Monday, April 30, 2012

Make Ahead Meals--Sweet and Sour Chicken

When it starts to get warm outside, I stop wanting to cook dinner.  I would rather be outside pushing kids on the swing.  But dinner still needs to be made.  

Last week I pulled out my list of make ahead meals/freezer meals.  These are main dishes that can be assembled ahead of time in Zip lock bags and then refrigerated (if used that week) or frozen for later use.  
this week I'll be sharing my favorite make a head meals, and my tricks and tips on making them.  (although dumping stuff in a bag is really not that hard). 

  Getting Started with Make Ahead Meals 

  • Choose a recipe- You can use mine or choose one of your own.  Before you invents a lot of ingredients in making multiples of the recipe be sure to try it out to see if you family will eat it. 
  • Mise en place--That is a fancy cooking word for putting everything in it's place. Get everything in order.  Find your ingredients and set them out with your recipe, and measuring cups.  Read over the recipe and make sure you know what you are doing.  This is a good idea in any recipe but when you are making a bunch of meals with raw meat it is a must. 
  • If using frozen chicken and you are planning on freezing it again DO NOT DEFROST.  Just put the frozen chicken in the bag with the other ingredients and refreeze.  
  •  If freezing your meals be sure to defrost them.  Try pulling them out of the freezer the night before or the morning of.  
  • If storing in the fridge.  Be sure to place your ziplock bags filled with meals in a spill prof container.  No one wants raw chicken to leak on the produce.  A large rectangle Tupperware or cake pan works well. 
  • LABEL all of the make a head meals that you make.  I know you are going to think.  I'll remember what this is.  Trust me you won't.  Everything looks different frozen. 
  • Flavors can intensify in the freezer so use a light hand with the spices.  If you love fiery spice try adding it at the table.   

Sweet & Sour Chicken                            
adapted from a recipe from Shannon Zaugg (who always has good recipes)

printable recipe

1 /4 tsp. lemon, garlic or plain pepper
1/2 c. ketchup
2 Tbsp. Mustard
1 /4 c. cider vinegar
1/2 c. maple syrup
4-5 chicken breasts
¼ cup freeze dried onions (don't rehydrate)

Combine all ingredients in heavy duty zip lock bag.  Remove excess air from the bag and seal.  Double check that the back is sealed completely.  “Smush” sealed bag, mixing ingredients.  

Store uncooked:  In the fridge--1 week , Frozen 3 months.

To Bake:  Fresh or defrosted
Place in a large casserole dish.  Bake for 1 hour @ 350* uncovered. Test chicken for doneness using a thermometer.  The temperature at the thickest part of the chicken should read.  165 degrees Fahrenheit.  Remove from the oven.  Serve over rice or potatoes.  

In the Crock Pot:  place contents of the zip lock bag in the  crock pot.  Cook on high for 4-6 hours on high.  Do not open the lid of the crock pot until you are ready to check for doneness.  Test chicken for doneness using a thermometer.  The temperature at the thickest part of the chicken should read 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  Serve over rice.  

This post is part of my Make Ahead Meals series.  These meals can be made ahead of time and either stored in the freeze for up to a week OR frozen for up to 3 months.  Here are the others in this series:

Chili Lime Mango Chicken
Manti Pageant Chicken
Sweet and Sour Chicken
Greek Oregano Chicken
Lime Chicken Tacos 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tell Me More About Becoming a Shelf Reliance Consultant

A few days ago a friend of mine shared an article from USA today on Facebook.  The article Direct sales (like Avon, Mary Kay) offer recession-proof jobs  is one that I read in 2009 when it was written.   At the time I was pregnant with my third child, we had just moved into a new house, and we had just had a major unexpected expenses come up (read: a catastrophic flood).   Reading the article again has made me think about why I became a consultant and it made me want to share a little more about becoming a Shelf Reliance Consultant.


I had not really ever thought of myself as someone who would be involved in a direct sales business.  But reading the article, for the first time in 2009,  made me think of girl I knew that was very successful in her home based business.  I met Brandi Barnard, at a Stampin’ Up party I attended about 10 years ago.  At the time I was a very poor student, who was working a lot, and going to a lot of school.  
I was impressed with Brandi.  She was doing something she loved, making good money and  being a stay at home mom.  One thing I noticed right away was that Brandi was always going on exotic trips and cruises, which she had earned as a part of her business.    I’m not creative enough to be a Stampin’ Up consultant and I knew it.  But I did wonder if there was something similar out there for me. 

When the time came that I started being interested in a home based business, I was at a place in my life where I needed to do something more for my family and myself, I started researching home based business.  

I started asking my friends (and random people I would run into)  that were consultants selling candles, dry mixes, dishes, or kitchen products, a bunch of questions.   

Questions I had for direct sales/home party consultants.

 1.  Are you making money?
2.  Does your company sponsor trips or cruises?  
3.  If you were starting over would you do this again?
4.  Do consultants get a great discount?

I was a little surprised at the answers I received.  I asked a friend who was a consultant for one company that I was very interested in and she told me that she didn’t really make any money.  I was surprised because she was always buys with parties and events.  She loved the products and she was able to support her "habit" by being a consultant. She didn’t go on trips.  But she did get a great discount.

That is not what I was looking for.  If I was going to spend my time on a direct sales business I wanted to treat it as a business and make money at it.  

It took me about six months to find Shelf Reliance.  I when I did I wasn’t sure it was the right thing for me.  Fortunately my husband saw that it was and encouraged me to try it out.  I became a consultant and I am so glad that I did.  

Let me answer the same four questions  as if you were my friend and wanted to know more about becoming a Shelf Reliance Consultant.   

1.  As a Shelf Reliance Consultant are you making money?

Yes.  A lot more then I thought I would.  I make more now as a part time Shelf Reliance Consultant than I did when I was teaching school full time.  

When my husband and I first talked about me becoming a consultant he said.  “This is perfect for you.  And what are we out if you try it for a couple of months and decide it isn’t for you?  $200 (the start up kit) and a little time.  It is well worth the investment because it might turn into something great.”  

How right he was.  I make good money as a consultant.  I work hard and I earn the money I make but I make great money (you can check out the specifics on what consultants make here). 

A big part of my business comes from the sales generated by this blog.  Thanks to everyone who has purchased from my site.  

2.  Does your company sponsor trips or cruises?  

Yes.  Shelf Reliance sponsors a contest each year, sending qualifying consultants to exotic destinations for an all expense paid trip.  This year's trip is to Costa Rica.  You can check out the details on this fabulous vacation here.  This year’s contest runs from April 2nd to September 1st.  

Last year Shelf Reliance trip was to Cancun Mexico.  I had two consultants on my team earn the trip.  One joined Shelf Reliance just before the contest was announced and one joined a little after.  

Are you wondering what a Shelf Reliance trip is like?  Here is a recap of last years.

3.  If you were starting over would you do this again?
    Yes.  I absolutely would.  I have had a wonderful time, made wonderful friends, and really had a chance to stretch and grow as I develop new talents.  

4.  Do consultants get a great discount?
    Yes--If they are actively working the business.  My house is now full of products that I got for free or ½ off from Shelf Reliance.  

How does the Shelf Reliance Consultant discount work?
The Shelf Reliance consultants discount is based on the consultants sales volume.  For every $500 I sell I receive $50.00 at ½ off.  I also receive 10% of orders placed outside parties in free product (I get the host benefit on orders that are not from a party, such as orders from the Black Friday sale, from my consultant URL, etc).  

Should I become a Shelf Reliance consultant for the discount if I don’t really want to work the business? 

Honestly No.  If you are looking for a great discount on Shelf Reliance products but don’t really want to work the business then becoming a consultant is not the right thing for you.   

Then what is the best way to get a great discount on Shelf Reliance Products?

  • Talk to me and I’ll help you find a great deal.  There are several unadvertised sale item that are only available through a consultant that are AMAZING deals.
  • Host a party.  You can host a party at your home or do an online party. Either way when you share a product you love with your friends everyone wins.  Shelf Reliance hosts receive a great discount.   
  • Become a Platinum Q customer.  When you have a q of $100 a month you automatically get the platinum Q club for free.  This is a great way to get a lot of discounts.
    • Each month you get a Q-pon for 15%-30% discount off the home party price of a specific product.  .
    • You accrue points through a program that works like frequent flyer miles.

If you are interested in becoming a consultant, or have questions about how to get a great discount on Shelf Reliance products.  Please contact me at

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Powdered Egg Experiment

Spoiler:  this is a very geeky post.  As part of my formal education I took a variety of food science classes.  In those classes we experimented with the ingredients and preparations of foods.  When Shelf Reliance announced the new eggs products I was interested in comparing the old and new products side by side.  I conducted a simple semi scientific experiment with comparing the eggs using a commercially packaged cake mix (pink lemonade cake, which my daughter choose).  Here is what I found.

Shelf Reliance recently introduced new powdered eggs. With three new products.
  • New Powdered eggs (that are minus the anti caking agent sodium silicoalumnate”
  • Powdered Eggs Whites--I am so excited.  This is something I have been looking for.  
  • Scrambled Egg Mix--This is a whole egg product (it’s only ingredient is eggs) that has been specially processed to create easy to make scrambled eggs.  You might remember that I make scrambled eggs from my powdered eggs and with a little extra work it is no problem.  If you don’t want to go to the extra effort then Scrambled Egg Mix is just what you need.

NOTE:  These products are only available to home party customers until April 26th.  If you click on the links it will take to a log in screen, either log in as a home party customer OR register as a customer.  After you are logged in you may need to click on the link again.  After April 26th the link will just work.   

Let’s chat about the New Powdered Eggs.  (or you can skip down to see the cupcakes)

How are they different from the old powdered eggs?
  • They contain only “whole eggs”
  • In the past Shelf Reliance powdered eggs contained an anti caking agent “sodium silicoaluminate”.  In the new eggs (which is what is currently available) the anti caking agent has been removed.

Why did they ever contain “Sodium silicoaluminate?”
  • It is an anti caking agent that is commonly added to powdered foods to prevent the formation of lumps and for easing packaging, transport, and consumption.

Why was it removed?  
  • The leadership at Shelf Reliance is committed to having the best and healthiest products.  One of the thing they did not like was this additive.  So it was removed.

  • One of the problems that I found with the powdered eggs was that sometime when using a commercially packaged cake mix, the powdered eggs would cause the cake to be VERY crumbly.  This was the anti caking agent at work.   

So I was curious, how do the new eggs work in baking.  I made a few batches of cupcakes to try out the new eggs.  And when I say a few batches I mean 4.
  • Batch #1 as a control made exactly how the box said using fresh eggs.
  • Batch #2  made with the old powdered eggs, using the correct number of eggs and water (1 Tablespoon powdered eggs + 2 Tablespoons water = 1 egg)
  • Batch #3 made with the new powdered eggs that do not contain the anti caking agent, using tusing the correct number of eggs and water (1 Tablespoon powdered eggs + 2 Tablespoons water = 1 egg)
  • Batch #4 Made with egg white powder, according to the boxed mix directions for egg whites only.  (1 teaspoon egg white powder + 2 tsp water = 1 egg white)  I do realize that not all cake mixes contain directions for using egg whites only, but I chose one that did because I wanted to see how it compared.

Batch #1 made with fresh eggs.  Turned out just as you would expect.  The cake held together well and the air pockets were small.

Batch #2  made with the old powdered eggs that contain the anti caking agent.

This batch was a little crumbly, and had a much larger crumb.  Notice the large “wholes” or in the photo.  I thought that this was an acceptable cupcake, when looking at it on its own, but when compared to the others there was definitely a difference.

Batch #3 made with the new powdered eggs that do not contain the anti caking agent.  This batch had a fine crumb (much smaller than any of the others) and held together well.  There was no crumbling.

Batch #4 Made with egg white powder, according to the boxed mix directions for egg whites only.  
This cake tore apart as I removed the cupcake wrapper.  Possibly because the lack of fat in the batter.  The crumb was large and it crumbled easily.  In my experience this is pretty typical of cakes baked with egg whites.

Summary:  Personally I prefer my food to have as few additives as possible.  I like that the powdered eggs now contain only eggs.  The cupcakes with the new eggs held together better and had a finer crumb.  I see those all as positive things.  I am pleased with the change in powdered eggs.  One of the reasons that I like to bake with powdered eggs is that it gives you a consistent result.  Fresh eggs vary slightly in water content and protein content which can cause  variations in the final product.  I am very pleased with the fine crumb that the new powdered eggs created in the cup cakes.  

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Brown Sugar Strawberry Shortcake

Do you eat strawberries with sour cream and brown sugar?  

The first time I heard about it a few years ago I thought it was crazy.  
Strawberries should be eaten with white sugar.  But then I started thinking about it and I wondered what I was missing.  

So I tried it.  

I dipped a clean strawberry in sour cream and then in brown sugar.  It was heavenly.   A little messy but really wonderful.

Recently I was in charge of the food for a meeting of a women’s group that I belong to.  It was suggested that we have strawberry shortcake for dessert.  But the more I thought about strawberries the more I thought about brown sugar and sour cream.   So after a little research and a few false starts Brown Sugar Strawberry Shortcake was born.  

If you don’t have Sour Cream Powder you can make this with fresh sour cream, just be sure to subtract the water (1/4 cup from the Brown Sugar Cream, and ½ cup from the cake).

When I make this cake I use the very best brown sugar I can find.  Which happens to be in my food storage.  I LOVE the THRIVE brown sugar.   There really is a difference in brown sugar.  If all you have is 3 years old and rock hard it is time to buy some new fresh flavorful brown sugar.  

I did serve this to the women’s group and they loved it.  I have had several requests for the recipe, which is a sure sign it was good.  

Brown Sugar Strawberry Shortcake
Printable Recipe

For the Strawberries:
1 Pint Strawberries (or 2 cups freeze dried strawberries rehydrated)
2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar, plus more for sprinkling just before serving.

For the Brown Sugar Cream:
1 cup THRIVE sour cream powder
1/4 cups plus 2 Tablespoons water
2 tablespoons THRIVE brown sugar, plus a little extra for garnish
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice

1 Brown Sugar Bundt Cake (recipe below)

For the Strawberries:
Clean and hull the strawberries or if using Freeze Dried rehydrate in a little water.   Slice the strawberries and place in a small bowl.  Sprinkle with brown sugar.

For the Brown Sugar Cream:
Mix sour cream, water, brown sugar, lemon juice and vanilla extract together. Let stand in refrigerator for flavors to combine (at least an hour or two or even better overnight). Garnish with a sprinkling of brown sugar.

Cut the Brown Sugar Bundt Cake cake into slices.  Place a slice of cake on a dessert plate.  Spoon strawberries over the pound cake and dollop with a spoon of the brown sugar cream.  Garnish with a sprinkling of brown sugar.  Serve immediately.

Brown Sugar Bundt Cake
recipe adapted from Kraft

1 pkg. (2-layer size) yellow cake mix
1 pkg. (3.4 oz.) JELL-O Vanilla Flavor Instant Pudding
4 Tablespoons powdered whole eggs plus ½ cup water, (or 4 eggs)
1 cup sour cream powder plus ½ cup water (or 1 cup sour cream)
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup oil
1 cup packed brown sugar

Preheat  oven to 350ºF.

Beat cake mix, pudding, powdered eggs, sour cream powder, water and oil  with mixer until blended. Add brown sugar; mix well.

Pour  into a  bundt pan (regular size)  or into a 9 x 13 inch cake pan, sprayed with cooking spray.

Bake  1 hour or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan 15 min. Loosen cake from sides of pan; invert onto wire rack. Remove pan; cool cake completely.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Homemade English Muffins

One of my favorite breakfast foods is Eggs Benedict.  One of the critical ingredients in Eggs Benedict is English Muffins.  Sadly I live in the country and my local grocery store does not carry a very good assortment (okay they don’t usually have any).  

I have been craving Eggs Benedict so I decided to make my own English Muffins.  I am so excited about how they turned out.  They were easy enough to make for a weekday dinner and are delicious.  

In many bread recipes you are instructed to heat or “scald” the milk.  The purpose of this is to denature the proteins that can interfere with yeast development.  By using powdered milk (in this case instant milk) you can eliminate that step. Wahoo!

English Muffins
For a Printable Recipe

recipe adapted from: Allrecipes   

2 Tablespoons instant dry milk powder
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 ¼ teaspoon active dry yeast (or 1 package)
2 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1/4 cup melted shortening, cooled slightly
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

Mix the instant dry milk powder and sugar in the warm water,  stirring until dissolved. Let cool until lukewarm. Add yeast, by sprinkling over the top.  Let stand until frothy, about 10 minutes.

Add melted shortening and 3 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Add salt and rest of flour, or enough to make a soft dough. Knead. Place in greased bowl, cover, and let rise.

Punch down. Roll out to about 1/2 inch thick. Cut rounds with biscuit cutter, drinking glass, or empty tuna can. Sprinkle waxed paper with cornmeal and set the rounds on this to rise. Dust tops of muffins with cornmeal also. Cover and let rise 1/2 hour.

Heat griddle. Cook muffins on a griddle,  about 10 minutes on each side on medium heat.

Keep baked muffins in a warm oven until all have been cooked. Allow to cool and place in plastic bags for storage.