the noodles, and then a little extra so your pasta dish is not dried out.

Then, if you’re using plain chicken, or want more creaminess, add your Alfredo sauce or half & half:

You only need 1/4 or less to add richness to your sauce

You only need 1/4c or less to add richness to your sauce

Stir, simmer for a few minutes, and enjoy!

A little bit will do ya!

A little bit will do ya!

Pasta is so versatile. I hope these meals have shown you that you can enjoy chicken for a whole week without feeling BORED of chicken 😉

Overnight Chicken Stock

This is Recipe #3 of the Meal Plan using Chicken breasts. 

The first time I made homemade stock it was vegetable, because I forgot to pick up a whole chicken. I was nervous because it was the first time I had made it. I found a recipe for an overnight crock pot stock and thought, this sounds easy enough! A big thanks to her, because I tried it, and it turned out great! I immediately used it in chicken soup the next day. That’s what we’re going to do here: make the stock overnight, and use that stock in a chicken soup the next day.

I’m really enjoying the homemade stock because it’s the ultimate way to get the best bang for your buck, using scraps, and using up your OHI. You can’t really mess this up. And this way, you just set it and forget it in the crock pot. It doesn’t get much easier than that!

What I USED:
3 Chicken breasts, ribs in, most chicken used (for this and this) but some still attached
Broccoli stalks (leftover from this dinner)
Celery and celery leaves, cut into chunks
Parsley – a moderate bunch (I used the tops of the leaves of a bunch that was starting to turn yellow on bottom)
Carrots
Half a Red Onion (or yellow, or white… whatever your OHI is), skin on is okay
Garlic (1 head, cut in half), again skin on is okay
9 1/2 cups water
~1/4 cup or so of cooking water from carrots from this meal

All you have to do is toss everything in your crock pot, add the water, and set to low for 8-10 hours.

Veggies and chicken bones in the crock pot

Veggies and chicken bones in the crock pot

Don't throw away this nutrient-rich cooking water. Drain into crock pot instead.

Don’t throw away this nutrient-rich cooking water. Drain into crock pot instead.

In the morning when this is finished, it might look something like this:
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You can drain using this method. (If you come up with a better one, let me know!) Just like recommended on original recipe, I set up a bowl with a colander over it (mine has a nifty little hook!). Using tongs, I remove the larger pieces of veggies and bones and put them in the colander.

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Dump in garbage when full and start again.

Then I use a ladle to spoon the contents (including liquid) into the colander as well. (I’m experimenting to see if those carrots will be useful for anything. I’ll let you know how it goes.)
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Once full, I again dump the colander contents and store the stock in a jar or a tightly sealed glass container until ready to use. (If you are going to use the stock right away, like we will in the meal plan, you can leave it out for an hour or two to let it cool to room temp while you prep the veggies for the soup.)

After draining, I had about 8 1/2 cups of stock (all of which we will use in our next meal, chicken noodle soup!).

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Beautiful homemade stock!

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If you have bits of fat after storing, you can skim them off the top before reusing the stock.

Baked Seasoned Chicken

This is the first meal in a meal plan of 3 different meals from one package of chicken. If you have a bigger family (or older kids who eat more!), bake 2 packages of chicken instead of 1, and double the recipes.

What we are Repurposing:
*You will need at least 2 breasts worth of chicken for the next meal, plus all the bones. We are also saving the stalks and leaves of the broccoli.

The week I made this chicken I was planning on making something a little fancier, but I wasn’t feeling too well. Instead I baked it very simply and served it with Mac n Cheese and steamed broccoli.

What I used:
1 package chicken breasts (4 breasts total), rib-in, skin removed
Paprika
Onion Salt
Garlic Powder
Pepper
Parsley
Lemon
1 package Fresh broccoli (choose one with heads and stalks)

Remove the skin by lifting with one hand wherever it naturally comes up, and using a knife to cut the rest off. Place in a baking dish sprayed with Pam, rib-side down. Squeeze the juice from half a lemon over the chicken. Sprinkle the seasonings over the chicken to taste. I went easiest on the pepper and onion salt, medium on the garlic powder and parsley, and heavy on the paprika.
Bake in a 350° oven for about 40 minutes or until chicken is firm, but not hard, to the touch.
In the meantime, cut the heads off the broccoli. Prepare a steamer, if you have one, or place a thin layer of water in the bottom of a pan or skillet with a lid. Place the heads of broccoli in the pan, cover, and steam over medium heat for about 5 minutes. The broccoli should get softer but remain bright green. Save the unused stalks and leaves in a gallon bag.
Remove the chicken from the oven and let sit for 5-10 minutes before you cut into it. (At this point if you need to check done-ness, the chicken should be white all the way through – no pink left.) Remove the chicken from the bone and slice. Set the bones aside (chicken meat attached is good) in a plastic gallon bag (different from the one the broccoli is in).
Squeeze more lemon juice in the pan if you’d like, to create a pan juice (au jus). You can spoon this over the chicken after it’s cut. (So good!)

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Simple right? Now save the leftovers – including the bones!  – for Second Meals of Nana’s (Healthier) Chicken Salad and Homemade Overnight Chicken Stock!