Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Crock-pot Zucchini Chicken with Orzo

Another day, another crock-pot meal! I’m beginning to think even once I have my own kitchen I’ll still be cooking out of the crock-pot pretty consistently. It’s so simple! I threw this one-pot meal together last week, and I’m still loving the leftovers! (Mmmm zucchini! J) Plus, this recipe is super healthy, coming in at just 140 Calories per cup.

There are a lot of misconceptions (or, at least, I would consider them misconceptions) about what can and cannot be cooked in a crock-pot. I don't have as long-ranging experience as many people, but from that short experience I can definitely refute a few of them.

-YES, you can cook pasta in a slow-cooker. In fact, I think it turns out less sticky and more flavorful, since you are kind of "marinating" it in its sauce.
-YES, you can cook chicken in a slow-cooker. Just make sure you don't cook them for too long (not too much over 6 hours) to prevent them from drying out too much. Fattier meats cook better in crock-pots, I'm told, but I don't really like fattier meats, so I'm stickin' with chickin'!

If you don't believe me, try this recipe and you'll see!

Crock-pot Zucchini Chicken with Orzo

3 (4-oz) small boneless skinless chicken breasts (I cheated and used Perdue Italian Style Perfect Portions, due to my aversion to touching raw meat... Plus, they are pre-marinated.)
 ½ large onion
2 small zucchini
1 (14.5-oz) can stewed tomatoes (again, I like using Italian style)
½-¾ (15-oz) can tomato sauce
½ teaspoon minced garlic
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon basil
½ teaspoon oregano
½ cup orzo pasta
3 cups fresh spinach
2 Tablespoons low-fat cream cheese

1.      Place chicken breasts on the bottom of the pot. Cover with tomato sauce, onions, stewed tomatoes, zucchini, and spices. You may need to add more tomato sauce to ensure the chicken is completely covered, depending on the sizes of your chicken breasts.
2.      Cook on low for 4-6 hours.
3.      Shred chicken (I did this in the crock-pot to save the mess), then add orzo and spinach. Cut the cream cheese into small cubes and stir them in as well to melt.
4.      Cover and cook for another 8-10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the orzo is tender.
5.      Stir again to evenly distribute the melted cream cheese.
6.      Be sure to let it set for a few minutes before digging in!

You can see (in the picture above) mine was runny the first night because I put in a whole can of tomato sauce. Obviously, after being in the fridge awhile, it wasn't as runny (and also not as photogenic), so I served it with a warm pita the next night. Yum! I really like this sauce. I might have liked it so much that I cleaned my plate really well. I won’t go into any more detail than that. No one was here to witness either way.

[Yield] about 8 cups (serves 4-6 people, or one person for a week!)
[Calorie count] 140 Calories per cup

Friday, February 15, 2013

Virtuous Wife's Guide to Being Single (Why I'm Counting to 31)

It begins with a jolt with the first “Yikes-I-went-to-high-school-with-you-and-now-you’re-planning-your-wedding” moment. And from there the feeling just continues to accumulate. For some it’s a minor nagging, while for others it reaches desperation. The noble “I’m just praying he comes into my life when the time is right” attitude can be far too easily exchanged for “There must be something wrong with me! I’ll never get married!”

I’m young, and I have years before I have to start thinking about marriage. But that’s exactly why I should be thinking about marriage. This post is my attempt to explain the purpose behind this blog: to be a record and a resource supporting gradual growth toward Proverbs 31 ideal. In thinking about marriage from so far afield, I can do so much to strengthen my future marriage and to better myself as a prospective wife that would be nearly impossible were I already engaged or married.

I will admit that I’ve had many of those thoughts I described in the first paragraph, but I’m certainly not pining away daydreaming of Mr. Right. God has put each of us in this position at this stage of our lives for a reason. We have so much to learn, and He knows exactly how each of us can best learn it. Life is so big, so full of opportunities, and there is great joy or great growth (or, preferably, both!) in every experience. So now is the time to have as many growing experiences as possible!

The Wife of Valor (as I like to call her, per my Bible margin) in Proverbs 31 was not always married, you know. From the picture of her marriage, there’s an incredible amount to be learned about how we should spend our single lives! Here’s my list:
  1. Making decisions about what you want your future husband to be like. Not only is our virtuous woman an absolute baller, it’s pretty obvious that her husband is, as well. She chose well! Not just any guy off the street was fit to marry this lady. He is “respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land” (Proverbs 31:23, NIV). The city gates were the center of public life. They were the location for legal tribunals and kingly addresses, among other things (see here for more on this). For him to be seated there among the elders is certainly a high honor, and a sign that both he and his wife are highly esteemed. The way he treats her is also beautiful. He “safely trusts her” (v. 11) and gives her the highest praise: “Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all” (v. 29). As godly young women aspiring to the high standard that Mrs. Virtue sets, we should also set high standards for our future husbands. God wants to give you Mr. Virtue! Don’t settle for anything less.
  2. Learning important life skills. The virtuous wife didn’t magically know how to cook (v. 14-15), spin (v. 19), or make tapestry, clothing, clothing, and sashes (v. 22-24) when she got home from the honeymoon. From her extensive list of abilities, I would guess she spent a good portion of her life learning them. But of course, it’s never too late to start learning! Her extensive skill set includes hospitality, cooking, making clothing, and financial sense. I’ve chosen some similar abilities to work on, as you can see looking around this blog. She is also active in caring for the needy in her community (v. 20). Service is an incredibly rewarding way to spend time. Especially as a young person without my own family to care for, serving can provide the wonderful feeling of being needed. It’s also great practice in building the patience, tenderness, and outgoing love that are so necessary in a familial environment.
  3. Most importantly, building a strong relationship with God and building spiritual character. The Wife of Valor is not only smart, savvy, and industrious, she is wise, kind, and she fears God. She knows God personally and highly respects Him, and cares for her family in the way He designed her to. “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness. She watches over the ways of her household… Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised” (v. 26-27, 30). Her husband and her children can see the evidence of her relationship with God, and because of it they “rise up and call her blessed” (v. 28). Who wouldn’t want to hear that kind of praise from her children? Certainly once we are married and have children, we will have many more “opportunities for growth” in these areas, but wouldn’t it be great to have a headstart on dealing with the difficulties of marriage and parenting? Building from the ground up with a healthy, vibrant relationship with God, we can begin to develop the emotional, spiritual, and social characteristics of the virtuous woman.
  4. Having faith in God’s goodness and wisdom, that even if you are not married in this life He can and will provide so much more for you, both in this life and the life to come.

One of the Bible versions I was reading from (the NIV) stuck in the title “Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character” before this section of Proverbs 31. Certainly, after all the verses recording Solomon’s warnings to young men about women, this is a fitting epilogue! It offers great encouragement along with lofty goals to work toward.

What would you add to this list?

Friday, February 8, 2013

DIY Flavored Oatmeal

I love those flavored instant oatmeal packets, but when you're trying to save money, it's much more cost-efficient to buy the big boxes of oats... not to mention the incredible list of ingredients you'll find in those instant oatmeal packets (you can keep the partially hydrogenated soybean oil, artificial flavoring, artificial color, artificial...yeah, you get it). I find myself putting lots of cinnamon and brown sugar in my plain oats, though, and compared to the instant packets it still seems flavorless!

I'm a tea drinker, and one morning while I was making my oatmeal and thinking about making myself a cup of peach tea, I decided to see what they would taste like together! I loved the result and wish I would have thought of it before!!

DIY Flavored Oatmeal:

1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1 cup water
1 fruit-flavored black tea bag (I like peach, raspberry, and spiced apple chai!)
1 Tablespoon milk or half-and-half (if you like your oatmeal creamy)
Nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice... whatever spice mixture goes with your tea flavor!
Brown sugar or honey, to taste
Other mix-ins - chopped apples, craisins, walnuts, golden raisins, flax seed meal, etc

Steep the tea bag in at least a cup of hot water. Add 1 cup of the tea to your bowl of oats (put the rest in your mug to drink while you make your breakfast!), stir it around a little to make sure the flavors mix in, and stick it in the microwave for 1-2 minutes. 

That's it! Now you can add your milk, spices, and toppings. It may not be instant, but it's oh-so-much more fun! I love peach tea oatmeal with nutmeg, cinnamon, and flax seed meal. What about you??

Recipe note: So maybe I'm a tea snob, but I would suggest avoiding Lipton for this... you want something with more flavor! Some lower-quality teas you won't be able to taste hardly at all.