Girls Night In

the blog for single, over-40 women

How to Make the Best Chicken and Noodles

For many, many years, chicken & noodles was a rare treat. I didn’t think I could make it and C&N done right can be hard to find. Especially since I grew up eating my grandma’s homemade noodles every Thanksgiving and Christmas. So, yes, I’m a C&N snob. To me, it’s the height of comfort food so it must be perfect.

I’m delighted to report that I now make it all the time and it’s really easy. Here’s what I do:

First, I buy a rotisserie chicken—why do all the work myself? These chickens are tasty and, usually, I can get two meals for myself PLUS a pot of C&N to share with my family from one $6-$7 bird.

Next, fill a good-sized pot about half full with chicken broth and bring it to a boil. You can use some water, if needed, but broth is the best way to go.

While the broth is heating up, pull the meat off the bones and shred it. I suggest doing this when the chicken’s at room temperature or close to it. Your fingers will thank you.

Once the broth comes to a boil, add noodles. I recommend homemade Amish ones like this, if at all possible:

Amish Noodles

Let the noodles cook for about 15-20 minutes, then add the chicken and salt and pepper to taste. Also, at the bottom of the chicken container you should find juices that came from the meat as it cooked—throw that in too for more flavor.

The last thing I include is a can of cream of chicken soup. I only discovered the beauty of this addition a few years ago, but it really takes it up a notch.

To provide a vegetable as well as a little color, I like shredded carrots. Any form of carrot is fine, of course, but the shredded cooks faster and, I think, is easier. Peas are good as well. I would add the veggies about an hour before you plan to eat.

Go ahead and let it simmer on low for a while. The longer it cooks, the more broth it will need so make sure you have an extra can or carton you can use. Keep checking and stirring—for several hours if you have the time. That’s how you end up with something like this:

Chicken & Noodles

Yum! Let me tell you, my family loves it when I show up with a pot of C&N. And if you don’t want to share it, only make half a bag of noodles and store the leftovers in those freezer-to-microwave plastic containers I mentioned a few months ago.

Do you have a favorite meal you wish you knew how to make?

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No Fuss. No Muss. Just Pasta.

If I were to list the seasons from favorite to least favorite, summer would be at the bottom. (Fall easily tops the list. Best time of the year!) It’s not that I’m anti-summer. I enjoy road trips with my family, afternoons at the pool, sitting around a campfire and anything that involves being in any kind of boat on some body of water.

What I don’t like is feeling hot and sweaty. Which means I cook/bake a lot less during the summer months. I like salads and sandwiches, and I certainly stay away from turning on the oven.

Macaroni SaladSo with all that in mind, a nice, cold pasta salad remains a summertime staple. I make up a large batch and keep it in the fridge, where it typically lasts a couple weeks. And since it’s just me, I can munch on it right out of the bowl. Is that wrong? 🙂

This is what I do:

Boil and drain two cups of macaroni, then rinse in cold water until it’s no longer warm.

Mix in a can of tuna, plus peas, dill pickles/relish, mayo/Miracle Whip, mustard, salt and pepper. I don’t measure–I just add until I get the flavor I want.

Celery is great in it too but, unfortunately, I don’t use enough to justify buying a whole bundle. Someday I’d like to try it with hard-boiled eggs, but I keep forgetting that part. . . .

(Feel free to adjust ingredients according to your own preferences.)

It’s light and refreshing and perfect for someone like me who, often, gets caught up in work and realizes it’s too late to make something because I’m hungry now.

Serve it with a fresh-out-of-the-garden tomato and … yum!

What do you make when it’s too hot to cook?

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Simple but Tasty Meal Ideas … on a Budget

By the grace of God, I ended up wandering a financially insecure career path. I love what I do, but I hate the uncertainty of it. Money—or the lack thereof—is a constant burden. And I’m not going to lie … it’s rough. The thought that a husband would, most likely, help ease that burden doesn’t help. But since that’s not an option, at least not at this time, I look for other ways to make ends meet.

Coming up with cheap, simple, one-person meals not only helps the pocketbook, but gives me another means to be creative. I’m not doing anything Chef Ramsay-worthy here … just easy ways to make fairly basic items tasty on a budget. Here are two suggestions:

  1. Call me crazy, but I really like the little Totino’s pizzas. They cost less than a buck fifty, and sometimes I can get them on sale for a dollar. I like to take them to another level by adding veggies, like green pepper, sliced tomatoes and extra mozzarella. It’s still a cheap meal, but this takes it up a notch, in my mind.
    Pizza
  2. Last week, I wanted a sandwich for lunch. I had ham and cheese but no bread. But I did have a little can of four crescent rolls. (I’m glad Pillsbury offers smaller portions of these and their biscuits.) So, I unrolled half the dough and laid it flat on a cookie sheet, making a rectangle. I put the ham, some cheese and a couple slices of tomato on top, then covered it with the other two rolls. I baked it in a 375 oven for about 12 minutes.
    Ham & CheeseDo you have any suggestions for taking inexpensive items up a notch? What do you do to save money on food, if anything?
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Pot Roast and Vegetable Soup

It’s summer time and people’s thoughts have turned to salads and ice cream. I’m all for a good salad, but not every day. And, even in the summertime, I like a good solid meal in the middle of the day. You know, a meat and potatoes kind of meal that will stay with me through the afternoon.

The problem with this time of year is that making a meat and potatoes meal can heat up my little, no-air-conditioning house if it means turning on the oven. So the crockpot is as much my friend in the summer as it is in the winter.

This past weekend I made a pot roast for dinner with my dad. It was pretty simple. I started with a good roast that I seared in a skillet with some olive oil. I then put it in the crock with carrots, onions and cubes of butternut squash. I added enough water to cover the food and seasoned it with  salt, pepper, oregano (about a teaspoon each) and a couple of cloves of garlic.

It turned out really tender and yummy and didn’t overheat the house at all. When it was done there was quite a bit of broth left in the crock. Sometimes I make gravy, but this time I bypassed that.

I didn’t want to waste all that rich broth, so the next night I put the broth back in my handy-dandy superhero of the kitchen. I added big chunks of carrots, potatoes, celery, fried ground beef and a can of diced tomatoes with green chilies, then spiced it with some red pepper flakes and cilantro.

The next morning when I got up for work, I had a delicious soup waiting for me to pack in my lunch bag for the day. Between that and the roast, I had lunches for the whole week!

And, as you know–par for the course–I didn’t think ahead to take a picture of the roast, but I did snap a photo of my soup at lunch on Monday. 🙂

 

Veggie Soup

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It’s the Simple Things

It really is. The simple things, I mean. Take, for instance, this:

Simple

Now, I realize this probably isn’t new to you. I stumbled across these wonderful answers to my cooking-for-one dilemma several years ago. The dilemma being–what’s the best way to store leftovers so they don’t go bad before I get to them? Then I found these containers that can go from the freezer to the microwave.

Which means I can make a pot of chili or goulash or chicken and noodles, put single servings in a few of these babies and toss them in the freezer until I’m ready to nuke one for a quick meal. I’ve definitely thrown away fewer leftovers since I made this discovery!

For Cinco de Mayo this week, I decided to make a taco dip. Here’s what I do:

I brown half a pound of hamburger and mix it with about 1/3 of a packet of taco seasoning and some water. Then I put half of the meat mixture in one of the aforementioned containers, top it with some queso and microwave it until the cheese is bubbly hot. Add some salsa and/or tomatoes, a bit of lettuce, and some tortilla chips for dipping, and you get something like this:

Simple 2

Of course, you can layer other things, like beans, corn, onions, sour cream … whatever makes your taste buds happy!

When you’re finished with meal one, put the rest of the meat into the same container and store in the fridge or freezer, depending on when you think you’ll finish it.

By the way, I bought the cool sewing chair and the green tea cart in the above pictures at auctions. I love a great auction find! In fact, I hope to go to a couple this weekend.

Do you have any cooking-for-one hacks you want to share?

 

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Summer Fare – Salad for One

Ah, can you hear it!?! Summertime is knocking on the door. Before you know it, the sun will be warming our worlds and making life a whole lot brighter. With summertime comes the desire to not be in the kitchen all evening cooking elaborate meals.

One thing I love about summer is that salads are such a quick, easy meal, especially these days with such a variety of bagged lettuce mixes.

I thought I would share with you one of my favorite summer meals, which I like to call the Kitchen Sink Salad. Yeah, it’s called that because I often put everything but the kitchen sink in my salad.

Start with bagged lettuce for a little-effort meal. Last summer, Dad and I had lots of lettuce in our garden, so I used that. If I go with the bagged lettuce, I like to combine a couple of bags of different lettuces to get a good mix. So, like a spring mix with some butter lettuce. Use whatever kind you like best.

Then I go through the fridge and look for what I have. Some of my favorite add-ins are:

Sweet peas
Cauliflower
Carrots
Sunflower Seeds
Pecans
Walnuts
Apples
Strawberries
Banana (yeah, sounds weird, but I like it)
Orange sections
Mushrooms
Olives
Cheese
Ham, turkey or chicken
Boiled eggs
Cranberries
Raisins
Croutons
Cilantro

Be adventurous! You never know until you try. I once added a baked potato to a salad. That was pretty good, but if the potato is cooked too soft, it makes it hard to eat.

Once you’ve added everything you like, top with dressing and enjoy!

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Spring Cleaning the Freezer

I have had a half-empty bag of chicken wingettes in my freezer for at least a year. They were frozen solid and encased in ice, but I still thought there might be hope of salvaging them. And I needed to salvage them because I have restricted myself from buying any meat until I eat the meat that has been sitting in my freezer forever.

Well, where there’s a will there’s a way! I transformed those freezer-burned wings into something tasty. And it was rather easy to do.

Just before I rushed out to an appointment I put the wings (sorry I forgot the pic of the frozen wings) in my crock pot and just barely covered them with water.

Then I added seasoning. Just the basics: seasoned salt, pepper, onion and garlic.

I put the top on the pot, turned the pot on high (since they were frozen solid), and went on my merry way.

Three hours later the chicken was cooked. But I wanted the meat to fall off the bones, so I let it cook for another four hours while I studied.

When I next checked, the bones were easily separated from the meat. Perfect.

I scooped the bones out, which was easy since they were all drumettes with one bone.

What was left was tender, flavorful chicken stock.

This could be the base of a hearty soup, or it could be eaten with rice or noodles.  But I plan to get a bowl and spoon and enjoy it as is!

Have you salvaged anything good from the freezer lately?

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Fake Patty Melts

Image courtesy: Jackthumm/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy: Jackthumm/freedigitalphotos.net

I’m a lover of comfort foods. One of my favorites to order when I’m in a diner is a patty melt. It’s not something I ever make for myself at home. Recently, though, I was hungry for something and didn’t feel like going out. So I put my brain to work and came up with a fake patty melt which wasn’t too bad. It’s quick and easy and even a little healthy.

I started with a Spicy Black Bean Veggie Burger from Morningstar. I love these burgers and usually have them in my freezer.  I sautéed some onion in a skillet while the burger was in the toaster oven. Cheese was added at the very last minute so that it just melts over the top of the burger. Instead of frying the sandwich with butter in the skillet, I toasted it and then added the burger and onions.

It turned out pretty good. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures before I ate it!

 

 

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A Kinda Mexican Meal

I’m trying to cut costs and to be conscientious of eating better these days, and the result this week was my thinking of a Mexican-alternative dinner. This is what I did.

Instead of buying something like this (which belongs to my roommate):

20150205_080540

I bought this:

20150205_080605

I had a hunch that petite diced tomatoes were the same thing as salsa, and I was right! The diced tomatoes cost $1 while the salsa was approximately $4. Win!

The next step was to make use of something that had been long forgotten in the deep freeze. I found steaks (from a date which I had planned to cook for which never happened, alas). You may have chicken or turkey or something else. Any kind of meat will work. I sliced the steaks into bite-sized portions.

To finalize my instant-Mexican meal, I used lettuce instead of a tortilla, and the cheese I had on hand. My final ingredient list looked like this

20150205_082114

You might also want to add sour cream, black olives, jalapeños or whatever else suits your fancy.

When I put it all together—lettuce, steak, tomatoes, cheese—this was the final result

20150205_083017

So there you have it. A cheap, easy and protein-rich dinner!

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Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

One of my fears as a child—yes, I had several—was tornadoes. I called them “tomatoes” and thought they would sweep me up and carry me away from my family. And I was certain, at some point, I would see Miss Gulch riding her bike before morphing into the Wicked Witch of the West on her broom.

So, I dreaded hearing there was a tornado watch or warning—I could never remember which was worse—and since I grew up in Iowa, whirling clouds of destruction were always a reality.

CCCB - 1

Before baking. This is some yummy cookie dough so I recommend grabbing a spoonful before sticking it in the oven!

But one year, the tornado warning sounded just as my mom was stirring her special cookie bar dough. She herded my brothers and sister and me down to the basement, taking the dough and a handful of spoons with her, and let us nibble on the chocolate-chip-filled goodness while we waited for the storm to pass. (This was long before the raw egg scare.)

At one point, I went upstairs to get something to read and, as I passed the front door, I noticed a sky colored with reds and golds and blues. I opened the door and stepped out onto the porch. The air was still, hushed and peaceful, and my heart sighed. From that moment on, I was never afraid of tornadoes again. I headed back to the basement, where we ate cookie dough, played ping pong and waited for the all-clear.

I’ve hung onto Mom’s chocolate chip cookie bars recipe for over 30 years now. My youngest sister and I still make them fairly regularly. In fact, I took them to a singles game night just last weekend because this is the kind of love you have to share. They’re chewy inside with a paper-thin crispy layer on top and a slight butterscotch flavor. And so easy!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

CCCB - 2

After baking. I had some white chocolate chips so I threw those in there too.

One yellow cake mix
½ cup oil (coconut oil works as does unsweetened applesauce—though Mom never would have imagined using either!)
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
A splash of milk (optional; makes stirring easier)
1 12-ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Combine all the ingredients. Mix well. Pour into a greased 9×13 pan. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, depending on your oven. I would check after 20-25 minutes.

Also, you can have fun with the flavor of cake mixes and chips. In the past, I’ve tried:

* Strawberry cake mix with white chocolate chips
* Chocolate cake mix with peanut butter chips and walnuts
* German chocolate cake mix with milk chocolate chips, coconut and pecans

Be creative! But, in my experience, the original is still the best.

CCCB - 3

Cookie selfie.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get a glass of milk.

 

 

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