Hawaiian Haystacks Freezer Meal

Friday, December 28, 2012

I mentioned in a meal planning blog post that I was testing out Hawaiian Haystacks in the freezer and the outcome was GOOD!!!! So, here's my recipe....the original is here (there are beautiful photos there....that I'm not capable of!)

Makes 2 dinners, 4 servings each

8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
2/3 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp salt
1 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
48 oz chicken broth (I used leftover homemade turkey stock once)
3 tsp dry Ranch Dressing seasoning packet
1/2 tsp garlic salt
4 cups cooked shredded chicken breast

Cooked brown rice, enough for your family

Here's where it gets fun...the toppings. The following is a list of the offerings we have put on our haystacks, but not all at once...that's just crazy talk! This last time we put a little Greek twist on things and it was fantastic too. My favorite is any combo that is sweet and salty....mmmmm. I know some of it might sound funky...but give it a try, it is now a family favorite in this house!!

-Chow Mein Crispy Noodles
-Sliced Green Onions
-Black Olives
-Pineapple tidbits
-Dried Cranberries
-Slivered Almonds
-Tomatoes (grape tomatoes work best)
-Shredded Cheese
-Feta Cheese
-Bacon Bits

1. Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat.
2. Slowly whisk in flour, salt and pepper until smooth.
3. Slowly whisk in broth until smooth.
4. Raise temp to high and whisk until it thickens.
5. Add sour cream, ranch seasoning, garlic salt, and cooked chicken breast.
6. Serve chicken gravy over rice and cool the batch that is to be frozen.
7. We serve toppings at the table so that everyone in the family can customize to their liking.

For Freezer Meal:

Place cooled chicken gravy in ziploc bag or freezer container. Freeze rice separately, it thaws and reheats great!
Thaw in the fridge at least 24 hours.
Microwave to reheat, 5 minutes and then stir and heat to your liking.
Microwave the rice to reheat as well.
Serve as above, with any toppings you like!



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I tend to stay away from hot button issues. My beliefs are my beliefs (mind you, they have changed a lot over the years) and I usually keep it to myself. But this topic has weighed heavy on my heart the last few days.

I have witnessed (via the news) the aftermath of a young man who did the unthinkable. I don't understand why he did it, if he had mental problems, if he was on medication or not on medication, if he was raised in an amazing home or a horrible one, if he was afforded every luxury in the world or kept locked in a basement. Honestly, for me no reason makes it forgivable, but I am not the judge.

Twenty-six people lost their lives and the least we can do is learn something and make sure they leave a legacy of love and courage. I know if my child had been in that classroom last week, I wouldn't want his death to be paraded around for news ratings, religious bashing or political gain...I would want people to stop, reflect and see how they can be the change they want to see in the world. It is SO easy to point fingers, it's hard to admit our own faults (and I'm including myself there!).

I'm not writing this to sound self righteous or push my own agenda...if it comes off that way I am so very sorry! I have zero answers. I am flawed. I am human. I have a blog so I get to type random ponderings and wonder if anyone really reads this. I have my opinions and I welcome you to stop reading if you are rolling your eyes and not the least bit interested in what I have to type...or read on and contemplate what has been on my mind and heart lately.

Mark 12:28-29

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
 29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God; the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

When He says "neighbors", He doesn't mean the dude next door that smokes too close to your glass sliding door or the kid across the street that always leaves his bike in the driveway. He means EVERYONE. He doesn't say that you should love "those who are the same religion as you", "those who vote the same way that you do", "those who like the same color as you", "those who hate tomatoes like you do"....he says THE MOST important thing to do is love God and one another.

So, what exactly does love mean (cuz we know adultery isn't exactly what he's getting at here). The following scripture is frequently used in wedding ceremonies, but it's a definition of love that is so much more than romantic love.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

All of this pondering was not a reaction to the shooting, I know love alone won't stop a shooter from doing awful things (that topic is a WHOLE can of worms that I'm not even going to touch)...I'm addressing what I have seen since the shooting....the personal attacks, the anger, the name calling, the inability to just respect each other...even if we don't agree with each other.

I originally typed "I just ask that you PLEASE love one another" but who am I to ask that of you? (and kinda obnoxious of me to assume you aren't loving to everyone). If you are still with me, I just ask that you give this some thought. Individually we might not make a significant change....but together we can do great things.

I pray for peace and love during this holiday season.

Thank You.

Christmas Gift Tags

Sunday, December 16, 2012

As I mentioned before, I recently received an early Christmas gift of a Silhouette Cameo. I LOVE this thing...it's amazing! I have made a ton of gifts, but I can't show them because it will spoil the surprise!! BUT, I can show you this...

These are the gift tags I made on my Silhouette. Instead of signing our names on every gift, I just have to put TO: So-and-so and they know who it is from!!!

Last year when I was wrapping gifts I started getting lazy writing all our names (it was the first year with four family members) and that is when I realized our initials are PBn'J (like the sandwich) so of course I had to do it in this order again! :)

Yup, this is how I spend my evenings...I'm one wild and crazy girl!!!

Fan-freaking-tastic Fudge

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I had no intention of making fudge today, but B was cruisin' the net and decided his mission for the day would be fudge. I wasn't going to say no, and when he scooped up both kids and took them on his fudge ingredient finding mission...I was ALL FOR IT!!!!

So the recipes we used were here and here....but I tweaked it a bit...

Fan-freaking-tastic Fudge
Servings: Should be a lot, or just for you!

-3.5 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
-1/4 cup butter
-14 oz sweetened condensed milk
-1/3 cup Bailey's (Omit if you are giving this to young children or pour yourself a drink if you are dealing with young children)

1. Melt semi-sweet chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl for 30 seconds at a time until completely melted.
2. Over low heat, warm condensed milk and butter.
3. Add melted chocolate to condensed milk and butter and stir until completely incorporated. Then continually stir until it is a little shiny (I know that might be strange, but that seems to be about the time it's ready to roll)
4. Pour into lined pan or disposable pan
5. Eat
6. Feel guilty because you intended to give the fudge as gifts.
7. Make another batch
8. Do squats while the chocolate chips melt, in hopes of burning off a few calories
9. Promise to go to the gym tomorrow

Ta-Da! You have amazing fudge and it is SUPER easy!!!

The little nibbles out of the bottom left corner are for quality control purposes only!

Meal Planning

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Lately I haven't been meal planning like I usually do. Partly because I had lots of freezer meals hanging out....and didn't really have to cook/grocery shop much. However, when I'm lazy that leads to it being 5:00 pm and I have forgotten to pull anything out of the freezer, so we have pizza! So this week, I made sure I actually wrote things down and tried to stay ahead of the game...here's what I came up with!

Monday: Man Pleasin' Chicken (from the freezer), brown rice & sauteed kale
---Since I was making rice for this meal, I just tripled the batch so that I could have rice already made for Tuesday night's dinner and have another helping to freeze for a meal next week or whenever.
---Also, since I found myself at home all afternoon and I knew that the next day would be super busy, I threw some beans in the crockpot. The beans were dried beans that were soaked overnight for this recipe. I soaked a TON of beans...so the large amount that was left over after making 4 freezer meals were placed in a gallon ziploc bag and thrown in the freezer. All I had to do was beat the frozen bag of beans on the counter a few times to break them up, toss them in the crockpot with the cumin, taco seasoning, chicken broth and bay leaves and cook for 4 hours on high. When they were finished I drained them and put them in a container for tomorrow. 

Tuesday: Tamales (store-bought from Sam's Club), brown rice, beans
---I am SOOOO glad I prepped the rice and beans already! Today was very busy and then my husband worked very late, so it was just me and the kids. All I had to do was heat everything up in the microwave and serve. I added salsa and cheese on top of the rice and beans and it was super yummy!

Wednesday: Chicken & Apple Sausages on Hoagies with coleslaw
---This is a total cop out meal...sometimes you need a cop out meal! I will have to add dressing to the coleslaw...that's work! :)

---This is my new FAVORITE and I'm testing out to see how it freezes. I made a double batch a week or so ago and this is my test to see how it did. I'll let ya know!! In theory all I'll have to do it thaw it out and warm it up! I will also use the rest of the brown rice from the triple batch the other day. 

Friday: We will be gone...so it will be dinner on the run

Saturday:  Chicken & Apple Sausage Pasta  (this site has lots of pop ups and annoying ads so here is the recipe)

"I filled my biggest pot with water and set it over high heat to come to a boil. Then I chopped up 4 links of chicken-apple sausage and heated olive oil in a big skillet. I heated quite a bit of oil because I needed the oil, which gets some flavor from the sausage, to coat my pasta. I cooked for 15 minutes or so, turning the heat up and down and stirring frequently.
When the pasta water came to a boil, I salted the water and added about 3/4 pound of penne. When the pasta had just 4 minutes left to cook, I added broccoli florets and peeled, sliced stems to the pasta and water. (I left the broccoli pieces kind of big because the friend doesn't like broccoli.) Once they were cooked I drained and tossed them in a big bowl with the sausage and oil. Added Parmesan to individual servings of pasta."

Freddie the Elf - Days 18-Ohmygoshigiveup

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tuesday, December 11th - N's bedroom

Wednesday, December 12th - Day #19 Before bedtime, N requested that Freddie hide up high, I think it stresses N out when the elf is anywhere in toddler territory!

Ok...I lost track and the elf did stuff and left on Christmas Eve. I asked him to wait a bit next year...a whole month of Freddie was just a bit too much!!!!

Freddie the Elf - Days 13-17

More Freddie Adventures...

Day #13 Freddie was a naughty little guy and got into our fridge and dyed the milk green! I thought the kids would really love this. I waited until the milk was low though, just in case it wasn't as appreciated as I thought it would be...I did NOT give thought to the fact that you can't see through the jugs from Sam's Club. Whoops! Here's Freddie hanging out in the fridge (next to the wine of course!) P enjoyed it, N looked me right in the eye and said "Please tell Freddie to never do that again". Hahahhaa....killjoy

Day #14 Freddie wanted to relax a little in the bathtub...I surely wouldn't mind a day of relaxation!


Day #15 This morning we found Freddie ziplining from the top of N's door, into the laundry room. N thought it was pretty cool!

Day #16 Snowball fight with Luigi...N says that Freddie won!

Day #17 Before bed, N asked Freddie if he could hide in his stocking the next morning. So, he was extremely excited when he woke up and found that Freddie listened and hid in his stocking. Of course, he was in toddler territory, so N requested/demanded that I put Freddie up high.

Freddie the Elf - Days 9-12

And the saga continues...

Day #9: The husband helped the elf hide tonight, I was so sick and would have forgotten about him completely. Freddie was found sitting among the apples in the basket on the wall. This is when I learned a valuable lesson...DON'T SET THE BAR TOO HIGH!!! If I had done a Pinterest worthy elfing from the beginning, my kids would have expected that every day. Do yourself a favor people...set the bar low!! N found the elf and after a few days of fun things like drawing on faces and bringing cereal....he was like "that's it?".

Day #10: I had been meaning to set up these little Christmas Trees we bought last year (because we thought P would be climbing the tree if we got a real tree...little did we know, she would STILL be trying to climb the tree this year). Anyway...these two little trees I had been meaning to set up in each of their rooms...since I never got around to it, Freddie took it into his own hands...and decorated them with gift tags. These gift tags were super cheap in the Target Dollar Spot and I don't care if P hides all of them (I just wish I didn't care that she hid all the sentimental ornaments on the big tree...we will find them when we move some day!) Darn...I totally forgot to take a picture...N usually finds the elf first and since the elf was down low, he was VERY concerned that his sister would touch him and take his magic away, so he wanted him put up high pronto and I didn't think to take a photo...whoops!

Day #11: I'm not exactly sure what Freddie was up to last night, but we found him inside a tube of toilet paper that had rolled down the stairs...that must have been a wild ride! N thought it was hilarious! He walked down the stairs to protect Freddie from his sister until I could get pick him up and put him up high...it is really funny how serious he is about protecting his magic.

Day #12: I can't believe we've already been at this 12 days...it flies by! Yesterday N was being a little naughty and had the DS taken away. I put it on top of the fridge (where Freddie happened to be placed after he fell down the stairs) and said if N's behavior did not improve, Freddie would take the DS to Santa. So, N's behavior did improve and Freddie decided to return it to N the next morning. When we woke up, he was perched up on a book shelf, leaning against the DS. At some point during the day, N decided to take it upon himself to get the DS down (I was in the bathroom, of course) and Freddie fell off the shelf. You would have thought someone DIED from the way my son reacted. He just lost it...then when he realized the two-foot toddling tornado had her sights on the poor little elf...I thought he might pass out screaming "THE MAGIC, THE MAGIC". Oh, how I wish I had video. I quickly scooped Freddie up and put him back. P handed me a blanket and said "Night, night", so I wrapped him up and he took a nap. I'm so thankful that I can touch him without the magic being lost!!

Giveaway Time!

Friday, December 7, 2012

I ADORE The Ellen DeGeneres Show. I watch when I can (read: when my kids are forced into quiet time, being not so quiet) and yesterday when I was watching the 12 days of giveaways, I was daydreaming about how freaking cool it would be to have her job. I mean, giving away stuff that you didn't have to pay for and making some very lucky people VERY happy...that would be fan-freaking-tastic!

So today, I was approached to do a little give away on my blog and I thought....O.M.G. THIS IS MY CHANCE!!! Ok, so it's on a very small scale and only one item (not 12 days) but it's still pretty cool!

First of all, have you heard of Origami Owl? They make these amazing lockets that I have fallen in love with. Truth be told, I'm completely in awe of the Founder of the company...meet Bella...

She is the ripe ol' age of SIXTEEN!!!!! You can read all about her, and her company, here. I am green with envy that I didn't come up with the concept...it is pretty stinkin' cleaver! You can learn all about the living lockets here, but here is the cliff notes version:

They make lockets...you can personalize them with charms, plates, chains and dangles...then you wear them! Easy-peasy!

This happens to be the one I made!

Nanette Seevers (who happens to be my amazing cousin) is a designer for the company and she has offered up a medium locket and two charms of your choice for the winner of our contest!! I'm excited, can you tell?????

So....how do you win???? Go enter The Origami Owl Giveaway and good luck to you!!!!

I was a good parent until...

I had everything figured out before Little Miss P came bounding into the world. Sure, not everyday was all roses for me and Mr. N (like potty training!!!!!!) but other than his dramatics and fits (and potty training!!!!) he was very easy. He rarely made a mess, didn't wear a bib for long because he was so clean, I could go days between cleaning under his high chair, he never EVER wrote on anything other than paper, and only stuck stickers to paper or clothes because that was a rule. He would gladly wash his hands and was not a fan of finger painting. Oh, and until recently he could not have pj tops and bottoms that did not match and I still cant convince him to wear a shirt that was previously a 'day' shirt as a 'night' shirt. He is my little type A rule follower, and I totally get that because that's how I am!

Having a child like this, I saw kids who wrote on walls and pondered, how does that even happen? You just say, 'we only write on paper' and that's that!

Enter Little Miss P

She is not a rule follower. She is a 'stare you down-roll her eyes-and do what she shouldn't' kinda kid...and baby she was born this way! I'm sooooooooo sorry for thinking that all kids were like Mr. N!!!!

However, even though she is a lot more work, and pushes my buttons constantly...she is exactly who we needed in our lives! God knew I needed a little spitfire to question everything I knew about parenting, and in turn make me a better mother. I have to remind myself of this when I'm cleaning crayon off the wall and wondering how she even got her hands on the crayon in the first place (I'm convinced she is stashing them in her diaper or somewhere because I swear I put them all away!!!) she is perfect just the way she is...my crazy little girl will challenge the world...this I know!

Do you have a kid who showed you how you SOOOOO don't have your act together?

Freddie the Elf - Days 4-8

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bet you were wondering what our little Freddie has been up to, huh? He has gotten a little more bold and a tad bit more naughty...which the kids are loving.

Day #4: I struggled with this one. I saw it on Pinterest and I have dry erase markers laying around and knew it would come right off....but I work so hard on getting my kids (mostly the little one) to follow the rules, did I REALLY want to encourage naughty-ness? I decided to go with it though, it was the elf after all, not me!!! I did thoroughly enjoy drawing on the pictures...it was more fun than I expected! I did keep checking the pen to make sure it was indeed dry erase and not a sharpie, wouldn't that be awful?? I tacked Freddie up with a little of that blue putty stuff you use to hang posters...that stuff rocks! My son found him in the morning and was shocked at what a naughty elf he was. I explained that ONLY Freddie can do that stuff and he was cool with that, but still looked a little concerned. He then asked if I was going to put him in time-out and seemed relieved when I said no.

Day #5: My husband and N put together these sleighs that they picked up at Lowe's the other day. When my husband was looking for a place to hide Freddie, he spotted the sleigh and grabbed a little of the blue putty to tack the sleigh to the banister. I thought this was gutsy because N could reach him in this location (thankfully, I don't think P could get up there). Now, if you know the elf story, you know that they cannot touch the elf or he loses his magic. N is an extreme rule follower...so it was hilarious to watch him walk up and down the stairs with his hands behind his back because he wanted to insure he didn't accidentally touch him. We did have a minor mishap, when Freddie slipped out of the sled we made a rule that it's fine for parents to touch him, he won't lose his magic! ;)

Day #6: Freddie chilled on the mantle the evening that I got my brand-spankin' new Silhouette Cameo. For those of you who don't geek out on crafting technology, it's a printer like device that cuts vinyl or paper for every craft your little heart could desire. I played around with it a little bit and made these little books, one for N and one for P. When I folded them all up, I realized I could make them from Santa!!! That's when things got super fun! I wrote notes on each page of the little book. Messages like "Thanks for helping out around the house", "Thanks for being such a silly little girl", "I see you are doing well in school", "I see you are learning more words" and "be nice to your sister, she really loves you" and of course "be nice to your brother, he loves you too". I included one blank book too (because I made three on my test run). So, in the morning the kids opened their little books and they LOVED them. N asked me to read both of them over and over...he thought it was so cool that Santa sent him something. This is a bi-product of the elf that I never thought about, but is pretty fun...their own private mail man with a direct link to Santa! Anyway, in the blank book, I asked the kids what they would like to send back to Santa. P just jabbered about bananas, but N had a lengthy list which included a dolly for his sister, a new DS game for Mommy and clothes for Daddy! We put the list back in the elf's arms and he delivered it back to Santa that night.

Day #7: I wasn't feeling very well and I needed to have a "boring" location so that expectations wouldn't get too high. On day 7 he was found up in the light above the dining room table. Not very exciting, huh? I forgot to take a photo!

Day #8: A friend of mine had her elf bring an AMAZING breakfast, I saw another brought a Christmas cereal...I thought both were super cute, but a box of cereal was much easier than a full breakfast! I tried to find a Christmas cereal the other day, and had no luck....so I got frosted rice krispies...they had elves on them, that's good...right????

Stay tuned to more adventures in Freddieland!

My Favorite Christmas Gift Ever

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

As I'm Christmas shopping for my kids, I'm contemplating my favorite gifts as a kid. I don't remember them all...I mostly remember trying to sneak a peek in the middle of the night and the super funky fruits (that we had never heard of) that Santa would leave in our stockings. I do remember the Barbie head that I wanted badly (Barbie head makes me sound barbaric...it was like a lifesize head and you could style her hair and do her makeup), the DJ set (because that's what I wanted to be when I grew up) and the telephone I nagged my parents to death about (and honestly, they shouldn't have gotten it for me, I was a brat). But my favorite "gift" wasn't originally wrapped at all...it was the gift of reading this book every night at bed time. I loved this tradition and it is my favorite memory!

Fast forward a whole buncha years...Christmas 2007 I was pregnant with my son. My dad handed me a gift that was obviously a book, and when I unwrapped it, I instantly burst into tears. It was the book he had read to me for so many years and he thought I could read it to my kids.

The next year, my son was just 9 months old at Christmas time and I attempted to read it to him...but he just wanted to eat the pages. Now, every time we cuddle up before bed and dive into a story, I'm thankful for this gift...it was much more than just a book!

I hope that when my kids look back on their childhood, they don't remember the toys or video games as their favorites, but instead, remember the time spent together and the love we have for each other!!

Squatting my way through December

Monday, December 3, 2012

Are you with me? I started on day #3...so I'm making myself do 20 & 25 to catch up...but I just did my 30! :)

Freddie the Elf - Days 1-3

I wanted to partake in the Elf pandemonium last year...but I was too cheap to pay full price and figured they would go on sale after Christmas.

I was wrong...so I bought our little friend and stashed him away for this year.

Yup, I'm totally one of "those" moms. Now, I don't go crazy because I'm just too lazy to pick up messes in the morning...but I have been finding fun things to do, and my husband has even gotten in on the fun!!

Here's Freddie's first few days with us...

Day #1: Freddie was found hanging out in the laundry room. Just hanging, not doing anything thrilling...but he was out of reach of the toddler. I didn't think to take a photo until a few days in...I didn't think I would even last past a day or two. Go me!

Day #2: We picked up the Christmas Tree the night before, so Freddie climbed to the top (again, out of toddler reach). Simple and easy!

Day #3: Hanging from the ceiling with our MistleToad. Do you see the out of toddler reach theme going on here?  I started running out of really high places...so soon I got bold...stay tuned! :)

Have you noticed anything a little different about our Freddie? Evidently, I am unable to read a full description on Amazon. You see, I read that he had brown hair and brown eyes and I said "Perfect! Just like half of our little family" and sent that bad boy to my shopping cart. When he arrived, I realized he was their dark skinned model meant for families of color...and not necessarily our glow in the dark, white family. It cracks me up! He's still pretty darn light skinned for being the "ethnic" elf.

Christmas baking, without the calories

Sunday, December 2, 2012

I'm not a huge fan of baking. I love crafting, knitting, cooking, and even tolerate sewing...but I do NOT dig baking. It makes a big mess, takes too long, is too exact and I end up eating way too much butter and sugar in the end product. But...it's the holiday season and it seems like baking is something I should do with my kids (well, kid....I'm far too type A to let P help me out here....it's something I'm working on but I'm not quite there yet!) Anywhoodle....I found the PERFECT compromise...all the mess (oh goodie) of baking. All the rolling and cutting and baking and decorating...but none of the eating!!! YAY!!!!!

So what the heck are we baking? ORNAMENTS!!!

Here is what you will need:
1 Cup ground cinnamon (Costco or bulk spices is the way to go!!)
1 Tbsp ground cloves
1 Tbsp ground nutmeg
3/4 Cup applesauce
2 Tbsp white glue

1. In a medium bow, stir together the cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Mix in the applesauce and glue. Work the mixture with your hands 2 to 3 minutes to form a ball. If mixture is too wet, add more cinnamon. If mixture is too dry, add more applesauce.

2. Lightly dust a clean surface with cinnamon and top of ball. Roll out the dough (I stole the mini rolling pin from the kids' playdough box) to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out shapes (we started with large stars, but decided on just doing the small stars). The original instructions said to use a toothpick to make a hole, but a straw poked in the center of the star made a perfect hole (the hole will shrink when it dries). What remains after you have cut out all the ornaments can be worked back into a ball and rolled out again easily.

3. Dry in a low oven. We did 185 for a few hours. The original instructions said dry in a sunny spot for 4-5 days...but that is NOT going to happen in Washington until July!

4. Once dry, decorate with ribbon or you can "ice" the ornaments with sparkly puffy paint.

Side note: I was covered from head to toe with cinnamon, so it was hard to hold the camera/phone and my 4 year old photographer kept taking photos of his mouth. So, I snapped a few photos of our last very little batch and then my phone battery died and I didn't get a photo of punching out the middles with the straw, but it's insanely easy....my little helper did them until his arms hurt (don't go calling the authorities!!! Four year old arms hurt after like 10 of them, especially when they figure out they would rather be playing on the DS than helping in the kitchen). My phone now smells like a Snickerdoodle...but that MIGHT be because my nose is filled with cinnamon and I'm assuming the smell is emanating from my phone, when it's really living in my nostrils!

Despite the mess, I did have a great time...and my helper will love telling people he made them ALL by himself and I'll sit there and smile! :)

Still drying...we will update with a photo of the completed product tomorrow!

Freezer Meals

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Today (and by "today" I mean a few weeks ago, because that's when I started writing this) I am doing a freezer meal exchange with my sister in law, cousin & a friend. The four of us are preparing meals in our own homes and then getting together and trading them and heading home with 6 yummy meals ready to freeze then enjoy whenever we please. I have participated in a few of these and have always enjoyed them (and my husband is a huge fan too!).

Here are a few reasons I love them...

#1. Batch cooking rocks. It's pretty much just as easy to make 3 meals as it is to make 1..and the clean-up is virtually the same.

#2. Getting together with friends for any reason is fun.

#3. Food made by other people is just yummier.

#4. Meal planning is a lot easier when you have meals ready to go in your freezer.

Now, you wanna do it too, huh? I put together some resources and FAQ's to help you batch cook at home and maybe plan your own freezer meal exchange.


Q: What is batch cooking? 
A: Batch cooking is simply making several meals at once. It can be lots of different meals, or making one recipe multiple times. You can batch cook and have everything ready to go in the fridge, or you can freeze meals to be used at a later time. The best part of batch cooking is that it's very easy to double or triple a recipe and the clean up is virtually the same. And it makes meal planning super easy and day of prep is pretty much nothing...but you look like a rockstar!

Q: What is freezer cooking?
A: Freezer cooking is really just another term for batch cooking. Basically, you prep meals and have them ready to go in your freezer, so all you have to do is dive in your freezer and thaw/cook and you are done. Obviously, no cooking takes place IN your freezer (oh how I wish!)

Q: What kind of storage containers can I use for freezing?
A: If you are making a crock pot meal or marinading meat, I like to use a gallon freezer bag and freeze flat.  If you are making a casserole or something you will cook in the oven, go ahead and place it right in a disposable pan (great ones can be found at Dollar Tree and Sams/Costco) and place two pieces of foil over the casserole and freeze.

Side rant: IT MUST BE A FREEZER BAG....any old storage bag won't do, I found out the hard way. And a good quality bag is a must, refrain from getting anything from the dollar store unless you feel like cleaning your freezer. Always remember to write the name of the item and the date you made it. Even if you think you'll remember, write it down. You will appreciate this later! AND write on the bags before you put the food in...learned that one the hard way too!

Q: How long should the food stay in the freezer before using it?
A: There really is no minimum amount of time, because you could decide as you are putting the dish into the freezer, to pluck it out and cook it that night. There's no problem with that. There are general guidelines on the maximum time the dish should be in the freezer and that can be found here. I generally use 6 months as my personal rule of thumb...but I've heard of people keeping items in the freezer for up to a year with no problem. Properly sealing your food will keep it from freezer burn and make it last longer. You want the food completely cooled, if you put it in hot you have a food safety issue (see more below) and the steam captured in the bag or under the foil will freeze, and increase freezer burn. And you want the least amount of air around the food.

Q: How do I keep food safety in mind?
A: Never re-freeze any meat that has been fully thawed. My rule is that if it was previously frozen, it must be cooked before I will freeze it, then it's fine! I found many resources that said if the meat was thawed in the fridge, it's ok to refreeze, but it's just not something I practice. When I take a meal from the freezer, I either send it straight to my crockpot or the fridge to safely thaw. Some resources I found don't like to put meat straight from the freezer to crockpot in fear of bacteria, but I do it all the time and have no problems. This is a great resource for food safety and your crockpot. Be most careful with raw poultry! Bottom line is that you do want to keep food safety in mind so you don't make anyone puke...because you don't want to clean that up! Don't ever take hot food and put it in your freezer. It will warm up your freezer and you are putting yourself at risk. I let really hot stuff cool on the counter and then put it in the fridge for a bit then transfer to the freezer. This will also cut back on freezer burn issues I mentioned above!

Q: What kind of stuff can I freeze?
A: I use this blog as a guide for what I can freeze and can't freeze. What I have found is that dairy items like milk, cream, cream cheese, sour cream and yogurt don't freeze/thaw so well on their own, but when they are mixed into a sauce or dish...they do pretty good. You CAN freeze cream cheese, it's just going to be a little lumpy so I would only use it in a sauce and not try to put it on a bagel! And I just take issue with freezing milk, but if you want to, go ahead! Freezing yogurt and eating it frozen is a delish treat....however if you try to thaw it back out, I find it to be a little lumpy much like the cream cheese. I use cottage cheese & cream cheese in my spaghetti pie and it comes out fine. I also use sour cream in my enchiladas and they are fine too. It can be a little watery sometimes, but I've never experienced a problem. Cheese doesn't freeze well for me in block or slices, but shredded it ROCKS! If you have onions, green peppers or carrots that are going bad, chop them up and freeze in small bags. You can add them to just about anything. I have read that celery does well, but in my experience I have NEVER enjoyed frozen, then thawed, celery...it's just not my cup of tea. If it is in a meal (like the chicken pot pie we had tonight) it is fine, but frozen alone it's not so yumtastic.

Q: Where can I find recipes?
A: You can turn a lot of your favorites into freezer meals, it just takes some tweaking and usually takes me a couple tries to get it just right. However, there are some great resources for tried and true freezer meals.

* Pinterest has a million resources. Search for "Freezer Meals" and pin away. Or check out what I've pinned.

* Once a month mom is my FAVORITE free resource. Tons of great stuff for batch cooking and freezer meals. Their site alone could feed you for a year!

* 5 Dinners in 1 hour is a great resource for batch cooking a full week of meals in one hour. Quite a few of the meals can be frozen too! It is a subscription service, but I've done it for 3 months and like it a lot.

* Books: There are a ton of books on this subject....just google it or search on Amazon. Fix, Freeze, Feast is my favorite (I met one of the authors who was sweet enought donate the book to a silent auction I was planning...I've tried about half the recipes and never been disappointed. Sometimes I made a batch and altered the seasoning a little the next time I made it, to suit the tastes of our family, but that's pretty normal. You can check out her facebook page here or find the book on Amazon.)

**By the way... for the aforementioned freezer meal exchange, I am making Man Pleasin' Chicken and Mexi Chicken...two favorites 'round these parts.

Hope you found this helpful and Happy Batch Cooking!!!