Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Feeding Frenzy

So, I feel I need to apologize to you up front about this post. It’s really not that exciting, but I am trying something new in my house and wanted to share it. It is a step in the right direction for my resolutions in my Happiness Project. The other reason I choose to share this tonight is I am looking at my house and have the laundry that needs to be put away staring me in the face and the kitchen I still need to clean calling my name. So, here it goes…

I had heard of this mom who scheduled her family’s meals a year in advance. Wow! I have a hard time planning dinners out for the next night. But as I made all of those meals to freeze this past weekend, I decided I’d try to schedule things out—just to see how it would go. So, here is my family’s meal calendar through March. I tried to schedule the frozen meals during the week and make meals on the weekends.  As you can see, I altered my plan on day two, but, as my dad said, even the best laid plans get ruined some days. Smart man.

                                                   (Click on image to zoom.)

***A little explanation on my notations: We had to be somewhere last night and I read the thawing and cooking directions wrong for the Shepherd’s Pie and didn’t allow enough time to cook it. (P.S. The Shepherd’s Pie was so good!) So, I moved that to tonight and tonight’s meal to Friday. The arrows on the roasted chicken to the chicken enchiladas is to remind me to use the leftover chicken for the enchiladas.  Same thing on the roast.

So, now I (along with my family)shall embark on this meal menu adventure.  Wish us luck!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Just Call Me Rachael Ray: Part 2

So, as I finished up making my meals to freeze today, I thought of a few more tips in case you need them.  Mind you, I am not an expert on this (This is probably the fourth or fifth time I’ve have a meal-prep-a-thon.) but these are some things I have learned while doing this. (The first three are repeats from yesterday’s post.)

1.  If you are making a “casserole” type dish that is going to require some cooking, make a double batch. It’s really not that much more work, and you’ll be happy you did.

2. Have plenty of freezer bags, 9 x13 pans, and a Sharpie on hand.

3.  I find picking one day to make the meals is easiest for me.  That way I am only making a complete mess of my kitchen once. (I hate doing dishes.)

4. If you are making meals that require you to brown hamburger meat, brown it all at once and then separate it out to make your individual dishes.

5. You will need plenty of plastic wrap and foil for the “casserole” dishes. (The first three times I did this I run out.  You’d think I’d learn.)

6.  Clean out your freezer and make room for the meals you are going to create before you get started.

7. If you are using pans that don’t have lids, you can use pieces of cardboard to put between the dishes so you can stack them in your freezer. (Look I took a picture for you!)


And now for another recipe.  Before I go on, I feel I must tell you that I am one of those g als that doesn’t really measure while I cook, especially if I am making something I have made hundreds of times.  That being said, I tried to really pay attention as I made my lasagnas today so I could give you the recipe, but if you like yours saucier or meatier or whatever, feel free to tweak this to your liking. (I know you feel better now that you have my permission to change the recipe.) This recipe came from a friend of mine’s mom. I couldn’t believe her DELICIOUS dish was so simple.  It tastes like you slaved over it. But homemade lasagna really is this easy. I promise. You trust me, right?

Lasagna (This makes 2 lasagnas.)

2-3 lbs hamburger meat (depends on how meaty you like it)
2 boxes oven ready lasagna noodles (Key here! This is part of what makes this recipe so simple, no boiling the noodles.)
2 large containers cottage cheese (I hate cottage cheese by the way, but in this it tastes wonderful.) 
2 blocks cream cheese
3 jars 1 lb 10 oz jars Ragu, (I use the traditional, but whatever you like would work.)
Salt and pepper
Whatever Italian-y type spices you like. I use oregano, garlic, & basil.
6 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Set the cream cheese out to soften. Brown your hamburger however you normally do.  I put chopped onion and grated garlic cloves in mine.  Drain it off and put it in a big bowl.  Add the Ragu, salt, pepper, and spices.

Put both blocks of cream cheese and both tubs of cottage cheese in a mixing bowl. Using a mixer (a hand one works too) blend the cheeses together until semi-smooth.

Now it’s time to start layering. Get two 9 x 13 pans and lay them side-by-side. Put just enough of the meat sauce at the bottom of each pan to make a very thin layer. (This is to keep the noodles from sticking.) Put a layer of noodles over the sauce.  Put a layer of cheese on top of the noodles. (Don’t worry about spreading it out perfectly.  It will spread out when you cook it.)

Place a layer of the meat sauce over the cheese.
Repeat the layers. Noodles, cheese, sauce.  Top with a layer of noodles and finish off with mozzarella cheese. 

Cover with plastic wrap and foil and freeze.

Thawing and cooking directions:  Take the lasagna out of the freezer the night before and place in refrigerator.  When ready to cook, take off plastic wrap and re-cover with foil. Place in oven and heat oven to 350 degrees. (I let the cold pan heat up with the oven.) Bake covered for about an hour*.  Uncover and bake 15-20 more minutes until cheese is browned.

*Check the lasagna to see that it is heated through.  If not bake covered until it is.

Enjoy and happy eating!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Just Call Me Rachael Ray: Part 1

My feet hurt. My legs are sore. I feel like I have run miles today, but the only place I ran today was the grocery store—twice. But it was totally worth it! I spent the day making meals to freeze. I do this every now and then, usually when it hits me how much my family has been eating out. And just how much spaghetti and tacos we’ve eaten lately. I find when I have meals in the freezer, dinner on the weeknights doesn’t seem so overwhelming, and I feel so much better feeding my family home-cooked meals.

Today was no different than any other time—I set my sights high and planned too much for one day. I did, however, make a lot of meals. I’ll have to finish up tomorrow. Here was my plan of what I wanted to make. Yes, the crossed off ones are the finished ones that are sitting in my freezer right now. :)

Lasagna (2)
Sour Cream Enchiladas (2)
Dijon Chicken
Apricot Pork Chops
Mini Meatloaf (3)
Maple Mustard Pork Chops
Tortellini Soup (2)

BBQ Meatballs
Apricot Chicken
Cinnamon-Braised Pork Tenderloin (2)
Pecan Crusted Orange Curry Chicken
Pork Chops and Apples
Curried Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie (2)

So, tomorrow I'll finish up the lasagnas, enchiladas, and the BBQ meatballs. The bulk of this list is the staples of what I make when I freeze meals. I did try a few new ones though. (The last four are new to me.)

If you have never done this cook ahead and freeze thing before, here are a few tips.

1. If you are making a “casserole” type dish that is going to require some cooking, make a double batch. It’s really not that much more work, and you’ll be happy you did.

2. Have plenty of freezer bags, 9 x13 pans, and a Sharpie on hand.

3. I find picking one day to make the meals is easiest for me. That way I am only making a complete mess of my kitchen once. (I hate doing dishes.)

I’ll leave you with one of my recipes and then I’ll continue to post more in the coming days. If I tried to put all of the recipes in this one post it would be super long. :) Apricot Pork Chops are one of my favs. Here’s how simple they are:

Apricot Pork Chops:

4-6 thick cut pork chops (can also use chicken)
1 cup Catalina or Russian Salad Dressing
1 cup Apricot Preserves
1 pkg dry onion soup mix

Place pork chops in a gallon freezer bag. In a bowl combine other three ingredients. Pour into bag over the pork chops. Get the air out of the bag and seal. Work the dressing mixture through the pork chops. Label the bag and place in freezer.

Thawing and cooking directions: Take the bag out of the freezer the night before you plan to cook them and place in the refrigerator. When ready to cook, pour the entire contents of the bag into a baking dish and arrange pork chops in a single layer. Cook at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

And on that note, I am off to bed. My eyelids are so incredibly heavy. Please forgive any typos in this post; I’ll edit it tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Happiness Project--Week 2: Personal Commandments

Personal Commandments: “The overarching principles that you want to guide your actions and thoughts”

For some reason I have found this particular assignment to be difficult. (And this is only the second week. I’m in trouble.) I should be working on week three’s assignment, but I have been milling the second assignment around in my head for a couple of weeks now and just couldn’t really pen-point exactly what I wanted/needed my personal commandments to be. But the longer I thought about it, the more I discovered that the list I was creating boiled down to the principles of the Fish! philosophy that was made famous by the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. So here we go; my personal commandments in a nutshell.

1. Be There--Being emotionally present for people.
Savor the moment. Be with my boys. Take in there smiles. Their laugher. Their innocence. Value my husband. Stop and smell the roses. Stop multi-tasking with people—tasks yes, people no.

2. Choose Your Attitude--Taking responsibility for how you respond to what life throws at you.
Everyday is a new day. I can make it a good one or a bad one. It is my choice. Will I made lemonade with any lemons thrown my way? I hope so. Remember…I can only change me. I can only control myself. My thoughts, My words. My actions. My mood.

3. Make Their Day--Finding simple ways to serve or delight people in a meaningful, memorable way.
Spend time figuring out what I can do to make someone else feel special. By focusing on making someone else's—husband, kids, family, friends, co-workers, and students—day a little brighter. It’s the small things.

4. Play--Taps into your natural way of being creative, enthusiastic and having fun.
Act like I want to feel. This is big for me, especially lately. Between my 9 month old and my post-op husband, I am pretty much tired everyday. I must act as if I am full of energy, so I will feel as if I am. Put a smile on my face and go. I believe I read somewhere that just making yourself smile will put you in a better mood. My boys are little and I want to play and be silly everyday with them. I need to remember not to take life so seriously. It’s okay for me to let loose and have fun.

That's a tall order if I do say so myself! Wish me luck on my journey…

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Red Lobster Giveaway

My twitter friend, Laura (@cameron_crazy) has a wonderful review of Red Lobster on her blog. If you read her review and post a comment, you will be entered in her drawing to win one of two $25 gift cards.  There are a couple of other ways to enter too! Here’s the link:


Good Luck!

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Happiness Project—Week 1:Resolutions

My Happiness Project--I don't plan to tackle all of these at once. The bold text are the resolutions I am working on now. I will add the rest in a little at a time so all of this isn't so overwhelming.

Patience/Attitude:No road rage; Take three deep breaths when I feel my temper rising; Pick my battles; Choose to have a good attitude everyday; Get up on time so mornings aren't rushed

Gratitude: Write down one small thing each day I am thankful for. Make a list on my phone and read it weekly to remind me of the good things in my life that I can miss if I’m not looking.

Energy: Daily Vitamin; Water—64 oz daily; Only 1 pop per day (32 oz max.);Minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night; exercise at least 3 times per week for at least 20 min.

Family & Friends: Spend quality time (even if it is just a few minutes) with all three of my boys everyday (Be there ) Have a GNO at least once a month; Have date night at least once a month; Tell Everett how much he means to me at least once a day; Do something special for Everett at least once a month; Have a mommy/E.J. date at least once a month

Clean house:Dishes out of the sink each night; Sweep kitchen floor each night; Put laundry away after doing it (Can’t live on the chair or on the window seat); Vacuum M, Th, Sat, & Sun; Dust on Tues.; Clean bathrooms on Wed.; Mop tile floors every weekend

Scrapbooking: Finish Levi’s baby book by his birthday; Finish E.J.’s baby book by Spring Break;Start family scrapbook albums this summer; Take a PS or PSE class soon

Organization (Home): Make dinner menu once a month & freeze meals (Sat. after payday); Keep current lists on iPhone for Target, Groceries, and “To Do”; Clean out--Medicine cabinet, Kitchen cabinets, Computer room, Hall Closet, Front Closet, & Garage; Buy dresser for bedroom

Organization (Work): Clean out my filing cabinets by Christmas; Clean out my cabinets by May

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I'm Back!

Boy has it been awhile! Took a bit of a hiatus to get our newest little addition to our family all settled in. It's hard to believe he is almost 9 months old; he's crawling and wants to walk so badly he can't stand it. He and his big brother are developing quite a big bro/little bro relationship. One minute the 3 year-0ld loves his little brother and the next he is yelling at me to get him off of his train set. Ah, a look into the future!

Just as life seemed to be getting back to normal, my husband tore his ACL and had surgery. It's been about a month since the surgery, and he has come a long way, but he still has a long road of recovery ahead. Luckily, we know an orthopedic surgeon personally, so he is getting plenty of attention and help. He was told he is looking at a 4-5 month recovery time, but I am guessing his will be faster. He's kind of determined that way. I'd guess we'll be going on family bike rides at the beginning of the summer. After the surgery, we found out he will no longer be able to run long distances because his meniscus was too damaged to repair. He was so glad he ran a half-marathon last April. Thankfully, that's one regret he won't have.

I realized after using the Stuck on a Plane post in my classroom as an example of a personal narrative just how much I missed blogging. I had just gotten started and then Levi was born. My plate got full and something had to give. But now we are settled--well, as settled as we are going to get--and I am ready to get back on this horse. Will there be times I can't post something for a (Hang on I have to pause for a hug from E.J., my 3 year-old. Okay, I'm back.) a few days? Absolutely. There is never a day around here that is normal or typical; most are hectic as ever. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

I started reading The Happiness Project recently with a group of fellow Twitter ladies and am really looking forward to what is in store for me. I'll be posting on that soon. My goal is to blog about whatever comes my way--the boys, day-to-day life, how tired I am of Thomas the Tank Engine (I am watching the SAME Thomas movie for the fourth time in 2 days as I type this.), My happiness project, and last, but CERTAINLY not least, Thelma and Louise. :)