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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Meal Plan Monday ~ May 29--June 3



I hope you had a great Memorial Day weekend! I'm day late in posting this week, so I guess this is more of a "Meal Plan Tuesday" than a "Meal Plan Monday." 


Here is what's on the menu at our house this week:


Monday: Memorial Day


Tuesday:  Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo, Mixed Green Salad, Homemade Strawberry Applesauce

Wednesday: (Kid Dinner--hubby works until 9 PM) Pumpkin Waffles, Cheesy Scrambled Eggs, Mixed Berries


Thursday: (Preschool Graduation Night!) Steak Fajitas, Fruit Smoothies


Friday: Teriyaki Chicken and Veggie Stir-fry, Brown Rice, Pineapple 





Saturday: (Brunch) Turkey Sausage Gravy and Homemade Biscuits (Recipe coming SOON!), Fruit and Yogurt Parfaits

Sunday: BBQ Pork Chops on the Grill, Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad 
(Recipe coming SOON!)Corn on the Cob, Raspberry Watermelon Sorbet 

What's for dinner at your house this week? Share your meal plan in the comments section below!
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Monday, May 28, 2012

Quick and Easy Homemade Ice Cream in a Bag



In under 10 minutes, you could be serving your family some delicious and natural homemade ice cream with very little clean-up! You don't even need an ice cream maker to whip up this yummy frozen treat. Making this homemade ice cream in a bag is a fun way for adults and kids alike to cool off on a hot summer evening. Try this activity at your next cookout, family reunion or birthday party. Make up the ice cream mixture ahead of time, store in the fridge until needed and then let the kids shake, shake, shake! They can enjoy this ice cream right out of the bag as a "soft serve" or put the bags of ice cream in the freezer for a few hours to make it more "scoopable."


Let's get started! Here is what you need to make one very large serving (or two smaller ones) of delicious, homemade vanilla ice cream--in under 10 minutes.




For rich, creamy ice cream you will pour 3/4 c. heavy whipping cream and 1/4 c. milk into a pint or sandwich size, zippered plastic bag. If you want more of an "ice milk" type ice cream, you could use 1/2 c. cream and 1/2 c. milk (or 1 c. half & half). Add up to 3 T. of pure maple syrup or other sweetener of choice to the bag with the cream and milk. We can eat ours with 2 T. but you may want to add 3 T. if you are used to store-bought treats. Pour 1/2 t. of pure vanilla extract in and then seal it up. 
*Directions, including those for other flavors, are listed below.


HELPFUL TIP: Double bag the liquid mixture into another sandwich size, plastic bag. This will prevent any possible leaking and keep the inside ice cream bag free from salt. Feel free to keep the outside sandwich bag to reuse the next time you make homemade ice cream...which of course, you will be doing regularly once you taste how yummy it is!




Fill a gallon size, zippered freezer bag halfway full of ice cubes and add 1/2 c. of kosher or rock salt. Table salt will work, but not as well as a coarse grain salt. Add the double bagged ice cream mixture and seal the larger bag well. I did two in one gallon size bag, but I would just do one from now on. I don't feel like they froze as well as they would have individually.  



Head outdoors and start shaking! Jackson complained his was "too heavy to shake", so he rolled it, tossed it to Daddy and even threw it down the slide. Now you understand the need to double bag the liquid! Ha ha! It will be extremely cold and could be wrapped in a towel and secured with rubber bands, but that would definitely take some of the fun out of this activity!












Shake the ice cream bags for at least 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to harden up. Add more ice and continue shaking if temperatures are extremely hot and your ice melts too quickly. When the ice cream has set, remove from the ice bag and take out of the double bag (if you doubled them up). Add yummy toppings like sprinkles, mini chocolate chips, nuts, sliced strawberries or other fruit, etc. and eat straight out of the bag with a spoon. If you prefer your ice cream a bit harder (like store-bought ice cream), place bag into the freezer for 1-2 hours and then scoop ice cream from the bag into a bowl or cone. Click HERE for a homemade ice cream cone recipe.



FRUGAL TIP: Providing that your outer gallon size bag doesn't have any holes, you could save both the larger bag and the outside sandwich bag for the next time you make ice cream. Just dump out the ice and salt and let air dry. I'm pretty cheap (er...frugal!) so this is totally something that I do! Feel free to throw out all 3 of the bags if that is more your style. I don't keep the one the ice cream was in because I'm too lazy to wash it out, but the other ones are fine to reuse.








Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream in a Bag
3/4 c. heavy whipping cream**
1/4 c. milk
2-3 T. pure maple syrup or sugar (to taste)
1/2 t. pure vanilla extract
Ice cubes
1/2 c. coarse salt (ice cream rock salt or kosher salt will work best, but table salt can also be used)


**Feel free to do 1/2 c. whipping cream & 1/2 c. milk if you prefer a less creamy ice cream. Alternatively you could use 1 c. of half & half or for a non-dairy version--substitute 1 c. of coconut milk.)


DIRECTIONS:
Combine cream, milk, syrup (or sugar) and vanilla in a pint size or sandwich size plastic bag and seal tightly.  Double bag in another sandwich bag and seal tightly. Fill a gallon size plastic bag halfway full with ice cubes and add 1/2 c. salt. Place double bagged ice cream mixture inside and seal tightly. Shake well for 5-10 minutes, adding additional ice if the temperatures are very high and the ice is melting before the ice cream solidifies. Remove ice cream from outer bag when it no longer feels liquidy, add any desired toppings and eat straight from the bag for a "soft serve" style ice cream. Place bag of ice cream into the freezer for 1-2 hours for a "scoopable" ice cream that could be served in a bowl or cone. Check out this recipe from Family Fun Magazine for homemade ice cream cones.


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


For chocolate ice cream: Whisk together 2 T. cocoa, 3 T. pure maple syrup or sugar, 1/4 t. pure vanilla extract and 1/4 cup milk in a small bowl until it looks like chocolate syrup and is well combined. Add 3/4 c. heavy whipping cream, pour into plastic bag and proceed as directed above. 


For strawberry, pineapple, peach or banana ice cream: Add 1/3 c. crushed or finely diced fruit to the ingredients listed for the vanilla ice cream and proceed as directed above.


For coffee ice cream: Add 1/4 c. double strength, cooled coffee in place of the 1/4 c. milk. Pour into bag and proceed as directed above.


For mint chocolate chip ice cream: Add 1/4 t. pure vanilla extract, 1/4--1/2 t. mint extract (depending on how minty you like it), 2-3 T. pure maple syrup or sugar, 1 drop of green food coloring (if you must--not needed though), 1/4 c. milk and 3/4 c. heavy whipping cream to plastic bag. Proceed as directed above and add 2-3 T. mini chocolate chips immediately after ice cream freezes.


For cookies and cream ice cream: Make vanilla ice cream as directed above and add 2 crushed chocolate sandwich cookies immediately after ice cream freezes.


For butter pecan ice cream: Combine 2 t. butter and 2-3 T. sucanat or brown sugar in a small glass bowl and microwave until hot and bubbly. Cool slightly. Pour 1/4 t. pure vanilla extract, 1/4 c. milk and 3/4 c. heavy whipping cream into plastic bag. Add butter and sugar mixture, seal bag and squeeze to combine. Proceed as directed above, adding 2-3 T. chopped, toasted pecans immediately after ice cream freezes.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sweet Summer Strawberries!


Charlotte proudly holds up her
 tiny berry for me to see!

Helping Daddy pick some berries.

Last weekend, Bill and I took the kiddos strawberry picking at Fulton Farms in Troy, Ohio. The u-pick strawberries were several weeks early this year, because we had such a warm spring. The vines were loaded with sweet, ripe berries and we filled two gallon-sized buckets in record time! There were plenty of blossoms and green berries as well--signaling a couple more weeks of berry season left. It's not too late to go pick some berries, but I would try to get there within the next few days. Fulton Farms has a Facebook page that you can check for updates on their u-pick availability. Right now they also have peas that you can pick, in the fields right next to the strawberries.





The vines are LOADED this year!
Fulton's does not spray their strawberry plants with any pesticides once the blossoms are on the plants, so while the berries themselves are not certified organic, they are not chemically treated. Buckets of berries run $8 apiece ($2/quart if you are comparing to grocery store prices) and they'll sell you a bucket for $1 if you don't bring your own. I would recommend going at 8:00 AM, when the u-pick fields open, to avoid the heat.




Working hard or hardly
working? Ha ha!


Taking your kids is an adventure for sure! Mine did okay for about 15 minutes and then whined and complained so much that my husband, Bill, sat with them in the van while I finished picking the second bucket. It seems like Bill and the kids sit in the van a lot! Ha ha! I imagine older children would be great helpers. I'm still waiting for that day to come. 












I put her in a dress that already
had stains on it. Good thinking!
This was Charlotte's first year to come along and Jackson's third year of picking. Both kids thoroughly enjoy being the "strawberry testers" more than the "bucket-fillers" and I would strongly recommend old clothes (or red ones--to hide the stains!). Every year that we go and pick berries I'm teaching my kids about farming, hard work, eating healthy and where our food really comes from. We're making memories to last a lifetime (or at least that's what I tell myself!).






Our Favorite Uses For Strawberries
Eating them as is
Smoothies
Strawberry shortcake with real whipped cream
Fruit leather
Strawberry jam--Recipe coming tomorrow!
Freezing them to use all year long, for these and other yummy treats!


"This one is PERFECT, Mom!"
Does your family have a favorite strawberry recipe? I would love for you to share it in the comments section below!


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

From Drab to Fab! Frugal DIY Shower Cleaner



I saw this recipe for homemade shower cleaner pinned on Pinterest awhile back, but had my doubts that it could make much of a difference in my seriously gross shower. I bought a $.99 spray bottle and figured, "What have I got to lose...other than a nasty shower?" We have no windows and poor ventilation in our bathroom, so toxic cleaners are problematic for my asthma. Not to mention my kids sit in the tub with the residue of all those harsh chemicals--bleck! This easy cleaner had no nauseating smell and I even (purposefully!) sprayed down the kids' bath toys with it. The other perk is that while making it, you get a shiny clean microwave as a bonus!


Here's what you need to take your shower from drab to FAB! 
A spray bottle with ounce markings (mine is 32 oz.)
A bottle of vinegar
Original blue Dawn or other grease-fighting dish soap
 




Put some vinegar in a glass bowl or measuring cup and heat it in the microwave until very hot, or boiling. I used slightly over 2 cups of vinegar (some will evaporate as it boils) or half the volume of my spray bottle. I left mine in about 5 minutes or so. The dirt and grime in your microwave wipes clean easily with the steam from the vinegar. A clean shower AND microwave--who doesn't love that?! It doesn't need heated with every use...just when you make your shower cleaner to help the vinegar and dish soap blend well.



See? Totally clean with just a couple paper towels! One time I read a tip on cleaning your microwave by boiling a bowl of vinegar water to create steam. I have used that tip ever since and it always works great. Now I can be even more frugal by doing both of these jobs using the same vinegar! 








I went ahead and cleaned my microwave while the vinegar was cooling slightly (you want it warm/hot but not hot enough to hurt your plastic bottle). You could add an equal amount of the dish soap to the vinegar, stir it up and then use a funnel to pour it into the spray bottle OR you could do the vinegar and dish soap separately (which is what I did in the pictures below). I poured the vinegar in the bottle first and then squeezed the dish soap in until I had a total of four cups or 32 oz. (The recipe is a 1:1 ratio, so you could use 6 oz. of each or 100 oz. of each!) I suppose you could pour them into the bottle without the funnel, if you like a challenge! 




And there you have it--homemade shower cleaner! Do you like my little model? Ha ha! And now for the fun part (the actual cleaning)....



I sprayed down the whole shower, tub and tub toys on Saturday morning and allowed it to sit on there for a couple hours. Then I climbed into the tub with an old toothbrush and scrubbed all the grout. I honestly didn't have to use as much elbow-grease as I expected and I admit, as much as I hate to clean anything, it was kind of fun. The night-and-day difference made it totally rewarding! Notice how it's so thick it clings to the walls on the way down? Super cool!

On a side note, my son came in while I was scrubbing and said, "Eww...gross!" To which I replied, "Yeah, I know! Our shower is really yucky--but look at how great this new cleaner is working. Jackson just looked at me with a confused expression and said, "But now when you brush your teeth, they are going to taste like SOAP!" Kids are so funny! I told him it wasn't *my* toothbrush--just an old one. If I had been thinking on my feet a little faster I would have told him it wasn't *my* toothbrush, but *his* I was using!! Hee hee!

AFTER



What is your least favorite item in the house to clean? The stove? The toilet? The shower? I'd love to hear your feedback on this homemade shower cleaner. This stuff made the the thing I dread cleaning the most (the shower) completely tolerable. That's high praise for a homemade cleaner! 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Meal Plan Monday ~ May 21--27




The temperature is on the rise--always a challenge for me since we don't have central air and standing over a hot stove or oven is NO fun! I am making great use of our crockpot and grill this week. I will be making some oven entrees (like the chicken nuggets and the chocolate chip cookies) on Tuesday when it's cooler and freezing them for later this week. 


Here is what's on the menu at our house this week:

Monday: BLATs (Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado & Tomato Sandwiches), Carrot & Raisin Salad, Fruit with Yogurt


Tuesday:  Tortellini with Marinara Sauce and Grilled Italian Chicken Sausage, Mixed Green Salad, Berries with Real Whipped Cream

Wednesday: (Kid Dinner--hubby works until 9 PM) Homemade Chicken Nuggets, Mashed Potatoes, Fresh Green Beans, Pumpkin Applesauce


Thursday: Wild-caught Alaskan Baked Cod, Wild Rice, Cheddar Bay Biscuits, Steamed Asparagus, Chocolate Banana Bon Bons


Friday: Mexican Pizzas on the Grill, Cilantro Lime Fruit Salad, Homemade Ice Cream in a Bag 
(Recipe coming SOON!)


Saturday: Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Strips, Broccoli and Carrot Couscous, Cottage Cheese & Pineapple

Sunday: (Crockpot) BBQ Grassfed Beef Sandwiches, Loaded Potato Skins on the Grill, Grilled Zucchini, No-Guilt Chocolate Chip Cookies 
(Recipe coming SOON!) 

What's for dinner at your house this week? Share your meal plan in the comments section below!
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Friday, May 18, 2012

Three New Ways to Make Grilled Cheese FUN!

Let's face it--grilled cheese is old news. If there were a "Dancing with the Stars" for sandwiches, grilled cheese would be chosen as the B-list celebrity that used to be "hot stuff" but is now a washed-up star. Haha! All kidding aside, grilled cheese (or toasted cheese as it is sometimes called), is certainly not fancy. It's bread...and butter...and cheese. Delicious, easy, frugal, and kids love it--but it is nothing to write home about. Until now! Here are three exciting ways to liven up a boring grilled cheese sandwich.


The "Waffle" Sandwich






My son absolutely flipped his lid the first time I put buttered bread filled with cheese and a slice of turkey into our waffle maker. If you have a square waffle maker like I do, you could literally make 4 grilled cheese sandwiches in a matter of 2 minutes...and possibly be crowned Mother-of-the-Year at the same time! The cleanup is relatively easy, the presentation is fabulous and best of all--it's FUN!


Jackson, my five-year-old, has never been a fan of meat. He is also a creature of habit, a trait he definitely got from his dad. I decided to add a slice of turkey to his beloved "cheese sandwich" thinking the WOW factor of the waffle sandwich would distract him from my sneaky "addition" of the meat.  It worked like a charm! He now claims he loves his grilled cheese with ("What's that piece of white stuff called again?") turkey in it. Time to go polish my crown!





The Grilled Pizza Sandwich
This is one of my favorite weekend night meals because it's easy, everyone loves it and it totally cures my pizza craving without making pizza crust or heating up my oven (which I avoid at all costs this time of year because we have no A/C). Save the money you would spend on take-out pizza and whip up a few of these yummy grilled pizza sandwiches. Then prepare yourself for the "ooohs and aaaahs" from your family!


I usually drizzle a little olive oil in my pan, along with a pinch of Italian seasoning and a dash of garlic salt. Then I toss in my bread, top with mozzarella, nitrate-free pepperoni and whatever else we happen to have in the fridge. My husband and I like mushrooms and green peppers on ours. The kids like pepperoni and cheese only. These are so simple to customize for each family member.



Once they've cooked on one side, take them out and put them on a plate cooked-side down. Drizzle a little more olive oil, seasoning and garlic salt in the pan and then throw them back in to cook on the other side until golden brown. Sometimes, I turn off the heat and cover them with a lid so the insides continue to cook without burning the bread.


Serve these up with a side of marinara for dipping and a few raw veggies for a quick, filling meal. Move over pizza rolls...these grilled pizza sandwiches have "teenager" written all over them!



The Benny and Joon Sandwich


If you've ever seen the movie Benny and Joon, you know that Sam used an iron to make his grilled cheese sandwiches--but Benny and Joon were the ones to suggest using the "Wool" setting to make them even better. Here's a 2 minute video that will teach you how you can impress your kids by making a no-mess grilled cheese sandwich with your iron. The sandwich itself might be exactly the same as the ones you always make, but the cool factor just went way, WAY up! (Not to mention how handy this would be for feeding the kiddos in the hotel room on your next vacation.)






I hope these 3 ideas help to get you out of your grilled cheese rut. Which of these sandwiches do you think your family would most enjoy? Do you have other ideas for creative grilled cheese sandwiches? Please share your comments or ideas below--I love hearing from you!

Ashley

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Double Chocolate Banana Muffins (GF)


These are my kids' absolute FAVORITE muffins in the world. Ok..mine too! Ha ha! This is a great way to use up overly ripe bananas (fresh or previously frozen & thawed). These muffins are moist, chocolaty and are easy to freeze and have on hand for a quick breakfast or snack. White whole wheat flour is my preferred choice for baking. It has all the nutrition of hard red whole wheat, but the softer variety of wheat (it might be called "white" but it's still "whole"--bran and germ intact) makes baked goods taste less "healthy" or "wheaty". I am not sure why I have never tried it before, but peanut butter would totally ROCK these muffins! Just saying. :)

**Make these gluten-by substituting oat flour (grind rolled oats to a fine powder in blender). I recently tried these with oat flour and I think I love them even more that way!

Makes 12 muffins

3 ripe bananas, about 1 1/3 c. mashed
1/2-2/3 c. sugar or sucanat (I use 1/2 c. of sucanat--natural sugar cane if you are wondering.)
1/2 c. butter, coconut oil or plain yogurt
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1 egg
1/4 c. Dutch-process cocoa (regular cocoa will work, but won't have the "depth" of flavor)
1 1/2 c. white whole wheat flour**
2 T. ground flax (optional)
1 t. baking soda
1/4 t. aluminum-free baking powder
1/3-1/2 c. mini chocolate chips

Cream sugar, butter or oil and bananas. Beat in vanilla and egg. Sift together dry ingredients and add gradually until thoroughly combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Fill the cups of a greased 12-cup muffin tin 3/4 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 min. or until toothpick inserted into muffin comes out clean. Cool 5 min and remove from tin to cool completely. Store in air tight container or freeze and reheat as needed.

Monday, May 14, 2012

3 Easy Ways to "Sneak" in More Fruits and Veggies



1. Drink them! Smoothies can be made with or without dairy products. You could do frozen fruits (like bananas, strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, etc.) and add some almond or coconut milk and ice. Or blend fruit and veggies with water and ice for more of a "slushy" of sorts. You can make endless smoothie combinations with yogurt, frozen/fresh fruit, a splash of milk/juice and a few ice cubes. Throw in some spinach for good measure! Blueberries will hide it well and the sweetness of the fruit will mask the taste of the spinach. 

Of course, if you own a juicer that would be another fabulous way to get your kids (or spouse) to increase their consumption of fruits and veggies. The sweeter fruits hide taste of the not-so-sweet veggies. Nice, huh?  The last time I made juice in our juicer I added small amounts of broccoli, spinach and carrot to the watermelon, apples, grapes and pineapple. Delicious!! Even my hubby drank two glasses, unaware of the broccoli and spinach. Shhhh!

2.  Add veggies to your breakfasts, snacks and desserts!  It's easy to add veggies like pumpkin, sweet potato or carrot to muffins, pancakes, and other baked goods. Mashed banana, applesauce, and sweet potato puree all add sweetness and moisture to baked goods.Oils and sugars can be cut back when recipes call for these sweet fruits/veggies. I regularly make pumpkin french toast for my kids by adding a few tablespoons of canned pumpkin to the egg mixture when dipping the slices of bread. I feel good they've gotten some extra vitamin A and fiber at breakfast, yet they have no idea it's in there! Check out this yummy recipe for Peanut Butter Muffins with Carrot & Banana.

3. Make them invisible! Sometimes you just have to go undercover with the picky eaters in your house. Try to use veggies whose colors blend into the food you're serving and add it in very small amounts, tasting as you go. You could add a small amount of mashed butternut squash to mac-n-cheese, some diced or pureed red pepper & carrot into spaghetti sauce, cauliflower in the mashed potatoes, a bit of finely chopped zucchini or mushrooms into sloppy joes or hamburgers, etc. Cooked and pureed veggies also make it easy to "hide" the "yucky" foods in other more appealing and readily eaten entrees. Start sparingly as not to overpower the dish with the vegetable flavors. For more recipes with "hidden" nutrition, check out the books Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld or The Sneaky Chef by Missy Chase Lapine. Click here to see my recipe for Spaghetti Sauce with Hidden Veggies.





How do you increase your number of fruits and veggies served in your house? Post your best ideas in comments section below. I can't wait to hear what tips and tricks work for you!

Taming the Clutter: I don't have an organization problem!

I realized something the other day, as I looked around my cluttered kitchen struggling to find even an inch of empty counter space. I really do not have an organization problem. Oh, I have claimed to be a disorganized person many, many times. Honestly, it became an excuse of sorts...a way to justify my messy life.  I can't tell you how many times I've said, "I'm just not a very organized person."  Maybe you've used that line, too.




As my New Year's resolution, I made it my goal to try to get my home in order. I wanted simplicity and order in my surroundings. It's hard to have an uncluttered spirit in a house filled with excess "stuff". I spent a solid 2 weeks going through every kitchen cupboard and meticulously organizing it. I reorganized the spices in cute little alphabetized glass jars. I came up with a solution for overflowing Tupperware containers. I did a total revamp of my kitchen drawers. I did one heck of an overhaul on the pantry. It looked amazing. Notice the past tense--looked--as in, used to look amazing. 




Here's the thing I discovered. The best systems in the world don't automatically create organization. You see, I don't actually have an organization problem. What I have is a discipline problem. I don't put things back when I'm finished using them. I know they have a "home", because I've created one for them...but I don't take the time to maintain my "system". Take my spices, for example. It now takes me just as long to find the one I need as it used to before I put the spices in the cute labeled jars. It's really not that hard to put them back in the right spot...yet I don't do it. Ugh! Why can't I just take the 3 seconds to put things back where they go?


I have started to catch my lack of discipline lately. I will carry clothes up to the kids' bedrooms and instead of putting them in the drawers, a task which would take less than 60 seconds, I put them on top of the dresser instead. I will leave a stack of 4 or 5 recipe cards out on the counter for a week instead of simply putting them back in the recipe box. I really hope I am not the only mom with a discipline problem. I desperately WANT to live in a clean, orderly home. I even set up systems to make it happen (like our shoe organizer that stays empty while the shoes pile up in front of it! LOL) but I fail to maintain the system and my lack of discipline creates disorder and clutter. I want to lead my children by example and that means I need to step up and work on my discipline issue.




They say that acknowledging the problem is the first step to solving it. I sure hope so! Disorganization wastes so much time in my day. Looking for lost keys, that one rarely used spice, the pajama bottoms that have vanished even though the top has been washed 3 times by itself...you get the idea. You can't change a problem that you don't realize exists in the first place. I'm going to put forth an effort to take the extra few seconds to put things where they belong. I worked too hard at reorganizing my home a few months ago, to let it go back to the chaos it once was. Now...if you'll excuse me...I need to go clean off some dressers.

Ashley

Meal Plan Monday ~ May 14--20




Here is what's on the menu at our house this week:

Monday: Beef Enchiladas, Raw Veggies with Avocado Ranch Dip
Fruit Smoothies (with Spinach--Shhh!)

Tuesday:   Chicken and Noodles, Fresh Green Beans, Cottage Cheese, Chocolate Banana Bon Bons

Wednesday: Pumpkin Waffles, Cheesy Scrambled Eggs, Fruit and Yogurt Parfaits


Thursday: 
Teriyaki Beef Stir Fry, Brown Rice, Pineapple

Friday: C
hicken Parmesan with Penne, Mixed Green Salad with Homemade Italian Vinaigrette, Berries (blackberries, raspberries, blueberries & strawberries) with Real Whipped Cream


Saturday: (Lunch) Grilled Pizza Sandwiches (Recipe coming SOON!), Raw Veggies with Homemade Ranch Dip, Fruit Kabobs

Sunday: BBQ Pork Chops, Crockpot Baked Potatoes, Grilled Asparagus, Baked Apple Pie Bites
 (Recipe coming SOON!)

What's for dinner at your house this week? Share your meal plan in the comments section below!
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Friday, May 11, 2012

Taming the Clutter: DIY Hair Accessory Holder



I don't know about you, but I struggle with clutter. It seems to cover every horizontal surface in my house. Well, when you run out of room horizontally--it's time to go vertical! I got the idea for this project from a smaller version that was given to Charlotte for Christmas. It was a small 8 x 10 canvas covered in fabric with ribbons to hold bows and clips. Even though it was very cute...I wanted something bigger that would give ample room for the growing number of hair accessories my daughter manages to accumulate.





I found this large empty frame propped up in the corner of my bedroom--literally collecting dust. I could have used a piece of foam core board or the cardboard backing as the base to wrap my fabric around if I had had a great frame with no glass. That would be fabulous way to recycle a frame with broken glass! 





For this project you will need: a frame with glass or other support piece cut to the size of frame, scissors, fabric of choice, ribbon or ribbons (I used 2 types), and tape (I used scotch tape because that's what I had available, but I would recommend masking tape or duct tape for added durability.) Alternatively, if you use foam core board or cardboard, hot glue would be another choice for attaching the fabric.





Learn from my mistake and iron your fabric before doing this project! Ha ha! Cut your fabric a couple inches larger than the glass or other base piece.





Fold in the corners, like you are wrapping a gift.





Secure the fabric all the way around with tape or hot glue, if you prefer. I am pretty sure hot glue would peel off of glass though. I would only attempt to use it on cardboard or foam core board.





Slide the ribbon underneath the fabric-wrapped glass and tie as tightly as possible. Cut off ribbon tails, leaving an inch or so past the knot.





Turn your board or glass over to check and see that the ribbon is centered and looks perpendicular--not crooked. 






If it looks okay, go ahead and tape the ribbon down securely a few inches from the edge at the top and bottom.





Place your fabric-covered glass or cardboard into the frame, facing outward, and use the frame's tabs to hold it firmly in place.





Voila! A place to put all of your daughter's hair accessories! See what I mean about ironing the fabric first? Now go find yourself an old frame and get busy taming the clutter. 



I would love to hear your comments about this project. What do you struggle with in the way of clutter? Shoes? School papers? Plastic storage containers, like Tupperware? Kids' toys? I'm glad you stopped by today. Make sure you look around and check out some of the great new recipes that were posted this week.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Dinners by Design ~ Week #3 (Tonya V.)


Each week, one lucky blog reader will be selected to receive a customized meal plan using the current contents of their pantry, fridge and freezer. After "working my magic", I will supply between 6-8 dinner meal ideas using no more than $10 in additional ingredients. My goal in doing this series is to teach people how to be resourceful, creative and frugal while still planning delicious and healthy meals for their families. If you would like to be featured in the "Dinners by Design" blog series, please check out the details at the bottom of this post.




Meet Tonya W.

Tonya, her military husband and their two kids, have been stationed in England for the past couple years. Tonya has been trying to get healthy and is working to eliminate processed foods from her families' meals. She and her daughter are willing to try just about anything, but her husband and son prove to be more challenging to cook for, according to Tonya. In addition to staying within my $10 budget, I also had to work with non-veggie eating family members and try to help Tonya work in some lower gluten or gluten free meals. Wow! I sure had my work cut out for me this week! ;)

Tonya sent me a mile-long list of every food and ingredient in her house, which I cut down to the basics for all of you. She had a TON of food to work with--seriously a ton. Here is a portion of the list Tonya sent me:

 Pantry
  • Bread
  • Hard taco shells
  • Flour tortillas
  • Peanut Butter
  • Refried beans 
  • Organic black beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Baked beans
  • Chickpeas

  • Onion lipton soup mix
  • Italian salad dressing mix
  • Potato steamers seasoning packet
  • Ranch dip mix
  • Potato toppers seasoning packet
  • Meatloaf seasoing packet
  • Herb potatoes seasoning packet
  • Spaghetti sauce seasoning packet
  • Taco seasoning packet
  • Chili kit and seasoning packets
  • Bag-n-Season Pot Roast seasoning
  • Veggie Steamers chedder cheese packet
  • Vegetable dip mix

  • Ramen noodles (Tonya says, "I cannot get this kid to eat!")
  • Mac-n-cheese
  • Variety of pastas
  • Couscous
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Rotel
  • Tomato sauce
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Crushed tomatoes
  • Tomato paste

  • Beef Broth (can)
  • Canned crab meat & salmon
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Onions (white and red)
  • Potatoes (white and sweet)

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Granola
  • Various spices
  • Various baking supplies
  • Various vinegars/oils

Freezer
  • 3 lb. pot roast
  • ground beef
  • sirloin steaks
  • chicken breasts
  • shrimp
  • salmon
  • strawberries

Refrigerator
  • milk
  • almond milk
  • coconut milk
  • eggs
  • butter
  • cheeses (Parmesan, mozzarella, cheddar, feta)
  • pepper jack cheese sticks
  • salsa
  • hummus
  • all the standard condiments
  • salad dressings
  • pancake syrup
  • garlic
  • Liquid Smoke  ("What do people do with this stuff?" asks Tonya.)
  • fresh fruits and veggies
  • apples
    avocado
    tomato
    peaches
    limes
    lemons
    mango
    green onions
    zucchini
    chili peppers
    banana peppers
    peppers
    broccoli
    parsley
    cilantro
    strawberries
    clementines
    grapes
    cucumber
    bananas
    romaine
    spinach

Working My Magic and Creating the Meals

When looking at Tonya's detailed list, one of the things I noticed was the vast array of seasoning packets she had on hand. Many of the packets were ones I have never used or had a need for in my own kitchen. Knowing how those packets of seasoning are full of preservatives, MSG and other fillers--I wanted to help her come up with alternatives to the mixes she currently uses.

Tonya had a very diverse selection of produce in her kitchen, which somewhat surprised me considering she lives in England and their weather is much different than ours. She has the advantage of shopping locally and also on the military base.

You can click on any linked meal to see that particular recipe. Listed underneath each meal, you will see what we are using from her current stash of foods and what she will need to purchase separately. All recipes make enough for at least 4 adults, possibly leaving Tonya and her family with some leftovers for another meal. Cooking once and eating twice means less dishes to wash!


# 1  Chili Cornbread Bake with Cilantro Lime Fruit Salad


I didn't have green pepper or kidney
beans, so I used red pepper & great
northern beans instead. :)

What she's using up: ground beef, beans (kidney, pinto or black), salsa, tomato sauce, green onion, chili powder, taco seasoning mixcornbread mix, sour cream, egg, cheese, tomato,

For the fruit salad: cilantro, lime, honey, strawberries, peaches, grapes,  mango, clementines, apples

What she needs to buy: bell pepper (red pepper won't stick out as much as green)


# 2  Shrimp en Brochette on the Grill with Mixed Green Salads and Cheddar Bay Biscuits

Shrimp en Brochette
Photo credit: ifood.tv

What she's using up:  shrimp, Cajun seasoning, pepper jack cheese sticks (in lieu of the cheese and the jalapenos called for in the recipe link), veggies for salad, flour, baking supplies, cheddar cheese, butter, milk

What she needs to buy: sour cream

How to make it gluten-free: Create a dinner salad out of the mixed greens, salad veggies and shrimp en brochette. Skip the biscuits or try these almond flour biscuits instead.


# 3  Lasagna Roll-ups and Strawberry Italian Ice*

spinach lasagna roll ups
Photo credit:
www.budgetbytes.blogspot.com



What she's using up: spaghetti sauce  
[spices, crushed tomatoes, veggies for spaghetti sauce (onion, zucchini, peppers, etc.), garlic, oil]  spinach, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, lasagna noodles, egg,

For the Italian Ice: strawberries, lemon, lime, orange, *sugar (reduce amt. in recipe to 2/3 c. or swap for 1/2 c. honey)

What she needs to buy: ricotta cheese (or cottage cheese)

How to make it gluten-free: Buy a box of gluten-free lasagna noodles, made from rice. Make up a few gluten-free lasagna rolls for those who eat a GF diet and traditional ones for everyone else.


# 4  Fiesta Lime Chicken (GF) with Mexican Rice and Fruit Smoothies



What she's using up: chicken breasts, lime, Liquid Smoke, garlic, spices, sour cream, mayo, milk, tomato, onion, cheese, yogurt, almond or reg. milk, frozen strawberries, peaches, mango, banana, spinach (if you want to be sneaky!), etc. 

If making the rice from scratch: oil, long grain rice, tomato sauce, spices

What she needs to buy: teriyaki sauce, chicken broth (for the rice), tortilla chips (save $ by crushing hard taco shells)

How to make it gluten-free: It already is!! :)


# 5  Sweet Potato Pancakes and Eggs in Pepper Rings
Photo credit: Pinterest


What she's using up: sweet potatoes, flour, baking supplies, milk, eggs, butter, syrup

What she needs to buy:  Bell peppers

How to make it gluten-free: Use a GF baking flour or pancake mix, such as Bob's Red Mill brand, to make the pancakes or make these GF fluffy little almond flour pancakes. You could also skip the pancakes and have the eggs and smoothie.



# 6  Shredded Teriyaki Beef Wraps with Oven Baked Fries

Photo credit: The Nourishing Home

What she's using up: pot roast (cook in crockpot w/garlic & teriyaki sauce), shredded lettuce, thinly sliced bell peppers, matchstick carrots, diced green onions, flour tortillas 

For the oven baked fries: potatoes, spices, oil

What she needs to buy: teriyaki sauce

How to make it gluten-free: Use a corn tortilla in lieu of a flour tortilla or make the wrap in a large romaine (or other variety) lettuce leaf. 





Tonya's Shopping List
  • 15 oz. ricotta cheese (or sub. cottage cheese by draining liquid and pureeing in blender or food processor)
  • 16 oz. sour cream
  • teriyaki sauce
  • bacon (1 lb.)
  • bell peppers
  • tortilla chips (This will put it over the $10, so to save money you could just crush hard taco shells and use those.)

Total cost approximately $10, more if she opts to buy the tortilla chips.









3 Ideas for "sneaking" in more fruits & veggies

1. Drink them! Smoothies can be made with or without dairy products. You could do frozen fruits (like bananas, strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, etc.) and add some almond or coconut milk and ice. Or blend fruit and veggies with water and ice for more of a "slushy" of sorts. You can make endless smoothie combinations with yogurt, frozen/fresh fruit, a splash of milk/juice and a few ice cubes. Throw in some spinach for good measure! Blueberries will hide it well and the sweetness of the fruit will mask the taste of the spinach.

Of course, if you own a juicer that would be another fabulous way to get your kids (or spouse) to increase their consumption of fruits and veggies. The sweeter fruits hide taste of the not-so-sweet veggies. Nice, huh?  The last time I made juice in our juicer I added small amounts of broccoli, spinach and carrot to the watermelon, apples, grapes and pineapple. Delicious!! Even my hubby drank two glasses, unaware of the broccoli and spinach. Shhhh!

2.  Add veggies to your breakfasts, snacks and desserts!  It's easy to add veggies like pumpkin, sweet potato or carrot to muffins, pancakes, and other baked goods. Mashed banana, applesauce, and sweet potato puree all add sweetness and moisture to baked goods. Oils and sugars can be cut back when recipes call for these sweet fruits/veggies. I regularly make pumpkin french toast for my kids by adding a few tablespoons of canned pumpkin to the egg mixture when dipping the slices of bread. I feel good they've gotten some extra vitamin A and fiber at breakfast, yet they have no idea it's in there! Check out this yummy recipe for Peanut Butter Muffins with Carrot & Banana.

3. Make them invisible! Sometimes you just have to go undercover with the picky eaters in your house. Try to use veggies whose colors blend into the food you're serving and add it in very small amounts, tasting as you go. You could add a small amount of mashed butternut squash to mac-n-cheese, some diced or pureed red pepper & carrot into spaghetti sauce, cauliflower in the mashed potatoes, a bit of finely chopped zucchini or mushrooms into sloppy joes or hamburgers, etc. Cooked and pureed veggies also make it easy to "hide" the "yucky" foods in other more appealing and readily eaten entrees. Start sparingly as not to overpower the dish with the vegetable flavors. For more recipes with "hidden" nutrition, check out the books Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld or The Sneaky Chef by Missy Chase Lapine.









If you would like to have dinners designed for your family, please comment on this blog post (include your real name so I can contact you!) or send an e-mail with subject line "Dinners by Design" to these_precious_days@yahoo.com by Friday at midnight and tell me why your family should be selected as next week's winner. If you are chosen to be featured in the next "Dinners by Design", you will have until Monday at noon to submit a list of the fridge, freezer and pantry items you wish for me to use in creating your meal plan. (That gives you a chance to run to the store over the weekend and stock the fridge so I have more to work with than mayo, a can of beer and some moldy berries! LOL!)