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!