12 Meals in 1 Afternoon

After moping around the house panicking over what in the world I’m going to do in the month of November with all the insanity about to take place with packing up the current house and trying to finish building the new house before we have to move in four weeks plus care for three active little boys… oh yeah, and middle boy has surgery on the 13th…, I was given a piece of inspiration.  My wonderful friends sent me instant FB messages letting me know they were available to help watch the boys on certain weekends and one volunteered to bring us a frozen casserole to use for when we needed it most.  GENIOUS!!!

Goodness, why hadn’t I thought of freezer meals before now?!?!?!  By the way, Vonda, you are truly my hero. 🙂  So with the thought of using the last of my free days to prepare for the onslaught, I took advantage of the boys’ nap time and planted myself in the kitchen with the goal of creating as many freezer meals as possible with the ingredients I already had inside the house.

I ended up with…

While the bread was rising the first time I pulled out all my ingredients from the freezer.  The only thing I actually didn’t make that day was the pepper steak because I had made a huge batch of it Sunday for a church pot luck and had set some aside to use for a different meal later in the week.  However, we had plenty of pepper steak and rice left over from the pot luck, so I was just going to freeze the remainder of the sauce.  Pepper steak is a great recipe to throw together in the morning and just let it cook down on low all day.  The longer the better since the meat becomes more tender the longer it cooks.

Here is a list of main ingredients I used for all the meals:

  • (4) bell peppers
  • (1 C.) onion, diced
  • (1) can mushrooms
  • (1) can black olives
  • (2) lbs. Italian sausage
  • (1) lb. elbow noodles
  • (1/2) lb. breakfast sausage
  • (1) lb. stew meat
  • (1) can diced or stewed tomatoes
  • (2 C.) cooked cubed or shredded chicken
  • full recipe of homemade flour tortillas
  • (12) eggs
  • (4 C.) mozzarella cheese
  • (4 C.) cheddar cheese
  • (2 C.) black & red beans [I used the ones I had frozen but it is the same as one can black beans, drained]
  • (1) pkg. cream cheese

Let’s see…the only things I had to actually cook to make all the meals were the stew meat, Italian sausage, tortilla shells and eggs.  Everything else had already been prepared and frozen in advance.  Love that!!!

I started my water boiling for the noodles and put the Italian sausage in a pan to fry up with onion and bell pepper.  While that was cooking on the stove, I began to defrost the beans, chicken and breakfast sausage in the microwave.

Finished the pizza casseroles and got to work on the layered enchilada casserole.  The bulk of my time ended up being used to make a fresh batch of tortilla shells.  Worth the effort since they taste so much better than the store-bought stuff and were nice and soft making them easy to fold. 

With the tortillas finished and resting under a cloth towel, I mixed together the chicken, softened cream cheese, beans and salsa (that was a deviation from the original recipe).  Put together the layers inside the 8×8 pan and wrapped it all up. 

Next, with the tortillas still warm and soft, I scrambled up my dozen farm-fresh eggs.  Placed my thawed breakfast sausage inside with the eggs to combine.  Then I tore enough pieces of wax paper for each burrito and placed a tortilla on each piece before filling.  After filled with the egg mixture and cheddar cheese, I wrapped each one individually inside a piece of wax paper then placed in a gallon freezer bag.

Switched the bread over to loaf pans for the final rising.

There you have it!  Each of these meals will make a minimum of two meals (one main meal and left over lunch).  Here is the recipe for the pizza casserole.  I’ve added links above for the rest of the recipes used.

Zesty Pizza Casserole – by Meals in Minutes

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 lb. ground beef                                 
  • ½ tsp. oregano
  • ½ C. onion, chopped                           
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • ½ C. green pepper, chopped               
  • ½ tsp. basil
  • 2 16-oz cans pizza sauce                     
  • 2 C. prepared elbow macaroni
  • 4-oz. can mushrooms, drained             
  • ¾ C. shredded mozzarella
  • 4-oz. pkg. sliced pepperoni
  • ½ tsp. salt

 DIRECTIONS:  Brown ground beef with onion and green pepper; add remaining ingredients except for the mozzarella. Pour into a lightly greased 9×13 dish; sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes. Makes 4-6 servings.

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Chocolate Banana Bread

I’ve been feeling guilty lately for all the baking I’ve been doing since I still want to lose more weight.  My baking ban was lifted by Tim when I reached my first goal of 15 pounds, but I don’t want to lose my momentum and end up gaining any of it back after working to lose it all simply by going back to eating things I shouldn’t.

However, in the back of my brain I’ve been justifying my actions by reminding myself that when comparing a packaged toaster pastry to a slice of homemade banana bread, the homemade bread is still much healthier.  Not the “healthiest” – just “healthier.” 🙂  It’s all about baby steps, baby steps…

Banana breads are great to bake up one day and place in the freezer for future breakfasts when you are short on time.  This is a wonderful way of helping you curb that desire to pop upon those pre-packaged bad boys you have hidden inside your pantry or to run through a drive-thru. 

Another reason banana bread is so practical for our family is – well let’s face it – much cheaper.  Have you noticed the spike in fresh banana prices lately?  In just the past two weeks bananas went from $0.52/lb. to $0.79/lb.  We all dearly love fresh bananas but not at THAT price.  Gulp!  Instead, I’ve been curbing the family’s banana cravings by purchasing the $0.39/lb. over-ripe ones found in the discounted produce section at the store.  You know, the ones that are already really brown and mushy?  Not so great for eating as is but WONDERFUL to use in baking.  You can even freeze these bananas whole.  Just remove the peels, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, place in a freezer zipper bag and place inside your freezer until you need them.  So the next time you see a bunch of discounted, brown bananas SNATCH THOSE BABIES UP!!!  Your family and wallet will thank you later. 🙂

So enough rambling… Here is the recipe for a great chocolate banana bread that tastes sooooo yummy whether you are eating it fresh or after pulling from your freezer and thawing.  You can find the original recipe plus a Youtube video over at JoyofBaking.com.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 3/4 C. flour
  • 1/4 C. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 C. sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 C. chocolate chips
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 C. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed well
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a medium-sized bowl combine the mashed bananas, eggs, melted butter and vanilla.  With a rubber spatula or spoon, lightly fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined and batter is thick and chunky.

Fold in the chocolate chips.

Spray and flour one 9x5x3 inch loaf pan and fill with batter.  Place pan inside a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 55-65 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean),

Place on a wire rack to cool and then remove the bread from the pan.  Serve warm or let cool, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in a freezer zipper bag and place inside the freezer to be used at a later time.

Enjoy! 🙂

Preparing Dried Beans

The other day I picked up a package of sausage on the manager markdown for $1.50 and decided it would be perfect in a beans and rice dish.  I had yet to experiment with any type of “bean” recipe unless you count chili or soups and since my mother-in-law had given me several bags of dried beans to use recently, I decided I had enough incentive to dig around for some new recipes.

Although using canned beans is extremely convenient and quick when throwing dinner together in a pinch, it does hit your wallet pretty deep over time.  One pound of dried beans cost around $1 each.  This is roughly the equivalent of 4 15-ounce canned beans which cost anywhere from $0.75-1.00 each.  So one bag of cooked beans would save you approximately $2-3.  If you continued to replace four cans of beans with dried beans every week you would save $104-156/year!  That’s crazy!!!  With the way all the grocery prices are going up, I’m sure your savings will actually increase over time.  It is worth the extra little effort in order to save the family more money and cut out all that extra sodium you get when eating the canned beans.

*NOTE:  I cooked a total of 4 pounds of beans and ended up getting exactly 20 C. equal to 10 15-ounce cans.  The calculations above are if 1 pound equals 4 cups.  Mine only made 2.5 cups per pound, but it still means I saved $7.50-10.00 total since the beans were given to me at no cost.  At cost I still would have saved $3.50-6.00. 🙂

Here’s how to prepare your beans for the freezer instead of relying on the convenient canned variety…

1)  Rinse and pick your beans.  You will need to remove any pieces of gravel, grit or even rotten beans from the bunch. (I found the most pieces of gravel in the black beans!)   After you’ve done that, place beans inside a colander and rinse all the processing dust off of them.

2)  Quick Soak.  Bring beans to a boil for 4-5 minutes, then let soak, covered, for 1 hour.  This cooking time will make them more tender when you get them out of the freezer.  Kidney beans need to boil for a minimum of 5 minutes to kill naturally occurring toxins!  Use plenty of water and DON’T add salt!

3)  Drain beans.  After soaking the water will probably take on the color of whatever bean you are cooking.  Remove all the beans that float to the surface then drain water.

4)  Package in quart-sized freezer bags.  One 15-ounce can of beans contains approximately 2 C. of beans.

5)  Put your beans in the freezer.  Try to lay them flat, so they’ll stack easily and also so they’ll break up easily when you want to get them out of the bag.

6)  When it’s time for a meal – use the frozen beans just like the canned beans.

Fabric Dollhouse

First off let me reiterate that I am NOT the best seamstress in the world.  I believe I would rank myself in the range of extreme beginner when it comes to reading patterns and putting all the pieces together so they fit properly.  Haha!  Well, practice makes perfect so I am just going to keep on practicing. 🙂

I hope you enjoy this little creation I found over at UK Lass in US.  What a fun craft and oh the abundance of different projects you could do with this one idea!  She has printable step-by-step instructions available on her site.

Although mine didn’t turn out like the creator’s doll house, I still believe a certain special little lady is going to enjoy playing with it especially when it will be filled with little fabric dolls. 🙂  Can’t wait to see her expression!

Pumpkin Puree

After yesterday’s pumpkin patch outing and experimenting with a new method of preparing pumpkins for homemade puree, I knew I would have to blog about it because the savings and benefits are quite vast!

For starters, I ended up getting three medium-sized pumpkins from the pumpkin patch for an additional $2.  It turned out that the group rate included a free pumpkin for each of the boys.  Yippee! 🙂  Instead of making dreaded Halloween jack-o-lanterns with those precious gourds, I instructed E to pick the nicest ones he could find so we could make breads, pies and cookies out of them.

E got a kick out of actually picking the pumpkins right off the vines then helping me prepare them once we got home.  We even had enough time to use two cups of the fresh puree to make two loaves of pumpkin bread for breakfast the next morning.

While at the store today picking up a few needed items for the week, I picked up two more pie pumpkins for a total of $2.98.  In the end, I paid a total of $4.98 for 5 pumpkins and made 24 cups of puree equal to 12 cans of pumpkin at the store.  Based on the average cost of $1.79/can that is the equivalent of $21.48 w/o tax.  So I not only ended up getting my 12 cans worth of pumpkin to use in baking, but I also saved $16.50!

Here’s how you too can accomplish this feat….

Lay out your needed tools.

Cut your pumpkins in half.

Use a heavy spoon or ice cream scoop to remove the seeds and strings from the insides of the pumpkin halves.

Place skin-side down on a cookie sheet and fill the pan half way with water.

Cover with foil to keep tops from burning.  Place inside a preheated oven at 350 degrees and bake for approximately one hour (longer if needed).  You know they are done when it is the texture of a baked potato when poking with a fork.

Remove tray from oven and let pumpkins cool for a few minutes before using a spoon to scrape out the insides.

Place the pumpkin pulp inside a blender and add a little water.  Blend until smooth.

Pour the blended mixture into a large bowl until all of the pumpkin batches have been pureed.  Use a measuring cup (preferably 1 C. for size) and pour into freezer zipper bags in either 1 or 2-cup quantities.

The finished result! (5 medium pumpkins = 24 cups puree) *2 C. not shown since I used it to bake two loaves of bread. 🙂

When getting ready to put inside the freezer, place the bags on a small cookie sheet so they will freeze flat without falling through the gaps in the freezer shelves.  This will make them easier to store inside the freezer once frozen since they will stand up like file folders.

Chicken Teriyaki Stir Fry with Squash and Zucchini

Here’s another great recipe I discovered today to utilize those summer garden veggies I have stashed in my freezer.  I loved the fact that there wasn’t a whole lot of prep to this recipe and it made quite a bit.  Yay for leftovers! 🙂

You can check out the original recipe over at http://caloriecount.about.com/chicken-teriyaki-squash-zucchini-recipe-r724408.  As usual I made my own alterations to the recipe. 🙂

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 1 medium onion, cut into strips
  • 1 T. onion oil
  • 3 C. yellow squash
  • 3 C. zucchini
  • 1 C. soy sauce
  • 1/4 C. water
  • Corn starch
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. minced garlic

DIRECTIONS:

Cut chicken breasts up into either slim slices or 1-inch cubes.  Chop up the squash and zucchini into shape that you like. (Mine were already diced and frozen.)  Place onion, olive oil, garlic and chicken into a stir fry skillet or 10-inch non-stick skillet on medium to medium-high heat.  Stir these around until chicken is no longer pink and the onion has softened some.  Drain the juice from the chicken and add the squash, zucchini, soy sauce and water.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Stir this around on medium heat until the veggies are warmed well but still firm.  Thicken sauce with corn starch.  Serve over rice or small shell pasta.

Served mine over rice with a spinach, avocado and tomato salad with olive oil and red wine vinegar and Greek seasoning for the dressing.  Yumm-O!!!