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What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals

7 Mar

Ratatouille has become a favorite meal of ours.

Welcome to the month of March! It’s been quite some time since I posted a two-week menu plan, and I thought this week might be a good week to do one.

We are marching into spring and it’s about to be our busy season at work and at school so I am reveling in this relative calm before the storm. Over these two weeks however, two of our kids are booked just about every night for “tech week” as they prepare for this weekend’s upcoming theater performances and next weekend’s drama festival competition. Therefore, we are not necessarily eating all together as we usually do, but rather in a group of three, and then a group of two later on. They come in starving at about 9:00 p.m. and their first question is always, “What was for dinner?” as they look to reheat whatever it is that we had. They’ve eaten, but it’s usually between when school ends at 2:00 and when their theater responsibilities begin at 4:00.

That said, here is our list of meals for these two weeks.

TWO WEEKS OF MEALS

SUNDAY: Shaved steak and cheese sandwiches with tomato salad and steak fries
MONDAY: Burritos and quesadillas
TUESDAY: Chicken, broccoli and pasta
WEDNESDAY: Ratatouille
THURSDAY: Cranberry chicken
FRIDAY: Opening night for theater! Out to dinner
SATURDAY: Grilled kielbasa kebabs (this is a new meal, so look for it to be featured in the future!)

SUNDAY: Pulled beef brisket (this is a new recipe, so look for it to be featured in the future!)
MONDAY: Grilled teriyaki chicken breasts
TUESDAY: Spaghetti with tuna sauce
WEDNESDAY: Nicoise salad
THURSDAY: Leftovers
FRIDAY: Homemade Pizza
 

Hopefully this inspires some meals for your next two weeks of meals!
Have a wonderful week!

Two weeks of meals before the holiday rush

4 Dec

It’s hard to believe, but it’s the first week of December already. There are exactly three weeks until Christmas. Although I’ve been behind in posting some weekly menus, I thought that now might be a good time to provide some meal inspiration as a way to get us through the next three weeks. I also know that in the next two weeks or so, my posts will be filled with Christmas cookie recipes, and although we’d like to just eat those for dinner, most nights we can’t.

This was one we hadn’t had in a while and we devoured it. Not a morsel left.

Below are some meal options to get you through the next few weeks, with links included for every single one, not necessarily even in the order we’ve had them on our menu but more of a list of our past weeks’ “best of” meals that will let you peruse and choose what works for you in any given week.

TWO WEEKS OF MEALS

  1. Taco Bake
  2. Chicken, Broccoli, Cauliflower Casserole
  3. Kielbasa and Cabbage
  4. Parmesan Chicken Cutlets
  5. Instant Pot Chicken Marsala
  6. Beef and Broccoli
  7. Turkey Meatloaf Burgers
  8. Sweet and sour meatballs

    One of my favorite fall meals ever: Cranberry Chicken

  9. Shepherd’s Pie
  10. Instant Pot Macaroni and Cheese
  11. Chicken with White Wine and Mushrooms
  12. Cranberry Chicken
  13. Steak Lettuce Tacos
  14. Pork Tenderloin (instead of brisket) with applesauce and potato pancakes

What’s for dinner Wednesday: two weeks of meals and a new kitchen toy

27 Sep

It seemed as if everyone was getting one of these for Christmas last year. I watched, and I waited, and then I bargain-shopped.

Happy Wednesday! Since it’s been a while since I gave you a two week menu, I thought I owed you a really good post when I shared one this time around. To that end, I have the two week menu, some new recipes to go along with it, and our experiences with a new kitchen toy.

It’s been a while since we got a new”toy” to add to our collection of small kitchen appliances, but around Christmastime last year, I started seeing this new Instant Pot appliance floating around blog posts and status updates, and my interest was definitely piqued. When I looked it up, the appliance was a bit costly, and with our impending kitchen renovations, not a priority at the time.

However, it’s a new school year, we have the usual “stuff” each night and/or after school, and yet we still try to eat as healthy as we can, at home, as often as we can, together. This Instant Pot seemed to really be calling my name, in that it seemed it might be able to help us continue to achieve those goals.

I finally bit the bullet, as they say, and on the advice of my friend Kim, I used a Kohl’s coupon code to get one for 30% off, on sale, with Kohl’s Cash (and earning Kohl’s cash with the purchase too) and I scored the Instant Pot for $75 (no shipping, including tax). I picked it up in the store, carried it home, and then I wondered what exactly to do with it. It reminded me of when they send you home with a new baby: it’s very intimidating, it makes some crazy noises, and you’re not quite sure if you know what to do if something goes wrong, or how to know if you’re doing everything right. For such a tiny appliance, it’s got a big intimidation factor, just like a new baby.

Ratitouille was a request from our oldest daughter as a new recipe to try. She cited the fact that we like all the veggies that come in it, so why not try it?

We let it sit there for almost a week, and then as the following weekend approached, we broke it out and did just what you’re not supposed to do: we used it (or attempted to) without reading the directions. We were also making a new recipe for Ratitouille, which is something we’d never made before with any recipe, never mind a recipe for use with a new appliance. New recipe, new appliance, no directions. Well played. Dinner took over an hour to make because we had no idea what we were doing, but it was delicious and although we were still a bit wary, we were thinking we liked this new toy. If we knew what we were doing, we’d like it even more.

These potatoes were so fast, so easy and I used them a total of three different times, for pork, for leftover salmon, and for a potato and egg omelet.

In the meantime, two of my friends, Gina and Marcia, also bought an Instant Pot the same week I did, and we all took our new “babies” home within days of each other and a texting thread emerged, sharing recipes, tips, new “parent” fears and more.  There were some successes in that thread, and we began to try each other’s recipes the following week. I chose to make Gina’s potatoes to go along with our grilled pork tenderloin one night and Marcia inspired me to try out a Mac and Cheese recipe another night.

During our trial week, the kids would come home each night from wherever, and joke that we were at it again, making something in the Instant Pot, moving it around to the best location in the kitchen, and they’d shake their heads, but they enjoyed each and every meal we made with it, and I joked that by using it every day, we didn’t need to find a place to store it. (I wasn’t really joking.)

On Sunday, a few days into our Instapot cooking adventures, we tried something new. We took a recipe we’d made before, nicknamed “Liz’s soup” because she requested it last year and I copied the recipe off a video and I have no idea where it came from originally. It was a crockpot recipe last year, but we didn’t have enough time to devote to using the crockpot this time around. Instead we found a recipe that was similar, had the same sorts of ingredients more or less, but used the Instant Pot to cook it. We adapted our recipe for Liz’s soup to that recipe for chicken stew, and presto….we had a delicious soup in a short amount of time. Each time we cooked, we seemed to have more of an idea of what we were doing, and in the meantime, with three of us friends trying out recipes every night, we had triple the ideas and solutions to any problems.

And so, today I share with you our two week menu, some new recipe links to go along with the menu items, and my encouragement for you to try out your Instant Pot too, if you haven’t yet, and if you haven’t jumped on that bandwagon, maybe this will be helpful to you in your own decision-making and bargain-shopping process.

Growing up, I’d only had Ratitouille at my friend Jen’s house. Her mom made it often. I channeled my memories of them as we ate this delicious meal over rice and chicken.

Two Weeks of Meals

WEEK ONE: In the days before the Instant Pot

Monday: Pastene Soup recipe here (Today I brought the Instant Pot home!)

Tuesday: Meatloaf Burgers recipe here

Wednesday: Paninis recipe here

Thursday: The Instant Pot is Opened:
Ratitouille recipe here 

Friday: Leftovers

Saturday: Grilled salmon with pesto (be watching for a post about this meal in the coming days!

WEEK TWO:

This soup is delicious and makes the house smell wonderful!

Sunday: Liz’s soup, adapted using this recipe

Monday: Grilled pork tenderloin, frozen homemade applesauce from the last time we grilled pork, and these Instant Pot potatoes.

Tuesday: Leftovers again!

Wednesday: Six Sisters Macaroni and Cheese (I am making this recipe tonight, but sharing it now. Gina and Marcia have made it already, and I love the Six Sisters’ recipes any time I try them!)

Thursday: Burritos and Quesadillas

Friday: We are leaving our new “baby” home and going out to dinner, we’ve definitely earned a night out tonight!

Liz’s Soup is amazing, especially if you top it with sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese and use some crunchy tortilla chips on the side!

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Busy? Me too! Meals for on the go schedules

14 Jun

I feel like I must look like this by the end of the school year, every June. Most days, I barely know what day it is.

Happy Wednesday!

It’s finally stopped raining, at least temporarily, so we’re cancelling our plans to build an ark and have instead started the final countdown to the end of the school year. We have just about a week to go.

I always compare this time of year for teachers, students, parents and those of us in the education world to what I imagine the tax season to be like for accountants. It’s crazy-busy for all of us, and we’re spread thin, trying to put ourselves in several places at once. This year, I am especially thankful that we have a third driver, which has helped our situation when we aren’t able to clone ourselves to be two places at once.

Busy? Absolutely. Still need to cook and eat? Absolutely.

Normally during much of the year we plan our meals two weeks in advance and shop for them two weeks in advance as well. However, since after the April vacation week, we have only been able to manage to plan and shop a week at a time for much of May and June. It’s been working out, and this week I am particularly proud of our meal planning because we were able to prep so much of it in advance. It meant a lot of work, particularly on Sunday night, but we had the time to spend that evening, and it’s nice to know we’re set for this week, the final full week of the school year for all of us. Like everyone else, we’re battling with the culminating events for  sports and school and work and other extra-curriculars, but we get through it, just like everyone else does, just like all the other years, and then it will be summer and we can breathe again.

I told someone just the other day that during the rest of the year our schedules are busy, but doable because everything has a designated slot on the schedule and when left as is, it all works out. There may be a lot of it, with five schedules and only seven days in a week, but everything fits. November/December and May/June are the months that throw things off because all of the activities choose new, additional slots on the schedule in which to place their seasonal events. So our Saturday morning slot also goes into a slot on Monday and on Tuesday night, for example, but yet we already have something in that slot on Monday. And on Tuesday. Our Monday and Wednesday slots decide to put their event on a Saturday and on also a Sunday, and still on Monday and Wednesday too. Things that are normally contained within the school day curriculum, like band for one, or chorus for another, or theater for the other, or even recognition events for all, suddenly need night time slots for everyone. As adults we are also required to attend many of these same events at other schools for our school-related jobs as well as for our own three kids, so the chaos multiplies quickly for us here. It gets all mixed up for a good month and then it goes back to normal again, but for those weeks of the year, twice a year, we are definitely over-scheduled, over-worked and overwhelmed before normalcy and calm returns.

We use our summer to decompress. We don’t over-schedule and we don’t have to worry much about competing events because we don’t do a lot, and for both of us adults, work slows down to a more normal, regular pace. I take the time to evaluate what worked and what didn’t from the past year and make adjustments by August for the upcoming year. I also look at ways we can be more organized as a family, every summer. Last year I instituted the Cozi app, and have loved that and will definitely keep it going for the next year. The year before, I instituted a great allowance system, and have kept that going as well. Summer is always a great time for reflecting, making changes and improving our well-oiled machines.

So, in preparation for all of your upcoming busy weeks ahead, here is our one week of meals, instead of two, but they are great for making ahead, cooking once and eating twice, and for having to grab and go.

ONE WEEK OF MEALS

Sunday: Shepherd’s Pie: This was our plan ahead, shop ahead and cook ahead day, and even though the daytime hours were full of obligations, we cooked into the evening hours and ate our dinner late that night in order to be ready for the week ahead. The kids used the time wisely and played outside until well after the street lights came on. See the recipe here. Make a big batch, eat half the first night and save the rest for a leftovers night later in the week.

Monday: Quesadillas: This night we had a PT appointment for one, a dance class for another and a fashion show rehearsal for all three, all after school, so we needed a literal grab and go dinner. (Thankfully, no one had any homework.) As a shortcut, I used already cooked chicken strips as my chicken and cheese fillers for these. I made plain cheese, spicy chicken and cheese, and plain chicken and cheese, and I bagged them all up, labeled and ready to go. When made with corn tortillas, these are also gluten free. They’re better served hot, but they’re edible cold as well, and when you’re hungry, cold will do just fine. Find the recipe here. As an added bonus, these make a great lunch, so I was one step ahead Tuesday morning as well.

My bag of quesadillas, ready to conquer dinner and then lunches, in one fell swoop.

Tuesday: American Chopped Suey: This was a meal we made ahead on Sunday night as well. Sauteed peppers, onions, mushrooms and olives filled our kitchen with a delicious aroma as we cooked, and thanks to that little teaser, now everyone can’t wait for this meal. We need to be at the kids’ fashion show by 5:30, so this will be an early meal, but will fill everyone’s bellies sufficiently before we go. Additionally, this will be something that will leave leftovers for our leftovers night. I don’t have a recipe we follow for this, it’s just sauteed ground meat (we use turkey), veggies of your choice, cooked pasta and sauce topped and baked with cheese. Ours is gluten free.

Wednesday: French Toast: This is my favorite go-to meal: breakfast for dinner. It’s fast and French Toast is my favorite meal for breakfast, despite my love for other types of morning treats. We have an after school meeting for one, piano lessons for one, dance class for one, a band concert for another, plus a work event for one, all before 7pm so this time, everyone will eat when they can, before they need to go, or when they get back, or both. It’ll be ready to eat, gluten free and not, for whenever it’s needed.

Thursday: Leftovers: On this night, all the kids are home, and finals start in the morning for our highschooler, so it’s crunch time for sure, but now both adults have to work. Normally we try our hardest to avoid both being out simultaneously for work at night, especially since I can set my own schedule more easily, but this week is an exception. It is graduation week here in our city and I cover three of the four high school graduation events, so my being out can’t be avoided, and neither can his. So, we planned our leftover night for this night because everything can be reheated from earlier in the week. If no one likes that, there’s enough other choices that they can make on their own easily enough, but we’ve done what we consider to be our parental due diligence and provided good meal options.

Friday: Homemade Pizza: Only I have to work on this night, graduation event #2. So I’ll come home at the end of the night and enjoy some yummy homemade pizzas. We enjoy homemade more than the pizza we take out, Don makes the absolute best pizza around, so this is a treat we all look forward to.

Saturday: Dinner event: We have a birthday party for one child early on in the day, and the final graduation event during the day for me as well, and then we are all heading to a dinner event that night, so our final meal of the week is planned for us, thankfully.

We will (hopefully) have made it through the week unscathed and having our meals planned out and mostly ready to go will have allowed us to enjoy the moments as we get to them and through them, and to enjoy the end of the year as it comes. It was a relatively inexpensive set of meals too, so that has been a little bit of a break for our grocery budget as well, when all else is so much more costly at this time of year.

May you all survive the busy seasons in your own lives, families and occupations. If this isn’t your busy season, save this post for when you’ll need it most!

 

 

Budget-friendly camping tips from The Penny Hoarder

24 May

Camping on a budget can make you a very happy camper!

It’s the end of May, Memorial Day weekend is just days away. I can almost taste the summertime…if it would just stop raining! We had some hot, 100 degree days last week, and the flip flops and tank tops were out, the sun shining, kids playing in the yard, I could see the lazy days of summer just ahead.

If summertime includes camping for you, as it does for us, you’ll be happy to read the most recent post from The Penny Hoarder’s site, “Get the Vacation You’ve Been Craving on a Budget: Go Camping.” The post contains six tips for budget-friendly travel through camping.

If you’ve been a fan of The Whole Bag of Chips recently, then you know that we purchased a new-to-us camper in 2015 and used it to travel in a budget-friendly manner over the past couple of years, touring the country in 2015 and touring NYC this past spring. We also traveled to Mystic, CT and to Meredith, NH as well as hanging out by the beaches here in the Ocean State in 2015, 2016 and again this coming summer in 2017. Having our own camper is thousands of dollars cheaper than renting a beach house in New England for a week every summer.

I was so thrilled when Lisa Rowan, writer for The Penny Hoarder, reached out to me for some tips to include in their camping post. The only thing that makes me happier than being able to do things because of the fact that we budget, is to be able to help others achieve their own goals by doing things on a budget as well. Stretching a dollar has helped us to achieve so many things, including all of the recent travel that we’ve been doing.

So if you are wishing you could do more traveling, but just don’t have the means, be sure to read the above post, or check out my travel pages #crosscountryadventure2015 and #thecowartstakemanhattan2017 for some tips and tricks for traveling and camping on a budget.

Fun Friday: “The Cowarts take Manhattan” and what was for dinner

5 May

April was incredibly busy, and here is the rest of why!

Last week in my What’s for Dinner Wednesday post, I promised you that I would share more of what had been keeping me from posting recently and I also promised you some weekly meal inspiration with a twist. Today’s Fun Friday post is all of those things wrapped in one.

As you’ll see in this week’s Cranston Herald feature article, we took a whirlwind trip to New York City and the surrounding areas, including Jersey City, Hoboken and Brooklyn, just to name a few. It started out as a college tours trip primarily, but because we had never taken any of the kids to NYC, and because they all wanted to visit so badly, we decided to try to make it a mini family vacation, on the cheap rather than one adult taking one child to New York and everyone else staying home.

Super cheap.

We accomplished that goal by using our camper, although very early in the camping season, and despite the fact that we wouldn’t have a ton of time for prepping for the trip due to work obligations and the Easter weekend. One of the ways that we made it work was by eating many of our meals in and only eating a few special things out, as we visited the city. We had extra money and we could’ve spent it all on eating out, but we didn’t want to. We opted instead to choose a couple of extra-special eating adventures and to choose a couple of extra-special sightseeing adventures too, giving ourselves the best of both worlds.

Our camper has a full kitchen with a microwave, oven and stove as well as a refrigerator, freezer and pantry. Therefore, we could plan meals as extensive or as simple as we wished. We decided to go simple. We knew we’d be out a great deal of the time and the last thing we wanted to do was come home and spend an hour and a half cooking. We also knew that simple meant cheap, and if our meals were inexpensive, that was more money we could throw into our travel budget from our normal grocery budget.

Because the weekend before the trip was Easter (an expensive, busy weekend in itself), we did have some leeway in our meals leading up to the trip and we were not eating at home on Easter Sunday. Therefore, my list of meals starts with Monday, the first night we arrived at Liberty Harbor RV Park and Marina. Here’s what we ate while we were away:

TWO WEEKS OF MEALS

Monday: Quesadillas (extras became lunch the next day) with Spanish rice and corn. We also had chips and salsa for appetizers when we arrived because it had been a five hour ride and we’d eaten lunch in the car earlier in the day.

Tuesday: Chicken burgers and hot dogs, fresh sugar snap peas, sauteed.

Wednesday: Macaroni with Chicken Parmesan, (chicken cooked in the cast iron skillet). Today we also used some of our spending money to have treats at Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, the original bake shop featured on the TV show, “Cake Boss.”

Breakfast on Wednesday morning: Carlo’s Bakery sweet treats

 

Very inexpensive, delicious and a fun end to our trip to NYC!

Thursday: We opted to eat out that night, experiencing NY Style Pizza, $1 a slice, in Times Square at 2 Bros. Pizza. DELICIOUS.

Friday: We were home again by Friday night and we had French Toast for dinner. Breakfast for dinner is fast and easy and a good meal to make when you get home. It was a breakfast option we never used on the trip so we had all the ingredients ready to go.

For the second week of our two week cycle, we tried to choose meals that were still inexpensive and that used some things we had at home already

Saturday: Homemade chicken and rice soup (perfect for what ended up being a cold, rainy, raw day)

Sunday: Pork Chops and homemade applesauce (I brought applesauce to dinner on Easter Sunday, so I made a triple batch that day, freezing one batch for our trip. We never used that meal on the trip, so we had it Sunday night instead.)

Monday: Zucchini shrimp Scampi (recently featured in this blog post)

Tuesday: Taco Bake (recipe here)

Wednesday: Chicken, Broccoli and Pasta

Thursday: Leftovers

Friday: Pizza

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals

5 Apr

Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

Has two weeks already gone by?
I can’t believe it’s already time for a two-week menu list for you. The weeks are flying. We have made it through February and March, which tend to be rough, so onward to and through April!

Here are two weeks of menu inspiration for you from our last meal cycle. We did have to make some on-the-spot changes and revisions, but this was our original list:

Sunday: Eggplant Parmesan

Monday: Teriyaki Chicken Wings

Tuesday: Antipasto

Wednesday: BBQ Ribs and Cole Slaw

Thursday: Macaroni and Cheese Casserole

Friday: Taco in a Bag (this was a birthday party dinner)

Saturday: Shaved steak sandwiches with cheese, onions, peppers and mushrooms

Homemade pizza is the best and we like to mix up the varieties from time to time. Here are our ingredients for the Hawaiian and veggie pizzas.

Sunday: Whole chicken dinner

Monday: Grilled Kielbasa

Tuesday: Chicken Marsala

Wednesday: Pork Chops

Thursday: London Broil

Friday: Homemade pizzas (This week we made one Hawaiian pizza, one veggie pizza, and one cheese pizza.)