Sunday, January 30, 2011

Meal Planning

I know. This isn't a fun post. Well, at least you don't think it's fun. But have you tried meal planning? It's revolutionary! It's the Spanx of the food world.

I'll admit, I was reluctant. It immediately made me think of those charts they give you at the hospital when you have a baby. You know, the "please chart your child's poop and pee habits". I can hear every person who doesn't have children saying aloud, "Really? There's such a thing?" Well, I'm hear to tell you that there is. And you actually do it...with the first child. Sort of like scrapbooks, baby books, and taking photos in do it with the first child. Then with the second child you just make crap up.

But anyways, meal planning. I will admit that it's out of my realm of normal, and to me bordered on control freak, but I promise that I won't vacuum under your feet. Why do I love it so after a short one week trial? It saves money, I'm not frantic at 5pm, we're trying new things, and the grocery store is so simple now.

So this is what we did.

-Richie and I sat down together (this in itself is a miracle) and dug through cookbooks, and a Ziploc bag full of clippings, to come up with seven recipes that we wanted to try. On your maiden meal planning voyage it's probably best to plug in a few tried and trues.

-We got together a list of ingredients. Before we declared that list "the official grocery list" we checked the pantry. We immediately crossed off a quarter of the list. See, you haven't even left the house yet and you're saving money.

-I then divided the grocery list up into sections. Meat, dairy, canned goods, etc. This way, when I went into that section of the store I didn't have to go back because I forgot something. This also means that I didn't have to walk past the chip or candy isle (that we don't even enter) with both the kids a second time, and tell them no again.

-Now everything has been gathered. We sat down again (I know! We rock.) We then plugged each meal into a slot for each day of the week. We made Tuesday and Wednesday crock pot and quick meals. Tuesdays are just nuts, and Wednesdays we have church. These are our most hectic dinner days.

That's about it. We have saved so much money and TIME. We aren't going to the store three times a week and managing to waste a ton of gas, time, and money in the process. Richie has what we call a "one bag syndrome". He can't buy only what he was asked to buy, he has to get at least three bags. It probably has something to do with his shoe size and other things (everything is with men), but we won't go there.

As for me, I don't feel stressed about figuring out what to do for dinner at the last minute. I pull out whatever meat we will be needing in the morning, and do any prep work necessary. Half the time it feels like dinner makes itself. And the real shocker of this whole experience has been that lunches appear like magic. There is always leftovers. We eat them for lunch the next day or have a leftover night for dinner.

So call me crazy, or OCD, but I like this. It helps a ton. Give it a whirl!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Double Berry Layer Cake

Richie's birthday was yesterday, and this was the cake that he asked for. It's very simple, and you don't have to frost it. When he asked for this cake I did a happy dance, because I hate frosting cakes. Believe it or not, I'm really not that into baking. Oh, and I changed this one, too. Shocker! The original is out of my Easy to Bake, Easy to Make recipe card collection.

You will need:

1 package Strawberry Cake Mix + cake mix ingredients.

1 cup strawberry jam, divided in half. Or you could get creative and use whatever sort of jam you like, but strawberry seems to go with everything.

2 1/2 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed, drained and divided in half. You don't have to use blueberries. Use whatever type of berry you like. Last night I used a bag of frozen mixed berries. I buy a one pound bag of frozen fruit in the winter. It's cheaper, and is usually a better quality berry.

1 container (8oz.) frozen whipped topping, thawed and divided in half.

Fresh strawberry slices, for garnish. This is optional. I used blueberries last night. I was able to find a small container of fresh ones that were decent.

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.

2. Prepare, bake and cool cake following package directions for basic recipe.

3. Dump the cup of jam into a small sauce pan and heat until runny. This is one of the things that I did differently than the recipe. It's much easier to spread this way.

4. Place one cake layer on serving plate. Spread with 1/2 cup strawberry jam. Arrange 1 cup blueberries (or half of frozen berries) on top of jam. Spread half the whipped topping to within 1/2 inch of cake edge. Place second cake layer on top. Repeat with remaining 1/2 cup strawberry jam, 1 cup blueberries and remaining whipped topping. Garnish with strawberry slices and remaining 1/2 cup blueberries. Don't use any frozen berries on the top. It will run and look sloppy. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes 12 servings.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Taco Bueno Bake

I love, love, love the cookbook clearance section at Borders. Ok let's be honest, I just love cookbooks. That's where I found 365 Easy One-Dish Recipes: Easy One Dish Recipes for Everyday Family Meals. This recipe is the first one I've tried out of this cookbook. I'll definitely be using it more often. I have a feeling that it will be well worth the $4 I spent on it. We had this for dinner tonight, and the kids thought it was great. Richie and I liked it, too.

This isn't the original recipe, because I off course changed it, but it's pretty close.

You will need:

2 lbs. lean ground beef
1 small onion
1 1/2 cups taco sauce
I box of Spanish rice- prepared. So add on the ingredients needed for the rice.
1 (8 ounce) package shredded Mexican 4-cheese blend, divided in half.
1 can (15.25 oz) black beans (This is one of the things I added, so I suppose you could leave them out if you dislike them)

This dish can be eaten as is, which is what the cookbook says to do, but we thought it should be topped with the usual suspects: shredded lettuce, tomatoes, black olives, sour cream, etc. Richie and I both thought it would make a great meat mix for nachos, taco or burrito filling. So tack on extra ingredients if you want to take it in that direction.

*Preheat oven to 350

*Chop up the onion and add it to the ground beef, brown and drain if needed.

*Add taco sauce, rice, half the cheese, and black beans.

*Spoon mixture into sprayed 3-quart baking dish.

*Cover and bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle remaining cheese on top and return to oven for 5 minutes. Serves 8.

Richie and I couldn't understand why it needed to be heated in the oven. All of the ingredients were fully cooked. It helped it to set up a little bit, but if you are in a hurry you could skip baking it and just melt the cheese on top. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Molly's Knock-Off Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Bisquits

Ok, ok I'll tell you (Sara).

I mentioned a while back that I have a habit of finding Bisquick recipes and deciding that they aren't quite right, so I "fix" them. Yes, I am a bit of a foodie and a loser. I'm also going to tack on a great substitution for buttermilk that I use all. the. time after the recipe. These biscuits absolutely fly off the table, and I make at least one batch just for my nephew. I hope your family loves these as much as mine does! Oh, and you're warned, there is some of my famous eyeballing in this recipe.

You will need for about 9 biscuits:

2 cups Bisquick
1/2 cup shredded cheese- This part is important. You are going to want a cheddar cheese, because they are Cheddar Bay Biscuits, but cheddar is dry. You are also going to want to add a Monterey Jack to give the biscuit the moisture you need. If you go over the 1/2 cup measurement, immediately throw your arms up in the air and shout, "Who cares?!" It's cheese, you can never have enough.
2/3 cup buttermilk
A few splashes of milk
2 T butter
1 tsp garlic powder
sea salt

Preheat oven to 450. Stir together the Bisquick mix and cheese. Now add the buttermilk and blend well. I mix it with my hands to make sure that there are no dry spots. Here's the eyeballing part. Add milk a small dash at a time until the dough becomes slightly tacky. You want it to stick to your fingers a little bit. Now drop by spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet. You want the tops to have peaks and look like they've been whipped. It makes for great texture. Make them as big or as small as you want, it doesn't matter. We usually end up with 8. Now pop them in the oven for 8-10 minutes. You want the tops golden brown. While your biscuits are baking melt the butter in a small container. I usually melt it in a glass prep bowl right in the oven with the biscuits. When it's melted, add the garlic powder, and blend. Brush this mixture unto the tops of the biscuits once baked. If you hit them all and you still have some left, keep brushing, you want to use it all. Now sprinkle or grind sea salt on each biscuit, and enjoy!

Substitution for Buttermilk

Buttermilk- It makes recipes great, but unless you're making 10 loaves of banana bread, who actually uses a whole container? And who hasn't set out to make something, and forgotten about the buttermilk? Then before you know it you're cursing yourself and going to the store just for buttermilk. I hate waste, and I was sick of throwing out bad buttermilk, and wasting my gas just to buy buttermilk, so I started making my own. You can make the exact amount that you need, and you can't tell a bit of a difference.

You will need a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice (I use vinegar) and just under one cup of milk.

All you do is add milk to your one tablespoon of vinegar to make a cup. Let it stand for 5 minutes, and then add to your recipe as needed.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ham & Potato Soup

I found this recipe in a local newspaper that is sent out here by us. When you eat it, it's like sitting by a woodstove. It isn't just a hearty soup to enjoy, it warms you to your bones. I made it last night and I thought it would be perfect for the blog. Who couldn't use some warming up right now?

You will need:
3 1/2 cups peeled and diced potatoes
1/3 cup diced celery
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
3/4 cup diced cooked ham
3 1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons chicken bouillon (I've used beef bouillon in a pinch, but it wasn't as good. Also, L.B. Jamison's is the best soup base. It's all I use when a recipe calls for chicken of beef bouillon. It's simply the best.)
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground white or black pepper, or to taste (I use 1/2 tsp. I think 1 tsp is too much)
5 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk

Combine the potatoes, celery, onion, ham, and water in a stockpot. Bring to a boil, then cook over medium heat until potatoes are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the chicken bouillon, salt, and pepper. In a saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour, and cook, stirring constantly until thick, about 1 minute. Slowly stir in milk as not to allow lumps to form until all of the milk has been added. Continue stirring over medium-low heat until thick, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir the milk mixture into the stockpot (I use a dutch oven), and cook soup until heated through. Serve immediately.

This goes great with my knock off Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits. Stay tuned, I may finally give away my secret. And while you're at it, double it. As long as you have a pot big enough, double it. Freeze what's left over and pull it out on a day when time is limited, or eat off of it at lunch the next day. I almost always double a recipe.