Friday, January 29, 2010

Once A Month Cooking Plan

This weekend I embark on my once a month cooking adventure! After eating from our pantry and freezer for a month, I'm ready to fill them back up! My list is pretty ambitious, I won't lie. I may not get to it all (compounded by the fact that as of today I have a sick little baby to take into account).

I know the key to my success is to plan ahead, so my first half is actually prep work! I have decided to admit defeat and realize that while I'd like to make from scratch as much as possible, I do plan on purchasing a large package of tortillas at the store tomorrow. Originally on my to-do list, I simply don't have the time to make them. I think it's important to realize that, like balancing family time, cooking isn't an all or nothing thing. Sometimes holding a snotty little baby is more important than slaving over a rolling pin.

One of the things I'm doing differently this time is to specifically make lunch items for both me and Mike. This should make it easier to not only pack his lunch, but make sure that I'm eating nutritiously during the day, too, something I definitely need to work on.

Prep Day #1 (completed this past Tuesday & Friday)

Cook & shred 4 lbs chicken

Cook & shred 3 lbs pork

Bake sandwich bread (4 loaves)

Boil spaghetti, penne and rotini

Prep Day #2- Saturday

Sams Club Shopping Trip

Mix pizza dough (for frozen crust dough and sandwich pockets)

Mix pretzel dough

Cook 4 lbs ground beef

Cook bacon

Cut 2 lbs raw chicken into cubes (for Popcorn Chicken)

Form & cook meatballs


Overnight Saturday-Sunday

Make Fruit Leather and Dried Fruit


Cooking Day- Sunday (Haven't sat down to figure out the order yet, though...)


Asian Pork Dumplings

Italian Mac n Cheese

Southwest Mac n Cheese

Tuna Bake

Ham Fettuccini Bake

Shepherds Pie

Popcorn Chicken

Buffalo Chicken Spaghetti

Chicken Taco Wraps

Sloppy Joe Meat

Taco Meat



Bacon Cheeseburger Rollups


Crab Cakes

Tuna Cakes

Pizza Pockets

Ham and Cheese Pockets

Pizza Stuffed Pretzels




Pancake Mix

Muffin Mix

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Homemade Orange Peel Jam

I said in this thrifty tips post that I wanted to try making Orange Peel Jam, and this was the weekend! I was pretty scared, to tell you the truth, because I hadn't been able to find an actual "recipe" online. Just, cut off the white parts of the peel, cook with sugar and water, then put in the refrigerator and... JAM! I was a little weary with the lack of, you know, measuring.

But, I've been saving orange peels for about a week, and wanted to use them. So I took a deep breath, and here's what I did...

Orange Peel Jam

peel from 4 oranges, cut into thin strips (with white pith cut off)

1 1/2 c sugar

1 1/2 c water

1 T orange juice concentrate, thawed

1 t vanilla extract

You also need:

glass canning jar (I used a sterilized pasta jar)

candy/meat thermometer (optional)

Add orange peel, sugar and water to a pot over medium heat. Bring to a low boil until the mixture thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. The temperature should be between 200-220 degrees F. Remove from heat and stir in orange juice concentrate (the original instructions I read said to use lemon juice) and vanilla. Pour into jar and place in refrigerator.

I was all set to add in some Knox gelatin, since I was pretty skeptical that the thick sugar water would really become jam, but found a message board that said adding gelatin can foster bacterial growth. Since I plan on feeding this to my two year-old, that seemed like a bad idea. I figured if it didn't gel, we could have orange flavored syrup on pancakes some morning this week. :-)

Orange Peel Jam

I'm happy to report that after about 6 hours in the refrigerator, the mixture firmed up, and was very yummy, to boot! It's VERY sweet, to the point that next time I'll reduce the sugar by half, if that doesn't affect the consistency. The texture is more like honey than true jam, but Jack and I enjoyed it with peanut butter on our sandwiches for lunch. 

**After making this, I found this resource for making jam without added pectin, which has specifics on quantities, temps, etc.**

Monday, January 25, 2010

Eat From the Pantry Challenge- The End!

This is our final week of eating from the pantry. My freezer and pantry are much more under control- meaning not just that I've weeded through and used some things that needed to be used up, but also that I've taken inventory so I know what I have for future meals!

We were also able to save a lot on groceries this month! While I did exceed our goal of $50 for the month by about $15, $65 for a family of four (well, three who actually eat solid food :-) isn't bad for the month.

This week we're eating:

Taco Soup

Hot Dogs with Pioneer Woman's Chili


Crockpot Chicken and Dumplings (omitting the packaged seasoning)

Dinner with the in-laws

Sweet Potato Manicotti

Mexican Chicken

My freezer is getting pretty empty, so I'm excited to participate in Life as MOM and Money Saving Mom's Freezer Cooking Day(s). I'll be doing the prep for some of my meals tomorrow, since my in-laws will have the big boy, taking my stock-up trip on Saturday (date night with the hubby!) and cooking on Sunday.

I'll blog about my progress with all of that throughout the week!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Random Thrifty Kitchen Tip- Broccoli Stems

My two year-old only eats the "tree" part of broccoli- but he eats a lot of it! That leaves me with a lot of stems to either use up or throw away. I usually save them to put in a soup (Broccoli Cheese, anyone?) or one pot wonder. They have all the broccoli flavor, and none of the tiny pieces in your teeth!

I also recently found this recipe for broccoli pickles, and can't wait to give it a try!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Flour Tortillas

Mike and I were watching Good Eats on the Food Network the other night and Guy was visiting all these Mexican diners. I got a major hankering for tacos. So I dug around the pantry and refrigerator this morning to see what I could find. To my delight, we had everything I needed... except for tortillas. So I set out to make some.

One of my favorite food blogs actually just posted a tutorial for making corn tortillas... but alas, we had no maseca. We did, however, have plenty of flour, so off to work I went. I modified (and halved) this recipe.

Flour Tortillas (makes about 9)

1 C unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/2 C whole wheat flour

1/4 c olive oil

1 t salt

3/4 C boiling water

all-purpose flour for rolling

In a food processor, mix flour, oil, and salt. Pour in boiling water and mix until a dough forms. Knead on a floured surface until the dough is smooth. Roll into golf ball sized balls, and set on a piece of waxed paper with a towel covering them. Let rest 1-8 hours (the longer the better).


Heat a frying pan over high heat. Roll out each ball into a tortilla (I found placing a piece of waxed paper over the dough worked well for rolling). Place one at a time in frying pan, about 30 seconds per side. Roll out each subsequent tortilla while the previous one is cooking. I suppose you could cut around each one to make them more circular, but I didn't!


We made chicken tacos, which were a huge hit, even with my somewhat picky 2 year-old! I wanted to make salsa to go with them, but said kiddo made that mostly impossible. :-)


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cake Doctor

At the end of the summer I was able to get boxed cake mixes for $.22 a box. These days I'm really more into baking from scratch, but knowing that I had Jack's birthday coming up a mere 6 weeks after giving birth, I thought some boxed mixes were in order. I have about 4 of those boxes left, and tonight when I got a craving for something sweet I set out to see what I could do with one of them.

I started with the side of the box, where it tells you what modifications to make the yellow cake mix into a pound cake, and went from there, according to what I had. If you know me, you know I'm obsessed with coconut, and currently oranges are right up there too. I decided the two would probably pair well, and went to work!

Almost Homemade Coconut Orange Cake

1 pkg yellow cake mix

1 pkg instant vanilla pudding (coconut pudding would be good too!)

4 eggs

1 C sour cream

1/3 C coconut oil (or any other oil)

1 C toasted coconut

1 T orange zest

1/2 C orange juice (about a whole orange)

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9x11 baking pan. Combine ingredients in a large bowl and beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 32-35 minutes, then cool for 25 minutes. Frost and devour.


Orange Buttercream Frosting (modified from the C&H Website)

2 C Powdered Sugar

1/2 C butter

pinch of salt

juice of 1/2 an orange

1 t orange zest

1/2 T meringue powder (optional)

approx. 3 T water (add until it's the consistency you like)

toasted coconut to top

Beat all ingredients in medium bowl until smooth and creamy. Frost cake and top with toasted coconut.

I spent too much time snacking on the coconut, so the top of my cake is a little sparse. Oops! :-)


And please don't tell my old Wilton cake decorating instruction that this is how I decided to ice my cake. By the time the cake cooled it was late and I was tired. :-)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Random Thrifty Kitchen Tip- Orange Peels

I got a bag of oranges (one of my and Jack's favorite snacks) on sale this week. Here are five simple ways to put orange peels to work for you, rather than tossing them.

  • Use them to clean your sink. The natural oils will make it shine- and smell good!
  • Grate them over a salad or dessert to give a bright hint of citrus.
  • Put them in your crockpot with some water and cloves, and simmer all day on low. Instant potpourri!
  • Place a piece of peel in your brown sugar to keep it soft or soften hardened sugar.
  • Rub peel on your skin as a bug repellent, or boil in water and pour water and peels on anthills/bug problem spots outside.

I've also heard that you can cut them in strips, boil them in some water, and add sugar... making orange peel jam?! I'm going to have to try this. Update soon!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Avocado Salsa

Avocado Salsa

Mmmmm. I love avocados. Really, really love them.

I don't think I ever ate an avocado until college, when my roommates Jenny and Beef would make and eat a whole avocado's worth of guacamole in one sitting. Love those girls. And, because of them, I now love avocado.

Last week at my nephew's birthday party Mike's cousin made an incredible salsa that I really enjoyed! I looked up the recipe on All Recipes (my favorite recipe website, by the way) and tweaked it to my liking/ what I had on hand.

Avocado Salsa (measurements are for 2 servings)

1/2 can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 1/2 C frozen corn, thawed

1/4 onion, diced

1/4 green bell pepper, diced

1/2 avocado, peeled and diced

1/3 to 1/2 can diced tomatoes

1/2 C fresh cilantro

juice of 1/2 lemon (I'd use lime if I had it!)

1/4 t garlic powder

1/4 t grated orange zest

kosher salt to taste

*next time I think I might try adding 1/2 t of sugar

Combine ingredients in a bowl and squeeze lemon juice. Store in refrigerator overnight before eating. (You can wait to add the avocado until just before eating, if you choose.)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Eat from the Pantry Challenge- Week 3!


We've been eating from the pantry for 17 days now, and all is still going well. This week's meals included "fake" fried rice, cheeseburger soup, pizzas, and, the biggest hit, sweet potato manicotti. It's a made-up recipe, so I'll have to try to recreate to post it.

Today I reorganized our pantry and took closer inventory. I'd done that with the freezer, but not yet with the pantry. I also made turkey stock (finally!) from the turkey carcass that was in my freezer leftover from Thanksgiving. And, I made crockpot yogurt. In addition, our grocery store had a killer sale this week! I used almost all of the rest of our budgeted $50 for the month, meaning that we will very likely go over. Jack just won't last 14 more days without buying milk again!

Based on that, here are some things we might be eating this week:

Baked Potatoes topped with Broccoli and Ranch Dip (made from yogurt cheese)

Turkey & Rice (and chicken, cause that's what's in the freezer :) Soup

Crockpot Lasagna

Chef Salad

Blackbean Salsa


Looking at the devastation in Haiti this week, I can't help but feel unbelievably blessed. To have such an abundance of food that I can feed our family for a month on very little... I'm so very grateful.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

One Pot *Pantry* Wonders- Ranch Cheeseburger Soup

One Pot Wonders

Over Christmas, we were at my parent's house and my sister said something about not liking one dish meals. I was shocked! I'd say about 50% of the meals I make are one pot wonders! She's really healthy, and her point was that she likes to eat a greater ratio of veggies to other food groups. And I guess she'd be right if you're talking about a boxed or canned one pot meal. I'm sure the veggie to, say, meat or carb ratio... or worse yet sodium ratio of a boxed meal isn't very good. BUT, she should fly out to eat with us more often, because one of my favorite things about one pot wonders is that I can hide veggies. But shhhh... don't tell Jack. Or Mike for that matter.

Now, this soup isn't the most healthy option, because of the Velveeta and ground beef. Mike's not really a soup guy, but can get behind most anything that refers to a hamburger... especially if I throw the word Velveeta in (since for him, Velveeta is, in fact, the perfect food). And since we're cleaning out the pantry and all I had some stuff I needed to use up, this was a great option for us. I was able to throw in handfuls of random veggies I had in the fridge/freezer without taking away from the cheesy goodness for my boys.

Ranch Cheeseburger Soup

1 lb. cooked ground beef (I seasoned it with some garlic and a pinch of chili powder)

1 lb. velveeta, cubed

3 c chicken stock

1 can condensed broccoli cheese soup (any condensed soup would do!)

1 onion, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

2 T ranch dressing mix (homemade recipe coming soon!)

Handful of leftover broccoli, chopped

1 c frozen zucchini, grated

1 c frozen corn

1 c cooked rice


Place all ingredients in a large crockpot. Cook on low 6-8 hrs. You don't really want to do it on high if you can help it, because the cheese will curdle. This makes a very thick soup. If you want to thin it out, stir in milk or sour cream, and serve!


We decided to serve ours in a bread bowl! Here's my go-to recipe:


Olive Oil Bread (can use for bread bowls, pizza dough, buns, bread, etc)

2 T active dry yeast (or two packages)

2 1/2 cups warm water

2 teaspoons salt

1 T sugar

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 c whole wheat flour (or replace with unbleached all-purpose flour)

4 c ubleached all-purpose flour


1 egg white



In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes. Add salt, sugar, oil and 4 cups flour to the yeast mixture and mix well with dough hook. (You can mix by hand with a wooden spoon if you don't have a stand mixer.) Stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time.

When the dough has pulled together, turn it out on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 6 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 40 minutes.

Punch dough down, and divide into equal portions. This recipe makes:

  • 2 standard sized loaves
  • 6 round loaves
  • 15ish sandwich buns (depending on the size)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place stoneware or another baking sheet in the preheating oven.

Shape each portion into a loaf (logs for standard loaves, round for buns and bowls, etc). Place loaves on lightly greased baking sheets sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in bulk. In a small bowl, beat together egg white and 1 tablespoon water. Brush the loaves with the egg wash with a pastry brush. Transfer loaves to preheated stoneware.

Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Brush with remaining egg mixture, and bake 10 to 15 more minutes or until golden. Cool on a wire racks.

Cheeseburger Soup

It seems like a lot of work, but really, most of it is spend waiting on dough to rise. This is definitely a kids are cooperating and we're staying home all day kind of meal, but there's something very satisfying about baking your own bread.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Who needs a box?

Mike and I have a running dialogue in our house. It goes something like this:

Mike: Man, I want pancakes, but we're out of pancake mix.


Mike: Hey, do we have any cake mix?

Me: I don't think so.

Mike: Darn, I really want cake.

Usually, in these situations, I remind him that you don't actually need a boxed mix to bake. As a matter of fact, for the most part baking from scratch is just as easy, and it's definitely healthier and more economical! So the other night when Mike said he wanted brownies, I was up for the challenge. And it was a significant challenge, because we were out of eggs.

After scouring the Internet for a recipe I thought would work, I found an Egg-Free Brownie Recipe at Reading the reviews, I tweaked it a bit and here's what I came up with...

Egg-Free Brownies for Mikey

1/3 c flour

1 c water

1/2 c butter

2/3 c cocoa powder

1 c white sugar

1 c brown sugar (packed)

1 t vanilla

1 1/2 c flour

1 t baking powder

1/2 t salt

3/4 c semi-sweet chocolate chips

(if they were for me, I'd add 1/2 c chopped nuts :-)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9x13 inch pan. In a heavy saucepan combine the 1/3 cup of flour and water. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until thick. Set aside to cool.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter. When the butter has melted, add the cocoa and mix until smooth. Set aside to cool.

Beat the sugar and vanilla into the cooled flour mixture. Stir in the cocoa mixture until well blended. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt, stir into the batter until just blended. Stir in the chocolate chips. Spread evenly in the pan and bake about 25 minutes. Cool and cut (and if you're Mikey, fish some Cool Whip out of the freezer to top with).


I'm not really a brownie person, but I did take a taste, and I thought they were pretty good! Mike didn't seem to have any problems digging right in, so I'd call them a success!

Egg-Free Brownies

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Breaking Bread- Weeks 1 & 2 Recap

Breaking Bread

I'm cutting myself a little slack, since I hatched this plan last week, and basically had a day to complete a food or fellowship activity for last week. Here's a brief recap, though.

The first week of January (Week 1) I was happy to be able to take a meal (my beef stew) to a friend whose mother-in-law passed away. I feel like the act of taking a meal to someone is more than just giving them a night off cooking. When someone brings me a meal, I feel taken care of, and nourished both in body and spirit. I suppose this is one of the things I'm hoping to accomplish with this little experiment. Sharing the experience of nourishment in the body of Christ.

Last week we celebrated my nephew's birthday, and shared a meal with family. Although I didn't prepare this meal, the act of sharing a meal with family is always a blessing, so I'm letting it slide! :-)

Stay tuned to see what fun my journey takes me on this week!

Eat From the Pantry Challenge- Week 2 update!


Well, it's week 2, and nobody's starved! Last week's meals were great, and our pantry and freezer are still looking pretty well stocked. This challenge has proven to me how much I buy on a regular basis that we simply don't need. While I'm all about stocking up for a good deal, I'm the queen of deciding spur of the moment that I just have to make a certain meal RIGHT NOW (usually one that I see in a cooking magazine or blog) and then going out and buying all the ingredients for it. Yep, that's how we got seven different half-empty boxes of pasta in our pantry. You heard me, SEVEN!

I did buy a dozen eggs, another gallon of milk, a loaf of sandwich bread and some half and half this week. So far our grocery total for the month is 18.75. What I know is that we go through A LOT of milk.

Here's to another great week of scavenging getting creative!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Breaking Bread

"And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts." Acts 2:46

I'm not making any resolutions for 2010. Some years I do, and some I don't. This year I feel like I'm in the midst of several goals for my family and myself, so it seems like resolutions would be redundant.

Something has been on my heart lately, though, so I am making a 2010 commitment.

Four months ago when I had Charlie my wonderful Mommy friends, who I met through my hospital's nursing support group, signed up to bring us meals. Every evening for two full weeks someone came to drop off food and visit with us. TWO full weeks! We were so blessed by those meals. When another member of that group had her little girl a month later, everyone stepped up again. I think this is true for many of us, but my first response when I hear of someone experiencing a hardship, major life event, etc. is to show up with food. It got me thinking... what a wonderful, deep rooted tradition!

In Biblical days, "breaking bread" was a significant event. In Ancient times bread was likely the primary food. God showed his provision by providing the Israelites with manna from the sky. The New Testament calls Jesus the "Bread of Life" and "Bread from heaven," and of course we know that Jesus broke bread during the Lord's Supper, a tradition carried on by his disciples. Breaking bread was a significant part of the worship of the early church, and continues to be though the tradition of the Lord's Supper as a remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection.

Sure, breaking bread obviously refers to the event of participating in the Lord's Supper- but it also refers to participating in Christian community. It is important for Christians to do both- worshiping and fellowshipping- and as an extension of that, witnessing. Thus begins my commitment in 2010.

Breaking Bread

Each week of 2010, I'm going to use food to fellowship, witness, worship, bless, help, or share, however God sees fit. Whether it sees me taking food to someone in need, donating to a pantry, fellowshipping with a friend over coffeecake, or teaching a new recipe, remains to be seen. I also have seven friends due with a baby between May and June, so I guess I already have a 7/52nd head start on planning! I'll post a Breaking Bread update each Monday to document what might just be my favorite non-resolution ever!

If you take interest and want to join me in my challenge, any random week or for the whole year, just leave your Breaking Bread moment in the comments! Maybe one day I'll figure out the linky thing!

Friday, January 8, 2010

One Pot Wonders- Throw it all in the pot!

One Pot Wonders

With a 2 year-old and an infant, one of the ways I have made dinnertime work is to revamp my repertoire of one pot wonders- dishes that incorporate the whole (or majority of the) meal into one pot. This doesn't have to be the same cream of chicken casserole with a bag of mixed veggies week after week, although I do love those easy, go-to recipes!

I love one pot wonders because they are:

  • easy to prep, cook, and clean-up! Just one pot!
  • a great way to incorporate veggies (i.e. get hubby and the kids to eat them without realizing it) and increase the ratio of veggies to other foods
  • perfect for using up small bits of leftovers
  • easy to dress up with herbs and garnishes

This week, and all month, we've been participating in the Eat From the Pantry Challenge, so I've been working with what's already in my pantry and freezer.

My Beef Stew:

1 lb marinated KC Strip Steak, cooked and cubed (left over from Fondue!)

1/2 box beef broth

1/2 an onion, diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

1/2 bag frozen mixed veggies

2 stalks celery, chopped

2-3 garlic cloves, minced

salt and pepper

1 T flour

1/2 t paprika

1/2 t oregano

1/2 t celery seed

1/2 t rosemary

Place all ingredients in slow cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

(I ended up throwing in 1 c of whole wheat pasta to "beef it up" (haha) a bit, but that was kind of weird, so I'm not sure I'd do that again.)

Make-it-work-for-you Stew:

1 lb cooked meat (beef, pork, chicken... whatever you have!)

1-2 cups (to your desired thickness) water, beef broth, or chicken broth

1/2 an onion OR 1 T onion powder OR 1 T minced onion

Veggies (totaling 2-3 C): carrots, celery, potatoes, frozen or canned mixed veggies, turnip, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, sweet potato, etc.)

2-3 garlic cloves, minced OR garlic powder

salt and pepper to taste

1 T flour

Spices: any combo of paprika, oregano, celery seed, basil, rosemary, thyme, chili powder, hot sauce... whatever's in your pantry!

Place all ingredients in slow cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours OR cook on stove top on low for as long as you can. You can almost guarantee it will taste even better the next day as leftovers!

Why a food blog?

I've wanted to start a food blog for a long time. I love to cook and bake, although there was a time in my life, not very long ago, when I never though I'd say that! I didn't grow up caring much about anything I considered "domestic," but as I got older, and entered the season of my life of having a young family, slowly I found myself loving doing things like cooking and gardening. (Just like you said I would, Mom. :-)

So why now? No particular reason, but... the combination of the start of a new year, some friends asking for advice on thrifty shopping and cooking, a friend of my revamping her food blog, and certain unnamed family and friends saying something to the effect of "more pictures of your kids, less recipes" about my personal blog... and suddenly I'm excited and inspired to start a food blog of my own!

For a disclaimer: I'm not a gourmet chef- in fact I have as many or more big fat fails in the kitchen as I do successes (and yes, I'm sure I'll blog about those too!). I'm just a wife and mom, hopefully doing my best to feed my family well, while being the best steward I can of God's immense blessings on our family. For me, this means cutting coupons, shopping the sales, and slowly moving to more healthful options for our family, while at the same time coming up with food options that work for us: crockpot cooking, one pot meals, baking at home, and getting my toddler involved in the kitchen.

I have so many ideas, and thost of you who know me (well, that's all of you I suppose) know that when I get excited, I want to put it all out there! But I'll restrain myself and stop for now.

Happy Cooking!