Tools & Techniques (Secrets of a Busy Cook)

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Secrets of a Busy Cook: Cooking For the Freezer Secrets of a Busy Cook: Planned Leftovers Secrets of a Busy Cook: Quick and Easy Recipes Secrets of a Busy Cook: Fast Ingredients Secrets of a Busy Cook: Tools and Techniques Image Map

Adapted from Secrets of a Busy Cook by Lynn Nelson, used by permission

Level V: Tools & Techniques

Kitchen appliances and cooking techniques have come a long way since our mothers’ days. All these hi-tech gadgets and cooking methods can save you lots time in the kitchen. Here are some tools and techniques that the busy cook shouldn’t be without! Without planning the use of these tools and techniques into your day, they will sit useless on the counter. An article I read pointed out that while we do not have servants like the Proverbs 31 woman, these tools are the modern day equivalent to the “servants” mentioned in Proverbs 31. By giving your “servants” their instructions for the day, you allow them to serve you while you attend to other matters. This was an enlightening revelation to me and has motivated me to make more consistent use of these electronic “servants”.

Easy Crockpot Recipes and Menus

Microwave – my favorite tool for defrosting all those prepared ingredients and meals from the freezer

Crockpot – used weekly and almost always on ballet day when we are gone from 3:30pm until 7:30pm

Bread Machine – I prefer to make large batches of bread by hand, but this can come in handy for those who prefer one loaf at a time and is great for getting pizza dough ready just in time for lunch

Recipe Software – there are many available for purchase or free to download online (just google “recipe software”)

Shopping list software – I love this because once I have prices at my local stores programmed into it I can drag and drop my list from a selection of items and it will not only print it by category (saving me time running back to an aisle where I forgot something) but it gives me a total price for the trip right on the list (Windows only; although not free, SplashShopper is a nice App for Mac users)

Grill – good tool for quick meals but also for preparing ingredients for the freezer like grilled chicken or vegetables

Pressure Cooker – speeds up cooking and give the benefits of slow-cooked style in less time

The Busy Mom Menu Incorporates Tools and Techniques Into Dinner Menus For You

The Busy Mom Menu plans using the most effective tools and techniques into your dinner menus so you don’t even have to think about it. Just… Print. Shop. Cook.

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Recipes Using Tools and Techniques

Maple Dijon Chicken {For the Freezer}

Menus4Moms: Maple Dijon Chicken (Freezer Cooking) This is one of my go to recipes for delicious chicken. We’ve been making it for years but recently discovered by way of the Six Sisters website that it’s a great freezer dish as well. [Read More...]

Reuben Sandwiches

Reuben Sandwiches This Reuben Sandwich Recipe is a great way to use up leftover corned beef, or even to set the crockpot up to cook the corned beef and make the sandwiches in the evening. It’s a crowd-pleaser! [Read More...]

Pesto Ranch Crockpot Chicken

Pesto Ranch Crockpot Chicken Recipe This chicken is so good you’ll want to drink the juice left in the crockpot! Serve with rice or mashed potatoes so you can use that wonderful juice as a gravy. [Read More...]

Crockpot Cube Steak and Gravy

Menus4Moms: Crockpot Cube Steak and Gravy Looking for a super easy supper idea? Look no further than Crockpot Cube Steak and Gravy. With a pound of cube steak, an envelope of onion soup mix, and 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup (or the equivalent of Cream of Something Soup mix), you can put a delicious home cooked meal on the table with almost no effort. We like this dish over mashed potatoes, but if you are really in a hurry, serve it over instant rice with a salad on the side. Slow cooking the steak all day makes the meat incredibly tender and the onion ... [Read More...]

Beef and Guinness Stew

This delicious Irish stew made with stout beer is perfect for St. Patrick’s Day. It can be started on the stove top and finished in the slow cooker if you want to have it on a day when you will be out and about in the afternoon. [Read More...]

Easy Mexican Slow Cooker Chicken

Menus4Moms: Easy Mexican Slow Cooker Chicken Like almost everyone else, I look for cooking inspiration on Pinterest. When I saw this post with the title “The Easiest Dinner Ever” with some of my favorite ingredients listed, I knew I had to try it. While it isn’t the prettiest meal I’ve ever made, it was delicious and couldn’t be easier. We will definitely have it again! [Read More...]

How To Freeze Cilantro

Menus4Moms: How to freeze cilantro We use a lot of cilantro — it adds a special flavor to to everything from guacamole to casseroles and soups, but unfortunately it has a short harvest season. When you grow it yourself it tends to bolt after a short time, and it’s not available year round in most grocery stores. A good way to avoid having to resort to dried cilantro is to freeze fresh cilantro after harvest or purchase. [Read More...]

Mexican Meatball Soup

Menus4Moms: Mexican Meatball Soup This easy slow cooker soup is one of my favorite comfort foods and is a hit with everyone in the family. You could make your own meatballs if you prefer, but we are fans of Costco’s Italian meatballs and use those instead. When you are pressed for time, you can make it on the stovetop and cut down the cooking time to less than an hour. Using sautéed onions and peppers from the freezer makes this soup virtually prep-free. [Read More...]

How to Make Pumpkin Puree

Menus4Moms: Roasted Pumpkin Although many new cooks are intimidated by cooking with them, pumpkins are just large squash. Preparing them for use in recipes is simply a matter of slicing them, scooping out the seeds, and baking them. Once baked, the meat can be scooped out and puréed for use in pies, mousse, trifles, and more. [Read More...]

Chicken Barley Vegetable Soup with Herbs

Menus4Moms - Secrets of a Busy Cook: Planned Leftovers This simple, hearty, and flavorful soup has a delicious combination of herbs and vegetables that is perfect for a fall or winter meal. For a vegetarian version, omit the chicken and use vegetable stock or water instead of chicken stock. This recipe, like most soup recipes, is flexible and can be adapted to use what you have on hand. If you don’t have barley, try substituting brown rice. The soup is a great way to use leftover diced turkey or chicken. [Read More...]

How To Cook Dried Beans for the Freezer

Dried Beans Using dried beans instead of canned beans is an easy way to save money. Cooking dried beans takes several hours but only requires checking on them a couple of times, so using a slow cooker is the easiest way to cook them without being physically present. For our menus, you can cook a bag (or two if your pot is large enough) of dried beans and freeze the beans in their own juice. These bags of frozen beans, which are far less expensive, can be used in place of canned beans. Pinto beans cooked with chopped onion (1-1/2 onions per ... [Read More...]

Lunch Ideas From Menus4Moms Members

Here are some lunch ideas that have been contributed by moms from TheHomeSchoolMom in the Kitchen and Menus4Moms™. Items suitable for packing in an insulated lunchbox or thermos are noted with an asterisk. [Read More...]

A Mom’s “Best Friends”

As a busy mom, I have several "best friends" around the house that make my life easier and more enjoyable. Some are simple and free, others not so cheap, but all are things that I wouldn’t want to live without. I have found that consistent and diligent use of these "best friends" makes the difference between an organized day and chaos, as well as the difference between feeling overwhelmed and feeling like I’ve had some "mommy time". I’ve chosen my personal top 8 to share with you. A calendar Without a calendar, my life would be total chaos. ... [Read More...]

The Potato Plan

I’m a bulk cooker and one of the types of sessions I do is potatoes. Many people are surprised by this because they assume that potatoes don’t freeze successfully. I assumed the same thing at first but after years of experimenting I’ve found that they are one of the easiest and most versatile foods in my repertoire. When they go on sale I buy at least 20#, frequently 60# or more. I never buy potatoes unless they are on sale and I never have to deal with watching them slowly go bad in the dark recesses of my pantry because I ... [Read More...]

Work Week Menus – How to Make it Easier! Time Savers for Cooking

It’s been at least six years since I balanced working outside the home almost full-time and having two kids. Friends were always amazed that I managed homemade meals on the table each night. Becoming a stay home mom with three kids made meal planning a bit easier because I was home, BUT several of the lessons I learned as a work outside the home mom still apply. I’ll give you a sample menu for one week to show how I would pull all these easy lessons together. [Read More...]

Ten Tips to Building a Better Burger

Cheeseburger Summer’s almost here and if you’re anything like me, you’ve already made that annual trip to the store to refill the propane tank on your backyard grill. One thing I often hear from guests is that my barbequed burgers actually taste good … rather than just being hard and dry as hockey pucks like so many of those traditional family reunion barbequed hamburgers we’ve all endured from time to time. In honor of the hallowed summertime tradition of outdoor cooking, here are some of my favorite tips for finding your way to Hamburger Heaven in your own backyard. 1) Don’t build your burger ... [Read More...]

Making the Perfect Brisket

When a Texan says barbecue, they aren’t talking pork. They may be referring to cabrito, but more than likely you’re going to be eating beef. Barbecue to a Texan really means brisket. This is one of the toughest, leatheriest, most difficult to cook cuts on a cow because the brisket is a muscle used for walking, which is pretty much all a cow does other than eat and burp. But, when combined with the magic of a long and low cooking, this piece of leather can be transformed into a piece of meat ... [Read More...]

Confessions of a Once-A-Month-Cooking Drop-Out

Okay, I admit it. I’m a Once-A-Month-Cooking drop-out. I tried to make a month’s worth of meals for the freezer, but I couldn’t come up with enough time or enough meals. Next I tried to make 2 weeks of meals for the freezer and stopped because I ran out of dishes, freezer bags, and patience. I had good intentions, but I’m just not that organized. Even though I flunked OAMC, my freezer is not empty. I do have a few tricks up my sleeve that I’d like to share. [Read More...]

Organize Your Recipes

Menus4Moms: Ways to Organize Your Recipes Here a few methods I have found to organize recipes: Photo Albums You can place clipped recipes and recipe cards in a any type of photo album (hint: go to the thrift stores and pick up inexpensive albums) although the type of albums that you can add pages to would be best because this will help you organize the album better. You can place tabs on pages to divide the album into categories then simply place your clipped recipes into the appropriate category. This method is a great way to keep all loose recipes together. The plastic protection will help keep your ... [Read More...]

Oven Too Small? Making Everything Fit

The neatest thing in my house is my oven. It’s a strange statement to make, but I am happy to explain myself. Our house was built in 1958; my husband and I are the third owners. Things have changed, painting has happened, floors have been redone, but two original things remain: the porcelain coated steel kitchen cabinets and my oven. (Oh yeah, and the powder blue bathtub in the upstairs bathroom – that’s from the 50s too.) Back to my oven. Although skeptical when I first toured the house, I am now begging my husband ... [Read More...]

How to Choose Cookware

Selecting the right cookware for your kitchen is not an easy task. Cookware comes in a wide range of materials from stainless steel to cast iron and everything in between. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages and some forms of cookware work better for some than for others. What to look for when choosing cookware Heat conductivity – cookware with good heat conduction equates to reduced hotspots, less burning and therefore more evenly cooked foods. Durability – if ... [Read More...]

A Quick Guide to Crockpots

One of the easiest ways to make stews, soups, barbequed meats, and a variety of other recipes is by using a slow cooker or as it is commonly known a Crockpot.  One huge advantage is that once you put the ingredients into your pot, you can go about your day without having to worry about your meal again until it is time to eat. How Does a Crockpot Work? The basic idea behind a slow cooker is that you cook your food at a low temperature for a long period of time.  The slow cooking time ... [Read More...]

Shopping List Software

Shopping List Software Download Shopping List Software For software support, please visit Home Plan Software as I cannot provide support for Shopping List software. A grocery list will be included with each menu in both PDF and Shopping List software format (see link above to download Shopping List software). Prices for each item are listed, although they may differ based on what is in season, your locality, and where you shop. If our prices for an item are significantly different from your own, drop us a line and let us know so we can see if we need to adjust them. Each week when the ... [Read More...]

Turkey Frame Soup

Menus4Moms Turkey Frame Soup That turkey carcass leftover from your holiday meal is treasure, not trash! The frame from your turkey (or chicken) makes the most delicious broth you have ever tasted. Simply put the bones (and skin if you have any) into your slow cooker and cover it with water. Let it simmer overnight and in the morning you will have the base for a delicious soup. [Read More...]

Layered One Dish Supper

This one dish meal is perfect for a cold winter night and can be made in a slow cooker if you prefer. Allow at least 3 hours for baking time if cooking in the oven and 7-8 hours if cooking in a slow cooker on high. [Read More...]

50 Ways to Save Big at the Grocery Store

Menus4Moms: Save on Groceries It is rewarding to learn new ways to save big at the grocery store.  Many of these tips to save money start in your home, before you ever get to the store.  Some involve careful planning and using what you already have to the fullest potential, so you won’t need to buy as much at the grocery store.  Remember, you only pay taxes on purchases made, so buying less means lower taxes for you.  I’ll give you some pointers, many of which I’m sure you are already putting into practice.  In that case, you might want to use this article as a checklist ... [Read More...]

Dusting Off the Old Crockery Cooker

When I think of crockery cooking, I always see in my mind’s eye my mother’s old avocado-green crock sitting on her turquoise-and-white kitchen counter. What a thing of beauty it was … NOT! But today’s crockery cookers are sleek, modern appliances you don’t have to hide away in the dark recesses of the pantry or garage anymore. If you like the experience of walking in the door and smelling dinner cooking without you slaving away in the kitchen preparing the meal, you’ll love the convenience of a crockery cooker. Take a few minutes in the morning before work or school to throw ... [Read More...]

Does Your Crockpot Work?

It seems like a silly question and you probably already answered ‘yes’. But unless your crock pot physically falls apart (like one of mine just did), how do you know it’s working properly? Most of us can figure out when we need a new coffeemaker or our toaster has run amuck, but what about your crock pot; how do you know if you’re crock pot is too old? If there are 1970s style flowers painted all over the heating element that may be a clue (I have one of those too – mine’s dark ... [Read More...]

Slow Cookers Don’t Cook So Slowly Anymore

Remember back to the first time on your own; you moved into your own place and took with you numerous hand-me-downs from your parent’s house. As time passes, you replace each piece one at a time, moving ahead with your own things. However, it seems that recently there’s been a lot of buzz as to why you may not want to buy a new crock pot. I’ve been reading a lot of crock pot cooking forums lately and there seems to be a common thread; many people are discouraged from cooking with their new ... [Read More...]

Crock Pot Cooking Problems – Are Your Meals Too Dry Or Too Moist?

Remember how dry and chewy those crock pot roasts used to be when you were a kid? You had to beg for glass after glass of milk just to wash down the meat, carrots, and potatoes. For some, those memories stick so strongly in their heads that although they receive a crock pot as a housewarming or wedding shower gift, it sits in the back of their cupboard collecting dust. Or better yet, those meals that turn out so mushy you could swear it was created (and then pureed) for a one year old. ... [Read More...]

Crockpot Recipes Hold the Key to Stress Free Cooking

A few years ago, my crock pot would collect dust in my cupboard waiting for me to make chili or a pot roast. Now it’s a rare evening when you don’t see it on my counter with the night’s dinner in it. I know that many of you can relate to what it’s like in my household from 4:00pm on. After getting 4 kids an after school snack, I am helping a 10 year old with homework, playing dominoes with twin 4 year olds, and chasing after a 2 year old. How on earth could ... [Read More...]

Cherries Galore

We are very lucky have two old sweet cherry trees in our yard. When we first moved here, the trees were so tall you couldn’t get to the cherries, so the birds and squirrels were well fed. After the first year, my husband and his friend topped them to a reachable level and for the first few years we didn’t get many cherries. This year was different, very different. We had enough cherries to supply the birds, squirrels, neighbors, family and our freezer! We also had enough to eat fresh, and make ... [Read More...]

Make Meals in 30 Minutes or Less

Why is it that, even though we have faster methods of cooking our meals, they seem to have become more frenzied and hurried than years ago? Then it dawned on me — With the introduction of the microwave and the idea that meals can be prepares in 30 minutes, most people do nothing to prepare or plan their meals until 30 minutes before they are going to eat. So 30 minutes before dinner you find yourself trying to thaw something, cook it, and slap it on the table and at the same time talk and deal with tired, hungry, cranky ... [Read More...]

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