Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Cooking Through The Holidays

This time of the year gets a little crazy and it's usually the time that people want their houses cleaned a little extra, so I decided to get ahead of the game by preparing meals and freezing them so that the kids could just pop something into the oven if I hadn't made it home from work or church yet that day.  I have most of the meals completed, with a few extra things that were added as I went along (trying to also have lunches covered so I don't have to eat fast food so much) that need to be done tomorrow.  It was certainly nice tonight to have dinner on the table without much effort:)  I have only done the once a month cooking a couple times in my life, but I think I might keep up with it this time.  I want to be able to enjoy my evenings with happy, full kids and hubby.  This is the way to get those results.  I haven't got it down to a science, but what I do have, I'd love to share with those that need help getting ahead in the dinner dept.  Send me an email or comment on where to send my menus and I'll be glad to share. 

 Before I even began, I took inventory of what I had already in my cabinets, freezers, frig, and deep freeze.  I came up with recipes that would utilize those things.  I also considered what was on sale in the grocery store, what I had coupons for, and what I could price match.  Then I made a calendar with a general schedule on it:  when we would be out of town, at dinners, special meals, extra guests, and anything that might change what I'm making for the day. Then I did a search in cookbooks and online to fit with recipes that looked good or I've wanted to try.  I also considered what things freeze well or not.  When plugging in recipes on my menu, I was careful not to put like items within a week of each other (ie. chili and Mexican casserole).  A guideline could be a entrĂ©e for each day:  Sunday:  Beef , Monday:  Pasta, Tuesday:  Chicken, Wednesday:  Casserole, Thursday:  Pizza, Friday:  Fish, Saturday:  Favorites or Leftovers.   After getting the recipes organized, figure out how much you are going to need of items when it's time to hit the stores (ie.  10 lbs chicken to make 4 meals of chicken for the month).  Once menu is together and a grocery list is made, it's time to go shopping.

  I started with a very large grocery shopping trip that took quite a few hours.  This particular trip, I did not have time to clip coupons and ad match, but you can really save yourself money by doing these two things.  Be careful not to fall in the trap of buying things you don't need or won't use just because you have a coupon for it.  It's not saving you money if you can't utilize it and end up throwing it out.  I usually shop at Walmart and they will always price match sales from other stores as long as it's the same item/same brand.  Some stores will match meats, etc. even if it's not the same brand, but you will have to check this in advance with your local store.  Take a friend or family member along with you, as you will need help loading and unloading groceries.  Unloading will take almost as long as that shopping trip if you don't have helpers.  Now, you've had a long day.  Time to go to bed and start fresh in the morning.

Now, the next few days you will spend cooking the foods you have bought.  I start with cooking meats at once.  My chicken, I put in the crock pot on low for about 5 hours with a can of broth and it came out perfect for shredding.  I cooked up all my bacon.  I did not cook my fish in advance because it doesn't refreeze that great.  For those meals, I just get all the dry ingredients together and put them in a gallon size Ziploc, write what it's for, and freeze it with the fish package.  Then I move dish by dish, using tinfoil throwaway pans, Ziploc bags, and inexpensive throwaway plastic containers with lids (I reuse the plastic containers, but throw out the pans and bags--easy clean up).  I portion out the prepared foods, cut cheeses, and mixed dry ingredients and bake meals that do better previously baked and cover the rest with foil or bag it, and move along to the next meal.  This process actually takes 2-3 days for me (going on day 3 of cooking, but that's because I keep adding more stuff:))

                  At the left is my Christmas Tree of bacon.  It's so beautiful my friend decided she needed to celebrate every morning with a bacon Christmas tree:)  On the right is an example of a packaged meal with all the ingredients ready to freeze.  All I have to do is thaw the bag and throw everything into the skillet the day we are going to eat it!  Be sure to have any ingredients that need to be included set aside or marked in the cabinet so they don't get used for other things in the meantime.  This particular meal needs tomato soup from the cabinet, so I will set
                                                 a can aside that is for this meal.  Below are some Sammy sandwiches
                                                 that my kids eat up before I even have a chance to put them on the

Last, but not least, I look at my menu that morning and pull that meal out of the freezer.  I let it set on the counter or in the frig (depending on how long I might be away from the house).  Then, when I get home or the kids are home, I have them stick the product in the oven or quickly prepare the meal on the stove and enjoy a meal with my family.  I posted a picture of my meal tonight, "Chicken Roll Ups" and many were asking for the recipe, so here it is.  It's quick and easy to make and the family will eat them up in no time!  I make a triple batch for my household of 10:)  This particular recipe came from a wonderful lady, Mindy Kampen, that attended my church many years ago.  She was a beautiful example of a Godly homemaker and a hostess of the highest excellence.  Sadly, 2 years ago she contracted a rare heart virus that took her life unexpectedly.  Every time I make this recipe, I remember Mindy and what a wonderful example she was to us younger women.  Thank you, Mindy.  You are missed.

Chicken Roll Ups
Cooked chicken pieces (I use breasts boiled in water)
1 pkg Crescent Rolls
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup milk
1/2-1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I use 1-1/2 cups-I like cheesy)
Combine milk, soup, and shredded cheese in pan and heat till melted.  Pour 1/2 or less of sauce in bottom of baking dish.  Put chicken chunks on wide end of crescent roll.  Roll up and place on sauce.  Pour rest of sauce over and bake at 350* for 1/2 hour.  I serve this with a salad and it's a filling meal.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Holiday Tradition of the Christmas Ornament

Each year as a gift that is opened for Christmas Eve, we have an ornament for each family member that represents them for that year.  When my kids were younger, we had motorcycles, trains, and tractors, along with Bob the Builder and Sponge Bob Square Pants.  The girls had Hello Kitty, Barbie, and dancing pigs and soft kitty cats.  Each year Mom's ornament would be one that could be used as a family portrait.  I treasure these ornaments each year as I open up the boxes and hand each ornament to each child as they hang it upon the Christmas tree.  I love to look at the homemade ornaments that my kids have made me also.  The hand-painted snowman and the felted Christmas tree that holds a picture of my son from his kindergarten year.  We will watch a movie such as Polar Express or listen to Christmas music, as my husband prepares hot chocolate drink and popcorn for everyone.  It's always so much work to get everything unloaded, but I wouldn't trade the memories made with my kids for all the treasures in the world.  Welcome to the holiday season.  May your seasons be blessed with fond memories that brings the Christ Child nearer to you this whole year through.  For more thoughts from me, please check out Shiny Objects from a mom's journey to finding Hope.