Monday, January 16, 2012

If you have some time today (and for the next 6 days)

Drew and Craig are in a contest to win Drew a college scholarship, so if you could click on the link and vote for our video it would be awesome

Saturday, January 7, 2012

more cooking and stuff

Ok so I find myself with a little bit of time and decided to add some more today.  Along with extra time, I also see that I find myself with a little bit of left over ground chuck, I just smashed it very thin in a few bags and will either use these to reshape for some burgers or some off the wall meal we might want this month.  Smashed this flat they will be soft enough to shape after running under hot water (in the bag of course) for 2-3 minutes.

Also I had told some folks I would show you how simplistic I make my meals, one example here, our beef and gravy over noodles.  Let's say I am sick in bed or lucky enough to get out of the house for the evening, I can tell Craig it's beef & noodle night.  In the freezer is very thin sliced and cubed, stored flat in a single layer, some beef I cut off our roast before freezing, with instructions on bag to run under hot water for 4 minutes, flour and brown in pan, put in crockpot with stuff from B&N bag in cupboard.  So as the meat is browning he can read the instructions written out on a card in this bag, recycle your instruction card for another month.  You won't need the cards for yourself I am sure, but you never know when something might come up or you might not feel well, with this set up there is NO reason someone can't get dinner on the table for you.

it spells it out step by step, and it really don't need to go in the crockpot but it's better than him "accidentally" burning it on the stove.  If I were home, I would do it on the top of the stove.  You will see that I have egg noodles in a separate plastic bag inside of the big one.  For our flavored pasta I do the same thing, only I will include the things we like, a little baggie of Parmesan cheese, or maybe a spoon of chicken bouillon and then add both to a larger bag.  I boil up the noodles, toss with a little unsalted butter and top with the topping of our choice, or if it's bouillon I add that to the water when boiling and then quick shave a carrot into them when they are done.  Let your imagination and family taste go wild here, you can also do the same with rice.

I also like to get the bacon for the month out of the way, I really do NOT like cooking bacon, but I LOVE to eat it.  Now I really don't like spending half a day cooking it, but worse than that....waking up on the weekend in the mood for a full breakfast, kids and husband waking up all yelling for food and still having to cook it.  This is much easier and also handy when I want a late night BLT :)  Bacon is good in the freezer cooked for 3-4 months and only takes a second in the microwave to warm.  Yep you can buy the microwave bacon, but it costs more (especially if you use coupons or price match) and also I will buy 2 types of bacon, ONLY Oscar Meyer center cut for breakfast and BLT's, I will use a cheaper or store brand for things like bacon to top cheeseburgers with, or crumble and throw on a salad or top the twice baked potatoes since there are so many other flavors already it doesn't have to be the absolute best (and it's my blog, so NO arguing, OM center cut is the BEST).  Just place on paper towel to absorb some of the grease when done cooking, then let cool  and place between sheets of freezer paper.

This also goes great with pancakes made up (this is really easy) and stored two small to medium sized in a bag.

The frozen fruits and veggies I just break down into portion sizes and freeze.  The fruit I will make my own blend with since you get more and can have what your family likes.  (This week here in town I was able to score a really good price match)  The bags are small in size you say?  Well since the boys are offered fruit with each meal they don't need to be huge, also with this size, I can pull out the fruit when I am pulling everything else out, dump bag on a plate and sprinkle just a bit of sugar and by the time I am ready to put dinner on the table they are soft enough, still cold but soft enough for a 2 yr & 4 yr old to eat.  They are even handy straight from the freezer to toss in the car if you might be out running for a while, the kids can nibble on them and you won't feel guilty for stopping at McDonald's and they like the sweetness.

The picture of the large bag is how I mix it up (yep I am LAZY and don't like to even have to wash a bowl out, don't be shocked, I told you in the beginning I was lazy)

I still haven't started the empanada dough so I might not get to them tonight after all, but I am going to try so I can be done, done and done for the month.

For those that don't want to commit to a whole month, I think you will see there are still somethings that any family can use to save some time and just by spending a few minutes glancing at ads, you can save a boat load on price matches even if you live somewhere that doesn't double coupons (like me)  this week though I was able to get all my chicken half priced without having to run all over and just to find out that one of the stores were likely to be out of it anyway (isn't that how it always happens when they run a killer sale?)

Once a month shopping/cooking and prepping

I recently tried to shop just once a month and prepare as much in advance as I could.  Quite a few folks asked me how I did this so here we go, I am going to give you this months menu and shopping list and some of the steps along the way.

In our family we have pretty simple tastes so the menu is pretty basic, but even changing it up to your family's taste I am sure you can save a lot of money and time through out the month.

I will tell you right now I am not the "greenest" prep person, so you might see a little waste going on, if this bothers you I am sure you can work around it easily enough, but one of the reasons (outside of the big one: saving money) I am doing this because I am LAZY and also some times indecisive, so this makes it very easy to decide at the last minute what to have for dinner.

Here is what my meal plan started out like ( the little X a number means how many times in a month we will be having that meal)

January Meal plan

Meatloaf, twice baked potato, veggie and dinner roll x 3
Roast w/potatoes, onions, carrots – dinner roll –caramel apple empanada w/ ice cream
Leftover roast pulled and BBQ, chips, pickles and fruit
Grilled cheese and tomato soup x 3
BBQ chicken, flavored pasta, veggies and dinner roll x 2
Baja Hawaiian chicken, flavored pasta(or rice) veggies and roll
Smoked sausage, corn, pasta and fruit x 2
Burger steaks, twice baked potato, salad and roll
Egg taco – applesauce x 2
Taco bake – fruit salad
Spaghetti garlic cheese toast salad x 2
Pizza – salad – fruit x 2
Ham mashed potatoes veggie and dinner roll
Chili & crackers fruit ice
Hot dogs, chips pickles and fruit x 2
Veggie soup dinner roll
Taco pasta shells – salad x 2
Irish beef pies – salad
White chili
Beef and gravy over homemade noodles, veggie and fruit
Chicken/cranberry salad rolls sweet potato fries and fruit

Going from here I usually sit down with a pen and paper and write out every ingredient for each meal, because sometimes I will think, oh ya I already have BBQ sauce or something down and really not have done it, so I write it all out, then condense it down on the computer into my shopping list like this :
you will notice some * items, currently the boys because the adoption is not final qualify for WIC so these are items that are from that.

January Meal plan shopping list

80/20 ground chuck – 16lbs
saltines – 1 box
eggs – 2 doz (with 1st trip) 2 doz middle of the month *
onions – 1 large bag
western dressing – 1 lg bottle
potatoes – need 38
milk *
frozen green beans
frozen corn
frozen peas
frozen mix veggies
dinner rolls – 24
large roast
sliced American cheese *
tomato soup – 4 cans
chicken breasts – 16
egg noodles – 1 wide 1 thin
spice bags
carrots – 1 large bag
smoked sausage – 2
soft taco shells – 1 from deli area
taco seasoning pack – 3
tomato – 3
sour cream
crescent rolls – 2
Ragu – 2
Texas toast – 1
Bagged salad – 2
Mozz. Cheese – 3
Pizza dough kit – 2
Canned fruit/frozen fruit
Chili beans – 1 lg can
Stewed tomatoes – 2 cans
Tomato sauce – 2 cans
Chilo mix
Cheddar cheese
Hot dogs – 2
Hot dog buns
Hamburger buns
Chips – 3 regular  1 BBQ  1 sour cream and onion
Chip dip – 3 large
Veg-all 1 lg can
Big pasta seashells
Cream cheese
Sm head cabbage
Fridge pie crust
Apples lg bag green apples
Caramel candy
Lemon juice
Northern beans – 3 15oz cans
Chicken broth – 3 cans college inn low sodium
Mont. Jack cheese
Cream of onion soup
Brown gravy pack
BBQ sauce – 2
Chocolate syrup – 2
Iced tea – 4 gallons
Case of bottled water
Bacon – 2
Sweet potatoes – 3
Coffee – 2
Creamer – 3
Sugar – 10lbs 

Then with shopping list in hand I will sit down on a Sunday and view all the local grocery ads online, all the ones in our area also allow you to make a printable shopping list, which includes the item, size and sale price.  Wal-mart will accept this printed list instead of taking all the ads in on shopping day.  Then I look at one of the many blogs that will tell you what coupons are coming in Sunday's paper and decide if I buy a paper or not, I also look through my coupons that I have on hand.
Once everything is together I settle Craig and the boys in and head out on my own.  

Once back at home all the cold items go into the fridge, only frozen fruit and veggies go in the freezer, don't want the meat freezing before I have time to work with it.  Make sure the kitchen and dishes are done and I have my Dollar Store supplies on hand.  I use the freezer bags, garbage bags and foil from the dollar store.  They might not be the best in quality, but they WILL keep your food safe and fresh for the 3-4 weeks it's in there (no point in doing all this work to save money and blow it on expensive bags when they are not needed)

Finally on the day after shopping it's time to prep/cook.  I say prep and cook as not everything is cooked, but it is prepped for easy, fast defrosting or cooking from the frozen state.

I usually start with getting little things together, we cook with a ton of onions so I peel and dice them all up, crush the cracker crumbs

Remember that LAZY part, well here it comes again.  I get cheap trash bags at the dollar store, cut the end off so that it lays flat, use a wet washcloth to get the counter damp but not real wet and lay the bag out on it, this keeps the bag from slipping so much.

To do the meat loafs I throw on the ground chuck, make a little well, toss in the rest and mix it up right there on the bag

Oh ya another thing from the dollar store, tin pans.  I line these with crisscrossing plastic wrap and fill with loaf mixture, fold in the wrap and mark.  Since the burger was already cold, it can go right in the freezer and won't drop the freezer temp.  You can either leave them in the pan as is and they will last 4 weeks if wrapped good, or if you are doing more than the number of pans you have you can freeze in pan for a few hours and then transfer to a foil wrap and mark.

Yep they are thin little things, but this is one of the PREP meals, so I want it thin so if at 2pm I decide I want meatloaf I can take it out of the freezer and still have dinner on the table the same night, or I can put it in the fridge the night before if we are really sure we are hankering for meatloaf.

The chicken is also mostly prep, wash and put single layer amounts in a bag and freeze for our baked BBQ chicken, or make up the marinade in bag, add chicken and let sit in the fridge while you finish the rest of the meals so the marinade soaks into the chicken

Next I started chicken boiling down for white chili and also the cranberry/chicken salad, while that was cooking I took the time to divide up the hot dogs and sausage according to meals

Notice they are all single layer and already cut to size I will be needing, these are prepped and ready to go with very little defrosting and some days with little ones hanging on your legs, even a simple step like slicing sausage is nice to not have to do.

Next up was the taco stuffed pasta shells, I freeze them in different amounts so that Craig can easily take some to work for lunch or I can pop a bunch in the oven for dinner.  I must admit when getting these ready they smelled so good we had some for dinner that night.  Here is where I got the directions, I will tell you that we did not use as much cream cheese as they called for.

For the dinner rolls I divide them up in sets of three, one for each of the men in the house, my hips really do not need them, I wrapped them tightly with plastic wrap then place back in the store wrap for freezing.  About the same deal with the hamburger and hot dog buns.

For our potatoes for the month, I make up the twice baked potatoes since they freeze so well

you will notice cheese on only some of them, these are for handy potatoes for Craig to take to work with some leftover meat for lunches as they do well in the microwave.  But again although I might have put in twice baked potato on the menu, we might change our mind and want mashed potatoes instead, easy - just take out the number of these you need, scrap out the innards and a little milk and mush (yep I said mush) together and warm in microwave.  If in fact we do want cheese and bacon bits we can add them at any time, it's easier to add than to try to pick it off if you want mashed potatoes.

I will make another post in a few days with the fruit, veggies, caramel apple empanadas  and pasta mixes I make.

This menu and shopping list was made for two adults and two small boys, so more like 3 adults.  We are not HUGE eaters and when I serve a meal I like to have a lot of choices on the plate in case the boys decide they don't like something there is plenty more to choose from.  So while 1/2 potato, one dinner roll and some meatloaf don't sound like alot, there is also the veggie and fruit on the plate too, more than enough to fill you up for sure, especially since it's really not good to eat 2 Big Macs, large fry and chicken nuggets, this may be the way the media has sent us in recent years, but you DON'T need all that to survive.