Saturday, July 24, 2010

Once a Month Cooking

I go back to work in 2 days.  Dinners will no longer be simmered on the stove for hours on end.  I will not spend an hour chopping fresh meat and veggies.  I will be opening the freezer.  Now, before you judge me, hear read me out. 

How many times have you gotten home from work, tired, uninspired, hungry?  How many times has that meeting gone late?  That science project mysteriously is due tomorrow?  You need to get to Bible Study early?  Do you call take-out?  Go to a restaurant (believe me, this is NOT worth it)?  Drive-thru fast food?  Let's face it.  It happens.  This year, I am under double pressure.  Our school district has decided that school will start later and I will get out of work 30 minutes later than last year.  Thirty minutes is an eternity when you have hungry kids and hubby staring at you.  Hence, I promise to do Freezer Cooking this year.

Freezer Cooking?!  "Susan, you have lost your mind.  You can't cook in the freezer."  You're right.  But, I can cut and prepare my meats.  Add my seasonings.  Then, freeze.  When the bell tolls and people are getting hangry (hungry + angry), I can open my freezer and throw something on the grill or in the oven.  Better yet, hubby can open the freezer BEFORE I get home and do the same.  See where I'm going with this?

Before we get started, I'll share some tips I have learned over the years.  The first tip is to make a plan.  It's been said time and again, but I truly believe that "failing to plan is planning to fail".  I make a monthly menu.  If an entire month seems daunting, start out with a weekly menu and work your way up. 

Start out by making a list of what you already have that you need to eat up.  Then, go through your recipes and see which ones you want to make this month.  Add the family favorites.  Search the internet for new recipes if you still don't have enough dinners on your list.  ****I only plan 5 out of 7 dinners.  For instance, I will only plan 20 dinners per month.  There are always leftovers, dinners with friends, and the occasional restaurant. 

Next, divide your dinners by meat type.  Example: Chicken and Broccoli is a ......  chicken dish.  Sloppy Joes is a ............. meat dish.  This step may seem like a bit much, but I'll share my reasoning.  No one wants to eat chicken 5 days in a row.  When you do this step, you can see if you have too many seafood dinners on your list, etc.  You may also divide your dinners by ethnic group (American, Mexican, Italian, etc) for the same reason. 

Now for the calendar.  Start with the days that you have stuff planned.  You have PTA meetings on the first Wednesday of every month?  Plan a simple, freezer meal for that day.  You know that you have a staff meeing on the 17th, and you will be home late?  Plan a crock-pot meal for that day.  Once you have all the important dates filled in, you can plug in the rest of your meals (keeping in mind to switch up your meats). 

Once you have your calendar planned, you know how to shop.  You can buy most of the ingredients at this time, or buy them weekly.  I prefer to buy them all at once and then do my freezer recipes. 

I am by no way the inventor of freezer recipes.  If you Google them, you will get thousands of recipes from hundreds of sites.  Many are very user-friendly and give tips on how to freeze meat and what-not.  This is just a sampling of what I have found and what works for us.  Also, any lasagna or enchilada recipe works really well with this process.  Just make your dish, but freeze it before you bake it.  Better yet, when you are preparing it, make two batches; one for your family and one to give to a sick friend, etc.

One thing you will notice about Freezer Cooking is that they suggest putting your food into either ziploc bags or freezer containers.  You can do that.  I personally don't use freezer containers because they are costly and I don't want my containers tied up for a month on end.  I do use ziplocs if the recipe is a meat that needs to be marinated.  For instance, almost anything that is bound to go on the grill.  But, if the dish is an oven recipe, I have found a better solution.  I line my baking dish with foil.  Then, I add the ingredients.  I then cover with another piece of foil with the instructions written on it (name of item, bake at 350, for 30 minutes, date, etc.).  I then put the entire thing in the freezer.  It usually only takes 2 hours for the dish to freeze solid.  At that point, I take the foil-wrapped dinner out of the dish and seal it in a ziploc bag.  *** If you don't write on the ziploc bag, you can reuse it another time.  When the night comes for me to use this dinner, I can simply take it out of the baggie, place it in the dish, and bake.

*when reading these recipes, keep in mind that you can substitute ingredients.  I do it all the time!

Albondigas (Mexican Meatball Soup)


Meatballs:
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 egg
2 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 cup cooked white rice

Broth:
50 ounces beef bouillon
1 quart water
1 (28 ounce) can tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup salsa
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 cups chopped potatoes, celery, cilantro, carrots, onions
salt and pepper to taste

Combine broth ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer one hour. Prepare meatballs by mixing ingredients with hands in a bowl. Form into balls (the smaller the better). Add meatballs, cover, and cook on low heat for one hour.

Serve with lime slices, salt, and tortillas. Yumm! This recipe is good to eat some of it on the same day and freeze the rest.  This size batch will make about 3-4 meals for my family. 

Stuffed Shells


1 jar (29 oz) marinara sauce (or your own if you make it)
1 10 oz package spinach, cooked and drained
2 pounds ricotta cheese
1 12 oz package mozzarella cheese
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. grated parmesan cheese (optional)
1 12 oz package Jumbo Shells, cooked

Mix:
Ricotta cheese and eggs (I add parsley), add drained spinach, mozarella, and parmesan. Mix together.

I put this into a ziploc bag and cut off the tip to squeeze it into the jumbo shells. You can also spoon the mixture into the shells.

Pour 1 cup of sause on the bottom of your baking dish. Arrange the shells in a single layer in the dish. Add more mozarella to top if you wish.

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

**Freeze (before you bake) what you won't eat tonight. The frozen shells can go directly from the freezer to the oven, but time needs to be increased to 1 hour.



Mini Meatloaf-you can prepare this 3 ways depending on your taste



Starter (needed for all 3 recipes):

1 pound ground beef
1 box stove top stuffing
1 cup water
3/4 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

American Style:
1 tsp. garlic
3/4 cup BBQ sauce

Italian Style:
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
3/4 cup spaghetti sauce

Mexican Style:
1 tsp. Mexican seasoning
3/4 cup salsa
Mix meat, stuffing mix, water, and flavors. Press into 12 muffin cups sprayed with cooking spray. Make an indentation in center of each meatloaf with spoon, fill with sauce. Bake 30 minutes at 375 or until cooked through. Top with cheese, continue baking 5 minutes.
These freeze well because of their small size and they just pop out of the muffin pan. Just take what you want for dinner out of the freezer and cook that much.


Lime Pepper Chicken Freezer Cooking Recipe


6 chicken breasts
1/2 tsp lime peel
3 cloves minced garlic
1/4 c fresh lime juice
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp basil
1/4 tsp sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a freezer container or Ziploc bag. Freeze.

Instructions from Freezer:

Allow to thaw. Pour lime pepper chicken into a casserole dish. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and bake for 20-30 minutes or grill. Serve. Great with rice!

Ham and Cheese Ziti



2 16oz packages ziti noodles
1 cup butter/margarine
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup flour
2 tsp salt
8 cups milk
2 tsp Dijon mustard
8 cups Colby cheese, shredded
16oz cooked ham (deli style), cut into thin strips
1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated

This recipe makes 2 13x9 casseroles.

Cook and drain pasta according to instructions (you may need to do it in two batches if your larges pot isn't large enough.

In large saucepan or deep skillet, melt butter on low heat. Add garlic and saute for about 30-40 seconds, stirring the entire time. Next add flour and salt, using a whisk to ensure no lumps remain. Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring the entire time, until there are no lumps and the mixture begins to bubble.

Slowly add milk, stirring the whole time, while you bring it to a boil. Once boiling, allow to continue to boil for 1 minute, then add mustard and Colby cheese. Continue stirring until cheese is melted. Add ham and pasta, stirring well. Pour into 2 13x9 casserole dishes. Cool and freeze.

On cooking day:

Thaw overnight in refrigerator. Preheat oven to 350F. Place casserole dish (uncovered) into oven and bake 30-45 minutes or until heated through and bubbly. Serve.

How to Freeze Corn on the Cob



Is corn on the cob one of the few vegetables your kids will actually eat? But of course it isn't nearly as good - or as fun to eat - when it comes out of a bag in the freezer or out of a can. But did you know that you can actually freeze corn on the cob while it is still attached to the cob? And it is quite inexpensive to buy plenty of ears of corn when it is in season, meaning you can enjoy corn on the cob in the middle of winter without paying an arm and a leg for it.

Try and pick ears of corn that are all similar in size. If size varies quite a bit, you will need to do them in batches. First, remove husk and silk from the corn. Break off the stem, and cut off the top end where there is no corn, if needed.

Now, you need to blanche the corn. Divide the corn into piles - small, medium and large - if you were not able to get them all the same size.

Now, blanche them in boiling water based on the following:

Small ears - boil for 7 minutes
Medium ears - boil for 9 minutes
Large ears - boil for 11 minutes.

Now, immediately remove from the boiling water and submerge them in cold water, to stop the cooking proccess. Once completely cooled, drain the corn and immediately freeze in freezer ziplocs or containers.

On cooking day: Remove corn early in the morning or the night before, so it has time to completely thaw. Boil corn in boiling water (just enough water for the corn to be submerged) for a few minutes until heated through, drain, butter and salt if desired, and serve.

Pizza Pasta Casserole Freezer Recipe


2 lbs ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
2 jars (28 oz each) spaghetti sauce
1 pkg (16 oz) spiral pasta
4 cups (16 oz) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
8 oz sliced pepperoni

Cook spiral pasta noodles according to package instructions. While pasta is cookibg, in a large skillet over medium heat, brown ground beef and onion together ground beef is no longer pink; drain fat. Stir in spaghetti sauce and pasta, once noodles are cooked and drained. Spray 2 9"x13" baking casseroles with non-stick cooking spray, and divide mixture into both casseroles evenly. Sprinkle each with cheese and top with pepperoni. Cool if needed, then cover and freeze.

To cook: Thaw casserole in fridge overnight. Bake at 350F for 35-40 minutes or until heated through.

Low Fat Broccoli Chicken Freezer Recipe


2 lbs chicken breasts, boneless & skinless (about 8 pieces)
1 14oz can cream of broccoli soup (condensed)
1 cups white button mushrooms, sliced chunky
1 cup broccoli florettes, cut small (or really small if you have kids!)
1/2 cup white wine
1/8 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp paprika

In a ziploc, place chicken breasts with smooth side up. In a small bowl combine soup, broccoli, mushrooms, wine, pepper and paprika, stirring well. Pour sauce over top of chicken. Seal and freeze. (The small amount of wine does not affect freezing). Store for no longer than one month.

To serve, thaw overnight in refrigerator. Bake in 350F oven in glass casserole dish with tin foil on top for 1 hour or until chicken is cooked through and juices run clear and the broccoli is tender. Serve and enjoy.

Easy Teriyaki Chicken Freezer Recipe



1 chicken, cut up (or equivelant amount of chicken pieces of your choice)
1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup water
1 tsp garlic salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white wine or apple juice
1/2 tsp dried ginger

Place chicken into a freezer bag. In a small bowl, combine remaining ingredients and add to bag. Remove air from bag, seal and freeze.

On cooking day, defrost in refrigerator. Preheat oven at 425 and bake chicken for 30 minutes (may take longer depending on chicken piece choices). Or grill on a barbeque until chicken is no longer pink.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Taste of Summer

Yummmm!  Summer........

juicy watermelon

garden-fresh tomatoes

BBQ corn on the cob

frozen bananas

What does summer taste like to you?

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Feel of Summer

"Summertime, and the livin's easy"

being able to go barefoot everywhere

weather warm enough for tanktops

unknown adventure

unplanned calendar

What does summer feel like to you?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Smell of Summer

Is there anything more refreshing than the smell of summer?

sunlight on pine needles

fresh rain on dirt

fresh cut grass

waff of distant campfires

What does summer smell like to you?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Look of Summer

Summer is in full-bloom:

lush fern underfoot

dark blue streams winding through the forest

aspen and oak all leafed out

farmer's markets full of fresh produce

What does summer look like to you?

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Sound of Summer

Ahhh the sounds of summer:

windchimes singing in the breeze

steaks sizzling on the grill

the screen door creaking shut

clothes on the line flapping in the wind

thunder rolling all around.



What does summer sound like to you?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

You

I love you.  You have no idea how much you mean to me.  I can't imagine my life without you.  Thank you for all that you have done. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Mullen Mountain

We have been in Sky-Hi Retreat for 4 weeks now.  Sky-Hi sits in the shadow of Mullen Mountain. 


I have been wanting to hike the mountain since we moved in, but I was still working, then we went to Tucson, and there was the unpacking.  This week, we have been hikin' fools.  I love the adventure of it!  We started with the hike to Oak Grove Pond.  I won't give away it's secret location but it turned out to be a 4 mile hike to a secluded frog pond and swimmin' hole.




Two days later, we started the Springs Trail. Unfortunately, it was getting late and we had to turn back. I can't wait to keep going, as we only discovered one of the springs, and there are more.



Yesterday, we found a nice loop going from our home around the retreat and back again.  But I have had my heart set upon Mullen Mountain.  This morning, Jack said he wanted to do Mullen.  Judging by the sky, I decided that we needed to head out early as the clouds were already building. 

We started out ok, but about 1/4 mile in, Jack was complaining.  He isn't the world's best hiker.  So, I put him on my back and off we went. 



Josh is a great hiker.  He walked the entire hike.  Jack, not so much.  Look at that face.  He was so mad that I had put him down to take his pic.  This last 1/2 mile section of the hike is called the Huff-n-Puff.  Click on this link to see the topo map and a cross section of the hike.  It was beautiful at the top.


If you look closely behind the boys, you can see distant peaks.  The hike totally reminded me of Yosemite.  Just as we hit the top, we felt a raindrop.  Then, two.  We quickly decended as monsoons here usually have a lot of electricity (i.e., lightning) in them and you don't want to be on the highetst peak when they strike.  Luckily, it just sprinkled on us as we hiked back home.  Just as we rounded the corner of our street did it start to dump on us.  Hey, what's a hike without a little adventure, right?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Wild West in Tucson

The school district sent me to a conference in Tucson.  I was able to bring Joe and the boys also.  We turned it into a family vacation.  While there, they visited the Children's Museum, Mt. Lemmon, Toys R Us, and went swimming a lot.  But, if you ask the boys about their favorite part, they will both say the cowboys.

Our first night in town, we went to Trail Dust Town.  We had been there 3 years ago (when the boys were 1 1/2 and 4 months old).  Gee, they don't remember it.  We never had a chance to explore all of it at that time.  Now that the boys are older, we decided to try again.  Sooooo glad we did.

We had a nice cowboy dinner, cooked over an open fire.  That was the highlight for the boys.  You might have heard of Pinnacle Peak.  They even cut off a tie at the table next to us.  Fun!

As we were finishing up dinner, Joe came running back in the restaurant and told us to hurry.  The gunfight is starting!  Oh my!  We had heard that there is a gunfight, but I thought it was just two guys standing in front of the restaurant and yelling at each other.  Not even close.

We had to go around a corner, and there was an entire stage and bleachers set up.  They started with a roper.  He was good.  His final trick was to jump through a lasso 8 feet wide.  I tried to get good pics, but the sun was setting and he was moving his rope FAST!


Then, the real show started.  They had real guns (loaded with blanks) and real explosives.  When the dynamite went off, we could feel the heat from the bleachers.  They shot up the stage, chased each other around, fell off the buildings, and fell in the well.  The boys were glued to their seats. 


(Again, it was hard to get the action, with the dim light)

When we entered Trail Dust Town (2 hours previously), we walked over train tracks.  So, we set off to find the train.  Right next to the Chocolate Shop.  Perfect.  I could eat shop for souvenirs while the boys ride the train.  A normal seat would hold 2 adults, or 3 kids (you know, 'cuz their behinds are smaller).  We had our friends with us and they have 3 boys, so all together we had 5 boys, ages 3-7.  I thought for sure that the kids would sit on separate benches on the train.  No way.  All FIVE sat on one bench.


Do they look happy or what?!

On the way back to the van, we stopped for a few photo-opps.  Cute.

The boys in jail.


Southern Susan


Cowboy Joe

So, next time you see Jack and Josh, ask them what was their favorite part of Tucson.  Chances are, they will say the Cowboys!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Springs Trail

Our new home is surrounded by trails.  Literally.  The road to our neighborhood wasn't even paved until a few years ago.  I didn't think I would like being out in "the country", but I really do.  It reminds me so much of living in Wawona.  The boys and I have been exploring new trails almost every day.  Monday, we did Springs Trail.  The boys are natural hikers.  The hike took extra long as we had to stop to explore every rock, every flower, and every tree.  You can imagine how long this would take.  Jack also had to climb on every log.  The pictures just don't do it justice.

The 3 boys on a log.


Crossing a Spring.


Going off trail to walk along the spring.


They had to walk on every log. 


The hike was so lush!

The Yummiest Summer Treat Ever!

I'm a sucker for anything chocolate.  Anything.  I have found the yummiest, easiest recipe for Chocolate Covered Frozen Bananas!  You must try this recipe:



Ripe bananas
popsicle sticks (or kabob sticks)
Magic Shell
Crushed nuts (or other toppings)

Peel ripe bananas and cut them in half.  Stick a popsicle stick up them, length-wise.  Lay them on a large piece of foil and place them in the freezer for at least an hour.  When they are frozen solid, take them out and drizzle Magic Shell over them, working over your piece of foil.  Work fast, as the Magic Shell hardens quickly.  While still liquid, sprinkle nuts (or coconut, or sprinkles, or just about anything) on the bananas.  Place them back in the freezer, on the foil.  They are ready to devour in about 10 minutes.  If you can wait that long.

where Glory meets my suffering