Loaded Baked Potato And Chicken Casserole

With Easter coming up, there have been some fantastic prices on Hams. I love having a deep freezer at times like this since it allows me plenty of space to stock up with. I found Smithfield hams for $1/lb and bought three. After cooking them, I slice all the meat off the bone and dice it, storing it in meal sized portions in the freezer. I typically get enough ham for about 20 meals, including using the ham bone. It never ceases to amaze me how many things I can either make, or drastically improve, using ham. Just think of the possibilities! I found this meal on quick & easy recipes, and opted to use the real ham I had frozen instead of some cooked and crumbled bacon. I figured my boys would appreciate the extra protein. While the prep time is relatively quick, the cook time is not and you will need to plan accordingly. That being said, this is delicious, almost like smothered french fries and it tastes just like a baked potato. My boys like ketchup on their ketchup, and opted to drown their potatoes in it, but my husband and I love it with just a dollop of sour cream for that authentic baked potato feel.

Loaded Baked Potato And Chicken Casserole

4 Sons 'R' Us: Loaded Baked Potato and Chicken Casserole

  •  2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 8-10 medium potatoes, skin on and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp ground pepper
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 6 tbsp hot sauce

Topping

  • 2 cups Mexican blend cheese, or 1 cup shredded monterey jack and 1 cup shredded cheddar mixed together
  • 1 cup cooked, diced ham
  • 1 cup diced green onions

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl mix together olive oil, hot sauce, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika.
  3. Add the cubed potatoes and stir to evenly coat.
  4. Add the potatoes to a greased 9×13 baking dish, leaving behind any extra hot sauce mix in the bowl.
  5. Bake the potatoes for 45-50 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until cooked through and crispy on the outside.
  6. Add the diced chicken to bowl and stir to evenly coat all the chicken, allowing chicken to marinate as the potatoes bake.
  7. Remove cooked potatoes from the oven and add the marinated chicken.
  8. Lower oven temperature to 400 degrees.
  9. In a separate bowl mix together all topping ingredients.
  10. Top the raw, marinated chicken and potatoes with the topping ingredients.
  11. Bake 15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the topping is melted and bubbly.
  12. Serve with extra hot sauce, ketchup, ranch dressing, or sour cream as desired.

Cheeseburger and Taters Casserole

I don’t know why, but I’ve been on a ‘cheeseburger’ kick lately. Soup, macaroni, now a casserole. I just crave that meaty, cheesy combo, and for whatever reason recently I’ve been going to new, experimental lengths to get my fix. This is what evolved from a lunch for the boys on a day they were home from school that was incredibly cold, when I had pulled hamburger meat out for, you guessed it, hamburgers for lunch and then realized I had no buns or sandwich bread. It was the perfect comfort food to warm us all up and put a smile on everyone’s face. There were no leftovers.

Cheeseburger and Taters Casserole

4 Sons 'R' Us: Cheeseburger and Taters Casserole

  • 1 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1 can of refrigerated crescent rolls, or 1 batch of homemade crescent rolls
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 2 cups shredded mexican blend cheese, divided
  • 1 2 lb pkg tater tots, frozen
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 3-4 tbsp mustard
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Brown ground beef until cooked through. Drain.
  2. Return to skillet, add in onions and saute 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add in ketchup, mustard, and 1 cup of cheese. Stirring until heated through. Remove from heat. Salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Grease a 9×13 baking dish, or coat with non stick spray.
  5. Lay crescent rolls out flat to cover the bottom of the dish like a crust. Press seams together so there aren’t any gaps.
  6. Spread hamburger mixture evenly over the crescent rolls.
  7. Top evenly with tater tots.
  8. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until tater tots are done.
  9. Remove from oven and sprinkle the remaining cup of cheese over the top of the casserole.
  10. Return to oven cooking 5 more minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
  11. Let the casserole cool for 5 minutes before serving.

4 Sons 'R' Us: Cheeseburger and Taters Casserole

Enjoy!

Cheeseburger Macaroni

Have you ever pulled a box of Hamburger Helper, or something similar, out of the pantry for a quick and easy meal for your family on a rushed evening? I, myself,  am guilty of having done this at least a few times. Even when I’ve bought these ‘box’ meals on sale or with coupons it’s still not particularly ‘cheap’ considering I always have to add more pasta, spices, and other ingredients to spruce it up. It doesn’t even taste that good to my husband or I, although I am sure my kids would eat it any day with no complaints. I know in the past I’ve sacrificed our personal preferences, quite a few times, for efficiency, using a ‘box’ meal to get dinner served to my kids on time, but NO MORE! Homemade Cheeseburger Macaroni is creamy, cheesy, and easy. Both the kids and the adults will love it. It even takes about the same amount of time to make as it’s pre-packaged competition. Ditch the ‘helping hand’ and make your own batch from scratch. My recipe feeds my family of six, with enough leftovers for my husband’s lunch the next day. The recipe can easily be cut in half to accommodate a smaller family.

Cheeseburger Macaroni

4 Sons 'R' Us: Cheeseburger Macaroni

  • 2 lbs lean ground beef
  • 1 lb. box of pasta, elbows or small shells work best
  • 2 packets of taco seasoning
  • 2 10 oz cans diced tomatoes with green chilies
  • 4 cups beef broth

Cheese Sauce

  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 1 and 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Directions

  1. In a dutch oven brown hamburger meat until cooked through and then drain and return meat to the pot.
  2. Stir in taco seasoning, tomatoes, beef broth, and macaroni.
  3. Heat to boiling, now reduce heat and cover. Simmer 12-14 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cheese Sauce

  1. While the beef and noodle mixture cook, melt butter in a saucepan. 
  2. Whisk in the flour and cook over medium heat, constantly whisking for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Slowly add in the milk, whisking constantly, and bring to a boil.
  4. When your sauce base is smooth and thickened remove from heat and stir in the cheese until melted.
  5. Add the salt and pepper to the cheese sauce.
  6. Pour the cheese sauce over the hamburger mixture. Stir gently until evenly combined.
  7. Remove pot from heat and let sit about 5 minutes for the sauce to thicken up and serve.

Cheapskate Chicken: Every piece has a purpose

Every time I turn around, it seems like groceries get more expensive and I’m getting less ‘bang’ for my buck at checkout. I have a set grocery budget that must feed six people and I only shop once a month. I’m always trying to maximize the amount I can purchase within that and spread the love to all my families’ meals. I love finding ingredients that can cheaply be used to make multiple things, especially things that are key ingredients in multiple recipes. It makes me feel all giddy. Call it an obsession of mine. I know, I’m weird, and I’m totally OK with that.

One thing in particular I know has drastically gone up at the stores is meat, and I use A LOT of meats. Chicken, especially, has seen a price hike and I haven’t seen great sale prices in quite some time. I’ve always preferred boneless, skinless breasts, simply because I am also lazy, and try to find shortcuts in the kitchen so that making dinner from scratch every night isn’t always an entire evening affair. I do have kids I have to attend to after all.  In seeking out cheaper alternatives, on a whim, I decided to buy a $3.00 pack of two bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts about a year ago. I kept them in the freezer for some time since the prospect of de-boning was rather daunting. Finally, I decided to try cooking them like I would a whole chicken, in the crockpot, and the results were life changing! Or at least revolutionary in my kitchen. Enter: Cheapskate Chicken!  Now, from only one $3.00 package of chicken, with minimal (and I mean bare-minimum) prep, and just a handful of other kitchen staples, I get enough chicken for 3 meals that will feed all 6 of us, am able to make about a gallon and a half of chicken stock/broth, two packages of carrots, celery, and onions infused with flavor and ready to throw in your homemade soups, and even have meat to add in with our dog’s dry food for 2 weeks at a time. Interested yet?! I’ve never encountered a simpler multi-step process. Here goes.

Cheapskate Chicken

006

  • one package bone-in, skin on chicken breasts
  • salt
  • pepper
  • whatever other dry seasonings you prefer

Directions

  1. Rinse, and pat dry, both chicken breasts
  2. Place them into the crockpot, skin side up
  3. Liberally salt and pepper the tops of the chicken breasts
  4. Add whatever other dry seasonings you’d like to add a hint of flavor to the meat. I prefer Montreal Chicken seasoning from McCormick. Occasionally, I will add in some minced garlic.
  5. Cover, and cook on high for about 4 hours, on low about 6 hours, or until meat is cooked through
  6. For easier removal from the crockpot (it’s so tender it has a tendency to just fall off the bone) turn your crockpot off and let the breasts cool before taking them out.

Don’t worry about your chicken burning or sticking to the bottom since you haven’t added any liquid. As the chicken cooks, the moisture it expels will collect on the bottom of your crockpot and prevent it. Not to mention the ‘dry’ cooking leaves the skin incredibly crisp and delicious. My kids always argue over who gets to eat the skin when it’s done!

Step 2: Pickin’ your chicken

008

  1. Remove both breasts from your crock pot and place them on a clean surface, cutting board, plate, whatever you prefer.
  2. Pull all the meat you can find off your chicken, making sure to remove any bones that may come away with it. Place any bones in a bowl, along with the skin if you haven’t gobbled it up already like I do.
  3. Any meat you don’t want, whether it’s dark, fatty, whatever, either add to the bowl with your bones, or if you have a furry friend, place it in a zip lock bag to save for him/her, again being careful to remove any bones.
  4. Once you’ve picked your chicken clean, package up the meat you’ve kept, either in tupperware for the refrigerator or in freezer bags for the freezer in meal-size portions.
  5. If the chicken isn’t shredded enough for you, give it one quick spin in the food processor, or until your desired texture is reached.

Step 3: Homemade Chicken Stock

009

Your crockpot is really going to get a workout today. You’re all ready to use it again! For this step you will need a few additional ingredients which I’ve listed below.

  •  chicken bones, skin, fat
  • 3 cups of baby carrots
  • 3 stalks of celery, sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • water

Directions

  1. Throw your discarded chicken bones, fat, and skin back in your crockpot.
  2. Add in the prepared vegetables.
  3. Salt and pepper to taste, and add in any other spices you think your stock might need.
  4. Pour enough water over the vegetables to fill your crockpot about 1/2 inch from the top.
  5. Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours.
  6. When cool, pour the contents of the crockpot into a strainer that has been placed inside of a large stew pot. Preferably, one that can rest on the edge of the pot so it’s sits up out of the liquid that separates from the solids.
  7. After draining, remove the strainer from over the pot and pick out all pieces of bones, skin, and fat and discard them.
  8. Package up the veggies to freeze to use as sides for meals, vegetables for soups, stews, and other recipes. Their juicy flavor is incredible, and will enhance any meal.
  9. Add enough water to fill the stock-pot until the desired consistency is reached. Thicker, darker broth is considered ‘stock’ and is typically a little more potent, the more watered-down is broth. Both are good and you will never want to buy the store-bought versions again.
  10. Refrigerate or freeze your broth and use as needed.

015

I typically keep some broth in the fridge and freeze the rest. I save any old plastic containers, such as yogurt, sour cream, ricotta cheese, etc, with their lids since plastic containers can be re-used, and also allow for the expansion of the liquid when it freezes without breaking, shattering, or cracking.

If you prefer a leaner broth, let the entire stockpot full of broth cool in the refrigerator before packaging until the fat has congealed, or hardened. Using a spoon, skim any fat off the top of the broth. Then package.

Now, sit back and give yourself a pat on the back. Your family will think you’ve slaved away in the kitchen all day and all night, and sing your praises, but (SHHH!) you, your crockpot, and your pocket book will know the satisfying truth.

Buffalo Chicken Bake

Being that we have all these boys and seeing as how I am cheap, I try to buy in bulk whenever possible. Notice I said cheap. I’m not even going to try and dress it up and label myself as frugal, thrifty, etc. I’m just cheap. As part of my cost-cutting, we have a membership to Costco and that’s where the majority of our groceries come from. That being said, almost every trip to Costco my kids manage to convince me to buy them lunch, a snack, an ‘I’m going to die right this very minute if I don’t eat’ something from the food court. Their favorite thing to order is the Chicken Bake. So when I came across this recipe for Buffalo Chicken Garbage Bread, I knew they would love it.

Buffalo Chicken Dump Bread

I altered the recipe to the satisfaction of my tastes and those of my cheese-aholics. Notice I also changed the name. I could just imagine if I answered their ‘what’s for dinner’ question with something that included ‘garbage’ in its name. So I didn’t.

Buffalo Chicken Bake

Buffalo Chicken Dump Bread 2

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or diced
1 tsp. olive oil
1 pizza dough (we used homemade and let it defrost in the refrigerator overnight)
8 oz. of shredded mozzarella cheese
8 oz. of shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup of buffalo wing sauce, divided
1/4 cup of ranch

Directions

1. Pre-heat oven to 425°F. Toss chicken with 1/4 cup of your wing sauce. You can add more or less depending on your desired spiciness. Stir to combine, the ranch dressing and remaining 1/4 cup wing sauce.
2. On a floured surface, or counter top, roll out dough into a long rectangular shape. Spread buffalo ranch sauce evenly across the dough. Add chicken and then top with both cheeses.
3. Pick a side and roll the dough up to form a log. Seal both ends (prevents ‘oozing’ while baking) and place seam side down on a non-stick or greased baking sheet.
4. Bake for 30 minutes. Let sit and ‘rest’ for 5-10 minutes before cutting into slices, then serve!