Thursday, March 22, 2012

Meal Planning 101

Meal planning is something that plagues every mom from time to time. We all have different methods to approach meal planning and I find it very helpful to get ideas from other moms to make my own planning easier. Today I am pleased to bring you my first guest blogger: Mae from Strive for Progress. She is going to bring you a series of posts to help you in your own meal planning (and use some of the recipes you've read right here!!). Take it away, Mae!

What an honor to be writing for Leslie! We have been friends for many years now and I have always admired her leadership and motivation skills. I have appreciated getting to know her and now getting to read her fun and inspiring blog! Thank you for letting me guest post Leslie!

Meal Planning 101
How many times do you get to 5:00 pm and wonder “what is for dinner?!” with a gurgle in your belly you tour your kitchen. Your eyes scan frozen chicken, leftover pancakes, a rotting cucumber... then you hear the dreaded “MOMMY I’M HUNGRY!”. This is the moment you smack your forehead and say, if only I would have thought about dinner this morning. Begrudgingly you grab the phone and speed dial your local pizza shop, “the usual”....
Does this happen to you very often? Would you like to avoid the dinnertime scramble? Well you are at the right place! It doesn’t matter if you are a single person or have a good sized family, you need a plan for meals every week! Without a plan you will spend more money either ordering out or buying items at the store that you do not end up using. Not planning for meals wastes time, I can’t tell you how many times I have spent the five o’clock hour wandering my cupboards and fridge 'til I finally figure out what I am going to make and then two hours later it’s finally on the table ready to eat. Your nutrition suffers when you do not plan what to eat, it’s not easy to eat a healthy meal if you haven’t planned for it.
When you plan for meals you save money by having a list and knowing exactly what you are going to purchase, it helps you to avoid impulse buying. Planning ahead gives you a chance to look at your grocery circular and coupons to plan your menu according to sales. Planning saves time, when you know what you are making for dinner you have time to prepare for it, for example if you are using chicken in one nights meal you can grab it out of the freezer and thaw it. You can prep your fruits and veggies days or hours in advance. You can even use my favorite kitchen gadget, the crock-pot! When you know you are making a crock-pot meal your stuff is in the pot and will be ready come dinner time! Your meal plan will give you the power to plan healthier and more nutritious food for your family. Meal planning is a win win situation! Plan your meals and you will for sure save money, time and your health!

Now that I have convinced you that you need to plan your meals I want you to follow a few steps for the next three weeks.

Week One...
Sit down and look at how your family’s week works. How does your family schedule work? Is there a day or two that are famous in your house for ordering take out? How about mornings? Does everyone in your family eat breakfast? Basically I want you to sit down with your calendar and figure out when you need quick and easy meals and when you can take some time with your meals. Observe your family this week and see who is eating what and when.
Week Two...
Ask your family for food feedback. What do they want for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Do they have favorites, are they sick of a meal you have been making over and over? Get feed back from them, even if you have little kids you can ask them for this input, they know what they like and don’t like. I also want you to try ONE new recipe this week  and make enough for leftovers. I am going to suggest a big pot of soup and muffins. Eat it for dinner and then eat it the next day for lunch or dinner. YES eat your leftovers! Soup and muffins are excellent in breaking yourself and your family in for leftovers. Soup only enhances in taste as it sits and muffins are still soft the next day!
Week Three...
Get ahold of your local store’s circulars and look on the interest for some coupons. If your store has an internet site they most likely have an email list and links for specials and coupons. Once you see what they have on special go search a few places like,, and for some ideas on what meals to make. You can use the search boxes on those sites, plug in one of the items you want that are on sale and see what the search turns up for you. Plan an minimum of THREE meals this week.

I will be back after these three weeks and give you the steps you need to create meal plans with ease. Once you finish this meal plan “course” you will be a pro and never have to deal with the 5:00 meal crisis again! Okay now go get busy! I am breaking this down to make it very easy for you. I look forward to meeting you here in three weeks! Have a great day and Strive For Progress!

Mae is the writer and owner of At Strive
For Progress Mae aims to inspire and motivate people in everyday life.
She lives in the USA with her highschool sweetheart Mike, three
beautiful kiddlets, a lovable Great Dane and a crazy tabby cat!

Monday, March 19, 2012

St. Patrick's Craft Day

I've been a crafter for as long as I can remember. I absolutely love creating projects for myself and my kids. This is another reason why Pinterest has become such a phenomenon for me. I love the ideas I see and can't wait to try them out. I had seen a couple different St. Patrick's Day projects for kids that I wanted to make. I thought I'd try something different though, I hosted a big craft day at my house for my mom friends and their kids. All in all, we had 15 kids and 7 moms making 3 different craft projects! When the crafting was all done, I had a rainbow of fruit and snacks for the kids to eat.

The set up wasn't bad at all. I purchased all the supplies and did a demo project of each of the three crafts with my oldest daughter. This way each table could see a finished project and I wouldn't have to "lead" the craft. I set up multiple tables and the supplies needed for that craft at the table. I don't have a huge house, but it worked out well having the craft stations. In fact, I'll attempt to do this again come summer time. I'm thinking giant bubbles and homemade sidewalk chalk or paint. We'll see. Anyway, here are the pictures from our craft day. Hope you enjoy them and take some ideas for your own craft day or projects next  year!!

The set up

Rainbow of fruit and marshmallow "clouds" and Rolo "gold"

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Peanut Ginger Noodle Salad

Cook with what you have. This is pretty much my mantra. Granted, I'll buy groceries based on meals I want to cook, but I'm coming up to the end of my last grocery trip's supplies so I have to get a little creative. Today, I used Pinterest for inspiration (where have you heard that before?). I saw a tasty looking sesame peanut noodle recipe, but upon reading the ingredients, determined I wouldn't be able to duplicate. Not deterred, I decided to create my own recipe with what I had at home. Here's what I created:

1 Tbsp garlic olive oil
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp honey
2 tsp freshly grated ginger
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 + 1 Tbsp cup creamy peanut butter
Combine in a small bowl and mix until well incorporated. Heat in microwave for 20 seconds to soften the peanut butter and stir again. Set aside.
1 bell pepper (choose your color), chopped into small strips
4 large mushrooms, stems removed, sliced
1 large chicken breast, cooked, chopped
8-10oz soba noodles
juice from 1/2 lime
1 Tbsp sesame seeds (toasting optional)
Heat some sesame oil in a large skillet or wok. Saute the pepper and mushrooms. Transfer to large bowl. Add chicken. Cook noodles and drain. Add noodles to bowl. Pour dressing over noodle mixture and stir well. Chill for at least 30 minutes.Drizzle with lime juice and sprinkle sesame seeds over noodles before serving.
This was such a simple and delicious recipe. You can alter it based on what you have in your own kitchen or preferences for vegetables. Try adding edamame (brilliant! I'm going to go add some now!) or green onion or sprouts to the salad. Or include a tablespoon of coconut milk to your dressing. Go wild! Enjoy!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Gyros--from scratch!

Sometimes I get hungry for a specific meal. It's usually something that's not on the regular monthly rotation. This month, that "something" was gyros. I love a good gyro and it has taken me a while to perfect a recipe for my family. I've taken a Greek cooking class and researched lots of recipes on gyro meat and tzatziki sauce. I recently came across a couple of pita recipes as well. Here is the whole she-bang for you. A delicious homemade gyro recipe. I'm giving you the basic recipe, but I'll include a couple of alterations in the directions for you. This is one recipe where I've chosen to use organic or higher quality ingredients because it does make a difference to the final meal. Not all my meals are this way, as you know. If you can get the specialty ingredients, I think you'll be very happy with it!! I shop from a store called Olivelle that has amazing cooking products. They ship if you don't have something similar where you live. Here is what you need:

Pita Bread
 (This recipe is taken from The Fresh Loaf. Please see my notes at the bottom regarding timing)

3 cups flour (I used half whole wheat and half white)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp honey
1 packet yeast (or, if from bulk, 2 teaspoons yeast)
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups water, roughly at room temperature
2 Tbsp olive oil

If you are using active dry yeast, follow the instructions on the packet to activate it. Otherwise, mix the yeast in with the flour, salt, and honey. Add the olive oil and 1 1/4 cup water and stir together with a wooden spoon. All of the ingredients should form a ball. If some of the flour will not stick to the ball, add more water.
Once all of the ingredients form a ball, place the ball on a work surface, such as a cutting board, and knead the dough for approximately 10 minutes (or until your hands get tired). If you are using an electric mixer, mix it at low speed for 10 minutes.

When it has doubled in size, punch the dough down to release some of the trapped gases and divide it into 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, cover the balls with a damp kitchen towel, and let them rest for 20 minutes. This step allows the dough to relax so that it'll be easier to shape.

While the dough is resting, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. If you have a baking stone, put it in the oven to preheat as well. If you do not have a baking stone, turn a cookie sheet upside down and place it on the middle rack of the oven while you are preheating the oven. This will be the surface on which you bake your pitas.

After the dough has relaxed for 20 minutes, spread a light coating of flour on a work surface and place one of the balls of dough there. Sprinkle a little bit of flour on top of the dough and use a rolling pin or your hands to stretch and flatten the dough. You should be able to roll it out to between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick. If the dough does not stretch sufficiently you can cover it with the damp towel and let it rest 5 to 10 minutes before trying again.

Open the oven and place as many pitas as you can fit on the hot baking surface. They should be baked through and puffy after 3-4 minutes.

Gyro meat
1 lb ground lamb
1 lb ground beef
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
1 Tbsp dried marjoram
1 Tbsp dried ground rosemary
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Process the onion (I chose a sweet yellow onion for flavor) in a food processor for 10 to 15 seconds and turn out into the center of a tea towel. Gather up the ends of the towel and squeeze until almost all of the juice is removed. Discard juice. Return the onion to the food processor and add the lamb (get organic ground lamb if you can), beef (get ground beef with 15% fat, you'll want the extra fat for cooking and flavor), garlic, marjoram, rosemary, salt, and pepper and process until it is a fine paste, approximately 1 minute. Stop the processor as needed to scrape down sides of bowl.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place the mixture into a loaf pan, making sure to press firmly into the sides of the pan. Place the loaf pan into a water bath and bake for 60 to 75 minutes or until the mixture reaches 165 to 170 degrees F. The loaf is going to shrink up in the pan. Remove from the oven and drain off any fat. Slice very thinly and serve on pita bread with tzatziki sauce, chopped onion, lettuce, tomatoes and feta cheese.

Tzatziki Sauce
16 ounces plain Greek yogurt (you can use plain yogurt, but it is much more watery)
1 medium English cucumber, peeled, seeded
1/2 tsp salt
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp white distilled vinegar
5 to 6 mint leaves, finely minced
Place cucumber (English cukes make a much better tzatziki sauce) and garlic in food processor and coarsely chop. Strain the juices from the mixture. Discard juice. Mix the cucumber and garlic pieces with the salt in a bowl. Add the yogurt (again, get a high quality organic greek yogurt), oil (use the best olive oil you can find for this, the taste is worth it) and vinegar (I use a white balsamic vinegar for this amazing subtle tangy flavor) and stir until combined. Finish with the mint leaves and stir. Chill at least 30 minutes in refrigerator. Can be stored in airtight container in refrigerator for up to one week.

This recipe didn't take as long as you might imagine. I suggest making your sauce first because you want your sauce to chill at least 30 minutes, but an hour or two is better. It comes together in less than 15 minutes. Then get your meat prepped and in the pan. It will need to bake at least an hour. It took me another 15 minutes to get the meat ready. I did both of these ahead of time (while the kids were eating lunch) so all I had to do was pop the meat in the oven about an hour and a half before dinner. I made up the pita dough during nap time so it could rise. I let it set a little more than 20 minutes in balls because I cooked the pita last (after the meat was done). I let the meat sit on a plate while I heated up the baking stone. As each pita was cooking, I sliced the meat so it was hot and fresh. You'll find the best timing for you, but be sure to plan ahead because there is some wait times for each component. Enjoy this delicious Greek meal!!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Smoky Mountain Pork

I've mentioned before that we're lucky to be given meat from my dad and my in-laws. Here is a recipe I received from my friend David to use up some of the pork roasts in our freezer. Here's what you need:

2-1/2 lbs boneless pork, cut into 1 inch cubes (use about 3 lbs if bone-in)
2 10-3/4 oz cans condensed tomato soup
1/2 cup ketchup
1/3 cup vinegar (I use white vinegar but apple cider vinegar works great too)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp yellow mustard
1 Tbsp onion powder (or flakes)
1/4-1/2 tsp celery salt
1 tsp liquid smoke

Combine all the ingredients but the pork in the crock pot. Stir until well combined. Turn on low.

Heat skillet over medium heat. Add half the cubed pork and brown on all sides. Put cooked pork in crock pot. Repeat with the remaining pork.

Stir contents of crock pot until meat is well coated. Cook on low for 6-7 hours. Serve over rice (preferred) or noodles.

The things I like about it are: 1-super easy, 2-delicious, 3-crock pot, 4-makes enough to freeze. Are you seeing a theme with the recipes I post?? Enjoy!!