Saturday, January 18, 2014

Menu Planning

I'm still struggling with menu planning. I hate trying to figure out what is going to make everyone happy... LOL But the other day I saw something on a friend's Facebook thread about this issue and it was GENIUS!!! It was so simple that many will say "duh," but I needed it spelled out for me.  The page suggested creating a weekly menu plan using Google calendar and when you add a meal, set it to repeat at a given interval (2 weeks, 6 months, yearly etc).

Also - put the ingredients/recipe/link in the "event" description so you don't have to dig for it each time it comes up!

I planned out 2 weeks worth of meals yesterday and when I looked at my future months I have SO MANY MEALS already planned!! Look, here's December based on what I planned - two weeks of meal planning NOW gives me months that look like THIS... Imagine what it will start to look like over the next several weeks when I add more meals.

There are days that maybe two (or more) meals coincide - no problem - as you prepare the grocery list for the week, decide which meal you want and ignore the other! Look at the 26th, three meals to choose from!

Decide you want something new/different this week? No problem... ignore the scheduled meal and add the new one to the rotation. Also - it's so easy to switch around the days each week. Realize you don't have enough time on Monday to make a big meal, but you do on Thursday? no big deal, you've already got the meals planned, and groceries bought for the meal, just swap it around as you need.

Gosh! This is so exciting to me, and will take away so much of my frustration that comes from TRYING to figure out what to eat weekly.

I'm also using a 30 day free (no billing information required) trial of Plan to Eat (associate link - please use this link if you decide you want to give it a try... this stay at home mommy to two hungry kiddos will get a bit of a discount on my next renewal fee) where I can store & share recipes, menu plan & the page generates your shopping list based on ingredients & servings. Admittedly I am still trying to figure it all out myself but I LOVE what I see so far.

Let's start at the beginning:
Adding recipes - there are various methods of doing this.
     1. You can manually enter the recipe... adding each ingredient/amount individually and then typing in the steps etc. This method might make the grocery list the cleanest in the long run.
     2. You can copy/paste the recipe using their "bulk" entry method. Make sure that you put the directions in the directions section, not in the same box as the ingredients. That really musses up the grocery list! Speaking from experience here.
     3. Bookmark bar button - You know how on Pinterest, there is that button that you can download so that you can pin from anywhere on the web? Or how Amazon has a button you can download so that you can add something to your wishlist, from anywhere on the web?? Guess what!!!?? Plan To Eat also has a button to download so you can add recipes to your recipe box from anywhere on the web!!
     4. Friends - add your friends (add me - please use my associate link) and you will have access to any of THEIR public recipes!!

Planning - again there are a few ways to do this. Here is what I have discovered so far:
     1. When you add a recipe, once it saves successfully, there is an option to "add to planner" or "add to queue" (more on the queue later)
     2. The same options exist when you are reviewing existing recipes (yours or someone else's)
     3. The Planner page - when you click the planner page, the screen shows a calendar front and center with your recipes along the left side bar (see below). Drag/drop the recipe to the appropriate day/meal (breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack) on the planner.

     4. "Copy" once you have a few days/weeks/months planned you can click on "edit planner", select the days/weeks etc that you want to copy and where you want to copy them to and "poof" almost like magic!

About the "queue" feature - say you are talking to your husband in the middle of the week and he says "Oh, Honey, you know what we haven't had in a LONG time that sounds really good right now?" You can go in and add that to your queue so that you don't forget about it when you sit down to plan the next time! 

The grocery list is sorted by "aisle" - but allows you to customize the aisles. For example, you buy tortillas from the dairy cooler instead of the International foods aisle - switch it so it shows up by your milk, instead of by the salsa) -- and it allows you to add other items (need shampoo, but not to cook with? No problemo!)

Really the only drawback that I had today (this was my first outing to the store using the list) was:

When I do my own grocery list if I have 4 recipes that call for chicken broth, I quickly do the math (2c + 1/4 c + 1/3 c) and put chicken broth on my list ONE time with a grand total "at least 3 c." Not so on PtE - I had several recipes that called for onions and this is how that section of my list looked:

I'm sure that with a little work, and maybe some editing of how "onion" is listed in the ingredients it would do it (I see here that it did combine "onions" from recipe C and recipe J - so that MIGHT be the thing...back to "manual" input method cleaning up the grocery list)

Now I am working to integrate the Google method into PtE - currently I plan and "repeat" on Google calendar and then go drag/drop onto the corresponding dates on Plan to Eat. I haven't yet figured out an easier method.  BUT - These two little things have seriously changed my outlook on meal planning.

This was a lot to get through, and I'm sure it's quite confusing as you're reading through it - please - ask any questions and I will do my best to help figure it out! Hopefully you've found something to make your meal planning easier also!

Now - who wants to help me tackle couponing??!!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Meatballs in Mushroom Sauce

I     LOVE     MUSHROOMS... Unfortunately for The All Star, he doesn't like them at all. I cook with them ANYWHERE I can, so it should go without saying that I would want to try this recipe when I found it!

Meatballs in Mushroom Sauce

The Line Up
1 lb ground beef (or 50/50 ground beef/ground pork)
2 TBSP sweet chili sauce
1/2 TBSP ground nutmeg
2 TBSP coarse mustard
1/2 tsp white pepper
6 TBSP breadcrumbs
1 TBSP milk (I used canned coconut milk for dairy free)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
butter (I used dairy free/safe butter)

10 oz mushrooms
1 small onion
1 garlic clove
1 c beef broth
2 tsp yellow mustard
1/4-1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
tobasco to taste
1 TBSP cornstarch (mixed with 3 TBSP beef broth)
1 TBSP butter

The Game Plan
Mix meatball ingredients and shape into balls. Melt butter and brown meatballs. Remove meatballs from skillet and set aside. 
Melt 2nd TBSP of butter in same skillet, add onions and sautè for a minute, then add mushrooms and garlic. Cook for 3-4 minutes.
Add a few drops of tobasco, the Worcestershire sauce, mustard, pepper and parsley, stir and cook for a minute.
Add beef broth, and return meatballs to skillet. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
Mix the constarch with 3 TBSP beef broth and pour it into the pan.
Let simmer for a few more minutes and taste to see if more seasoning is needed.

Coach's Post Game Conference
I followed the recipe as listed above (I believe) and served over egg noodles. We were very pleased with the flavor, except we thought the meatballs had too much nutmeg. I now wonder if I did more than 1/2 a TBSP (like maybe 2 TBSP)?? I will have to try it again soon. Regardless, these were great and the few left overs we had were eaten quickly (and happily) for lunch the next day!

Final Score
Coach - Triple (due to the nutmeg issue)
Catcher -  Triple 
The All-Star - Triple
The Rookie - ?? She ate them! 

Slow Cooker Meat Sauce

I've mentioned before that I've found a spaghetti sauce that we like enough to not have to buy canned sauce, but that doesn't mean I don't want to try to find something that might just as yummy as, or even BETTER than that one. So when I saw this one, to use in the crock pot, I decided to give it a try.

Slow Cooker Meat Sauce
Jelly Toast Blog

The Line Up
2 lbs ground Italian Sausage (I used sweet)
1 lb ground chuck
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, diced
2 bell peppers diced (I used one red, one green)
6 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
3 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
1/2 c red wine
1 Parmesan rind (omit for dairy free)
1 tsp dried thyme (or 2 tsp fresh)
kosher salt
black pepper
1/4-1/2 crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)

The Game Plan
In a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot set over medium/high heat, brown sausage and ground chuck. Remove from heat, drain excess fat, and transfer cooked sausage and beef to 6 qt slow cooker.
Return Dutch oven to stove. Heat oven oil over medium high heat. Add onions, peppers and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until onions and peppers are soft and garlic is fragrent, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook for an additional 3-5 minutes. Transfer mixture to slow cooker.
Add remaining ingredients to slow cooker and stir to combine.
Cook on low 6-8 hours.

Coach's Post Game Conference
As we are now dairy free, I left out the Parmesan rind, and didn't have red wine (I drink white!) in the house so I left that out also. Followed everything else as above.
I am usually skeptical of marinara sauces that have bell peppers visible in them as I don't care much for them. But this turned out great! We ate from it twice and have a gallon freezer bag of sauce in the freezer for later!

Final Score
Home Runs all the way around (even from the Rookie - remember, she LOVES all things pasta!)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sesame Noodles

I ran across this on Pinterest one day and thought it looked like it would work for lunch one day for The Rookie and myself. Not only was I right... but I was WAY RIGHT! We LOVE it, it's super easy, quick and YUMMY!! I don't make a full recipe for lunch, and have been known to heat up some frozen grilled chicken to throw in.

Sesame Noodles

The Line Up
12 oz fluid, thin noodles, cooked and drained
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 TBSP sugar
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBSP rice vinegar
3 TBSP sesame oil
1/2 tsp hot chili oil
4 TBSP canola oil
4 whole green onions, sliced thin

The Game Plan
Ok - the page I found the recipe on, doesn't tell you what to do it says "See full instructions on"... but I didn't look, I figured it was pretty self explanatory... cook the noodles, mix the rest of the ingredients and stir onto noodles.

Coach's Post Game Conference
As I mentioned, I don't make a full recipe when I make this for The Rookie and myself for lunch. I use regular spaghetti noodles and omit the canola oil, I think that the sesame oil is enough oil. I don't top with green onions, but frequently add sesame seeds on top for good measure.

Final Score
Coach - Home run
The Rookie - HOME RUN - she eats SO MUCH of this (she loves pasta of any kind) This dish is frequently served in response to her endless requests for "Ung-getti!"

Sausage & Potato Skillet

Need a quick, easy, flavorful meal?? Look no further! Here is is:

Sausage & Potato Skillet

The Line Up
1/2 pound cooked smoked turkey sausage
3-4 TBSP olive oil or cooking oil
1 3/4 lbs unpeeled red-skinned potatoes - cut into quarters
2 medium onions - cut into thin wedges or chopped
1 tsp dried thyme, crushed
1 1/2-2 tsp cumin seed, slightly crushed
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

The Game Plan
Pour 3 TbSP oil into heavy skillet and heat. Cook potatoes and onions, uncovered, in oil until potatoes are nearly tender, stirring occasonally. Diagonally slice sausage 1/4" thick; add sausage to potato mixture. Add 1 TBSP oil if necessary to prevent sticking. Cook, uncovered, about 10 minutes or until potatoes and onions are tender and slightly brown, stirring often. Stir in thyme, cumin, salt and pepper. Stir and cook 1 minute more.

Coach's Post Game Conference
Seriously - what is there to say? The herbs added just enough extra flavor for it to not be bland.. I added a bit more salt than called for and some garlic powder for kicks.

The Final Score
Coach - Triple
Catcher - Triple
The All Star - Triple
The Rookie -  she liked the sausage

Honey Sesame Chicken

I've begun experimenting with"freezer meals."  You know the ones... you dump all the ingredients into a gallon freezer bag and stick it all in the freezer until you're ready to make it, then you pull it out and dump it in the crock pot the day you want it. VoilĂ  - meal done! I've been buying and prepping one of these weekly, building up a stash in our chest freezer for when life gets crazy hectic with two sports at once this spring. BUT - I couldn't wait to try this one, it smelled so good going into the bag.

Honey Sesame Chicken
Graciously Saved

The Line up
1 lb chicken tenders
3 TBSP olive oil
1 c honey
2 TBSP sesame seeds
1/2 c soy sauce
1 TBSP sesame oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

The Game Plan
Place all ingredients in freezer bag, toss to coat and freeze]
When ready, place in crockpot and cook on low for 4-5 hours
Remove chicken & Shred, then return to sauce

Coach's Post Game Conference
As you can see above, we didn't shred it. I didn't think it needed it. We served atop a combination of Pad Thai rice noodles and ramen noodles (mainly because I didn't realize we didn't have rice until it was time to MAKE the rice and I wasn't leaving the house - yup... LAZY)
The flavor was DELICIOUS - we will definitely be making this again - SEVERAL times through the spring!

Final Score
Coach - Home Run
Catcher - Home Run
The All- Star  - Home Run
The Rookie - Home Run

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Szechuan Noodles with Spicy Beef

Szechuan Noodles with Spicy Beef

The Line Up
1 lb ground beef
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
2 tsp minced garlic
1 1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger
1/2-1 1/2 tsp dry crushed red pepper (to taste and tolerance)
2 TBSP sesame oil
2 TBSP cornstarch
3/4 c beef broth
1/3 c hoisin sauce
2 TBSP soy sauce
8 oz cermicelli, cooked
1/2 c sliced green onion

The Game Plan
Brown ground beef in a large skillet, stirring until crumbled; drain and keep warm
Pour sesame oil in pan and heat. Saute onion and next 4 ingredients in hot sesame oil until tender
Combine cornstarch and beef broth, whisking until smooth.
Stir broth mixture, hoisin sauce, and soy sauce into onion mixture
Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
Stir in ground beef
Toss with hot pasta, and sprinkle with sliced green onions.

Coach's Post Game Conference
There really isn't much to say about this recipe. It's very simple and straight forward. It is tasty and makes everyone happy!

Final Score
Coach -  Home Run
Catcher - Home Run
The All-Star - Home Run
The Rookie - Home Run

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