Crockpot Freezer Meals Made Easier

I love using crockpot freezer meals.  If I have had a long day working around the homestead, or to town running multiple errands, the last thing I want to do when I arrive home late is try to figure out and put together a meal for the family’s dinner.  Eating out is a rarity for us, a very special treat, so that is not an option on those days.  And the last few years, with Mr. Smiles in and out of the hospital often – sometimes unscheduled, sometimes we know ahead of time – it makes it even more necessary to have some easy meals on hand.

I used to take a full Saturday to make 20-30 crockpot freezer meals to get us all stocked up.  That way any day that I needed to I could easily grab a frozen meal in the morning, throw it in the crockpot on low, and by dinner it was ready for us.  But lately it is harder and harder to come by a day that I can spend doing freezer meals.  So I have come up with a new plan to keep freezer meals handy and ready for us.

Every time that I am making a meal for the family that is one that works well as a freezer meal I purposely buy extra ingredients and while I am cooking I put together 2-5 freezer bags of the meal as well.  I am already dealing with all the ingredients, multiplying them and putting them into bags barely takes any extra time at all.  And it spreads out the cost of the extra meals too.

This week I was making chicken fajitas for dinner, so I made two extra bags of them to freeze for future dinners.

By doing this regularly we continually have a supply of easy freezer meals for our family, without too much extra work.

Sunday Homestead Update

We continue to battle spring snow storms and wind here in the Rockies.  It has been hindering our garden preparations, so I am really glad we were able to get so much done earlier in the year when the weather was better.

Garden

Despite the cold, we have green popping up here and there in the garden.  The chives, rhubarb, and comfrey are all sticking out their heads.

Everything under the grow lights is looking great too!

Chickens

All the chicks continue to do well as they grow through the ugly adolescent phase.

Kitchen

Berries were 50% off this week, so we canned some mixed-berry jam (raspberry/blackberry).  We have been out of it for a LONG time so we are all REALLY excited to have some back on the shelves.  We were able to do 16 pints.

Knitting

I finished the Banner Day Shawl, pattern by Megan Williams.  I used Greenwood Fiberworks Simply Sock yarn and absolutely love the feel of it.  The pattern was easy but interesting, which made it fun and made it feel like it went fast.

Warmer weather is headed our way!  We are looking forward to getting outside more this week.

LHL Recipe Review – Lotion

We are working our way through the Little House Living book of recipes for bath, body, and household products, and kitchen mixes.  You can read previous recipe reviews by clicking on “LHL Recipe Reviews” in the category section on the right sidebar.  We are not affiliated with Little House Living, nor are they compensating us for this.  We just wanted to work our way through all the recipes because they all look so great, and thought it would be nice to take you along for the journey.  🙂  All recipes are rated on a scale of 7 thumbs up, since we are a family of 7.

This time we tried out the lotion recipe.  We tried this recipe a few years ago when it was posted on the LHL blog.  At the time, I felt like it was too greasy for me and didn’t use it after the first try.  It did, however, work really well for our middle son’s skin, but I never made another batch.

So this time I decided if we were going to make it we needed to give it a good try.  Everyone in the house needed to use it for a week and give feedback.  We would go the full week, unless it caused a negative reaction, of course.

It was simple to mix up and make.  We split the recipe into three jars, so everyone would have easy access to it.  But had we not split it, one recipe would fill one 250 ml jar.

 Speaking of jars, I liked putting it in these short square ball jars with wide mouths.  It made it very easy to get the lotion out.

We deal with very dry skin up here because our climate is so very dry.  The humidity in our house is usually between 6-20% in the winter, even with steamer pots boiling on the wood stoves.  We all struggle with dry skin problems, especially in the winter.  Working out on the farm in the freezing weather and wetness doesn’t help either.  And some of us have issues with our hands cracking and bleeding because of it.  So a good lotion is so important for us.

Here’s what we thought after using it for a week:

It does go on kind of greasy, like I had thought before.  However, I found that if I used less and rubbed it in well, the greasy-ness was gone in a few minutes.  The moisturizing power lasted MUCH longer than store bought, and the texture felt better than store bought on my skin after the greasy-ness soaked in (I have sensory issues, so texture is very important for me).  My hands did much better and the cracking is healing up.  So I was very happy with the lotion and glad I gave it more time than last try.

I have struggled to find a baby lotion for Mr. Smiles that would last longer than a few hours.  His skin dries out very fast and just a couple of hours after applying store-bought lotions he is dry again.  That didn’t happen with this lotion, I was able to apply it just once a day and it lasted until the next day.

The other kids, and Mtn Man, are all happy with it too!  I am excited to have a homemade lotion that is more natural and works so well.  We will be making another batch and filling those three jars all the way up!

The lotion recipe gets 7 thumbs up!

LHL Recipe Review – Baked Oatmeal Mix and Instant Oatmeal Mix

We are working our way through the Little House Living book of recipes and today is our first post!  You can read the introductory post here.  All recipes will be rated based on a scale of 1-7 thumbs up (because we are a family of 7).

The first thing we decided to try was the Baked Oatmeal Mix and the Instant Oatmeal Mix.  I love the idea of making our own kitchen mixes so that it is quick and easy to cook.  I love the convenience of mixes from boxes and cans, but I don’t love the extra unnecessary and unhealthy ingredients that are often in them.  Also, since we are Gluten-Free because of Celiac disease, our options are limited, expensive, and often not very tasty.  So the concept of making our own kitchen mixes so we know exactly what is in them and can save money was very appealing to me.

We eat a lot of oatmeal for breakfast in our house.  We have a recipe for baked oatmeal that we enjoy, and we sometimes are able to find instant oatmeal packets at the discount grocery for a good price.  But the instant packs are too big for some of our kids and too small for others.  So I was interested in trying out these two recipes.

Baked Oatmeal

Even though we have our own recipe for baked oatmeal, I was open to trying out hers.  I made the pre-made Baked Oatmeal Mix.  Each recipe for the base mix fits on one quart jar.

I made four of them because that used up the oats I had.

I added less sugar than suggested because I could tell by the amounts it would be a bit sweeter than we prefer.

Then you take the premixed jar and add some wet ingredients and your choice of fruit to it, mix, and bake.  You can do it the night before and then just throw it in the oven in the morning, or you can do it in the morning too.  Either way is pretty fast with the premixed dry ingredients ready.

We chose to use some of our home-canned apples in honey syrup as the fruit for our first batch.

It turned out delicious!  All the kids loved it, and they even said they liked it better than our other baked oatmeal recipe.  The only problem, for our family of 7, was that it was too small of an amount.  So we decided that when I mix up a bunch more I will double each recipe and use half-gallon jars for storing the mix.  That way it will feed us all.

First recipe gets 7 thumbs up!

Instant Oatmeal Mix

We like the single-serving instant oatmeal packs from the store, but they are never the right amount in one package.  Some kids can’t finish a whole pack, and some want more than one.  They also are expensive and have extra ingredients we don’t want.  So I loved the idea of making bulk instant oatmeal mix so each kid could just scoop out the amount they want, add water, and have instant breakfast.  Three of the kiddos’ favorite flavor is apple cinnamon, 1 of them likes plain with just brown sugar, and 1 of them likes either of those choices.  So I decided to make some of both options.

The results were again excellent.  The kids loved it and they really loved the freedom to make the amount they wanted.  And I love a quick and easy breakfast that they can make independently (except the littlest, of course).  Another recipe that gets 7 thumbs up from us!

So it looks like we will be getting some big bulk bags of oats and instant oats so I can mix up a bunch more of these two great recipes.

Sunday Homestead Update

Warmer weather continues to elude us here.  It had been chilly and windy.  The wind has a frigid bite to it that cuts right through you and makes you want to get inside.  Our minds are outdoors, wanting to prepare the gardens and enjoy fresh air and sunshine, but our bodies are stuck inside away from the cold.

We call this “tandem woodstove warming.”  It is an olympic sport for the pets at our house. 🙂

In the Kitchen

We got some projects done in the kitchen while we were avoiding the cold weather.

Did you know that the condiments in your refrigerator are likely full of corn syrup, unnecessary sugars, and other unnecessary and unhealthy ingredients?  And condiments are surprisingly easy to make for yourself without all the extra junk.  Mayo doesn’t need sugar to taste excellent and you can whip some up in your blender in about 5 minutes (recipe here).  We make all our own salad dressings, mayonnaise, ketchup, and barbecue sauce to help keep our family healthier and stay away from unnecessary sugars and other ingredients.

We made and canned 7 quarts of ketchup this week.  This will last us about half a year or so.  So I only have to make ketchup twice a year, and it uses honey instead of corn syrup or sugar.  It takes about 45 minutes to make, then about another 45 to can it.  So about 3 hours of work (for the two batches) and we have our own homemade ketchup for a year.

I have never taken the time to write out and compare pricing, but we buy our ingredients at a discount grocery store and in bulk, so I am guessing that our ketchup cost the same, or less than store-bought.  For our homemade ketchup recipe, click here.

We also then made BBQ sauce.  It uses our homemade ketchup as one of the ingredients, so I figured it made sense to make it one after the other.  We canned 9 pints of BBQ Sauce and had a quart that went into the fridge.  Recipe Here.

DIY Livestock Feed Scoop

After we finished the ketchup and BBQ sauce, we had some empty vinegar containers left over.  Whenever we have empty plastic jugs like this we make them into livestock feed scoops.  It is quick and easy and free.  Feed scoops have ways of getting lost and/or destroyed around here (we have a dog that likes to chew them up).  So it seems we can never have enough of these.

I just draw lines onto the jug where I want to cut and then use kitchen scissors to cut the plastic out.

You can read a previous post about how to make these by clicking here.

Garden

Our seedlings are sprouting and growing well on their grow light shelf in the basement.  And we used the few warm hours we had outdoors this week to smooth out the dirt in the raised beds and lay out the drip lines in place.  We also got the trellises and hoop frames up.  We are closing in on our first outdoor planting in a few weeks, which is exciting.

Chickens

The meat chicks seem to be done dying.  None died this week and they are happily settled into their pen in the barn.  We ended up with 23 chicks (we started with 41).  The layer chicks and silky chicks are still doing well.  All of them are in the half-fluff/half feather kind of awkward and ugly stage.

Hoping for some warmer days this week!