Wednesday, December 14, 2011
As far as holiday prep goes, my shopping is done, baking is done, wrapping is started and Christmas cards are almost done. Not bad for December 14.
Thank goodness I had my meal plan to make it through! Knowing in advance when your holiday parties are can help determine what meals to make which nights. Do as much prep the night before or in the morning. Make it as easy as you can for yourself. Is there anything worse than looking in the fridge after a long day of being at the mall & dealing with winter traffic, and trying to decide "What's for dinner"? Chances are we'll make a poor choice: Fast Food or convenience foods. Make the dinner decision long before heading to the mall. Ordering a pizza is great, don't get me wrong. I love a good pie. But, it's when we rely on these types of meals on a regular basis that we need some help, or at least a plan.
So, the question remains...
What's for Dinner tonight?
As I mentioned earlier, tonight is my son, Danny's Holiday concert. It starts at 7:00, but the school opens at 6:15. I'm planning to be there early to get a good seat, and save a couple for grandparents - not to mention, parking becomes an issue quite quickly. So we have to have homework done, shower, dinner, concert clothes on etc long before the concert starts. So, we are having quite a simple meal...
(1) Baked chicken thighs (because they cook faster)
(2) Left over rice (I cooked extra a couple nights ago)
(3) Tossed salad, which I made this morning
Easy Baked Chicken Thighs
8 skinless boneless chicken thighs
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 C ground flaxseeds (optional)
2-3 tbsp favourite spice blend (I like Montreal Chicken Spice)
salt a pepper to taste
If you want you can cut the thighs into pieces to make chicken fingers, but not necessary.
Place breadcrunbs, flaxseeds and spices onto a plate. Coat each piece of chicken with the coating and place on a baking sheet lined with foil (for easy clean up) Drizzle with olive oil to help make them crispy.
Bake at 350F for 15 minutes or so (depends on the size of the chicken), until the chicken is cooked through. Serve with a dipping sauce is desired.
This meal is healthy, easy, quick and is kid and parent approved.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Chicken soup can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. All you need is some basics. So, put down that can opener and pick up your knife; because soup's on!
You can do this in either a slow cooker (my preference) or large stock pot.
First you want to start with you aromatic vegetables: onion, celery and carrot. You want roughly the same amount of each, but I tend to be light on the onion and heavy on the celery. You want to cook them slightly in a little oil. Once the onions have softened, add a clove or two of minced garlic. Cook the garlic a little and stir to keep from burning.
Next you add your chicken stock, about 1 litre (4 cups). Stock in a box is fine. I use the low sodium so I can control the amount of salt I put in. And add some herbs, whatever you like, really. Bay leaf is traditional, but parlsey, basil, oregano, marjorum, sage will all work too. You also want to check for salt and pepper. Now would be the time to add some other harder vegetables, like parsnips or even cabbage. Don't forget the chicken! About 2 cups cooked chicken should do. Dice it, shred it - whatever you want.
Bring the soup to a boil and let it simmer. In a slow cooker, turn on low and let it go.
Once the carrots and other hard vegetables are cooked you can add the rest, that is; softer vegetables: bell peppers, zucchini etc and your grain or noodle. You can use a short cut pasta, egg noodles, rice or barley. Don't add too much, especially with rice or barley. You'll end up with stew. 1/2 cup should be plenty. Noodles you can add a bit more.
Now that the grain or noodles are cooked, you are ready to serve. Finish off with some fresh herbs and a squeeze of lemon juice and voila. A healthly bowl of chicken soup that feeds you, body and soul.
Experiment with chicken soup - you may never open a can again.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Now, I was on holidays for the last little bit, and I don't want to go grocery shopping until tomorrow when the boys are in school, especially since we now have a blanket of snow on the ground. So using up what I had on hand, I came up with a creative solution that could also pass as a light dinner when paired with a salad. In fact, this dish is so versatile, you can make it as an appetizer for the big game.
A couple years ago, I came up with pizza quesadilla (tortillas, pizza sauce, mozza and pepperoni) but today I came up with a couple more combinations.
Ham and Cheese Quesadillas:
tortilla, diced ham, diced green peppers, shredded cheese, honey mustard sauce
On one half of the tortilla, place ham, peppers and cheese. On the other half spread the honey mustard sauce. Fold in half and place in a hot pan. Turn when tortilla starts to brown.
Texas Chicken Quesadillas:
tortilla, bbq sauce, diced cooked chicken, diced cooked bacon, diced red peppers, diced green peppers, diced jalapeno peppers, diced tomatoes, shredded cheese.
Spread bbq sauce over the whole tortilla. On half place the remaining ingredients. Fold and place in a pan. Turn when tortilla starts to brown.
This week my oldest son, Danny is staying of lunch for his choir practice, which also happens to be the day his class has access to a microwave. Place the cooked quesadilla in a microwave safe container and at lunch heat it for about 30 seconds.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
When planning your weekly menu, think of some ways to prepare a step or two ahead of the day you need it. When baking or preparing for a dinner party, I call this "cooking in stages". I found this particularly useful when there are small kids running around. Who has time to make a whole batch of cookies? When baking something like cookies, one day I would make the batter. It would probably end up in the fridge while cleaned up, I picked up the kids from school, and did a couple loads of laundry. When I had another 8-10 minutes, I could scoop up enough cookie dough for what I wanted at the time, maybe a dozen. The rest goes in the freezer until the next cookie craving. To freeze the cookie dough, there are several options. You can scoop them into balls, freeze them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment and place the frozen cookie dough balls into a freezer bag. You can put all the cookie dough into a tub or freezer bag, or lastly, roll into a roll and slice off what you need when you need it.
You can apply this "cooking in stages" method to everyday cooking as well. You can prepare a step or two in advance to make dinner a piece of cake... or cookie.
For example, today is pasta Thursday. (Not all pasta is on Thursdays and not all Thursdays have pasta, it just worked out that way this week) The package of ground beef I used was almost 2 pounds. That is more than my family needs in one meal. I could have cooked half and frozen the rest, or wrapped it tightly for the next day, but I opted to cook the whole thing. Once the ground beef was cooked, I removed half of it and placed it in a container in the fridge, labelled "Taco Friday". So, tomorrow's dinner starts with the ground beef already cooked.
So, what's for dinner tonight?
Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
This is pretty standard I think. Everyone has their own version; but before I give you mine let me say this... all tomato sauce is NOT created equal. Read your labels, people!! Pick up a jar labelled "Pasta Sauce" verses one that sauce "Tomato Sauce". The one labelled "Pasta Sauce" has sugar and salt and who knows what else. "Tomato Sauce" is just that. Tomatoes.. maybe some water. So, if you are watching sodium and/or sugar make sure you are getting the real thing.
Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
1 onion, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 lb ground beef (I use lean or extra lean)
1 large jar tomato sauce
1 small jar tomato paste
1/4 - 1/2 C wine (I use marsala, but any will do)
2 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp dried basil
2 tbsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried marjorum
red pepper flakes to taste
salt and pepper to taste
1 package spaghetti - whole wheat
Heat the oil in a large pot, add onions and garlic. When they have softened, add the beef. Ass it cooks, break it into small pieces with a spoon or spatula. Once the beef is cooked, add everything else. Give it a stir. Bring it to a boil and reduce the heat. Let it simmer for as long as you can. (This can also be done in a slow cooker)
Prepare pasta according to package directions.
Drain pasta and serve with sauce.
By the way, if you have any extra sauce put it in the (you guessed it) freezer. Place it in a resealable freezer bag, remove the air and lay it flat in the freezer. Next week, your sauce is already done. (Don't forget to label it)
Sunday, November 6, 2011
I decided to do my grocery shopping today will Jack, my youngest was at a birthday party. That way I could also take advantage of the bonus points offered for the weekend only. I prefer not to shop on the weekend, as I do have an option. It's alot busier Sunday afternoon that it is Monday morning. So, last night I took my calendar and store flyers to decide on my week of dinners. Football season is now over that's two nights a week that have temporarily freed up.
Another thing to account for when making a mealplan division of labour. What time do you and your partner get home. Can someone start dinner before the other gets home? If one person cooks, does the other clean up? Are their older children that can participate? All of this is more specific to each family. In my case, my children are too small to cook, but will help set the table and will usually clear their plates. My husband's schedule is variable. He will usually tell me on a day-to-day basis whether or not he will be home. Sometimes that changes what's for dinner, sometimes it doesn't. He will always have a plate to heat up when he gets home, and leftovers make it into his lunch for the next day. If I have more leftovers than that, I will freeze them in lunch size portions and label them. I pull them out of the freezer the night before he needs them for lunch.
So, what's for dinner tonight?
Slow cooker roast chicken, rice and salad.
I wanted to make another whole chicken for two reasons. One: I like the idea of having a Sunday Dinner. A roast or whole chicken where the leftovers can be used for sandwiches and such. And two: I'm planning a homemade soup later in the week, and I wanted the leftover chicken. Hmmm, maybe that's the same reason.
Regardless, I place the chicken in the slow cooker and turned it on high. I added a little water, lemon juice and Greek seasoning. I let it go for 4-6 hours. I'll them put it in the oven for 20 minutes or so to crisp the skin. I used the same Ginseng fed chicken I did last week. Ginseng is an antioxidant believed to help metabolize carbohydrates.
Now that shoulf get us on the right foot for another busy week.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
You may recall in the last post that I made pumpkin puree out of our Jack-o-lanterns. Tonight we are including that in dinner. I had 3 carved pumpkins this year, (two were quite small) which gave me about 3 1/2 cups of puree. What I don't use tonight, I will place in freezer bags and freeze them for a later purpose. Lay them flat in the freezer so they will thaw faster later.
My shortcut tip for today is about bacon - and who doesn't love bacon. I started doing this at Christmas time, because our tradition is that everyone comes to our house for brunch on Christmas Morning. I would precook the bacon a few days before and place in the fridge. I reheat it in the microwave for brunch. Now, I can take it a little bit further and put it in the freezer. I placed pieces of wax paper between each layer (about 6 pieces) of bacon. This is along the same lines as the precooked bacon you can buy in the store, but at a fraction of the price. With my container of cooked bacon in the freezer, I can take out what I need for a recipe or a quick breakfast. Just reheat it in the microwave for about 1 minutes. (Depends on the microwave)
So, what's for dinner?
Tonight's dinner is brought to us by Rachael Ray can be found in her Yum-O Cookbook and foodnetwork.com
Penne-Wise Pumpkin Pasta
1 pound whole-wheat penne
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 shallots, finely chopped
3 to 4 cloves garlic, grated
2 cups chicken stock
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup cream
1 teaspoon hot sauce, to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
2 pinches ground cinnamon
Salt and black pepper
7 to 8 leaves fresh sage, thinly sliced plus more, for garnish
Heat water for pasta, salt it and cook penne to al dente.
Heat the oil, 2 turns of the pan, over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic to the pan, saute 3 minutes. Stir in chicken stock and combine with pumpkin, stir in cream then season sauce with hot sauce, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer 5 to 6 minutes more to thicken. Stir in sage, toss with pasta with grated cheese, to taste.
As a note, when using the fresh pumpkin puree, you may require less chicken stock. The fresh stuff has a lot more liquid in it.
This is the first time I'm attempting this, but expect great things. But what will make it so great? Why not sprinkle some of that chopped bacon on the top? Now that's YUM-O.
Pumpkin Pasta: It's easy, delicious and inexpensive. It's a dinner trifecta!
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
For dinner, I planned something I could make earlier in the day (or could be night before, for those working folks). I made something I call "Taco Pie". Which is a baked crescent roll crust with seasoned ground chicken and cheese, baked and topped with lettuce, tomatoes and hot sauce. A favourite in our house.
Now, if you're like me, you hate to waste things. So what to do with that Jack-o-lantern? If it hasn't been carved for too long, it is perfectly edible! Don't waste it. Use it for your pies, cakes and breads. Ther is lots of fibre and antioxidants in pumpkin.
1. Cut the pumkpin into big chunks. Trim any part that was exposed to air for a long period of time. (like where the scary face was)
2. Line a baking sheet with foil. Place pumkpin on the baking sheet and place another sheet of foil on top.
3. Bake at 325 for 45 - 60 minutes, until fresh of the pumpkin in soft.
4. Remove the fresh from the skin of the pumpkin and mash with a fork, or place in a food processor.
5. Drain excess liquid. Keep in the fridge (in a resealable container) or in the freezer.
I've tried a few different ways in the past, but this was the easiest and least messy.
Of course, you can roast the pumpkin seeds as well. Rinse them first and let them dry for at least 24 hours. Drizzle with a little oil and whatever seasoning you like. (We like chipotle) Bake at 350F until done (maybe 20 minutes or so)
The lesson in this week's mealplan is about cost. This is the next consideration when making a mealplan, at least for me. Look at the store flyers to check out any sales and match with any coupons I may have. I go to the freezer to see what I already have.
So this week, we have Halloween, football practice, football games and swimming lessons. I have the turkey meatballs in the freezer I made last week, and I have a fresh batch of pumpkin puree.
So, what's for dinner tonight?
Slow Cooker turkey meatballs
This is like Thanksgiving dinner with out the fuss, and the good china. I made the meatballs last week when the ground turkey was on sale and place them in the slow cooker with carrots, onion, and potatoes. Add a packet of turkey gravy and some chicken broth and let it go. Half an hour before serving add some green peas. That's it.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
It was a cold autumn afternoon at the football field. Many parents, siblings and grandparents huddled in blankets while the players huddled on the field. We arrived home just before 4:00. It's a good thing we have a plan for dinner.
So, what's for dinner tonight?
Sweet Mustard Pork Chops, Rice and Corn
The rice and corn are a given because it's my husband's favourite, but the recipe for the pork chops came from my sister-in-law many years ago.
1/4 C brown sugar
3 tbsp mustard (I use dijon)
1 tbsp lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350F. Season pork with salt and pepper. Place in a baking dish lined with foil.
Mix together brown sugar, mustard and lemon juice. Pour over pork chops. Bake for 30-35 minutes.
For those keeping track, yesterday I made Chicken Chili Verde which is what I used the chicken for from the roast on Sunday.
Now it's time to start the next meal plan. Let's see what it has in store for us.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
After dropping my son, Danny off at school, I did a little Christmas shopping at the home improvement store. They didn't have the main thing I was looking for, but ended up with some good deals none the less. (Including a Cuisinart Chef Knife for $7... score!) I picked up some pictures I had developed. (I needed them for tonight's Beaver meeting)
Jack and I came home. I cleaned up what was left of breakfast, made the beds, did some laundry and knocked 3 or 4 things off my to-do list. I prepped the craft for tonight's Halloween Beaver meeting (spiders made from egg cartons), prepped Jack's school book order, finished the name tags for the newly inducted Beavers, canvassed the neighbourhood for the Canadian Diabetes Association, and put the Christmas lights in the garden. As it turns out, the 10 replacement bulbs weren't enough to finish the garden lights, so have to make another trip to the home improvement store... but not today.
Now, almost dinner time and the question remains...
So, what's for dinner?
Danny's Favourite White Fish
This really couldn't be easier. I've defrosted some sole fillets. I'll season some flour with a little salt, a lot of pepper and some paprika and parsley. I'll dredge both sides in the flour and brown it in a skillet with a touch of canola oil. I'll serve it with some rice and a salad.
Both my kids LOVE this dish and ask for it by name.
This morning, Danny told me this was the best day because...
1. He got to stay for lunch
2. He had choir practice
3. He has a Halloween party (with snacks)
4. He got to wear his Harry Potter costume
5. White fish for dinner
So I shall continue on my list diminishing journey for the day is NOT over yet. But I have to agree with my son. It was a great day!
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
The first time is after Christmas. You are so tied of shopping, and spending money and you just can't take another bite of leftover turkey. You can take those pork chops or lasagna and make a feast, or at least it feels like it.
The second time, is when we close up the cottage for the winter. We'll have some odds and ends that will end up in the freezer. Two or three packages of hot dogs, a lone chicken breast maybe even a piece of salmon.
So this is where we are at today. This morning I spent some quality time Christmas shopping, and this afternoon was in the kitchen prepping the ground turkey for next week's turkey meatballs (now in the freezer) and Pumpkin Snack Cake with Cream Cheese Icing for tomorrow's Halloween party at Scouts. (I found the pumpkin... in the freezer) So, yes, I am the Freezer Queen!
So, what's for dinner tonight?
Cheeseburger, oven fries and salad.
Simple yet important because it will use up many of the hamburger buns brought back from the cottage.
Now, being the reigning queen of the freezer, I've learned a trick or two. One of the best tips I can give is: when using freezer bags to preserve your food, freeze it so it is FLAT. Why? It thaws faster. I use this mostly for ground meats and marinating but also works for things like pumpkin puree. Save what is left from making Pumpkin Muffins in the freezer. Don't let it go to waste. Oh yes - don't forget to label it.
So I send you to go forth and dig to the depths of the freezer, past the shortbread from last Christmas and find a buried treasure.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
This afternoon, got away from me a bit too. I cleaned up from lunch, did a little laundry and work on the computer, all of a sudden it's 3:30. So all in all, not too much going on.
Today's dinner is a recipe I found in a Taste of Home magazine many, many years ago. We hadn't add it in a while so thought it would be nice to dig it out again.
So, what's for dinner tonight?
Shrimp & Vegetable Stir Fry
This one is simple even as far as stir fries go. I took the shrimp out of the freeze this morning and removed the tails once they were mostly thawed. Very important. The first time I made this, I didn't remove the tails and we spent half the meal picking them off. Not very graceful.
I did change the vegetables a bit to use what I had, and also built on the Italian side of the dish. Italian side? Yup - The main ingredient in the sauce is Italian salad dressing. Great shortcut!
Here's the original...
1/3 C Italian Dressing
4 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp oil
1 carrot, julienned
1/2 C fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/2 yellow pepper
1/2 red pepper
1 lb shrimp
Mix dressing, soy sauce and ginger in a small bowl. Set aside.
In a wok, heat the oil. Add the carrots and mushrooms for 5 minutes. Stir in remaining vegetables. Cook for 5 - 7 minutes or until tender-crisp. Add the shrimp and sauce. Cook until shrimp turns pink.
Serve over rice
Change the vegetables to
1 green pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1/2 fennel bulb chopped
red pepper flakes are optional
Sauce was the same
There is a similar one on the Kraft Canada wesbite. Search sizzling shrimp stir fry on kraftcanada.com
Monday, October 24, 2011
Well, things didn't turn out today as I expected. Our activities were light today, so I had planned Breaded Baked Chicken Breasts, Rice and Steamed Brocolli.
Today is Monday, which is generally the day I do my grocery shopping. My youngest has school this morning so I usually take the opportunity to go to the grocery store unemcumbered. BUT today was the day I was to sort out the book order for his school. A job that I thought would take 30 minutes, actually took 60. This definately cut into my shopping time. So my shopping was rushed, but managed to pick both boys up on time.
We had such a beautiful day today - unseasonable for October, that I changed my breaded chicken to grilled chicken. Yes - barbequeing in October! Glorious! Except, of course, for running out of propane half way through cooking. DOH! No problem - I finished the cooking in the oven. Which goes to show, that it is good to have a plan, but always be flexible.
So, what for dinner tonight?
Grilled (sort of) Chile-Lime Chicken
Marinate chicken in:
3-4 tbsp oil (I use canola)
1/4 C fresh cilantro
zest of 1 lime + 4 tbsp juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ancho chile powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
cayenne pepper to taste
pinch of salt and pepper
Allow to marinate at least 30 minutes. Grill on medium-high heat for 7-10 minutes per side, or until juices run clear. Allow to rest a few minutes before serving.
My biggest time saving tip for marinating takes a little forethought. I do this all the time in the summer when we head to the lake. I freeze the meat in the marinade. For example, for this recipe I would take 3-4 chicken breasts and place them in a medium-sized freezer bag and pour in the marinade. Seal the bad, label it and freeze. On the day you want to serve it, thaw it (I usually take it out that morning). The meat marinates as it thaws! This way, I can have all our favourite marinades without carrying all the ingredients back and forth. Trust me, it works!
You can use any store bought marinade as well, but why when this is so easy!
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Well, it's Sunday and the end of another busy week. This also means for me, time to start next week's meal plan.
The first thing I consider when making a meal plan is time. What activities do we have on a particular evening? How much time do I have to prepare during the day, or in some cases, the night before. I know next week, the kids have activities Tuesday morning, Wednesday and Thursday nights and sometime on Saturday which hasn't been annouced yet.
One of the meals I plan to make next week requires leftover cooked chicken.
So, what's for dinner tonight?
Slow Cooker Roast Chicken & Roasted Root Vegetables
I have a fryer chicken in the freezer and a few potatoes, carrots and turnip left from the stew I made this week. The chicken I bought is something new from a local producer, it's a Ginseng Fed chicken.
The best way, that I found to cook a whole chicken in the slow cooker is a two-step process. First, cook the chicken on high 4-5 hours in the slow cooker. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and add a little water in the bottom. Second, to crisp up the skin, remove the chicken from the slow cooker and place on a baking sheet lined with foil (for easy clean up) rub with a little butter and whatever herbs you like. We like sage, parsley and summer savoury. Bake at 350F for about 20-25 minutes.
After dinner, I'll remove the remaining meat from the bird and place in a resealable container in the fridge so I can use it later in the week.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Hello and welcome.
You've heard it a hundred time... "Hey Mom! What's for dinner?" and I'm here to help answer that question.
I'm a busy mom, just like all the other moms. I have 2 small boys, a husband, a house and all the joys that go with it (grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry). I drive the kids back and forth from school, swimming lessons, soccer, football, piano lessons, homework. Just a regular mom.
I have to tell you, what makes my life easier when it comes to answering that eternal question "What's for dinner?" is having a plan.
Nowadays, it's easy to grab a processed pre-prepared meal or hit the drive thru on the way home from work, but I'm here to tell you it doesn't have to be that way. You can make healthy meals at home for a fraction of the cost and all it takes is a plan. Now, I have been know on occasion to "make" chicken fingers, or grab a frozen pizza from the freezer. But this is an exception rather than the rule.
As part of this blog, not only will I share my own meal plan and the recipes I use, but will share tips on creating a meal plan for your own family. Say good bye to the teenager in the drive-thru and the frozen TV dinners. You won't be seeing them for a while.
So what's for dinner tonight? Chicken Fajitas
Now, in the summertime I do make by own fajitas, where I marinate the meat, grill it and grill the vegetables. Well, it's October and my oldest son has a football game that will end at 5:30. So, I'm using a shortcut. It may seem contradictary to use a fajita kit and reducing the amount of pre-processed meals. To that, I have 2 answers. Number one: I won't really classify it as a pre-processed meal, as I am adding all my own meat and vegetables. Number two: I am a great believe in the 80/20 rule. If we do the right thing 80% of the time, then the other 20% we can be a little bad. (Just a little)
Now, because we won't be home until 6:00; and my boys (being 7 & 4) go to bed fairly early, I want as much of the prep done before we leave for the football field. I will grate the cheese, slice the vegetables, even slice the meat. If I have time, I may even make my Jalapeno Pesto.
When we get home, all we have to do is heat everything up in a skillet and eat.
In a food processor, add
1 bunch fresh cilanto
1 clove of garlic
1 jalapeno pepper
1 tbsp lime juice
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Buzz the mixture for a few seconds, and while the food processor is running drizzle in about 1/4 c of olive oil, or enough to reach your desired consistacy.
Scoop the pesto into a mason jar or small resealable container. This will keep in the fridge for at least a couple weeks. It is great on steaks, steak sandwiches, burgers and of course, fajitas!