Wednesday, January 25, 2012

One little cooking experiment.....

A few months ago, we had a freezer mishap. SOMEone (I refuse to acknowledge that it may have been ME...)left the freezer door open and most of our meat defrosted. I was going to give it away rather than throw it away when one of my FB friends reminded me that if I cooked it, I could refreeze whatever I cooked. So, I came up with several things I could make with the meat, spent all afternoon and evening cooking, and froze the results. All of a sudden, our evenings were much less rushed, and our "what do you want for dinner?" question much less open-ended. IT WAS SO NICE!! One of my friends here uses her crock pot a lot and she has several meals that she preps in advance and freezes so all she has to do is dump the contents into her crockpot, add whatever is left, and turn it on. I called her up, and we merged our plans and here is what we came up with:

Each of us comes up with four meals that can be easily doubled or quadrupled (depending on the recipe size) and makes a grocery list. *****Remember to multiply all ingredients by four!**** We shop together one morning, then spend the afternoon prepping everything to cook the next day--chopping vegetables, cutting up meat, and measuring spices--all into ziploc bags that we just need to dump into pots. We try to do some crock pot meals, some soups/stews on the stove top, and some oven meals so that we're not overloading one area. (I have been known to borrow crock pots from everyone I know on our cooking day!) The next morning, one of us picks up coffee (ahhh, Starbucks!) and we spend the next several hours cooking up yummy food and chatting. You could also cook everything separately and just do an exchange at the end, but we find it more fun to be social :-) All meals are divided into four gallon-sized Ziplocs; labeled with the date, name of the meal, number of servings, and we also put the Weight Watchers points per serving since we're both doing WW; and then put into the freezer to freeze. ***Tip: If the bags are laid flat to freeze, they defrost more quickly when you're ready to eat them.***

We each end up with 16 4-6 serving meals in our freezer as well as two days of grown-up conversation. So far, the experiment has been a rip-roaring success!! But, I do want to add that if you have bigger kids or you're not doing WW and have bigger appetites, the portions might need to be adjusted for you. I find that we usually will feed our entire family (portion for me, portion for Scott, and my kids split 1-2) for dinner and then Scott and I end up with two-thirds-1 portion each for lunch the next day.

Here is a list of some of the cookware you'll need if you're interested in doing any of our recipes:

large 12-inch covered skillet
12-quart stockpot/soup pot (minimum for the Cuban black bean soup!)
smaller stockpot--8-quart (shrimp and bean gumbo and red beans)
5-6 quart slow cooker/crock pot (works best if you have at least two of these)
large baking dishes

For resources to find recipes, we've relied on family favorites, crock pot cookbooks, and freezer-cooking websites. Anything goes, as long as it freezes well and is fairly easy to cook. We've also done a few marinades/basting sauces since those are the most time-consuming part of making dinner each evening.

These are some of the recipes we've done so far. This is the single-recipe version. I've noted whether we've doubled or quadrupled them. In general, my picky kiddos have eaten most of it and even have a few favorites of my friend's that they've requested we cook again!



1) Cuban Black Bean Soup (I quadrupled, but only used 3x the broth)

* Cooking spray
* 1/3 cup each chopped celery, onion, and bell pepper
* 2 (15 oz) cans black beans
* 1 (14.5 oz) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
* 2 cups vegetable broth
* 1/2 tsp ground cumin
* 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
* 1/8 tsp ground allspice



1. Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat; coat pan with cooking spray. Add vegetable mix to pan; saute 2 minutes. Stir in beans and next 5 ingredients. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes.

2. Mash beans slightly with a potato masher or blend with immersion blender. Stir until soup is slightly thickened. Top each serving with 1 Tbsp. sour cream and 1 Tbsp. green onions, if desired.

3. Can also serve over 1/4 cup cooked rice



YIELD: 4 servings (serving size: about 1 1/2 cups soup, 1 tbsp sour cream, and 1 tbsp green onions).


2)Slow Cooker Fiesta Chicken and Rice (quadrupled)

*4 4-oz Chicken breasts
*1 can corn, drained
*1 can black beans
*1 cup salsa
*2 tablespoons taco seasoning
*1 can cream of chicken soup (can use fat free)
*2 cups cooked rice
*cheese or other desired toppings

Cut chicken breasts into strips and place in gallon-sized ziploc bag. Add corn, black beans, salsa, and taco seasoning. Stir. Freeze. When ready to cook, defrost in fridge overnight, then add to slow cooker. Top with cream of chicken soup and stir. Cover and cook on low 7-8 hours or on high 3-4 hours. When ready to serve, stir in your cooked rice. Serve with favorite toppings and enjoy!


3)Slow Cooker Chicken Burritos (quadrupled and it makes a ton! But you can defrost only what you need since they're individually frozen)


*4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, uncooked
*8 oz can tomato sauce
*½ cup salsa
*Taco seasoning, low sodium
*2 cloves of garlic, minced
*Hot sauce to taste
*1 bag of instant rice
*2 cans low fat refried beans



1. Place tomato sauce and salsa in crock-pot. Add taco seasoning; stir.

2. Put uncooked chicken on top of sauce and cook on high 3 ½ hours.

3. When chicken is done, stir until it is finely shredded and mixed well in the sauce.

4. Cook one bag of instant rice al dente. Open bag and place rice in crock-pot about 15 minutes before it is finished; stir.

5. Take tortillas and spread beans on bottom. Place the chicken filling on top and roll up into a burrito. Use non-stick aluminum foil to wrap the burritos individually and freeze.

*Wrapping the individual burritos makes them easy to store in the freezer and use when needed.

*When ready to cook, defrost in the fridge overnight then bake at 350 degrees x 30-40 minutes. Keep in foil for more moist tortilla and unwrap to cook for crispier.

4)Easy Salsa Chicken (quadruple--will need multiple cookers)


*3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (About 16 ounces)
*2 cups tomato salsa
*1 16-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
*1 teaspoon garlic powder
*1 teaspoon ground cumin
*1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
*1 cup frozen corn
*Chopped fresh cilantro

Place chicken, salsa, beans, and spices in a 3 1/2 quart slow-cooker. Cover and cook on LOW 7 to 8 hours. Stir, turn control to HIGH and add corn. Cover and cook 15 to 20 minutes. Serve over rice and sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

5)White Bean Chili (quadrupled)

*1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
*1 tb vegetable oil
*2 med onions, chopped
*2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
*3 cups chicken broth
*1 pkg white bean chili seasoning
*1 15oz bag frozen whole kernel corn
*1 15oz bag frozen baby lima beans
*1 15oz can great northern beans, drained

Place chicken and broth in slow cooker for 4 hours on high. Shred chicken when cooked.

Once chicken is cooked, heat oil in large pan over medium heat. Cook onions and garlic in oil, stirring occasionally until onions are tender. Put this and remaining ingredients in slow cooker and cook an additional 1-2 hours, or until everything is thoroughly heated through.


6)Crockpot Jambalaya (used one recipe--it makes a ton!)

*1 pound chicken breast (strips)
*1/2 pound kilbasa
*1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
*1 bag whole okra (slice okra in circles)
*1 onion (chopped)
*1 green bellpepper (chopped)
*1 stalk celery (chopped)
*2 cups chicken broth
*1 cup cream of chicken soup
*2 tsp dried oregano
*2 tsp cajun or creole seasoning
*1 tsp hot sauce
*2 bay leaves
*1/2 tsp dried thyme
*1 tsp cayenne pepper
*2 tsp parsley

Cook in 5-6 quart crockpot on low for 7 hours or high for 3 hours. Freeze only the sauce, then defrost overnight, heat up in a stockpot on the stovetop, and serve over rice. ****I make a separate rice cooker of rice, then blend the rice and the jambalaya in an empty pot on the stove until it's the right consistency. I then let it sit for 10 minutes before we serve.

7)Red beans and rice (doubled, and I did these the day before since they need to cook a while!)

*1 pound dry red beans or dry red kidney beans
*1 pound tasso (smoked ham if you can find it) or 1 pound meaty smoked pork hocks (will be with the pork at the grocery store--ask if you can't find them)
*1 large onion, chopped
*2 stalks celery, chopped
*1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
*3 garlic cloves, minced
*2 bay leaves
*1 pound smoked sausage (if you can find andouille [ahn-doo-ee] that works best)
*salt and pepper to taste (can add crushed red pepper if you want a little spice)

Rinse beans in a colander. In a large pot, combine beans and enough water to cover them by a couple of inches. Soak 6-8 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse.

(If you don't want to do the overnight soak, or if you forget, you can put beans and water in pot and bring to a boil. Simmer x 2 minutes, remove from heat, cover and let stand for 1 hour. Drain and rinse. You'll have to cook them longer on the back end because they won't be as soft, but this has saved me a couple of times when I forget to put them on to soak the night before!)

Before returning beans to pot, saute onion, celery, bell pepper, and garlic in oil or butter until tender. Add beans, bay leaves, enough water to cover beans, salt and pepper, and tasso or pork hocks. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 2 1/2 hours. Be sure to stir occasionally. Add water as mixture cooks down and thickens. After 2 1/2 hours, uncover beans and continue to cook. Remove meat from pot & allow to cool. Debone meat and chop coarsely. Add sausage and chopped meat to beans. Bring mixture back to a boil, then again reduce heat and simmer, uncovered. You'll need to cook until beans pretty much turn to mush and a thick gravy forms (30-60 more min). Keep adding water as mixture thickens and allow to cook down. As gravy begins to form, be careful not to add too much water and you'll want to stir more frequently to keep beans from sticking. You can pronounce them "done" when the beans are completely mushy :-) Freeze, then defrost overnight in the fridge, heat up in a stockpot on stovetop, remove bay leaves and serve over rice.

8)Shrimp and Bean Gumbo--WW recipe (quadrupled, but only used 2 jalapenos and it honestly could have used a little more spice so next time I'll try three)

*1 Tbsp canola oil
*1 medium uncooked onion(s), chopped
*1 clove(s) (medium) garlic clove(s), minced
*1 medium jalapeƱo pepper(s), minced (don't touch seeds with bare hands)
*1 rib(s) (medium) uncooked celery, rib, chopped
*1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
*14 1/2 oz canned diced tomatoes, undrained
*15 oz canned kidney beans, rinsed and drained
*2 cup(s) uncooked okra, frozen, sliced (do not thaw)
*1/4 tsp dried thyme, or to taste
*1/4 tsp dried oregano, or to taste
*1/2 tsp table salt, or to taste
*1/4 tsp black pepper, or to taste
*1/2 tsp hot pepper sauce, or to taste
*1 1/2 cup(s) canned chicken broth, or vegetable broth
*12 oz uncooked shrimp, large variety, peeled and deveined

Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, jalapeno and celery; cook, stirring frequently, 10 minutes. Add flour; stir constantly until flour is absorbed.


Add tomatoes with their liquid; stir constantly, scraping up any browned bits in pot. Stir in beans, okra, thyme, oregano, salt, pepper and hot pepper sauce; stir well. Add broth; bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer x 30 minutes to blend flavors, then cool and freeze. Defrost overnight in fridge, heat in a stockpot on the stovetop and bring to a boil. Add shrimp; reduce heat to low and simmer until shrimp are cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Yield: about 1 1/2 cups per serving




9)Italian Meatballs--WW recipe (doubled)

*1 1/2 tsp regular butter
*1 1/2 tsp olive oil
*1 large uncooked onion(s), minced
*1 pound(s) uncooked lean ground beef
*1 large egg(s), beaten
*1 Tbsp parsley, fresh, finely minced (or 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning)
*3/4 tsp table salt
*1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
*1/4 cup(s) canned beef broth, or chicken broth
*1/4 cup(s) white wine (can sub chicken broth)

In a large skillet, melt butter and oil over medium heat. Add onions; cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to caramelize, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove onions to a large mixing bowl and add beef, egg, parsley (or Italian seasoning), salt and red pepper flakes; mix well to combine. With damp hands, roll forty-eight 1/2-inch meatballs. (the Pampered Chef small scoop made this part very easy, but it makes them larger so you will end up with around 36 meatballs instead of 48)


Place same skillet over medium-low heat. Add meatballs, broth and wine; simmer until cooked through, gently turning meatballs once during cooking, about 20 minutes.

Yield: 4 meatballs per serving



10)Italian Slow-Cooker Stew (quadrupled--took 4 crock pots)
*1 small uncooked onion(s), chopped
*1 clove(s) (medium) garlic clove(s), minced
*1 large uncooked zucchini, diced
*16 oz uncooked lean beef round, cut into 1-inch chunks, or 1 pound
*1/2 tsp dried oregano, crushed
*14 1/2 oz canned diced tomatoes, undrained
*1 Tbsp canned tomato paste
*3/4 cup(s) dry lentils
*4 cup(s) canned beef broth
*1 tsp table salt
*1/4 tsp black pepper
*1/4 cup(s) basil, fresh, slivered

Place all ingredients, except basil, in a 5-quart or larger slow cooker; stir well. Cook on LOW setting for 6 to 7 hours.


Remove cover; stir in basil. Cover and cook on LOW setting for 5 minutes more.

Yield: about 1 1/2 cups per serving.




And, here are a couple of marinades we've done. Mandi has used the BBQ Shrimp one over chicken and said it's delicious, and I'm dying to try the Orange Marmalade over pork or Salmon!!

1) Barbecue Shrimp (I double this recipe except for the shrimp, marinate the shrimp in half and reserve the other half either to dip, or we make quinoa and mix the sauce in with the quinoa, then peel the shrimp and toss that in, too. So, I basically made this x 8 for Mandi and me, but be sure to make them separately into quart-sized ziplocs or the oil won't blend well)

If preparing this to freeze, prepare just the marinade--do not freeze the shrimp with it.

*32 unpeeled jumbo shrimp (about 1 1/2 pounds)
*2 tablespoons olive oil
*1 tablespoon brown sugar
*1 tablespoon lemon juice
*1 tablespoon ketchup
*2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
*1 teaspoon chili powder
*1 teaspoon black pepper
*1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
*1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
*1/4 teaspoon salt
*1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
*1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
*2 garlic cloves, minced

Cooking spray

1. Devein shrimp by cutting a slit along the top edge of each shrimp and removing vein; leave shell intact. Place shrimp in a large bowl.

2. Combine oil and next 12 ingredients, stirring with a whisk. **If doubling, reserve half and pour half over shrimp.** Pour marinade over shrimp, tossing to coat. Cover and let stand 30 minutes.

**If serving over quinoa, cous-cous, or rice, prepare that while the shrimp marinate.

3. If using grill, prepare grill. (I use a grill pan on the stovetop and forgo the skewers. You could also just use a large skillet)

4. Thread shrimp onto 4 (12 inch) metal skewers. Place skewers on grill rack coated with cooking spray. Cook 3 minutes on each side or until shrimp are done. Remove from skewers, and serve immediately.


2)Spicy Orange Marmalade Glaze (quadrupled and froze the first 5 ingredients into quart-sized ziploc bags)--would also be good on pork, salmon, or shrimp!

*1/2 cup orange marmalade glaze
*2 scallions, chopped
*1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
*2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
*1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
*4 (4-ounce) skinless boneless chicken breasts
*1/2 teaspoon salt



1. Sprinkle salt on chicken and place in a baking pan.
2. Whisk together first 5 ingredients and brush half of marinade onto chicken.
3. Bake at 350 x 20 minutes or until cooked through, brushing marinade over chicken 1-2 times during cooking times.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It's been a while!

It's been almost a year since I've updated! Lots has happened (which leads into my list of excuses!) so stay tuned for some major updates in the days to come. Be sure to scroll all the way back to February 2011 so you don't miss anything :-)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ice, Sleet, and Snow!

Last night, we got a ton of rain, which froze and then turned to sleet. It piled up on the ground and looked just like snow until you tried to shovel it--HEAVY!! It gradually turned to snow, so we have a layer of sleet and ice with snow on top. Very dangerous. All schools are closed today, and likely will be tomorrow, too. It definitely makes for some beautiful pictures, though!!

One of our bushes encased in ice:

From Ice Storm


Our mailbox--the maillady had to break the seal to open it, so you can see how thick the ice is at the edge:

From Ice Storm


Here is a piece of ice from Scott's car. He was breaking it up and then sweeping it away. It's at least a quarter inch thick:

From Ice Storm


Our rhododendron:

From Ice Storm


My three munchkins all dressed up to play in the snow. Even Colin had a great time this time!! Previous excursions into the snow haven't been very successful with him!

From Ice Storm


Two biggest boys trying to stay warm:

From Ice Storm


William helping with the shoveling:

From Ice Storm


Check out the lack of footprints in the snow! The "snow" is really packed down sleet and ice. Very difficult to break up and get rid of--our neighbor used an ice pick! The snow plow only made some headway where the pipes run under the street and it was warmer so it could be broken up. The street in this picture has already been plowed:

From Ice Storm


I honestly thought I'd never say this, but after this winter, I'm about done with the cold weather and snow! Thank goodness we're on to warmer pastures for the next winter (although I'm sure when it's 80 outside in JANUARY I'll be wishing for a little ice and snow ;-) )!!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Updates.....

Big updates (again!) Start with the first November post & I promise not to be too wordy ;-) To be honest, I don't remember enough about that long ago to BE too wordy!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Seinfeld!

It was my friend Stacey's birthday & her husband got Seinfeld tickets. They invited Scott & me to go, so after William's party, we rushed home, pulled a few gifts out of their packages, changed clothes, and hurried off to dinner and then Seinfeld.

What a great night! Seinfeld was as funny as ever and we had a great time. Thanks so much, Petes for inviting us along :-)

From Seinfeld

The party!!

William's present was a bit delayed (translation: Mommy and Daddy didn't get it ordered quickly enough for it to be here ON his birthday, darn those close-to-Christmas birthdays!!), so it showed up earlier this week. Look at that HUUUUUGE smile:

From William party


He's been whipping around the block and cannot wait until the snow melts and it's a little warmer so he can ride it all the time!

Today was his party at Oro Partyland. It's basically a smaller, cleaner version of Chuck E. Cheese. He'd been talking about having a party there since September when we went to a party there for one of the boys in his class. Another mom and I teamed up since her little girl and William have very close BDs and they both wanted to have their party there. Thank goodness we got on the schedule when we did because today was the last day it was open. I guess their space has gotten a little small, so they're moving farther away and this location that is pretty close to us will be closed :-(

William wanted a train theme, but I couldn't find any generic trains, so back to Thomas it was! Ava had a My Little Pony theme:

From William party


From William party


There were lots of things to ride:

From William party


From William party


From William party


From William party


CHEESE!!!

From William party


From William party


Including bumper cars, which are William's absolute favorite!!

From William party


Party guests:

Luke Simmons:

From William party


Luke Bautz:

From William party


Will Bautz:

From William party


The Birthday Girl and Boy:

From William party


The Birthday boy and his cake:

From William party


He truly got some fabulous presents and couldn't wait to get home and open them all up. Thanks to everyone who was able to make it to his party!!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Playdates

William has a new best friend from school. He's been begging for Luke to come over for a playdate, so after the holidays, his mom and I finally got it all configured. Luke rode home from school with us, the boys had a snack, and then played Wii for an hour until his mom came to get him. Doesn't sound super-exciting, I know, but for two little kindergardeners, it was quite the afternoon!! They even made a foray into the backyard, but since there is still snow all over the ground and the temps are around 20 today, that didn't last long AT ALL! It took me more time to get them into snow gear than they spent outside :-)

From January 2011


Now, the begging has started for a sleepover......sigh!