Thursday, October 30, 2008

All Those Kitchen Scraps!

With a cooking day or mini-session, there is a lot of food waste created (think potato & carrot peels, egg shells, vegetable trimmings, fruit rinds). That food waste should be put to work for us! Composting is the answer; and you can compost in town or out on the farm.

I keep a stainless steel compost bucket under my sink - I've owned it for at least three years. It has two carbon filters in the lid and has never created a smell. When we lived in town, we kept a larger black composting bin behind the shed. When the bucket was full, the kids or I would go dump the scraps in the large bin.

Out on the farm, my oldest ds and I constructed a much more crude, but larger compost system from wooden pallets left over from the building process. Our new compost bin system has three compartments. The first is the active pile (well, it's not doing much, yet). The second is ready to go when needed and the third is for storage of brown material.

We lined the bins with chicken wire to help keep the materials in place, and the kids layered dirt on the bottom of the first two compartments to help aeration. Every time we add green matter (kitchen scraps, grass clippings, etc.), we add a layer of brown to cut smell & keep pests away. The layer of brown is also more attractive to look at than decomposing waste!

I'm still learning quite a bit and have been reading about composting. I know it will take a while to get usable material for our gardens, especially with cold weather coming our way. But, the results are worth the wait, and it includes a valuable lesson on stewardship for our kids.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Menu Planning

I've always thought about meal preparation in advance . . . okay, I do have those days/weeks where I'm planning the night before or the day of, but for the most part, I plan ahead and am prepared! I enjoy knowing what I'm going to be cooking and want to make sure all the necessary ingredients are on hand.

In early 2003, while pregnant with my third, I had time to check out Flylady at and chose to incorporate quite a few of her suggestions. At this point, I've taken what was useful and tweaked her advice to fit my situation (the schedules have been adjusted to meet the needs of our growing family, too). Since then, Wednesdays have been my planning and office day: menu planning and grocery list updates, office work and bill paying, calendar check with my husband and written correspondence.

Planning 1 or 2 weeks in advance works best for our family. Any longer and I've found that too many leftovers that go to waste. An 8.5x11 inch sheet of paper folded in half , six-hole punched, and kept in a small binder is what I prefer. The front side has a weekly schedule with 4 columns (date & day of week, breakfast, dinner/lunch, supper) and 8 rows (dates covered by menu and a row for each days' meals); the back side is a lined grocery list. The schedule is easy to make in either Word or Excel, then copies can be made as needed.

Usually, I try to make the new meal in the evening and have leftovers for dinner/lunch the next day. We are busiest in the morning, leaving less time to prepare a meal (unless it's sandwiches or something in the crock pot). Thus far, I haven't chosen to save my menus. They are based on what we have on hand, what's on sale, and what's in season. I do keep a list of recipes and recently asked each child to help compile a list of their favorites & least favorites.

This is the menu we've been using and will use from October 19 - November 1 (we usually add biscuits, salad or veggies to the main dish):

October 19-25
Dinner: Local Church Dinner
Supper: German Supper at Grandma and Grandpa's Church

Dinner: Leftovers
Supper: Chicken Enchiladas

Dinner: Leftover Chicken Enchiladas
Supper: Barbecued Meat Loaf & Baked Potatoes

Dinner: Sandwiches
Supper: Leftober Barbecued Meat Loaf

Dinner: Veggie Soup
Supper: Leftover Veggie Soup

Dinner: PBJ Egg salad sandwiches
Supper: Egg salad sandwiches

Dinner: Hot Ham & Cheese Sandwiches
Supper: Pork Chops & Stuffing

October 26-November 1
Dinner: Local Church Dinner
Supper: Brats

Dinner: Chicken Rice Soup
Supper: Leftover Chicken Rice Soup

Dinner: Sandwiches
Supper: Taco Soup

Dinner: Sandwiches
Supper: Leftover Taco Soup

Dinner: Leftovers & Clean Out Frig!
Supper: Stuffed Baked Potatoes

Dinner: Pizza
Supper: All Saint's Day Party - Potluck Soup Supper

Dinner: Eat out in Town
Supper: Eat at FB Game

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My Favorite Meatloaf

The Camera Saga: My camera is not worth repairing says the local repairman. It's amazing how prices on digital cameras have come down since I purchased in December 2004! My new camera is half the price of my old camera, even though I chose to get a similar model, and should arrive by the end of next week. I can hardly wait . . .

This is my preferred meatloaf recipe. I did not like meatloaf as a kid, but I decided to try making meatloaf because it's a quick and easy meal base that usually yields leftovers for the next day. The first recipes I tried were very basic - hamburger, sausage, egg, oatmeal, onion - the usual ingredients in varying combinations. This recipe is different and it's adapted from a recipe printed in the Cooking Light, January 2000 issue.

Barbecued Meat Loaf
Yield: 8 servings (serving size: 1 slice)

1 cup ketchup
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 slice white bread*
1/2 cup milk
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup finely diced carrot
1/4 cup fresh parsley (use about half that amount if using dried parsley)
1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 pounds ground sirloin*
1/2 pound lean ground pork*
1 large egg

Preheat oven 350 degrees.

Combine the first 4 ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Place bread in a food processor; process until finely ground. Combine bread and milk in a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup ketchup mixture, onion, and the next 9 ingredients (onion through egg); stir until well-blended. Place beef mixture in an 8x4-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Brush remaining ketchup mixture over top. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes. Remove meat loaf from pan. Cut into slices.

*I make a few adjustments to the recipe. I use whole wheat bread instead of white. Our ground beef is in 2 pound packs, so I increase the ground beef. I also increase the ground pork to 1 pound. These changes don't affect the recipe beyond providing more servings, in my opinion.

1. I usually bake the meat loaf in a stoneware loaf pan that has been seasoned with use. I do NOT need to use cooking spray. I've found that I don't need cooking spray in any of my glass or metal pans, either.
2. I like to drain the fat with a baster after the first hour. I drain the fat again before serving.
3. This recipe doubles easily and freezes well. To freeze, bake the loaf and let cool completely. Wrap in plastic wrap and then wrap in foil. Label and freeze.

We serve Barbecued Meat Loaf with baked or mashed potatoes, mixed veggies or a salad.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Redwall Feast

**Again, sorry for the lack of pictures. My hubby's camera was in his vehicle and not available, so that wasn't even an option.

My oldest son planned and prepared a Redwall Feast on Saturday. Well, the planning began earlier in the week, but the meal's preparation, cooking & sampling was on Saturday.

To give a little bit of background . . . Redwall, written by Brian Jacques, is the title of the first book in a series about animals. It's an exciting world where Martin the Warrior, a small mouse with an ancient sword and a brave heart, fights for all that is good and noble. Redwall is an Abby where the peaceful animals (such as mice, hedgehogs, hares, & moles ) live together in the forest. The Redwallers always try to win with peace, but when that doesn't work against the rats, cats & other vermin, they do take to arms to defend themselves and the Abby. My husband has been reading this series to our kids for quite a few years. They all enjoy it immensly. So, whenever I see a book related to Redwall, it usually becomes a gift for one of our kids. My oldest received 'The Redwall Cookbook' as a gift about a year ago and has wanted to try the recipes since. Here is what he prepared:

Drink: October Ale
Soup/Appetiser: Shrimp 'n' Hotroot Soup
Main Dishes/SavorySides: Brockhall Badger Carrot Cakes
Desserts/Afternoon Treats: Loamhedge Legacy Nutbread and Hare's Haversack Crumble

October Ale is similar to sparkling grape juice. That was, of course, a hit with the kids.

The Shrimp 'n' Hotroot Soup was good, as well. It was made with leeks, which I hadn't even purchased before. I had to look up the preparation technique in one of my cooking reference books. They look like a very large green onion, but the tops are quite a bit tougher. The top, coarser greens are removed & the rest is chopped for this soup. Both ds and I weren't too sure about this soup because it looked like we would be eating mainly chopped leeks! However, the flavor of the vegetable stock, potatoes and shrimp really evened the taste. This is not a soup we'd prepare often, but it was fun to try.

The Brockhall Badger Carrot Cakes were VERY good. I would definitely encourage ds to make these again. They are similar to fried potato cakes, but with extra ingredients. We haven't tried it yet, but I think they would reheat well in the oven.

Made with pecans, the Loamhedge Legacy Nutbread is free-formed on a cookie sheet. This was good plain, but I believe it would be even better with a bit of berry jam or honey. This time around, the bread was a little too browned on the edges. I'd encourage ds to cut the baking time a little.

The very best was saved for last . . . the Hare's Haversack Crumble. Frozen blueberries, raspberries & blackberries formed the bottom layer. The crumble top of cinnamon and brown sugar was the perfect amount of sweet. Although the recipe recommended custard or ice cream, I wouldn't have added anything! It was so tasty; we all wanted more.

It's fun to see my ds enjoy cooking and baking. I hope he'll plan another feast with as much success. Here's the link to the cookbook: If you live close by and would like to use the cookbook to create your own feast, let me know. I'm sure ds wouldn't mind giving it up for a few weeks!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mini-Cooking Session

**Sadly, my camera is having a fit. I didn't realize the pictures were all lined and grainy until the day was done and I was importing them into the post. So, no pictures of the days work for viewing. Technology is both wonderful and frustrating!

The day started quite early . . . I woke up at 5:30a and couldn't get back to sleep. Rather than lay there thinking about sleep, I got up and started the mini-cooking session. I had planned to make seven different entrees, but quickly realized that I wouldn't have the energy to complete those and chose to scale back to five. The five I chose to prepare were Breakfast McBiscuits x12, Chicken Enchiladas x1, Chicken Rice Soup x2, Italian Sausage Soup x2 and Taco Soup x2.

6a - You can't start a Saturday morning without a little bit of laundry, so that's where I began! One load folded, one transferred to the dryer and one started in the washer. Now, on to transferring the meat, biscuits & produce out of storage and into the kitchen.

7a - The majority of ingredients for Italian Sausage Soup are in the crock pot and cooking. The Italian sausage is browned and reserved with the Mexican tomatoes to be added later.

8a - Biscuits are baked, 1st batch of bacon ready (some McBiscuits are prepared and eaten for breakfast!), hamburger for Taco Soup browned and the chicken breasts are in the process of being poached. I took a few minutes to wash dishes that I will need later.

8:30a - Taco Soup is simmering on the stove, the rice cooker is started, and the 2nd batch of bacon is in the oven.

9a - Taco Soup is cooling, Chicken Rice Soup is simmering, and the chicken is poached and diced.

9:30a - Preparation for the enchilada sauce is underway; and the enchiladas are rolled and arranged in a 13x9 pan. Bacon is done & placed on paper towels to cool.

10a - Chicken Enchiladas in the fridge to cool. Bacon stored in frig for later.

10:45a - Italian Sausage Soup ingredients are mixed together and left to cool on the stovetop. Washed up the dishes by hand or in the dishwasher and cleaned up the kitchen.

11:45a - Re-heated one pot of Italian Sausage Soup for Dinner! Everyone cleaned their bowls so they could have a Peanut Butter Cup Pie treat.

1p - Everything cleaned and put away, soups (save for the Italian Sausage Soup - which still needs to cool) are double bagged & put in the freezer. Time for a break - Chai Tea and check laundry.

2:30p - Italian Sausage Soup double bagged and into the freezer. I'm now ready to fry eggs and assemble Breakfast McBiscuits.

3:30p - The Mini-Cooking Session is done! The kitchen is back to it's normal state & ready for my oldest ds to prepare his Redwall Feast (He's already got a good start on it. Somewhere during all the above activities, he found time to prepare the October Ale and bake both the Hare's Haversack Crumble and Loamhedge Legacy Nutbread. He takes after me - make sure the sweets are prepared first!)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Once a Month Cooking

On Wednesday, I finally had time to look through the 'Freezer Cooking Manual' - something I'd been meaning to do since I picked up the book this summer our our local homeschool conference - and am planning to attempt a mini-cooking day on Saturday. I registered as a member of the website, too. This gives me access to tested recipes and tips from those who have done it. While I don't think I'll be doing a major cooking day that would cover our whole month, I can definitely see getting 10-15 meals out of a cooking session.

The website also touted an interesting software program that keeps recipes, tracks and mulitiplies ingredients, and creates a variety of reports to make your cooking day easier. A free 30 day trial is available, so I'm testing it out. So far, I'm impressed. I am using a few recipes that were pre-entered, but also entered some of my family favorites for this Saturday. The program creates an ingredient list for shopping and my next favorite feature is the inventory list. The inventory list shows how many entrees have been prepared and can be kept on or near your deep freeze for easy check-off when entrees are taken out for use. Have I mentioned that I LOVE lists? Maybe that's why I like cookbooks and recipes; they're full of lists.

Tomorrow, I'm going to make use of the ingredient list. Fridays are my meeting, errand & shopping day. My dd and I will head to town to fill the cart, the coolers & probably the back of the van!

This is one of the family favorite recipes that I entered into the software (and yes, it does freeze and reheat quite well) . . .

TACO SOUP (from Suzie’s friend, Michelle M.)
Servings: Approximately 12

2 lb. Hamburger
1 small chopped onion
4 oz. can Chopped Green Chilis
1 Pkg. (1.25oz.) Taco Seasoning (I make my own Taco Seasoning Mix)
1 pkg (1oz.) Ranch mix
2 cans (15oz.) Chili Recipe Stewed Tomatoes (I can my own Mexican Stewed Tomatoes)
2 cans (15oz.) Bush’s Hot Chili Beans (I generally use the store brand)
1 ½ -2 cups Water
8oz. Mexican Blend Cheeses
1 Bag Fritos (Ranch or Chili Cheese Flavored are good, but I like plain Fritos)
8oz Sour Cream (we use more sour cream!)

Brown hamburger & chopped onion, drain grease. Add chopped green chilies, beans, tomatoes, taco & ranch seasonings, and water. Simmer 30-45 minutes for best results or let it simmer in the crock pot for 4-6 hours. Serve soup over the Fritos. Then, top with cheese and sour cream.

If I'm ambitious, I try to serve the Taco Soup with my favorite corn bread recipe - adapted from the Company Corn Bread recipe in the cookbook 'Help! My Family's Hungry'.

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen (more if you only fill the muffin cups 2/3 full)

1/2 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 cups biscuit baking mix
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 eggs
1/2 cup butter, melted but not hot

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Either spray the muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray or use muffin cup papers. In a large bowl, stir together the cornmeal, biscuit mix, sugar, baking powder, and nutmeg. Add milk, eggs, and melted butter. Stir or whisk until smooth. A few lumps of biscuit mix may remain. Pour into prepared muffin pan. Bake 25 minutes or until golden brown.

The First Day

My goal with this blog is (1) to give blogging a try in a simple & less complicated way (food is always a great start!) and (2) to show and share what our family enjoys at the dinner table. We'll see how it goes and how it evolves from here.

I won't be posting once a day - once a week is probably more likely; my busy home life just doesn't allow me that much free time. While I've been thinking about starting a blog for quite a while, the type and direction had eluded me until today.