Thursday, December 09, 2010

life on maternity leave

i've been working a full-time job for the past three years. before that, while i was working at a school, i did enjoy getting three months off during the summer. i loved having that time off, but by the first week or so of august, i was always getting a little restless.

so having 9 weeks of maternity leave has been wonderful. i cannot describe how much i enjoy being able to sleep until 9 with davis (he usually gets pulled into bed with me anytime after 7 and sleeps on my chest or in the crook of my arm for as long as i can get him to--usually a couple of hours. so wonderful.) then there's having time to do laundry, ironing, and the other chores that i usually did after work or on the weekend. the house is not that much cleaner than normal (the baby stuff has created a lovely amount of clutter) but i'm staying caught up on the major household chores during his naps and when i can get him in the moby wrap.

and finally, the cooking. it's lovely to be able to shop during the day while it isn't crowded, picking up the needed items if i forget something. a trip to the grocery store counts as a nice "outing" for us (i try to do an outing once a day just to keep my sanity and have a reason to get a shower each day) and i've taken this opportunity to try some new recipes, as well.

i was asked to share some of my favorite crock pot recipes. i have several that i keep in regular rotation during the winter, and i'm all about easy. as in including as many pre-packaged, ready to go ingredients as possible. i'm a huge fan of already chopped up vegetables in the frozen food section. we always have a bag of chopped onion, chopped green pepper or other combinations in the freezer to include more vegetables in the meals in an easy way. so here are our crock pot staples--

beef stroganoff--stew beef tips, 2 cans of golden mushroom soup (or sometimes cream of mushroom with herbs and garlic), a package of onion soup mix and beef broth. we're not big mushroom people, but i know other people who include sliced mushrooms. stir in some sour cream at the end and serve over egg noodles.

chicken and dumplings--chicken tenderloins, chicken broth, cream of chicken and cream of celery soup. sometimes i add a frozen veggie mix of celery, onions and carrots. let it cook all day and then put in anne's pastry strips (in the red box) at the end. other recipes i've seen have used raw biscuit dough cut up into quarters.

taco soup--ground beef, any combination of beans that you like (i usually use red kidney and black beans), a can of mexicorn, a couple of cans of tomatoes (usually with chiles or green peppers), a packet of taco seasoning and packet of ranch mix.

i also love using bush's chili starter for making chili--it's a can of chili beans that already has the chili seasoning mixed in. add ground beef, tomatoes and anything else (i also usually add black beans) and it's good to go.

i just did this recipe recently--stuffed green peppers. i cooked a roll of sausage, added a cup of salsa and a cup of uncooked instant rice. spooned the mixture into and over four green peppers that had the tops taken off and seeds taken out, then poured two cans of tomato sauce over it. this was really good, and i added some shredded cheese on top at the end.

i also will cook meat that we use in other recipes later--i will often let chicken breasts or tenderloins cook during the day to use in mexican recipes later on. chicken cooked in water with taco seasoning or salsa makes great shredded chicken for tacos or enchiladas.

meatball sandwiches are also really good--either using tomato or spaghetti sauce or (trust me, it's delicious) a can of hotdog chili and a can of cranberry sauce. seriously, delicious on hoagie rolls with some shredded mozzarella cheese. just put them on low all day and they're good to go when we're home.

baked potatoes can also be cooked in the slow cooker! wrap them in foil and pierce holes in them with a fork. let them cook for 4-6 hours on high, 8-10 hours on low and serve them up. we make these into a meal by turning them into "loaded" baked potatoes--add cheese, sour cream, frozen broccoli florets and diced ham. so good!

i use all the time for recipes and getting regular e-mails from them about new ones. they also let you save recipes in your "recipe box"--very handy! i've done these before--potato and corn chowder (i added crab meat that time, but you could also do ham), white chicken chili and lime garlic chicken.

and currently cooking is a sweet and sour pork recipe from my friend lynn--pork loin cooking in bbq sauce, chopped onion and chicken broth. i'll add instant white rice, chopped green pepper and pineapple tidbits to cook about 30 minutes before serving. we'll see how it goes!

i'm going to try a brunswick stew recipe next week. i got a craving for it while i was at home this week and drove past one of our chicken and bbq places that always has great brunswick stew. i might try a variation on this recipe. obviously you can throw together similar beef stews using ground beef or stew beef tips. i've also thought of doing chicken noodle soups or chicken and rice soups using just basic chicken broth, frozen vegetable mixes and seasonings.

finally, the best invention for crock pot cooking--slow cooker liners that you can find in the aisle with plastic bags and aluminum foil. makes the clean up so much easier.

what are your favorite slow cooker recipes?