Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Chick-fil-A Birthday Card

Happy 1st birthday to our local Chick-fil-A. Bring in a birthday card, get a free sandwich. Had the cutest cow image on the Cricut, and was able to use a bubble to make a cute saying. We all signed the back, and it's still hanging in the office at the store :) I guess they liked it too... But maybe they're biased! Ha!

Beachy Centerpieces

One of my mom groups was doing a kick-off with games and food. Our theme was "Plunge" so I made some beach-theme centerpieces.
It didn't cost me anything either! I already had the pails and shovels from the mom group. Got the sand from my boys' sandbox, used BBQ wooden skewers I had in the drawer, and paper from my scrapbook stash. Used the Cricut to make cute sea creatures. I thought they turned out adorable!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Spider-Man Re-Purposed Lawn Chair

I bought this kids lawn chair at a garage sale for $1. I usually see them in the store for about $5.99-$9.99. It's Superman, someone that my kids don't really know. But I thought for a buck, it will be nice to have an extra chair outside when we have friends over. Turns out, I bought some Spider-Man stickers for a birthday banner and I was going to have a ton of stickers left over. Thus, light bulb! The chair was already red, so I decided to take something old, and make something new!

I traced the shape of the cut out on the back of the chair. Then I cut it out, fitting the paper as closely as I could to cover up the image. I put a few Spider-Man stickers on the paper and took the paper outside.

Clear, non-glare/glossy contact paper has many uses! I cut out a shape slightly bigger than my traced shape. I peeled the backing off and put the picture on the sticky paper, Spider-Man side down. Then I trimmed the edges to about a 1/4 inch.
I use this adhesive for scrapbooking. It can be pricey, but I always have a 40% coupon! I sprayed the back of the paper outside. Line it up and press down... Voila! A Spider-Man lawn chair. 

Pesto Recipe

Pesto Recipe
2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/3 cup pine nuts (found in the baking section or in produce with salad toppings)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 olive oil
salt and pepper
1. Combine basil, cheese, pine nuts and peeled/crushed garlic in a food processor and process into a rough paste.
2. With the machine running, slowly add olive oil to desired consistancy. It should be a thick paste.
3. Season with salt and pepper.
Can be refrigerated for a week or frozen for up to 3 months (but I've frozen for much longer in the deep freeze). 
Our family LOVES pesto! It can be pretty expensive though. So I made sure to plant lots of basil in the garden this year. I started them in newspaper starters, here. They germinated well and flourished in the garden. Basil loves hot weather, so we were very lucky!
I had 4 plants that resembled bushes!

I used scissors to clip the leaves off all 4 plants. My colander runneth over!

I prepare the recipe and freeze them in baggies, about 1/2 cup per bag (that's how much our family consumes in one meal, but you can bag as much or as little as you want!). I pull a bag out the day before I want to use it and homemade pesto is what's for dinner!
I have lots of freezer recipes and tips here.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Freezer Meals

I have lots of friends that ask how to freeze meals. I have been doing this for about 4 years, when I was getting ready to deliver my first baby. I knew that friends, family and people from my church would bring some meals over, and I could send my husband out to pick up take out. But I thought, I'd better have some food in the freezer that I can just pop in the oven so I won't have to worry about cooking post-labor. Even my husband could do that for me!

When I browsed the freezer section at the store, I couldn't believe how much a frozen lasagna was! Not only is it known that cooking meals at home is good for the budget, but it's also good for you! That's when I decided to make meals and freeze a family dinner portion of it.

At the time, I was cooking for just my husband and me. Most recipes feed 4-8 servings. I typically would half a recipe, so I wouldn't have a huge amount of left overs. When I started freezing meals, I would make the entire recipe, keep half of it to eat that evening, and then freeze the other half. Even with 2 young children, about a half a recipe still feeds us pretty well. Of course, we've changed our eating habits over the years. More veggie sides, less entree.

Most recipes that I freeze are able to be warmed in the oven or on the stove. I make a lot of casseroles, pastas, soups, mashed potatoes, and lasagna. Some recipes found here.

I like to freeze food in Ziploc gallon size freezer bags. I personally choose Ziploc brand because they don't have any plasticizers. I get them at Sams (or Costco) and they're a better price in bulk. If you like to coupon, you may be able to get them cheap! I have a pretty good idea of the amount our family eats for a meal, so I load the bag up with enough food for our family for one meal. Most recipes, I am able to freeze half of it. Larger recipes I can get about 3 or even 4 dinners. One family dinner portion goes into the dish and in the oven (or onto the table) and I portion the rest of the meal into bags. I like to freeze them flat, because they thaw quicker! I pull them out of the freezer the night before, place on a plate and keep in the fridge to thaw. Warm in the oven (or for soups, warm on the stove) and dinner is ready! And you didn't even have to cook!

I also make/freeze things that I use often but can spoil if not used quickly, such as; ground turkey, turkey sausage, steak, cooked beans, cheese, sauces and homemade chicken stock. Some of these items I buy in bulk and can't possible use in a timely manner. Like 5 pounds of ground turkey! Buying in bulk can be economical, so I try to portion things into sizes that I typically use.

Ground meats, I measure (on a food weight or scale) a half a pound (8 ounces) and put into a sandwich size Ziploc bag. I like these bags because they won't leak, and they're easy to pop the meat in. I flatten it slightly so it lays easily on a plate when I go to thaw it. You can also put into freezer paper (this is too much work for me, though I do use it with steaks and turkey sausage links), or you can wrap it in plastic wrap.

Glad makes cling wrap that doesn't have plasticizers. I use this for wrapping cheese! I buy a 2.5 pound block, cut into usable size chunks, wrap in cling wrap and freeze in a gallon bag marked with the type of cheese it is. I freeze gouda, cheddar and parmesan this way. My Sams club doesn't sell mozzarella in blocks anymore, only shredded. Which I don't like as much, because they have that powder on them... but it works. I measure 2 cups of shredded cheese in a sandwich bag and freeze.

Freezer meals have become a huge part of my meal planning. I make many meals with intent to freeze some of it, and use freezer meals through the month. Freezing meals is easy and convenient!

My husband is Serv-Safe certified, and informed me that some of the ways I buy, cook and freeze may not follow the rules of food safety. For example, you shouldn't re-freeze food that's already been thawed. I don't do that with raw meat. And sometimes meat from the store is in the raw meat section, but it was frozen when it came to the store. You may have to check with the store about whether it's arrived fresh or frozen. Or if it was prepare fresh at the store.
Sometimes I will use thawed meat in a recipe, cook it and then freeze the meal. I think I may be breaking the rules here! We've never gotten sick, but I think it's possible that if food hasn't been handled properly in these processes, that food borne illnesses are possible. So cook and prepare with care!

Freezer Lasagna

For lasagna, I can get 4 dinners out of one recipe! For now anyway :) A loaf pan is the perfect size for one dinner for us, but use whatever you have! You could even buy disposible loaf pans, freeze them and cook right in the pans and throw them away. I make one pan for us to eat that night (no foil) and line 3 pans with foil. Flatten the foil as much as you can. If there are any bumps, pieces bunched up, or overlapping, it will get frozen and stuck in with the lasagna! So flatten out any bunchy spots. The foil is solely to for easy removal from the pan, not to cook in. I had done that once in the past, and got tiny pieces of foil mixed in with my lasagna when I cut it.
Note: Studies have shown in books that I've read that aluminum can be bad for the brain. I still use it in cooking, but I try to limit my use. Mostly I use it to cover a pan to keep it from drying out in the oven, and I try not to let it touch the food. But for something like this, I'm not heating it in the oven. So I don't fret too much. If you're concerned, do some research and come to your own conclusion... because I am not a scientist :)

Make the layers in the pans, and your lined pans will look like this. Pop in the freezer over night. Pull the frozen lasagnas out and let them sit on the counter for 5 or 10 minutes. This will allow them to loosen from the pan without ripping the foil. Pop the lasagnas out of the pan (they should slide right out). The foil will be slightly frozen to the dish, so gently pull the foil off. If you flattened it when you lined the pan, the foil should peel right off. Every once in a while, a little piece of foil will get stuck in a crack of the pasta or layers, it's pretty easy to chip those out. This batch was perfect! Peeled off without a hitch!

I can fit 2 loaf pan lasagnas in a gallon bag. When I'm ready to cook it, I pull one out and put it into a loaf pan. Perfect fit! You can cook from frozen or thaw in the fridge in the loaf pan. 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes. I don't typically cook it from frozen, so I'm not sure about how much longer to cook it. But I'd add at least 30-45 minutes.

Spider-Man Cake and Birthday

Ethan is 4! And he picked Spider-Man theme about 3 months ago :) I made a double layaer white cake with strawberry filling (his favorite fruit!) and strawberry ice cream. I made the quick icing and added food coloring for icing and piping. I got the figurine from the Dollar Tree!

Made a banner (of course!)
3 handsome masked boys!
Happy Birthday Spider-Ethan