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Monthly Archives: March 2015

Super Easy Roasted/Baked Chicken

If you’ve been following my blog for the last few months, then you know I’m on a frozen meal prep kick and learning how to come up with energy saving ingredients that allow me to still cook a meal on my bad health days. One ingredient I had trouble with for months was basic diced chicken (in bulk). My crock pot chicken always came out tender, but always shredded instead of holding up to being diced, and I really wanted some diced chicken that I could freeze into portions that didn’t cost an outrageous amount (really grocery stores?!  That has to be a massive profit margin!). I tried a lot of variations until I finally came across a post via Pinterest that explained how to get flavorful roasted chicken without being super intimidating. The original post is at Roasted Chicken Breasts and I urge you to read through it if you haven’t mastered chicken yet. 

I followed the instructions on the site, although I used Daddy Hinkle’s dry marinade since I have a lot of that on hand (we get a combo pack with the original liquid marinade since that’s the only way it’s available around here and go through the liquid WAY faster lol). I bought a big package of chicken “tenderloins” for a great price at Sam’s Club and it took three batches to cook them all. Oddly enough I had to cook the tenderloins just a bit longer than the breasts in the instructions, but it gave me a time frame to start checking with my meat thermometer.  They came out mouthwateringly gorgeous. 

While each batch cooked I cooled the previous batch and then diced them up, after I performed some quality control checks. It took eating three before I actually declared this a success.  You know, you can’t rush quality control.  We all have to fall on our sword sometimes. *grin*

Anyway, one bulk package from Sam’s took about an hour and a half with prep, baking, and cutting, and filled three freezer zip bags, as well as a bag of some solid tenders for lunches in the refrigerator. 

These have been SO handy too!  I thawed a bag and used half of them in the Frito Supreme dish I previously blogged here.  I was able to just warm the pieces up with the wet ingredients and the meal was ready for plating within ten minutes!  

I never realized until I read the roasting instructions that I had mostly been over cooking the chicken, which was why I couldn’t get that store bought tenderness when I tried baking. I always use my thermometer, but I was testing WAY too late. Doh!  She made a great point about needing to season the chicken, too. I’ve always seasoned the dishes themselves, but it never dawned on me to use the Hinkle’s directly on the chicken in this capacity until I read that post (for shredded crock pot I just do a few bouillon cubes and water, plus a little poultry seasoning, usually).  I love that I can use whatever I can tolerate at the moment, too, since I can’t always tolerate the same spices!  Bonus: the sliced pieces have been flavorful enough as is to make a healthy topping for Larry’s salad “lunch” at work (what do you call meal break when it’s in the evening, yet not dinner, anyway?). I had never baked meat on parchment paper either and I think that was much better than the usual foil versions I had tried before. It also seems a lot healthier with a better texture, to us at least. 

I really wanted to share this information since there are so many other variations out there and this is the first that truly worked for me. This helped us save quite a bit of money, keeps cooked chicken on hand for quick meals, and was so easy that I was able to do it on one of my not-so-good days. A few days later I cooked up a huge package of lean ground beef, unseasoned, that I throughly drained, broke up into pretty small pieces, and froze, too.  Having precooked proteins on hand has made cooking during my worst point of the day a lot less daunting, not to mention a lot more cost effective, since I can get some great bulk prices. *happy dance* I can’t just pop on down to the market when I decide to cook, so having things on hand is essential, but can get expensive when you buy them in handy packages at the store. I’m absolutely tickled!

Are you interested in hearing about other hacks that I try?  Do you have any other meal “hacks” that have made things easier for you that you wouldn’t mind sharing?  My next hack attempt is going to be freezing blueberries. I’ll be able to have them for smoothies even when it’s hard to get good ones at a decent price out in The Midwest. I just love life hacks! 🙂   

Freezing Bell Peppers

I thought I’d share this super helpful tip I learned recently. I’ve been trying once a week to do the prep for several meals and have been trying to even do the whole homemade freezer meals thing.  I’ve been using bell peppers a bit more than usual due to the meal preps (and because I’m suddenly not intolerant of them like I was, although I so far can only eat green ones). The worst part was that several of the peppers would go bad before the coordinating meals were fixed. I decided to see if it’s possible to freeze them and found tons of variations, so I’m not including any links this time. There are just so many versions and I have no idea who actually figured it out, so I don’t know who to credit. I’m very thankful to everyone else that knew how to freeze bell peppers though! Now I can just pull out the portion I need from the bag and fry them for a few minutes with meat for quick fajitas. 

Basically you just prep your peppers, cut in the way you want, flash freeze them, and then you can bag them. There are some handy details I put together from all of the versions, though. First, make sure to dry your peppers after you wash them, before you cut them. You don’t want extra water during the flash freezing. Second (and this I actually learned from Top Chef), you can trim from a pepper in four to five cuts. The key is to start at the top and curve your knife to follow the flesh as you cut down, until you cut through the bottom. Third, try to keep the peppers from touching much, especially if you end up dicing them. That flash freeze will freeze them in clumps and it won’t be so easy to just grab a few. Last, this doesn’t work for raw usage. Once frozen the bell peppers must be cooked. They will be nasty once they thaw if they’re not cooked, so don’t try it.  Bonus tip (although I’m still on the fence on this one): supposedly the bell peppers with three points on the bottom instead of four (or more) are sweeter and have a little less acid. 

Instructions are basic, but at least I can provide pictures so that you know you’re doing it right. I started off by washing and drying the bell peppers, and then cut them off of the core as described. 

Next I sliced mine into thin strips, since I knew that cut would work for my household. They are just the way we like them for fajitas and easy to dice if I want to add into some rice or something. 

Cover a cookie sheet with wax paper and lay the sliced/diced peppers out on the paper, touching as little as possible. (This cut is more forgiving, so if they touch it’s not as big of a deal thankfully.) 

If needed you can put another sheet of wax paper right on top of those peppers and repeat the process. Keep in mind that it’ll take a lot longer to flash freeze like this. It’s recommended that if you have the room, then lay everything out in a single level for quick and even flash freezing. I don’t have much space to dedicate to whole sheets all laying flat, especially with all of the freezer items I now have, so I had to try stacking. It works for us, but it definitely does take longer, so if you have room, stick to a single layer. 

I have no real clue how long it takes to flash freeze. I’ve done this in single layers all the way up to three stacks deep and still haven’t really figured out the right time frame. My recommendation is that if you have the space and don’t mind a little bell pepper aroma for a day, make it easy and then just freeze them (exposed) overnight.  Check on them and see if they are frozen through. If you have stacked them, you’ll probably package the stacks at different times, since the bottom ones will need some exposure to flash freeze. Here they are frozen. If you look closely you can see the little frost where the flesh was moist. 

Peel them off of the wax paper (they’ll have a little cling) and put them in a freezer zipper bag. I did a whole bag of bell peppers from Sam’s Club, at a super great price, and ended up with three layers. They all fit in a gallon zip bag and I put a pop can beside it so you can see how much frozen bell pepper I have on hand now. 

When I make fajitas tomorrow all I’ll have to do is pull out a handful and warm them in a skillet with the cooked, sliced meat for just a few minutes. Easy as can be and no need to cook all of your bell pepper dishes one after the other so that your peppers don’t go bad. *big grin* It’s such a small thing, but it has been a huge help!  

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask, and I’d love to hear about your way if you all ready are a pro at this. 🙂 I’m hoping to discover more tips for meal prep as I get better at the freezer meals. 

Happy News!

I haven’t written lately because I’ve actually been enjoying being a little more “normal” than I have been in years (not mentally of course – I’m still pretty much insane probably lol).  I’ve filled my time with doing things and then a few marathons to make myself rest, so that I don’t overdo it and get really bad again.  The tide began to change two weeks ago.

I saw my Fibro specialist and we went over my abnormal labs, plus went through older labs, etc.  Since he’s actually an Infectious Disease doctor he is the one to ask about any wacky things that I might have picked up.  He’s so awesome that he actually worked his way through the entire page of stuff I had researched.  The best part is that he ruled out everything else except for Hep C, which he forgot that he was going to order labs for (so I’ll get those soon, but he really doubts it anyway).  The abnormal labs actually are due to the muscle relaxers, as I had found in clinical trial results, although the reasons for the abnormal results were actually a good sign.  The way he said it is that it just shows that my body is actually processing the medicine, although the higher dose is probably why I never had elevated labs before, and that although the labs were abnormal for a normal person we don’t have to worry until it’s many, many times higher than these abnormals.  *happy dance*  (Back on the muscle relaxers now thankfully!  I can’t wait for the involuntary movements to stop again!)  Oddly enough no one has ever tested for Hep C despite having several inches deep of lab tests.  By the time I saw him I think we all figured everything had been ruled out all ready, so it slipped through.  There are enough overlapping symptoms between it and the combination of conditions that I have that there is a slight chance that I have a mild case of it, but it’s most likely just the same old conditions.  It’s kind of crazy to feel so happy over having the miserable conditions that I have, but I am so thankful not to be facing new challenges!  He thinks that the other doctor’s nurse just isn’t familiar with chronic illnesses like mine, so that’s why she wanted to just blow it off until the next round of labs, and why she focused on the one part that she understood and was instructed to inform me about.

Next, we went through all of the other research.  I had learned about a Midwest doctor that believes that most Fibro sufferers actually have black mold in their sinuses and has a very different treatment protocol, etc.  As luck would have it my specialist actually knows a lot about this other doctor and knows that there hasn’t been any proof of success.  He actually put it really well when he said “If you look for something strange in a group that has problems, then you’re going to find something”.  Well, hmm.  That’s true.  If the black mold in the sinuses truly was the cause, then why hasn’t almost every one of those patients had tremendous successful recoveries?  To give my doctor credit he also offered to get the labs and refer me to the other doctor if I’d like to check for myself, but I have no need since his thoughts make a lot of sense to me.

We also agreed on trying two new medications.  One is prescription and the other is a supplement.  The supplement is 5-HTP, which is a tryptophan in pill form, and helps with mood, appetite suppression, and sleep.  As to the prescription, I had compiled a lot of success stories from patients and research, plus even talked to a few friends in the medical field, about Marinol.  It’s not a recognized treatment for CFS or Fibro, however there has been a lot of success with it blocking the receptors.  Using it for anything beside nausea/appetite is still pretty controversial, especially in the Bible Belt, but he agreed to prescribe it for me to try it for a few weeks.  It had to be prescribed to help with the nausea I’ve had from the IBS and sinus stuff, but I don’t care what is said as long as I can get it.  I don’t know if it will work for everyone, and it definitely won’t work for anyone that is still working, but so far it’s a huge success story for me.  Between the two of them I am sleeping a whole lot, although it’s actually restorative sleep for once.  *little chair dance*  One of the benchmark symptoms of CFS and Fibro is that sleep is non-restorative, which is part of why we’re so fatigued.  True sleep makes such a huge change, let me tell you!  I still sleep really odd times, but who cares?!  After I’ve been awake for a bit I get these bursts of energy and can get some stuff done.  I made a bunch of freezer meal and partial prepped meals, cleaned several rooms, and made some product.  The coolest part is that when the Marinol is in effect it somehow stops a lot of the chatter in my brain.  At any given point I usually have at least a handful of messages bombarding my brain to say a body part hurts.  I get tons of messages about pain that has no reason to exist, then on top of all of the hyper responses from my body I have the real pain messages, plus a lot of random thoughts.  I’ve never understood when people talk about having just one thought or even staring into space without a thought.   My mind has always been cluttered and busy.  The Marinol quiets my brain and almost all of the false pain messages are quiet now.  The pain that I experience now almost all has a reason – injuries, overuse, etc. I never realized how tiring it is to have so much input continually being processed  until it finally quieted down.  It’s been hard to relearn what my limits are without my body continuously complaining and it has been an awesome lesson to learn.  I had truly started to believe that things wouldn’t improve again, so this has been a huge sun filled vacation during an ice age.  *grin*

Today I started another two week trial of the Marinol and restarted the muscle relaxer.  I’m hoping that the next two weeks will be just as successful, although it’d be nice to be awake during lunch a few times.  *laugh*  Poor Larry didn’t have any lunches made for him lately.  It is super hard to fight off the sleepy pull from the medications right now and my eyes feel like sand paper is rubbing over them when I try to fight it.  I’m going to just go with the flow for now and enjoy all of this sleep.  *grin* Expect to see some freezer meals and prep shortcuts since those have been my current research topics.  The next post will be an awesome shortcut that I’ve been absolutely delighted with.  🙂 Anyway, I hope you don’t mind my sharing what’s been going on and I’ll try to post the shortcut later today.

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