Creamy Crockpot Chicken Stew…and Pot Pie…and Possibilities

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In another pantry experiment, I made a batch of “Cream of Something” soup mix. It’s a lower fat, healthier alternative to canned cream soups, especially as you make it and know exactly what is in it. It is comprised of chicken bullion granules, nonfat dried milk, cornstarch, and dried spices (basil, onion, thyme, pepper). It sounds a little weird but it’s pretty tasty.

Today I decided to make a chicken and rice crockpot stew – just set it and forget it. 

  
What ended up happening is the soup mix turned out to be a base for another base. My stew turned out thick and creamy and while delicious on its own, was screaming for dumplings or crust or cheese and vegetables. So much can be done with such minimal effort.

CREAMY CHICKEN AND RICE CROCKPOT STEW
1 pound chicken thighs
1 cup brown rice
1 chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
2 quarts water
1.5 cups cream of something soup mix
Juice of 1 lemon
1 small can corn

  1. Place thighs, onions, carrots, water, and rice in crockpot, set on high.
  2. After three hours mixture will be thick. Add remaining ingredients and set to warm for another half hour. Enjoy!

  
Now you can play! I created an individual pot pie by adding cheese into the stew, topping with pie crust, and baking to golden brown. You can make empanadas, dumplings, casseroles…possibilities are endless and there’s barely work involved!

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    Kitchen Sink Fried Rice

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    2015 has not been my year – new job, a painful breakup, sick family members, and just an overall blah feeling. To add to it, I crunched some numbers and financially I am not as well off as I was a year ago. 

    So I’m dusting off the pantry project and seeing how I can save on my food budget, particularly bringing food to work and cooking at home as much as possible.

    I love fried rice, and typically I make mine with jasmine rice, eggs, onions, mixed vegetables (the frozen ones with carrots, corn, peas, etc), chicken, sesame oil, ginger, soy sauce and once in awhile I’ll add scallions or water chestnuts.

    I decided to make a batch as I had some eggs that were soon going to expire, I was super low on sesame oil, and I always have frozen veggies on hand. Or so I thought…

    I raided the freezer and found some rice I had made awhile back and didn’t get around to eating it all. It was brown basmati with some saffron. Oh well, this wasn’t about to be an exact science. I hunted around for mixed veggies but alas, I had none. I did have some cauliflower.

      
    So I went to work and came up with a hodgepodge of ingredients. In the end, the rice had red onion, chicken breast, diced baby carrots, scallions, eggs, ginger (that I had frozen in ice cube trays), cauliflower, liquid aminos all stir fried in toasted sesame oil. And it tasted no different than any other batch I have made haha.

      

    Have Potatoes, Will Focaccia

     
    I have this tendency to buy potatoes and not use them before they get gross.

    Even though we’ve been experiencing 80+ degree days here in New Jersey, I was feeling the urge to bake.

      
    One of my go-tos that I don’t do often enough is focaccia. It’s a pretty easy pantry staple because all you really need is flour, oil, salt, sugar, and yeast. It’s a quick bread to make – about two hours to do, and about 90 minutes of that is just hanging out and waiting.

    For a moister, fluffier center and chewy-crunch crust, potatoes are also used. My inspiration for this focaccia came from a Bon Appetit recipe from a few years ago. I modified it this time around, omitting the seasonings/toppings. I opted for a Rosemary-rich Italian seasoning blend and Parmesan cheese. 

    Focaccia also makes a great Accidental Pantry Project Recipe – you do not need potatoes, but they do make a better bread. The rest is pretty much stuff you have around – flour, yeast packets, sugar or honey, oil, and water. 

    Follow the rest of the recipe accordingly.

    Homemade Coconut Oil Chocolate with Fleur de Sel

      

    I have been on a huge coconut oil kick lately. I first learned about the benefits years ago when I was a writer for the eco-living site Ideal Bite. It is truly a superfood.

    Lately I have been using it more as a supplement and in my cooking as it is supposed to be a metabolism booster. I use it to make popcorn, I’ve had it in coffee, and I like a little in my morning smoothies. It appears to be working because I find my jeans being looser without a drastic change in diet.

    I came across this chocolate recipe on Pinterest and decided to give it a try, but I took it a step further with cacao nibs instead of organic cocoa powder. The main reason being while I had both nibs and powder at home, I had more nibs than I knew what to do with.

      
    The goods – coconut oil, honey, cacao nibs, vanilla extract, and fleur de sel. 

     I pulverized about a cup of nibs in my food processor. The texture was still grainier than I wanted so I mixed in about 1/4 cup of honey.
      
    The honey made the mixture much smoother and I hoped the heat from the oil and stove would help smooth it out.

       
     

    I heated the oil until warm (I was scared the chocolate would fry) and whisked in the cacao and honey mixture. It was not incorporating as much as I wanted and it wasn’t sweet at all. I ended up using the full amount of sweetener the recipe suggested – 3/4 of a cup (I mixed maple syrup with the honey), and it helped it all come together like a sauce. I added in about a tablespoon of vanilla. I love vanilla and always use more than a recipe calls for. 

      
    I was now ready to cool it. 

     
    I lined a pan with plastic wrap and poured out the chocolate.

      I then let it set for a moment and sprinkled it with the fleur de sel.

       Chocolate is ready to cool and harden in the fridge!

     
    Texture is slightly fudgier than I intended. Next time I will lesson the oil and increase the cacao. 

    Chicken Parm Casserole for One

    

    Now that I’m working in a mall I often am so busy I forget to eat. When I do it tends to be nasty mall food, which is just sucky.

    So I had a super long day today but refused to buy something for dinner. Instead I did a quick fridge and freezer rummage and came up with this Chicken Parm Casserole. It was about 25 minutes of prep (mainly inactive) and about 10 minutes in the oven.

    I baked two frozen chicken fingers while I boiled the pasta (I used half a cup of whole wheat elbow macaroni). When the pasta was done, I drained it and placed it into a small casserole dish. I mixed in about 1/2 cup Rao’s marinara sauce and a couple of dollops of part skim ricotta. I then took the chicken fingers out of the oven, diced them up, and covered with a bit more sauce and shredded Italian blend cheese. I then baked it in the oven about 10 minutes until the cheese melted.

    It’s not a diet dish, but it is way more wholesome and natural than takeout!

    

    Accidental Pantry Project = Huge Savings!

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    I wish I kept better track on what I spent at the grocery store last year when it came to cash purchases. I know when I worked at Whole Foods Market I would buy lunch every time I worked a shift, which averaged out to about $10 a day. Now that I am working again, that kind of spending probably won’t disappear, especially as I now work in a mall with countless food options.

    In any case, just tracking grocery purchases for my home, last year during January and February, according to my credit card, I spent $240 at the grocery store. This year, being more diligent about my purchases, using what I had on hand as opposed to going for convenience, I spent $125 during the same period – almost half my money! To top it off, since I was not going to work for five weeks, I ate many more meals at home – so those savings not only saved me money, they stretched to twice the meals.

    I know not everyone has the pantry I had (I should say have – it is still valued at $759, currently (that is down from the $1140 that I started with)), but it is still important to know when you are sitting on money and meals at home. For five weeks, that is $381 I kept in my pocket, and not only did I eat like a queen, I fed others as well.

    Rich and Indulgent Hot Chocolate – Powder Free!

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    Awhile back I bought this Stonewall Kitchen Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce thinking it would change my life. I expected it to taste similar to hot fudge, but instead it was more like a bark of very dark chocolate with some corn syrup to soften it. It’s not a bad flavor, I just like my chocolate sauce to be able to stand on its own (think eating straight from jar on a depressed night). This product is a true topping/condiment – it is meant to enhance.

    By now you probably realize my love of chocolate. I discovered this sauce makes a super rich, indulgent hot chocolate in less time than it would take you to boil water to dissolve a commercial grade packet in. The ingredients are premium and high quality – and heated up tastes like a luxurious ganache, hence the perfect hot chocolate base.

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    Feel free to play around with the amount of sauce for your desired consistency. I like 2 tablespoons of sauce per 1 cup of milk. I used nonfat milk, but you can also play around with other fat milks or milk alternatives like almond mind.

    “INSTANT” HOT CHOCOLATE
    3 tablespoons Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce
    1 1/2 cups Nonfat Milk
    1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
    Pinch of Sea Salt

    In a small sauce pan, heat chocolate sauce over low heat until melted and smooth. Whisk in milk, vanilla, and salt. Heat mixture until hot but not boiling. Top with your favorites – whipped cream, marshmallows, sprinkles, candy canes, etc. Enjoy!

     

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    Melting sauce in sauce pan

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    COST PER SERVING: $1.49
    Chocolate Sauce – $.75
    Milk – $.69
    Vanilla and Salt – $.05