Monday, September 23, 2013

Welcome, Fall 2013!

Yesterday, Sunday September 22 was the first day of Fall!  Here in my little piece of the world, Fall began with a weak cold front that brought the morning temperatures down into the 60s.  For some of you northern folks, that may not seem like much, but here in the south, that's reason to celebrate!  I'm not pulling out the sweaters and heavy blankets just yet, but I feel the need to welcome this cooler weather by stocking my pantry with some homemade hot drink mixes and baking some yummy treats.  Here's my faves:

 Hot Cocoa Mix from Seeded at the Table.  This cocoa is amazingly creamy thanks to white chocolate chips in the mix! 
Hot Chocolate Mix 4
Hot cocoa mix from Seeded at the Table
Vanilla Chai Tea mix from Watch Out, Martha is perfect for those chilly autumn nights in front of the fire.  Ok, in front of the TV.  Don't judge me!
Vanilla Chai Tea Mix from Watch Out, Martha!

Each year, during the first week of Fall, I make these ah-mazing Caramel Apple Mini-Cupcakes from Rachel Ray.  They are even better than they look.  They're Slap-Your-Momma good.  They'll make a sinner repent.  They'll also sabotage your diet.  You've been warned.

Caramel Apple Cupcakes
Caramel Apple Mini-Cupcakes from Rachel Ray

And last, but CERTAINLY not least, this beautiful work of art from Inspired by Charm.  Spiral Apple Bread is super easy and incredibly delicious, thanks to the Caramel Apple Glaze.  Can we all just take a moment to admire it?  It looks like a rose, a $40 tart from a french bakery, a dessert to shut up that ONE MOM at the PTA Meeting.  You know who she is.  Make this for your September meeting and watch her mouth drop!  (send me pics!)

Spiral Apple Bread with Caramel Apple Glaze | Inspired by Charm
Spiral Apple Bread from Inspired by Charm

Now that you've been inspired...go make something!  <3

Easy Freezer Cooking Week

I have a confession.  Sometimes I don't want to cook.  I know, I've just broken like 27 "Perfect Mommy Rules" or something, but it's true!  I'm too tired, I'm too busy, it's too hot--I've got a TON of excuses!  ...but sometimes, I just have this overwhelming urge to get in the kitchen and COOK!  When that urge hits, I take full advantage of it and make lots of meals for my freezer.  My urge to chop, saute, simmer and bake is satisfied, and my family has a freezer full of homemade, yummy meals!  Win-win, right?  I definitely think so!


First, I start with a game plan.  For me, this is a spreadsheet (more on that later).  You may prefer the back of an envelope that you found under the car seat.  I'm not judging--the point is to have a plan! 

1-Jot down some of your family's favorite dishes (meatloaf, burgers, chicken and rice, etc.).  Print or write out your recipes for these dishes.

2-Do a little research on your recipes if you have questions about their 'freezability.'  (ex: mashed potatoes don't freeze well, but Twice Baked Potatoes do) Make changes to your recipes as needed.

3-Decide how many of each recipe you'd like to have on hand in the freezer.

4-Multiply the ingredients for each recipe by the number you decided on in step 3. (ex. you want to make 3 meatloaves; each meatloaf calls for 1 onion = you need 3 onions to make 3 meatloaves)

5-Combine like ingredients and make a master list. (recipe #1 calls for 3 lbs of hamburger, and recipe #2 calls for 2 lbs of hamburger = 5 lbs of hamburger on your list)  This way you won't forget anything when you're shopping.  Unfortunately, I found this out the hard way!

Now you have a list of recipes, a shopping list, and a stack of recipes!  It's time to look for the best deals on your ingredients.

Got coupons?  Use them!  Belong to a club?  Take advantage of it!  Club Stores like Sam's and Costco usually have great deals on meat and bulk cheeses.  Big Box Stores like Target and Walmart have good prices on canned/boxed items.  Local grocery stores are usually best for produce (HEB, Kroger, Randalls, Publix, etc).  Remember, you're going to be purchasing a lot more than you normally would so make sure to shop around. 

I promised that I'd tell you more about my spreadsheet.  Here it is in all it's glory!

The top portion lists my recipes and the number of times I'll make that recipe.  The bottom portion, "Shopping List," has little formulas that multiply the ingredients for me.  I also have a section under "Meat" that breaks down my raw chicken recipes and my cooked chicken recipes.  I've found this very helpful when I'm at the store and find a great deal on cooked (rotisserie-style) chickens.  In this example, I could purchase 6 whole raw or rotisserie chickens or 24 raw chicken breasts to make the recipes in my list that call for cooked chicken.

save energy cooking

Now you have a mountain of food in your kitchen (and breakfast room, and dining room!).  It can seem a little overwhelming, but don't worry!  Divide your recipe list into categories that make sense to you to help make the cooking easier.  My categories were Ground Beef, Cooked Chicken and Raw Chicken.  Yours could be Casseroles, Mom's Recipes, and Recipes The Kids Like. 

Now the genius part--tackle one category per day.  One.  Per.  Day.  It's that simple.

Monday, I made all of my ground beef recipes (burgers, meatloaf, lasagna rolls, Taco soup, and Salisbury Steak).  It didn't take long, only a couple of hours.

Tuesday, I made the raw chicken recipes (Sweet Tea Chicken, Garlic Ranch Chicken, and Sesame Chicken).  This only took about an hour, because all of these recipes involve preparing a marinade and pouring it over the chicken in a freezer bag--quick to make!

Thursday, I made all the cooked chicken recipes (I took Wednesday off!).  King Ranch Chicken, Chicken Penne, and Chicken and Rice are all casseroles and took about two hours to finish all of them.  I deboned all of my chickens and cut the meat into bite-size pieces to make the assembly of the casseroles easier.

For the rest of the month, my family and I went about our crazy lives--with NO TAKE-OUT!  *love!*  We were even able to eat at our table as a family (gasp!) a few times a week!  *double love!*

I hope this inspires you to try Freezer Cooking.  It's been a life-saver for me!  Questions?  Comments?  Want to know where I got my recipes?  Want a copy of my spreadsheet?  Leave me a comment.  :)