Cooking Up a Storm

CHicken-Pot-Pie Recently, I decided I’m tired of spending all my after school time getting dinner ready. I try to make things earlier in the day, but sometimes I forget or flat out don’t feel like it. In my pre-kid life, I was a personal chef, which means I would go to people’s homes and make 12 dinners to go in their freezers while they were at work. I planned meals, shopped for groceries, and took all my own supplies (pans, cooking utensils, etc) and just used their kitchen for the day. I loved it…it encompassed my loves of organizing, list-making, and cooking. And, most importantly, I was helping out other working women and making people happy. Then along came our kids, a couple of military moves, and the recession. So my chef life fell by the wayside. I still enjoy cooking a freezer full of meals for my family, though, so it was high time to stock up.

There are a plethora of books on cooking for your freezer. I have 3 favorites: Prevention’s Freezer cookbook, Dream Dinners, and Don’t Panic It’s in the Freezer. I also have years of recipes that I’ve tweaked to be good freezer meals. I highly encourage you to buy any or all of these books if you’re interested. They all have great basic info on what freezes well, in addition to tons of tested recipes.

Because I inadvertently (meaning through my own poor planning) scheduled my cooking day for a day my kids were all home, I opted to do the easy choice and just stick with Dream Dinners this month. I did add a couple of my own recipes, which I’ll share. I don’t think I can legally share the Dream Dinners ones, but the book really is worth the price. I’ve read a lot of negative reviews of the book, and it does have more corrections than it should on the Dream Dinners website. However, I’ve made almost everything in it and my family has liked virtually everything, as have people whom I’ve given meals. I have not taken the time to correct my book, and everything has been fine. But on with my cooking day.

Freezer Our menu this month:

White Chicken Chili (gallon ziplocs)
With Cornbread and Salad

Mu Shu Chicken Wraps (9×13 pan) (made 2)
With Fried Rice and Miso Soup

BBQ Brisket Sandwiches (plastic containers) (made 2)
With Potato Salad and Raw Veggies

BBQ Brisket Loaded Baked Potatoes (plastic containers)
With Green Salad

Sloppy Joe Pie (pie pan)
With Waldorf Salad

Colorado Style Beef Enchiladas (9×13 pan)
With Black Bean and Corn Saute

Pork Tenderloin with Pears(gallon ziplocs) (made 2)
With Vegetable Confetti Couscous

Pepper Steak (gallon ziploc) (made 2)
With Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans

Kielbasa Bean Soup (gallon ziplocs)
With Fruit Salad and Pretzel Rolls

Heuvos Rancheros (2-8×8 pans)
With Fruit Salad

Cider Braised Pork Loin Chops (gallon ziplocs) (made 2)
With Salad

Chicken with Red Potatoes (9×13 pan)
With Parmesan Green Beans

Chicken Pot Pie (Pie Pan)
With Waldorf Salad

Onion-y Pot Roast (Gallon Ziplocs)

I only made the main dishes…the sides will be prepared fresh. The BBQ Brisket made enough to divide into 4 containers, so we’ll have 2 meals of sandwiches and 2 meals of stuffed baked potatoes. I also made 2 recipes of the Pork Tenderloin with Pears and Cider Braised Pork Loin Chops, which I took to the boys’ teachers at our conferences that night. It was not a bribe. Really. My children are such a delight to teach, I don’t have to bribe. Yeah, that’s my story.

This is the timeline I followed:

Day before:

Bought groceries

Cooked chicken: Bring water to a boil with 1 tsp garlic powder and 1 tsp lemon pepper; add chicken; bring back to a boil, then cook about 10 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Let cool and chop. I allow 1 ½ breasts for each 2 cups I need when cooked and chopped.

Cooking Day:

8:00:
Start enchiladas
Brown breakfast sausage for Huevos
Make white chili

8:30
Finish enchiladas
Put brisket in oven
Make Mu Shu filling

9:00
Finish Mu Shu wraps
Make Huevos Rancheros

9:30
Cook pasta for Big Greek Pasta
Assemble Kielbasa Bean Soup
Assemble Pepper Steak

10:00
Wash dishes
Assemble Big Greek Pasta
Brown beef for Sloppy Joes
Make BBQ sauce for brisket

10:30
Assemble Pork Tenderloin with Pears (2)
Blanch potatoes for Chicken and Red Potatoes and Cider Braised Pork

11:00
Assemble Chicken Pot Pie
Assemble Chicken with Red Potatoes

11:30
Assemble Cider Braised Pork Chops(2)
Assemble pot roast

12:00
Clean up

12:30
Brisket out of oven to cool
It’s afternoon; have a cocktail to celebrate your hard work!

pot-pie A few notes on what I did:

Double bag gallon ziplocs to prevent leakage. I use a Sharpie to write the name, date, and directions directly on the bag.

Pans: Cover with foil, then wrap completely in plastic wrap. I often find 9×13 Pyrex pans with lids on sale for less than $10. I like them because the lid provides a stackable surface. I still wrap these in plastic, to provide a surface the label will stick to. I use white address labels and just write name, date, and directions on them with a Sharpie.

My kitchen here is pretty small, so I did dishes a couple of times throughout, to clear up counter space. You may have more room to just stack up the dirties until the end.

For the brisket, I substituted tri-tip, which was what they had at Costco when I was shopping.

I added kalamata olives to the Big Fat Greek Dream Pasta. It rocks.

I made 19 meals for us, plus 2 more for teachers. I also made a small extra dish of enchiladas with the leftover stuff for my husband to have that night, and some Cottage Cheese Pancake Batter for breakfast or breakfast for dinner. Not bad for a morning’s work. I was done cleaning up by 1300, except for waiting for the brisket and BBQ sauce to cool for freezing.

When you’re cooking for the freezer, try to make anything that actually involves cooking that day first. That way, it has time to cool while you’re making the dishes that just involve assembling. Everything needs to be completely cool before you freeze it, or it’s unsafe in your freezer. One hot item can raise the temp of the entire freezer for unsafe levels.Not that I’m a fanatic about it or anything. Seriously, you don’t want to make anyone sick, just happy.

I spent a little over $150 on groceries, which comes out to a little over $7 per entree, not including the pancake batter and extra serving of enchiladas. These are all meals involving meat, so that ups the cost considerably. I used organics when available, including the chicken. In case any of you health conscious people are appalled at my lack of vegetarian meals, we do eat them at least twice a week. I just didn’t freeze any of them this time. I promise I’ll be making them fresh!

A couple of recipes I can share:

Onion-y Pot Roast:

Place 2-3 lb roast (I used tri-tip), onion soup mix packet, and a can of soda in double Ziplocs. Freeze. Thaw before cooking. Cook in crockpot on low for 6-7 hours. Roast some veggies in the oven to go with it: carrots, bell peppers, new potatoes.

BBQ Brisket

Again, I used 2 tritips (2 lbs each).

Rub tri-tip with Liquid Smoke and place in roasting pan, fatter side up. Rub with 2 Tbsp Lowry’s Seasoning Salt and 2 tsp garlic powder. Cover tightly and roast at 300 degrees for 4 hours. Let cool completely, then slice against the grain.

BBQ Sauce

2 cups ketchup
3 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp liquid smoke
4 Tbsp Worchestershire sauce
1 Tbsp dry mustard
2 tsp celery seed
3 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup water

Bring all ingredients to a boil stirring occasionally, and simmer 10 minutes. Let cool and pour over sliced tri-tip before freezing. When ready to serve, thaw overnight in refrigerator and heat in saucepan over low heat.

And there you have it…my cooking day in a nutshell. It’s not rocket science…you can do it! I mean, I’m sure you could do rocket science as well, but this is so much easier. My kids were such huge helps…they actually played together, got along, and didn’t wreck the rest of the house while I was cooking. I really love those hooligans sometimes!

As the Penzey Spice slogan goes, “Love people; feed them tasty food!”

Boo to You!

dark-jacks

Happy Halloween! The older my kids get, the more we all enjoy Halloween. We try to add a couple of new decorations each year. This year we went into our woods and found 5 or 6 branches (about 7 ft tall) with lots of little branches. The kids made foam pumpkin faces…20 of them…and we hung those on the branches, which were in a big crock on our deck. We strung purple fairy lights and it made a cool Halloween tree. Then, when my mom was here kid-sitting, they added foam purple and black bats to it. It’s definitely something we’ll do again.Halloween-Tree It looks cooler at night, and I never said it was fine art!

guts We carved jack o’lanterns, of course. The little ones enjoyed getting the guts out, and then they loved the roasted seeds. I just washed the seeds and let them dry a little, then put them on a baking sheet. I sprayed them with olive oil cooking spray, sprinkled them with sea salt and black pepper, and roasted them at 300 for about 30 minutes. I think. I forgot about them while we were watching “Hocus Pocus” and my husband rescued them from the oven just as they were perfect.

aidan-carving The oldest was great at carving. In fact, he declared himself the Pumpkin Master. Whatever. He did make a cool pirate pumpkin, though. He used one of those little pumpkin saws, not an actual knife, for those grandparents or social workers who might be reading this!

jacks

Ta-da!

owls

We needed some treats for neighbors, so we dipped giant pretzels in white chocolate, then made eyes with mini Oreos, white chocolate, and chocolate chips. The nose is a jellybean and the claws are melted chocolate. They’re perched at the edge of the caramel apple dip we had for dessert last night. It’s so yummy. I just put some cream cheese in the middle of a platter, drizzle caramel sauce over it (Trader Joe’s Salted Caramel), then sprinkle it with Heath bits from the baking aisle. We have it with Granny Smith apples, because you need to cut the sweetness!

gourds

The boys and I made these for teacher gifts. They should have been fun and easy, but turned into an all-afternoon project. We waited too long to gather our materials…it started pouring rain just as we walked outside. So all the trimmings were wet and we had to wait for them to dry. Once dry, I tried every form of glue I had. Finally E6000 worked, but it takes a long time to dry. The boys were proud of the results, though, and excited to give them to their teachers. I think the teachers probably appreciated something that wasn’t candy.

Oh, and that blurry photo of the jacks up top? I took about a dozen photos, but various family members insisted on walking by the camera just as I pushed the button. The shutter was staying open a long time because it was dark and I didn’t want to use a flash, so the walking by shook every exposure. That one’s the best I managed. Not bad.

Have a hauntingly good Halloween!

#10- ‘Tis the Season for Snowmen

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All Stampin’ Up!: Snow Much Fun stamp set
Marina Mist, Cherry Cobbler, and Whisper White cardstock; Frostwood Lodge DSP;
Cherry Cobbler Seam Tape; Modern Lable Punch; StazOn Jet black ink;
Cherry Cobber, Wild Wasabi, Marina Mist, Pumpkin Pie markers; Cherry Cobbler ink

I wanted to create a card with some watercoloring, but not TOO much in case I needed 500 of them. OK, perhaps I exaggerate, but you know what I mean. Quick and easy. That’s me. My little helpers are almost old enough that they could be taught to watercolor, I think. At least one of them is a very careful color-er, although he tends to saturate his paper. But I digress.

No tricks here…just stamp the image with StazOn ink so it doesn’t smear when you color it. I used an Aqua Painter, but you could use a paintbrush…Aqua Painters are just easier for me. I used the reverse of the plaid DSP for the label…it looks like birch bark, so those are not smears on the sentiment…it’s bark pattern! I think (although my opinion changes daily) this is my favorite card this year. So far.

Sorry I didn’t post this yesterday to wind up my 2 weeks of holiday cards. We took a mini trip down to Chicago…Legoland Discovery and the Children’s Museum at Navy Pier. And IKEA, of course. If you’re military and find yourself in Chicago, the Children’s Museum has free admission for up to 4 people. So we left the littlest hooligan at the coat check. No, not really. We paid her way. But $12 is way better than $60!

We stopped at the Milwaukee Zoo for trick-or-treating on the way home, which was a blast. I’ll post photos later this week. Enjoy your weekend!

#9 ‘Tis the Season for Glad Tidings

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All Stampin’ Up!: Jolly Jingles jumbo roller and Warmest of Wishes stamp set (hostess)
Real Red ink; Very Vanilla and Soft Suede Cardstock; Real Red DSP
Houndstooth Embossing Folder; Corner Rounder; Soft Suede Marker

Roller stamps make such quick work of adding an impact! This entire card took maybe 10 minutes, and that’s only because I had already put stuff away and had to get it out again. I inked the “Warmest of Wishes” stamp with Real Red, then wiped off the lines and used a marker to ink them. For the “ribbon,” I cut a 1” strip of the DSP I’m using for photo backgrounds, scored it with my new scoring board that I love, and pleated it. Easy peasy. I popped the sentiment out so the pleats would fit behind a little and not make it lumpy. It’s a kind of elegant color combo, I think.

The Warmest of Wishes stamp set is a hostess set in the Holiday Mini. It has several seasonal stamps and I’m really getting a lot of use out of them. You, too, could earn it with a workshop or an order of $150 or more. And who can’t find $150 of things they can’t live without in the catalog?

#8 ‘Tis the Season for More Stockings

Xmas3

All Stampin’ Up!: Stitched Stockings and It’s a Wrap Holidays stamp sets
Very Vanilla and Poppy Parade cardstock; Scallop Border Punch
Island Indigo, Poppy Parade, and Lucky Limeade inks;
Lucky Limeade and Island Indigo Ruffled ribbons; 5/16” Chocolate Chip brads

This color combination is one of my favorites this Christmas. It’s so joyful and evokes memories of all those Christmas-y things…holly berries, candy canes, frosty nights, and margaritas. Well, I had to think of something for the green. I like this shade’s edginess. Yes, that’s a thing.

The Very Merry stamp is from the It’s a Wrap Holidays set. It’s really designed to be a wrapper for Hershey’s Nuggets, and it’s very cute that way. Put several of them in a little cellophane bag, top it with a tag and ribbons and you have a nifty neighbor or teacher gift. But I wanted to show it’s versatility. The stockings coordinate with the Stocking Builder Punch, but I thought they looked fine just stamped, as well. Each panel is popped out with dimensionals, for a little interest.

Now go have a margarita and get in the holiday spirit!

I Always Feel Like…

…Somebody’s watching me. Or at least that song’s been stuck in my head as I made Halloween Eyeballs today. I’ve been making these for at least 10 years, and now I think it’s my signature Halloween treat. How sad is that? I’m the eyeball lady.

They’re basically Buckeyes that have been gorified. That’s right, not glorified. Gorified.

Halloween Peanut Butter Eyes

1 lb smooth peanut butter (I use the natural, but any works)
2 sticks butter
1 1/2 lbs powdered sugar
2 bags vanilla candy melts
1 medium bag plain M&Ms
some red food coloring and a small paintbrush

Mix the peanut butter, butter, and sugar together. It will be crumbly; you’ll have to knead it until it’s like Playdough. Roll it into 1” balls and place on waxed paper on 2 rimmed baking pans. Some that will fit in your refrigerator. Chill them overnight. This makes around 80. Only 60 made it to actual eyeball-ness today, because my husband found them in the garage frig. He loves naked eyeballs!

Dipped-eyeballsAfter they’re cold, melt 2 packages of vanilla candy wafers. I’ve tried actual white chocolate, but it just doesn’t coat well. You don’t want lumpy eyeballs. Using a toothpick, spear the balls and dip them. Put an M&M on them as a pupil and a clever camouflage for the toothpick hole. Then put them back in to chill. I don’t use red M&Ms because I’m going to put red veins on next. I like the look of orange best. Yellow is good, too, for gross eyes, but my entire bag of M&Ms only had 12 yellows. Eyeballs-with-veins

Put a little red food coloring on a plastic lid or piece of foil. Use a very small paintbrush to paint veins on your eyeballs. I mean, the eyeballs. (If yours are like mine, your children ensure that you already have red veins in your eyeballs.) It really doesn’t take long. Then put them back in the frig to dry or if you have room on your counters and little fingers won’t pick them up, you can leave them out. Out is actually better because sometimes they sweat when you take them out of the frig and the red smears a little.

I spent about 30 minutes last night making and rolling these. Then today another 30 minutes dipping and painting. It’s the 12 hrs of chilling between steps that forces you to plan ahead, at least a little.

Everyone I’ve ever shared these with loves them…kids, friends, soldiers. Of course, soldiers love anything, but that’s beside the point. If you don’t make them into eyeballs, they’re just as tasty dipped in a little dark chocolate instead. It’s always okay to play with your food a little, though, especially at Halloween!

I hope you’ll drop by to see what I’m up to on my blog, Chaos Served Daily...and I’ll be thrilled if you decide to follow on Facebook or via email.  (And you’ll also find links to follow via Pinterest or Google plus in the sidebar) Thanks!

Feel better soon, Chrissy, and thanks for letting me showoff my eyeballs!

 

#7 ‘Tis the Season for Embossing

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All Stampin’ Up!: Dasher, Serene Snowflakes, and Four the Holidays stamp sets
Bashful Blue, Marina Mist, and Whisper White Cardstock,
Silver Waffle Paper; Silver Glimmer Paper
Silver and white embossing powders; Versamark and White Craft inks

This waffle paper was so fun to work with…I just cut a piece 1 1/2” wide the width of the roll (about 9”) and that was plenty for the card. It pleats so easily and since it’s paper, regular SNAIL adhesive works to hold it. No fancy tricks to this card; just stamping and embossing. I think it’s elegant, but still a little fun with the ruffled paper.

I’ve used Frostwood Lodge DSP as the background for most of the card photos I’ve been posting. The colors in it include Cherry Cobbler, Garden Green, Early Espresso, Marina Mist, and Whisper White. I like a little blue thrown in with my Christmas colors, and usually some sort of brown, so this pack is perfect in my opinion! If you have a hankering for some, it’s in the Holiday Minicatalog. (Item 124002, $10.95 for 12 double-sided sheets).

Off to yoga and the grocery store now…I’m planning to center myself and get in the zone for cooking tomorrow. Enjoy the day!

#6 ‘Tis the Season for Shakin’

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All Stampin’ Up!: Kidoodles and Four the Season stamp sets
Real Red, Wild Wasabi, Whisper White cardstock; Wild Wasabi DSP
Scallop Edge, 1 3/4” circle, 2 3/8” Scallop Circle punches; Shaker Frame
Cherry Cobbler Bakers’ Twine; Real Red, Wild Wasabi, More Mustard markers

As soon as I saw the shaker frames in the Holiday Minicatalog, I knew I needed to put some glitter/snow in one on a card. These frames are pretty nifty…they’re basically a ring of the same foam on Stampin’ Dimensionals, so there’s a little room for something to shake, but not so thick that you can’t mail them in a regular envelope. I’ve made some shaker designed I really liked in the past using round treat cups, but those are too thick for a regular envelope.

I stamped the little elf in Jet Black Staz-On, then colored with the markers. The colors look a little off in the photo, but they are the same as the papers in person. The “stitching” is just white gel pen, but I thought it added a great detail.

On a household note, I’ve decided I’m tired of cooking dinner every night. Unfortunately, our household budget does not allow for a chef (and my family wouldn’t let me get away with that, anyway!). Consequently, I’m planning a ginormous cooking day on Wednesday. I think I’m putting 12 different meals in the freezer. The flaw in my plan is that I forgot my boys are home for parent-teacher conferences all day Wednesday. So I may have a few extra hands slowing me down.

In any event, I’ll plan to blog about it with the timeline and recipes next week. The boys are also out of school Thursday and Friday, so it’s really like today is my Thursday with a long weekend coming up! Ack! WIsh me luck!

#5 ‘Tis the Season to Be Jolly

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All Stampin’ Up!: Festive and Fun stamp set; Crumb Cake and Whisper White Cardstock;
Old Olive, Riding Hood Red, Pacific Point, and Pumpkin Pie Markers; Mini Jungle Bells
Riding Hood Red Taffeta Ribbon; Cherry Cobbler Bakers’ Twine; Corner Rounder punch;
White Craft Ink; Stripes Embossing Folder

This card makes me smile. It’s whimsical yet classic, I think. I embossed the stripes, then dragged white craft ink pad across to add a little pop. I always forget how much I like coloring my stamps with markers for all the different colors, rather than just inking the stamp on a pad and coloring in later. It’s a happy little card.

And now I’m off to pick up my mom at the airport…she’s here for the weekend, so my sweetie and I are headed to Door County (up north) for a getaway. We were supposed to be flying to Kansas City for an annual recruiting training conference for the next 5 days, but the Army has no budget yet, so the trip was cancelled last week. Oh, well, it’ll be fun to check out the almost local sights instead!

Hope you have a fun weekend and find time to craft a little!

Pickin’ Apples

apples

Last weekend we ventured down to Mukwonago to The Elegant Farmer. It took about an hour, even though it was only about 30 miles away. Remarkably, the trees were still vibrant even though ours are bare. F’s kindergarten teacher had recommended the place. A huge yellow barn with a smiling face greeted us. Inside were all kinds of autumnal gourmet delights. The Elegant Farmer has been on Throwdown with Bobby Flay on Food TV for their Apple Pie Baked in a Paper Bag. We bought a frozen cranberry-apple one to bring home and bake. I’ll let you know how it is. I picked up some caramel that you use to dip apples in, but A (the oldest) told me I could make it way better. He’s a boy after my heart.

doughnuts

We fortified ourselves with cider doughnuts before heading out to the orchard. The doughtnuts were tasty, but not as good as we’ve had in upstate New York and Washington State. But, really, have you ever had a BAD cider doughnut? I thought not.

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The eldest was the first to realize he could climb the trees. Up to that point, they were taking turns sitting on my husband’s shoulders. We weren’t there to pick many apples, obviously.

boys-in-tree

Then the middle one figured it out.

3-in-a-treeOf course Princess Thundercloud had to get in on the climbing. By this point there were no other families anywhere within our sight. Have I mentioned that our children are incredibly loud? I blame it on their father with the artillery ears. They’ve spent their lives yelling at him.

Frank-and-I

I can’t wait for one of our children to be taller than I am. Then you won’t be looking up our noses in every photo. Hopefully.

We spent a happy Sunday morning picking and eating, then headed towards home. Luckily, there was a Texas Roadhouse AND the only Sonic anywhere near on our route. We stopped at the Roadhouse and had some fried pickles. Sonic probably wouldn’t have had them now, anyway. Of course, I’ll have to return soon to verify that. For now, I’m busy thinking of creative ways to use these apples. They’re mostly Jonathans, so good for eating but not great for cooking.

Here’s the scrapbook page I made of the day…enjoy, and go eat an apple!

Apple-Picking