Friday, July 31, 2009

Conversions & Substitutions--Seasonings

Tonight we'll learn about substituting seasonings, like dried vs. fresh!

Seasoning Substitutions

Ingredient ~ Substitute
1 Tbsp snipped fresh herbs (oregano, rosemary, basil, etc) ~ 1 tsp same herb, dried, or 1/4 tsp powdered or ground

1 tsp dry mustard ~ 2 tsp prepared mustard

1 tsp poultry seasoning ~1/4 tsp thyme + 3/4 tsp sage

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice ~ 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/8 tsp ground allspice, and 1/8 tsp nutmeg

1 garlic clove, minced or pressed ~ 1/8-1/4 tsp instant minced garlic, or 1/8 tsp garlic powder

1 medium onion ~ 2 Tbsp instant chopped or minced onion or onion flakes, or 1 1/2 tsp onion powder

1 medium lemon ~ 2-3 Tbsp lemon juice (fresh or bottled)

1 medium orange ~ 1/4-1/3 cup orange juice (fresh or reconstituted frozen)

white wine ~ equal amount of apple juice or cider, or equal amount chicken or vegetable broth

1 cup chicken broth ~ 1 tsp instant bouillon or bouillon cube + 1 cup hot water

My First Bloggy Award!

Wow, I am in shock and awe. Lisa at Simply Things Family has given me a bloggy award--my very first one!

Lisa has been quite a loyal commenter over here at Balancing Act Basics, and I always enjoy reading what she has to say. Not only her comments here, but her tips & tricks at her own blog, Simply Things Family. Lisa's blog focuses on helps for you and your family. I love her idea on making Back-to-School Binders.

I feel very honored, grateful, and humbled by the blog award. I certainly haven't written any of my posts with the hope & dream of winning a blog award. Far from it. Instead, I write my blog simply because I love sharing with others some of the tips and tricks I've learned over the years that have helped me to balance every little aspect of my life that makes me who I am and who my Heavenly Father wants me to be.

I will pass this my friend Robyn and her blog Robyn Bobbin Bo Bobbin. I've known Robyn and her husband from 'back in the days of college. We recently reconnected on Facebook, where I learned about Robyn's blog. She is a very crafty person, and by crafty I mean creative! Her blog is filled with card-making and stamping ideas, as well as kid-friendly crafts, like making a Harry Potter wand with paper, glue & paint, as well as string art and faux stained glass art.

I'm also passing the award over to Hannah & Abby over at Safely Gathered In. One of my on-going projects is building our long-term food storage. I don't write much about it, but that's mostly my fault because I just never think about it. These ladies help you gather goodies for your 72-hour kits, short-term and long-term storage, and provide recipes, how-to's, and free printables. One of my favorite posts is How To Make a Cardboard Oven. We plan on using this technique on future camping trips.

If you get a chance, please take a look at these two blog sites and give them a "shout out". They've got a lot of great helps for you and your family, and they certainlyhave One Lovely Blog!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Protecting Your Garden From Tomato Worms

So yesterday, it being Wednesday, and Wednesdays are garden-harvesting day, I went out to the garden to see how things were doing. Everything was looking pretty good until I came across this oddity:

It was the absolute largest green caterpillar-like creature that I had ever seen, and it was covered in a rice-like substance. I could tell that it had been eating the leaves on one of my bell pepper plants.

Not knowing if it was a poisonous creature or not, I did what any sane gardener would do--I cut off the leaf this little bugger was hanging onto.

Then I took a picture.

Then I tossed it to the ground and, well, let's just say that it met its maker last night.

I found out from my friend Meredith that this is not your typical caterpillar. This is, in fact, a tomato horn worm. Also known as a tobacco worm, they are ravenous creatures that love plants such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, and they will strip your plants overnight.

After a bit more research, I learned that the white egg things are actually parasitic Braconid Wasp larvae. So long as the tomato worm continues to feed on leaves and tomatoes and such, the wasp larvae will grow in their little cocoon, eventually chewing their way out and flying off into adulthood to find an unsuspecting tomato worm in which to lay eggs for the next generation of wasps. So, in a way, the wasps are actually good because they will consume their host tomato worm, who will not be able to perpetuate the species.

If you find tomato worms on your vegetable plants, there are a few options you can select from to get rid of them. You can do what I do, and simply pluck them off. Toss them far away from your garden into the yard for a bird to find, destroy them with your shoe, or some other similar means. However, tomato worms typically feed at night, so you might find it difficult to find them unless you try doing this in the evening or early morning. And they make for great camouflage, unless covered in the wasp larvae, in which case they are easy to spot.
Now if you do have trouble finding these critters, look for the evidence on the leaves. No, I don't mean leaves that have been chewed up. I do mean little poop droppings called frass. If you see any on your leaves, look up a little higher and you'll probably find a tomato worm dangling on a leaf.

You can also try to deter the tomato worm by spraying a mixture of liquid ivory soap, water & vegetable oil on your plants, or dust your plants with some red pepper. You will have to reapply these deterrents periodically as rain will wash them off. There's also Bacillus thuringiensis, which can be sprayed on the plants. It will not harm humans, but it will attack the digestive system of some insects.

More info about tomato worms, click here or here. And good luck! I found two more tomato worms this evening after coming home, and I'm sure there will be more when I wake up in the morning. I'll be heading out there with a flashlight when the sun comes up.

Conversions & Substitutions--Dairy Products

Dairy Product Substitutions
Dairy products are very easily substituted if you are missing a partiular dairy ingredient. Now the list below is substituting dairy products with another kind of dairy product. I'm not including dairy-free substitutions in this particular post.

Ingredient ~ Substitute
1 cup whole milk ~ 1/2 cup evaporated milk + 1/2 cup water, or 1 cup nonfat milk or reconstituted nonfat dry milk + 2 tsp butter or oil

1 cup buttermilk or sour milk ~ 1 Tbsp cider vinegar or lemon juice + enough milk to equal 1 cup; let stand 5 minutes

1 cup dairy sour cream ~ 1 cup plain yogurt, or 1 cup evaporated milk + 1 Tbsp vinegar, or 1 cup cottage cheese mixed in a blender with 2 Tbsp milk and 1 Tbsp lemon juice

1 cup half-and-half ~ 7/8 cup milk + 3 Tbsp margarine or butter, or 1 cup evaporated milk

1 cup plain yogurt ~ 1 cup sour milk, or 1 cup buttermilk

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wok's For Dinner: German Pork Roast & Root Vegetables

I came across this recipe in the Taste of Home April & May 2009 magazine as I was searching for recipes for my July once a month cooking menu. I had bought a ginormous pork loin, and since I decided to cut it up into chops and small roasts, I figured that this particular meal would work out perfectly. It just sounded so good, and was different from any other roast recipe I've ever made.

German Pork Roast

3 Tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp stone-ground mustard (I used dijon mustard)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried oregano (I used 1 Tbsp fresh oregano from my garden)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp rosemarry, crushed
1/4 tsp pepper
1 boneless whole pork loin roast, 3-4lbs (my roast was probably 1.5lbs)
4 medium potatoes, peeled & cut into wedges (I used 3 potatoes)
3 medium onions, cut into wedges (I just used one onion)
1 medium yellow tomato, cut into wedges (I used a red roma tomato)
2 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks (not in recipe, but I added them anyways)

In a small bowl, combine the oil, garlic, lemon juice, mustard & seasonings. Rub over roast. Place on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Bake, uncovered, at 350 F for 20 minutes. Add the potatoes, onions & tomatoes to the pan; bake 40-70 minutes longer or until a meat thermometer reads 160 F and vegetables are tender. Let stand for 10 minutes before slicing.

Since my roast and the amount of vegetables was a lot less, I went ahead & added the vegetables to the roasting pan instead of baking the roast first without the veggies. I tried to adjust my cooking time, figuring a smaller roast didn't have to cook as long. But strangely enough, the roast and the veggies simply did not want to cook up. After about 45 minutes, the meat & veggies started looking a little parched. So I added about 1/2 cup water to the roasting pan and covered loosely with a sheet of foil, then put back into the oven. In about 15 minutes or so, everything was completely done and smelled heavenly. After cooling, I sliced the meat up, then put everything into a gallon-size freezer bag and stuck in the freezer. I thawed it in the fridge for about 36 hours and heated it in the microwave.

Let me tell you, this tasted fantastic! All the flavors blended together so well. Nothing was overpowering, even the tomato tasted like it belonged. I would have never thought to add a tomato to a roast on my own, nor would I have ever guessed there was lemon juice and mustard in the rub had I not added them myself. It was a really good meal! I'll definitely add this meal to our list of favorites. Too bad I was the only one who got to try it!

Things You Can Do When You're Bored

Disclaimer: The information below that I am sharing with you, and I hesitate to admit this, is very, very embarrassing for me. Without this blog, I don't know if I would ever own up to this.

Tonight's project:

Put Away The Easter Decorations

Yes, I said it right. I did not stutter. I'm a holiday decoration slacker. I did really good and got the Christmas decorations away in a timely manner. Easter came around, and I got the decorations out and on display. But by the time Easter was over, hubs started his remodel of the dining room. He put our chest freezer into the hallway (plugged in, of course) while he worked on painting one of the walls. So I was unable to get into our attic to pull down the tote for our Easter decorations (the ladder and entry into the attic is in the hallway, right where the freezer was being stored).

After the freezer moved back into the dining room, I did really well and pulled down the Easter tote. And put it into the living room where the decorations were at.

And here it's been sitting ever since. *sigh*

So I promised myself that one of the projects that I would do while hubs was vacationing in Minnesota was put away the Easter decorations.

And if you don't believe me, here's a couple pics of some of the decorations still up on display.

Yes, I am still very, very embarrassed about this. But I got it done! It took me just 30 minutes to take everthing down, wrap up the breakables, put it all in the tote, and back into the attic. Whew!! I couldn't help but think, "why didn't I do this sooner?!!"

To all of you who still have your Christmas tree up, I salute you!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Things You Can Do When You're Bored

Once again, I find myself flying solo on the homefront. Hubs and our Little Man are still in Minnesota. Would you believe that they have the nerve to ask to extend their vacation an extra day or two? So instead of coming home on the 1st or 2nd, it will be more like the 3rd or 4th of August. And Baby Girl is back at her G-ma's house for a few days. Her cousins will also get to spend the night there for a "girls' night out". I'm sure they'll do things like watch movies and paint their toenails. :)

So since it's just me and the kitties, I had to do something to keep away the boredom. I've got a ton of projects lined up that I told myself I would do while hubs was on vacation. He'll be so happy that I was able to check one of the projects off tonight!

Rearrange The Pantry

Our house has plenty of cabinets in the kitchen, but they're not very deep and a few are difficult to reach. I store most of our canning and dry goods in several cabinets in the kitchen, but space is still limited. (one of these days I'll have a walk-in pantry!)
One of our goals has been to increase our long-term storage supply, a tall order to fill with limited cabinet space. We've done a lot to try to overcome that challenge, adding a new cabinet in the dining room a couple years ago, and a matching cabinet just within the past month. The kids will be starting Kindergarten & preschool soon, so over the past few months, I've been stockpiling snacks and drinks for the kids' morning snack at school. Their schooling is all in the morning hours, so I didn't need to worry about lunch or an afternoon snack; however, I didn't know what our financial situation would be like come the start of school. So I decided to utilize sales ads and coupons to get a jump-start on getting goodies for the kids so we'd be prepared when school started. In addition to snacks & drinks for the kids, I've also stockpiled on long-term needs like cereal, canning and baking supplies, and snacks and drinks for hubs and I.
But after buying "a little here, a little there" it became obvious that I needed to rearrange our two dining room pantry cabinets. Hubs didn't know what was ok to eat now, and what needed to be tucked away for later. So that meant doing some rearranging. The plan was to put long-term stockpiled items in the cabinet farthest from the kitchen & living room, and to put short-term, immediate use goodies in the cabinet closest to the kitchen & living room (so we wouldn't have to walk as far to get a granola bar!). haha

I really need to get into the habit of taking "before" pictures. I didn't think to do this before pulling everything out.

I did manage to take one "inbetween" picture. I had pulled out about half of what was in this particular cabinet. Please ignore the paint cans in the bottom right of the picture. We're still in remodel mode of the dining room. Although we bought the cabinets, hubs reinforced the frames and has painted them to match our newly redesigned dining room.
The results?

Left: baking & canning supplies, long-term storage and goodies. Right: short-term, immediate use snacks & goodies
I was really shocked that I actually had extra space in the cabinets. I was storing some items on top of one of the cabinets, but was able to get everything into the cabinets that I wanted to get put away. I've got about 5 cases of bottled water that I need to find a place for, though. Right now they're sitting in front of the fireplace, and that's where they'll stay until we figure out how to add more storage to our small space. So for now, this was a good start in the right direction, and I'm pleased with the results.
Plus, it kept me from being bored!

Conversions & Substitutions--Chocolate

One of my all-time favorite foods has got to be chocolate. Okay. So chocolate is not an actual food. But it still ranks pretty high in my list of favorites! There have been times when I've done some baking and run into a snag when I realized I was low on or completely out of a particular ingredient (chocolate!). But it's usually not a problem if I have other ingredients on-hand that I can substitute for my missing ingredient.

Chocolate Substitutions

Ingredient ~ Substitute

1 ounce (1 square) unsweetened chocolate ~ 3 Tbsp cocoa powder + 1 Tbsp shortening or margarine

1 ounce (1 square) semisweet chocolate ~ 1 square unsweetened chocolate + 1 Tbsp sugar or 3 Tbsp semisweet chocolate pieces

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate piece for melting ~ 3 ounces (3 squares) semisweet chocolates

For baking substitutions, click here.

The Goody Bag

It's been awhile since I posted one of these. Saw some goodies out there that I wanted to pass along to you.

  • Lacoste Perfume Sample here
  • Sign up here for a free trial bag of ORGANIX Dog or Cat food
  • Refer your friends for a sample of Airborne here and receive a sample for yourself as well
  • Over here you can get a sample of Grandma El's Diaper Rash Remedy
  • Free PureVia Zero Calorie Sweetener Sample and Coupons here
  • Visit a museum for free on Sept. 26, 2009. For details, click here.
  • Ringling Bros.--click here to get a free circus ticket & personalized certificate for babies under 12 months. Or children over 1 year old, you can get a personalized Ringling Bros. Commemorative Certificate

Monday, July 27, 2009

Conversions & Substitutions--Baking

A long, long time ago, when I was a new cook, I used to stick to recipes like glue. I followed them to a "T" without changing one little iota of the recipe. Soon after getting married, I realized that I couldn't always follow a recipe exactly as written. I'd either forget to buy an ingredient, or thought I had it already but had run out, or I simply didn't like an ingredient. More often than not, I would end up changing something in the recipe to suit our needs.

That has certainly become quite a habit, which you may have noticed in many of the recipes I've posted lately. I've learned that I don't always have to follow the recipe exactly as stated. I've learned that there are substitutions out there! If I don't like something, or I don't have it on hand, I can use something else that I do have, or leave it out altogether. This is a really convenient method for reducing your grocery expenses (i.e. why use fresh ginger when there's a perfectly good version of ground ginger in the pantry?).

Over the next few weeks, I'll post a variety of my favorite substitutions for you, listed by various categories. Please note that sometimes best results are achieved using the ingredients that are called for in the recipe. Your recipe results may vary slightly, but my experience has een that I usually enjoy the altered version as much as if not better than the original recipe.

Without further rambling, here's the first in the series:

Baking Substitutions

Ingredient ~ Substitution
1 tsp baking powder ~ 1/2 tsp baking soda + 1/2 tsp cream of tartar

1 cup honey ~ 1 1/4 cups sugar + 1/4 cup water OR 1 cup molasses

1 cup corn syrup ~ 1 cup sugar + 1/4 cup water

1 cup cake flour ~ 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour minus 2 Tbsp

All-purpose flour ~ an equal amount of whole wheat flour can be substituted in some breads, cookies & bars; texture will be coarser

1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs ~ 1/4 cp cracker crumbs or 1 slice bread, cubed or 2/3 cup quick-cooking oats

1 whole egg ~ for custards and puddings, 2 egg yolks; for cookies & bars, 2 egg yolks + 1 Tbsp water; liquid egg substitutes may sometimes be used

Wok's For Dinner: Baked Ham With Marvelous Mango Chutney

While perusing my cookbook and stack of recipes, I came across this recipe for mango chutney, something I had heard about many times but had never ever tried. And since I had bought a picnic ham that was on sale, and had intended on cutting it up into 3 meals' worth of meat, I thought the mango chutney would make a nice addition to a baked ham. I've had ham with pineapple and cherries...why not mango and raisins?

Baked Ham With Marvelous Mango Chutney (my version)

1/3 picnic ham, cut into thick slices
1 fresh mango, peeled and cut into 1-2" chunks
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 small box raisins
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a small baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottom of baking dish with ham slices. Mix remaining ingredients into a small bowl; pour over ham. Cover baking dish and bake for about 30 minutes or until ham slices are cooked through. If freezing: allow ham and chutney to cool, then place in gallon-size freezer bag, squeeze out air, seal & freeze. Thaw 24 hours in refrigerator. Heat ham in microwave; serve chutney cold (or heat up if you want; I served mine cold).

Since I was using a small amount of ham for this recipe, I cut the chutney ingredients from the original recipe in half (the half portion is posted in the ingredients list up above). I must say that this turned out better than I expected. Now I wasn't too keen on the vinegar and mango, a little too sharp for my taste buds...but the raisins tasted fabulous and my daughter chowed down on those. I'm not a big fan of vinegar, and it just didn't work for me in this recipe. So if I make this again in the future, I think I'll just cut the vinegar amount down to something more like 1 Tbsp.

Wok's For Dinner: Marinated Shrimp on the Barbie

We (by "we" I mean my daughter and I since hubs and our son are up in Minnesota still) had this dinner Sunday evening. It was a quick & simple meal. I only made one side dish since I didn't have so many mouths to feed.

Marinated Shrimp on the Barbie

1/2 cup soy sauce or teriyaki sauce
1 Tbsp white vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
1/4 cup finely chopped green onion (I didn't have any on freezer meal day, so I used regular onion)
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped (you could substitute garlic powder if you don't have any fresh)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro or 2 tsp dried cilantro
2 tsp ground ginger
1 pound shelled, devined, uncooked medium shrimp

In a medium bowl, stir together soy sauce or teriyaki, vinegar & honey. Stir in onions, garlic, cilantro & ginger. Add shrimp; stir to coat thoroughly. Refrigerate 30 minutes, stirring once. Or if freezing: Place shrimp mixture into a freezer bag, squeeze out air, seal & freeze. Thaw in refrigerator 24 hours (this will marinate your shrimp). Remove shrimp from marinade; discard marinade. Heat grill. Place shrimp on 4 skewers. Place on gas grill over medium-high heat or on charcoal grill 4-6 inches from medium-high coals. Grill 4 minutes or until shrimp turn pink, turning once.

We loved this recipe. Baby Girl ate every bite of her shrimp. Although, next time, I will follow the recipe directions & discard the marinade. It is STRONG! The shrimp and marinade smelled so good. I decided not to put the shrimp on skewers, and instead made a foil bowl and put the shrimp & marinade into that. I put the foil bowl onto the grill. I cringe just thinking about the taste of that marinade. There's a reason why a recipe says "discard marinade"!! I've learned my lesson...I think. Other than that, it was really delicious! The evidence was in my daughter's tummy. :)

Menu Plan Monday-7/27-7/8/2

I should have posted this Sunday night after creating my menu for this week, but I was waiting for hubs to call me from Minnesota. And I knew that just as soon as I got on my computer, he would call. So instead I decided to post this morning. But I almost didn't get to post it. I couldn't connect to the Internet. I couldn't even shown a network to connect to. After a little hunting around, I discovered that someone (Baby Girl) had unplugged my wireless network connection. Thankfully, it was an easy fix, and here I am. :)

Monday--Baked Ham With Marvelous Mango Chutney, Peas

Tuesday--Chicken Stir-Fry, Cantaloupe

Wednesday--German Pork Roast & Root Vegetables (from Taste of Home: April & May 2009)

Thursday--Chicken Fajitas

Friday--German Pork Roast & Root Vegetables
Yes, I will be eating this meal twice this week. With hubs being out of town, and Baby Girl will be spending the night at her G-ma's house 3 nights this week, I figured that I might as well repurpose a meal or two this week.

Saturday--Stir-Fried Shrimp & Pea Pods, Rice

Sunday--Old World Manicotti, Garlic Bread

For hundreds of menu plans, visit!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Wok's For Dinner: Slow-Cooked Pork Tacos

This meal was a big hit with the entire family when I first made it a few months ago. As with most recipes, I made modifications to it based on our pantry supply and our tastes. The original recipe says to use dried apricots. I omitted that the first time I made it; this time, I decided to use 1 Tbsp of apricot preserves to see how it would change the flavor and if it'd be worth doing again.

Slow-Cooked Pork Tacos

1 lb boneless sirloin roast, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 Tbsp apricot preserves
2 Tbsp lime juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
Dash hot pepper sauce
Flour tortillas
Toppings of your choice (we used a little sour cream)

In a 3-qt slow cooker, combine all ingredients, excluding tortillas & toppings. Cover and cook on high for 4-5 hours or until meat is very tender. Shred pork with two forks. If freezing: Place pork mixture into a gallon-size freezer bag and freeze; thaw at least 24 hours in refrigerator; heat in microwave.

The apricot preserves definitely added an interesting twist to the smoking cumin flavor. However, I don't think I'll add apricot anything to this recipe in the future. It just detracted too much from the whole pork taco flavors. Maybe I was just spoiled the first time I made this. Baby girl kept insisting all day long that she was hungry, even after eating breakfast, lunch, and snacks inbetween. Her "tummy was still hungry" as I was preparing super. But she ate only one bite of her taco and told me she didn't like it. Then she insisted that she was full. Then 5 minutes later, as we were on our way out the door to go grocery shopping, she proceeded to tell me that she was hungry.

Go figure.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Wok's For Dinner: Chiken Fingers With Dipping Sauces

You know those days where you planned to make one thing, then realized you just didn't have the gumption to do it? That was me tonight. I actually got to bring baby girl home from G-ma's house--hooray! But it was after 7pm by the time we got here. I still intended on heating up the main dish, but didn't feel like making the side dishes to go with it. Still wanted something healthy, so I gave baby girl some grapes and she helped me out by pulling them off the stem. It was quite cute because she said "pop!" every time she pulled off a grape!

The recipe for tonight's meal came from the American Heart Association. Been a long time since I last made it, and since I bought chicken strips for a really good deal (about $1.20) at Food Lion, I figured it would be a good meal to make. Click here for the original recipe. My version is below.

Chicken Fingers With Dipping Sauces

1 egg
1 pound chicken tenders, all visible fat discarded
Vegetable oil
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup plain dry bread crumbs
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried basil, crumbled
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt

Crack egg open into a medium-size bowl and whisk slightly. Dip chicken tenders into egg and set aside. Heat 3 Tbsp of oil into a large skillet on medium heat. Mix remaining ingredients into a medium-size bowl. Take chicken out of egg bowl and dip into bread crumbs mixture. Coat real good, then put chicken into skillet with hot oil. Cook chicken about 7 minutes per side or until nice & golden brown and juices run clear.

I know. I was SOOO bad cooking these in oil in a skillet! I've never done that before. Never ever fried chicken. But I was kinda' in a hurry on freezer meal cooking day and oddly enough did not have patience to wait on this to bake. So I thought I'd give it a shot and fry 'em up in the skillet. I didn't use a lot of oil, so they certainly weren't deep-fried. And I made sure to let them sit on some paper towels to get the oil off real good. After cooling off, I placed the chicken fingers in a gallon-size freezer bag, squeezed out the air, sealed the bag up & froze them. Then pulled them out yesterday to thaw in the frig 24 hours. Heated up in the microwave about 30 seconds (didn't heat them all up, just enough for baby girl and I). For the "sauces", I used honey mustard and ketchup. Fancy schmancy stuff, I know! But it worked and we were able to sit down to a hot & delicious homecooked meal in record time!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Things You Can Do When You're Bored

With hubs and our son being out of town and visiting relatives in Minnesota, and our daughter staying another night at her grandmother's house, I came to realize that lazying about the house was not going to work. I'd feel way too guilty if I hadn't accomplished diddly squat by the time hubs comes home the first of August.
So tonight I did something that needed to be done anyways, and I had postponed doing for a few days:
Take Care Of That Surplus Garden Stock You've Been Meaning To Take Care Of
We had picked several vegetables from our garden a few days ago, and I picked even more Wednesday night after coming home from work (my first night flying solo). Joshua is always gung-ho to give things away left and right. As for me, I'm more inclined to hold onto it for dear life. I've already chopped and frozen several bell peppers, squash & zucchini. But still had the mentality that it wasn't enough.
I wanted to chop & freeze our most recent harvests, but simply had not found the time in the evenings to do so. Until tonight. I made time.

Our bounty was so much, I couldn't even get it all in one shot. The squash is still pouring out of our ears. It's crazy how much we've got. And the zucchini just keeps exploding in growth. One day we'll see a little baby zucchini. And a few days later, we see it's the size of a newborn baby when we go to harvest it.

The zucchini on the far right of the picture above is the absolute largest I have ever seen, larger than any we've grown thus far. Hard to tell in this picture, but please trust me, it's HUGE!!

Since our summer squash was so big, I decided to remove the seeds before freezing. They're too much like pumpkin seeds for regular cooking. Although, I could have set the seeds to the side and then baked them up like pumpkin seeds, but I decided against it this time. I just had too many veggies to cut up. One easy way to remove the seeds is to slice the squash into large sections. Then run your knife under the seeds. The texture of the squash surrounding the seeds is much different than the actual flesh, so it's fairly easy to cut them out. Just be careful not to let your knife slip.

Also chopped up all the bell pepper. I put about 1 cup of chopped bell pepper into a snack-size baggie, then loaded each baggie into a large freezer bag. That way, whenever I need some bell pepper, I can just pull out a baggie without having to hunt around in my freezer for some bell pepper. It's all there in the large freezer bag.

This is what I managed to chop up in about an hour. About half the summer squash and all the bell pepper. I could have kept on going, but that would have kept me from posting pictures. :)

I still have plenty more to cut up. I put the jalapenos into the fridge. I'll try to make Pepper Poppers tomorrow night, and then freeze those for hubs when he gets back from his road trip. I also harvested our first 2 sweet peppers tonight (lower right corner of above pic). I have no clue what to use them for. Hubs thought he planted bell pepper, but misread the tag on the the transplant. We didn't even know they were sweet peppers until a few nights ago when we took a closer look at them. I think I might saute' them with onion, tomato and garlic to make a homemade salsa, then freeze that. That's a project for tomorrow night, perhaps.
It felt great being productive tonight! I sure hate the thought of letting any of our home-grown veggies go to waste. Thankfully, we have the chest freezer that we can use to store extra goodies, such as freezing our surplus. I like knowing that I have vegetables on-hand for a future day down the road. Eventually, our squash & zucchini will give up...right? Maybe? Please?!! :)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wok's For Dinner: Grilled Citrus Chicken

This month was the first time that I incorporated our grill into our freezer meal cooking day. I try to use a variety of cooking methods, so I'm not stuck standing at the stove, or roasting the house with the oven running non-stop all day. Plus, it gives me the opportunity to cook several meals at one time, by utilizing the slow cooker, stove & oven. So far, it seems to work, and I haven't tripped the breaker!

I added the grill due to this meal being a "grilled" meal. I did not freeze the chicken, since I planned it for this evening's meal, just a few days after the freezer meal cooking day. However, it still worked out because it was cooked in advance and I simply heated it in the microwave. A big time saver. Although, it wouldn't matter tonight because I'm flying solo. Hubs, his dad, and my son are about 40 miles outside of Indianapolis as I write this, on their way to visit family and go fishing in Minnesota. My daughter is spending the night with her grandma. Nice having a quiet evening at home, but I'm sad to be all alone. Thank goodness for the blogging community to keep me company!

I got this recipe from Startsampling. I tried to stay as close as possible to the recipe, but made a modification or two. Here's my version (I made a half batch):

Grilled Citrus Chicken

1/2 cup water
1/8 cup vegetable oil
1/8 cup lemon juice
1 tbsp grated orange peel
1/4 tsp salt
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts

In shallow bowl, mix all ingredients except chicken. Add chicken; turn to coat with marinade. Cover dish and refrigerate, turning chicken occasionally, at least 2 hours. Heat gas or charcoal grill. Remove chicken from marinade; reserve marinade. Place chicken on grill over medium heat. Cover grill; cook 15 to 20 minutes, turning chicken once (so you get real good grill marks on each side). Brush chicken with marinade occasionally, until juice of chicken is clear when center of thickest part is cut.

DeAna Answers

I had no idea what to title this post. But I had a few comments to the post about my July freezer meal day that I wanted to answer. I started to respond by adding my own comment, but it quickly turned into a 5 paragraph essay, and then a short story, and before I knew it, it looked more like a 300 page novel! That's what I get for having an English degree.

So I thought I could best serve you by responding in a post instead. :)

Melissa said...
I have the Old World Manicotti recipe that I got from you a long time ago and we make it often. How do you make it without cheese, though??
Hey Melzie! I'm so glad you've been able to make that recipe. I should have been a little clearer on the caption for that picture. I took the pic before sprinkling cheese on top of the sauce. So the manicotti is stuffed with cheese, but there isn't any visible cheese in the picture. I love using feta cheese in lieu of ricotta. My M-I-L made it one time for us, and she used ricotta. It just wasn't the same, and even hubs wasn't crazy about it. I don't know how I would go about making it without cheese, but the thought just occurred to me that I might be able to improve it by adding some spinach, like you might find in a lasagna. The wheels are already turning...

Debbie said...
I think it's brilliant that you do this. Do you have a big spare freezer that you put all these meals in? How long does it usually take you to do all the cooking, and the cleaning up afterwards?
Thanks, Debbie. It has been a real blessing for me ('cause I'm able to maintain some level of sanity b/c I'm not so stressed out in the evenings ;). And hubs has commented several times about what he's observed--we're eating more fresh fruit and veggies, overall the meals are healthier, we're eating earlier in the evening (like 6 or 6:30 instead of 7 or 7:30 like before), I'm not so stressed out in the evenings, and I can spend more time with my family. It's those observations from him that help reaffirm that the freezer meals are a good option for our family.

I do have a small chest freezer. Friends of ours were moving and sold it to us. It was too good a deal to pass up, and we had been talking about getting a chest freezer for a few years.

However, I use it for surplus type stuff, like when I made strawberry freezer jam, extra loaves of bread (I freeze until we need a new loaf), vegetables from our garden that I've chopped & frozen. All my freezer meals are actually in our refrigerator/freezer.

Loaded down with freezer meals.
I start cooking about 11am. That's after getting home with my AFM order, taking pics, and finally getting to a starting point. I'll cook until about 9 or 10pm. Some people will plan on making double batches of everything, planning 10 meals, but actually end up with 20. That would save a lot of time on freezer meal cooking day. But, other than cereal, I simply can't eat the same thing over & over. And I want to try new things, so I try to plan a new meal for each day of the month. I also will plan some non-freezer meals, like the ham steak & eggs we had Tuesday night. Otherwise, I'd spend 2 days cooking instead of 1, and that would not be cool! :)

As for cleaning up, I try to stick to the "clean as I go method." I reuse the same pots & pans, mixing bowls & utensils. I just give them a quick wash inbetween meals. That way, at the end of the day, I just throw everything into the dishwasher, and clean-up is a cinch.

Simply Things Family said...
That is great! I will have to get organized and try sometime.
Simply Just Things,
I highly recommend you invest in some freezer meals, whether it's a full month or just a week's worth. Like I mentioned, it has been such a time saver for me. I work full-time, and I used to dread having to cook when I came home because it took so much time away from my family. Even the quick 30 minute meals never really took 30 minutes because my kids, especially the little one, are so demanding and vying for my attention when I get home. What helps me to continue doing freezer meals as well is having a set day each month--the 3rd Saturday.

Thanks everyone for your questions & comments--keep them coming!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wok's For Dinner: $5 Dinner Challenge

I've been trying to do a better job of actually calculating how much our meals are costing, keeping them within the $5 limit for our family of four. This meal was a definite budget-worthy meal.

Ham steaks -- $1.50 (I bought a picnic ham on sale and cut it into slices, enough for 3 meals)
Mixed Vegetables--$0.50 (used half a bag that was bought on sale for $1)
Cantaloupe--$0.25 (bought a super large cantaloupe on sale for $.99; we ate most of it Sunday night and used the rest up tonight)
5 eggs--$0.50
4 frozen biscuits--These 4 biscuits have been in the freezer so long, I couldn't tell you how much they originally cost me. That's free in my book.
Total cost -- $2.75

For more frugal dinner ideas, visit Erin at $5 Dinners!

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