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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

School Days: Freezer Cooking

School has started again (as of last Tuesday). This means that my "busy" schedule has just become "crazy". Between raising a family, working a full-time job, having 2 boys in school (and all of their "extra activities"), and having a husband that travels a lot ... our busy life is not always conducive to having the time to prepare healthy meals for my family. As my goal is to give my children healthy, unprocessed meals, I rely on having meals prepared and ready in my freezer.

Once or twice a month, I will prepare anywhere from 4-8 meals to stock my freezer. These come in handy for those nights that I know I will not have the time (or possibly the energy) to prepare a meal for my family. I also like to have good lunch options that my boys can bring to school for their lunch boxes.

I was inspired to share this month's freezer cooking plan by some of my friends in a cooking group. I have linked the recipes I am using (except for the one that came from a cookbook).

September Freezer Meals:

Herb-Crusted Pork Loin: I will use this recipe, combining the ingredients and then rubbing it over the pork loin. After that, I will put the loin into a freezer bag and freeze it until I am ready to prepare it. Thaw before you use it and then prepare according to the directions in the linked recipe.

Slow Cooked Buffalo Chicken

Beefy Hash Brown Pizza

Rigatoni with Meat Sauce

Slow Cooker French Dip

• Beef Chimichangas (recipe from the cookbook, "Don't Panic, Dinner's in the Freezer)

Beef Bourguignon

With the boys back at school, they are constantly asking to bring lunches from home. "Cold lunch" is such a treat for them ... but they prefer hot entrees in their lunch from home. To achieve this, I utilize a thermos. In order to do this effectively, I will put hot water in the thermos and put the lid on. While I am heating up the lunches for the boys, it gets my thermos nice and hot. I then dump out the water and add the heated left-overs or freezer lunch-time meal for the boys. They love getting a nice, hot meal from home as their "cold lunch". Typically the boys just get leftovers from the previous night's meal; however, I will make up a few special lunch-time recipes just for them each month. Here are the three I am making this month:
September Lunch Box Meals:

Home-made Spaghetti-O's and Meatballs I make this recipe and then put into individual freezer portions (freezer baggies). I then thaw them in the fridge overnight and reheat in a bowl the next morning before putting it in the prepared thermos.

Home-made Hamburger Helper

Taco Shells I freeze the shells after they have been cooked in individual servings. After I heat up the individual servings and put them in the thermos, I also include a snack-sized baggie with corn chips and cheese (which are the toppings my boys like with this meal).

I hope that you have found a few things to inspire you in your kitchens. I hope you and your families can enjoy these recipes as much as our family does!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Celebrate! National Freezer Food Day

After nearly a month-long hiatus, I am back. Our home got hit hard with the "yucks". Strep, acute bronchitis, lingering coughs, and no energy. Pretty much, our house was zero fun for most of the month of February.

When I am sick, there is nothing like having a warm, comforting, home-cooked meal to help me feel better. The problem was that while I was sick, there were nights that I did not feel like cooking. Solution: freezer fare!

I love having a variety of freezer friendly meals ready to heat up at a moment's notice. These freezer meals are excellent for the nights when I know I am too busy to prepare a good, well-balanced meal for my family. I also love having these readily available to be given to friends (ie. someone who is sick, who just had a baby). Last month our family really needed a little TLC that came in the form of our freezer fare.

You might ask, "What kinds of foods freeze well?" or "What types of meals do you like to freeze?" or even "Where do I even start when it comes to freezer meals?"
  1. Experiment with your favorite family meals. I have found some recipes freeze better than others. When I make something that our family loves, there are times I will just double it. I freeze these meals (usually in freezer bags) for future use. Frequently found in my freezer are: frozen bread doughs or rolls, pie crusts, soups (such as my favorite Chicken Rice Soup), Ham Balls, Enchiladas, Taco Shells, and Chicken Pot Pie.
  2. Check out some books with freezer friendly recipes: My favorites include Don't Panic: Dinner's in the Freezer, Frozen Assets, and Once a Month Cooking.
  3. There are excellent resources and websites available on-line that are focused on helping you be successful in preparation of freezer fare as well as cooking ahead. My favorite resource is Once A Month Mom. No matter what your cooking style, this website has something for you, with menus provided monthly with menu categories including: Traditional, Whole Foods, Gluten/Dairy Free, Diet, Baby Food, and Vegetarian.
So, how are you going to celebrate National Freezer Food Day? What are your favorite freezer recipes? A friend of mine asked me to share the official link to celebrate National Freezer Food Day. It is a Pinterest board designed to capture only the best freezer friendly recipes. I am looking forward to getting some new recipes to try. How about you?

To get you all started, I am going to share one of my favorite freezer recipes.

Taco Shells
jumbo pasta shells (I use about 16 to feed our family)
taco meat (see below)
green onions
cream cheese

To make the taco meat, brown the ground beef and then combine remaining ingredients:
1 to 1 1/2 pounds of lean ground beef
1 small onion, diced
1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 pint of grape tomatoes, quartered

1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
2 tsp cumin
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup ketchup

To the taco meat mixture, add 8 oz of cream cheese and about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of salsa. Stir until it is well incorporated.

Cook the pasta shells until al dente (the cook time is usually listed on the pasta box). Drain and cool. Prepare a 9x13" casserole dish by spraying it with non-stick spray and adding about 1/2 cup or so of salsa. Fill each pasta shell with the meat. Place the filled shells into the casserole dish. If you are freezing this casserole, at this point you are done. Seal and freeze for up to 3 months.

If you are making this right now, bake at 350 degrees until bubbly. Remove from oven and sprinkle with about 1 cup of cheese and sliced green onions. Return to oven and bake another 5 minutes until it is melted and the onions are fragrant.

If you are using the frozen casserole, you can either bake right out of the freezer or thaw in the fridge. Adjust the baking time accordingly. Bake until bubbly (for frozen casserole, it is usually about 55-65 minutes). Top with cheese and green onions and return to oven to continue to bake until melted.

We serve our "Taco Shells" on a bed of lettuce with sour cream, salsa, and crushed corn chips. You can really garnish this with any of your favorite taco toppings.

Well ... I am signing off to go "party" it up. Hope you all find some flavorful freezer recipes. I know I will!

Monday, January 23, 2012

My Take : Oven Tacos

These Oven Tacos were inspired by a blog posting from Lynn's Kitchen Adventures that I pinned to Pinterest. What a brilliant concept - preparing your favorite taco meat, adding it to crispy taco shells and sprinkling on your favorite cheese. A few minutes in the oven to melt the cheese and warm up the taco shells, resulted in a wonderful dinner that was already assembled (for the most part).

I did not use the recipe that I linked on my menu plan. Please find my delicious version of oven tacos below:

Annette's Oven Tacos (makes 12 tacos)
Inspired by Lynn's Kitchen Adventures

1 to 1 1/2 pounds of lean ground beef
1 small onion, diced
1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 pint of grape tomatoes, quartered

1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
2 tsp cumin
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup ketchup

Brown beef with jalapeno, garlic, and onion. Add seasonings. Cook until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and black beans and cook for another minute. Stir in ketchup and heat thru. Spoon some of this meat mixture into a crunch taco shell and place into a 9x13" casserole dish. Repeat process until all tacos are filled. Top with shredded sharp cheddar cheese and heat in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Add your favorite taco toppings and enjoy!

**My favorite oven taco toppings were: sliced avocado, sliced red pepper, sour cream and lettuce.
***Hubby enjoyed his taco with salsa and lettuce.
****The boys ate theirs adding no additional ingredients.

***** We had extra taco meat left over (after filling all of our taco shells) - so I will be enjoying a nice taco salad for lunch sometime this week. I love leftovers! *****

Here is hoping that you enjoy this dish as much as our family did. Have a great week!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

New Year - Fresh Start Menu #4

Last menu for the last full week of January 2012. We have been enjoying our snowy weekend ... playing outside, enjoying some snow ice cream (I always set a nice big bowl out on the patio during the biggest snowstorms), watching movies and playing games. What are your favorite activities for snowy days?

Here is what is on our plate for this coming week:

Meal #1: Inspiration from Pinterest
Spanish Rice
Mandarin Oranges

Meal #2: A family favorite
Zuppa Toscana (Italian sausage, potato and kale soup)
Garlicky Breadsticks
Garden Salad

Meal #3: Restaurant-Inspired Night
Lemon-Infused Tilapia
Cheddar Bay Biscuits
Garden Salad

Meal #4: Breakfast for Supper
Bubby's Pancakes
Maple-Glazed Bacon
Fruit Salad

What is on your plates for this upcoming week? I would love to hear your menu plans.

Have a great week!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

New Year - Fresh Start Menu #3

This week of January has been incredibly busy. In addition to an incredibly full week, we have really felt winter embrace us this week. This morning, we were greeted with a -19 degree windchill. We have been using these frigid temperatures as an excuse to enjoy lots of hot tea and hot cocoa at our house.

My husband has been soaking up some much warmer weather in Vegas (for work, lucky guy) and the boys and I are enjoying a week of simple and delicious "comfort food" meals. Here is what is on our plate for this week:

Meal #1: Ultimate Comfort Food!
Savory Chicken and Noodles
Cuties (the little mini oranges)
Garden Salad

Meal #2: Soups on!
Hearty Beef and Barley Vegetable Stew
French loaf
Blackberry Cobbler

Meal #3: Done in 15 Minutes!
Homemade Hamburger Helper
Green beans
Cottage cheese

Meal #4: Freezer Pleaser Meal!
Chicken Stroganoff
Egg Noodles
Sweet corn

Stay warm - and enjoy whatever is on your plate this week.

Monday, January 9, 2012

New Year - Fresh Start Menu #2

January is well on its way ... and our busy routine has returned (in full force). This week while I was menu-planning, I found myself drawn to Pinterest for inspiration. I love pinning recipes from blogs that I like to follow - so that I can remember to actually *try* the recipe at some point in time. Well... this is the week for trying new recipes that I have pinned - or that were inspired from recipes that I found on Pinterest.

Meal #1
Mandarin Oranges

Meal #2
Garden Salad

Meal #3
Garlic-Parmesan Oven Fries
Green Beans

Meal #4
Spinach salad with blush wine vinaigrette
Bread Sticks

I hope you find some inspiration by the menu (entirely inspired by items pinned on my Pinterest board "Recipes I Want To Try". I will be reviewing these recipes at some point to let you know how I modified them (if at all) and what my family thought of them.

Have a great week!

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Tasteful Christmas (Pictoral)

Christmas always inspires me to make lots of goodies for my family. Here are a few of our breakfasts from Christmas eve and Christmas day.

Glazed Doughnuts (Baked)

Nutella Stuffed French Toast with Strawberry Syrup

Cinnamon Roll Pancakes

Merry Christmas!