Thursday, March 27, 2014

This Week's Meal Plan

It's that time again! Time to figure out what on earth I'm making for dinners this week. This week I want to keep things simple. Simple is good. Simple is awesome. And if you just started singing "everything is awesome" quietly to yourself, well, sorry about that.

When things are simple in my life, I can focus a wee bit better on other areas I'd like to develop. Areas like new blog posts to share with you. New crochet projects to tackle. My Summer Activities Plan for my boys, because God help us if we go into summer vacation without a plan; they'll eat me alive within 36 hours.

So here's to keeping things simple!



  • Brace yourself: it's NOT pizza night for us this week! *gasp* I know!! Gavin's school is having their big Family Night so we'll be up there all evening having fun. Since I'm not able to volunteer to staff this wonderful, crazy event, I am donating a big pot of Cheddar-Broccoli Soup for the soup/chili bar they'll be offering.



  • Personal pizzas. Ok, ok, so I'm still sneaking in a pizza night. In my defense, I've got some dough in the fridge that I have to use up. My big boys will be out all evening, and Kieran loooooves to play with dough. I thought he might get a kick out of making his own little pizza. This should be entertaining!


  • Quesadillas. I've got some of this and that in my freezer for filling options, but my little boys will just have plain cheese. 
  • Guacamole and chips
  • Slow-cooker refried beans. How often have you seen this pop up on my meal plans lately? I cannot stress enough the beauty of making big batches of food and freezing them in smaller portions. Time. Saver.


  • Leftovers. 


Happy planning!!
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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hot Roast Beef Sandwiches (A Get Ahead option!)

I'm really trying harder when it comes to finding new recipes. I'm trying to not just file them, pin them, or dog-ear their page in a magazine. I'm trying to actually MAKE them.

This recipe had all the makings of one that I'd remark over but never actually get around to doing. But I'm determined. I've done fairly well in my intention of repeating family favorite recipes more often. So now it's time I focus on those new recipes.

Hot Roast Beef Sandwiches
Recipe from Ree Drummond
Prep time: 20 minutes   Cook time: 15-20 minutes

1/4 cup mayonnaise
3 tbsp grated onion (or 1 tbsp dried onion flakes, or 1 tsp onion powder)
1 tbsp poppy seeds
1 tbsp spicy or Dijon mustard
1 tbsp prepared horseradish
Dash of Worcestershire
1 lb thinly sliced roast beef [NOTE: you might need a little more or less depending on how thin the slices are]
1 lb cheese (I mostly used provolone but also tried cheddar and a really good beer cheese)
12 dinner rolls (I used mini pretzel rolls, because my grocery store is awesome)
Aluminum foil

1. In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, onion, poppy seeds, mustard, horseradish, and Worcestershire. Set aside (if you've got the time, make this ahead and let the flavor marinate together in the fridge until sandwich assembly-time).
I actually used my box grater for the onion. The microplane was taking too long.

This sauce is SPECTACULAR

2. Slice the rolls in half, if not pre-sliced. Arrange the rolls, horseradish spread, meat, cheese(s), and foil in front of you, like an assembly line.
Assembly Line: the only way to go for this.

3. Spread a little dressing on the top and bottom buns (about 1 tsp each). Lay the beef on the bottom roll, then top with a slice of cheese. Place the top bun on the cheese to close the sandwich.
Step 1: Slice bread and sauce them

Step 2: Meat. I lucked out with a roasted garlic roast beef.
Yes, it's to die for.

Step 3: Cheese. I had to cut the slices up a bit to make them fit better.

I could eat this cold without one single qualm.

4. Wrap the assembled sandwich in a square of foil and set aside. Continue making and wrapping sandwiches until all the buns are used.* To bake, preheat the oven to 350. Place the wrapped sandwiches on a baking sheet and bake about 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melty and delightful.
These went from my fridge to the oven with no adjustments or spreading out necessary.

*At this point you can freeze the sandwiches to bake up later.

These sandwiches were such a huge hit in my house! I made them up a couple days before my cousin and her family came up to visit, and baked them up after we spent an afternoon touring a local brewery. Best. Meal. Decision. Ever. Not only did the meaty, cheesy goodness help soak up some of the beer we sampled, but it was WONDERFUL not to have to race home to throw dinner together. The sandwiches were prepped and only needed warming. I did make up a few sauce-less ones for the kiddos. And yes, those were a hit too. Even Gavin, my non-beef-eating Picky Eater, loved them!

I'm not going to lie: we loved these so much that last week I bought another set of rolls, meat, and cheeses to make these up again. Yes, again. I know! I just made them and I'm already making more. This set though I squirreled away into my freezer for my husband and I to munch on as we please (yes, I put that zingy sauce on all of them because...well, I'm greedy).

And just because this recipe says roast beef, that doesn't mean you have to use it. Use ANY deli meat and/or cheese combination you like! Have a special obsession with hot ham and cheddar sandwiches with yellow mustard on potato bread? Do it. Are you a turkey and muenster on whole grain-only kind of person? Go for it! Corned beef and beer cheese on rye? Why not? Do whatever you like!!
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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Farmer's Market Find: Cranberry-Chipotle Glazed Pork Chops with Roasted New Potatoes

I live in the Midwest. The very cold, often-dreary, northern part of the Midwest. Near a giant lake. Hello Lake Effect Snow.

Yet despite it feeling like winter nine months of the year, I absolutely love living here. Love, love, love!! And for lots of different reasons. One of them is the resourcefulness of the people who live here. Because a little cold, snow, and ice doesn't stop us from doing what we please and enjoying the outdoor activities we like.

We just move them indoors.

I first learned about the Milwaukee County Winter Farmers Market last year. And I've basically been "omg how freaking lucky am I?!?!!!" ever since. You see, we love our farmers markets around here. During our all-too-brief summers and early falls there are several markets waiting to be discovered in various areas on different days throughout the city. It's such a wonderful experience to visit these markets that it's kinda heart-breaking when the snow starts flying.

But not anymore!
My beautiful finds.

Now I can simply bundle up my kiddos, and drive the 20ish minutes to the botanical gardens in order to get my market fix. It truly is spectacular!

When I do go to farmers markets, I entertain myself with a little challenge. The beauty of these markets is the constantly changing variety based on what's in season and ready to eat. Technically this should produce a small-scale anxiety attack to a meal-planner such as myself. I refuse to let it though. I like wandering the different tables, tasting the samples, talking with the farmers, and letting my imagination take hold. It's inspiring! And who doesn't love to be inspired?
It's ok to drool.

So for last Saturday's Farmer's Market Find, I very quickly zeroed in on a cranberry-chipotle chutney. Like, literally did a double-take, and backed up in a crowded lobby with an impatient two year-old barely in an ancient, kinda rickety stroller just so I could sample it. The vendor, Savory Accents, told me it was especially good on pork. Another couple circuits around all the tables resulted in some tasty looking organic-fed pork chops (Morning Star Family Farm) and a colorful selection of new potatoes. My dinner is set, and it will be delicious!

Cranberry-Chipotle Glazed Pork Chops
It's my opinion that when you're working with such fresh, good-quality ingredients, that you don't need to add a whole lot of extra stuff. So these chops can literally be a 4-ingredient dish: the pork, the chutney, some salt & pepper, and some EVOO.

1. Heat a medium skillet (I only had two chops) over medium-high heat. Add the EVOO, and maybe a pat of butter if you like the flavor but that's up to you. The butter will add some richness while the oil has a higher smoke point.

EVOO is better for you, but who can resist the flavor of buttery richness?

2. Season the chops pretty well with S&P. Brown the chops in the skillet and remove to a plate to keep warm.
If you want your meat to get that gorgeous brown crust, PAT IT DRY FIRST.


3. Reduce the heat a little and add a couple healthy dollups of the chutney. Scrape up the delicious brown bits as the chutney begins to bubble a little.
It's just so beautiful....

4.  Return the chops to the pan and turn a couple times to coat. If you're not sure if the chops are cooked through, reduce the heat a little more and cover the pan to let them cook a few minutes. Remember though that pork is allowed to be slightly pink in the middle, whereas chicken is not. Remove the cooked chops to a plate, cover, and LET REST for five minutes before digging in.
It's every bit as tasty as it looks.

p.s. If you're not really into a glaze, splash some chicken stock into the pan after removing the chops to deglaze it. Then add a spoonful or two of the chutney. The stock will thin out the chutney and create a sauce instead of a glaze. Always finish a pan sauce with a little pat of butter to give it a beautiful sheen and add a richer taste.

Roasted New Potatoes
1. Preheat oven to 400.
Nature's Jewels

2. Halve or quarter any large potatoes so they are all the same size (they'll cook evenly). Spread the potatoes out evenly on a baking sheet or pan. Drizzle with EVOO and toss to coat. Sprinkle on whatever seasonings, or seasoning blends you like. If you're using a seasoning blend without salt and/or pepper, sprinkle on a little S&P to enhance the flavors overall.
I used a lemon-garlic seasoning that I absolutely adore and would put on everything if Rob let me.

3. Roast for 40-45 minutes until tender.
These were positively creamy on the inside. 
Please note that I did not, and will not, receive any sort of compensation or accommodation from this market or any vendor listed in this post. The statements and reactions noted above are purely my own and not influenced in any way by outside sources. 
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Thursday, March 20, 2014

This Week's Meal Plan

I'm a little discombobulated this week. I suppose that'll happen when you have a fabulously long weekend of fun. As a result though, I'm a bit behind on my household chores, and a little scattered when it comes to food.

But that's ok. Because if nothing else, you know I've got my freezer stash.


  • Linguine with clam sauce. Rob works late tonight, so I have to take advantage of his dinnertime absence.
  • Steamed peas. Can't help it...linguine with clam sauce just begs for peas alongside.


  • Pizza of course, and most likely hot dogs for my little guys
  • Popcorn


  • Farmer's Market Find. Our area does an indoor winter's farmer's market, and I haven't been in ages. So since it'll just be Kieran and me for dinner, I think we'll go explore the market in the morning and find some delectable goodies for the evening.



  • Leftovers



Happy planning!!
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Thursday, March 13, 2014

This Week's Meal Plan

We have company coming this weekend: my beautiful Twin Cousin (so-named because our moms are twins), her husband, and their two gorgeous little girls. I am so incredibly excited that I'm not sure I can quite put it into words appropriately.

So I'm channeling that excited energy into my meal plan.

I'm really looking forward to cooking for them this weekend!!!


  • Grilled cheese sandwiches. Because Gavin asked for them, and I like to make my boys happy when I can.
  • Roasted tomato and black bean soup. Before you think I some kind of Super Cook who can pull out a few extra hours of everday, this little beauty if courtesy of my freezer. I really love my freezer.
  • Carrot sticks. My boys don't always like every soup I make, so I like to have a little something else that's healthy and I know they'll eat.


  • I'm still making pizza, because Rob loves his Friday Night Pizza, but Gavin's kinda over it. So lately I've been offering easy alternatives like cheese and crackers with fresh fruit, or hot dogs, or maybe some leftover mac & cheese if I have some. 
  • Popcorn. Nothing changes a child's love for popcorn.


Sunday (I do have a semi-organized breakfast in mind of mini-oatmeal/chocolate chip muffins with some honeyed Greek yogurt and fresh berries. We'll follow that up with lunch out on the town.)

  • New Recipe! Hot Roast Beef Sandwiches. The plan is to check out some local, downtown Milwaukee sights for most of the morning, with a brewery tour late in the afternoon. A good, hearty, make-ahead meal will most likely be essential. 
  • Cheesy potatoes. Again with the hot, hearty, make-ahead-ness.
  • Steamed mixed veggies. Not a make-ahead dish but these frozen beauties only take a couple minutes in the microwave. 

Monday (Rob said something about maybe whipping up some omelets for breakfast. He makes fantastic omelets!)

  • Our kiddos will dine on the "Blue Box" Special with a sitter while us grown-ups enjoy being grown-ups on St. Patty's Day!


  • Leftovers. I think I've earned a leftover night.


  • Pancakes
  • New Recipe! Chia Seed Pudding Cups with fresh (or frozen, in case I've run out of the fresh stuff by this point) fruit.
Happy planning!!
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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lime Baked Tilapia

So many times, the best recipes are the simplest ones.

Not sure why this keeps surprising me, but it does. Thank God I like surprises!

Lime Baked Tilapia
Recipe from Bobby Deen
Prep time: 3 minutes   Cook time: 8-12 minutes

Cooking spray
4-5 tilapia fillets
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Zest and juice of one lime
1-ish tbsp butter

1. Preheat oven to 375. Coat a large, oven-safe skillet with cooking spray.

2. Lay the tilapia fillets in the skillet, making sure they don't overlap too much (if the skillet looks crowded, get a bigger pan). Season the fillets with salt, pepper, lime zest, and lime juice. Place a little bit of butter over each fillet.
5 fillets used up my freezer stash, so I filled up my biggest pan.

I love where this is going already.

3. Bake about 8-12 minutes until fish is cooked through.
Only manners would keep me from eating this right out of the pan.

This dish is FABULOUS. It's light. It's refreshing. It has zip. And it's satisfying. Even my Picky Eater likes this dish!!

Not only do I love this recipe for it's simplicity, I also love how versatile it can be. Don't like tilapia? Use a different mild-tasting fish. Want to play around with different citrus fruits? Go for it! Or, better yet, try combining a few. I wonder how Lemon-Tangerine Tilapia would taste?

I'm not sure, but when I try it I'll be sure to let you know! ;)
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Thursday, March 6, 2014

This Week's Meal Plan

Pretty much any cook will tell you the secret to cooking well for a family on a budget is a well-stocked pantry and fridge. But what does "well-stocked" mean? Well, it's different for everyone because we all have a different set of Must-Have Ingredients for our Family Favorite Recipes. For example, my mom always have several cans of chopped clams on-hand so she can make things like linguine with clam sauce on super busy nights. For me, I need to have large assortment of canned tomato products. You never know when I might have the time to make up some spaghetti sauce for the freezer, do a barbecue sauce for an upcoming dinner, or need to mix up some more pizza sauce for Friday night. And if I have anything less than six boxes of cereal open for my growing boys' breakfasts, well, crazy things can (and DO) happen. It's actually gotten to the point where my pantry is so well-stocked, I usually spend most of my grocery time and money in the produce and dairy aisles getting perishables.

BUT (oh you knew that was coming). Every so often the stars align and that perfect storm hits. And I find I need to restock what feels like nearly everything in my house in order to keep my system going. This week is one of those weeks. I really hate that stormy star lineup.

This week we'll be living out of our freezer and what I have left in the fridge and pantry in order to stretch my dollar as far as it will go. And I'll try to explain to what I'm making and why:


  • French Toast. I'll use up last night's bread. And I'm getting more milk and eggs anyway.
  • Baked apples. My kids are Fruit Monsters, and they have cleaned me out! This week I'll stock up on big bags of the basics: bananas (would you believe I get 5-6lbs of these every week?!), apples, and oranges.


  • Pizza of course. And thank God I made a fresh batch of dough last week so I don't need to make any new for this week's dinner. Plus I discovered I got Cheese Paranoid at some point and I have extra mozzarella in the freezer. Score!!
  • Popcorn. Because I buy 4lbs of kernals at a time and still have half of it left. I also keep extra butter in the freezer for when my fridge runs low.


  • New Recipe! Baked Tilapia. This one is new to you but I've made it once before and it's awesome. It also uses up the limes I bought for Taco Night last week. The tilapia I get frozen and in bulk so I've already got a bag.
  • Rice. Brown would be my preference but my family doesn't like it as well as white, so I'm outvoted and will use what I have.
  • Tossed salad. I get twitchy if I don't have lettuce around to make a salad as the mood strikes, which is often for me. I'll be buying more of my favorite lettuces anyway, which we'll only eat about 1/4 of for this dinner; they last a long time.


  • Thai Chicken & Butternut Squash Soup. Last time I made this I filled a 1-quart carton and stuck it in the freezer. Since it's Daylight Savings Time (nooooooooo!!!!), a ready-to-go soup will be perfect for this already sleep-deprived Mama.
  • Fresh bread. Flour, salt, and yeast are actually among the few things that don't need restocking this week. So whipping up a batch of our favorite basic bread is no hardship.


  • Leftovers. Because Rob works late AND there's no cost involved in cleaning out what I've already made.


  • New Recipe! Smoky BBQ Rib-burger on Cheesy Garlic Bread. I am allowing myself ONE new recipe this week where I need to pick up a few things that I wouldn't normally get. And really I don't need much; just a couple things for the sauce and the meat itself. Everything else, even the bread, I've already got.
  • Tator Tots. Long, semi-embarrassing story but let's just say I happen to have many pounds of them in the freezer. 
  • Steamed mixed vegetables. I always have 3-4 bags of different veggies in the freezer (green beans, peas, corn, and mixed). As soon as I run out of one, I get more.


  • Layered Enchilada Bake. I haven't made this in a while and I either already have, or will be buying more of, all the ingredients to make this. Plus I can put half in the freezer for another week when those damn stars align.
  • Steamed corn.
So yeah, there's my plan and why I'm doing it. I hope this helps anyone who continues to run into challenges when planning family dinners. It really is possible to have an interesting, creative, tasty, and healthy menu for a family each week, on a budget. Even when you're using up most of what you've already got.

Happy planning!!
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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Onion-Rosemary Focaccia

I can't believe I'm going to admit this, but...

I didn't realize today was Fat Tuesday.

Soooo, yeah. While I scrounge around my kitchen to see if I have the fixings for some deliciously sinful and thoroughly fattening dessert to make with my boys this afternoon, I'll leave to you with another way to use up all that fabulous bulk pizza dough.

Onion-Rosemary Focaccia
Recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day
Prep time: 30 minutes   Bake Time: 30 minutes

1/4 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tsp for drizzling
1 lb (about grapefruit-sized) Olive Oil Dough, or another preferred bread dough.
3/4 tsp dried rosemary, OR 1 1/2 tsp fresh
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat a small skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion slices in 2 tbsp of EVOO until softened, but not browned. Set aside.
Don't fully cook these here or you'll have extra burnt onions on your focaccia.

2. Prepare a cookie sheet either with parchment paper, nonstick spray, or some EVOO so the bread won't stick. Set aside.

3. If working with a large container of dough, dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1lb piece. Dust with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go.
There are two pounds of dough left in my tub. Half of this...

...makes one cute little ball!

4. Flatten the dough into a 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick round, using your hands. Place the round on the prepared cookie sheet, and poke the surface with your fingers, creating dimples.
Those are adorable little two-year-old dimples on this dough.
Kieran will eat this dough raw if I don't watch him too.

5. Spread the softened onions sparingly over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1 inch border at the edge. Allow the majority of the dough to show through the onion as bare dough (you may have leftover onion; that's ok!). Sprinkle with rosemary, coarse salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Finish with a light drizzle of EVOO.
Sprinkle on your fixings! But don't go nuts: less is more.

6. Allow the focaccia to rest and rise for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425, with an empty broiler tray on the bottom rack, while the dough rests.

7. Place the cookie sheet on a rack placed in the center of the oven. Pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray and close the door quickly. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the crust is medium brown. Cut into wedges and serve warm.
Golden. Beautiful. Wondrous.

I love this bread. My Picky Eater loves this bread (with the onions picked off). My two year-old loves to help me make this bread. It's that awesome, and that easy! The secret to it's fabulous-ness is the pre-made dough. And honestly, it doesn't matter to me if you use the dough recipe that I like, or you pick something up from your grocer's freezer. Whatever you like to use is totally fine! I love how adding a few savory toppings totally takes this from plain ol' dough to a bread worthy of any fantastic Italian dish. Or as an appetizer, with cheese and fresh fruit, at a cocktail party!

You could even take leftover wedges and crumble a little goat cheese on top to munch on while watching that movie you've been dying to see after the kiddos go to bed. ;) Oh the possibilities...
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