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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…..)

Fun Friday: Chocolate Bark from “American Girl” Magazine

22 Aug
A very kid-friendly recipe from "American Girl" magazine provided our whole family with a yummy treat all week!

A very kid-friendly recipe from “American Girl” magazine provided our whole family with a yummy treat all week!

I love that my kids love to read, they love to get magazines in the mail and they love to cook and bake. Each of them receives two magazines in the mail geared to their age level, and as soon as they’re out of the mailbox, the kids are looking for any great new recipes that I might say “yes” to.

It’s not that I say “no” about trying out a new recipe very often, it’s more of “Not now, we don’t have time to do that today,” or “I don’t have all the ingredients for that right now, but remind me later.” The girls have even learned to preface their immediate “Can we make this today?!?!?” with more of, “Do we have any plans later today?” or even, “Do we have flour, sugar, butter, and apples?” for example.

Quick studies, they are.

Earlier this week one of my daughters received her latest edition of “American Girl” magazine, which she absolutely loves, but which only comes every other month. Clearly not often enough.

As soon as she opened it, she began looking for any easy recipes for which we had the time and

There were several versions of bark to choose from, and she found one for which we had all of the ingredients.

There were several versions of bark to choose from, and she found one for which we had all of the ingredients.

ingredients, and lo and behold….she found a great one! It was a quick, easy and kid-friendly recipe spread containing several Halloween-themed chocolate bark recipes. We had all the ingredients for one in particular, and she made it for our family the very next day.

We had limited time on this particular day, just a couple of hours in the afternoon to clean up from lunch and prep for dinner. I personally had no time to be making a dessert, so I was thrilled when we realized that she could do this recipe 100% on her own.

She used a 12 oz. bag of milk chocolate melts that we had on hand. The recipe called for two cups of dark chocolate melts  and our bag worked out fine. She needed 1/2 cup of crispy rice cereal and 1/2 cup of marshmallows. We used the same measuring cup for both items, less to clean later on!

The recipe gave instructions for covering a baking sheet with wax paper and melting the chocolate melts in the microwave. She melted 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between each time. Once melted, the mix-ins of rice and marshmallows were stirred into the chocolate and the chocolate was spread evenly onto the wax paper and carried down to the freezer.

I love to see how proud my kids are whenever they make something for the whole family to enjoy.

I love to see how proud my kids are whenever they make something for the whole family to enjoy.

As we left for the rest of the afternoon, I knew that my daughter couldn’t wait to get home so that she could check the freezer and see if her bark was done.

Sure enough, after being gone only a few hours, we came home and she went straight down to the freezer, carrying up the tray of hardened bark. It was ready to eat! She was so excited!

After dinner, she grabbed a tray, broke the bark into semi-even pieces and served the family her dessert. She was so proud as everyone complimented her tasty dessert and her hard work.

As we talked later on about how great the recipe was, we came up with some other mix-in ideas, including graham crackers instead of the crisp rice cereal, which would make more of a S’Mores type of dessert.

The “American Girl” magazine also showed five other types of bark, so be sure to check it out! I know that we’ll be making this again soon!

Happy Birthday To Me and To You: Mom’s Boston Cream Pie two ways

11 Aug

Boston Cream Pie is my all-time favorite kind of birthday cake.

ORIGINALLY POSTED AUGUST 10, 2012

August 11 is my birthday!

If I could choose any kind of birthday cake in the whole world, I’d choose Boston Cream Pie every single time.

In fact, I’m a lucky girl. I do get to choose my birthday cake every single year.

My parents have a tradition of letting us choose our birthday meals, which includes the cake of our choice. You may remember back in March when I posted about Don’s birthday cake of choice: lemon cake, which is great, but it’s not Boston Cream Pie by any means, and that’s *my* favorite.

For as long as I can remember, my mom used a recipe for a “quick” Boston Cream Pie, which uses a cake mix, pudding mix, and a decadent chocolate frosting. Then, in 2006 my mom happened upon a “from scratch” recipe for a Buttermilk Cake which she uses for her Boston Cream Pie, in a magazine that Hallmark used to put out.

I like them both.

So, as my gift to you for my birthday, I’m giving you both recipes. They’re both good and there are times when you really just need a quick recipe versus times when you can go all out. I personally have never made the from scratch recipe, but I’ve eaten it.

Delicious.

Treat yourself to either one on your next birthday. You’ll be glad you did!

*********************************************************************************************

QUICK BOSTON CREAM PIE

INGREDIENTS

One box yellow cake mix, baked according to the directions for round layers

FOR THE CENTER

one package vanilla instant pudding

1 1/2 cups milk (not two cups)

Mix and chill until solid.

FOR THE FROSTING

2 one ounce squares unsweetened chocolate, melted, or six tablespoons baking cocoa

2 tablespoons margarine or butter

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

4-5 tablespoons hot water
DIRECTIONS

When cakes are cooled, spread filling on one layer, top with the second layer.

In small bowl, mix together all frosting ingredients except for hot water.

Add hot water one tablespoon at a time until desired spreading consistency has been reached.

Spread frosting immediately.

Top with cherries and/or sprinkles, if desired.

**********************************************************************************************

HALLMARK’S BASIC BUTTERMILK CAKE FOR BOSTON CREAM PIE

INGREDIENTS

3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 and 1/2 sticks) softened

1 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar

3 large eggs at room temperature

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup of buttermilk at room temperature

1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla
DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter layer cake pans and line with parchment or waxed paper. Butter the paper.

Beat the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl with electric mixer for five minutes at medium speed until light and fluffy.

Beat in eggs one at a time. Scrape the sides of the bowl and beaters and beat well to incorporate.

Sift the flour with the baking soda and baking powder.

Add one quarter of the butter mixture to the butter-egg mixture then add vanilla and one third of the buttermilk.

Repeat, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and scraping well after each addition.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans and spread to edges with spatula.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool in pans on rack for five minutes.

Turn pans onto rack, remove parchment or waxed paper and cool completely before filling and frosting.

**Use the same frosting and filling as above.**

**Photo credit: Marianne Tandon**

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: Loaded Baked Potato Salad

30 Jul
As a lover of loaded baked potatoes with bacon and cheese, I loved this recipe!

As a lover of loaded baked potatoes with bacon and cheese, I loved this recipe!

Potato Salad: a summertime menu staple.

Do you love it? I love it.

I love that and a good old pasta salad in the summer.

When I saw a recipe from Caramel Potatoes, one of my favorite recipe blogs, for Loaded Baked Potato Salad, I was totally inspired.

Bacon + Cheddar = two of my favorite savory add-ons and mix-ins. It sounded good! It sounded like my favorite kind of loaded baked potato.

I decided that the next time we made a potato salad, we’d do our own version of the Caramel Potatoes recipe, by adding on some shredded cheddar cheese and crumbled cooked turkey bacon. As you’ll see in their original recipe here, you can do a zesty Ranch flavored potato salad, or you can do as we did and just add the toppings. Our potato salad has mayo and hard boiled eggs in it, so I felt that the zesty flavorings might not be a good fit with our ingredients and I kept it simple.

When I think summertime, I think potato salad!

When I think summertime, I think potato salad!

We brought our side dish to a potluck party held near the water on a perfect summer evening and it got positive reviews, although some said they preferred a traditional, plain potato salad rather than a loaded potato salad.

So I’m now curious! What’s your opinion? Are you a traditional potato salad person or would you walk on the wild side and load it up a bit? What goes in your potato salad? Are you a mayo person or is there some other ingredient that you choose to use instead? Do you use red potatoes or something else?

Feel free to leave me a comment with your own potato salad secrets!

In the meantime, hope you’ll hop on over to the Caramel Potatoes blog and take a look at their recipes! I always find their recipes to be delicious and inspiring!

Peanut Butter Nutella Swirl Cookies from Erica’s Sweet Tooth

28 Jul
Erica's cookies were a perfect addition to our Concert on the Beach dessert menu!

Erica’s cookies were a perfect addition to our Concert on the Beach dessert menu!

Each summer there are several traditions that we look forward to, and the summer isn’t complete unless we’ve participated in these traditions.

One such tradition is the annual Concert on the Beach: an ocean-side philharmonic orchestra concert. Part of the lure of this event, other than the stunning scenery and amazing musical performance, is the fact that it’s been taking place for almost 40 years and of those almost 40 years I’ve been to almost all of them, and my children have never missed one in their lives yet. When we lived out of state, we traveled home for this concert, it means that much to us.

Another lure of this event is the fact that we attend the concert (which is free) with a lot of our family and friends. It’s hugely attended by thousands of people and you bump into people all night long. “Everyone” goes to the Concert on the Beach.

Each summer as the date of the concert gets closer, we begin to plan our menu. Everyone brings a little something until we have compiled a huge potluck dinner spread which we’ll eat on the beach. As the sun sets and the moon appears, we transition from dinner to dessert, and each year I am “on” for bringing a dessert, as it’s my favorite part of the meal. Each year I try to think of something special, something unique, and something new to try out as my dessert contribution for the concert.

This year I had come across a recipe from the blog, “Erica’s Sweet Tooth,” a recipe for Peanut Butter Nutella Swirl Cookies.

Really, Peanut Butter and Nutella in a cookie?? What’s not to love? I decided to give these cookies a try for the concert. And, having faith in a good ingredient combination, I doubled the recipe. I’m so glad I did! These cookies were awesome!! I am putting Erica’s recipe below, just as she has it on her blog. You can see my cookies pictured above. They look amazing right??

I did substitute I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter for the unsalted butter, but otherwise my ingredients were the same as she has them here.

Our view of the sunset and Super Moon from our seats in the sand as we watched the Concert on the Beach this year.

Our view of the sunset and Super Moon from our seats in the sand as we watched the Concert on the Beach this year.

PEANUT BUTTER NUTELLA SWIRL COOKIES FROM ERICA’S SWEET TOOTH

Ingredients:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup Nutella

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together butter, peanut butter, and sugars until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.

Add in the egg and vanilla and beat until well combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. With mixer on low, slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until just combined.

Microwave Nutella for 20 seconds and then drizzle over the dough. Fold in Nutella with a spatula until well-distributed throughout the dough.

Chill the dough in the fridge for 15 minutes and then roll small balls by hand.

Place about an inch apart on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and use a fork to press down the balls slightly.

Bake until the edges are lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes.

Allow cookies to cool on the pan for 2 minutes, and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

The view of the audience behind us. People listening and enjoying as far as the eye can see, in all directions.

The view of the audience behind us. People listening and enjoying as far as the eye can see, in all directions.

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