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What’s for Dinner Wednesday: A freezer full of food

27 Aug
Cooking for someone else this summer got me thinking about the school year dinner menu.

Cooking for someone else this summer got me thinking about the school year dinner menu.

At the beginning of last month, I helped out a young woman at our church who had recently had some surgery that left her on “light duty” for 4-6 weeks. She’s got a new baby and several other children, one of whom is a toddler himself.

You can laugh. A mom…on light duty. I know what you’re thinking.

Impossible right?

That’s what I thought too, so I sent her a message to see if I could help her out at all by making a few meals that she could just reheat. She said absolutely.

I had asked her because the next day I had some time to myself, just a few hours in the afternoon where I could run to the store and pick some things up and prep her a few meals. It wouldn’t take much time and at the moment, I was able-bodied with older kids who’d be away for part of the day, so I was able to help out.

That afternoon, I picked up my supplies and spent some time in my kitchen, cooking up ground turkey for Shepherd’s Pie, boiling pasta for a pasta bake and cooking some chicken for chicken noodle soup. As I stood there at the stove, stirring my various meats and pasta, I got to thinking, “I really need to do this for us before school starts, put some meals into the freezer early on.”

So often throughout my parenting life, I’ve had these moments of “Why didn’t I think of that sooner??” and this was one of those types of moments. Now clearly, I know how to cook ahead, I know how to freeze meals, but oftentimes I don’t do it soon enough. Like in the summer. I’m so carefree in the summer as compared to the school year, that the last thing I’m thinking about is dinner for the first month of school.

This had me thinking though. I was going to try to do better. Each year I find that I’m just a little more organized than the last year. Each year, I get better. As a friend joked with me recently, by the time my oldest goes to college, I’ll be all set, totally prepared and organized.

Oftentimes, I find myself making breakfast and dinner at the same time. Here I've got muffins for breakfast, and cooked chicken to freeze ahead for a future lunchbox salad or a dinner.

Oftentimes, I find myself making breakfast and dinner at the same time. Here I’ve got muffins for breakfast, and cooked chicken to freeze ahead for a future lunchbox salad or a dinner.

A few weeks later, I sat with one of my daughters who loves to menu-plan and we made two lists: the first list was a list of make ahead meals we wanted to make and the second list was a shopping list of all the things I’d need to pick up in order to make anything ahead; things that would be above and beyond my normal two weeks of meals shopping list.

On our list for the grocery store included things like multiple pounds of ground turkey, multiple bags of chicken tenderloins, multiple boxes of pasta and a jar of sauce (in this case I was not using our homemade sauce).

As the summer progressed I kept these things in mind, and as I planned out my meals, I tried to think of things I could make double of, eating one that night and freezing one for another night. One night that wasn’t too hot to bake, I cooked up enough ingredients for two chicken pot pies. I used the recipe linked here and used chicken instead of turkey. I also only use a top crust on my pies, so one box of two refrigerated crusts will equal two pot pie meals. One Sunday, my husband made a double batch of American Chopped Suey and we ate a batch and froze a batch. Now we had two frozen meals.

We were on a roll.

The weekend before school began, we did a shopping and picked up a family pack of ground turkey which contained three pounds. I split it into one pound and two pounds and cooked them up in two separate skillets, shown above at the left, where I was also hard-boiling eggs for the fridge for the first week of school breakfasts and lunches.

Into my one pound of ground turkey, I added a packet of Taco Seasoning. I had a packet on hand, but you can also make your own, which I’ve done in the past. I split that pound of taco meat into two half pounds and froze them. I now had enough taco meat for a taco meal and lunches of taco salads, or two taco meals or two sets of lunches with taco salads. Either way, I was set for a little bit with taco meat. All I needed to do now was thaw it and use it.

Into my second skillet containing two pounds of ground turkey, I put two cans of creamed corn for a Shepherd’s Pie. We found that we need two pounds for one pie, given the size of our family. It also provides us leftovers for another time.

I put those into the freezer with the taco meat.

The night before school, I made Chocolate Chip Muffins for the first day of school breakfast. After they baked, since the oven was already on, I cooked up an entire two-pound bag of chicken tenderloins. These I froze for future dinners, salads, lunches ( chicken caesar salad is a popular choice). I was making real progress.

I think this excited me the most of all: two loaves of bread made into sandwiches of the kids' choosing, and frozen for lunches.

I think this excited me the most of all: two loaves of bread made into sandwiches of the kids’ choosing, and frozen for lunches.

And finally, the thing I’m probably most proud of that I’d been wanting to do: my make ahead sandwiches for the freezer. I can’t take any credit for this idea. A friend who I get a lot of great ideas from in my menu-planning had the idea herself. Her thought was that if Smuckers “Uncrustables” could work for lunches, couldn’t we use our Pampered Chef Press and Seal tool to make our own and freeze them? I tried it a couple of times last year and it worked out fine, but I really wanted to make up a whole big load of sandwiches. I had two loaves of bread waiting for me.

The night before school, I got my supplies together: creamy peanut butter, crunchy peanut butter, strawberry jelly, grape jelly, Nutella and Trader Joe’s Crunchy Cookie Butter. I got a cutting board and a whole bunch of knives (no cross contamination!) and got to work. It took about one minute before my two kids who were nearby saw what I was doing and wanted to take over the project for me.

Excellent!

Many hands make for light work! We got a lot done in half as much time.

Many hands make for light work! We got a lot done in half as much time.

I got a second cutting board and they both got to work.

In under an hour they’d done both loaves of bread, creating and sealing any kind of sandwich they personally liked or knew someone else liked, and I bagged them and labeled them. Done. I put three in the fridge for the next morning and gathered the rest.

I was so excited. I went downstairs to my freezer and cleared a spot on the door for them. I looked into my freezer, so proud. We were ready to star off the school year right: a bit more organized and prepared than before.

I can’t promise that I can maintain this through the busiest parts of the year, but I feel like if I prep it during the slower parts of the year, then I can be ready when those crazy times hit, which for us is just prior to the holidays and during the last two months of the school year. We’ll see how it goes. For now though, we are better off than we were! My general philosophy is “anything I do is better than doing nothing at all” and I do believe that. One step ahead is better than being three steps back.

I hope everyone has a great fall, and a great school year!

 

 

 

Monday Musings: Back to our regularly scheduled programming

25 Aug
Nothing makes me more reflective of our blessings than being able to take in such beauty on a regular basis, especially in the summer.

Nothing makes me more reflective of our blessings than being able to take in such beauty on a regular basis, especially in the summer.

It’s a Monday and here’s a Monday Musings post. We must be back to our regularly scheduled programming.

School starts up again tomorrow.

Summer as we know it and love it, is all over.

The girls and even their dad, are all excited and a bit nervous to begin the new year and I am excited for them. A new school year is an exciting thing. My job has started to pick up as well, and that makes me excited also. As I dressed for my own first day back last Friday, I couldn’t help but have that first-day-of-school feeling and tinge of excitement.

The air has already begun to get a bit cooler at night and it’s getting darker just a bit earlier; all signs of the inevitable end to summer.

Although I tend to be pretty bummed out about the summertime ending, melancholy at times, this time of year also reminds me so much of how blessed we are and how thankful I am for all that we have.

Summer is relaxing and stress-free for the most part and allows us to truly enjoy our family time together.

Summer is relaxing and stress-free for the most part and allows us to truly enjoy our family time together.

Coincidentally, I’ve been chosen to participate in one of those social media challenges which is going around Facebook this week, the “Gratefulness Challenge.” Five days, five things a day that you’re grateful for. It’s allowed me to take some time to think of all the things I truly am grateful for in my life, and it’s made me a little less melancholy as we start the new school year, embarking the months in which I count down to summer, from now through next June.

Each summer as we enjoy our time together, I try to constantly remind the kids how lucky we are. We have flexible summertime work schedules, so we are able to spend a great deal of time together, almost making up for the stress of the school year months when our schedules are maxed out with our school year responsibilities. We have chosen to live in what I consider to be one of the most beautiful places in the country where we can enjoy beautiful scenery that people travel many miles to enjoy for a short time, any time we want. We are so incredibly lucky and I am grateful for the choices we’ve made all along the way, which have allowed us to have this time together.

When used correctly, "selfies" are a great opportunity to create memories with your friends and family. Never before have I gotten to be in so many photos with my kids.

When used correctly, “selfies” are a great opportunity to create memories with your friends and family. Never before have I gotten to be in so many photos with my kids. I treasure each and every “selfie” that I have with them.

In August, I always choose to celebrate my actual birthday with a dinner on the beach with the kids and my husband. It’s by far one of the most special parts of my summer each year and it means a lot to me. Because my birthday is in the middle of August, I am always reminded that summer is winding down and I am always grateful for that one last dinner on the beach, that one last opportunity to snap photos of my kids playing together, running through the sand, feet in the water, as the sun goes down over the ocean.  I love hearing the wind taking their laughter away from me, and hearing them come back to me, breathless as they laugh over whatever it is they’re doing; taking “selfies” together (I love the “selfie” trend for this reason) or climbing up on the empty lifeguard chairs, or just general fooling around. It’s a fun night for sure, but it’s my own personal reminder each year of just how lucky we are.

And so, as we begin our new school year and as I reflect upon our closing of another summer, another chapter in our family’s book, I am reminded of just how lucky I am, how lucky we are as a family and I know that I am very, very blessed.

(Just nine more months ’til next summer…..)

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Miss Meg’s Marinade

6 Aug
In honor of Meg's last week, a recipe from her to me.

In honor of Meg’s last week, a recipe from her to me.

ORIGINALLY POSTED JUNE 19, 2013

Reposted today in honor of Miss Meg and her beau William and their recent wedding!!

“What’s for Dinner Wednesday” is my editor Meg’s brainchild. As my blog was in its infancy, it was Meg who asked me if I’d like to do a weekly post with my recipes for the Cranston Herald’s Facebook page.

Of course I said yes, and “What’s for Dinner Wednesday” was born.

This Friday is Meg’s last day at the Cranston Herald as she has gotten an exciting new job, working as the press secretary for our  Congressman, James Langevin.

We will miss her soooo much. So, so much. Meg is a wonderful editor, a wonderful boss. A great listener and someone who knows just what to say, how to say it, and when.

Did I mention that we’ll miss her?

Recently, Meg passed along a recipe to me for a new marinade. She found it on Allrecipes.com and said she thought we’d like it a lot and that it was easy. I said I’d try it soon, and just in time for her last “What’s for Dinner Wednesday” post, we did.

And yes, we liked it a lot.

So today, in honor of Miss Meg’s last day at work this week, I am sharing with you the recipe she shared with us.

Thank you Meg for all you’ve done and best of luck in your future! I know you will go far!

Remember to save a little bit for basting later on!

Remember to save a little bit for basting later on!

Miss Meg’s Honey Marinade

originally from Allrecipes.com

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup vegetable oil (I used olive oil)

1/3 cup honey

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

8 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves cut into 1″  cubes (I used chicken tenderloin and cut them into 1″ cubes.)

2 cloves garlic

5 small onions, cut into 2″ pieces

Skewers

You can add bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, grape tomatoes, or anything you’d like to your skewers!

Marinade first, skewer second.

Marinade first, skewer second. Ready to grill!

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, honey, soy sauce, and pepper. Before adding chicken, reserve a small amount of marinade to brush onto kabobs while cooking. Place the chicken, garlic, onions and peppers in the bowl, and marinate in the refrigerator at least 2 hours (the longer the better).
  2. Preheat the grill for high heat.
  3. Drain marinade from the chicken and vegetables, and discard marinade. Thread chicken and vegetables alternately onto the skewers.
  4. Lightly oil the grill grate. Place the skewers on the grill. Cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until chicken juices run clear. Turn and brush with reserved marinade frequently.

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Frogmore Stew

9 Jul
Frogmore Stew: I couldn't get enough of it!

Frogmore Stew: I couldn’t get enough of it!

I’d like to start this post with, “Well, at least I loved it.”

And now I’ll continue from there, with my disclaimer out there.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ll mention it again: I have a seafood allergy. It’s not all seafood, but it’s a lot of seafood: clams, oysters, scallops, calamari, mussels. It’s class two of shellfish, the mollusks. It’s also a relatively new allergy. I grew up eating all of the above, but only began reacting to the seafood in the past five or so years.

It really, really stinks. It stinks even more, I think, because I know what I’m missing. I can taste those foods in my mind. I crave them.

As a native New Englander, it’s an awful allergy to have, and in the summertime it’s particularly really awful. Seafood is everywhere and it’s particularly prominent in the summertime. It’s the thing to do, the post-event treat, or the event itself, as in a good, old-fashioned clam boil.

A clam boil traditionally is where you cook the clams, the corn, the potatoes, the onions, the white fish, saugy hot dogs, everything all together and then you eat it. The smell is to die for if you love seafood the way I do. The taste is even better. You often pair it with some white clam chowder, and some golden fried clam cakes. Clams, clams, clams.

I miss clam boils.

That’s why, when I saw this recipe come across my Facebook timeline for something called Frogmore Stew, I had to have it. I tagged my husband: “I can eat this,” I said. It didn’t have clams. It had shrimp, which I can have, and kielbasa, which we like and then the usual corn, potatoes, onions etc. I wanted it instantly. **The recipe that I have linked here may not be the exact one that came across my page because the one I saw go by had kielbasa as the ingredient, whereas this one has sausage but you could substitute kielbasa. I couldn’t find the original post on my page that I’d shared when I looked back to type this post. Everything else is the same, however.**

And, the good husband that he is, I had it for dinner that same night. He made the whole thing, just for me.

I was in heaven.

I will say, as I alluded in the beginning of this post: I was the only one.

According to my husband, a true clam boil is better.

Well, of course.

My kids had a variety of reactions from “Can I just make myself a bagel?” to “Where’s the cocktail sauce?” to “I’ll have just corn and kielbasa please.”

But, I honestly didn’t care. I was so happy to have a version of a clam boil type of dinner that had almost all the ingredients, the same aroma, and wouldn’t put me down for the count, that I really didn’t care who else loved it as much as I did.

So, my recommendation? I’d totally make it and eat it again. I have friends who also said they made it and loved it in and around the same time that I did, so it wasn’t just me!

If you like all the ingredients in the recipe and you’re looking for a new and different twist on a traditional New England clam boil as I was, I highly recommend you try this one!

 

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Tortellini, Shrimp and Tomato Soup

25 Jun
Sometimes impulse shopping can be good!

Sometimes impulse shopping can be good!

Grocery shopping on an empty stomach…never a good thing. Grocery shopping with a bunch of kids who all have empty stomachs, also not a good thing.

At least, not usually.

At the end of the school year, the kids and I were power walking through Aldi’s, trying to pick up a few things to get us through the next bunch of days, but we were all hungry. There was lots of, “Can we get this? Oh…we haven’t had this in a while, can we get it….Oh Mommy I LOVE these, can we get them,” I’m sure you know how it goes.

I mostly said no to many of the requests unless it was something I knew we actually needed. I try to keep my big grocery trip to a paycheck week only, and I knew that this could quickly get out of hand if I didn’t keep my kids’ requests to a minimum.

However, one of the requests I said yes to was my daughter’s plea for Tortellini. We hadn’t had it in a while, I did need some meal fillers, and it looked good just in the packaging because it was tri-colored pasta.

We threw not one, but two bags in the carriage and moved on. We passed the frozen shrimp section next. I love putting shrimp and pasta together so I threw one bag of that in the carriage also.

I wasn’t sure what I would be doing with the items I was purchasing, but I couldn’t wait to get home and do Google search and see what came up. I didn’t just want to do plain old pasta and sauce. I’d done that in a pinch too many times this school year.

Sure enough, my Google search led me to a great recipe for Tortellini Tomato Soup. I knew I could add shrimp to that without a problem. Funny enough, one of my other daughters had been begging me to find a recipe for Tomato Soup that could equal the sample we’d had earlier this winter at Whole Foods. At $4.99 for a small jar it was a once-only treat for us, and I’d promised to find her a recipe to equal it or surpass it.

The recipe I found, from Two Peas and Their Pod.com, was great. It didn’t take long to prepare and it had easy ingredients. I knew that I could throw the shrimp into the mix without a problem.

The soup looked amazing as it cooked. Cooking time didn't take very long at all and the ingredients were simple.

The soup looked amazing as it cooked. Cooking time didn’t take very long at all and the ingredients were simple.

In my house there are such a wide variety of tastes that it’s hard to please everyone. I knew that this recipe had the potential to work for everyone. I could separate some of the soup before throwing in the pasta and shrimp, for those who wanted just plain tomato soup. Then, anyone who wanted tortellini and shrimp in theirs could have it (me) and anyone who wanted one or the other could do that too. There was definitely something for everyone with this recipe.

I also threw the ingredients into my bread machine, a newly rediscovered toy this year, to make a French Bread to go along with our soup. The recipe on Two Peas and Their Pod showed the soup with a nice crusty bread, and I couldn’t get that image out of my mind when I was prepping my meal.

It turned out to be a fabulously delicious dinner, and everyone was happy. I had enough leftovers of both the plain soup and the loaded soup to have lunch for a couple of days, and the bread was the perfect accompaniment to the meal. The use of Greek nonfat yogurt in the recipe made it ideal for our family’s dietary needs, as we have to stick to a pretty lowfat diet as much as possible. The soup was still just as creamy as it would have been had we used a heavier cream.

I definitely would make this soup again, and I did indeed keep my promise of finding my daughter a soup that’d match the one she’d sampled in Whole Foods, and for a fraction of the cost of one small jar in their store.

I have copied the recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod below, just as they have it on their site. I encourage you to pop on over to their site as well, they have lots of great recipes on there. This is not the first time I’ve visited it myself!

I was essentially able to make two soups with one recipe: one loaded with tortellini and shrimp, and one creamy tomato soup.

I was essentially able to make two soups with one recipe: one loaded with tortellini and shrimp, and one creamy tomato soup.

TWO PEAS AND THEIR POD CREAMY TOMATO TORTELLINI SOUP

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
Dash of crushed red pepper flakes
2 (28 oz) cans diced tomatoes
1 (32 oz) container vegetable broth
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 (9 oz) packages fresh or frozen cheese tortellini (we use Buitoni)
Grated Parmesan cheese and fresh basil, for garnish, optional

Directions:

1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the bay leaves and crushed red pepper flakes.

2. Add the diced tomatoes and vegetable broth. Stir in fresh basil and season with salt and black pepper, to taste. Simmer on low for 15 minutes.

3. Remove the bay leaves from the pot. Use a hand immersion blender to blend the soup (or carefully transfer soup to a blender to blend and return to the pot). Stir in the Greek yogurt until well combined. Stir in the cheese tortellini and cook on medium-low until tortellini is cooked, about 7-8 minutes. Serve warm.

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Kielbasa and Cabbage

11 Jun
This meal was tasty and a good way to combine a lot of things I had on hand.

This meal was tasty and a good way to combine a lot of things I had on hand.

You know how it is this time of year. Crazy, crazy, crazy busy. Some weeks I don’t get to plan out a menu of meals for the week. Some weeks I don’t get to do a “big shopping” at the start of the week either, and I’m left to pick up things as I need them on the run, or to make meals with whatever I’ve got on hand.

Today’s meal is a combination of all of those situations. I hadn’t done a menu for the week. I hadn’t done a big shopping. I was hurriedly picking up things as I went along, between runs here there and everywhere.

That’s why I mistakenly grabbed a head of cabbage one week instead of a head of lettuce.

That’s a whole lot of cole slaw, and it’s not really close to St. Patrick’s Day either.

That’s why early one afternoon, I was now Googling “kielbasa and cabbage recipes” one day, as I tried to make a meal with whatever I had left in the house: a single package of turkey kielbasa, a head of cabbage, and a bag of egg noodles.

Our go-to site, Allrecipes. com had a good recipe for Kielbasa and Cabbage that looked doable and not too crazy with things my kids wouldn’t like. It called for simple ingredients and looked quick. It would also allow us to use up half the head of cabbage. I decided we’d try it. The only difference I’d make would be to serve it over the egg noodles we had rather than over white rice.

The recipe was tasty and well-received by my family and I used up half my cabbage and my single package of kielbasa. It also gave us a different kielbasa recipe to try, which was a nice change. There was none left of the main dish and really, only some of the noodles remained.

Below is the recipe as it appears on AllRecipes.com.

KIELBASA AND CABBAGE
INGREDIENTS

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

  • 1 large onion, cut into rings
  • 1 medium head cabbage, sliced into strips
  • 1 pound kielbasa sausage, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

DIRECTIONS

Heat the oil in a skillet, and cook the onion and cabbage until tender.

Place kielbasa over cabbage.

Season with Cajun seasoning, pepper, salt, and Worcestershire sauce.

Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

*We served ours over cooked egg noodles.*

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Summer Pasta Salad with Peaches

4 Jun
This salad was a hit all around!

This salad was a hit all around!

I’m always getting emails with recipes in my inbox, and every so often one of them will catch my eye and I’ll open it up. The other day I happened to notice a recipe from Cooking Light for a Summer Peach and Tomato Salad.

The name of the recipe, the combination of peaches and tomatoes made me click on it and read it. Of course other than peaches and tomatoes, yet not all the kinds of tomatoes they recommended, I didn’t have most of the ingredients for the salad. I didn’t have Sherry Vinegar or red onions or Feta cheese (I don’t even like Feta cheese) or fresh Basil.

Even still, the recipe stayed on my mind. I knew I wanted to try it one day. In the meantime, I still had to come up with my meal planning for this week, and one night we were going to be grilling pork chops. I went downstairs to my pantry to see what I could put as a side dish or two with the chops, and of course, we had next to nothing since we hadn’t done our “big shopping” yet. However, we had a box of pasta, we had honey and olive oil, I knew we had tomatoes, cucumbers, mozzarella cheese and….fresh summer peaches. I decided to do a variation on the Cooking Light recipe and make my pasta salad for the side dish, but add in some peaches with the other veggies.

“Ewwww….” my daughter said. “That sounds gross together.”

Excellent. A vote of confidence.

Not.

But no worries, I was going to try it anyway. To me, the tomatoes and peaches sounded like they’d go well together, and I looked up a substitution for Sherry Vinegar which said Rice Wine Vinegar which we always have and like to use.

I put on the water to boil and began slicing my peaches. As my pasta cooked and I sliced, that same daughter wandered into the kitchen.

“Can I help?” she asked.

I let her help despite her lack of confidence in this new recipe. As I sliced up the peaches, she threw them into a big bowl and added in the tomatoes, honey, olive oil and vinegar. As I drained the pasta, she peeled and sliced the cucumber and threw that in too. She took a taste.

“This is actually pretty good together!” she said.

I might’ve said, “I told you so,” but I will neither confirm or deny that.

We tossed in the pasta and mixed it all together noting how pretty the reds and yellows looked together. I was wishing I had fresh Basil to add a touch of green, and I debated adding another peach, but decided for this first time out, just to leave it all as is, and see how well this Summer Pasta Salad with Peaches went over with the rest of the family.

Well….I couldn’t have been happier. Everyone loved it and the combination of the peaches with the other fruits, veggies and seasonings was perfect.

My daughter redeemed herself by exclaiming over and over again how great this was together, and I was happy.

I would definitely recommend bringing some summer into your recipes too, adding in peaches and other summer fruits to some of your regular meals. Making this recipe made me even more excited for the end of school and the summertime and for all the delicious summer-only items that are starting to come into season now.

Next time you’re making a salad, think of Cooking Light and their recipe, of my Summer Pasta Salad with Peaches, and see what variation you can come up with!

Even though initially she thought this salad didn't sound appealing at all, she was my biggest helper and biggest fan of the recipe at mealtime!

Even though initially she thought this salad didn’t sound appealing at all, she was my biggest helper and biggest fan of the recipe at mealtime!

 

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