Salads and Sides

Baked Potatoes in the Slow Cooker

Baked Potatoes in the Slow Cooker

We’ve already had one massive heat wave this summer. Thankfully, we survived, although my electric bill this month is pretty ugly. Since I was sure not going to turn the oven on during the triple digit heat, I poked around the internet and discovered some new crock pot recipes. Cooking potatoes in the slow cooker was one of my experiments during the heat wave, and I’m converted. It always seemed a bit wasteful to keep the oven on for an hour just to cook some potatoes. David loves baked potatoes but I don’t make them very regularly, mostly because it takes up the oven for so long. With this new method he’s sure to get his potatoes a lot more frequently!

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How to Cook Dried Beans In the Crock Pot

How to Cook Dried Beans In the Crock Pot

There isn’t much that’s cheaper than dried beans. As far as healthy and frugal go, beans are a food that can’t be beat. I keep a few cans around for emergencies (as in, oh no, what’s for supper? Everything’s frozen! Let’s have refried bean quesadillas!), but most of the beans we eat I cook from dried beans. I always cook a large amount and then freeze the cooked beans in 2-cup portions.

It’s not hard. It really doesn’t take that much hands-on time. You can do this!

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Simple Mexican Rice

IMG_2260 So, I’ve written before about how David’s not a huge fan of mexican food. I had always just accepted that and tried not to cook it too often. Well, I recently learned that it’s not that he dislikes it, he just doesn’t want to eat mexican food that tastes the same all the time. See what you learn when you communicate? Powerful stuff;)

I started looking for ways to add some variety to my mexican food repertoire, since I’m such a fan of mexican food. And you know, with a little effort I expanded the meals I make beyond the standard tacos, enchiladas and burritos. Tostadas are one of David’s favorite meals now, and I regularly make quesadillas with whatever meat, beans and vegetables I have on hand. By adding some variety I’ve been able to keep David happy at the table, and I still get to eat my mexican food a lot. *Happy sigh*

Meat is usually the most expensive part of a meal, and purchasing meat that’s actually healthy (no antibiotics or hormones, animals had lots of time outside eating fresh grass or bugs) is even more pricey. Buying clean animal products is an investment I’m very willing to make, but I still have to find ways to make that work within our budget. I’m sure not the first person to come up with eating smaller quantities of meat as a way to stretch our budget a little further.

With mexican food it’s fairly easy to stretch a little bit of meat by simply adding some beans to the ground beef, or by chopping the chicken into small pieces so it looks like you have more on your burrito. Adding a side dish of brown rice is another way I help our family eat less meat. Plain brown rice isn’t terribly interesting when it’s alongside a delicious, crunchy tostada. By adding just a few ingredients you can transform brown rice into a flavorful and color-filled dish that’s much more tempting.

Simple Mexican Rice


1 C. brown rice 2 C. water or broth 1/4 C. diced peppers (bell pepper or another sweet variety) 2 T. finely diced onion 1-2 T. taco seasoning 1-2 T. lime juice 1 T. olive oil or butter

1. In a medium saucepan combine rice and water (or broth). Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for another 5 minutes.

2. When rice is almost done, heat oil or butter in a frying pan. Saute peppers and onion until soft, then add rice, taco seasoning and lime juice. Mix together and heat for another minute. Add more taco seasoning or lime juice as desired.

Notes: This is great as a side dish or spread in a burrito or quesadilla.

Yield: Approximately 4 C. rice.

How To Cook Brown Rice

Switching to brown rice is an easy way to start transitioning to whole foods. I know some people aren’t crazy about it at first, and I wasn’t either. After a few months we grew used to brown rice and now I much prefer it to white rice. We made the switch cold turkey, but I know some people have success mixing cooked white and brown rice together, gradually increasing the amount of brown rice until you’re no longer serving any white rice. Tip: If you’re going to make the switch to brown rice cold turkey, as we did, serving the rice with other strong flavors can help you and your family get used to the whole grain. When we were adjusting to brown rice I served mexican rice (brown rice with onion, peppers and taco seasoning), fried rice (soy sauce really makes it hard to tell it’s brown rice!), tossed into soups, etc. I also never told anyone we were going to be eating brown rice from then on. And you know what? No one complained (except me a little bit, but I did it in my head so no one knew!). Many switches are easier if you just don’t mention it.

So cooking brown rice. Yes, it takes longer than white rice. I’ve seen many recipes that say to cook brown rice for 45-50 minutes, but mine is always done at 30 minutes. That’s about how long it takes me to finish cooking the other things we’re eating, set the table, pull out the salad, clean up a diaper blow-out and rescue the cats from being bathed by Jonathan, so brown rice is actually just perfect for me:) You can also cook it ahead of time and simply reheat when you’re ready to eat, which is what I do if I’m going to make fried rice or mexican rice, or something like that.

How To Cook Brown Rice


Brown rice Water

1. To cook rice use one part rice to two parts water. I usually use 1.5 C. rice and 3 C. water, which makes enough for one meal for the four of us. Place rice and water in a medium pot. Cover and bring to a boil.

IMG_2516 Rice and water, pre cooking.

2. When water and rice come to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, crack lid slightly and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice.

3. After rice has cooked for 30 minutes, remove from heat, cover tightly with lid and let sit for 5 minutes. This lets the rest of the water absorb (without scorching the bottom!) and the rice finish cooking.

IMG_2520 After cooking for 30 minutes, but there’s still some water to be absorbed.

4. Fluff rice and serve.

IMG_2256 Perfectly cooked brown rice, used in simple mexican rice.

Notes: I like to add a few tablespoons of coconut oil for flavor and nutrition, plus it helps keep any leftover rice from clumping in the fridge.

Yield: Approximately 5 C. of rice

This post is a part of Kitchen Tip Tuesdays at Tammy's Recipes.

Eat More Salad (and save time in the kitchen)

You know why I sometimes choose convenience foods over a healthier option? Because it’s . . . convenient. Sometimes I just don’t feel like spending an hour in the kitchen. Sometimes I just want food NOW! The temptation to eat something unhealthy but readily available is very real. I’m sure you’ve been there. IMG_1573

Meal planning and advance preparation are my keys to healthy convenience food. Chopping a big salad every day for lunch? Not likely to happen for long. But if I spend an hour once a week preparing salad that we can eat all through the week, well, that is a very doable solution for me.

So that’s what I do. I spend an hour on Sunday or Monday stocking my fridge with enough salad to last until the next weekend. An hour seems like a big chunk of time to spend just making salad, but when I get 6-8 meals worth of salad from that one hour, it’s actually a very efficient use of time. We eat a big salad several times a week for lunch, and usually have a side salad with supper. It’s so nice to be able to just grab a container from the fridge, drizzle with dressing and sprinkle on some seeds and nuts and lunch is served. Healthy convenience food is possible, but it does take some planning ahead.


Salad for a Week

1. I begin by starting anything that needs to cook. I usually boil 4-6 eggs because we like hardboiled eggs on salads. Occasionally I make croutons, so I start those early so they’re done by the time the vegetables are prepped.

2.Then I move on to my base ingredients-usually green leaf lettuce (or romaine) and spinach or kale. Tear or chop into pieces, wash, spin, divide into bowls and containers. I usually do one big bowl and 4 or 5 single serving meal size containers, plus 4 or 5 side salad size containers.

3. Next I chop vegetables that aren’t very juicy-peppers, cucumbers, cabbage, onions, etc. I also shred 3-4 carrots (we don’t like big chunks of carrot in our salads). Divide all evenly among bowls/containers.

4. Then I cut up messy items, like tomatoes and avocados, or hardboiled eggs and leftover meat I’m adding. I only put tomatoes and avocado on the salad we’ll eat within the next 2 days, otherwise the avocado looks really nasty and the tomato juice makes the lettuce soggy. Finish adding all ingredients to the salads, cover and wedge into every nook and cranny of the refrigerator that I can.


5. Finally, I make a batch of salad dressing. Mock Caesar Salad Dressing is our current favorite, but sometimes I make ranch or a vinaigrette. I store the dressing in my Magic Bullet container I mix it in and add to the salad just before serving.


Notes: If you’re making salads to take to work or school you can place nuts, seeds and croutons in a small container and squeeze it in the container with the salad. Same with dressing.

If you don’t feel like messing with salad dressing, a quick drizzle of lemon juice and olive oil is an easy alternative.

I’m the only one in my family who likes avocado in salad, so I just put it on a few salads and store those away from the others in the fridge. It’s easy to personalize the salads according to family members’ tastes, then just remember which one is which, or use masking tape to quickly label the salads.


This post is shared at the Ultimate Recipe Swap at Life as MOM.

How do you save time in the Kitchen?


Refried Beans

IMG_0826 Beans are a superfood, both nutritionally and in their ability to stretch a budget. With the many varieties of beans and the countless ways to flavor them, they’re a great way to add nutrition without breaking the bank or getting bored with your food.

Mixed dried beans

Photo source

I love beans and we eat them very regularly (HA! Get it? Beans have lots of fiber?) around here. I love mexican food so of course I think these are great, but David, who isn’t a big mexican food fan, loves these. Between these delicious refried beans and sour cream, I think I might make a tex-mex fan out of him yet.

Refried Beans


1 lb. dried pinto beans water

1 onion, chopped 1 stick (1/2 C.) butter 1-2 t. salt 2 t. cumin 2 t. chili powder

1. Rinse dry beans well with cool water, then place beans in a large dutch oven or pot. Cover with water, plus about 3 inches (the beans will absorb the water as they soak). Let soak for at least 8 hours, but I just leave mine overnight.

2. *Cook beans on medium low or low heat for 4-6 hours until they are very soft. Make sure the beans aren’t boiling away or you’ll lose too much moisture and the bottom will burn. You want them to just barely simmer for a long time.

3. Cut butter into fourths and place one piece into a large frying pan. Heat the pan over medium high heat. When the butter has melted add the chopped onion and cook until onion is soft.

4. Using a slotted spoon, scoop 1/3 of the beans into the frying pan. Add another chunk of butter and start smashing with a potato masher. When the butter is melted and the beans are smashed, add more beans and another chunk of butter. Repeat until all the beans and butter are mixed in, mashed and melted.

5. Stir in the salt, cumin and chili powder. Add some of the bean cooking liquid if the beans are very thick, or just simmer for a few minutes if they are too runny.

*Technically you’re supposed to rinse the beans again before cooking them.

Notes: This makes a bigger batch than we eat at one meal, so I usually freeze the beans in 2 cup portions. We eat these in the usual way, with tacos and such, and also just topped with a little cheese and scooped with tortilla chips. Easy and healthy lunch!

Yield: About 8 cups of refried beans.

Adapted from Tammy’s Recipes.

Mock Caesar Salad Dressing

IMG_1148 I like caesar salad. A lot.

In fact, my sister in law regularly makes casesar salad for family dinners and we all stand around picking at the salad before the meal even starts (and someone griped at me last week for taking too much salad. We’re serious about our caesar ‘round here).

I have no objections to using raw eggs, as long as they’re fresh from the farm and you know they’re good, clean eggs. But I’m not a fan of recipes that only use the egg white or yolk. What do you do with the part you’re not using? You’re either forced to use it immediately (I prefer to cook according to my meal plan or what I’m craving) or throw it away. I’m not a fan of either.

A mock caesar salad dressing is quick and easy to shake up and tastes pretty darn close to a dressing made with egg yolks.


Mock Caesar Salad Dressing


3 T. olive oil 3 T. lemon juice 2 T. plain yogurt 1 T. spicy brown mustard 1/2 t. worcestershire sauce 1/2 t. garlic powder 1/2 t. red wine vinegar 2 T. parmesan cheese Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Place all ingredients except parmesan cheese in a pint size glass jar. Screw lid on tightly and shake vigorously for one minute to thoroughly combine the ingredients.

2. Add the cheese, recap and shake again to mix. Serve chilled over your favorite salad.

Notes: Keeps for several days in the refrigerator.

Yield: About 3/4 C.


Inspired by the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook