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!