Party Leftovers…what next.

A couple weekends ago we had a birthday party for our oldest son. We had a lot of people on the guest list. While a lot showed up, a crazy late spring snowstorm kept a lot of people home. This meant sooooo much leftover food. The theme was ‘Italian’ and all of the kiddos were making their own pizza so we had a ton of crusts, pizza sauce, and toppings left, as well as Italian bread, pre-cooked pizza that the adults had, meatballs and fruit.  I was determined not to let all of this food (and the money I spent on it) go to waste. Here’s what I did with it all:

We ate most of the meatballs and Italian bread (I’ll never say no to bread with olive oil/ vinegar). We also froze the Boboli pizza crusts and some of the cooked pizzas.

Food 3

But then I had to get creative.

The fruit was easy. It was great for snacks and I also added a bunch to smoothies over a few days.

Food 1

We had a bunch of sausage and cheese that had been prepped for pizza toppings. I decided to make a couple of egg casseroles. Though my normal recipe calls for cheddar cheese, I did a 1/2 cheddar and 1/2 mozzarella mix and it was great. I also normally use bread slices, but this time I used some of the cubed Italian bread. One of the casseroles was eaten right away and I froze the other one.

Food 5

I had so many veggies cut up for toppings and I was struggling to be creative with them. I came up with shrimp stir fry (with shrimp I already had on hand) and chicken and rice soup.

Food 4 Food 2I was able to use up almost every leftover from the party. This made meals for us for the following week, stocked our freezer and I hardly threw anything out. Such a relief!

How do you use leftovers creatively?

~Erin

 

Thanksgiving Leftover Inspiration

One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is the leftovers! We purposely cook for 3 times as many people as we have just so we can have enough leftovers to last us until December. And I could probably eat the leftovers just as they are….plate after plate of turkey and stuffing. However, sometimes it’s fun to mix it up with the leftovers and make something a little different. Here are a few tips on organizing your leftovers and then a few recipes I found online that are creative ways to use up all that extra food!

Organizing Leftovers:

-After Thanksgiving dinner, do a brief fridge assessment. Is there anything you can get rid of, consolidate, shift around? Make sure the fridge is as clean as possible. This will create space for leftovers and also allow you to see the leftover containers better.

-Use clear storage containers or get your tape and marker ready. If you can’t see the food in the fridge, you are much less like to eat it or even remember what is in there!

-Try a new recipe using your leftovers to mix it up a little!

-If you make recipes that will last a while in the freezer, make several meals that you can freeze for an easy meal on a later date.

Turkey Pot Pie – A great use for both the turkey and leftover veggies. It’s also good if you were ambitious and planned to make a cherry pie and then decided not to, leaving you with 2 pie crusts (not that I know from experience)

Southwestern Turkey Soup – serve this with some leftover cornbread you might have from making stuffing.

Thanksgiving Leftover Wontons with Cranberry Salsa – Oh.My.Stars. My one Black Friday purchase this year will be Wonton Wrappers so I can make these.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and feel free to share any leftover recipes you have!

~Erin

 

Thanksgiving Dinner Preparations!

It’s almost time for Thanksgiving here and I’m ready! I love food….not so much cooking….but the promise of Thanksgiving dinner makes me cook. With 2 kids running around, I need to make sure I’m well prepared for Thanksgiving because there’s just not a ton of extra time around here! Also, we live in a VERY small community with no grocery store, so there’s no running to the store for a forgotten item. I have to make sure I have everything I need ahead of time. Here are some of my tips and timelines for a stress-free Turkey Day!

3 Weeks Before (If you’re counting, we’re already heading into 2 weeks before, so do these things NOW!):

Finalize the menu. – This is a pretty easy one for me because we have all of the ‘old reliable’ recipes that we make every year. Sometimes I’ll throw in a new dish or appetizer, but for the most part, the menu stays the same from year to year. Last year I started making Holiday Binders to hold all of my info for each major holiday. For my Thanksgiving Binder, I had a section where I put all of our go-to recipes. That way, I never have to search for the recipes, they are all kept together:

Thanksgiving Folder (6)

-Finalize the Guest List – We are doing a small Thanksgiving dinner this year, so it’s much easier, but there were 13 of us at our house a couple of years ago, so it’s always good to pin down what you’re getting yourself into!

-Do an inventory on Chairs, Tables, Dishes, Glassware, etc. – Do you need a kid’s table, an extra crock pot, more wine glasses? If so, try to buy or borrow these things a few weeks out. It’s too stressful to be worrying about buying chairs 2 days before Thanksgiving…..but you don’t want Aunt Kim sitting on the floor. I’m a big fan of the dollar store for extra glasses, plate charges and small serving dishes. Ikea is another great spot for some kitchen and serving basics.

-Grocery shop for non-perishables. – I don’t like to go over budget on groceries, but it’s hard not to when it comes to large holiday meals. The way I stay under budget is to start purchasing a couple weeks before. That way I can go a little light on that week’s regular purchases to make room for Turkey day fixings. I have already bought any non-perishables, such as cream of chicken soup and canned pumpkin.

2 Weeks Before

-Clean out and organize the fridge and freezer. I continue to use up what we have for meals and I also rearrange, toss anything that’s past its prime, and clean the shelves.

-Grocery shop for frozen items – 2 weeks out is when I buy things like frozen broccoli for a casserole I make, the rolls we serve and of course….the turkey! I don’t want a turkey sitting in my freezer for weeks, but if you wait to long, you might not be able to find the perfect size you need. Keep in mind that if you special order a turkey or ham, you may have to place the order much earlier than this.

-Evaluate Decorations. – I don’t have too many Thanksgiving decorations, but I have a few things I put up. By this time, many decorations are on sale, so if you need a little something extra, it’s a great time to pick it up.

-Do any Hosting or Hostee (that’s an official term) Tasks – If you are hosting, you can do things like make placecards, set out linens for overnight guests, or attached wine glass charms. If you’re going somewhere, you could write a thank you note, buy a small gift, or set out your dishes and recipe if you’re bringing something. Doing this ahead of time will make sure you don’t forget any small details.

Week of Thanksgiving

-Buy all perishable foods – Get everything else you will need to make your dinner.

-Thaw the turkey. Remember, it takes about 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey. The first year I hosted Thanksgiving, I COMPLETELY forgot to thaw the turkey. One day before and I had an 18 pound block of turkey ice in my freezer. Somehow, we made it work. Last year, I threw away the wrapper of the turkey when I started defrosting it….then I forgot how much it weighed. This was our solution:

Thanksgiving 2012 (6)

How to properly weigh a turkey

-Set out the serving dishes you will use for each recipe and put a sticky note with the name of the recipe.

-Do one more fridge clean out so you’ll have room to put leftovers (my real favorite part of Thanksgiving!).

-Make cooking a joyful experience. Pour a glass of wine, put on some great music and remember that things will never be perfect, so go with the flow! When I was little, our sheepdog ate our entire turkey that was sitting on the counter. It happens!

-If you have kids, either give them some crafts or involve them in the cooking. Either way, they will be occupied!

Thanksgiving 2012 (18)

-Be Thankful! -Remember, the message of the holiday is not just to eat a bunch of food. It is about reflecting on the things in our lives that we are truly grateful for.

Of course, there are countless other ways to organize for a large holiday meal. I have just found the above tips to be helpful for our family. What other ways to you keep yourself prepared for big holidays?

~Erin

Grocery Shopping Tips

Lately, I have been trying to streamline my grocery shopping experience, from making the list to putting the food away. I have written before that I am notorious for going ‘off the list’ at the store. So my first goal is to make my lists as short as possible. This will serve a couple of purposes:

-The less time that I am in the store, the less chance I have to go ‘off the list’!

-If I have shorter lists, that means I’m making good use of the food I already have. If I am using up all of the food I have, then I am throwing less food away, thus saving money.

Ultimately I plan to have one of those cute pre-printed grocery lists which separates the food by category and makes it easier to shop. However, right now I’m working to use up some of the five thousand little notepads I have somehow managed to acquire. Seriously, the other day I found a stack of index cards, and I probably haven’t actually purchased this type of thing since making flash cards in high school. Yet, there are still stacks of them around my house. So I am using up all of those misc pieces of paper to make my lists for groceries, to-do, etc.

I also have a couple cute notepads with magnets on the back, so that is what I am currently working my way through. One is stuck to my fridge right now so it’s super easy to add items to a grocery list as I think of them. And it’s right above my Cleaning Schedule, so I’m looking at both items everyday! (please ignore the picture quality, this was a last minute photo for the post!)

My meal planning leaves something to be desired (as do my eating habits), but I’m working on it. Hopefully soon I will have posts of amazingly creative menu boards and cookbooks, filled with recipes that are at once delicious and healthy. Um…yeah….

So when I’m at the store, I use some pretty standard tricks:

-Start at the back. Get the cold stuff last. Pretty simple.

One other trick that works for me is taking my 9 month old. I put his car seat thing in the back of the grocery cart so I can’t really overdo on the purchasing, there’s just no room!

Truth be told, I love grocery shopping, I could actually stay in the store for 3 hours just looking at everything. It’s funny since I absolutely HATE to shop for pretty much anything else. It’s also funny because I’m not a great cook and don’t have a ton of recipes. Anyways, try as I might to stay on list and get through quick, it just doesn’t happen very often.

So most of my grocery organizing is actually done after I get home. I spend a decent amount of time putting away the groceries. Here’s the system:

-Take everything out of the bags and put all of the bags away.

-As I take the items out, I group them on the counter by : Fridge, Freezer, Pantry or other. This makes actually putting the food away go a little more quickly. Also, if the food is grouped, I only have to open the fridge and freezer one time instead of opening and closing the doors. It just makes life easier.

-Then I put away the freezer items first because….that makes sense. Also, we live 1/2 hour from the closest grocery store of any decent size and things are melting into piles of goop by the time I get home.

-Then I do the fridge items. Here is where I probably spend the most time. I try to buy a decent number of fruits and veggies, but if they are shoved away in that glorious little crisper drawer, they get forgotten until they crisp away into their expiration date. So I try to wash everything and if I can, give it a front and center place in the fridge. Here are two examples:

Grapes and carrots….love them! The kids love them! The husband loves them! But if they are in the drawer, they might as well have stayed at the store. So I wash them and put them in Tupperware. For the grapes, I also pull each and every grape off of the stem. This makes them easy to grab for snacks. So here is how we store them:

As I put stuff in the fridge, I try to wipe down each shelf a little. It’s the best time to do it because the fridge is most empty right before I fill it with groceries. It also ensures our fridge stays pretty cleaned out.

When it comes to the pantry items, they are pretty easy to put away because of the bins in my pantry. Everything has a designated spot so there’s no question as to where it goes. I do have several things I do to make things easier for when I’m actually using the food.

-We buy the 4 packs of the fruit cups for our oldest son so I take them out of the package so they are easy to grab.

-If I buy something like granola bars, I open the package and either fold in or tear off the top. So my son’s snacks go from this:

to this:

I find that when the groceries are organized, it so much easier to prepare food, find what you’re looking for and see what you are running out of. Also, my kids have inherited the gene from me that tells your body if you are hungry, you must go immediately from a super sweet angel into a crazy, screaming, get-me food-now-or-my-head-will-explode kind of tantrum. So it benefits me to be able to get them food quick and keep them looking like this:

So for now I will be content with my post-grocery shopping organizing techniques while I work on the meal planning. I will keep you posted!

~Erin

Impressed Guest…

I was so excited and honored to be able to do a guest post this week on Modern Christian Woman. See the post here.

Stephanie is a great resource for tasty, easy meals and a personal inspiration to me. With 5 kids running around, I’m absolutely amazed at not only how often she posts (I’m still trying to get over 3 posts per week!) but also the sheer number of great recipes she has to share.

Please check out her blog and see all that she has to offer!

This month she is a cook trying to organize. So I figured I might as well be an organizer trying to cook ;)

Now, I’m not quite ready to delve into a ton of new recipes all at once. So my plan is to take the old reliables and mix it up with a new dish here and there.

I already have some August projects in the works, so I’ll make September my month for food! Here is what I plan on organizing regarding food:

1) I am going to make some sort of cute board to put the week’s meal plan on. Here is an absolutely adorable one that I found on Pinterest from   Sarah Potter Photography

This is the menu board that looks the most fun to me and will make me actually want to meal plan I think!

2) I’m going to finish going through all of my cookbooks and picking out the recipes I would actually make. Then I’m going to make one giant recipe book of awesomeness (a phrase I will continuously use until said book of awesomeness is complete) that is filled with recipes that will actually get made. Here is my current shelf of cookbooks:

This, my friends, will NOT be here at the end of September!

3) I am going to try 1 new recipe each week. Between my cookbooks, blog inspiration recipes and Pinterest, I know I will have enough recipes to try a new one each week for years upon years!

So these are my September goals. I never actually laid out my August goals for you, but believe me, they are there. I will hopefully be posting some accomplishments soon!

Happy Cooking and Happy Organizing Everyone!

~Erin

Inspiration Week!

This week, I’m using the inspiration I find in other bloggers to hopefully inspire others!

First up on the docket! Life sprinkles!

This is the blog that belongs to my dearest, sweetest friend Kristi and you can find her blog here.

It is a blog about healthy living and balance, two things I”m not sure that I maintain. Well, balance maybe. But I’m not the healthiest. I don’t love to cook, or even like it that much. I am notorious for eating ridiculous amounts of mac & cheese, frozen waffles and PB&J. And my exercise routine leaves something (a lot) to be desired. However, Kristi is my go to girl for easy healthy recipes and workout motivations. She is also a vet, so she is burdened with my frequent calls and texts that sound something like this:

“All 4 of Molly’s paws are bright red. What do I do?”

“Molly’s face has swollen to the size of a watermelon. What do I do?”

“Molly ate an entire bag of peppermints and Hershey’s kisses. What do I do?”

Notice how all of these ailments pertain to Molly, though we have 2 other dogs. Hmmmm……

Our 3 Girls!

Anyways, the point is that Kristi is super busy but also super motivated and creative with her exercise and nutrition. She recently did a post on the foods that she always has on hand at her house.  Link to it here.

I was inspired to think about the things I like to have on hand at all times. Here’s my partial list:

-Fruit – I agree with Kristi that bananas are a must have. We buy them probably every time we go to the store. They are great for a quick snack, good for the kids (even our 6 month old who just started eating more solid food) and they can be used in a lot ways – on cereal, on pancakes, in shakes, etc. We also always have berries or grapes.  These are great by themselves or in a snack.

-Veggies – Again, I second Kristi in that we ALWAYS have carrots at our house. Good for adults, kids and dogs alike! The other veggie I always like to have is spinach. I love spinach salads, but I also like to use it in pasta or in chicken dishes. I know all you smoothie makers out there will tell me to put it in smoothies. I’m still trying to get on the smoothie train. I love the idea and the variety, I just haven’t fully hopped on board yet.

-Meatballs – seriously, I love meatballs. I used to buy the Trader Joe’s brand, but there are no Trader Joe’s in Colorado (which makes my heart ache more than just a little bit). So now, I buy them at Walmart or the grocery store. Great in pasta, meatball sandwiches or a quick snack.

Sooooo Yummy

-Fajita Seasoning – This might sound a little weird, but this is on my list and I’ve never made fajitas. I use it for everything else though…tacos, burritos, rice. The possibilities are endless. And I actually only use about 1/8 of the little package each time, so that 90 cents goes a long way!

-Oreos – they are my weakness and if I’m craving a giant piece of chocolate cake, 1 or 2 Oreos will satisfy the craving just fine.

-Frozen Veggies – I buy these by the truckload. I am not very good at using fresh veggies in meals (as hard as I try!) but I am able to get a lot of variety form the frozen kind. Of course, I have a stockpile of the tried and true ‘peas and carrots’, but I also get broccoli and cauliflower, snap peas, lima beans and stir fry mixes. It helps keep the boring menu not quite so boring.

-Several kinds of pasta – I LOVE pasta. Now it’s certainly not the healthiest meal option, but if you add a protein source and some veggies, it lessens the blow. I like spaghetti, but I don’t want it all the time. So I get a few different kinds to mix it up. I have to admit I get as excited as my 3 year old does when I announce we’re going to have bow-tie pasta tonight (Farafelle for you pasta connoisseurs)!

I might order this poster to hang in my pantry. Love Pasta!

So how does this possibly apply to being organized? Well, I’ll tell you:

-First, if you know what you like and use a lot, it will make grocery lists and shopping much more efficient.

-Second, if you are stockpiling items you know you will use, you will most likely save money because you will not being throwing away a lot of items that went unused.

-Third, when the inevitable crazy day comes and you have not even started thinking about dinner, it is great to know that you have several quick, easy and reliable options for meals that are always on hand.

So, thank you to Kristi at Life Sprinkles for being my inspiration in so many ways! More inspiration to come later on this week!

~Erin

Things I Love Thursdays – Once A Month Cooking

I’m going to borrow a little here…..

The concept is widely known, but I’ve chosen to use the Once  a Month cooking from:

http://onceamonthmom.com/

I’m also borrowing from a post I already posted on my other blog:Self Pursuits.

Self Pursuits is a blog I started with my friend Katie and the plan is to pursue a new hobby, activity, etc for one month within a given category. We are on a small hiatus for June because we are busy and exhausted people. But come July, we’ll be back in Pursuit!

Anyways, one month the broad category was food/ cooking so I decided to try ‘Plan Ahead Cooking’. This involved going through my cookbooks, organizing my pantry and Once a Month Cooking! I made about 18 meals in one day. It was the craziest day, but it fed us for weeks and the meals were delicious. You can read the full post on my adventure here:

http://selfpursuits.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/i-must-be-crazy/

So even though it makes your kitchen look like this:

It is totally worth a try!

Why I love Once  a Month Cooking:

-It gave me loads of food for a whole month and all I had to do was heat everything up.

-I saved a decent amount of money. Not only did I not go heavy food shopping every week, but since I wasn’t going to the store as often, I was foregoing those extra purchases that just kind of come up when you’re at the store. I’m notorious for going off the list at the store, which is something I’m working on….”Don’t I need more paintbrushes? …Oh look at that bathmat! I have to have it! … Maybe I should get 2 gallons of ice cream since I can’t decide.”

-The meals were delicious and unique. I’m also notorious for slapping a piece of chicken or fish and a side f broccoli on the plate next to a piece of bread. No fancy dishes served here friends! So the new flavors and recipes (read Peanut Butter Crock Pot Pork, Chicken Stuffed Shells and Chicken Calzones) were a fun treat for my family!

-My freezer was so organized! It was just full of yummy, unique dinners and all I had to do was grab a bag!

-Not only did I not have to cook for most of the month, but I hardly had to clean the kitchen for a month. We just cleaned the crock pot or pan and the plates we used. No other cooking dishes necessary. Yeah!

For someone who likes to be organized and does NOT like to cook very much, this is the project!

~Erin