A Common Life Lived with Uncommon Joy

Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Kitchen Stewardship

A few weeks ago, I shared my thoughts on stewardship vs. frugality, particularly in regards to my food budget.  I’ve made a lot of changes since that post and I wanted to give you a little update on my progress.

First of all, for the first time ever, it’s now the 22nd of month and I still have grocery money left!!  Usually I run out of funds around the 18th-20th.  I only have about $50 left but I’m so proud to have already seen progress in this area.  We have been eating out of the pantry and freezer as much as possible, and any grocery shopping I’ve done this month is just to replenish fresh items like milk or to buy markdowns to keep the pantry or freezer stocked.  Not only am I not out of grocery money yet, but we aren’t eating in a feast/famine cycle this month.

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The wall leading into my kitchen beside the pantry door. I bought this sign for $5 almost a year ago. The plates are all thrifted. This week I finally got them all up on the wall.

I also spent time this week cleaning out and reorganizing the pantry and all my kitchen cabinets, including my hutch and china cabinet.  I boxed up a lot to donate to our church college ministry’s annual yard sale and also gifted a few things to others I knew would be blessed by them.  Then I spent some time outside planting a little spinach and lettuce in pots (so I can bring it inside when the weather is too cold) and repotting two rosemary plants into one bigger pot.  I’m hoping to have a nice sized rosemary bush to plant outside when spring comes.  I started a compost pile on the backside of my raised bed garden and moved a seldom used patio table to the backside of the house to repurpose as a potting table.

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My china cabinet is now functional instead of just pretty and it better reflects the things I love.

Tomorrow I plan to do a major clean out of my fridge and upright freezer and make an inventory of what we have there and in the pantry.  Then I plan to make a list of meal possibilities to cook using what we have.  Although I can’t spend an entire day in the kitchen working on all the things I’d like to accomplish in there, I have a list of mixes and freezer foods that I want to work on bit by bit to make cooking from scratch easier and faster.  I will also make a list of items we need to restock so that when my next grocery check comes on the 5th next month, I’m prepared to go to the store with a plan and only buy the things we really need.

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This is the bookshelf beside my china cabinet. It sits in front of half the sliding glass doors, so it gets lots of light. I have a few plants on the shelves – crown of thorns at the top, a poinsettia I got for Christmas last year, a gerber daisy on the next shelf with a box waiting for foxglove seeds, and rosemary on the last shelf.

One thing I’ve become very aware of this month as I’ve focused on stewardship instead of frugality, is how abundantly blessed I already am.  It’s easy to make do with what you have when you take time to really see just how really blessed you are, instead of focusing on how much money you’ve saved or spent for the month.  I’d love to hear how you are learning to be a good steward of the things God has blessed you with.  Share your thoughts with us!

 

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Frugal Friday: My Weekly Frugal Accomplishments

This was a great week for free food for us.  Between the rehearsal dinner, the wedding reception, being treated to a meal out with friends, and food brought and shared by my mother-in-law and my uncle from the funeral, there were several meals that we didn’t have to cook or provide food for.  It was a real blessing to our food budget!  I also officially started Christmas shopping this week, actively searching out little deals here and there.  And after several weeks of not being able to do any thrifting, I was finally able to go today and scored some great stuff.

books

Here are my frugal accomplishments for the week:

Used my $10 Amazon credit to buy six pair of mustache earrings, two scarves and five stylus pens – these will be stocking stuffers and gifts for my children to give their friends.  I still have $2.49 credit left to use.

After the wedding, we brought home a beautiful round cut of wood to use as a plate stand or base in decorating, both flower girl baskets, lots of crayons tied with ribbon and a travel size bar of soap.  The wood went into my hospitality drawer, the flower girl baskets have been repurposed to hold a thankfulness project I will share with you soon, and the crayons and soap went  to the Operation Christmas Child stockpile box.

Started a compost pile on the backside of our raised bed garden.  Ross also weeded the garden and cleared it out for cold weather.

Blessed with spaghetti, sweet tea, a large bag of rolls, apple fritters, boiled eggs, a fruit cream pie, barbeque, sandwich buns, slaw, chips and a chocolate cake.  This provided two dinners, a lunch, and several snacks and desserts.

Made garlic toast from the Texas toast I bought at the bread store last week and put it in the freezer.

Using a Swagbucks offer and a coupon code, I ordered a gift box from Citrus Lane, which I received this week.  I earned 1000 Swagbucks for signing up to have a box delivered and the coupon code cut the price in half.  So for $12.50, I received a cool little nightlight, a copy of Ladybug magazine, a harmonica and a small bag of organic potato crisps.  Plus the 1000 Swagbucks earned me the $10 Amazon credit mentioned above.

Made apple dapple cake from the apples we were gifted last week.

thrifting

Went thrifting and bought three books for $1 each (two for Christmas gifts for the kids and one for school), four glass dessert dishes for $0.50 each, a quart size mason jar for $0.79, a stand for my new beverage server for $1.49, four black dish tubs for $0.59 each to use for storage in my pantry, and an orange and white Saks Fifth Avenue purse for $1.99.

Picked up three books from a freebie table at my Grandma’s church: The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn, The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler and In My Father’s House by Corrie Ten Boom.

What did you do this week to make or save money?

The Difference Between Frugality and Stewardship

kitchen

Like any true Southern girl, my favorite place to be is in my kitchen making something delicious to bless the people I love.  My cousin Beckie has always teased me about how little TV I watch.  Truthfully, the TV is just too far from the kitchen to suit me.  Standing in the kitchen, cooking or cleaning, wearing my apron and listening to a sermon or worship music while I work is my happy place.  Today I had the urge to go spend the afternoon in my kitchen, cooking and cleaning and prepping some freezer meals.  My hands needed hot, soapy water, my favorite dishcloths crocheted by my cousin Donna (I have a lot of cousins y’all), and something yummy simmering on the stove.  I do some of my best thinking and praying when I’m in my kitchen.  As I scrubbed down countertops this afternoon, I started praying about our finances.  I know we are just one of many families struggling in the current economy, and thoughts of how to feed my family for less occupies my mind quite often.  I’m always looking for frugal recipes, tips on when/how to buy in bulk, the best place to get fresh produce or bread, anything to make our dollars stretch a little further.  Today though, as I scrubbed and prayed, a new thought entered my mind.  What if, instead of worrying and planning for how to spend my grocery money more carefully, I concentrated instead on using everything God had already blessed me with to its full potential?  What if I focused on using all the things I had stocked up in my pantry? What if I actually learned to use my fancy espresso machine (one of my best Goodwill finds) instead of stopping by Starbucks once a week?  I looked around and surveyed my kitchen, pantry and cabinets.  Everywhere I looked I could see items in need of attention – cleaning, repair, organization, or just actually being used.  I shifted my thinking from what I needed to do to acquire what I thought I needed to thinking about how to best use what I already had.

As I continued praying and seeking God’s direction in this new train of thought, I resolved to spend the month of October focusing specifically on stewardship instead of frugality.  I’m great at finding good deals and making a dollar stretch.  I’m not so great at maintenance and follow through.  Sometimes this results in unnecessary waste or things that sit in my pantry unused for several months before being donated to a food bank.  I decided a few steps that needed to be made and planned how to carry them out this month.  I will share the things I learn through the month and maybe we will both be blessed.

Here are the things I’m going to concentrate on this month:

1.  Eat from my pantry/freezer before going grocery shopping.  Each month, as soon as I get my grocery money, I rush to the store first chance I get and stock up on everything I can think of that we may need that month.  I use coupons, search for deals, know the best price and which store to find it in.  But by the 20th, I’m out of grocery money and depending on money from our regular account to get us through until next month check comes on the 5th.  It’s a feast or famine cycle.  This month, instead of focusing on acquiring more food, I’m going to focus on eating what we have, using what’s already in our pantry and freezer.  That’s not to say I won’t be grocery shopping, but I don’t plan to go until I actually need to.

2.  Inventory and make a plan.  I can’t use it if I don’t know I have it, right?  I’m going to start with an inventory of my pantry and freezer and fridge and then make a written plan on how to use what I have.  This will also give me a plan for all my #10 cans of tomato sauce, extra loaves of bread, etc. that I intended to prepare freezer meals with.  I’m not a great menu planner but I can make a list of possible meals and list the ingredients needed so I don’t use them for something else, crossing off meals on my list as I cook them.

3. Learning to use and maintain what I already have. Two years ago, the week before my birthday, I found the ultimate Goodwill prize – a $400 Starbucks espresso machine for $10.  Happy Birthday to me, right?? I must confess that I still don’t know how to use it and only have espresso drinks when Michael is off work on a weekend morning (about once or twice a month) because he’s the only one that knows how to operate the machine.  This month, I plan to watch the same YouTube videos he learned from, practice, and learn to make some of my favorite Starbucks drinks.  I already have all the equipment I need – I just need to learn how to use it.  The same goes for the ice cream maker I bought to make special dairy-free ice cream for Georgia.  I’m sure I’ll find a few other things too as the month progresses.

4. Make mealtimes special.  Just because the grocery budget is tighter and our meals are less extravagant, doesn’t mean our table has to be.  I plan to make regular use of our special dishes, light some candles, use the cloth napkins and napkin rings, maybe even add some flowers or a centerpiece occasionally.  I have a large stockpile of things that I use when we host parties or have a family over to eat, but I rarely use them for our own family.  Again, concentrating on stewardship instead of frugality – using what I have to its full potential.

Stay tuned all month! I will be posting updates to my progress through the month and at the end of October, I will let you know how it affected my monthly grocery budget.  I’m excited to see what God will teach me about stewardship.

Freezer Management 101 Part 3

So far we’ve stocked our freezers with bargain meats, veggies and fruits and made a few big batch recipes to help us make quick dinners on busy days.  The next step in freezer management is to add some breakfast foods and snack items.

One of the quickest and easiest items to prepare for the freezer is french toast.  Go buy a loaf of thin sliced sandwich bread at Aldi for $1.  Bring it home and prepare french toast as you usually would, using up the entire loaf.  Then lay the slices out on a cookie sheet (used waxed paper and layer them if needed) and stick it into the freezer.  When the slices are frozen, drop them into a gallon-sized ziploc freezer bag and label it.  When you’re craving french toast for breakfast, simply toast in the toaster just like frozen waffles.  Speaking of waffles, there’s another fast breakfast that’s easy to stock for the freezer.  Take your typical waffle recipe and double or triple it, freeze the waffles individually, then bag up when frozen.

Muffins are a frequently requested breakfast at our house but most mornings it’s all I can do to make coffee, much less muffins.  My solution is to mix up a few batches of favorite muffin varieties, put the batter into cupcake liners and freeze.  Once frozen, put the “muffin pucks” into labeled freezer bags.  When your crew is begging for muffins, just pull out the number needed, drop them into your muffin tin and slide it into the oven.  You will need to increase the baking time by 5-10 minutes when baking from frozen.  The bonus of this method is that if your kids can’t agree on what kind of muffins to eat, you can still give each of them what they want.

Another favorite breakfast treat at our house is banana bread.  Banana bread is also great for welcoming new neighbors, bringing to friends when you visit and sharing with new moms when you deliver a meal (most people don’t think to bring breakfast items so this will be a welcome treat).  I have perfected an assembly line technique that makes it easy to bake four loaves at a time so when I see the bags of ripe bananas at the grocery store, I grab all I can and make lots of banana bread.  The recipe I’m going to share with you is from an old church cookbook I received from my mother-in-law at my bridal shower.  This cookbook is one of three I just can’t live without.

Banana Bread

*To make this assembly-line style , line up the ingredients in stations around your kitchen table.  Get the kids to help you by refilling each ingredient as you use it.  We’ve made as many as 20 loaves in one day using this method.

Cream together 1/2 cup cooking oil and 1-1 1/2 cups sugar.  Add 2 eggs beaten well and 3 mashed, ripe bananas; beat well.  In a separate bowl mix 2 cups flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp soda and 1/2 tsp salt into the mixing bowl along with 3 tbsp milk and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract.  Stir in 1 cup chopped nuts if desired (I never use nuts since so many are allergic now).  Pour into greased loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  (My oven does better at 325 for 1 hour 15 minutes)  In my experience, three batches of this recipe will fill four loaf pans as the recipe makes just slightly more than you need for each loaf and the excess from three batches is enough to fill a fourth pan.  Four loaf pans fit side by side in my oven so I can bake four at a time.   Cool completely before removing from pan.  Wrap cooled loaves with plastic wrap and then aluminum foil.  Be sure to label and date before freezing.

NOTE: One reader asked me about the safety of using aluminum foil and plastic wrap in freezing foods, voicing concern about a link to dementia and chemical leaching in plastics.  I have done quite a bit of research online and cannot find any reputable sources that confirm either concern.  Plastic wraps and aluminum foils must meet FDA food safety requirements and are both considered safe for freezer use.  It has been proven that plastic wraps should not be used in microwaving due to chemical leaching through heating but this is not applicable to freezer use.  The Saran company website suggests that if foods will be frozen for longer than two weeks, it is recommended that you use freezer bags instead of plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn.  I hope this answers any concerns you have about using foils and wraps with frozen foods.

Finally, we need to stock our freezer with a yummy snack that all kids love – cookies!  Practically any cookie dough can be frozen – just mix up the dough, scoop onto a cookie sheet and freeze.  When your kids ask for a snack, put a couple scoops on a cookie sheet and bake, adding a couple extra minutes to the baking time.  Here’s a recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies that makes a large batch and freezes well:

Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Combine 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp salt and set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, blend 2 sticks unsalted softened butter, 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar and 1/2 cup granulated sugar until creamy.  Add 2 beaten eggs and 1 tsp vanilla extract and beat well.  Slowly add in dry ingredients and mix until smooth.  Mix in 3 cups uncooked oats and 1 cup raisins with a spatula until evenly distributed.  Chill dough for 15 minutes.  Use an oiled teaspoon or cookie scoop to measure out 2″ diameter balls of dough onto cookie sheet.  If freezing, transfer frozen dough balls into a freezer bag until ready for baking.  If baking, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown (longer if cooking dough from frozen).  Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Makes 3-4 dozen.  Optional bar cookies can be made by pressing batter into an ungreased 9×13 baking pan and baking for 30-35 minutes.

As always, I welcome your comments!  Feel free to ask questions or share your ideas or recipes as we learn about freezer management together.

Freezer Management 101 Part 2

It’s warming up outside but we’re working on keeping our kitchens cool by stocking up our freezers and making dinner prep easier.  Last time we discussed how to stock your surplus and find stock up deals to fill your freezer.  Today we will cover big batch cooking and using #10 cans to add more to our freezer stockpile.

Before I ever started making freezer meals, I learned how to do big batch cooking for the freezer.  These are simple, large quantity foods that are inexpensive to make and great for making quick dinners.  I have  a few standby recipes to share with you and methods that make this type of freezer cooking easy and uncomplicated.

First we’re going to buy some #10 cans.  If you’ve ever been to a warehouse club or Walmart, you’ve probably seen the giant #10 cans of tomato sauce, veggies or applesauce and walked right by it thinking to yourself, “We never eat that much at one time!”  Guess what?  You don’t have to eat it all at once, you can freeze the rest!  Here’s a list of my favorite foods to buy in #10 cans and how to use them:

1.  Pizza sauce – A jar of pizza sauce is around $2 at most grocery stores.  A #10 can of pizza sauce is around $3.50 and is the equivalent of approximately 5 jars.  Not making enough pizza to feed an army?  No problem, just use what you need, spoon the rest into pint-size canning jars and put them in the freezer.  When you plan to use it, just set it out on the counter that morning and it will be thawed and ready for use by dinner.  If you like making bread, you can also make homemade pizza crusts and put them into the freezer until you are ready to bake them.  We don’t just use pizza sauce for homemade pizzas, but also for dipping pizza crusts in when we buy ready-made pizzas or make calzones, as meatball sauce for subs, or even pasta sauce in a pinch.  Tip: If you don’t like making your own crust, buy a premade fresh deli pizza (Walmart sells a 16″ cheese pizza for $6 and it’s HUGE) and top it with veggies and meats from your freezer stock before baking.

2. Tomato sauce/diced tomatoes – I’m listing these two together because I usually use them together.  I use them to make spaghetti sauce, hot dog chili, vegetable soup and regular chili.  Later in the post I will share these recipes with you so you can use up your #10 cans too!  At around $2.50 per can, they are too good a deal to pass up!  You can put the leftover sauce/tomatoes into pint-sized canning jars or quart-size freezer bags and freeze.  I also put tomato sauce in ice cube trays, freeze, then pop them into freezer bags.  You can then add a cube or two to whatever needs a little tomato flavor.  I mainly use the cubes to add to a small portion of pasta for Georgia when we are having mac and cheese (she has a dairy allergy).

3.  Canned fruit or applesauce – These run $3-$4 each and are the equivalent of 5 regular cans or 3-4 large cans.  These are a treat at our house, as I always try to buy fresh fruit instead of canned, but in the winter when fresh in-season fruit is scarce it’s a good option.  I usually don’t have to freeze these, just open and serve, then pour the remainder into a 2 quart pitcher with a lid that we use exclusively for food items instead of drinks.  It’s a clear pitcher so it’s easy for the kids to see what’s in it.  Once I open it, I will offer it at least once a day and it’s gone by the end of the third day.  Applesauce is a little slower in disappearing so I will serve it often but also make a few batches of muffins or snack cake with about half of it.  It freezes well too so if it doesn’t disappear quickly, just jar it up and stick it into the freezer.

4. Black beans – These are around $3.50 a can.  I love to add black beans to vegetable soup and chili, mix it with diced tomatoes and rice and corn for a filling meatless meal, or make burrito filling with salsa and chopped spinach (The kids think it’s cilantro and I’m not about to correct them!).  Just open the can and scoop out what you need, drain and rinse the rest and put into quart-size freezer bags (about 2 cups each).  Make sure you label them!  Lay the bags flat in the freezer and they will stack well once frozen.  I try to lay them out separately until they freeze and then stack them because sometimes they will stick together.

There are many other foods available in #10 cans – pudding, nacho cheese sauce, generic ketchup, vegetables – but I don’t generally buy them because it’s either something we won’t eat, we can make cheaper ourselves, or I don’t have confidence in how well it would freeze.  If you decide to try something that I haven’t mentioned here, let me know what you did and how it turned out.  Maybe we can add to our list of #10 canned foods!

Now that we’re stocked up with #10 cans, it’s time to open them up and do some big batch cooking.  Here are a few recipes to get you started:

Spaghetti Sauce

Brown 3 lbs of ground meat (beef, turkey, chicken or even Italian sausage) with 1 diced onion (use your frozen stash!) and drain.  Using a large stockpot or crockpot, pour in one #10 can of tomato sauce and 1/3 to 1/2 of a #10 can of diced tomatoes, according to preference.  If the tomatoes are chunkier than you like, you can put them in a blender or food processor first and pulse until they reach the desired consistency before adding them to the tomato sauce.  Add your meat.  Next add in Italian seasoning and garlic, salt and pepper to taste.  I don’t really measure, I just know how much is about right for us.  You can’t take it back out if you add too much so always start out with a little, taste it then add more if needed.  Now add whatever veggies you have in your freezer stock or fresh in the fridge.  I chop mine really fine with my food processor or my Pampered Chef chopper if I’ve had a stressful day and need to get some frustration out.  The smaller it is, the less likely the kids are to notice and question it!  Stir well and then cover, leaving it to simmer for several hours, stirring occasionally.  When I make spaghetti sauce, I will boil enough noodles for dinner then after the meal, I will freeze the remaining sauce, cooling it and then putting into quart-size jars.  Make sure the jars are completely cool before you put them into the freezer – warm jars will raise the temperature of your freezer and the shock of putting a warm jar in a cold place may cause it to crack.

Chili

Start the same as the spaghetti sauce by browning the meat and onion, pouring the tomato sauce and diced tomatoes into a large pot, then adding the drained meat and onion.  You can also leave out the meat and make a vegetarian chili.  Drain and rinse 2-3 cups of black beans and 2 cups corn (either canned and drained or frozen), then add to the pot.  Add chili seasonings, cumin, garlic and chili powder to taste.  Again I do this all by estimation and don’t really measure anything, just add spices and taste and adjust as needed.  Stir it all up, add a lid and let it simmer and make your whole house smell good.  Now make some cornbread or grab a box of saltines and dinner is ready!  After dinner, do the same as with the spaghetti sauce – cool it, jar it and stick it in the freezer.

Hot Dog Chili

My wonderful mother-in-law recently gave me her recipe for homemade hot dog chili.  I usually refuse to eat chili on hot dogs because the canned chili looks disgusting to me but I love her recipe, so I begged her for it.  Here’s her yummy version: Brown 3 lbs of ground meat (beef, turkey, chicken) with 1 diced onion (use your frozen stash!) and drain.  Add 2 envelopes Chili-O seasoning mix, 1 can crushed tomatoes (28 oz) and 1 can tomato sauce (15 oz).  If your meat and/or tomatoes are too chunky, you can pulse them in the food processor before adding them to pot, but don’t make it too runny or it will dribble off your hot dog.  Simmer on low at least one hour, stirring occasionally.   Have hot dogs for dinner and freeze the rest, just like the spaghetti sauce and chili.   Tip: use a glass measuring cup to measure the tomatoes and the sauce if you are using a #10 can – the ounces are listed along with the fraction measurements right on the cup.

Mix Match Veggie Soup

This is what I call a “use it up” recipe, which is why it’s called Mix Match Veggie Soup.  Start with a base of tomato sauce (whatever is left in a #10 can after making something else), add diced tomatoes (again, however much is left in the can), and then throw in frozen veggies from your freezer stash, ground meat if you want it and your choice of seasonings.  You can even add leftover rice or pasta.  The longer it simmers, the yummier it tastes.  Leftovers freeze well, just like the other recipes.

Chicken and Broth

This one is super easy – it doesn’t use a #10 can but it’s just as quick and simple as the others and makes a lot.  Just take chicken and fill your crockpot (or a big pot on the stove) 2/3 full, add some seasonings and cover with water.  If you have any veggie scraps (onion or carrot peels, celery leaves, etc) throw that in there too. Let it cook on low all day.  Put a colander inside a larger bowl (big enough to hold all the liquid) and pour everything into the colander.  The colander will catch all the pieces of veggies and chicken and let the broth drain into the bowl.  Fish out the veggie scraps and throw them away – or add them to your compost heap if you have a green thumb – and set the chicken aside to cool.  Take the bowl of broth and pour into small canning jars (pint-size, like you use for jelly) and add clean lids and rings.  Leave it out on the counter until it’s cool to the touch.  Once it’s cool, put it in the fridge overnight.  In the morning, open each jar and skim the fat off the top, then reseal and put in the freezer.  The cooked chicken can be shredded or chopped and put into quart-size freezer ziploc bags – I use 2-3 cups per bag since it’s the typical amount needed for a recipe.  Be sure to label the bags and jars before you put them in the freezer!

In the next post of the freezer management series, we will add breakfast foods and cookie dough to our freezer stock.  As always, comments make my day!  Please ask any questions you have or share your own favorite freezer friendly recipe.

Freezer Management 101 Part 1

Today’s post is moving us in a new direction.  So far I’ve shared adventures in my faith walk and in trying to exercise and lose weight.  Now I want to start to share a new adventure with you – the adventure of homemaking!  We will start in my favorite room of my house, the kitchen!

Many of my friends and family have asked me a lot of questions about how I manage my kitchen, from grocery shopping to meal planning to pantry organization to freezer management.  I’m going to start with freezer management because it generally gets the most questions.  There’s a lot to share so this will be the first in a series of posts.  If your question isn’t answered today, be sure to ask me in the comments area so I can be sure to cover it in a future post.

Freezers are generally used for two things:  keeping frozen items like ice and popsicles  frozen and preserving other foods like meats and vegetables until we are ready to eat them.  Freezer management is just using the functions of your freezer in the most frugal and efficient ways to make meal times easier to manage.  We will start with the preserving function of the freezer and at the end of the series, I will share several recipes for frozen treats so you can stock your freezer with yummy stuff to keep you cool this summer.

I started out small in freezer management, using my freezer as a storehouse for meats when I found a great deal.  When I shop for meats, I go to the grocery store searching for markdown stickers.  Grocery stores will lower the price of fresh meats when they are close to the sell by dates in order to move them out the door.  You can buy these markdowns at a great discount and stick them right into your freezer until you are ready to cook them.  For example, on my last meat shopping trip, I found one pound packs of ground chicken regularly $3.69 each with $3 off markdown stickers.  There were nine packages marked down and I grabbed them all at $0.69 each.  Later I will show you how to bring your meats home and prep them into a meal or main dish before freezing (I’ve got an 1/8 of a cow coming in a few weeks!), but for now just focus on adding to your freezer stock.  Once your freezer is stocked with markdown meats, you can plan your meals based on the meats you have on hand and start lowering your grocery bill.

Another way to stock the freezer is with fruits and veggies.  First, go through your fridge and pull out any fruits or veggies that are just slightly past their prime.  These are foods like limp celery or apples that aren’t as crisp or very ripe berries that need to be eaten quickly before they spoil.  Instead of losing these foods to the garbage disposal, save them while they are still viable and get them in the freezer.  I chop things like onions, celery, carrots,  mushrooms, and bell peppers into very small pieces (usually with a food processor – I’m all about working quickly!) and then spoon them into ice cube trays.  Put the trays into the freezer until the veggies are frozen solid, then pop them out and put them into freezer ziploc bags in the freezer.  When you are making dinner and you want to add a little something to a sauce or rice, grab a couple cubes from your freezer stock and toss them in the microwave for a minute to thaw, then it’s ready to add to your recipe. You can also slice veggies and freeze to add to pizzas or stir fry – just slice and place on a cookie sheet in the freezer until frozen, then remove and put them in freezer ziploc bags.  The same procedure can be used for fruits like apples, peaches, berries, even bananas – just peel, slice and freeze on a cookie sheet then bag them.  Berries, grapes and pineapple chunks make a great frozen snack – they taste like bite-size popsicles and they’re healthy too!  Once your fridge is cleaned out, head to the grocery store and scope out the markdown produce.  Many grocery stores will pull bruised or very ripe produce off the shelves and bag it up to sell at a deep discount.  Just take it home and process it for the freezer right away and you can enjoy lots of produce for really low prices.  You can do the same thing when you find a great deal on in-season produce like a bushel of peaches.

The last way to stock up the freezer is with baked goods.  Most grocery stores will markdown breads, cookies, bagels, and pies that are nearing their sell by dates.  Once you get them home, wrap each item in foil before placing in a freezer ziploc bag.  I will often separate things like bagels, pies and cookies into individual serving sizes and put each serving in foil then a sandwich bag and then put all the sandwich bags into a larger freezer ziploc bag.  Then I can easily pull out a bagel or dessert to add to my hubby’s lunch, make a quick breakfast or serve to a visiting friend.  The rule of thumb here is to not just throw the baked goods into the freezer in their original packaging.  The packaging is meant to keep it fresh but isn’t designed to protect against freezer burn, so be sure to wrap it then bag it before you freeze it.

A few important things to note here:

1. Use name-brand freezer ziploc bags.  This isn’t the time to cut corners with off-brand bags or using storage bags instead of freezer bags.  You’re preserving food so use the best quality stuff to do it and you will get a better result.

2.  Don’t skip the ice cube tray/cookie sheet step!  This allows the food to freeze in separate pieces before you bag it so the pieces don’t stick to each other.  If you skip this step and throw it all into the bag and then freeze it, you will end up with a big frozen chunk that’s only useful if you are going to use it all at once and have the time to thaw it.

3.  Be sure to label and date everything.  If you are going to go through the effort of preserving the food, make sure you can identify it later or you won’t ever use it.

4.  Organize your freezer.  Keep all your meats in one section, your fruits in another, your veggies somewhere else, etc.  This is easier to do when you have a full-size upright freezer but it can still be done if all you have is the freezer above your fridge.  When you keep like items together, it’s easier to see what you have and find what you need so you can use what’s there and not forget about any of the frozen treasures waiting to be eaten.

The next post in the series will cover utilizing big batch cooking and #10 cans to stock your freezer.  As always, comments make my day!  Be sure to leave your questions in the comments so I can cover them in future posts.

 

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He Ruined It For All the Girls

 

 

Being the firstborn child can be both a blessing and a curse.  Firstborn children are usually independent, strong willed and natural leaders…and guinea pigs.  Face it, your firstborn has the greatest learning curve of any of your other children – you learn what not to do through the experience of your firstborn, so that your second, third, etc children have a better chance for survival.  I know my parents learned a lot with me as a firstborn – always make sure your child isn’t standing in front of the swings if you decide to go really high or you might kick her across the playground; never chase her little fingers with the vacuum cleaner teasing “I’m gonna getcha!” because eventually you will; and always verify there is indeed not a child riding on your shoulders before walking through a doorway.  These are all valuable lessons that saved my younger brother from pain and suffering, all learned at my expense.

On the flip side though, firstborns are trendsetters.  My mother-in-law wanted to be called Granny by her grandchildren just like her sister was by hers, but Ross as the firstborn grandchild called her Nanny instead and so now she is known as Nanny to all 7 of her grandchildren to this day.  And a lot of “mom rules” – you know what I’m talking about, those nonnegotiable policies that are written in stone because you’re gonna make sure THAT never happens again – are also made into law because of something the firstborn did.  In our family, for example, we do NOT go to Toys R Us.  Those who know our family well know why and are probably laughing hysterically at the memory of why we have that rule, but that story is for another day.  Today I want to tell the story behind two other “mom rules” that at first don’t seem related to each other, but once you hear the story, it makes perfect sense and may actually cause you to make a mom rule of your own.  The two rules?  1. No balloons in the car and 2. No chocolate milk in restaurants.

When Ross was four and Gracie was only 10 pounds of spunk and cuteness, we would have a weekly lunch date with Michael on Fridays.  Those little outings with Daddy were something we looked forward to all week long.  On one particular lunch date, we chose to go to Macado’s.  They have a huge sandwich menu, the kids meals were cheap and Ross would get crayons and paper and a balloon to entertain him while we waited for our food to arrived.  Ross really wanted chocolate milk, but when it was time to order, the waitress said they only had white milk.  He pulled the oldest trick in the book, poking out his lower lip and fluttering those mile-long eyelashes at her and in no time, she was at the bar mixing chocolate syrup into his milk just for him.  She even gave him extra chocolate because he was so sweet (insert wink and a smile).  Ross loved it so much, he slurped it down before his food came and had to get a refill to go with his meal.

After lunch, I loaded the kids into the car, kissed my hubby goodbye as he went back to work and headed to Gracie’s well child checkup.  Ross was being really good, talking to his sister to entertain her while we drove and holding his balloon in his lap so it wouldn’t obstruct my view through the rearview mirror.  As we waited at the stoplight just across the street from the doctor’s office, I heard the sound every mother dreads – someone in the backseat was throwing up.  I whirled around to check on the baby and saw Ross puking all over the top of the balloon in his lap.  And then he let it go, just as the light turned green.  I rolled down the window and beat furiously at the balloon, trying to get it out of the car as quickly as possible as it bounced around above us, vomit dripping from every spot it touched.  I somehow made it through the intersection and into the parking lot, where I whipped into a parking space and flung open the door of the car.  The balloon drifted away, the baby began to cry, and Ross lifted up a little hand covered in puke crying “My balloon!  Mommy, my balloon!”.  At that moment I vowed to never, ever allow balloons in the car or chocolate milk at restaurants ever again.

Now whenever we go out to eat or leave a Harris Teeter and one of my littles asks for a balloon, Ross sighs and shakes his head and says, “I’m sorry girls.  I ruined it for all of you.”  And they all beg Mommy to tell them the story again of Ross and the balloon and the chocolate milk.

As always, comments make my day!!  I’d love to hear your “mom rules” and the stories behind them.

 

 

 

 

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