Friday, February 28, 2014

Freezer Meals to Wrap up Winter

No matter where you live, I think we're all sick of winter!  I knew we were in trouble when I went to my freezer and all I had left was a 5 lb. bag of ice, some old frozen hash browns and a pile of summer's popsicles.  So I decided to make some freezer meals that will hopefully get us through one more month where spring will be in the air and we're grilling again!  

Many of these recipes are staples on Pinterest. They have been successful for us so I make them frequently. These recipes are pinned and shared frequently, so   I'll try to give credit where credit is due. 

Scalloped Potatoes & Ham
12 new potatoes, cut into ¼ inch round slices or a large bag of frozen potatoes
2 cans of cream of chicken, mushroom or potato soup 
2 cans of water
2 ham steaks, cubed--we used turkey ham
8 oz cheddar cheese
4 cups of broccoli
salt and pepper

Directions:  Divide everything evenly into two containers.  Cook on low for 8 hours.  

If you're concerned about your potatoes turning dark once cut and frozen, just add them the day of cooking. I included the potatoes because I wanted to see how they held up. 

To make it simple, I bought two bags of cut and washed broccoli which saved me tons of time!   

A staple in our house is Tortilla Soup.  This is an easy, cheap recipe.  You can easily double or triple it and have several meals ready in your freezer. 

Chicken Tortilla Soup
1 pound chicken
1 (15 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, mashed
1 (10 ounce) can enchilada sauce
1 medium onion, chopped
1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chile peppers
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 (10 ounce) package frozen corn

Combine all ingredients into a freezer bag. When ready to cook, thaw and put into a slow cooker.  Add 2 cups water and one 14 oz can of chicken broth. Cover, and cook on low setting for 6 to 8 hours or on high setting for 3 to 4 hours. Shred chicken in crock pot after cooking is done.

Sweet Baby Ray's Crockpot Chicken
4-6 chicken breasts
1 bottle Sweet Baby Ray's bbq sauce (or whatever you like)
1/4 cup vinegar
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp garlic powder

Mix everything but chicken.  Place chicken in crockpot (frozen is okay).  Pour sauce mixture over chicken. Cook on low 4-6 hours. 

I must have gotten really lazy because along the way I've abbreviated this recipe to be 1 lb. of chicken thighs and a bottle of bbq sauce.  Sometimes I slice an onion with it, sometimes I don't.  Place it all in a freezer bag, then cook in the crockpot for 4-6 hours on low. Still works out great!

Seems like side dishes get old fast in winter and casseroles are a great solution.  I used up the hash browns left in the freezer and made a cheesy potato casserole.  Sometimes you can find this recipe on the bag of hash browns!  And it goes great with bbq chicken.

Since roast was on sale this week I added a pot roast to the mix. This recipe is different from the Pioneer Woman roast I used in a previous post, but I think I may like this one a little better. 

Country Style Pot Roast
3-4 lbs. beef pot roast
2 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 white onion, cut into wedges
1 small bag baby carrots
¾ cup water, tomato juice or dry red wine
1 envelope Lipton onion soup mix
1 tsp. basil
½ tsp. pepper

Arrange potatoes, carrots and onions (in that order) on bottom of a crock pot.  Place meat on top of vegetables and cover with water, tomato juice or wine.  Cover meat with basil, onion soup mix and pepper.  Place lid on slow cooker and cook for 10-12 hours on low, or 5-6 hours on high. 

When I want to freeze this recipe, I place the meat, onion and carrots in the freezer bag and cover with the mixture of liquid and seasonings.  I'll add the potatoes on the day I'm cooking.

Next I made Meatloaf and White Chicken Chili, which I showed you on a previous blog post.  It's so easy to double these soup recipes for extra meals. 

Last is chicken curry. This Martha Stewart Chicken Curry recipe is so simple.  Taste it as you go because I always think it needs way more curry than it calls for.

Stay warm out there!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Dr. Seuss Theme Playroom and Reading Nook

We have a bonus room in our home that we decided to make the playroom. It's a large space to give over to toys, however, it did eliminate our living room from being kiddie land. It was well worth it! Here's our jumping off point...

To fund my project, I sold this giant sectional, plus a desk and chair on Craigslist.  I didn't have room for this stuff in the playroom, so it had to go! 

I started by painting the entire room a turquoise blue color.  It was fun to use crazy, bold colors for a change. There is a nook in this space that we decided to make into a reading spot.  In this area I wanted to really play up the Dr. Seuss theme.  It's really the only spot in the room that is "seussed up."  All other areas are themed with art or things that can be removed from the wall and easily changed when the time comes. 

On the outside wall of the nook I freehanded a frame around the opening with a piece of chalk and painted it in with yellow paint.  The beautiful thing about Dr. Seuss is the more imperfect, the better.  Just call it "seussical" and move on!  On top of the frame I painted the words, The Lorax.  I was able to use small sample sizes of paint for the yellow, orange, pink and dark blue colors used on the mural, which was a nice savings.  Don't forget about sample sizes for small projects, you don't always need to buy full quarts.  

Next I freehanded some rolling hills inside the nook and painted them green.  I'm not an artist.  I can't emphasize that enough!  Just use chalk or pencils to draw your scene and if doesn't work, wipe it off.  Paint is easily painted over, too, if you don't like something, just paint it over. Sometimes you just have to go for it!  I didn't have a plan in mind for how I wanted this nook to turn out. I knew I wanted the Lorax and truffula trees.  So I painted sky and hills and then just filled in the blanks. 

We do have an old fashioned over head projector which I love to use for painting projects.  I can make a transparency and project it on the wall and it's basically coloring at that point.  There wasn't room, however, in this space for my overhead to work.  I was able to use it for the two large trees, then everything else I had to freehand.  I found some simple images on the internet that I liked, so I printed them and used them as a reference to draw the Lorax and the fish.  My first attempt at painting the lake and fish were terrible, so I painted over it and tried again!  If it didn't work, I just would have painted it green and left it as grass. 


Once finished, I used a black sharpie paint pen to outline everything and give it a finished look.  This is a really nice touch and since it's a pen, it's easy to add details to pictures.  It also helps give the mural some depth.  Since I'm not an artist, giving the mural some depth perception was tough. 

(Check out my previous post if you want to learn how to make truffula trees  from pool noodles and tissue paper)

We filled in the space with some DIY floor pillows, toy storage and book shelves.  The toy storage is the Trofast line from Ikea.  It holds a ton and is so sturdy.  Kids can climb and sit on it and it holds up beautifully. 

For the bookshelves we used rain gutters.  There are lots of tutorials on Pintrest on how to make a rain gutter shelf, but it's fairly simple.  Just purchase the gutters, along with the caps, at your local hardware store.  They can be cut to length with a hand saw (or my husband used his table saw), then add the caps to the end.  The cuts don't have to be perfect because they're not seen once the caps are added.  Then screw the gutters into the wall.  These three shelves we were able to make for around $20 total.  I think they would also be great for storing stuffed animals or other toys.

The rest of the room was much simpler.  We created a large chalk board on the wall using black chalkboard paint and then framed it out in a bit of trim.  For the chalk holder we used an Ikea Ribba photo ledge and cut it to length.  I then just touched up the cut end with white paint. Keep in mind that chalk is very dusty! I didn't realize what a mess having a chalk board would be. Our daughter loves it and it just requires a bit of vacuuming up the baseboard below it once in a while.  

After searching online for vinyl Dr. Seuss quotes, I decided to just paint it myself.  Here's where the overhead projector came in handy!  I found a quote I liked and printed it on a transparency, then was able to draw it in with a paint pen.  A vinyl decal would have cost about $40, this was only the cost of a $3 paint pen. 

For some inexpensive accessories, I purchased some letters to spell "play" on the wall for less than $10.  I also bought a Dr. Seuss book at the Goodwill, cut and decoupaged the pages over a canvas. 

For the valances over the windows, I just followed this simple easy, no sew cornice box I showed you in a previous blog post. 

For the last bit of storage we needed we added an Ikea Expedit shelf and filled it with red bins.  You can never have too much storage in a playroom!   

So there's our playroom in a nutshell. Of course, it's always messy and I pushed toys out of the way to get some of these pictures, but I'd rather have a creative play space that's well loved more than a show place!



Friday, January 10, 2014

Freezer Meals Made Easy: Tips You Should Know

Having a fully stocked freezer is a great feeling.  Especially during winter months when everyone is busy or you just want to snuggle in and stay at home.  I particularly love how a stocked freezer means I can go to the grocery less often!  That is a task I can do without!

I recently did a post on stocking up on freezer meals, so I thought I'd share a few tips I've learned along the way:

 - When filling large freezer baggies with food, fold the top down for easier filling and to keep your bag clean.  No duh, right?  Still, I wiped down many bags before I got into this habit.

 - Place baggies in a dish, such as a pie plate, to hold them up right while you're filling them.

 - Purchase disposable aluminum pans at the dollar store.  Square ones are handy to divide casseroles easily if you have a small family. 

 - Often freezer meals can be placed frozen into a crockpot.  I often do this with great results.  Just don't place a frozen meal into a hot crockpot or it could crack.   

 - Purchase ground beef in bulk.  I like the 5 lb. packages from Costco.  Then cook the whole thing.  Use a ladle to scoop the ground beef evenly into baggies for freezing.  Usually makes 4-5 one pound packages. 

 - Precooked ground beef is great for tacos.  Toss it in the skillet frozen and it'll heat through in a jiffy. Buy taco seasoning in bulk, and keep shells in your pantry.  With a bag of pre-shredded iceberg lettuce, you'll have tacos ridiculously fast.  

 - Purchase 1 or 2 roast chickens (the ones at Costco are huge!) and shred them.  Freeze the shredded chicken ready for adding to soups, enchiladas and casseroles.  Use the chicken bones for making an easy stock and freeze that too!

 - Double your cookie recipes.  Roll cookie dough into log form and freeze for easy slicing and quick homemade cookies later.  

 - I love to have homemade mac and cheese on hand (this recipe in fact, The Lady's Cheesy Mac).  It's particularly handy for quick meals for my daughter.  I would make a large batch and bake it in muffin tins for individual servings.  Then recently I made a 9x13 size dish. It's too much for my family so I cut it into individual servings and froze it.  Ugh!  That's so much simpler!!  From now on, I'll just make a tray and cut it into squares and freeze it.  Pop a serving into the microwave for 1-2 minutes and you're set.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Organizing Holiday Gift Wrap

As part of my craft room reorganizationI decided to sort through all the gift wrap I had made a huge mess of at Christmas.  The first time I organized my craft room I moved all the gift wrap to the basement.  It really wasn't handy in the basement and moving it around wasn't easy. 

I've tried many different ways to store and organize gift wrap.  I saw pictures of this idea on Pintrest and it really is simple.  For $1.99 you can find these Variera containers in the kitchen department at Ikea.  I filled them as full as I could with rolls of gift wrap, separating by occasion.  Anything I couldn't fit in these three bins, I sent on to a new home.  I just didn't need to store more than this!  Also, it kept me from buying more after Christmas!

For $6 I was able to store all my rolls tucked safely behind the door.  They come with heavy duty foam tape to attach to the wall, but for now its sturdy enough to stand on its own and I like having the option of moving the bins around easily.

While I was at Ikea, I found these additional baskets.  I'm not sure what they're called, however, they were only $3.99 each!  I thought these would store my gift bags nicely (and perhaps bows/tissue paper as well). 

I sorted all the gift bags into two categories, Christmas and Everything Else.  Again, if I couldn't fit it into these two baskets, then I didn't need it.  Larger bags I folded over and they fit fine.  These baskets come with holes, so they can be attached to a wall with screws.  I decided to buy some large command hooks instead and attach them to the side of my cabinet.  I just didn't have any more space behind the door, but I can also move them easily like this. 

For ribbon I started out with grand ideas of using a dowel rod and a plastic bin to organize everything in neat little spools.  This worked great, but  I ultimately scrapped it because I couldn't fit all the ribbon into one bin.   

So what was my grand solution?  I threw everything into a box with a lid.  Same with the tissue paper.  Found some cute boxes at Ikea and problem solved. 

Once I was finished with all my craft room organization, I had all these odds and ends left over with no home (tape, kid scissors, pez dispensers, flash cards, etc.)  I couldn't decide what to do and ultimately decided on an over the door shoe organizer.  I never liked the idea until I gave it a try.  It houses everything I didn't know what to do with in a way that I don't have to look at!  Can't ask for more than that!

Soon I'll do a post on all the wonderful uses for over the door shoe hangers!




Sunday, January 5, 2014

Craft Room Do-Over and Over

We were in desperate need of a place to put all of our arts and crafts supplies.  My daughter loves to make art, write stories, draw pictures, you name it!  Fortunately, we had a terrific room in our house that was perfect.  When I started this project about a year ago, it was just an empty room holding all the things from our move that we didn't know what to do with.  Basically a giant closet.  It's in kind of a high traffic area, so I just couldn't go on any more hollering at everyone, "I told you to keep that door shut!

I began by painting the room a light gray color, found a desk and shelving at Ikea, a great little rug, some curtains and I was able to pull together a cute little craft room for me and my daughter. 

Well, almost.  While the space was great, it rarely was clean and organized (a true sign that you don't have the right storage).  A clean craft room draws my daughter like a beacon, begging to be covered in glitter glue and paper cuttings on the floor.  In fact, when we had our adoption home study, our entire house was impeccable, except for this room.  I just felt like cleaning it would have been a huge lie!  Can we please keep the door shut?!  

I have now completed the third and final go round of the craft room and I learned a couple of things along the way.  I didn't have near enough storage.  Did you notice all the plastic storage bins I have squeezed in between the cabinets and on the floor?  The first remedy was to buy another matching cabinet from Ikea, and to buy a door!  This is from the Besta line. 

With this new cabinet I was motivated to make everything fit, plus it didn't have to look perfect because I bought a door!

I emptied all of the plastic bins and thoroughly cleaned things out.  By eliminating coloring books, consolidating bead kits and keeping everything to one bin per item, I was able to cut things back considerably.  If it didn't fit, we didn't need it!  I used a plastic three drawer bin for stickers (cleaned out a ton of stickers!), stamps and craft supplies like googly eyes and buttons.  Since we are road trippers, I used a shoebox container for the road trip supplies.  Things like Twistables, dry erase markers & erasers, notebooks, etc.  I was able to get by using storage bins I already had.  Plus, I was able to use this incredible memo board I got at a thrift store for $0.75!  I used industrial Velcro and stuck it to the door.  Which would have worked great had the door shut completely afterward.  So I guess I'll use that board somewhere else!  Oh well. 

With my original cabinet, I just reorganized.  Mostly I was able to trade items from one bin to another.  We had way more bead supplies than I thought, so it got a bigger box, and so forth.  I found the plastic stripe bins and the polka dot bins at Lowes last year.  The pink boxes I found at Ikea last weekend!  The orange box is temporary!  It has assorted art work I want to save and I can't find a box that fits that space. 

It was so handy to have this desk over Christmas.  A great place to wrap, create and do Pintrest projects.  Okay, so this space never works out like that. 

I cleaned everything off, even the bulletin board.  Once I did that, I didn't want to put anything back.  I even placed the printer under the desk! 

My favorite storage is the Bygel rails ($2.99) and containers ($0.99) from Ikea to hold all the art supplies.  Along with three jars, that hold crayons, glitter glue and glue sticks.  

I'm finally happy with the finished product and feel like I can go in there myself  and actually work on something!  

One last look at the finished product...


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Taco Egg Rolls

You're going to love this simple weeknight meal.  Tacos are an easy meal we eat a few times a month.  There's nothing faster!  In fact, I buy ground beef in bulk, cook it all at once and divide it in one pound servings in a gallon size freezer bag.  So when it's time to make tacos, I have ground beef ready to go, just throw it into a skillet and add the taco seasoning.  You could freeze it with the taco seasoning already added, but I like to cook it plain so I can add it to chili and other things.  Pick up a bag of shredded lettuce and you have tacos in little more than 5 minutes.

These taco egg rolls from Awkward Kitchenette aren't quite as fast as all that, but they are still quick and easy.  And a fun change to the everyday taco.  To an egg roll wrapper, add cooked taco meat and shredded cheese.  They assemble easily, just follow the directions on the package.  A pound of ground beef will make about 8-10 egg rolls, but I used 1 1/2 pounds here so we'd have leftovers for Sunday's game (per my husband's request), so that made about 15!   

Here's the finished product.  These are a great treat for family movie night.  We love to eat them with guacamole, sour cream and salsa.   

I was also thinking they would work great as an appetizer in a mini version made with wonton wrappers.  Now I'm wondering what else can I wrap in an egg roll wrapper!


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Stocking Up with Freezer Meals

The other day I wrote a post about one of our favorite freezer meals, ham pot pie. One meal, though, isn't enough to stock my freezer!  My freezer was nearly empty and I love having meals ready to get me through the Christmas season. 

I tried a few new things this time around.  I've found that lots of chicken dinners get old fast, and that's primarily the recipes I find.  This batch was quick to make and inexpensive.  In addition to the ham pot pie, I made slow cooker meatloaf, white chicken chili, pot roast, pasta bolognese and southwest roll-ups.  

Recipe #1: Slow Cooker Meatloaf  I've never tried it before, but it sounds great.  I bought a 3 lb. package of ground beef so that I could make several to freeze.  Most everyone has a favorite meatloaf recipe, I'm sure all kinds of variations would work.  I love the idea of it roasting in a crockpot all day.  Another good idea is to make individual meatloaves in a muffin tin, bake them, then freeze.  Individual servings can be microwaved quickly.  

Recipe #2: White chicken chili  I have made this recipe before, my husband loved it, so it's our new white chili recipe.  I've never frozen it and was concerned about freezing the cream of chicken soup mixture.  Then I realized I freeze casseroles with that all the time, so I'm sure it'll be fine.  It's definitely worth a try!

Recipe #3: Pioneer Woman's Pot Roast  Since we go to church on Christmas Eve in the afternoon, I think I'll have this pot roast in the crockpot,  ready for us when we get home.  That evening we have managed to keep for just myself, husband and daughter and so we have a great relaxed time, opening Christmas PJ's and watching a movie before the chaos begins!  It's one of my favorite parts of Christmas. 

Recipe #4: Pasta Bolognese I have made this recipe before and it's a winner.  You may wonder why bother with a pasta sauce when you can just open a jar of Prego and have a fast meal.  This is way better, that's why.  It uses sausage, which is a great alternative to all the chicken and ground beef meals.  I cut back on the red pepper flakes, though, because it was just about too spicy for my daughter.  She loved it anyway, just drank a ton of water with it!

Recipe #5: Southwest Roll-Ups These are great for lunch. I make a ton of these and freeze them individually.  In fact, I skip the baking step all together. Just roll them up, wrap them in foil or plastic wrap, then store in a gallon size freezer baggie.  When ready to eat, microwave for 1-2 minutes.  Great for a SAHM lunch, especially if you're prone to skipping lunch!

Check out future posts with other recipes and tips for successfully freezing meals!

Blogger's Update:  Since this original post, we've tried the two recipes that were new.  The meatloaf was great, my occasionally picky daughter loved it!  I'll definitely make it again.  The white chicken chili was also great, no problems freezing it with the cream of chicken soup.