Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sweet Success!

So all things considered it was a smooth day...

My top tips would be..

1.  Save mincing the jalapeno for as long as possible.  Who wants spicy on their hands the rest of the day?  Luckily I realized this before I chopped it and waited till it was actually needed.  

2.  WEAR SHOES! For the love of all things holy, wear good shoes.  I started at 9 am and it didn't occur to me to put shoes on till about 3pm.  My back and feet are paying for it now.

3.  Include your children whenever possible.  It keeps them involved enough that the don't want to bother you.  Grace helped me snip beans, and as I peeled and quartered potatoes she put them in the pot of cold water for me.  It gave her a peek into what I was doing.  I didn't have to say "no" to her, so her interest wasn't peaked by the "forbidden."

4.  Sit during tasks you can sit during!  When we were snipping beans and peeling potatoes, Grace and I set up a little station on the floor with a table cloth and the items we needed.  It was a little working break for me.

5.  Pick a hand soap you like because you will washing your hands a lot.  I am a teacher and I such I get blessed with a lot of nice hand soaps around holiday time.  Sometimes they are scents that I wouldn't necessary have picked out.  No big deal most of the time.  You wash your hands what 5 to 10 times a day typically?  Well, I washed my hands about a million times and the smell of Bath and Body Works Ribbon Candy Hand Wash was on my last nerve.

6.  I tried to remember to drink every time I washed my hands.  It is easy to get caught up in what you are doing and go a long time without any water.  By associating drinking with something I HAD to do (was my hands), I got in my water.

7.  Consider splitting the cooking and the prepping.  I think next time I will take two days.  Cooking my chicken breast and prepping veggies on one day and doing the actual cooking the next.  I worked from 9 to 5:30 with two 30 minute breaks... and still didn't finish everything.  Maybe I took on too much, but it would have simple in two days.

Things that slowed me down...

1.  Taking pictures.  I tried to snap a few photos to share with you about my progress.  Every time I took a photo, Grace wanted me to take her picture!  :-)

2.  Being pregnant!  I had to run to the bathroom (more hand washing, but I love the warm apricot soap in there!)

3.  Peeling potatoes! I feel bad for military chef anywhere.  10 lbs of potatoes took quite a bit of time and I thought I was going to get a blister!  Next time I might go with red potatoes or something that can be cooked with the skin on. 

So that was it!  For my days work I got:  

4 bags of shredded chicken
2 bags of grilled chicken strips
2 tins of baked pasta with chicken sausage
4 lunch serving portions of Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup
2 LARGE (like lunch for the next day too) bags of Hamburger Gravy
5 generous bags of mashed potatoes.

I am also prepped and ready to make Chicken Enchiladas and Vegetable Chowder today.  I need to make more sauce to go with a baked ziti I had frozen that we will have for dinner.  Might as well make it a double batch and freeze that as well!

More tricks and some pictures to come!

Friday, August 17, 2012

My Game Plan...

So I decided to spend a few minutes tonight....

making my game plan for tomorrow morning.  I am going to start by making my family these delicious looking Pancake Muffins with blueberries, because (say it with me) its what I have on hand.  Then I will start handing out chores (a lot on the "To do before Baby list") so I can get going in the kitchen.

Now we all know even the best made plans sometimes go awry so I am reminding myself to go with the flow.  I am trying to time these events in a way that makes sense, but won't confuse me (aka not too many recipes going on at once!)  I plan to do a lot of my prep work first and then zoom in on a recipe or two.  Hopefully I am not missing any steps!

The Game Plan

(I feel like we should be in a huddle!)

1.  Boil water for chicken breast.  Season with salt, pepper, garlic and onion.
2.  Slice thin 4 chicken breast.  Season with salt and pepper.  Throw on the George Foreman Grill.
3.  Boil 8 chicken breast.  Lower to a simmer and simmer for about an hour or until fully cooked.
4.  Begin chopping onions (3 + 1) <--- this is how I keep them separated for recipes.*
5.  Mince garlic. (4 + 6)*
6.  Mince jalapeno.*
7.  Dice bell pepper.*
*Watch chicken grilling.  Take off grill when cooked and allow to cool.
8.  Dice red onions.*
9.  Peel and dice potatoes.  Soak in water. (4 + all)*
10.  Snip and chop green beans.*
11. Peel and cut carrots.*
12. Core and quarter tomatoes.*
13. Cut eggplant in 3/4" chunks.*
14. Grate Jack Cheese.*
15. Cube 4 ounces fontina, grate 2 ounces.*
*Remove boiled chicken breast when cooked through.  Shred 2 at a time in stand mixer.  Bag.
16.  Boil salted water for pasta.
17. Boil water for potatoes.
18.  Preheat oven for 425.
19.  Make Baked Pasta with Chicken Sausage.  Allow to cool.
20.  Start boiling potatoes for mashed potatoes.
21.  Roast vegetables for tomato and eggplant soup.  Roast 45 minutes.
22.  Make mashed potatoes.  Allow to cool.
23.  Brown 2lbs of beef (for Hamburger Gravy.)
24.  Make taco filling.  Let cool.
25. Puree veggies for soup.  Let cool.
26.  Make hamburger gravy.  Let cool.

Take a break.  Send DH in for a quick clean.  Package food.

27. Baked Pasta with chicken sausage in aluminum trays with lids. (2 trays)
28.  Shredded chicken breast (2 breasts at a time) in quart size freezer bags (4 bags)
29.  Slice grilled chicken breast into strips.  Package 2 breasts worth of strips in quart size bags (4 bags).
30.  Mashed potatoes in 3 cup serving in quart size bags (no clue how many!)
31.  Tomato and eggplant soup in quart freezer bags (3 bags)
32.  Taco Filling in bags (1/2 in each bag, 4 bags)
33.  Hamburger gravy in bags (2 bags)

**Now I know I originally planned on using plastic containers, but I got such a great deal on freezer bags yesterday at Shoprite, that I couldn't warrant a trip to Country Clean.  I do now realize I am one tin short so a quick trip for hubs or me before this all gets going.

34.  Make Vegetable Chowder.  Let cool.
35.  Make Vegetable Enchiladas.  Do not cook.
36.  Package vegetable chowder in 2 bags.
37.  Package vegetable enchiladas in two tins.

24 meals (counting my thighs from today!) in 37 steps.  Wish me luck.  I will try to keep it updated as I go along!

Went shopping...

Today my mini-sous chef and I hit the road to do a big shop!  We went to the bank, the farm market, to get Daddy's Birthday gift, Best Market and ShopRite.

Always a major score at the farm market:
                                                               1 Large Eggplant               $1.00
                                                               1.92 lb String Beans          $1.90
                                                               1.13 lb Red Peppers         $2.25
                                                               2.28lbs Plum Tomatoes     $2.26
                                                               1 Red Onion                     $0.68
                                     Grand Total                                                 $8.09

Best Market:
                                                                 Pepper Jack Cheese       $3.29
                                                                 Fontina Cheese               $2.30
                                                                 Parmesan Cheese            $0.53*
                                       Grand Total                                               $6.02

*The container of Parmesan cheese that I bought was actually $8.40 (at $9.99 a lb), but it was considerably more than the 1/4 c I need for this week.  We use this cheese a lot though for a lot of things so it never goes to waste.  $.53 is my estimate of what the amount I will use will cost.  My actual Best Market total was more because we also picked up a watermelon and some fresh mozzarella for snacking.

                                                                 28 oz can whole tomatoes    $1.39
                                                                 Heavy Cream                        $1.59*
                                                                 Frozen Spinach                     $1.25
                                                                 Chicken Sausage                   $2.29
                                                                 Jalapeno                                 $0.11
                                                                 4 lbs Ground Beef                 $13.02
                                                                 5 lbs.White Potatoes             $2.99**
                                                                 5 lbs. Yukon Gold                  $2.99**
                                                                 1 gallon milk (2%)                  $4.09***
                                                                 Tomato Paste                         $0.59
                                                                 Corn Tortillas                         $0.75****
                                                                 Carrots                                    $0.65****
                                                                 Beef Broth (16 cups)             $7.47
                                                                 Beef Bouillon                          $1.69*****
                                                                 Chicken Breast (12)              $18.75
                                                                 Chicken Thighs (12)              $4.14******
                                      Grand Total: $63.76

*I will only use about half this cream, but am counting the whole cost because I am not sure where or how to use the rest.  I will probably add it to the mashed potatoes to make them more creamy.

** I only need 4 potatoes so I definitely didn't need to buy 10 pounds!  I am going to make and freeze as many batches of mashed potatoes as I can from the rest of them.

***This is also our milk for the week.  I need 3 cups + milk for mashed potatoes, so probably only 1/2 a gallon will be actually used for my freezer cooking.

**** My carrots and corn tortillas actually cost double of what I am counting, but I got double of what I needed.  These are both things we will use for snacks through out the week so it would fall under my weekly spending.

*****Will use the rest of the beef bouillon for freezer cooking at a later day, but will count it all now so I can count it free later!

******Last minute purchased.  Purdue chicken thighs were on sale for $0.88 a pound.  I bought almost 5 pounds.  In the 9 minutes it took Grace and my lunch to cook, I clean and took the skin off the thighs.  I then packaged 4 thighs in a freezer bag and added marinade (2 with Italian dressing and 1 BBQ.)  So for $4.14 I have the protein for another 3 meals.

Now everything else that was on my list I had already.  There are some staples like canned vegetables and beans that I ALWAYS stock up on during the Shoprite can can sale.  I know I am cheating by not figuring these into my total cost, but I figure I have already paid for them and counted that into my budget from another week.  Maybe at another time I can guesstimate what these would have cost.

Grand Total $77.87

And what I am I getting for that $77.87?

1.Marinated Chicken Thighs- Italian
2.Marinated Chicken Thighs- Italian
3.Marinated Chicken Thighs- BBQ
4.Baked Pasta with Chicken Sausage
5.Baked Pasta with Chicken Sausage
6.Taco Filling
7.Taco Filling 
8.Taco Filling 
9.Taco Filling 
10.Vegetable Chowder
11.Vegetable Chowder 
12.Vegetable Enchiladas
13.Vegetable Enchiladas
14.Roasted Tomato $ Eggplant Soup (Lunch for 2)
15.Roasted Tomato $ Eggplant Soup (Lunch for 2) 
16.Roasted Tomato $ Eggplant Soup (Lunch for 2) 
17.Hamburger Gravy
18.Hamburger Gravy 
19.Shredded Chicken Breast
20.Shredded Chicken Breast 
21.Shredded Chicken Breast 
22.Shredded Chicken Breast 
23.Grilled Chicken Breast
24.Grilled Chicken Breast

24 Entrees for 3 (with the exception of the lunch soups) for $77.87!  That's only $3.25 per meal or $1.08 per serving.  Plus this doesn't take into consideration the mashed potatoes.  I will update with how many servings of that I get when I make them.  

I have already packaged my marinated chicken thighs and they are in the freezer!  Tomorrow I will tackle some more cooking!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Freezer Containers

What to freeze in?

If you were to google or search on pinterest Freezer Cooking, you can  find a ton of information about what to freeze in: reusable containers, freezer bags, foil pans, glass containers, plastic containers, etc.  What it comes down to is what are you looking for?  What is important to you?

I know I am looking for cheap and disposable.  I know that is not the most environmentally responsible attitude to have, but I am trying to get ready for a new baby.  I will recycle as much as I can but there is definitely a direct correlation between the amount of mess in my kitchen and the amount of sanity I have.  Throw a toddler and newborn and in the mix... and well those are some scary variables.

Another big deciding factor is how much space you have in your freezer.  Freezing things flat in freezer bags really cuts down on the amount of space you need.  So here are the types of containers I use:

Aluminum Pans- I like a 12"x10"x2" aluminum pan.  This tends to be the perfect size for our size meals.  I put things in here that I want to be able to cook/reheat right from the freezer, without dirtying another dish.  Also, there are aluminum lids that can also go right in the oven.  I will use these for the Baked Pasta and Vegetable Enchiladas.

32 ounce Plastic Deli Containers- These are like what you would get soup from the Chinese Food Restaurant.  They take up more space than plastic freezer bags, but are more convenient for defrosting/ reheating.  Freezer bags require another dish to reheat in and can be a disaster if you are trying to thaw and there is a leak in the bag.  If you have the space, I prefer these.  I will use these for the Vegetable Chowder and Hamburger Gravy.

16 ounce Plastic Deli Containers- Same reasoning as above, but for smaller portions.  I will use these for the Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup.

I will get these things at a local restaurant supply store called Country Clean.  They have bottom dollar prices on these things and paper products, so they are usually worth the trip.  They do have a website,, but the shipping can be a bit.  If you were going in with a few other cookers and wanted to split shipping or if you have a lot of storage space and can place a big bulk order, it may be worth it.

4 Aluminum Pans: ($0.34 x 4) = $1.36
4 Foil Pan Lids: ($0.39 x 4)= $1.56
4 32-ounce Deli Containers ($0.27 x 4) = $1.08
3 16-ounce Deli Containers ($0.17 x 3) = $0.51

Country Clean Grand Total: $4.51

But to be honest,  I will probably buy a few extra of each.  I haven't made these recipes before and want to be prepared if the yield of the recipe is more than expected.  Don't sweat it if this happens.  Package a freezer lunch or have it for dinner that night.  I am also going to get a few 16 ounce deli containers to put mashed potatoes in.  So my total will look more likes this:

6 Aluminum Pans: ($0.34 x 6) = $2.04
6 Foil Pan Lids: ($0.39 x 6)= $2.34
6 32-ounce Deli Containers ($0.27 x 6) = $1.62
8 16-ounce Deli Containers ($0.17 x 8) = $1.36

Country Clean Grand Total: $7.36

I will also use Gallon and Quart size ZIPLOC FREEZER BAGS.  Believe me.  I love a generic, but its not worth it here.  It has to be Ziploc and it has to be freezer bags.  I keep these on hand.  Keep a look out for a sale and coupon to make them more affordable.

I did a quick Google search and found .  They currently have a coupon code SoSoap1 to save 15% on your first order.

Gallon Ziploc Freezer Bag, 30 count $5.99 or $0.20 a piece.  I don't actually need any of this size this time, but keep them on hand.

Quart Ziploc Freezer Bag, 40 count $4.49 or $0.12 a piece.  I need 8 for a total of $0.96.

My total for convenient, disposable freezer containers is: $5.47 (although I will probably put out closer to $12, but will have extras for another time.)  To me, it is worth $5.47 to have a little less to do and clean and an extra minute to sit with my babies.  It may not be to you and you may prefer to use all reusable container or just Ziploc bags.  You have got to make that choice yourself!

Grocery Lists

So I broke my list up...

First I made a big master list, which not only has what I need, but how it needs to be prepped.  This way after I buy my groceries I can just prep each item once (for example, mince all my garlic at once in stead of for each individual recipe.)

Then I split the list into smaller lists: things I have on hand, things I need to check to see if I have, Grocery Store, Farm Market, Specialty Store (Best Market), Meat.  I am not going to post those (because what do you care where I buy my groceries), but wanted to give you an idea of how to split your lists.

We have a store local to us called Best Market.  I don't go there often, but they do tend to have great prices on meat and produce.  Their produce can be iffy at times and is best used the day it is bought or shortly after.  My favorite thing to go there for, though, is cheese.  They have a very large and very affordable cheese department there and I have never been disappointed with anything I have bought.  I will go there just for my cheese and to price meat.

I keep meat separate because it is typically the most expensive part of the meal and so I do not mind spending a little time price comparing.  I will check a few grocery stores circulars when I go to shop, as well as Best Market and wholesale clubs.  Looking back at my list, I am not using a lot of meat in this menu.  I really didn't do that on purpose, but it really works out for a few reasons.  One being it lowers the investment in the freezer menu.  I don't typically shop for 16 dinners at a time so using things I have on hand and less meat will definitely make it hurt the wallet less.

Master List


~Olive Oil: 3 tablespoons
1 28-oz. can of whole tomatoes
~1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
~1 pound Rigatoni
~Vegetable Oil: 1 tablespoon
~Canned Corn, 5 1/2 cups (about 3 cans)**
~1/4 cup Flour
1/4 cup Tomato Paste
~1 Can Vegetable Broth
~1 Can Black Beans
~1 can chickpeas
16 Corn Tortillas
8 cans beef broth
Beef granules: 10 teaspoons
~Cornstarch: 10 tablespoons


1 Red Onion
~10 cloves garlic, minced
10 oz. Baby Spinach
4 White Onions, chopped
1 Jalapeno, minced
2 Red Bell Peppers, diced
4 White Potatoes, peeled and diced*
1 1/2 pounds Green Beans, ends snipped and cut into 1" pieces (about 6 cups)
3 pounds Plum Tomatoes, cored and halved (about 12)
1/2 pound Carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4" pieces
1 large eggplant


1/4 cup Vodka (optional)


~Oregano: 1/2 teaspoon
~Chili Powder: 1 tablespoon
~Ground Cumin: 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons
Ground Coriander: 1 tablespoon
~Thyme: 1/2 teaspoon
~Curry: 2 teaspoons
Montreal Steak Seasoning: 4 teaspoons


Heavy Cream, 1/2 cup
6 oz. Fontina Cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
~Butter, 3 tablespoons 
Milk, 3 cups
Jack Cheese, 3 cups


10 oz. Chicken Sausage 
4 pounds Ground Beef
8 Chicken Breasts


1 Box Frozen Chopped Spinach

~These are things I have on hand.  This only matters when I give my shopping totals.

*I also plan on making a large batch of mashed potatoes to portion and freezer.  This will require additional potatoes, milk and butter.  I will buy a bag of potatoes and be able to use the milk and butter I am purchasing/previously purchased.

**Some recipes called for fresh corn off the cob or frozen corn.  I have a stockpile of canned corn, so that is what I am using.   Plus it is more convenient than cooking and decobbing (new word?) fresh corn. 

Freezer Menu and Recipes

It all began with a pin and a dream....

16 dinners and 3 lunches, recipes all found on Pinterest.

I am not sure how to import a spreadsheet, in fact I don't even have Excel on this computer.  I had written this out in a notebook (I am a notebook queen).  I am going to try to type in my chart as best I can.  The name of the recipe should be the link to the original recipe.  The # of Meals is how many meals I think I can get out of it for my small family of 2 adults and 1 toddler.  To be honest, my daughter and I hardly count as one adult.  Your "mileage" per meal may vary.  The container is what I am planning on putting it in.  More on that later.  Additional instructions is what I will label the container with (in addition to what it is!)

Recipe                         # of Meals             Containers            Additional Instructions

Baked Pasta with                  2                      Aluminum Pan         Do not thaw. Cook covered at
Chicken Sausage                                                                               400 for 90-105 minutes.
                                                                                                            Uncover and top with Fontina 
                                                                                                            & Parmesan cheese.  Bake 20-
                                                                                                            30 minutes till browned.

Taco Filling                             4                      Sm. Freezer Bag      For beef tacos, taco salad, 
                                                                                                             baked potatoes, Taco soup

Vegetable Chowder               2                      Plastic Container      

Vegetable Enchiladas            2                      Aluminum Pan         Do not thaw.  Cook covered @ 
                                                                                                             400 fir 90 minutes till heated
                                                                                                             through.  Bake uncovered for 
                                                                                                             15 to 20 minutes.

Roasted Tomato &                 3*                    Sm. Plastic 
Eggplant Soup                                                 Containers

Hamburger Gravy                2**                  Plastic Container      Serve over mashed potatoes

Shredded Chicken                 4                      Sm. Freezer Bags     See pin: 40 Shredded Chicken
Breasts                                                                                                dinners

*This recipe serves 6 and is right up my alley!  I figure it would make a perfect quick lunch for me.  That is why I am counting it as 3 lunches as opposed to 1/2 dinners.
**I am doubling this recipe in order to make 2 dinners.  It might end up being 3 though.

I'm back... and big freezer plans.

So I am 30 weeks pregnant today!

This is exciting but also slightly terrifying.  We have a lot to do.  We have (barely) began the great bedroom switch up.  I know baby's room does not have to be ready the day he is born, but let's face it, it is definitely easier if it is.  The house needs a big clean (for all the company after) and the toys a big cleaning out (thank goodness the consignment sale is on its way!)  I want to get the car detailed and the new car seat installed.  I need to begin planning a baptism, a sip and see and oh yeah, back to school (and back to work) is in about 2 weeks!  

The good news is we are back from a little vacation and ready to go!  My extended family is all going on a large vacation for the next 9 days or so.  This doesn't sound like good news and I will miss them, but it gives us less to do (because who can say no when mom invites you to dinner!)  and a place to crash if we have a night when the beds are in the kitchen instead of the bedrooms.

I also hope to do a big freezer cooking session.  I spent about an hour and half this morning collecting recipes and making grocery lists.  I am happy to share these you.  I will post back the link once I have typed them.  I plan to make 16 dinners and 3 lunches this weekend.  I want to spread it out a little.  Plan today, shop tomorrow, etc. but we will see how it goes!

Anyone game to take the challenge with me?


Freezer Menu and Recipe Links 
Grocery List 
Freezer Containers