Friday, January 29, 2010

Freezer Cooking Day: My First Attempt!

FishMama at Life as Mom and Crystal at Money Saving Mom are "hosting" a Freezer Cooking Day
this weekend and I thought I'd join in. I've never attempted a Freezer (or Once A Month) Cooking Day, but I've wanted to try it out for a while. No better time than the present (and thanks to my new bloggy friend, Sarah, for the encouragement!). I am usually exhausted by the weekend, but I think I manage to get a few items done on Sunday (I rest on Saturdays because I'm usually too tired to even THINK!) and then more on Monday.

I am really, really bad at lunches. REALLY! We often eat fruit, cheese, and whatever else I scrounge up (like Cheerios). It is that bad. So my plan is to get some baked goods for breakfast and a lot of stuff for lunch!

The Plan
Pizza dough (double recipe, freeze 2 doughs and use for lunch)
Pizza Rolls
Monterrey Chicken Quesedillas (my family is going to be THRILLED that I'm going to get bacon!)
Spaghetti Sauce (cooking up some of those frozen tomatoes!)
Strawberry Muffins (I'm going to make this a bit healthier and use up some frozen berries)
Lemon Blueberry Muffins or homemade pop tarts (I have frozen pie crust and some freezer jam on hand)
Master Baking Mix
Waffles (I'll just make these for breakfast on Sunday and make a triple batch to freeze)
Freezer Crescent Rolls
Chocolate Pancake Mix 
Cheesy Sausage Muffins
Crustless Mini-Quiche  (I'll post the recipe when I get it to work!)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Make It From Scratch: How To Freeze Tomatoes

When I mentioned that I bought a bunch of tomatoes and froze them (in order to avoid canned tomatoes and BPA), Cathy at Chief Family Officer asked how I do it. I'm not an expert. Until this summer I thought you had to pressure can tomatoes in order to keep fresh ones around longer. The bunch of romas currently in my freezer is only the second batch of tomatoes I've ever frozen and I did them a completely different way than the garden tomatoes I froze over the summer, but even in my limited experience, I have found freezing tomatoes and sauces super easy.

My go to resource for freezing anything is the book, Will It Freeze by Joan Hood. I received a used copy of the book about 5 years ago from Christmas and I use it all the time. I'm sure the same information is now available on the internet!

According to Hood, if you want to freeze tomatoes whole (which is what I do) you can remove the skins either before or after freezing. You simply add tomatoes (fresh or frozen) to boiling water for a few seconds, put them in cool water, and the peels slide right off. This summer I removed the skins prior to freezing, but the romas still have their skins on in the freezer. Tomatoes are good frozen for up to 1 year! I used the summer tomatoes this past month for a marinara sauce. I just took them out of the freezer and threw them in the pot with the rest of the ingredients. I mashed them up as needed as the cooked (and the sauce was incredible!).

This time around I packed the romas 4 to a Ziploc quart bag, which equals 1 pound. Most canned tomatoes run about 14.5 ounces and I'm fine with having an extra 1.5 ounces in my recipes. The cost of each bag is $.49, about what I paid for canned diced tomatoes. When I need canned tomatoes, I plan to just pull out a bag and dice, crush, or use whole as needed.

You can also make marinara sauce first and then just throw that in to a container and freeze. It will also last for up to 1 year. According to Hood, you can also puree your tomatoes (she suggests doing this with overripe or damaged tomatoes) and freeze. Just cook the tomatoes with salt, pepper, sugar and some herbs for 10-15 minutes then strain. Freeze as is or cook some more for the sauce to thicken.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Make It Homemade: Hamburger Buns

Bread products are for me the easiest items to make homemade. I've been making my own bread for over a year now. I used to just take my bread dough and form it into bun-like forms for hamburgers or hot dog buns. The buns were OK, but they were not like the hamburger and hot dog buns we are used to. So I was SUPER excited when I saw an actual recipe for hamburger buns on Amy's blog, The Finer Things in Life.

The down side to this recipe is that you need vital wheat gluten. I happen to keep the stuff in my pantry because I do a lot of baking but it is not exactly an every day pantry item. I don't think, however, that vital wheat gluten is IMPERATIVE in this recipe; it just lightens up the bread.

I made the recipe exactly as Amy posted using Method 2 (non-bread machine) with the following changes:
1) I used Sucanat instead of honey because I was lazy.
2) I used all white flour because I don't have any whole wheat in the house.
3) I used 3 Tablespoons butter and 3 Tablespoons coconut oil

The problem I had is that the recipe does not say how to form the buns (roll in to a ball, tuck under, etc) so mine were kind of funky. I saw a recipe the other day, however, that said to roll in to a ball, put the dough ball on the pan, and then flatten a bit with your hand. Let rise. I'll try that next time!

Let me know if you make these, have made these, or have another hamburger/hot dog bun recipe to share!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When Frugality Fails

This past weekend we had family in town from the East Coast. The original plan was to have them over for dinner on Saturday, but on Thursday the plan was changed to lunch on Sunday. I am not the most flexible when it comes to changing plans, but I did have a two day notice to re-plan the meal. I decided to make Greek chicken with pitas and tzatiki and serve a salad. I also decided not to make the pitas and picked them up at Sam's on Saturday, but I would make yogurt for the tzatiki sauce. I forgot I needed plain yogurt to make yogurt and the slow spiral downward into mad chaos and frustration began.

I didn't actually need the container of yogurt until later that evening. So when I went to the library that afternoon, I stopped at the grocery store en route -- with a very TIRED 3 year old. The grocery store did not have a small container of plain yogurt, just large ones. Grrr. Wal-Mart sells them for $.40 so I knew they were available and was beyond frustrated that this store did not have them. I went home (not wanting to drag around a cranky toddler) and sent my husband back out after dinner (this is now the third trip to a grocery store in about 6 hours). He found a small container of plain yogurt at another store -- for $1.50 (I forgot to mention my price point)!! I could get an entire large container for $1.99! But I had it so I used it to make the yogurt and went to bed. The next morning, the yogurt had not set. I have never had any problem making yogurt, but of course, when it is timely, it fails me. Back out I went on the fourth trip to the store and bought a large container of yogurt for $1.99.

All that agony, running around and trouble. I ended up spending $3.50 on yogurt and wasted a 1/2 gallon of milk. Definitely not the costliest frugal mistake ever, but it is just so frustrating when you are doing everything you can to pinch pennies and you end up spending more money in the long run. Thankfully this doesn't happen to me often and I was finally to just throw up my hands and laugh at the situation.

The tzatiki turned out just fine!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The New Bike

About a week ago, grandma and grandpa showed up on our doorstep with a brand-new Princess bike for Ella. She was getting way too big for her tricycle, for sure! She loves that bike and I love that I can send her outside every day to ride it! She is about 39" tall and the bike is a 16" bike -- just in case you are debating what size is good for a toddler. The 12" bike definitely would have been too small at this point.

Sarah used some birthday money to buy herself some roller blades last month so we'll be wheeling around come Spring Break!

Friday, January 15, 2010

All Boy

The other night at dinner Miles stuffed his mouth FULL with bread and then continued to try and stuff more in (notice the bread in BOTH hands!)!

After two girls, this guy constantly amazes us! He is so very clever in so many ways the girls just never bothered with. Like figuring how to climb on top of toy chest and through a ladder (to the top bunk) so that he can get on his sisters' bed. Or figuring out, in one day, how to go up and down the stairs -- all by himself (he just showed up one morning in the kitchen while I was making breakfast!). He still refuses to walk, but I'm guessing once he figures out how useful it is, he'll figure it out quickly! And he just loves to EAT!

I hope his chipmunk cheeks and smile brighten your day!

Happy Friday!

Friday, January 8, 2010

How To Make Your Own Party Hats

I found this template to make your own party hats so the kids and I gave it a whirl for our New Year Day brunch. I traced the pattern on to construction paper and cut the hats out. I tried both glue and tape to keep the hats together and glue worked far better. Sarah used glitter glue to decorate the hats and we topped them by gluing on some pom poms (Ella managed to get one off before it dried). We forgot to get elastic to actually wear them so they just made a cute display for the party!

Super cute, super fun, and super easy!

EDITED (JAN 22, 2010): I have fixed the link to the hat template! Sorry about that!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Still Contemplating Christmas

I promise I will move on soon, but I'm still mentally hashing out Christmas. We did manage to keep Christmas smaller this year. I was very proud of myself for only purchasing two more gifts per kid after we wrapped all the presents mid-November (I shop all year round so I was done by October). And one of those presents were new towels, which I had planned to buy anyway and realized I could turn them in to a cool Christmas gift if I got them personalized (and they are GORGEOUS towels and still on sale)! The other gifts were $5 DVDs I found on Black Friday. But once the gifts were all under the tree, it still looked like too much. Plus then the grandparents and aunt showed up with their gifts!

I carefully watched over the week after Christmas to see what was played with and what was not. There were two highlights in that week: 1) Sarah's video camera and 2)the board game Mancala.

My parents bought the video camera when Dell had a super hot deal this past fall (and it's PINK!). If you have a pre-teen I HIGHLY recommend one of these little guys! Not only did Sarah have an absolute blast video taping EVERYTHING we did, she would turn the camera around on herself and commentate. It is hilarious and such a precious memory for her when she is older.

The Mancala game I picked up at a yard sale for $1! They fought over that game all week and Ella is still playing with it on a daily basis.

I've heard of families who limit Christmas gifts to three like the Wise Men who brought three gifts to the baby Jesus. I've been hesitant to try it out because I just love giving Christmas gifts! But honestly, all those other gifts we got them are buried somewhere in with the other toys (except the water bottles from Mimi -- those get daily use!). So I think this year I will closely watch the sales, go yard saling and choose very wisely -- only three gifts per kid from mom and dad. Then I'll stash all the other money (albeit not much!) in the fund for a new(to us) car!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


I made cavetini last night for dinner. I have started prepping dinner early in the day, when I have more energy, so all I have to do is do the actual cooking come dinner time. It has been working beautifully! I got the cavetini all ready to go and spent the afternoon with my mom and the kids. It wasn't until around 3 PM that I realized I had made a mistake: I forgot to cook the pasta! I put it in raw. Ooops! I figured I could cook the pasta right in the casserole (like lasagna). It did work, but the pasta just wasn't very good. We managed to eat it for dinner, but neither one of us wants it for leftovers, which says a lot because my husband will pretty much eat anything. So in the trash it went.

It doesn't happen often, but I really hate throwing away all that food! I've learned to roll with it and accept that sometimes there are failures in the kitchen. Thankfully it was just pasta and not a nice roast!

Monday, January 4, 2010

My 2010 Goals

I have been pondering long enough! Time to get some goals written down. I've actually had a lot of these items on my mind for a while and it's nice to get them written down.

1. Improve my Menu Plan: Menu plan breakfast, lunch and dinner for at least 5 days a week. Enough said!

2. Eat more fruits and veggies: This goes along with getting organized enough to plan three meals a day

3. Become a better housekeeper: I'm TERRIBLE at keeping house! So I purchased a Motivated Moms weekly planner to help me keep our home shiny and clean (as I roll on the floor laughing!!)

4. Cultivate new friendships: I have made a few new friends towards the end of 2009 in our new neighborhood and through blogging (YIPPEE!). I'm looking forward to expanding my social network.

5. Consistent DQT: two small children have managed to disrupt my morning Bible study and prayer. I think switching to the evening after they go to bed will work better, but I'm usually so tired so I just don't do it! I'm tired right now thinking about it! But I will TRY!

6. Prepare to buy a new (to us) car the Dave Ramsey way: our van is dying so it's time to start researching and planning for a new vehicle -- hopefully not until 2011 but we need to prepare!

Did you set any goals for 2010? Any suggestions on how to accomplish mine?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Short Read by MY SISTER

My sister (one of them) had her first work of fiction published here!

Congrats, Karin!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Off My Needles: Snowman Hat

Ella put this one on without any coaxing. Too bad it's not for her! Pattern can be found here.

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