Sunday, February 26, 2017

Weekly Meal Plan #1 {Week of February 27, 2017}

1. Jambalaya Pasta with green beans


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 pound smoked sausage, sliced
  • 1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces (I have omitted the sausage and done 1 lb chicken only, and it's still delicious.)
  • 2 cups diced onion (about 1 whole onion) (I almost always only do half the amount of onion suggested.)
  • 2 cups diced bell peppers (about 3 bell peppers, I like to use 1 red, 1 yellow, 1 green)
  • cajun or creole seasoning
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 8 oz (about 2 cups) penne pasta
  • 1 cup Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded (or any variety of shredded cheese works)
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions
  • fresh green beans (I like the ones already trimmed and washed) or canned organic no-salt added French style green beans are great for when you need a veggie in a hurry. Just microwave and season with a little salt, pepper, and garlic powder (and butter if desired).
  • Cooking oil of choice (I use grape seed oil or a canola/EVOO blend for roasting veggies.)


Add olive oil to an oven-safe skillet over medium high heat until it just starts to smoke. Add sausage, chicken, onions, and bell peppers. Season with cajun seasoning (about 1-2 teaspoons). Cook until lightly browned. Add garlic stir to combine until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the broth, cream, pasta, and more cajun seasoning to taste, about 1/2 teaspoon. Stir to combine and bring to a boil, then cover skillet and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until pasta is tender, about 15 minutes.

Remove skillet from heat and stir in 1/2 cup cheese. Top with remaining cheese and sprinkle with scallions. Broil until cheese is melted, golden brown, and bubbly.

Roasted Green Beans
Preheat oven to 425F. Toss the green beans with about 1 TBsp oil and salt and pepper spreading evenly on a sheet pan.
Cover with foil. Roast covered for 10 minutes, then uncovered for 10 minutes until they start to brown a little. Yummy!

Recipe for two- pie crust (below), or pre-made crust in refrigerated section
  • 2 cups all-purpose or whole wheat flour
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter cut into squares
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup cold water
Homemade Crust:
Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a stand mixer (or in a mixing bowl with a hand mixer or spoon)
Put the butter into the bowl and begin mixing on low-med speed
It will start to combine and look crumbly or cornmeal-ish
Add the water, a little bit at a time.
Increase the speed slightly and scrape the sides of the bowl as it combines.
A dough ball will begin to form and stick to the mixer attachment.

Turn off the mixer.

Lightly flour your two pie plates
Push the dough out of the mixer attachment. Form a ball again.
Divide the dough by eyeballing into your two floured pie plates, sprinkling a little flour on top of each one.
Press dough into pan evenly or roll it out with rolling pin and press into plates.
Refrigerate until you're ready to use it. (Cover it if it will be more than a couple of hours.)
No need to pre-bake this crust. Just pull it out of the fridge, fill it as you desire, and bake! 

  • 8 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2-3 cups fresh baby spinach, chopped
  • 2-3 cups shredded mozzarella (or cheese of choice)
  • Salt and pepper
Whisk the eggs and milk with salt and pepper. Stir in the spinach. Pour egg-spinach mixture into the pie plates. Top with the shredded cheese. Bake at 350 F for about 45 minutes. Let the top get nice and golden-brown. Let cool for 10 minutes before cutting. 

Quiche is one of those meals that can really be personalized. Feel free to add cooked crumbled bacon, shredded ham, sundried tomato and pesto, broccoli and cheddar- really whatever sounds good to you!

3. Turkey Meatball Tortellini Soup
For the Meatballs:

  • 10 oz lean ground turkey
  • 2 tbsp seasoned whole wheat breadcrumbs (or regular)
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano)
  • 2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/8 tsp salt

For the soup:

  • 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled & chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 (14.5 oz) cans reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 9 oz refrigerated spinach cheese tortellini (Buitoni) 
  • fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 cups loosely packed baby spinach, coarsely chopped
  • fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for topping

Combine the ground turkey, breadcrumbs, egg, parsley, garlic, salt and parmesan cheese. Using your (clean) hands, gently mix all the ingredients well until everything is combined. Form small meatballs, about 1 tbsp each, you’ll get about 20 to 22.
In a large nonstick pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-low heat. When melted, add the celery, onion, carrot & garlic. Cover and reduce heat to low and cook for approximately 8-10 minutes until vegetables begin to soften.
Add the chicken broth and increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. When broth boils, season with black pepper to taste. Reduce heat to medium and gently drop in the meatballs. Cook about 4 minutes.
Add the tortellini and simmer until cooked according to package directions, about 7 minutes.
Once cooked, remove the rind, and add the baby spinach. Stir to combine and serve topped with fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
4. Homemade Pizza 🍕 OR Semi-Homemade

  • 1 3/4 - 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 envelope Fleischmann's pizza crust yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup very warm water
  • 3 Tbsp oil
(double all of this for two pizzas.)

*You may also use refrigerated or pre-made pizza crusts. We like the Pillsbury ones. You will need two if you want two pizzas.
  • pizza sauce of choice (1 small jar should be enough for two pizzas)
  • cheese of choice (We like the pizza blend with mozzarella, etc.)
  • toppings of choice (My favorite is sundried tomato, artichoke, and fresh garlic, but that's not my kids' favorite- go figure!)
Slightly oil pizza pan, stoneware, or rectangular cookie pan (whatever you're baking on)
Sprinkle lightly with cornmeal if desired.

*Follow cooking directions on package if using refrigerated crust.

Combine 1 cup flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in a large bowl (used my stand mixer). Add water and oil. (I microwaved my water for 1 1/2 minutes.)  Mix until well blended. Gradually add remaining flour just until soft dough ball is formed. It should slightly sticky. Knead on a floured surface for about 4 minutes. (I used my dough hook for 4 minutes.)
Halve the dough by eyeballing, then with floured hands pat it out onto the prepared stoneware; cover with slightly damp, clean dish towel. 
Place stoneware on stovetop and begin heating your oven to 425°; OR, if you made your crust ahead of time, let it "rise" on the stovetop until time to go in the oven. (The yeast packet recipe does not instruct for any rising, but my results were so good, I think I'll let it sit next time too. I think it was about 1 1/2 - 2 hours before it finally went into the oven.)
No pre-baking required. 
Brush oil lightly onto crust. 
Top as desired. 
Bake 15-20 minutes until crust and cheese are nice and golden. 
If baking two pizzas that won't fit side-by-side, make sure you rotate them halfway through baking. 
Serve a simple salad as a healthy side. ;)

5. CrockPot Cheesy Chicken & Rice with broccoli

  • small pack of fresh chicken breast tenders (approximately 1 lb.)
  • 1 bag of fresh, pre-washed broccoli florets (you will only use about 2/3 of the bag)
  • salt and pepper
  • garlic powder
  • 1 cup brown rice (dry)
  • 2 cups warm water
  • cheese sauce (see below)
Two options for the cheese sauce:

  • 2 cans condensed cheddar cheese soup plus 1 can cream of chicken soup OR
Homemade cheese sauce (optional)
  • 6 TBsp butter
  • 6TBsp flour
  • 2 cups milk (whole is best for this, but any milk will do)
  • 3 cups shredded cheddar cheese (We like sharp, but mild is totally fine too.)
Directions for homemade cheese sauce:
Melt butter over medium-low in a saucepan. Add flour and whisk/stir together until smooth. Slowly add milk and continue whisking while bringing mixture to a gentle boil. Once it thickens slightly, add cheese and stir until melted. It may be thick, but you can loosen it up with some water at the end of cooking the crockpot meal.
This recipe is perfect for using as a topping for steamed broccoli, over baked potatoes, etc.

Make your homemade cheese sauce if that was your choice.
Place chicken in the bottom of the slow cooker and season well with salt and pepper and lightly with the garlic powder.
Pour rice over the chicken.
Dump fresh broccoli over the rice.
Pour cheese sauce over the broccoli.
Pour 2 cups warm water over the sauce.
Cook on low 6-8 hours.
This recipe does not do well on high because of the high dairy content. The cheese sauce would burn easily. BUT, if you are in a hurry, you can cook this on low for a few hours, then bump it up to high for an hour or so at the end. You can also wait to add the rice and water at that last hour on high (this will keep the rice from getting as mushy). This is my preferred method.

Shopping List:

Dry Goods:

  • Brown rice
  • 1 box whole wheat or whole grain penne pasta
  • all-purpose flour (needed in several recipes)
  • sugar
  • cornmeal (optional) (if making homemade pizza crust)
  • bread crumbs
  • cajun or creole seasoning
  • small jar pizza sauce
  • any pizza toppings that might be jarred such as olives, sundried tomatoes
  • (2) box quarts chicken broth (you need 64 oz total for two recipes) *I originally published the wrong amount of chicken broth, so the printable photo at the top of this post will need to be corrected by you if you choose to use it.
  • 2 cans condensed cheddar cheese soup
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • Bagged pre-washed broccoli florets (Eat Smart brand if you shop at Food City)
  • bagged or in a clamshell pre-washed trimmed green beans
  • celery (1 small bag- you only need two stalks, but it stays good for a couple of weeks; so you can use it next week or as snack with some peanut butter)
  • onion (2)
  • carrots (1 small bag)
  • garlic
  • large container or bag of baby spinach (1/2 for soup and 1/2 for quiche)
  • fresh parsley
  • scallions (green onions) (1 bunch)
  • 3 bell peppers (1 red, 1 yellow, 1 green- or whatever you want)
  • chicken breast tenders (small pack approx. 1 lb.) plus another 1/2 lb for Jambalaya pasta
  • lean ground turkey (10 oz)
  • 1/2 lb pre-cooked smoked sausage (We like the Jennie-O turkey varieties for less calories.)
  • refrigerated pizza dough (2) *if you aren't making homemade*
  • refrigerated pie crusts *if not making homemade for quiche (1 box has 2 in it.)*
  • pizza cheese medium bag for two pizzas
  • shredded mozzarella cheese (2-3 cups)
  • shredded monterrey jack cheese (small bag)
  • 9 oz refrigerated spinach cheese (or any variety) tortellini
  • shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 9 eggs
  • milk
  • heavy cream
  • butter (4-stick box) (needed in two recipes: homemade cheese sauce and homemade quiche pie crust)
  • *IF YOU ARE MAKING HOMEMADE CHEESE SAUCE:* shredded cheddar cheese of choice (a block for shredding is even better) (need 3 cups)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Real Food for Real Families: {Meal planning for real life}

There are a lot of things that I do not do well in the world of homemaking. For instance, I hardly ever clean up after a meal. I just can't seem to find the motivation after I've spent all that time planning, cooking, and forcing all my people to eat! Whew! I'm exhausted just thinking about it! One thing that I do enjoy doing and succeed at most weeks is meal planning and grocery shopping. Several of my friends know this about me and have asked me for advice and practical help. I polled my Faceboook friends, and apparently a TON of women struggle with this chore. So, I'm here to help! This will probably be a work in-progress; something that I change the format of as I see improvements to be made. For now, I will just start with the basics. Here is an old post that I wrote a few years ago with some very general tips on meal planning.

Let's get started...

So many to choose from; so many indecisive people! Here's my best advice: JUST PICK WHAT SOUNDS GOOD TO YOU! OK, OK, I know... "Susie doesn't like beans." "Johnny doesn't like any vegetables!" "My husband hates onions!" It can be impossible to please everyone. All kidding aside, here's what you need to do: get out a notepad and write down everything that you can think of that everyone DOES like. We have an Excel spreadsheet for just about everything in our house, so we created one for our favorite meals. That way when I get the "I don't care" answer, I can open up my spreadsheet on my phone and pick some meals! Easy! If your husband has a desk job, e-mail him and ask him to type up a quick list of his favorite things that you make. He will appreciate that you asked,  that gives him time to think about it instead of putting him on the spot, and hopefully he will answer (in a day or two if he's like Ben- love you, honey! ;) )! You can do the same thing for your kids- when you have a well-received meal, add it to your list. And don't quit trying a certain food because they refused it once. Try it again but maybe in a different way. My kids hate white potatoes alone, but they will eat them in potato soup or sauteed with other veggies! Who knew?!

Pinterest is your friend! (That's a link to all of my boards which are- you guessed it- mostly food!) Did you know there is a button for recipes you have actually made?! You can leave a note for what you like/don't like about it. Keep your pins organized so that it's easy to find a recipe when you need it. My categories seems extensive, but I know where to go when I need something. Do what makes sense to you; it might be different from what works for me. Don't pin recipes from blogs that look like they don't get much traffic.

Here's list of links to some of my favorite food blogs' Pinterest accounts:
Kevin and Amanda
A Healthy Slice of Life
Avery Cooks
Damn Delicious
Peas and Crayons
Two Peas and Their Pod
Gimme Some Oven
Pinch of Yum
The Nourishing Home (Paleo)
The Pioneer Woman (of course!)
The Gracious Pantry

Use your cookbooks! I love my cookbooks! Some of our most favorite meals are the ones that I made during our first year of marriage when I actually had no idea what I was doing-- but I had a Betty Crocker Bridal Edition Cookbook. Ben thought I was a great cook, but I was just blindly following recipes! Make notes in your cookbooks for substitutions or changes that you make. Highlight recipe titles that you actually have made or use sticky notes. This serves as your "favorites list." Again, this just makes it easier when it's time to choose meals for the week (or month or whatever your plan is). Use magazines in the same way. Cut them out and put them in an alphabetical organizer, or search for it on Pinterest. Most all recipes are available online without a subscription these days.

Here's a list of my favorite cookbooks and food magazines for recipes:
Betty Crocker Bridal Edition (This book truly taught me how to cook!)
Secrets of Slow Cooking
Any Rachael Ray (365 is great, and so is her mag.)
America's Test Kitchen is good for more extensive recipes; definitely not for when you are in a hurry.
Kraft Food and Family Magazine (it's not free, but you can search recipes here)
Family Circle
Real Simple
Cook's Country Magazine and Cookbook

Pick Your Meals
You might be wondering now, "How do I choose from all of this?!" Here is my best advice: do what makes sense to you. If you don't have much time, grab your phone and pick four meals from your "tried it" Pinterest list. Have a few minutes? Pull out a few cookbooks and get creative! Look at the week ahead and see what days you will even have time to cook. Wednesdays are the day that I have to make dinner in the afternoon before school pick-up, or we have to eat leftovers or sandwiches. I know that ahead of time, so I plan for it. You have to think ahead. Some poeple like using a "system" like this: Monday- chicken, Tuesday- beef or pork, Wednesday- Crockpot, Thursday- Mexican, Friday- pizza. I don't necessarily assign meals to certain days. Because as we all know, life happens. Sometimes on Monday when I had planned on grilling some chicken, it rains, or Greta is just too fussy for me to chop all of the veggies. And sometimes, whatever I've picked for a day just doesn't sound good, so I flip flop days. You have to be flexible! Whatever you decide, write it down. Use a large legal pad, a planner, your Notes app on your phone- whatever works for you! And keep it- that way when you are in a rut, you can go back a repeat a week. Once you've decided on all your meals, post the menu somewhere visible. I have a chalkboard vinyl menu board on my fridge that works well for me.

You've picked your meals... now what?
What day can you go shopping? Monday is the day that works best for me.
Make your shopping list:
Start out with writing down the categories, e.g.,

  • bakery/breads
  • canned/ jars: (sauces, salsas, soups, broths )
  • dry goods: (pasta, rice, dried beans)
  • baking: flour, sugar, etc.
  • produce
  • meat
  • frozen
  • dairy
Go through each recipe and write down the items you need in the respective categories. (You should already have a good pantry stocked with basics such as salt and pepper, cooking oil of choice, dried spices and herbs, butter, baking needs, etc.) Keep a magnetic notepad on your refrigerator so that you can write things down as soon as you run out or see that it's low. Now go to the store, or order your items online (this is my favorite way to shop). I can walk you through the online ordering process.

Now you're home with all these delicious fresh foods. Here's where the rubber really meets the road. Are you ready and willing to carve out the time to actually follow through and cook this stuff?! I hope so! What better way is there to show your family that you love and care for them than to put thought and time into preparing them homemade meals? My kids have a terrible way of showing their appreciation. Most of the time the feedback that I get is complaining. But I know that in the long run, they will be healthier and will hopefully have a more varied palette as young adults.

Some other tips...
Prep- this is something that my life isn't condusive to. The best "prep" that I can do is some washing/chopping the day of a meal maybe during afternoon naptime. But for some people, prepping is an option, and a great one! If you can take a Sunday evening to wash/peel/chop for your entire week and maybe even pre-cook/shred meats and make sauces--- you rock! I'm sure that would make dinner time much less stressful.

Don't be afraid to eat leftovers. If a recipe says that it serves 6-8, I know that I will probably have enough leftover for our quick night (Wednesdays) or for a couple of lunches. If you see that a recipe is big- take advantage of it. Crockpot recipes are notoriously huge; eat half, then freeze half. 

On the flip side, many recipes are easily doubled. Double all your ingredients in your shopping list for the recipe you choose, cook one all the way through for that dinner, and prep the other all the way up to before cooking and freeze it. (I can write some posts on this later.)

Hopefully, some of this info has been helpful and encouraging to your weary-cooking heart! I will try my best to post a full meal plan (usually 4-5 meals per week) with a full grocery list to help you out. Please ask questions any time. Happy planning!