Charging Station

My husband made the household a charging station!

Since a lot of devices these days use either the mini-USB or Apple style dock, we just created a charging station with a couple of purchased items and materials on hand.

First, we got these organizer boxes from Staples. Yes, it’s a Martha Stewart product. Don’t judge me.


Then my husband put a power strip in the drawer with some USB adapters and cut a few holes for cords – two with the mini-USB that Androids and many other phones use, and the ubiquitous white cord for the Apple. Because the box was shallow, it was lucky we had these little adapters from our Kindles and an old Palm device, as some of the larger adapters don’t work as well.

He just threaded the appropriate cords through the holes and now we have:

So, we finally have a nice central charging station in the house for our families and guests to use. This makes me happy. Flylady aficionados, yes that is a household control journal in the back slot there.

The Secret to Enjoying Turkey Leftovers

turkeyThere you are you are faced with leftovers from that enormous bird you bought for Thanksgiving and you just don’t know what to do. You like turkey well enough, but good heavens, you don’t want to eat the same thing for a couple of weeks. Neither do you want to waste.

There’s a secret to enjoying turkey leftovers and I’m going to pass it on to you.

Now, my husband and I were all for a non-traditional Thanksgiving meal, but our son was pretty insistent that we have the traditional meal of turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie. So, being the mean, cruel and overbearing parents we are….

We had turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie.

I’d bought a couple of small pie pumpkins around Halloween, had used one for pumpkin bread and pumpkin muffins. We cooked the last one for the pumpkin pie and had about three cups left over. Some of that is likely to find its way into a soup, but I am seeing pumpkin muffins in our future as well. My son has now learned that making something from fresh pumpkin is pretty easy – chop it in half, scoop out the guts, bake it about an hour, scoop out the cooked flesh and puree. Easy peasy. Nuttin’ wrong with using canned, but we just happened to have a pumpkin sitting there.

Because of my habit of being a tightwad, I had considered buying a turkey breast instead of the whole bird. But at price per pound, the whole bird was an enormously better buy. Even though yes, a 12 pound bird was a bit much for the meal, I know how to make good on leftovers, boy howdy let me tell you what. Even so, we don’t want to get sick of eating turkey, do we?

What’s the secret to enjoying turkey leftovers?

The secret to not getting sick of turkey as a leftover meat, however, is to repurpose it in very flavorful dishes. Sure, sure, a turkey sandwich is delicious, as is turkey salad. But it’s just as easy to use those leftovers in other meals that aren’t quite reminiscent of the American white-bread meal that is Thanksgiving dinner. You want spices. You want strongly-flavored veggies. You want differences in color, presentation and texture.

The bones are going to go for stock, oh yes! If you’ve never tried turkey stock, give yourself a treat. It’s delightfully flavorful and enhances any dish where you’d use chicken stock. We’re not going to do Carcass Soup this year, tasty as it is. Instead, we’re going to use the turkey to make a few freezer meals. We’ll be doing turkey burritos (my family are crazy for burritos), freezing up some bags of diced turkey for stir frys or the (sorta) Puttanesca, and freezing up some bags of diced veggies and turkey for some delicious soups.

Except for the (sorta) Puttanesca, these are great freezer meals as well.

Turkey Burritos

2 ½ c. Turkey chopped fine 1 can chopped green chili peppers
2 t. cumin 1 T. minced garlic
1 small onion, chopped 2 t. pepper
1 t. salt 12 8-inch flour tortillas
1 can refried beans 2 c. shredded cheese (preferably cheddar or a mix of cheddar and Monterey jack)
Sliced Black Olives Salsa
Sour Cream

Preheat oven to 350 and grease large pan.

Sauté turkey with chili peppers, cumin, minced garlic, onion, salt and pepper.

Spread tortilla with ~2 T refried beans, add ~ 2T meat and 2T cheese. Fold sides of tortilla in, and then roll tortilla, being careful not to roll too tightly and tear burrito. Arrange all 12 in pan, and bake at 350 for ~20 minutes. Serve with salsa, sour cream and gorilla nostrils.

If you intend to freeze them, skip the baking wrap well and freeze. When you intend to use them, defrost and freeze according to directions.

Turkey (sorta) Puttanesca

2 ½ c. diced turkey ¼ c. black olives, chopped
¼ c. pitted green olives, chopped ¼ c. chopped onion
1T chopped garlic 1 medium bell pepper, chopped
1 6 oz. can tomato paste 1T capers
2 tsp. dried red pepper 2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp black pepper Dash salt
3 T olive oil

Set aside turkey breast. Combine all other ingredients but the olive oil and tomato paste. Mix well and let sit to let the flavors marry a bit. Sauté the turkey breast in olive oil, then add the olive, pepper and spice mixture. Sauté until the onion is translucent, then add the tomato paste. Turn to low and cook for about fifteen minutes. Serve over pasta.

Turkey Pot Pie

For pie crust:

2 c. flour 1/3 c. shortening or butter
1 t salt 1/4 c. cold and I mean icy water

For Filling:

2 ½ c. shredded turkey, cooked 2 ½ c. mixed veggies (or one can of Veg-all)
2 cans of cream of mushroom (or celery) soup.

To make the Pie Crust:

Combine salt and flour. Cut in butter or shortening until fine. Add cold water slowly until a stiff dough is formed. Divide dough in half. Roll each half in a 12″ circle. Use one circle to cover the bottom of deep 9″ pie plate. Do not trim edges.

For Filling:

Combine turkey, veggies and cream of mushroom soup. (Gosh, that was hard, wasn’t it?). Dump it all in the pie dish, cover the mess with the remaining circle of pie crust dough, fold the edged together and pinch together around the edges. This is a chance to make it look pretty, if you want. Cut a vent for steam to escape in the top of the pie. (I usually use a fork to poke the words I and You in it and cut a heart out in the center –nauseating, ain’t I?).

If you intend to freeze it, wrap well, label and do so. Then defrost and cook for about 1/2 hour at 425 o or until a nice light brown. If you don’t intend to freeze it ahead, just cook it according to previous directions.

Turkey Curry

2 ½ c turkey, diced 2 medium potatoes, diced
1 c. milk 1 c. plain yogurt
1/4 c. raisins 1/4 c. cashews
1 c. peaches, mango, or apricots 1 15 oz can coconut milk
Olive oil for sautéing 1 large onions
3T garlic 3T sliced fresh ginger
4 T curry powder 4 T. spring water

If you intend to freeze for later, toss all the ingredients but the coconut milk in a gallon freezer bag and freeze flat. When you want to serve it for dinner, defrost, toss in a crock pot for 6-8 hours and serve over rice.

Otherwise, toss in crock pot for 6-8 hours. Serve over rice.

Freezer Cooking Another Way

I like to do Freezer Cooking, OAMC (Once a Month Cooking), whatever you want to call it. I like to cook. But the reality is that there are nights where I blasted well don’t feel like cooking. Maybe I’ve been on my feet teaching all day. Maybe I’ve dived into my writing to the point where I look up and realize it’s getting on to dinner time and I don’t want to take the time out to make a meal that night. Maybe the family’s just plain busy and it’s not realistic to dump the cooking duties on someone else. So, I like to have a few meals in the freezer for those times.

If you do a search for some variant on the keywords “Crockpot Freezer Cooking” you’ll find a new method for making meals for the freezer that has taken me two days to fall in love with.

What you need: A slow cooker, some recipes you like, some gallon freezer bags, and a freezer. (And you have to like crock pot meals. If you don’t, stop reading now. This isn’t for you).

This is a psycho easy way to have meals prepped to pop in the crock pot of a morning. My family and I prepared about a month’s worth of dinners this way and it took us an hour and a half from start to cleanup. If you don’t have a sous-chef you might want to tack on another half an hour to 45 minutes, but that’s about it. Still, you’re looking at under three hours of prep time for a month’s worth of dinners. This is nothing like the all-day cooking sessions for classic OAMC.

When you do classic OAMC, you cook meals in advance, thaw them and then heat them up on the day you want to serve them.

With Slow Cooker Freezer Cooking, you only do the prep work and store the uncooked meals in the freezer to thaw and toss in the crock pot the morning before you want to serve it. Just prep everything like you would to pop it in the crock pot, but put it in a freezer bag instead, and freeze it flat. Yes, it’s that easy.

One thing with this cooking method, you’re gonna wanna label everything, and add any special instructions. I don’t freeze most of these meals with a lot of additional liquid. So if you need to add stock, or coconut milk or something like that when you cook it, write those instructions on the bag. Don’t count on remembering it.

If you’re a crock pot aficionado, you probably already have dozens of recipes. Don’t sweat it, they’ll work using this method. I do recommend browning the hamburger so you can drain the fat for any meal using ground beef, but other than that, no real cooking in advance is necessary.

If you need some recipes, these are some that I used for my last session. They fit in a three quart slow cooker, and will usually provide a couple of meals for my three-person family. (Why yes, I do freeze leftovers for another meal!) If you’re using a six quart crock pot due to a larger family, you’ll want to double these recipes, but they won’t fit in a single gallon freezer bag.

White Chili

½ lb. Dry white beans, cooked (or two 15 oz cans)

1 lb. chicken breast, diced

½ c. chopped onion

2 T chopped garlic

1 T oreganof

1 T Cumin

2t. black pepper

1 can chopped green chili peppers

Put all the ingredients in a gallon freezer bag. Freeze.

Defrost in the fridge for 12-18 hours, put in crock pot, add ~1 quart chicken stock. Cook 6-8 hours on low, serve with salad.

Chicken Curry

1 lb chicken breasts, cut into small pieces

3c. potatoes, diced

1 c.  plain yogurt

1/4 c.  raisins, ground

1/4 c. cashews, ground

1 c. peaches, mango, or apricots, diced

½ c. onion, diced

3T garlic, chopped

3T fresh ginger, chopped

4 T curry powder

Put all the ingredients in a gallon freezer bag. Freeze.

Defrost in the fridge for 12-18 hours, put in crock pot, add 15 oz can coconut milk. Cook 6-8 hours on low, serve over rice.

Warehouse Stores and Cooking

I used to shop at warehouse stores more often than I do these days. I’d let my membership lapse. But when I got into bulk cooking again, buying in bulk started to make more sense, so the family renewed the membership. I’d gotten used to one-stop shopping for a lot of stuff, and there are things that warehouse stores are great for. Meat is usually multiple dollars a pound cheaper. That alone makes it worth it to me to have the membership, even if I don’t buy anything else there.

Of course, I do buy other things there, but it does drive me a little crazy that there are definitely things warehouse stores aren’t good for at all. If you cook from scratch, eat anything even vaguely “ethnic”, or don’t eat a lot of junk food, you’re not going to be able to do most of your shopping there!

This is a list of things I regularly use that I can’t/shouldn’t get at my local warehouse store:

Produce – Now, I do eat a lot of produce. But my household only has three people. Three pounds of grapes is going to go bad before we finish them. Ditto lettuce or any of the more fragile veggies. If we had more people in the house or more than one fruit addict, it would be different.

Spices – You’d think things like spices would be an ideal thing for a warehouse store, but unless you can find it in an Italian mix, don’t count on being able to find it there in my local store! I mean, nutmeg? They didn’t have nutmeg??? Honestly! I get that they might not have a good garam masala, but not nutmeg? Psychos…

Pasta – Another thing you’d think would be awesome for a warehouse store. It’s $0.17/lb more expensive in the warehouse store than it is in my local grocery store.

International-type food – Coconut milk? Green chilies? Refried beans? Forget it.

Dry beans – This is where I roll my eyes and say, “Come on, people!” You’d be hard put to find something more shelf stable that sells well in bulk. (Yes, yes, I know, convenience food makes more profit for them, and there are plenty of people who find cooking with dried beans too damn much trouble)

Old-fashioned Oatmeal – I think the instant stuff is nasty and mushy, but that’s all they sell there, and even the oatmeal is hard to find.

Seltzer water – Yes, yes, buying fizzy, flavored water isn’t exactly frugal. But a majority of the household likes it better than soda. It was available in the warehouse store, but more expensive than we could get in the grocery store.

Short grain rice – I like rice you can use to make onigiri. Since even most grocery stores in my area only carry it as expensive “sushi rice”, I don’t sweat this much. There’s a co-op that sells it in bulk and sells it as inexpensively as bulk rice is often sold in other stores. (Other forms of rice are quite a good deal, and their variety actually wasn’t bad otherwise).

Plain yogurt – Everything they had was flavored and sported pink ribbons. ‘Nuff said.

Oddly enough, they do carry flour and even the brand of flour I insist on using. They also carried the yeast I prefer. Canned goods were indeed cheaper, and though we don’t use a lot of them, I do at least buy crushed tomatoes. Paper goods, plastic bags and many other things were also cheaper to get there, so we did.

The point is that while you could argue that warehouse stores are awesome and cheaper than regular grocery store, it’s easy to get caught up in the greed and buying in bulk. So, how do you work a warehouse store to truly save money?

  • Keep a price book

    You can do this in several ways. I use a shopping database on my phone (does anyone but me mourn the loss of the PDA Handishopper? That was awesome) and keep the price I can generally expect to pay for items in the database. This means it’s easy for me to tell whether or not a particular item is a good buy or not. Some people just remember that sort of thing, but I don’t, hence the database.

    If you don’t use a handheld device, you could make a price book in a spreadsheet (I’m presuming you have a computer if you’re reading this, and there are free spreadsheet solutions out there. Google Docs and Open Office both have spreadsheets that can more than handle this) for items you usually buy and print out the prices along with the items you want to get on that particular shopping trip.

  • Shop to a list

    Impulse buys are Satan’s own toenails when it comes to warehouse stores, as you’ll have all sorts of gadgety goodness and gastronomic greed pushed at you when you are in the store. Resist! Think about what you want and need in advance and stick to it!

  • It’s not cheaper if you’re not going to use it up/will have to overuse something before it goes bad.

    You know how I don’t buy produce at a warehouse store? Throwing away lettuce mush isn’t saving any money, but neither is eating a whole box of Clementines in a couple of days, or using way too much dish detergent because you have that huge bottle of it. If buying in quantity has you being careless about what you use because you have lot of it, you’re probably spending more money, not less.

The real takeaway? Warehouse stores are an awesome savings tool if you show self-discipline. Otherwise? Forget it. They’re not worth it.