Freezer Cooking, The Sequel

About 9 months ago, I documented my insane freezer cooking extravaganza, and it is one of the most commonly viewed entries on this blog.  Make-ahead meals, or “freezer cooking,” is an idea that is gaining popularity lately, and I can see why.  For families who work outside the home, there are only a few precious hours between when you arrive home from work and when you head to bed, and most of us probably don’t want to spend all of that in the kitchen.  For those of us who are home with small children, dinner can be a challenge for other reasons.

Generally speaking, I love to cook, and when the stars align, making dinner can be my favorite part of the day.  But that is a rare occurrence lately.  I don’t know what it is about the hours of 5:00-7:30pm, but some weird spell comes through this house, and a toddler who might have been reasonably well-behaved for much of the day suddenly turns in to a monster.  It’s not as simple as placing him in the living room with his dad because my husband travels often for business, and even when he’s here, Jude usually decides it’s a good time to plaster himself to my leg and refuse to leave without a major fight.  There are two ways that dinner gets on the table around here:  my Ergo carrier or my freezer.


I tried a full Once a Month Mom menu last August, and I was really grateful to have so many choices of prepared food at my disposal, but over time, I’ve discovered that what works best for me is to cook or prep a couple of meals at a time and not get so overwhelmed with making a million things at once.  For me, this usually happens about once a week during nap time, but if I still worked outside the home, I’d do it on Saturdays or Sundays like I used to do babyfood when I worked and made frozen purees on Sunday afternoons.

Once a Month Mom is an awesome source, whether you are doing the full menu or just a piece of it.  She also has an allergy-friendly menu up now and a whole foods menu which I am super excited about.  A vegetarian one is coming soon, too. She’s been busy over there!


Without further rambling, I’ll share my favorite freezer cooking recipes:

  • Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff – I discovered this one when I did OAMM last fall.  You do the prep work for it and place it all in a ziplock bag, but then you cook it in the slow cooker the day you eat it, so it tastes completely fresh and delicious.  I usually prep about two or three of these at a time, and then they last me for a couple of months.
  • Southern Living’s Tex-Mex Casserole – This is admittedly not company-worthy fare.  It’s sort of an old-school casserole where you throw together some unlikely ingredients and they come out yummy.  It’s good food though, and sometimes I crave that type of meal.  It’s simple, inexpensive, and freezes well.
  • Penne with Chicken, Artichokes, and Sun-dried Tomatoes – This is on our menu for Sunday night, and after that I have two more in my freezer.  Pair it with a salad, and it makes a great dinner.
  • Strawberry Chocolate Chip Scones – Need I say more after that title?
  • Oatmeal Raspberry Scones – This is a recipe from Annie’s Eats that was also featured on a past OAMM menu.  They are delicious, filling, and reheat really well in only 45 seconds in the microwave.  A perfect little breakfast.
  • Baked Ziti – A great way to use summer tomatoes and fresh basil.
  • Passionate Homemaking’s Chicken Divan – Do it “the long way” with homemade cream of mushroom soup.  It’s worth it.  This dish is so so good.
  • Red Lentil Soup – I put the whole thing in the blender because I like a smoother lentil soup, but either way it’s good stuff.  I loved having some in my freezer this fall and winter.
  • Vanderbilt Wife’s Black Beans and Brown Rice – I discovered this through an old OAMM menu, and we like it a lot.  It’s simple and really frugal.
  • Squash Soup [my own recipe] – Again, never underestimate the pleasure of having homemade soups at your disposal during cooler months.
  • Toddler-friendly Veggie Nuggets [my own recipe] – I don’t understand how Jude is not completely sick of these by now.  He eats them at least four or five times a week.  They are always in my freezer.  I made a fresh batch this week, and they are a great way to use up leftover vegetables.
  • pizza dough – I follow Breadbecker’s recipe now that I mill my own grains, but here is one from Once a Month Mom.  It’s handy to have some in the freezer and get creative with the toppings.

There are definitely many more than this out there, so look around.  The best thing I learned doing my crazy cooking experience in August is that you can freeze almost anything, so old recipes can adapt to this as well.  The other great thing about all of this is that it offers a creative way to preserve seasonal ingredients.  Last summer when yellow squash was abundant and in season, I made two huge pots of squash soup and froze it to eat in the fall.


This week I cashed in on the strawberries sale at my local Whole Foods Market and made a few dozen scones.

... and since I was cooking during afternoon nap time, I totally stole one for an afternoon treat with coffee. DELICIOUS.

I also used some of my fresh basil for a few rounds of baked ziti with homemade marinara since my basil really needed to be trimmed anyhow.

And I used up some leftover vegetables for some of Jude’s toddler veggie nuggets.

My advice is to just give it a try and see how you like having a few dishes in your freezer.  The breakfast ideas are especially useful since none of us typically have the time to make a good breakfast on a weekday morning, and having even one day a week when you don’t have to worry about prep work at dinner time is great.  The whole idea is to use time when you have the time so that you can reap the rewards when you are busy or stressed.  It really works well for me.  I love opening my freezer to see neat little dishes staring back at me and waiting to be used one evening after a long day.

  Do you freezer cook?  What are your favorite freezer-friendly recipes?


Once a Month Mom and Heavenly Homemakers teamed up this week with a freezer cooking challenge.  Head that way to see what everyone else was cooking this week!
Also linked to I’m Lovin’ It at Tidy Mom.

Excess and Imagination: How much is too much?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about excess and materialism – or more specifically, American parents’ need to buy buy buy for our children. Jude’s birthday is coming up in a few weeks and then Christmas is around the corner which means that A LOT of junk too many toys will make their way in to this house in the next few months.  Here’s the funny part, though. We currently have a large basket of toys in the den and a variety of playthings in Jude’s nursery, but I’m realizing he only plays with those for a maximum of about ten minutes at a time. What would he rather be doing?

bothering the dogs……


making loud noises with pots, pans, bowls, or spoons


playing with the washer as I unload clothes


And of course his favorite……touching things he shouldn’t touch.  Buttons on electronics are the most fun.

Other favorites include flipping through board books you can buy for $3 at Target, playing with anything that resembles stackable blocks, climbing the staircase (with my help), playing with my refrigerator magnets, and most of all, playing and talking with mom or dad.  And yet, do we still buy toys?  Yep.  Do we still accept toys as gifts?  Yep.  So I began thinking about it and realizing how little the toys get attention around here and how clutered they can leave our living space, and I requested no gifts at his birthday party.  Yep.  Mean mama.  I know that Emily Post says it’s rude to mention gifts at all on the invitation, so I wavered, but in the end I did it.  I found out from friends of mine who have done the same thing, however, that people bring gifts anyway.  So I decided to be even more rude and ask that guests not feel the need to bring a gift and that their “presence ” was enough but that if you do bring one, we prefer books rather than toys.

Let me say a few things on this.  First of all, I know I am being rude in asking for specific things or nothing at all. Luckily, his party will be about 20 people who know us well, and I’m hoping that these family and friends will be forgiving of my knowing ettiquette blunder.  Let me also say that there is certainly nothing wrong with showering your child with toys on a birthday; birthdays are intended to be special.  It’s just for a ONE year old?  Really?  What does he want or need?  He loves looking at books, and they store easily and you never throw them away.  Let’s be honest for a moment and speculate on what would eventually happen with 20 plastic toys. There is a reason Goodwill is a goldmine for playthings.

So I received some nice comments on the invitations and the insert we put in them, and people seemed to understand my request and the reasons for it.  But then I got a couple of comments recently that were to the effect of you are so weird why would you deprive your son of toys on his birthday which left me feeling like maybe I was the weird, mean mother in making this request of our guests and making a conscious effort to simplify our lives a little.

But then I read an article that is totally validating. I love it when that happens.

In case you don’t have the time to click over to this fabulous article, let me summarize it for you.  Claire Lerner, a child development worker, carried out a study that discovered that too many toys can actually stump a child’s intellectual development, even those toys that claim all over the box that they are “educational.”  Lerner explains, children “get overwhelmed and overstimulated and cannot concentrate on any one thing long enough to learn about it, so they just shut down.”  The article quotes another study that determined that expensive toys are a “waste of money” and kids learn “just as much” from your own objects around the home.  One Oxford child psychologist is even quoted as saying “The mistake that many parents make when they buy a toy, especially for very young children, is they get toys that can do a lot, instead of getting toys a child can do a lot with.” The imagination suffers when you have a toy that does it all for you.  So the plastic toys?  The lights?  The noises?  The obnoxious colors?  It turns out that they are not only cluttering our home, but have the capacity to clutter Jude’s brain a little as well.


So recently we were at a gathering with some other adults with children, and someone noticed Jude was really enjoying playing with a plastic toy that was no doubt as large as the chair I was sitting in at the time.  That person said to me, “Oh!  You should totally get him that for his birthday!” which was a nice, observant comment seeing as though he loved the toy and was enjoying playing with it.  She then asked what Scott and I plan to get him for his birthday, and I sheepishly explained that his one year memory album was his main gift and that I’d purchased some great wooden blocks on Etsy because he loves blocks so much.

Nothing was said in return.

Later in the conversation, another adult chimed in asking if Jude had a large plastic car of his own to drive and when I said no, the reply was “Oh, he needs a car like that.”  Really?  Needs?  I don’t know that needs is the right word.



There’s this beautiful photo that I keep on a side table in our formal living room.  Every time I pass it, it makes me smile.

It’s my Grandmother when she is all of maybe 10 years old.  Here she is, sitting cross-legged in the grass in front of a tiny white house.  It’s a simple photo really, and I know it’s my love for my Grandmother and her family that leads to my adoration of this image, but just look at it.

She’s smiling genuinely.  It’s simple. It’s happy.  It’s beautiful.

My grandmother grew up in that 2 bedroom home with her four brothers and sisters and two incredible parents.  They were a Depression-Era family, and times were tough.  I’m not sugar-coating that.  Did they have a lot of things?  No.  Did they have everything they needed?  And more.  They would eat every day around the same table.  They would listen to the radio together.  They’d sit on the porch and talk after dinner.  They’d play ball in the front yard and my tiny, bun-haired, 4’11” great-grandmother would play with them.  They helped her work in the kitchen, and sometimes they’d help my great-grandfather in the fields.  Through everyday tasks and interaction, they learned that living is an art and imaginary play is a treasure. You know what my grandmother remembers as one of the most happy, most magical Christmases of her childhood?  The Christmas when she got a bottle of nail polish from Santa.  A bottle.  One.  And she was a happy, happy girl.

I know the world has changed so much in the past 70 years, and we can never go back.  But I, for one, often crave that simplicity we once knew.  When Jude grows and I am long gone one day, I don’t want him to remember piles of plastic every birthday and Christmas or what he received as gifts.  I want him to know me, love me, and remember the time I spent with him and the simple joys we shared.

Easy Toddler Finger Food – Banana Wontons

Lately I am on a never-ending quest to find finger foods Jude can eat so that this kid gets a little variety along the way.  He’d be happy with Cheerios and diced fruit, but I’d like to get his taste buds used to more.  Generally speaking, we just chop up whatever is on our plates and share, but every now and then it’s nice for him to have his own thing.  Portable foods are especially helpful in restaurants when you need some entertainment for the long wait before food gets to the table.

Enter ready-made wonton wraps.

These are available in any grocery store, usually near the tofu for some reason. An entire pack is only about $3, and it includes something like 50 shells.  You purchase them refrigerated, but you can freeze any unused portion if you’d like.  I threw together some banana wontons yesterday, and I’m already brainstorming on what other goodness I could stuff in there.


First melt some butter in a pan.  Yes, butter for my 11 month old.  He’s young, not without taste.

(If there is one lesson I learned from my Grandmother it’s that butter makes everything better.  And a little won’t hurt anyone.)

Next chop up bananas and throw them in the pan.  Stir them up till they are all mushy and use the back of a spoon to smoosh them if needed.  Add a dash of cinnamon if you want.

Next lay the wonton shells on a parchment-lined sheet. Spoon a little banana goodness on each one.

Then you fold them over, seal with a fork. And if you’re like me, don’t stress over the mess or looks of it if some squirts out.  (If you want it to look better, brush with some water to seal and shine it.)  Throw them in a 350 oven and cook until they brown a tiny bit – maybe 25 minutes?  I’m still experimenting on this.

When they are done, they look like this and taste delicious.

I might have stolen one.  Or three.

For an older toddler, they can hold it and munch from there.  For Jude, I am still in the pinching phase, but their portability is handy nonetheless.  I’m already thinking of what else I can put in these – broccoli and cheese, turkey or chicken, sweet potatoes, crushed beans or peas……Endless possibilities!

Jude loved them and they are easy, cheap, nutritious, and handy.  Win!  What’s your favorite finger food for kids or for grown-ups?

Fun Finds: Recipes Edition

[This post is linked to Saturday Stumbles at It’s Come to This.  Head over and see what everyone else discovered this week!]

I’ve mentioned earlier that I hoped to master 10 new recipes this summer.  I don’t know if “mastered” is the right word there, but I definitely made some new dishes that will be making a reappearance on our table.  I’ll warn you that I’ve mentioned some of these in earlier posts, and I’ll also warn that a lot of them come from the same source because Martha is my main recipe guru these days since I’ve started cooking only “real food” without packaged seasoning. [If you haven’t checked out Everyday Food, by the way, you totally should.]  So here they are. All tested in my kitchen and GOOD.

Butternut Squash & Sage Lasagna – Dicing 3.5 pounds of butternut squash is somewhat miserable, but it’s worth the effort.  I love recipes like this that happen in two steps. I can “build” the lasagna while Jude is taking his afternoon nap and toss it in the oven when Scott gets home.  It’s a great option for a vegetarian main dish.

Broccoli Tofu – I am so proud of my tofu endeavors!  This one is really good, and it’s a great dish to make for myself and Jude when Scott’s out of town.  I just pick the cashews out and cut it up in tiny pieces for Jude’s portion.

Magic Tofu – Aptly named.  My husband likes it.  Even though it’s tofu.  Magical indeed.

Buttercream Frosting – What?  Frosting isn’t a major food group?  I know this doesn’t qualify as a “dish,” but it’s delicious, easy, and made from real ingredients you can pronounce.  Why waste your time with store-bought icing loaded with weird junk?

Cheese Danish – Ina Garten, you NEVER fail me.  I made these for a Father’s Day family brunch and then again for a brunch with girlfriends last month.  Easy, yummy.  Yes, please!

Chicken with Olives – Yeah, I just linked to this last week.  It’s that good.  I LOVE HEAVY CREAM.  And I don’t apologize for it.  I give Pioneer Woman credit for showing me the beauty of bone-in, skin-on chicken.  It tastes so much better.  No more wimpy, square, boneless chicken breasts for me!

Browned Butter Toffee Blondies – I am embarrassed to tell you that I made these for no reason at all.  I’m even more embarassed to tell you how fast they disappeared.

Peach and Chicken-Sausage Kabobs – Food Network magazine had a tiny pull-out section in June’s issue, and it had a ton of creative grilling recipes in it. Easy: marinate quartered peaches in oil and thyme.  Layer the peaches with chicken sausage on a skewer.  Grill it.  Yum yum yum.

Toddler Carrot Sticks – Jude will not eat purees now that he has teeth, and he prefers anything that he can feed to himself.  It’s hard to avoid giving him Cheerios and bananas all day, so I make these.  He LOVES them.  You can double the recipe and freeze the dough.  I have some thawing on my counter now so that I can bake more this afternoon.  They are a perfect on-the-go snack for little ones.

Simple Orzo and Vegetables – For some reason, I am only recently discovering the joy of orzo as a great side dish. Melt butter.  Add onions and mushrooms. Add orzo to brown it up a bit.  Add frozen green peas if you’d like.  Then add the water to cook the orzo, and it’s done in no time at all.  Simple, real, delicious.

……..And the recipe I can’t wait to make to inaugurate fall in this house?  Martha’s Pumpkin Cupcakes.


So what about you?  What’s cooking in your kitchen?  Any fun finds this week?

Freezer Adventures – Once a Month Cooking

I wish you could have seen my kitchen at about noon this Monday.  Imagine 2 crockpots simmering soup, about 12 pounds of cooked and shredded chicken piled in a huge bowl.  Cooling racks holding pancakes and muffins, an oven cooking even more muffins, tomato sauce and marsala simmering on the stove, 2 gallon-sized bags of chopped onions, over 40 total pounds of meat, and so much more…… it was ridiculous.

A quick photo I took with my phone. This doesn't include what's in the fridge or the oven or was already in my freezer.

My friend Cathy and I decided to try freezer cooking since she is due with her first baby in about 5 weeks and I’m always looking for ways to make dinnertime a little easier now that Jude is toddling a bit and I can’t take my eyes off him for a minute.  I’d read many mommy bloggers raving about Once a Month Mom, so we looked there for a menu, and we decided to settle on this one.  Yep, that’s right.  All that food is now prepared and in my freezer, and we did it all in one day!  I expect to use the chili dishes for dinner, so this means I ended up with about 20 family dinners, 14 lunches, and more than 30 breakfast servings. I admit it was a long day of cooking, and there was a moment where I thought we were crazy, but it felt so good to wake up the next morning and open my freezer door to see all of that prepared food.  When I think of freezer food, I think of boring casseroles, but Tricia at Once a Month Mom does such a great job of putting together a variety of dishes.  She’s got s lot of great soups, breakfast ideas, and great entrees that you can easily add a side dish to for a delicious dinner.

I certainly learned a few things along the way in my first attempt at freezer cooking, so here’s my advice.

  • Definitely do it with a friend. Eight hours in the kitchen is much more bearable if you have someone to laugh with and help out….especially when hour 7 arrives and you suddenly think the bucket o’ beef stew is really hilarious.
  • Don’t be afraid to adjust quantities for your needs.  It looked like such a HUGE project that I was afraid to do anything different from the suggestions.  This worked out alright, but we could have saved a little perhaps.  For instance, Cathy and I have 2 dinners each that include 4 pork chops each even though 2 pork chops in each one would suffice for our small families.  Not that this is the end of the world since we can easily have it when company is over or finish it as leftovers later, but we could have saved a little money if we’d purchased fewer pork chops to begin with.
  • Chop vegetables and do any prep work you can the evening before. While watching “Mad Men” Sunday evening, I chopped NINE POUNDS of onions and 4 pounds of carrots and peeled 40 cloves of garlic while my husband chopped six pounds of mushrooms.  It sounds terrible, I know, but it really wasn’t too bad that night, and it saved a lot of time on the big day.
  • Clear the kitchen as much as you can. I moved appliances we weren’t using (espresso machine, toaster oven, etc.) into another room so we’d have as much space as possible.  At one point crockpots were cooling in my entryway and pancakes were cooling on racks on my living room coffee table.  It was insane.
  • Be careful to follow the directions on a recipe.  You can get tired and feel rushed at the end and leave out something.  I did this with a beans and rice dish, but luckily I only left out some extra beans, so it’s okay.  (We already ate that one and it was yummy!)  It is very, very easy to get overwhelmed and careless though, so you have to pay attention.
  • If month-long menu plans look too overwhelming, maybe scale it down a bit. You could take off 1 or 2 dishes and have a little less on your plate, no pun intended.  For that matter, you could give it a small try and make only 2 or 3 dishes and see how you like it.  In my opinion, everyone could benefit from the breakfast ideas.  It’s a great way to streamline your mornings.
  • If you have children, get a babysitter for sure. This probably goes without saying, but it would be nearly impossible to do this with even the most well-behaved child around.
  • Clean out your freezer before you even think about doing this.  I know, duh.  But seriously.  It’s SO MUCH FOOD.
  • When choosing a menu, consider the season you are moving in to. Cathy is due in September, so we chose a more fall-ish menu with some soups and stews.  You would not want to eat that stuff in July, but you also wouldn’t want outdoor grilling items or something tropical in the fall or winter.  I’m so looking forward to throwing some already-assembled beef stroganoff in my slow cooker and eating it on a cooler fall evening.

In the end, we came out spending the exact same as I usually do for that number of meals, but the first time should be the most expensive too because we each shelled out about $35 for all of the Glad containers we used.  Plus, as I said before, I will adjust portion sizes on the meat when I do this again.   Overall, it was a really great experience, and I am excited to reap the rewards of my hard work in the coming weeks.  Once a Month Mom is fabulous, and she even has printable labels, so you end up with these perfect little meals.

Yay, freezer cooking!

There are many other websites that promote this idea, so you could look here, here or here for a few recipes.  I know we won’t use them every night, but it’s so nice to have that option for busy days.  With 20 dinners, I’m thinking I’ll be enjoying these for the next 2 months, so one day of sore feet and an aching back was worth it for sure.

Tofu 101

I made tofu, y’all!

Remember how I said I wanted to make a decent-tasting tofu dish?  I’ve been prying around and reading recipes, and I came across one that sounded yummy, and it did not disappoint.  Did you know tofu is a great source of protein and iron?  It’s also virtually free of saturated fat and incredibly versatile and affordable.  Why don’t people eat it more often?  Maybe because it has a bad reputation and starts out looking like this.

But I followed this awesome recipe (with a few slight changes), and I ended up with this.

I wasn’t sure how Scott would react, but he liked it!  I served it over Basmati rice, but I’d like to try cooked cabbage with it next time.  For the record, I substituted honey for the syrup and added chopped mushrooms in the browning stage.  All together DELICIOUS though.  Yay tofu!

Cloth Diapering 101

I’ve been asked a lot of questions about cloth diapering lately (mainly why, in God’s name, would you ever?), so I decided to write a little bit and explain a few things.

First there’s the why question.  The original thing that made me consider cloth was the cost.  We were fortunate enough to receive a lot of diapers from friends and family when I was pregnant, so we were stocked with disposables for the first 2-3 months.  Then as we neared month 4, we started having to buy them ourselves, and I realized that at least $40 a month would need to be budgeted for diapers.  The price goes up, by the way, as the diaper sizes do, so we’re looking at a good $1,500 or more before Jude is potty-trained.  Multiply that by an eventual baby #2 and it’s money that could certainly be put to better use.  Cloth diapers are a bigger expense up front, but $300 could really get you from birth to potty training, and most reviews I read state that the same diapers can be used for another baby, so you’re really looking at $150!

Once I started doing research, however, I realized that cost was really only the beginning.

Did you know that disposable diapers are the third largest contributor to landfills and that the average baby goes through approximately 4,000 diapers? Furthermore, we have no idea how long they take to decompose, but it’s estimated to be around 500 years.  Over 300 pounds of wood, and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to create the diapers for ONE baby for only ONE year.  Critics of cloth will say that it takes equal amounts of waste to launder and care for cloth diapers, but that’s not a logical argument.  Water is a sustainable resource, and many of us hang them on  clotheslines or drying racks to dry them.

Did you know that the EPA lists Dioxin as the most toxic of all cancer-causing chemicals, and there are traces of it in every disposable diaper?  There are numerous other chemicals in them as well, and a quick internet search can give you details on the environmental and health risks to using disposables.

Once I read all of this, I was leaning more toward going cloth all the time and not just sometimes as I first intended.  I was still unsure about the laundry element though.  I mean anyone with a new baby knows how much laundry you deal with.  I find myself staring at large piles every weekend feeling so overwhelmed, and I couldn’t imagine how I had time for more.  The thing I hate so much about laundry, though, is the sorting and the folding.  You have none of that with diapers.  You just dump them all in, run one cold wash, and then run a long hot wash and you’re good to go.  I dump them in the washer every other night when I get home from school and let the washing machine do the work for me.

If cloth diapers were as they used to be, I wouldn’t last a week, but the modern options for cloth diapering make the process so easy and so so cute!

Bumgenius pocket diapers are one of my current favorites.  They are adjustable, so Jude can use the same diaper from now till he’s potty-trained.  They are super absorbent and we’ve NEVER ONCE had a leak.  I can’t say that for disposables.

I also love Thirsties fitted diapers.  These require a waterproof cover over them, but they are so soft and so absorbent.  Jude can sleep comfortably and feel dry all night.

Lastly I love love love this diaper, but I’ve only got one.  It’s kinda pricey, but it’s one size so it’ll last for a while.At some point, I’ll probably get another for Jude as well.

Unfortunately, Atlanta doesn’t have a cloth diaper specialty store, so I do my shopping online.  Kelly’s Closet is my favorite to order from, but there are a million options offering so many different types of diapers for any mom’s preference.  There’s so much more I can say.  ( I LOVE cloth!) but that might be enough to get you started and answer any basic questions.  I’m still learning, but I love Jude’s little fluffy butt, and I love the feeling that I am making the best choice for Jude and the world we live in.

Top Ten Weeknight Recipes

For more Tuesday Top Ten fun, head over to ohAmanda’s.

If  weeknights at your house are anything like weeknights at mine, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have the time or the energy to stand over the stove and make dinner.  Usually Jude’s whining by this time and gearing up for bed, my feet hurt from a long day at school, the house is a disaster, and the dogs are running hyper circles excitedly from room to room.  I try to relax but, to quote Mary Shelley, it’s often like the witching hour.

In truth, I usually want a cocktail more than a nutritious meal, but there’s definitely something rewarding about sitting down to a table of good food , even better if it’s easy-to-make good food.  Here, in no particular order,  are my top ten weeknight meals.  I’ve linked to the website I found them from if it’s available.  Most of these are healthy, fast, and easy clean up!

  1. Black Beans with Onions, Ham, and Greens – I’ve done lots of variations of this recipe, depending on what greens I have on hand.  This is especially a favorite when Scott is gone on business.  I can quickly make my own dinner and have some for lunch the next day.  I only use 2 cans of black beans though.  3 sounds like a lot.
  2. Kale, Tomato, and Mushroom saute, served over polenta This is another recipe.  I fell in love with pre-cooked polenta as a result of this one. (It’s sold in a container like a sausage or something, and you simply slice it off and brown it in olive oil.)  We add extra mushrooms, too.  (Kale is said to be the healthiest vegetable, by the way.  We try to eat it a couple times a month when it’s available.)  I sometimes add bacon to this at the beginning of the recipe.  That probably cancels out a few health benefits but it’s yummy.
  3. Black Bean and Ravioli Casserole – This is something that might not sound like it would be good. (Mexican and pasta?)  Let me assure you though… it’s yummy!  I’ve never had a  Southern Living recipe I didn’t like.  My only complaint is that it can be a bit expensive as it requires a whole bag of frozen ravioli.
  4. Marinated Salmon – We always have salmon stocked in our freezer. Combine melted butter with a touch of lemon juice,  worcestershire sauce, and apple cider vinegar.  Sprinkle with parsley.  Yummy.  We usually eat with a baked potato and a fast vegetable like asparagus or broccoli – whatever’s in the fridge or freezer.
  5. Vodka Pasta – I love love love this recipe. It has a little bit of a kick.
  6. Quesadilla with Fresh Guacamole – Alone quesadillas seem boring, but some mashed up avocados (Jude’s favorite food!) combined with a spoon or two of salsa makes for some delicious impromptu fresh guac.  I usually stir-fry onions and mushrooms and place them on the tortilla with some shredded cheese for our veggie quesadillas.
  7. “Real Food” Hamburger HelperGood for you (compared to the boxed, plastic-tasting one at least).  Fast.  Filling.  Comforting.
  8. Trader Joe’s Mandarin Chicken – Okay this isn’t homemade.  It’s seriously good though!  The added bonus is that you can pronounce all the ingredients on the package, and it’s made of whole, real, normal ingredients.  That’s hard to find in the frozen aisle.  We saute and serve it over rice at our house.  Tastes like take-out but cheaper!  I know Land of Lovings likes it, too.  We ran in to each other buying it once at the local TJ’s!
  9. a previously-frozen casserole – Most casseroles can be frozen.  When I make them, I often do a double batch and use it on a hurried weekday.
  10. Cuban Beans and RiceThis is such a healthy dish, and it’s made from absolute scratch, so there are no worries about additives or preservatives.  We like it with crusty garlic bread.  It does take a long time to cook, but you get it started and leave the rest to the stove.  Really easy!

So what about you?  On a hurried weeknight, what dish can you rely on to fill your belly and restore your sanity?

Homemade Baby Food

I’ve heard from so many people that making your own baby food is easy, so I was not hesitant at all to give it a try when Jude was ready for solid foods.  Last weekend, we started with pears and acorn squash, and this weekend I’ve added sweet potatoes and more pears since he loves them so much.  My sister told me about a great website that gives you recipes, and it couldn’t be easier.  I think a lot of moms are unsure about making your own baby food because it sounds time-consuming.  It really isn’t at all!  Working full-time, I find that weekends are a mad dash to finish tasks before Monday morning, and I still found the time to do it.  Your stove or oven and your blender do most the work, and you can make a freeze a large batch all at once, so it’s not like you have to do this numerous times throughout the week.

For pears, you just peel and slice them and place them in a pot on the stove.  Cook them on low heat for about 20-30 minutes or until they are fork tender.

Then you simply let them cool and then dump them in to the blender to puree.  After they are smooth, I pour them into ice-cube trays and let them set up in the freezer.  Once they are solid, pop them out in to a snack-size ziplock bag, and they can stay in your freezer until ready for use.  Each ice-cube is one ounce, so that gives you an idea of how much your baby is consuming as well.

For the acorn squash, I cut it in half down the middle, scooped out the seeds, and placed the halves, open sides down, in a Pyrex baking dish with about an inch of water in it.  Roast for one hour, scoop out the “meat” and place in the blender.  Sweet potatoes are similar.  Bake in the oven as you normally would, scoop out the potato, and blend until it’s smooth.  Squash and sweet potato both freeze well.  I added a little water to them in the blender in order to get the best consistency for Jude.

There are so many reasons to make your own food for your baby.  You know what’s in it and whose hands have touched it.  It’s also more cost efficient.  I spent about $7 on organic sweet potatoes, and it made this much food.

56 ounces of organic baby food!

The leading brand of organic baby food runs about 25 cents an ounce, so it’s a huge savings.  Most significantly, you get the satisfaction of making your baby happy.  For a lot of us, there is no better feeling than making something and watching someone happily devour it.  You can’t get that same feeling from purchasing a jar on a store shelf.  Here’s Jude enjoying some sweet potatoes soon after I made them.  He’s serious about his food!