Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Meal plan 2/1 - 2/6

Chicken potpies - making extra for the freezer

Chicken pesto pasta
Garlic knots

Pizza night

2/4 Saturday dinner for 13
Beef stew - Extra for freezer

Grilled tilapia
Green beans

Chicken Divan
Rice Pilaf

Lunches -
PB crackers
Cheese triangles - Quesadillas cut into triangles

Pumpkin bread
Biscuit cups

Grandmas Favorite Hot Chocolate

Grandma doesn't like coffee.  I know it's strange but true.  Grandma LOVES hot chocolate!  This mix is quick and keeps indefinately in the pantry, and makes a great gift!
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup dutch process cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups powdered milk
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cornstarch
pinch of cayenne pepper

 Mix all ingredients in a large bowl with a wisk until fully incorporated.
 Pour carefully into a nice jar, attach a tag if giving as a gift.

Macaroni and Cheese doesn't have to come in a box

Macaroni and Cheese
Believe it or not mac and cheese can be made just as fast from scratch as it can be from a box.  Actually maybe faster given you can make the sauce while the pasta cooks instead of waiting until it's done.  So there.
What you need -
1/2 pound of pasta (1/2 of a box)
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups milk (or one can evaporated milk)
1/2 cup shredded cheese
Dash of salt and pepper
Bring salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions.
Add butter and flour to a sauce pan.
 Stir until butter melts and flour is combined.
 Add milk slowly.  Start with 1 cup and add as needed to get the thickness you like.  - Note 1. cheese will thicken the sauce  a bit more and 2. Mixture will only thicken completely once it comes to a simmer.
 Now add the cheese.  1/2 cup will give a mild cheese flavor.  (I used sharp cheddar)
 Stir until combined and consistency is good
 Toss with hot drained pasta.


Ketchup - The #1 condiment around here, followed closely by honey mustard but that's another post.  Why make it yourself?  The store bought stuff is LOADED with high fructose corn syrup and "natural and artificial" flavorings.  The stuff you make at home has 6 ingredients and is super easy.
Here is what you need to get started -

28oz can of whole tomatoes
1 Medium onion - chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt

Puree tomatoes in a blender and add to a large pot - You want high sides so when it is simmering it doesn't go all over your stove.

Add olive oil and onions to a small saute pan and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add to tomato puree.
 Bring to a low simmer and allow to simmer uncovered for 1 hour until thickened.

Put back into the blender - be careful its very hot!  Puree until smooth (vent lid to let the steam out)
 Store covered in the fridge for about a month - if you can make it last that long.

To much work you say?  No problem - instead of simmering on the stove put it in the crock pot and leave the lid off.  Low for 4-6 hours will do the same thing.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Picadillo (Cuban style ground beef)

Picadillo a Spanish word that translates to "hash" in English is a super simple meal that gets served quite a bit around our house.  Why?  1- it's easy, I always have the ingredients in the pantry and freezer 2- everyone eats it, yes even the little kids and 3- it's delicious!

I use 2 pounds of ground beef and that serves the 5 of us for dinner and lunch the next day.  This recipe easily scales up or down.

2 pounds ground beef (ours is 90/10, but whatever you have will work since we will drain the fat off)
Olive oil
3 cloves of garlic - or 2 heaping tsp minced
1 large onion
1 15oz can tomato sauce
10 - 20 green olives and 2 tbsp brine - or 2 tbsp vinegar
1-2 Tbsp cumin
1 tbsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper

Add 1 Tbsp olive oil, ground beef and chopped onion to a large skillet
Brown over medium heat.  Once meat and onions are mostly cooked (hardly any pink left) drain the fat out.  This can be done by dumping everything into a colander but I don't like to wash more than I need to so I scoot all the meat to one side of the pan and hold it there with my spoon while pouring the fat in the sink.
Now add the garlic, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper.
Cook for 2 minutes.
Add tomato sauce, olives and olive brine or vinegar.
Stir to combine.
Once everything is heated through you can serve as is or turn the heat down to low and serve when needed.  If the sauce gets too thick just add a bit of water.

Add ins -
Peppers are good in this as well.  Just add in with the onions.
I often hide carrots in here too (just don't tell the my husband).  I chop them fine and add with the onions.

Left overs make good taco or burrito fillings.  I add in a bit of taco seasoning when reheating.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Fluffy rice - everytime

I had a terrible time making rice when I first started cooking.  It clumped, lumped, burnt or was crunchy, just overall not good at all.  Now I am not sure why I ever thought it was hard! 
Here is how I do it -
2 cups parboiled rice (any rice is fine but this is by far my favorite)
3 cups water
2 Tbsp oil or butter
1-2 tsp salt

Add water, oil and salt to a large pan with a lid
Add rice

Stir with a fork
Allow to come to a low boil - once you see some bubbling
Turn heat down to low, on my electric stove that is level 2.0
Put the lid on the pot and don't take it off for 20 minutes
After 20 minutes stir again with a fork and serve hot.
If you are not serving right away stir then put the lid back on but turn off the heat.  The rice will stay warm for about another 20 minutes depending on if you take the lid off again.

Note - If you are using brown rice you will need more water and more time cooking but the idea is the same.

1/19 - 1/31 Breakfasts, Lunches, and Snacks

Breakfasts -
Pumpkin bread
Pancakes (frozen from dinner last week)

Lunches -
Peanut butter crackers
Grilled cheese
Hot dogs
Tortilla pizzas
Hummus and homemade pita chips

Snacks -
Yogurt melts
Homemade granola bars

Meal Plan 1/19- 1/31

1/19 - 1/31 Dinner Meal Plan

1/19 - Thursday
Ropa Vieja stew (previously frozen dinner)

1/20 - Friday
Baked chicken breasts
Spanish rice

1/21 - Saturday Family Dinner for 12
Turkey Croquettes (made extra to freeze for another dinner)
Split Peas soup

1/22 - Sunday
Roasted whole chicken (freeze bones to make stock)
Roasted potatoes and carrots

1/23 - Monday
Stuffed rice (using left over chicken from Sunday)

1/24 - Tuesday
Broccoli and noodles
Garlic bread

1/25 - Wednesday
Chili and cornbread

1/26 - Thursday
Fried Rice

1/27 - Friday
Homemade pizzas

1/28 - Saturday Family dinner for 12
Tostones - Fried green plantains

1/29 - Sunday
Tacos or burritos (using left over picadillo and rice)

1/30 - Monday
Spaghetti night
Garlic knots

1/31 - Tuesday
Chicken potpies - making extra to freeze for another night

Recipes and guides coming soon for this list.

What is meal planning?

Meal planning is simply planning meals before you cook them.  Some people like to shop first then plan meals around whatever was on sale.  Others like to plan first and shop only for what they need.  I do a combination of both. 
Before I sit down to plan a menu I open the pantry, fridge and freezer and take a quick inventory of what I already have on hand.  Then I plan meals, and make a shopping list for the remaining items.  After that is done I check the sales flyers for good couponing stock up deals.  We usually spend $10-$20 a week on sale items.  I do not go crazy here and it is easy to do.  My rule is if we wont use it I don't buy it - no matter what.  Period.  It is hard to pass up something that is free with a coupon but if you end up throwing it away unused you didn't save anything in the first place.

In my pantry -
Pastas, Rice, Beans (dried and cans), peanut butter, honey, maple syrup, cereal and oatmeal, dried fruits, crackers and pretzels,
Dry goods -
Flours (white, whole wheat, buckwheat), sugar (white, brown, agave nectar, stevia), baking powder and soda, spices, salt/pepper, baking chocolate, coffee and teas
In my fridge -
Milk, yogurt (homemade), eggs, juice, cheese, butter, condiments and dressings, fresh vegetables and fruit (depending on what is in season).
In my freezer -
Beef. We currently buy 1/2 a cow once a year.  This allows us to get organic grass fed beef for cheap than conventional meat at the grocery store.  Last year I paid $3.75 a pound.  That was for steaks, roasts, ribs, and ground cut to our liking.  Check out Eatwild.com for a farmer near you.
Chicken.  We get boneless, skinless chicken breasts from Zaycon foods (Sign up here to find a location near you).  They sell them in 40 pound cases for $1.79 a pound at the last event!
Dough for pizza crust and dinner rolls
Sauces. Tomato sauce and pesto made over the summer
Vegetables and fruit.  Corn, peas, green beans, stir fry mix, edamame, pureed pumpkin, blueberries and strawberries
Pre-made (by me) dinners and breakfasts

I am sure there is more but these are the basics for our house and the building blocks for our meal planning.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


I find much joy in the simple act of cooking for my family. It fills me up to prepare a meal that they enjoy. However time and money can be tight and meals somehow get pushed off to the last minute and sitting together around a dinner table becomes less and less of a priority. When I first got married and my step-son, husband and I really became our own family unit meals were the way we reconnected at the end of the day. It started simply because I had no idea how to cook, however with time and patience (and lots of indigestion) we finally figured things out. Once I learned how to cook a few meals successfully my confidence in the kitchen soared! I started meal planning my days became easier, my grocery bill went down and home cooked meals were not out of reach every day of the week. Through the years I have perfected meal planning for our family and have planned for others along the way too. I hope that I will be able to help you meal plan for your family and help you to have more time together around your dinner table.