Menu Planning

 

It isn’t drudgery… It’s a joy!  Here is how it can become a joy for you, too.

 

Many people think that Menu Planning is just not for them.  I used to feel that way.  I even went so far as to plan menus and then never use them.  How sad, right?

Well, moving to a SUPER small community that is 30 minutes from ANY grocery store and an hour from less expensive grocery stores put me back into menu planning mode.  With some modifications in my mind set, I have been successful.

My changes:

1) I am still flexible.  Sometimes life happens.  We don’t want to eat Chinese Chicken Salad on a cold rainy unexpectedly fall day and we don’t want hot clam chowder on a surprise warm winter day!  So, I change things up.  Another reason to be flexible is…. The I just don’t want to eat _______ tonight.  I often use those nights to play Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ show.  Well, my own version.  I have to use the protein that was on the menu.  So, for example, Hamburgers was on the menu but I don’t want to cook them (or… shhhh…. I don’t really have all the fresh ingredients) then I would make something else that calls for a comparable amount of hamburger!  See, how easy was that?

2) I TRY hard to keep in mind our family schedule.  For example, Wednesday’s are church night for some of us.  IF we don’t plan for that, my menu plan will fail.  2 of the boys get to eat at church and another son and I don’t eat at church (different programs).  I also have my mother in law and husband to include in meal planning.  So, I keep that in mind as I work out meals.  I also know that Monday’s and Friday’s I am driving into town to pick one son up from wrestling practice at 6pm so that gets included in the planning too.

3) I can ALWAYS change any day for another day!  Sometimes, things just don’t come together for a meal for whatever reason, so, I can swap.  Sometimes, a meal gets dropped for some reason and I add it back into the menu.

I have always purchased meat when it is on sale so the next month I can use the bargain meats that I already purchased to plan the menu.  I am not dependent on the grocery stores to give me the deals that I need.

 

If you resolved to work on healthy eating and meal planning, maybe this can help you meet those goals!  Happy Planning.  Please let me know if you have any questions.  I would love to help you.

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Christmas is coming….

As Christmas drew near last year, I was a bit panicky.  We were having some rough financial times (my husband was living 6 hours away and paying for two places was tough).  What could I do that would be meaningful but not cost a lot?  As I mulled over options, I threw out SO many ideas, crafts really aren’t my thing, quilting something would take WAY too long, buying things for everyone was way to expensive this year.  THEN, my current job (teaching cooking for the local high school after school program) led me to a stroke of brilliancy.  Well, I though so anyway.

I had ALL the ingredients on hand to do a lot of baking!  And I do mean a lot.  I buy flour in 50lb bags and sugar in 25lb bags.  Vanilla comes in 16 oz bottles in our home and baking powder in 5lb bags!

I thought rather than baking gifts and giving them to everyone already baked, what if they were made, frozen in balls, ready to pop on pans, complete with instructions and any ‘last minute’ preparations!  I was on to something!

So, I got the boys geared up and we were ready to spend a WHOLE day baking… well…. 1/2 way baking.  We did a test of each batch of a dozen, just to make sure the flour was enough to not end up flat and not so much that they stayed as balls.  After the test was done, we used our Pampered Chef cookie dough baller and put a whole sheet pan full of balls in the freezer for about an hour.  I did discover that putting wax paper on the sheet pan made for easier removal later.

After they were frozen, I put them in dozen increments in a seal a meal bag and sealed them shut.  I wrote directions on the outside of the bag for baking times and temperature.  I also stapled small ziplock bags of cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar or any other item that might be used as a ‘finishing’ to the bag.

We made molasses, snickerdoodle, chocolate chip, thumbprints (those came with a jar of homemade jam), and chocolate crinkle.  I had several reports of how those cookies saved someone a lot of last minute hassle as we gave our gifts in early December.  I kept some and the boys loved it when we had a quick evening snack of fresh cookies.  AND, because I froze some in increments of six, I could even justify baking some of each child’s favorite!

Even if you don’t give these as gifts, I would sure recommend the “baking for a day” method of preparing cookies.  The mess was not horrible (we washed and cleaned as we went) and the assembly line that we formed helped make it speed along in our quest for so many cookies.  Yes, the floor did need mopped and we did have flour on every surface but the ease of popping ready to bake ovens from the freezer to a pan is pure joy!  AND, knowing that there is nothing artificial in these cookies makes me one happy mama!

This entry was posted on November 13, 2013. 1 Comment

Soccer Boys….

So, today the main thing on my agenda was something for dessert for the Soccer Awards Night.  Hummm…

 

What to bake for boys!  Oh, that should be easy for me… mom of 3 boys, right?  Well, ok maybe.  Oh, and their families.  Being new to the area, I felt a bit of a need to impress.  I know, I shouldn’t but… good impressions and all that!

It needed to be good, comfortable (like I knew what I was doing) and probably not tooooo gourmet (that meant, no Italian Cream Cake, darn).  Bam, Hershey’s English Toffee bars it is…

They fit the bill.  Who doesn’t like ok, LOVE Caramel baked over a buttery/brown sugary crust sprinkled with pecans and chocolate?  Well, in my family, no one!  Everyone LOVES it.  Even my hubby who generally only likes chocolate, chocolate, chocolate stuff.

So, a triple batch of English Toffee Bar crust it was.  AND, a 6x’s batch of sauce.  (WE like our bars very caramely.)

 

https://www.hersheys.com/recipes/recipe-details.aspx?id=4534

 

I do make changes to this recipe. OK… I make changes to ALL recipes!  My mother is in awe of my ninja recipe changing skills, I think.  Or maybe she questions how this happened.

I use a Jelly Roll pan.  I make 1 1/2 times the crust.  And…. wait… wait… I triple the caramel sauce.  Yes.  Triple.  That is NOT a typo.  It was often dry and we just don’t like dry toffee bars.

I do use only 1 cup of pecans but instead of using them as halves, I chop them so they spread more.  And, I honestly don’t know how many chocolate chips I use I sprinkle and sprinkle some more.  Oh, and I ALWAYS use semi sweet not milk.  WE think that milk chocolate chips make it toooo sweet!

 

So, the end result…. with the soccer boys.  A huge, huge hit!  I only ended up with 6 leftover.  Good thing I made that extra pan.  Isaac does need something to bribe ‘new friends’ with at school. LOL

 

ENJOY!

Ice Cream

For several years I asked for an ice cream maker for my birthday!  In 2012, my wish was granted…. and then… we only made one batch of ‘pre-made’ mix for a long time!  Today, the boys begged me (after a hard day of working hauling wood) to buy some ice so we could make some.  (We don’t have an ice maker connected and recent electricity problems had decreased the likelihood of actually getting water frozen.)

Well, ok.  I was going to be in town and it wasn’t so hot that the ice would melt before I made it home (we live 30 minutes from any form of shopping).

My eldest son put himself in charge of making it as I was working on his favorite dinner.  He wanted to use the pre-made bag stuff again.  Well, I am trying to watch the winter hibernation poundage creep so pre-made bag stuff was fine.  We have recently moved into my mother in law’s home to care for her and much of our stuff is still VERY jumbled.  Alas, jumbled enough that we couldn’t find the pre-made stuff.

I assured Aaron that Google would give him a very good recipe for vanilla ice cream.  Yep.  Google and Real Simple didn’t let me down!  I am going to have to work on the winter hibernation poundage creep tomorrow, I guess.  Cause… DANG… that stuff is SOOOO good and SOOOO worth the time and effort.

 

http://simplystated.realsimple.com/2011/06/28/homemade-ice-cream-recipes/

 

This is the recipe that we used.  Basic but so very, very creamy and MUCH better than anything we get from the store.  Well, except Salted Caramel Getlato but that MUST be a blog for another day!

Enjoy ice cream!  YES, even in November!  Especially in November.

‘Daily Double’

In sports… daily doubles mean extra workouts…  usually long running trips and all kinds of sweating.  I don’t really believe in sweating much, I know… sweating is good for you but…. Still. NO SWEATING is my motto.

Well, my daily double is going to keep you from sweating.  Once because you will have an easy dinner and twice because you will have another easy dinner mostly finished waiting in the freezer.   Like my earlier blog, Cook Once, Eat Twice, it does mean cooking extra but this time, I’m going to show you how to turn a whole chicken into 2 meals that are similar but different in flavor profiles.

I did this just tonight and I even took photos to demonstrate.  Here is my version of White Enchiladas. (I don’t think there is such a thing in Mexico but we LOVE it.)

First, I put the whole chicken in the crockpot.  Then, I season it… lots.  I use 1 teaspoon each of garlic powder, garlic salt, TrueLime (remember that amazing powder I blogged about… _________________), smoked paprika, cumin and a bit of Hershey’s chocolate. YEP. You got it right….  These are my standing ‘Mexican’ spices.

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I add about 16 oz of water and turn it on high for 4 hours.  IF you aren’t going to be around in 4 hours, then low for 8 will work.

At the end of the cooking time, I pull it out, strip off the meat and then dice it.  I drizzle some broth from the pan over it and set it aside.

I dice an onion and a bunch of cilantro.  Melt ½ stick of butter in a large sautee pan and add the onion.  When the onion starts to soften, add the cilantro, diced chicken and sprinkle generously with the same seasonings as before.  Toss to incorporate all the seasonings… it should look like this:

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Then, the white sauce.  Remember, I told you no sweating.  Well, we are going to use a canned soup to help us along.

1- 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup (I used 2 but we like LOTS of creaminess)

12 oz of sour cream

1 can of diced green fire-roasted chili’s

Mix those together and set aside.

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In a 9×13 pan sprayed with pam, crumble handfuls of tortilla chips to generously cover the bottom.  Like this:

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Now, put ½ of the chicken mixture over the chips.  Then add 2/3 of the white sauce mix.  Then ½ of a can of chopped black olives. Top it with a generous sprinkle of shredded cheddar cheese.  I add another layer of everything but the meat and complete it with a generous sprinkle of chips for extra color and crunch.

While it is baking at 350 for 30 minutes or so, I slice tomatoes and make a quick guacamole (I will share that with you later).

You could add a green salad or a cucumber salad or rice and beans but… my family is all meat, all the time.

Now, what to do with the rest of the meat…. put it in a freezer bag, label it, ENCHILADA MEAT, CHICKEN and freeze it.  Next time you need a fast dinner… pull it out, thaw it, do the same process but use your favorite green or red enchilada sauce and lots of cheddar cheese.  MMmmmmm…. A different flavor but a super easy dinner! I often add black beans (whole from the can but rinsed) to amp up the flavor in the more traditional enchilada version.

Savour!

Cook once, Eat twice

Cook once, eat twice

One of my busy day time savers is in the freezer… sorta.  I’m not referring to frozen turkey roll (we do love that) or frozen pizza.  I am referring to cooking double the protein and saving some of it back for another meal!

One of my very favorite ways to do this is grilled chicken.  We enjoy grilled chicken as an entrée and love that it is so moist and tender.  So, I grill extra and save ½ of it for later in the week.  Some quick and reasonably inexpensive dishes that I utilize this chicken for are Chinese chicken salad, chicken fajitas, and chicken quesadillas.

When I KNOW that I am going to do fajitas, I undercook the chicken a bit so that additional cooking doesn’t dry it out however, since it is just being warmed up I generally don’t have problems.

If I also know what I’m going to do with the chicken (often, I don’t) I flavor it accordingly.  Chinese chicken on the coming menu will have me lean more to the Asian side of things when I grill it but most any flavor can be adapted.

SO, here is my Chinese chicken salad recipe…

1 small head cabbage (thinly sliced)

1 bunch green onions (chopped finely)

2 bunches cilantro

Mix together & set aside

2 cups slivered (or very finely chopped) almonds

4 T. sesame seeds

2 packages crushed noodles

(Bake almonds, crushed noodles, and sesame seeds at 350 or brown in skillet with pam until slightly golden brown. (I spray lightly with cooking or olive oil).

Dressing

¼ C. Regular oil (or olive)

½ C. Sesame seed oil

6 T. Marukan Seasoned Rice Vinegar

Seasoning packets from the rice noodle soup

Garlic to taste

4 T. Soy Sauce

Grilled chicken breasts sliced thinly.

Toss together just before serving to keep crunchy.

Lately, I’ve been serving it with all the components separate allowing everyone to choose how much of each thing they want….  Seems to work well!

Enjoy saving some energy while you serve a wonderful, healthy meal.

Sometimes cooking isn’t about food

 

WHAT?  I know, I know.  You can’t imagine.

 

Well, let me assure you that while I might be crazy, this blog won’t reveal that!  LOL

I have been making my own laundry soap for a year (give or take).  We liked it and it saved us a lot of money.  I had a simple recipe and I made enough for a month usually.

Here is the recipe (for those who are like me, just naturally curious):

4 cups boiling water

2 T Dawn original dishsoap

2 T Borax

3 T washing soda (NOT baking soda)

1 EMPTY gallon plastic vessel (vinegar bottles work well)

Mix the Dawn, borax and washing soda together to make a thick paste while the water is coming to a boil.

Fill the plastic vessel with water to ¾ full (OR, you can measure out 4.5 cups)

When the water is boiling (I use the microwave) stir in the paste mixture carefully

Pour the paste mix into the plastic vessel

Cover, shake and add ½ to 1 cup of liquid to each load.  I have a front loaded and I add it to the drum before I add the clothes!

 

Now, I liked the way this cleaned but sometimes, it just didn’t seem like it was doing a 100% job.  So, I saw a friend post about her laundry butter.  I love butter so… Oh, wait.  Laundry butter… like laundry soap.  OK.  Still, I was intrigued.

The recipe is a bit more complex than the one I posted above but… the paste is JUST like butter (I do love butter.) and it gets stuff clean.  (I have 3 boys and a farm… I KNOW what dirt is.) So, I made a double batch and I will share the link to the page.  So far, I’m a laundry butter lover!

Here is that link:  http://www.budget101.com/myo-household-items/whipped-cream-super-laundry-soap-3993.html

So, here are the things I did differently:  I added about 20 drops of lavender oil to the butter just before I whipped it.  I also tested my jars to make SURE they would hold water/liquid before I loaded them up and put them on the blender.  (They did work but a friend’s didn’t and she had a mess.)  I have a dedicated tablespoon that I keep on top of the jar and I just wash it off every couple of days!

I enjoyed cooking up this laundry soap and the amount of savings over the brand name stuff is really quite astounding.  I don’t see myself changing to this style of cooking all the time, but for now!  Changing up from time to time is a good thing, right?

Here’s to clean laundry!