Saturday, December 20, 2014

20 Meals for $150

(This will become 20 meals. I forgot to take an after picture. I was too excited to be on top of things after a fun girls weekend.)

This was way more manageable than my last round of 38 meals, let me tell you! I even did it with kids home and awake while the husband was at work. Success!

For this round, I made 20 total meals, 2 of each menu item. For other crock potting extravaganzas, use the blogger search bar in the upper left hand corner of the screen and search for "crock pot."

Menu |

2 Chicken Pot Pies
2 California Burritos
2 Sweet & Spicy Meatballs
2 Spaghetti Sauce
2 Tennessee Smokehouse Pulled Pork
2 Beef Stew
2 Chicken Enchiladas
2 Mango Salsa Chicken
2 Bacon Potato Soup
2 Italian Sausage and Peppers

Grocery List |

Meat:
2 bags of frozen chicken breasts
4 lbs. of beef chunks
2 lbs. ground Italian sausage
2 lbs. ground beef
2 pork loins (3-4 lbs. each depending on the size of your family)
2 packages of bacon
2 packages of Italian sausage links

Canned Goods:
6 cream of chicken soup
4 cans of corn
10 cans of broth
2 containers of grape jelly
1 jar chili paste
1 bottle of ketchup
2 cans tomato sauce
2 cans crushed tomatoes (or diced)
2 cans tomato paste
2 cans green chilis (diced)

Dairy:
1 16 oz. container of sour cream
4 packages of cream cheese

Refrigerator:
1 container mango salsa
1 container medium salsa (or hot if that's how you roll)

Seasoning:
2 taco seasoning packets
2 Tennessee Smokehouse seasoning packets
Bay leaves
Basil
Cumin
Sea Salt
Pepper
Brown Sugar
Thyme
Garlic Powder

Produce:
1 bundle of celery
1 2 lb. bag of carrots
1 3 lb. bag of red potatoes
2 red bell peppers
2 green bell peppers

Frozen:
2 bags of French fries
1 large bag of frozen broccoli (or 2 broccoli heads)
2 bags of frozen meatballs
1 large bag of frozen hashbrowns

Other:
2 packages of pie crusts (total of 4 pie crusts)
4 packages of tortillas
1 bottle of red wine (I use pinot noir)
Gallon zip bags

Recipes |
**First label gallon bags, then dump the ingredients in each bag
**In a pan, cook the ground beef and ground sausage
**Prep produce by washing and chopping
**Make 2 of each meal

Chicken Pot Pie
1 can chicken broth
1 can cream of chicken
2 large chicken breasts
3 large chopped carrots
2-3 chopped celery sticks
1 can of corn
**Freeze the pie crusts with this meal

Cook in the crock pot, 8 hours on low. When done shred the chicken and use the premade pie crusts in 9" pie pan. Place 1 crust on the bottom, fill with the crock pot ingredients and then top with the second one. Bake according to the package instructions (usually 30 minutes at 425).
Update: Yum. Add some potatoes to this if you want to make the filling thicker.

California Burritos
1 lb. beef chunks (can also use shredded beef or carne asada cuts if they have them)
1 taco seasoning packet
1 cup water
**Freeze the French fries and tortillas with this meal

Cook in the crock pot, 8 hours on low. When done, shred the meat. Cook French fries according to package instructions. Fill tortillas with the meat, fries and any other taco toppings.
Update: We love these. Great crowd pleaser too.

Sweet & Spicey Meatballs
1 bag frozen meatballs
1 jar grape jelly
1/4 c chili paste
1/4-1/2 c ketchup

3-4 hours on low.
Update: These are a great party hit. A little spicy for kids but they'll manage.

Spaghetti Sauce
1 can tomato sauce
1 can tomato paste
1 can crushed tomatoes or diced
1 lb. cooked Italian sausage
1 lb. cooked ground beef
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 Tbsp. Basil
2 tsp. Garlic Powder
Sea salt to taste

8 hours on low. Remove bay leaf before serving over spaghetti or use to make lasagna. I always have spaghetti sauce in my freezer meals because in my house, spaghetti always sounds good or I can easily turn it in to lasagna. Easy, tasty, the kids eat it. This is my love language.

Smokehouse Pulled Pork
1 pork loin
1 Tennessee Smokehouse seasoning packet
1 cup water

8 hours on low. Shred and serve on buns with BBQ sauce.
Update: Good. My husband loves it.

Beef Stew
4-5 cubed red potatoes
2 large chopped carrots
2-3 chopped celery sticks
2 cans chicken broth
1 lb. beef chunks
1 bay leaf
1/2 Tbsp. Thyme
2 tsp. Garlic
Salt & Pepper

8 hours on low. Remove bay leaf before eating.
Update: Almost every time I make this, I serve it with a parmesan crusted grilled cheese. Great for a cold night!

Chicken Enchiladas
3-4 chicken breasts
1 can cream of chicken
8 oz. sour cream
1 can chili peppers
Cumin (probably a couple of teaspoons)
Sea salt to taste
**Freeze tortillas with this

8 hours on low. Shred chicken, wrap in tortillas, top with extra sauce/filling and cheese. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 or until the top is bubbly.
Update: Yum.

Mango Salsa Chicken
3-4 chicken breasts
1 package cream cheese
1/2 container of mango salsa
1/2 container of medium salsa

8 hours on low. Shred chicken and mix well. Serve in tortillas, with chips, or over rice.
Update: Yum.

Bacon Potato Soup
2 cans chicken broth
1 can cream of chicken
1 package cream cheese
1 can corn, drained
1/2 bag frozen hash browns
Salt & pepper to taste
**Freeze bacon with this.

8 hours on low. Thaw and cook bacon separately, crumble on top with cheese, sour cream, and chives.
Update: Yum. This is Maci's favorite ever.

Italian Sausage and Peppers
1 package Italian sausage links
1 sliced green bell pepper
1 sliced red bell pepper
1-2 cups of red wine

8 hours on low. Serve with pasta, garlic bread, or stuff French bread with it. Top with parmesan cheese.
Update: Yum.

Enjoy!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Redemption Wins

For the past four month I've been working through the Old Testament. The Old Testament is tough. So tough that I'm finding my head hurts and I just feel spiritually drained after my days reading. The Old Testament is dense, strict, and rich in the history of the world. And to be honest, it is a lot of information to absorb. (I know, I know. That's why they say you shouldn't read through the Bible too fast.) I am not an expert on the stories of the Kings, the prophets, the Judges, the priests, or anyone in these books. I have so much more to learn and study, I know. But here's what I do know. No one is perfect in the Old Testament. Not even close.

The great stories we read about Moses, Noah, King David or King Solomon are simply portions of a life. Sometimes the ones we hear about most often omit the struggle, the disgust and the humanness in each person.

We forget that even though David was a brave soldier with enough faith to defeat his giant and save Israel (1 Samuel 17); even though he spared King Saul's life twice when most wouldn't have in the name of self-defense (1 Samuel 24 & 26); even though he proved to be faithful to the end, a man of God that understood God's way is perfect and the word of the Lord is flawless (2 Samuel 22); he was also an adulterer that slept with another man's wife, had the husband killed, then took his wife for himself (2 Samuel 11). He also was the father to a son, Amnon, who raped his sister, Tamar, and then was killed by his brother Absalom (2 Samuel 13) who eventually would conspire against his father and rebel against his country until his death (2 Samuel 15 &18).

Are you keeping up?

Yes, David did many great things. He also did some pretty horrible things too. He was foolish. He begged for the Lord's forgiveness. He was not perfect. His life was messy, complicated. But he loved God.

Sound familiar?

And that's just one example. Don't forget Moses, the poster child of the Old Testament, disobeyed God and tried to take credit for himself (Numbers 20). Noah was a naked drunk (Genesis 9). Lot offered his virgin daughters to a group of men to have sex with them. Those same daughters later got Lot 9 (yes, their father) drunk, slept with him and became pregnant (Genesis 19). Hosea married a prostitute that kept selling her body to men after getting married (Hosea 1).

Wait. What?

Are we sure this is in the Bible? Did I read that correctly? What brokenness! What filth! Surely, if God can work through these wretched people, I am not hopeless. I am not saying this to make myself better. No, I've never committed incest, or killed somebody for my own benefit, or pretended to possess the powers of God, or been a prostitute. But that doesn't make me better. It just reminds me that redemption wins. Always. It just does. There is nothing that come between me and my God. Nothing that will make Him love me less, nothing He won't forgive.

That doesn't mean I should live a life where I do what I want or sin how I want whenever I want (Romans 6:1-2). It just means I am forgiven. There was not a single perfect life lived in the Old Testament.

Enter Jesus. For it is by grace we have saved through faith in Jesus. (Ephesians 2:8)

We are broken, people. All of us. Every day. There is not a single day I have gone without sinning. But I also have not gone without God's forgiveness - His mercies are new every morning. He wipes my slate clean.

In Revelation 7:14, it says, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." I cannot even pretend my robe would not be drenched in filth and shame and guilt and lies and gossip and brokenness without the blood of Jesus. So then, "Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water." Hebrews 10:22.

Ah, yes. Praise Jesus. Sweet redemption.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Homemade Pad Thai


I've cracked the code, y'all.

I have seen so many recipes for Pad Thai (thank you, Pinterest. But sometimes you are a liar.) and I've even bought the already bottled sauces and kits and NOTHING tastes even remotely like Pad Thai.

Until now...

And I really must give credit where it is due. Jen Hatmaker is a Christian author that I happen to like and it just so happens she loves food (probably more than me). I've tried a few recipes of hers that she swears by so I knew I could trust her. When she posted a Pad Thai recipe on Facebook I had to try it. The most important thing you'll get from this is the SAUCE - the part that is never right. There are a few ingredients she uses in the sauce that are only found at specialty food stores. I don't even know where an Asian one is around here, nor do I have the time/energy to burn going to another store so I Googled some easy substitutions and it totally worked!

Jen's Sauce:

2 T Fish Sauce
3 T Palm Sugar
2 T Tamarind Concentrate

Melt together. I'm sure that tastes fabulous but I could not find Palm Sugar and Tamarind Concentrate. So here was my version:

2 T Fish Sauce
3 T Brown Sugar (to substitute the palm sugar)
2 T Rice Vinegar + 1 T Brown Sugar (to substitute the tamarind)

(Fair warning: the fish sauce stinks really bad until everything is combined.)

UPDATE: I always double the sauce and make all the noodles. Because leftovers. If you choose to double the sauce the recipe is: 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 1/4 cup fish sauce, 1/2 brown sugar.

I made two mistakes while cooking: 1) I made the whole package of noodles and only really needed half so I ended up doubling the sauce. 2) I don't have a Wok. That would have made life easier.

Okay, so once you get the sauce done the rest is easy, peasy.

In a large bowl, soak the rice noodles in hot water.

Chop up all your veggies. I used sweet onion, shredded carrots, green onion, and zucchini.

Slice chicken into thin strips (or have shrimp or tofu ready).

Mince 3 cloves of garlic.



In a skillet or Wok heat up 3 T of vegetable oil on medium-high heat, add garlic and chicken (thinly sliced) or shrimp or tofu or whatever. Sautee for about a minute. Add veggies, stirring continually for a few more minutes.

If you have space to scramble an egg in your skillet, go for it. I used a separate skillet because I didn't.

Add the scrambled egg, drained noodles, and sauce. Toss it all together and keep tossing until everything is hot and the noodles and chicken are cooked through. (Note: Add red pepper flakes, red chili sauce, or sweet chili sauce if you want it to be spicey. I added a little sweet chili sauce because my little ones don't do super spicey.)

Once plated, add a squeeze of lime and top with chopped peanuts. If you don't have one of those chopper thingies (as pictured above), you've got to get one! I love mine.

You can also add sprouts but those were also not available at my grocery store.

And that's it! Super easy. Darren and I took one bite and said, "The sauce is right." Sweet victory!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My $30 Gallery Wall



This project was a long time coming. When we first moved into our house 3 years ago I was so excited to paint this wall a dark chocolate brown and have it be somewhat of a feature in the room. So we painted it and we loved it but I could not figure out how to decorate it. I seriously disliked everything I put on this wall. It always looked great in my head and then, when executed, it looked like crap (for lack of a better term).

After finally watching enough home renovation shows and pinning enough DIY projects on Pinterest, I had a better idea of what I could do with this wall so that I would love it.

[PS - when it comes to DIY artwork, keep it as simple as you possibly can. Unless you are an artist, then go crazy. But for the somewhat-crafty like myself, simple is better.]

This was my end result.
 [We'll be painting the other walls in the house a greige-tope color and I'm debating whether or not to keep the brown. We shall see. I'm also planning on having Darren build white built-ins across the bottom of the wall but for now, we're keeping our dark console how it is.]

So now, let me tell you how I put this wall together and how it was only $30...
This was a canvas print I snagged from a friend that was throwing it out (along with another few you'll see as you read more.) Originally it was a teal/brown geometric type print and I thought it would go perfect. When I brought it home I realized it was too dark. So I painted the whole thing a mixture of white and brown. Once that dried I hand drew an anchor (Hebrews 6:19 is one of my favorite verses) and then painted it black.
 
Cost: $0

The wooden "GRACE" sign used to be in my laundry room as lost socks sign and it kept breaking so I painted the entire thing dark turquoise then stenciled "grace" in white. And by stencil, I mean I printed out the letters, traced them and then carefully hand-painted it. I drilled 2 holes in the back so it could be hung.
 
Cost: $0
 
The Family sign was one of the wall pieces my friend let me have.
 
Cost: $0

The "M" was purchased 3 years ago from Michaels. It came white and I distressed it by sanding the edges and painting it with coffee. The frame was also purchased 3 years ago and was silver at the time (no idea why I thought that would go in my house). This I simply painted the same color as the "grace" sign.
 
Cost: $0
 
The bottom wood sign I made in about 5 minutes. With children awake. It's a piece of scrap wood leftover from a bench my husband built. I sanded it, stained it with the leftover stain. Sanded the edges again to roughen it up a bit. Then I painted the wooden "laugh" and "love" words. Those were originally purchased from Michaels and used for a different [outdoor] project and they kept falling off so they've been tucked away in my craft closet for months. I used hot glue to attach the letters and painted the periods onto the wood. I also drilled 3 holes in the back along the edge about halfway deep so the piece could easily be hung.
 
Cost: $0
 

 
The key on the top was a find at Ross (LOVE that store!).
 
Cost: $10
 
The burlap canvas on the left was another find at Ross.
 
Cost: $18
 
The canvas on the right was painted by the same friends throwing out the other wall pieces. She used more of an aqua color and it was a little to light so I darkened it with the same dark turquoise I used on the other pieces.
 
Cost: $0
 
The bottom "Home" sign was another steal from my friend.
 
Cost: $0
 

I'm wondering what kind of tweaks I'll make to it in the future but for now, I think I'm finally happy. And not bad, only spending $28. Go me! This wall ended up being such a resourceful project because I simply used what I had, altered what I'd been given, and bought two inexpensive pieces to tie it all together. The result is rather eclectic, clean, and very, very me.

Side Note: I have a pretty big acrylic paint selection but when I have trouble finding the right color of paint at a craft store I go to the home improvement store and buy a sample of paint. It's usually about $4 and is quite a bit of paint. The dark turquoise paint you see above was from Home Depot.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Life Isn't Meant to be Comfortable

Meet Rubble.

A little over a month ago, we got a puppy.

It was kind of a stupid idea, really. Sure I love dogs. My husband loves dogs. My kids love dogs. My husband even promised me he’d be really disciplined with training him. And he is, when he’s home. That’s the funny thing about staying home with your husband’s pride and joy – the training, the poop on my new floors , the pee on the carpet, the jumping on the kids, the eating of the children’s toys – that all falls on me.

Joy. Pure joy.

The first week we had him, he was new and cute and loveable. The second week I’d lost my stamina and wanted to burst into tears at any given moment. I became stressed. Tense. Annoyed. I started yelling. Why did we get a dog? Why did we get a puppy? When you have two young children, that just doesn’t seem logical. I clean up enough poop, pee, and break up enough fights throughout the day, thankyouverymuch. [As I write this I’m ignoring the fight over a lego. Really. Because there aren’t enough legos. Ever.]

I wanted to send him back. I wanted to sell him on craigslist and increase his price by $50 so I could at least consider him an investment.

Then I opened my Bible. I didn’t expect God to give me an answer for how to handle my puppy. But I needed something…guidance, strength, patience, peace. And I needed a large dose of it.

I was in Numbers. I’ve heard the story of the Israelites wandering the desert with Moses for decades. They grumbled, they complained, they begged Moses to turn them around so they could go back to Egypt and return to a life of slavery and bondage. All the while they forgot to trust God in the process and believe in His promises.

“Now the people complained about their hardship in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused.” Numbers 11:1

If there was ever a verse that made me feel like a brat, this is one of them. Look at my life. Sure I know many people much more affluent than me – some friends have nicer cars, nicer clothes, bigger houses, a nanny. But honestly, we live a great life, a fulfilled life, a life full of joy. We have more than enough of everything even when we believe in our minds that we need something more.

And I’m not wandering in the desert. With nothing but what I can carry on my shoulders. With two young children saying they are bored or tired or cold or hot or hungry. I mean, can you imagine? And these were God’s chosen people. He was leading them to a place much better than any of them could have ever imagined, to the land of milk and honey. And yet, they had virtually nothing (by American standards).

But they had enough. Manna fell from Heavens high. [Exodus 16:4-5] And when they complained, God sent them quail. [Numbers 11:31]

How often do I complain…er…beg for God to send me more. “Give me something else!” “If only I have that, I can deal with this!” Whine. Whine. Whine. Nag. Nag. Nag. Complain. Complain….

I have to wonder how often God has been angry with me. Truthfully, I feel entitled, materialistically competitive, and I give in to the desires of the flesh even when I hear Jesus whispers, “Careful…” Numbers 14:18 says, “The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving in sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished…”

I am not slow to anger. My frustration rises faster than the dog can finish eating Maci’s corndog…off her plate. I sin and rebel every day. I know Truth and I understand Truth but still my bones ache for things of this world. God has enriched my life with love, hope, and joy. I’ve also been fortunate enough to live a life of luxury. Honestly. We have a roof over our heads, food in our pantry, central air in the summer, and heat in the winter. Why do I still want more?

And I don’t deserve any of it. I deserve death. Praise Jesus. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” [Isaiah 53:5]

Now even though in my mind, the Israelites had every right to complain. (I mean, put yourself in those conditions.) That’s not the point. The point is life isn’t meant to be comfortable. Life isn’t supposed to be easy. When things are comfortable and easy, we get complacent. And when that happens we forget to lean on Jesus. He is our strength. He is our treasure. He is our comforter. He is our peace.

The dog still jumps on the kids and knocks them over. He still eats Maci’s food. He still wakes up an hour earlier than the rest of the family. [But he no longer pees on my floor! Progress!] But so what. If my only complaint/frustration in my life right now is an adorable puppy picking fights with my 2 and 3 year old, then my perspective on life is totally twisted.

It’s funny how God can use a firecracker of a fur ball and something that happened 3,500 years ago to snap me back to reality.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Crock Pot Overload | 38 Meals for $295

Okay, I went a little bananas this round of cooking. My husband said to me, "How do you come up with the weirdest numbers? Like why don't you just do 20 or 30?" The truth is, I don't say I'm going to do x amount of meals. My process is simply writing down meals I want to do. Then when the list is done, I go through and count, multiply it by two (because I usually make two of everything). This time I made 38 meals. 28 crock pot. 10 freezer. I shopped and Winco and spent $295. That comes out to about $7.75 per meal including tax.


(PS - I haven't been paying attention to my blog this summer. So, I apologize to those of you leaving comments that got responses weeks and months late.)

As a fair [and obvious] warning, this is a lot of food. Like, so much I thought my cart was going to break as I wheeled through the aisles. I even hesitated at check out about a few meals. But, I was committed. I pulled through. And I was rolling deep on the way home. :)

Here we go...

Menu |

Chicken Fajitas (2)
Beef Stroganoff (2)
Sausage & Peppers Subs (2)
Sweet Chili Chicken (2)
Spaghetti Sauce (2)
Creamy Tomato & Pesto Pasta Sauce (2)
Quinoa Chili (2)
Bacon Potato Soup (2)
PF Chang's Copycat Lettuce Wraps (2)
Hawaiian Pulled Pork (2)
Honey Apple Pork Loin (2)
Minestrone Soup (2)
Creamy Dumplings (2)
Zuppa Tuscana (2)
Dirty Rice (2) - Freezer
Mac & Cheese (2) - Freezer
Shepherd's Pie (2) - Freezer
Chicken Fettuccine (2) - Freezer
Lasagna (2) - Freezer


Grocery List |

Meat:
3 bags of chicken breasts
1 large (3 lb.-ish) package of beef strips or cubes
8 lbs. ground Italian sausage
10 lbs. ground beef
2 packages of bacon
1 12-15 lb. pork loin (will be cut into 4)

Seasoning & Sauces:
2 Fajita seasoning packets
2 stroganoff seasoning packets
1 bottle red wine (I chose pinot noir)
1 bottle of Sweet Chile sauce (next to the teriyaki sauce)
1 large bottle of teriyaki sauce
4 bottles of BBQ sauce
1 bottle of honey
Dried Basil
Bay Leaves
Rice Vinegar
Garlic or Garlic powder
Chili Powder
Rubbed Sage
Oregano
Red pepper flakes
Brown Sugar
Montreal Steak Seasoning
Olive Oil
Onion Powder
Salt and Pepper

Produce:
2 green bell peppers
2 red bell peppers
1 orange bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
3 sweet onions
2 heads of broccoli
2 apples
1 bag large carrots (you'll need about 4-6)
1 stalk of celery
2 zucchinis
1 bag of baby spinach
6 potatoes (I used yellow)

Canned goods:
2 jars pesto sauce
8 cans marinara sauce
2 cans tomato paste
6 cans diced tomatoes
2 cans black beans
2 cans kidney beans
6 cans corn
4 cans cream of chicken
8 cartons of chicken broth
2 cans pineapple chunks
2 cans cannellini beans
2 cans of cheddar cheese soup
2 cans green beans
2 jars of Alfredo sauce

Freezer:
2 bags hash browns

Dairy:
3 packages cream cheese
4 small cartons of heavy cream
1 container of ricotta
2 large bags of sprinkle cheese (I used a Colby and cheddar mix)

Dried foods:
4 cups of brown rice (from the bulk section)
2 cup quinoa (from the bulk section)
2 packages instant mashed potatoes
Ditalini pasta noodles
2 packages of macaroni noodles
2 boxes fettuccine noodles
2 boxes of lasagna noodles
2 boxes of egg noodles
2 packages of spaghetti noodles
2 packages of tortillas
2 packages of hoagies

Other:
Gallon sized freezer bags
8 disposable trays
Slow Cooker bags (you might as well have some handy!)


When you get home...
1. Begin cooking ALL of the ground sausage and ALL of the ground beef (I cooked the beef in the crock pot on high while I put everything else together and did those meals last).
2. Defrost 3 large chicken breasts to cook for the fettuccine. Once defrosted, season up with garlic, salt, and pepper and pan fry.
3. Begin cooking noodles. You will need to cook the fettuccine, lasagna and macaroni noodles ONLY. The egg noodles, spaghetti noodles, and ditalini noodles are for the pantry to be used later.
4. Wash and prep produce. 1 onion and the orange, yellow, and one of the red peppers need to be cut in slices. The green pepper, other red pepper, and onion need to be diced. Cut up the potatoes in bite-sized chunks, the broccoli into florets, the carrots, celery and zucchini into bite-sized pieces, and the apples into thin slices.

Now start prepping...

Recipes |


Chicken Fajitas (2)
3 large chicken breasts
1/2 yellow pepper
1/2 red pepper
1/2 orange pepper
1/2 sweet onion
1 packet of fajita seasoning
1 cup water

8 hours on low
Update: These are good. I prefer thawing them and grilling them as opposed to slow cooking which turns them into shredded chicken tacos.

Beef Stroganoff (2)
1/2 (approximately 1.5 lbs.) of the beef cubes
1 package cream cheese
1 packet stroganoff seasoning
1 cup water
1 handful or so of diced onion

8 hours on low
Serve over the egg noodles in your pantry
Update: Yum.

Sausage & Peppers Subs (2) This one is a WINNER WINNER with my kids!

1 lb. cooked ground sausage
1 diced green pepper
1/2 diced red pepper
1/2 the bottle of red wine

8 hours on low
Serve on the hoagies you will freeze with the meals.
Update: Yum. Great crowd pleaser.

Sweet Chili Chicken (2)
4 chicken breasts
1/2 bottle of sweet chili sauce
1 cup water
1 cup teriyaki sauce
garlic powder
1 head of broccoli florets

8 hours on low
Serve over rice.
Update: My husband loves this. Add the broccoli during the last hour to 30 minutes. It gets too soggy otherwise.

Spaghetti Sauce (2)
1 bottle marinara sauce
1 can tomato paste
1 can diced tomatoes
1 lb. cooked ground beef
1 lb. cooked ground Italian sausage
1 tsp. pepper flakes
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
Garlic Powder
Basil
1 bay leaf

8 hours on low
Serve over the spaghetti in your pantry.
Update: Yum.

Creamy Tomato & Pesto Pasta Sauce (2) Got this idea from Jen Hatmaker.
1 carton heavy cream
1 jar pesto
1 jar marinara sauce
1 lb. (approx.) cooked ground sausage

8 hours on low
Serve over noodles.
Update: Yum.

Quinoa Chili (2)
1 cup rinsed quinoa
1 cup water
1 can marinara/tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can corn
1 can rinsed black beans
1 can rinsed kidney beans
1/2 Tbsp. chili powder
1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar
Garlic

8 hours on low
Update: Yum.

Bacon Potato Soup (2) This is Maci's FAVORITE SOUP!
1 carton chicken broth
1 bag hash browns
1 can cream of chicken
1 package cream cheese
1 can corn
Salt & Pepper
Basil
Bacon - to freeze

8 hours on low.
Cook bacon separately and crumble on top with chives, cheese, sour cream and all that yumminess.
Update: Seriously. Yum.

PF Chang's Copycat Lettuce Wraps (2)
3 chicken breasts
About 1-2 cups teriyaki sauce
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
Garlic Powder

8 hours on low
Shred and serve in iceberg lettuce cups.
Update: Yum.

Hawaiian Pulled Pork (2)
1/4 of the large pork loin (or a 2-5 lb. pork loin)
1 can pineapple chunks with juice
1 bottle BBQ sauce

8 hours on low
Update: Make sure you get a good BBQ - I prefer one on the sweet side to balance the tanginess of the pineapple.

Honey Apple Pork Loin (2)

1/4 of the large pork loin (or a 2-5 lb. pork loin)
Cut slices every inch in the loin without going all the way through
Stuff Apple slices in the cuts
Rub loin with sage, salt, pepper, and garlic
Drizzle with half the bottle of honey

8 hours on low
Update: Yum.

Minestrone Soup (2)
1 carton chicken broth
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can rinsed cannellini beans
1/2 the chopped celery stalk
2-3 chopped carrots
1-2 handfuls of diced onion
1/4 of the bag of spinach
1 bay leaf
Rubbed sage
Salt and Pepper

8 hours on low
Add the ditalini pasta 30 minutes before the soup is done cooking.
Update: I'm not too big on soup but I did receive quite a few compliments on this one so it's a keeper.

Creamy Dumplings (2)
1 carton chicken broth
2 large tortillas ripped into 2 inch pieces
1 can cream of chicken
1 can corn
Salt and Pepper
Basil

8 hours on low
Add cooked chicken or ham if you would like.
Update: This one tastes good but the dumplings were too big. Make sure you rip the tortillas into smaller pieces.

Zuppa Tuscana (2)
1 carton chicken broth
1 carton heavy cream
1/4 bag of spinach
2-3 chopped carrots
1-2 handfuls of diced onion
1 lb. (approx.) of cooked ground sausage
Basil
Salt and Pepper
Garlic

8 hours on low
Update: Yum.

Dirty Rice (2) - Freezer
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 Tbsp. (at least) of Montreal Steak seasoning
1 lb. (approx.) cooked ground beef
3-4 Tbsp. olive oil

Update: Yum. A husband favorite.

Mac & Cheese (2) - Freezer
1 cooked package of macaroni noodles
1 cup milk
2 can cheddar cheese soup
1/2 bag of spinkle cheese
Garlic
Salt and Pepper

Place in tray, top with cheese. If frozen, cook for about an hour at 350 degrees. Or 30 minutes if thawed.
Update: Yum. A husband favorite. Kids too.

Shepherd's Pie (2) - Freezer
Place 2 lbs. of cooked ground beef on the bottom of a tray
Drizzle an entire bottle of BBQ sauce on top
Layer one can of green beans
Spread 2 cups of prepared mashed potatoes over the beans and meat
Top with cheese

If frozen, cook for about an hour at 350 degrees. Or 30 minutes if thawed.
Update: Yum. A husband favorite.

Chicken Fettuccine (2) - Freezer
1 package cooked fettuccine noodles in a tray
Cubed the cooked chicken breasts, add half to each dinner
Top with 1 jar of Alfredo sauce

If frozen, cook for about an hour at 350 degrees. Or 30 minutes if thawed.
Update: Don't put this in a tray, just dump it in a bag. The tray made it get a little freezer burn. :(

Lasagna (2) - Freezer
Layer noodles, cooked ground beef, ricotta, marinara sauce, and sprinkle cheese.
Repeat about 3 times per lasagna.

If frozen, cook for about an hour at 350 degrees. Or 30 minutes if thawed.
Update: Yum.


I know, it's a lot. But guess who's got dinner covered for the next 5 weeks?? --->>This girl!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Learning to Self-Feed

I have a confession. Last fall Darren and I talked about leaving our church. A few things made us feel like that might be a possibility - we didn't like the series we were on, I didn't really care for the study I was doing in my small group, the friends we hang out with often go to different churches, our friends are pastors at other churches, etc. There wasn't anything big or crazy that happened, there was just something pulling at my heart saying maybe this isn't where we need to be. So we prayed about it. Quietly. But dog-gonnit, I prayed every day Jesus would make it clear to me. And He did.

Hear my prayer, LORD, listen to my cry for help. Psalm 39:12

Sometime in October or November, our pastor called me to ask Darren and I to lead a young couples social group for the church. Say whaaaat? He picked us? Out of the whole church. Are you sure? No, we weren't the only couple on the list but we were on it. He wanted us to lead. Jesus was calling us to lead.

Maybe some of you are born leaders (my husband is) but I am not. I don't like attention. I hate speaking in front of groups even when I want to. (You know that saying, "Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes"? It is so me.) I broke out in hives at our wedding, not because I was nervous to marry Darren or because I got stung by a bee. TWICE. Up my dress. But because there were a lot of people there. Looking at me. Listening to me. That scares me.

We felt good about staying at High Pointe. I even felt relief. There's something peaceful about Jesus saying, "No, child. You are right where I need you to be."

When my small group starting a new study this last January, I was still feeling a little frustrated. I LOVE that entire group of women, do not misunderstand. But the study was not enough. After our meetings on Friday, I was still hungry. After church on Sunday, I was still hungry. I needed more and I was blaming it on other people. "Pastor Kevin isn't feeding me enough!" "This study isn't enough!" "This series isn't enough" "Maybe this church isn't enough?"

What I realized is it's not up to other people to fill me with the Holy Spirit. Yes, pastors and leaders can be great influences and teachers and they are very important. But at the end of the day, it's my relationship with Jesus that is the foundation for my life. Not my church attendance. Not the sermon I heard or the Bible study I read. Me. It is my responsibility to seek God with my whole heart, every day. No one can do that for me.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13

I needed to learn to self-feed. So I did. I prayed more than ever. I read the Bible more than ever. I searched God's Word for what He wanted me to hear. There I was; listening. That's the thing about learning to spiritually feed yourself. It's like every time I open God's word there is a message written just for me.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24

Come June, I had finished reading the entire New Testament (I could read it over and over) and my small group leader approached me about starting my own group. Crazy. So now I plan to. I'm not saying my voice won't shake. Or I won't break out in hives. Or that I have all the answers. But I know where to find them. And I'll search and dig and read and pray until I am full; until my thirst has been quenched.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations. Matthew 28:19

Saturday, July 12, 2014

28 Summer Meals for $180

As much as I loved my last round of grill-ready meals, I really missed my crock pot. So for this round most of the meals are cooked in the crock pot (a few can cook in the crock pot or grill) and all are great summer meal options. I did 28 meals for $180 ($6.40/meal).

So here it goes....

MENU |
2 BBQ Ribs Two Ways
2 BBQ Meatballs
2 Chili
2 Chicken Taco Soup
2 Pulled Pork
2 Tavern Style Pork Loin
2 Ranch Pork Chops & Potatoes
2 Cilantro Lime Chicken
2 Italian Sausage & Peppers
2 Zesty Herb Chicken & Peppers
2 Smoked Sausage, Sweet Onion & Pepper Kabobs
2 Mango Salsa Chicken
2 Roast Beef Au Jus
2 Creamy Tortellini Soup

GROCERY LIST |

Seasoning and Sauces:
2 Alfredo Sauce Packets
2 Roast Beef Au Jus Seasoning Packets
2 Zesty Herb Seasoning Packets
1 Slower Cooker Tavern Style Roast Marinade
2 Ranch Seasoning Packets
2 taco seasoning
5 bottles BBQ sauce
2 chili seasoning
1 smoked applewood seasoning packet

Produce:
2 packages of sliced mushrooms
1 sweet onion
8 green peppers
6 red peppers
1 bunch cilantro
2 limes
1 bag red potatoes

Refrigerator:
1 container mango salsa
1 container medium salsa
2 packages of cream cheese (8 oz.)

Meat & Poultry:
3 bags frozen chicken breasts
2 Packages Roast Beef
2 Packages Italian Sausage
8 pork chops
1 10-12 lb. pork loin (will be cut in four)
3 lbs. ground beef
2 bags meatballs
1 rack of ribs (to be cut in half)

Dried Goods:
2 packages tortellini (I used fresh but dried would work)
2 cups brown rice
4 packages of hoagies to freeze
2 packages tortillas to freeze

Canned Goods:
3 Cartons of Chicken Broth
2 can evaporated milk
2 cans corn
4 cans tomatoes
6 cans tomato sauce
4 cans black beans
2 cans kidney beans

Gallon-sized bags (always get these)

Other items in my pantry:
EVOO
Lemon Pepper
Garlic Powder
Dried Basil

Once home, open cans, rinse beans, slice onion, cut peppers in large chunks and place in one large bowl (red and green), quarter limes, chop cilantro, cube potatoes, and cook ground beef. Then label bags and get ready to dump.

RECIPES |

BBQ Ribs Two Ways

1/2 rack of ribs with 1 bottle of BBQ sauce
1/2 rack of ribs with the applewood seasoning packet + 1 cup water

8 on low, 4 on high...or grill
Update: Yum.

BBQ Meatballs
1 bag frozen meatballs
1 bottle BBQ sauce

2-3 hours on low
Freeze hoagies with this meal
Update: Do not overcook this! BBQ Sauce will burn.

Chili
1.5 lbs. cooked ground beef
2 cans tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can kidney beans
1 can black beans
1 chili seasoning packet
1 Tbsp. brown sugar

8 on low, 4 on high (throw on some hotdogs if you wish)
Update: Yum.

Chicken Taco Soup
1 carton chicken broth
1 can tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can corn
2 chicken breasts
1 can black beans
1 Taco seasoning packet

8 on low, 4 on high (shred chicken when done)
Update: Yum.

Pulled Pork
1/4 of the loin
1 bottle BBQ sauce

8 on low, 4 on high
Update: Yum.

Tavern Style Pork Loin
1/2 of the slow cooker pouch (Tavern Style Roast flavor)
1/4 of the loin

8 on low, 4 on high
Update: This was not my favorite flavor but it wasn't bad.

Ranch Pork Chops & Potatoes
4 chops
4-6 potatoes (whole or cubed)
1 packet ranch seasoning
Drizzle with EVOO
1 cup water (if cooking in crock pot)

8 on low, 4 on high
Update: This is a good one!

Cilantro Lime Chicken
4 chicken breasts
1/2 bunch cilantro
1 lime, squeezed and quartered
1/2 Tbsp. Lemon Pepper
1/2 Tbsp. garlic powder
drizzle EVOO

8 on low, 4 on high (add 1 cup water) or grill
Update: Yum.

Italian Sausage & Peppers

1 package Italian sausage
A couple handfuls of chopped peppers (red and green, about 2 cups)
Drizzle EVOO
Basil and Garlic Powder to taste

8 on low, 4 on high or grill
Update: Yum.

Zesty Herb Chicken & Peppers
4 chicken breasts
A handful of peppers (red and green, about 1 cup)
Drizzle EVOO

8 on low, 4 on high (add 1 cup water) or grill
Update: Yum.

Smoked Sausage, Sweet Onion & Pepper Kabobs
1 smoked sausage link, sliced
1 sweet onion, cut in chunks
1 handful peppers (about 1 cup)
Garlic Powder and Pepper to taste

Make into kabobs and grill
Update: This was pretty good. Freezing the veggies made them less crisp though, FYI.

Mango Salsa Chicken
1/2 container medium salsa
1/2 container mango salsa
1 8 oz. package cream cheese
4 chicken breasts

8 on low, 4 on high
Serve on tortillas or chips (freeze tortillas with this meal)
Update: Yum.

Roast Beef Au Jus
1 package roast beef
1 package au jus + 2 cups water

6 on low, 3 on high (serve on hoagies with cheese)
Freeze hoagies with this meal
Update: Yum. Kids love this.

Creamy Tortellini Soup
1/2 carton chicken broth
1 can evaporated milk
1 alfredo seasoning/sauce packet
1 container of sliced mushrooms

6 on low, 3 on high
Freeze tortellini with this meal, add 30 minutes prior to serving OR cook separately.
Update: This is one of my least favorite meals. I think the mushrooms made it taste funny. That made me sad.

Done & done.

Freeze the meals and pull them out when needed. I typically plan out my meals for the week and put them in the refrigerator so they will defrost before cooking (especially for the large meat cuts) though it's not completely necessary.

Happy crock potting!

Monday, April 21, 2014

24 Summer|Grill-Ready Meals for $140


Everyone knows I love my crock pot. I mean, do I really have to say it anymore? But I also love my grill. Especially during the Spring and Summer months. I like to take full advantage of grilling. It's so easy to make healthy meals with the grill and clean up is always pretty easy too - my kind of cooking! So for this round of freezer cooking I made 24 grill-ready (that could also be put in the crock pot or oven) and summer favorites for $140. All of these meals with exception of the beer chicken are also GLUTEN-FREE.

One of the great things about freezing grilling meat with the seasoning (besides that it's easy) is that as the meat defrosts, the meat marinates and soaks up all the flavors. The entire process took me 3 hours (and both my children were here and awake without my husband home to help entertain). Success!

Menu |

2 Cilantro Lime Chicken
2 Smokey Mesquite Chicken
2 Baja Citrus Chicken
2 Ranch Pork Chops
2 Italian Sausage & Peppers
2 Beef & Veggie Kabobs
2 Honey Crips Apple Beer Chicken
2 Smoked Sausage, Potato & Veggie Roast
2 Dirty Rice
2 Smoked Sausage Dirty Rice
2 Bacon Wrapped Pork Roast
2 Spaghetti Sauce

Shopping List |

Meat:
2 lbs. ground sausage
5 lbs. ground beef
4 bags frozen chicken breasts
2 pork roasts (or loins)
1 package bacon
8 pork chops
2 packages Italian sausage links
2 (2-3 lbs.) packages of cubed beef
4 large smoked sausage links

Produce:
1 bunch cilantro
2 limes
8 green bell peppers
2 red bell peppers
6 zucchinis
1 3 lbs. bag of red potatoes
2 large sweet potatoes
1 head of broccoli

Canned Goods:
4 cans tomato sauce
2 cans tomatoes
2 cans tomato paste

Seasoning:
2 packets "Baja Citrus" seasoning
2 packets Ranch seasoning
Smokey Mesquite seasoning
Lemon Pepper
Garlic Powder
Montreal Steak Seasoning
Brown Sugar
Basil
Smoked Paprika
Cayenne Pepper
Salt & Pepper

Beverages:
1 bottle of Shock Top Honey Crisp Apple Wheat Beer (I got a six pack (because I don't mind if I do!) and only used one for these meals)

Dried Goods:
8 cups of brown rice

Other:
1 box of gallon-sized plastic bags
2 foil cake trays

Once I got home, I put all 5 lbs. of ground beef in the crock pot on high. By the time I finished all the other meals it was cooked so I added that last. I also cooked the ground sausage on the stove top and got all 8 cups of the brown rice in the rice cooker. While those 3 things were cooking I washed and chopped all my veggies and fresh produce. (Note: I cute the lime in fourths, gave the cilantro a rough chop, diced only 2 green peppers, and cut the other peppers into strips. All other produce was washed and cut into big chunks.)
Then I labeled all of my bags. The Smoked Sausage, Potato & Veggie Roasts will go in the trays, everything else in baggies.

Then dump.

Recipes |

Cilantro Lime Chicken
4 chicken breasts
1/2 lime (squeezed and left in the bag)
1/4 of the cilantro bunch
1 Tbsp. of lemon pepper
1 tsp. of garlic powder
Drizzle with EVOO and shake

Thaw & grill or cook in the crock pot on low for 6-7 hours.
Update: Yum.

Smokey Mesquite Chicken
4 chicken breasts
1 Tbsp. Smokey Mesquite seasoning
Drizzle with EVOO and shake

Thaw & grill or cook in the crock pot on low for 6-7 hours.
Update: Yum.

Baja Citrus Chicken
4 chicken breasts
1/4 of the cilantro bunch
1/2 lime (squeezed and left in the bag)
1 Baja Citrus seasoning packet mixed with 1/2 water

Thaw & grill or cook in the crock pot on low for 6-7 hours.
Update: Yum.

Ranch Pork Chops
4 pork chops
1 packet ranch seasoning mixed with 1/2 water

Thaw & grill or cook in the crock pot on low for 6-7 hours.
Update: Yum.

Italian Sausage & Peppers
1 package Italian Sausage
1 sliced red bell pepper
2 sliced green peppers
Garlic Powder to taste
Basil to taste
Drizzle with EVOO

Thaw & grill or cook in the crock pot on low for 6-7 hours.
Update: Yum.

Beef & Veggie Kabobs
2 sliced zucchinis
1 package of cubed beef
Add garlic powder (1/2 Tbsp.), smoked paprika (1 tsp.), cayenne pepper (1 tsp.), sea salt & pepper (to taste)
Drizzle with EVOO

Thaw, put on kabobs & grill.
Update: Yum for the beef. Zucchini doesn't freeze well unless it's in a soup.

Honey Crips Apple Beer Chicken
4 chicken breasts
1/2 bottle of Shock Top Honey Crisp Apple Wheat Beer
1/2 Tbsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Thaw & grill or cook in the crock pot on low for 6-7 hours.
Update: Don't put this in the crock pot. Not a good idea. If you like beer chicken this is a great recipe.

Smoked Sausage, Potato & Veggie Roast
1 smoked sausage, sliced
1.5 lbs. red potatoes, quartered
1 sweet potato, cubed
1 sliced zucchini
1/2 head of broccoli
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1/2 Tbsp. basil
Salt and pepper to taste
Drizzle with EVOO

Toss with your hands before covering and freezing. Thaw and cook in the oven at 400 degrees for 50 minutes to an hour. I have a friend that grills a dish similar to this and it's pretty awesome too.
Update: This doesn't freeze well. If you make it fresh, it is the BOMB. Instead just buy the smoked sausage and frozen broccoli and freeze together. The day you want to make it, add fresh potatoes and veggies. Trust me.

Dirty Rice
2 cups cooked brown rice
1.5 pounds cooked ground beef
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1 Tbsp. (at least) of Montreal Steak Seasoning
Drizzle with EVOO

Thaw and warm in a skillet, enjoy.
Update: Yum.

Smoked Sausage Dirty Rice
1 sliced smoked sausage (I used regular smoked turkey sausage but spicy sausage is really good too)
1/2 bell pepper, diced
1 Tbsp. Montreal Steak Seasoning
Drizzle with EVOO

Thaw and warm in a skillet, enjoy.
Update: Yum.

Bacon Wrapped Pork Roast
1 pork roast
Rub 1 Tbsp. of Smokey Mesquite Seasoning on the roast
Wrap in 1/2 the package of bacon
Rub 1/2 Tbsp. of brown sugar on top of the bacon

Cook on low in the crock pot for 8 hours.
Update: Yum.

Spaghetti Sauce
2 cans tomato sauce
1 can drained tomatoes (diced or crushed)
1 can paste
1 lb. cooked Italian sausage
1 lb. cooked ground beef
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 Tbsp. Basil
1/2 Tbsp. Oregano
1/2 Tbsp. Garlic Powder

Cook on low for 6-8 hours.
Update: Yum.

Done & done.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Peanut Butter Protein Balls


I've seen many different versions of these on Pinterest and wanted to share the version I made that were SO yummy. A great healthy treat that tastes like cookie dough. Everyone will love these - kids included.

In a bowl, mix:

1 cup oats
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup honey
1 scoop vanilla protein powder
1 handful dark chocolate chips.
1/3 cup flax seed

Once everything is mixed, roll into balls and keep in the refrigerator.

Enjoy!

Mama's PICs

Ok. Recipe break. Let me just take a moment to give an update on these cute faces shown above. After all, that is the reason I started this blog way back when. I must say we are in a smooth sailing zone with these two. Sure, I have some bad days. Some moments are still r-r-rough! But, this is it. This is the stage of life where Isaiah and Maci become friends, they play together by themselves more often than me having to separately entertain them. They are my buddies, my comrades, my PICs. Yes, they still try to swallow me whole but for the most part I find these pockets of time in the day where I can, dare I say, go pee all by myself. Awesome.

Maci is feisty. She is hilarious. She is dramatic. 100% girl. Our hands are full with this one but she oh so sweet and snuggly and loving and smart. She puts herself in time out when she needs to, she loves helping me do my makeup, she loves taking care of her babies and jumping on the trampoline. She loves to blow bubbles and hunt in the dirt for worms. She's talking more and more. Still, many of her words are her own version but I understand her...most of the time. She loves to dance and has incredible rhythm. No really, this girl has moves. Her favorite songs are "The Way You Are," "Marry You," and "Talking to the Moon" by Bruno Mars. She's also a big fan of her brother and I'm so proud of how much he looks out for her. {Seriously, if someone is bugging her, he'll be the first to tell them, "Stop. You're making Maci nervous."}

Isaiah. Oh my. Where to begin? He is so much fun. He is sweet and reasonable and smart and funny and strong. The things he says are incredible. The other day he was showing me his art project from Sunday school. "It's a burning bush," he says. "Why was it on fire?" I tell him because that's how God wanted to talk to Moses. He says, "So Moses growed up from when he was a baby in the basket?" Then the other day he was burying his toy goat in rocks then pulling the goat out and saying, "He is risen!" I love how his brain works and how honest he is. I love seeing his sweet little hands fold in prayer with his eyes scrunched closed as he thanks Jesus for mommy and daddy and Maci and Skylanders [sigh]. He is full of life. He loves toddler gym, sports class, dirt, climbing, running, Skylanders, and Legos. He's still a mama's boy but loves to "wessel" with daddy.

We've been so thankful for the sunshine we've had lately. C'mon summer!

Cool shades, man.

I'm so thankful my kids love dirt. They have permanent dirt under their finger nails - a sign of great childhood! ;)

Darren and I escaped to San Diego the other weekend. He was there all week for work and I came for two nights. It was so much fun to enjoy the city we used to call home, see some (but not enough) of our friends, and eat, eat, eat some amazing, authentic Mexican food. Oh, and it was nice to get away from the kids a little bit and have some alone time. I was nervous. So nervous, I could have cried. But the kids were totally fine. I knew Isaiah would be but since Maci is my shadow I thought she might have a rough time. Nope. I guess my kids are more well adjusted than I thought. We must be doing something right.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose. | Romans 8:28


Monday, March 17, 2014

Crock Pot Spaghetti Sauce with Zucchini Noodles


Whether you’re a working or SAHM mom, dinner time can be a struggle. After a day filled with the busyness of life, getting a hardy and healthy meal on the table for pallets young and old can be challenging.

Thankfully, there is always spaghetti. Everyone knows how to make spaghetti. It’s the ultimate easy, cheap comfort food. And I must say my spaghetti sauce has turned into something pretty spectacular. And, of course, it’s super simple and made in the crock pot – something I use more often than my black, stretchy pants. Here is a simple and healthy gluten-free meal the whole family will love that begins and ends with a crock pot.

Spaghetti Sauce:
2 cans tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1 can tomato paste
1 lb. cooked ground Italian sausage (I use mild but sweet or spicey works depending on your preference)
1 lb. cooked ground beef (or another pound of Italian sausage)
**be sure to drain the excess oil from the cooked meat
1 tsp. Basil
1 tsp. Oregano
2 cloves of minced garlic
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
Sea salt to taste

Throw it all in the crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Want to make your life super easy? Make sure to get slow cooker liners to make clean up a breeze. You can find them at any grocer next to plastic baggies.

Zucchini Noodles:

Along with the big wave of gluten-free and Paleo eating, there are a lot of recipes circulating that include vegetable noodles and I had to try it out. Using spiral vegetable slicers (I bought mine on Amazon for about $30), you can make noodles out of just about anything – carrots, potatoes, zucchinis…you name it. I knew these noodles would be flavorful but I didn’t realize they’d be so filling. The best part is my kids love them too. My 3 year old boy was pretty excited to see green, monster noodles on his plate. 
They are also a lot simpler to make than you might think. Many recipes say to let zucchini noodles simmer in water to cook them. I find that method to make them too watery. I prefer sautéing them. Here’s how…

You will need –
Spiral Vegetable Slicer
4 zucchinis (approximately)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil

It will probably take about 4 zucchinis to feed the average family. When I’m making this meal I usually think one zucchini per person, so there’s always enough. Using a spiral vegetable slicer, cut the zucchinis into noodles. Once you’ve twisted the zucchinis as far in as you can, take the end of the zucchini and chop it up and throw it in the sauce (no need to waste it).

When I’ve sliced up all my zucchinis, I take a paper towel and gently squeeze the noodles to get any extra water out. Then heat a sauce pan over medium heat. Add 2 Tbsp. of olive oil (give or take) and two cloves of minced garlic. After a minute or so, gently add the noodles and lightly toss them with a teaspoon of pepper until they have been lightly cooked. Be careful not to overcook them. Zucchinis can get very mushy if over cooked.

Serve warm topped with spaghetti sauce, add parmesan cheese if desired, and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

10 [mostly] FREE Rainy Day Outings

Rain, rain. Go away.

I'm someone who just so happens to love the rain. The sound. The smell. The fact that I don't have to remember to water my flowers. Rain, in my mind, is great. But I do understand that rain...constant rain...can be a problem when you have kids. Not only is going outside an important part of development but getting out of the house provides a level of stimulation that tires my kids out enough to have a quiet afternoon, which something (as I'm sure you can relate) I need.

Here in Washington, we get plenty of rain. Especially during January - April. These are honestly tough months (and this is coming from someone who prefers living in Washington over Southern California). But if there's one thing I've learned as a mom, it's how to improvise. I've used Pinterest to get some great rainy day indoor activities (many of which are fabulous) but sometimes (or most of the time) I just need to get out of the house before I lose my ever-loving mind.

Here is my list of [mostly] FREE Top 10 Rainy Day Outings |

1. Target. Or Toys R Us or wherever else they have boat load of toys. You don't have to be there to buy anything. Most of the time we don't (yay self control). We simply go, walk around and I let the kids look at toys for a while. No, it isn't a ton of exercise but remember, kids are little. A few aisles of toys and books can provide at least an hour of entertainment and stimulation.

2. The library. Most public libraries have a great kids section...not just books but toys too. The library near us even has puppet show stage. They also have story time and even free classes (usually done by the local children's museum).

3. Petsmart. We love to go here! Or any other pet store. We usually spend all our time looking at the gerbils and rats and guinea pigs then we make our way to the fish, the cats up for adoption, and then we'll watch the doggies get groomed. We love the pet store.

4. Hunting Stores. Okay, this might sound crazy to some of you but hunting stores are really cool for kids. If you live near a Cabela's, lucky you! The animal display at those stores are always fun for kids to look at and even educational because we get to talk about a different array of animals. We don't live near one but we'll go to Sportsman Wearhouse and check out their animals. Isaiah especially loves the plastic ducks.

5. Wiggle Works and the like. Wiggle Works is a great place to take your toddlers and preschoolers. Don't have one? Think Jumpin' Jack and Jill's or Pump It Up! or Piper's Playground. Any indoor get the crazy wiggles out of your body playground/bounce house type place. These places do cost money - typically $5-10 per child depending on where you go. We love these types of places but we treat them as special occasions in an attempt to not go broke.

6. The Children's Museum. If you have one near you, look it up! These museums are great and most of the time are completely different city to city. Most are free but ask for a donation at the door. They also will not let anyone in without kids (much like the places in #5). This always eases my mind a little as it can be difficult keeping track of two youngin's.

7. McDonald's Play Place. No, probably not to eat (I prefer not eating fast food, anyway). Bring a sack lunch or just snacks and let your kids go crazy in the play place. Awesome.

8. The YMCA. I'm always telling my mama friends to get their kids a Y membership. It is seriously the biggest bang for your buck. I pay $35/month for Isaiah's and it includes ALL the classes he wants to take. We do Toddler Gym (where they can run around in the foam pits, jump on trampolines, climb crazy obstacle courses, then do songs for circle time), Sports Class (basically PE for preschoolers), and swimming lessons or free swim. And there are more...so many more. I know some moms stay there all morning going class to class, working out themselves, and having snacks in the common areas. It's a lot of fun and I've met some great moms this way too.

9. The garage. Haha. No, but really. Sometimes I'll get out the side walk chalk, clear out the cars, and let the kids scribble or do bubbles or ride their tricycles in circles. I'll even them "drive" and just play in my car too. As long as your garage is safe (i.e. gasoline cans, tools, etc. are out of reach and you're supervising carefully), put their coats on and let them play.

10. Puddle Jumping. When all else fails, put on their rubber boots and let them stomp in some puddles. They will get muddy, they will get wet, you will get muddy and wet, but they will have fun! And you'll probably have fun watching them. And you know what else? They'll probably get tired. And then they'll rest. And then you can have a nice quiet afternoon. Isn't that treat?

What are your favorite rainy day outings?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Crock Pot Recipe of the Week | Meatless Quinoa Chili


Of all the meals I did for the round of 30 gluten-free meals, this one I was the most nervous about. Mostly because I had never made it before and also because my husband isn't a big fan of quinoa. (I know, I know. Shame on him.) Anyway, when I tried it out this last week, we were all pleasantly surprised and satisfied.

Whether you observe meatless Fridays during Lent, are a vegetarian or simply are looking for a meatless, protein-packed meal, this dish is just the ticket. Simple. Tasty. And made in the crock pot.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cans tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can corn
1 can kidney beans
1 can black beans
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. Chile powder
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
Approx. .75 lbs. uncooked and RINSED quinoa (this was actually WAY too much quinoa. I forget how much quinoa doubles...er, quadruples in size when cooked. 1/4 lb. when have worked fine!)
**Be sure to rinse the quinoa well! If you don't, I hope you enjoy eating sand. Also, rinse your beans.

DIRECTIONS:

Toss everything in the crock pot and cook on low for 7-8 hours, stirring occasionally. Serve warm. We topped ours with cheese and corn bread.

Enjoy!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

BBQ Chicken Pizza | From Scratch


Our family loves pizza. Who doesn't though? More than anything, we love making pizza dough from scratch. Anytime I can get my littles in the kitchen with me is a blessing. They love it and I love it. This recipe is easy enough to where their little hands can easily help.

I've compared my pizza dough recipe to a few of my friends and they're all basically the same. Here's mine:

1 cup warm water
1 packet active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil

1. Mix the dry yeast and sugar in the cup of warm water. Place aside.
2. Mix the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl.
3. Add the water/yeast/sugar mixer to the bowl along with the olive oil.
4. Mix until it becomes evenly doughy. (I use my hands)

Place a damp towel over the top of the bowl and let it rise for 30 minutes (or more). Roll out on a pizza tray.

Now for the good stuff...

1. Spread barbeque sauce of your choice evenly over the dough. I usually use 1/4 - 1/2 cup.
2. Finely chop 1/4 cup of spinach. Sprinkle half of it on the sauce.
3. Add cheese. I usually prefer a Monterey Jack/mozzarella mixer but whatever you like or have is fine.
4. Add 1/2 - 1 cup of cooked chicken. I usually just thaw some from my bulk meat cooking.
5. Top with 4-6 sliced mini peppers (or two large bell peppers) and the rest of the spinach.
6. Sprinkle with a touch of cilantro.

Bake for 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees.

**Note: I add spinach to give the pizza a little more nutrients. Since spinach doesn't have a whole lot of flavor it can easily be added and go unnoticed if chopped finely enough.

Enjoy!

Sage Roasted Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Veggies with Garlic


This recipe is one of my absolute favorite side dishes to make. It requires minimal prep effort and time, is extremely versatile, can feed a crowd, and tastes great (even to tiny pallets).

I started making this with only red potatoes, then I switched to sweet potatoes, then I started adding veggies, and now I make it with all kinds of potatoes and whatever vegetables I have on hand.

RECIPE:

4-6 red potatoes, washed and cubed
2 sweet potatoes, washed, peeled and cubed
2 cups broccoli florets (I used frozen but raw works great too)
1 zucchini, sliced
3 Tbsp. Olive Oil (approximately)
2 tsp. sage
3 cloves of garlic minced

Set the oven to 400 degrees. On a baking sheet, hand toss the potatoes and vegetables in the olive oil until everything is evenly coated. Sprinkle the sage and garlic and toss again. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes.


This was the version I made this week. I love this recipe because it doesn't matter if you don't have an ingredient. You can use whatever kinds of potatoes or veggies you like. Typically I add asparagus, peppers, and even smoked sausage to make it a complete meal. I must add that this is our favorite way to eat broccoli. When broccoli is roasted it has a little bit of crunch and is really tasty. A friend of mine makes something similar to this dish and she uses a grilling basket on the barbeque to give it that awesome smoky flavor.

You can't go wrong with this one!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Crock Pot Meal of the Week | Sweet 'N Savory Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin

This recipe is from the 30 gluten free meals I did last week and it is so good. And way too easy to be this good.


RECIPE:

1 pork loin (mine was approx. 2 lbs.)
Rub the loin with 1 Tbsp. Brown Sugar and 1 Tbsp. of Smokey Mesquite BBQ seasoning
*Optionl - add a few red pepper flakes if you like it spicey
Wrap the seasoned loin with half a package of bacon (or more if you need or wish)
Add half a cup of chicken stock or broth to the crock pot for cooking

Cook in the crock pot on low for 8 hours.


It's the perfect combination of sweet, savory and incredibly juicy. The meat literally falls apart, as does the bacon. The leftovers are great for sandwiches...if you have any.

Enjoy!

Black Pant Mama

My birthday was a few weeks ago. Upon its approach, my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday. Being that I've become very comfortable in my ordinary and budgeted life, I said, "I don't know. Nothing really. Maybe some more yoga or stretchy pants." He simply said, "No." "Why not? I use them more than anything," I said. He laughed and took me into my closet where he showed me my stack of black stretchy/yoga pants. "Because you don't need anymore." This was the pile he was referring to:


He caught me...black panted. (ha ha!) And do you want to hear a confession? I have more black yoga, stretchy, work out pants than you see here in this pile. I have loose fitting ones, tight ones, running ones, and bleach-stained ones. I love them. I'm convinced they make me a better mom. I where them all. the. time. And I don't feel bad about it.

There's a wave of intense pressure (mostly by the media and things like Pinterest) to be the best everything. The best mom with the cutest snacks and homemade Valentines and home cooked, organic, vegan meals. How to never lose your patience and always feel under control as a mom (yeah, right) and how to never go without a shower and how to do your makeup so it looks like you had a nose job and how to dress so that you feel good about yourself.

And you know what? It's bogus! Most of it, anyway. I'll admit I use Pinterest and other social media outlets to find encouragement from other moms, get ideas for dinner, and sometimes....sometimes...I even like to look at cute clothes. But I have no desire to wear these clothes throughout my typical week as a stay at home mom. You know why?

By breakfast, I've stepped in oatmeal and need a new pair of socks.

While at toddler gym, I started sweating because I forgot to put on deodorant or I didn't have time because Isaiah insists on putting his clothes on all by himself (which can take FOREVER).

By the time we leave, I've used my sleeve to wipe my kids noses more times than I can count because I forgot to bring a boogie wipe...again.

On the way home, I sat on a chocolate chip from my granola bar I ate for breakfast in the car on the way to toddler gym, and it melted all over my pants.

By lunch, I have peanut butter on my shoulder.

By nap time, I sat on the floor more than I've sat on any chair in the last week.

After nap time, Maci decided to spit out her spinach smoothie down the front of my shirt.

By dinner, I've got splatters of the meal here and there either from me cooking or the kids eating like savages (it's hard to be sure).

By bath time, I'm soaked because the kids like to splash. (And why not let them?)

By bed time, I'm covered, no, drenched in the day.

So, no. I don't want to dress "cute." I want to be comfortable! Because no matter what I wear, my life is messy. Young kids are messy. And I have no desire to keep it clean. I shower, my clothes are clean, I stay [fairly] fit and eat well, I may spruce up my hair and put on some make up, but unless it's date night, I don't do heels. I hardly even do jeans. I do me...the best more comfortable version of me in my black stretchy pants. Because while coffee grounds are being spilled on the floor and snotty noses are hugging my hair after a tumble, my kids don't care what I'm wearing nor should they.

My husband doesn't care either. When he gets home, you better believe he wrestles his way through two kids to wrap me in his arms, whether I'm wearing jeans, a dress, or my snot-smeared, peanut butter-smudged, comfortable, homey, black, stretchy pants. He wants to come home to his wife, no matter what I'm wearing. And if having one less worry, even if it is just my clothes, can make me a better wife, he'll take it and so will I.

My pants may be a joke. They may make me fashion-backwards. But my black, stretchy pants have been there on the good days and the hard days. They have comforted me in parenting trials and triumphs. I'm not giving them up, no matter how high my stack gets. And if you're like me, nor should you. :)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

30 Gluten-Free Crock Pot Meals that Won't Break the Bank



In honor of my dad, this round of crock potting is gluten-free. Over the summer my dad was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and when I found out, I cringed for him. My dad, like me, loves food - all kinds of food but especially pastas, pizzas, bread. How on earth could we take out so many delicious foods that fall under the category of "gluten" and still be satisfied? Apparently it's not as hard as I thought.

These recipes are REALLY good, completely satisfying, super easy, and very affordable. I did 30 meals for $168 (this includes a strainer I needed plus disposable trays for the two freezer meals). Keep in mind these recipes are NOT Paleo or AIP. They are simply GLUTEN FREE. That also doesn't mean fat-free or calorie-free. Sorry, folks! ;)

You also won't find any cream of whatchamacallit or seasoning packets. Not because I'm completely opposed to them (though I do know they are highly processed and not good for us), but because most, if not all of them contain gluten. Yeah, I know gluten is in everything. So always check your seasonings!

Okay, let's get started...

MENU:
2 Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin
2 BBQ Pulled Pork
2 Creamy Sweet Potato Soup
2 Quinoa Chili
2 Mango Salsa Chicken
2 Mexican Chicken with Corn & Beans
2 Teriyaki Chicken
2 Creamy Tomato Sauce with Italian Sausage
2 Spaghetti Sauce
2 Tater Tot Casserole
2 Bacon Potato Soup
2 Coconut Curry Chicken
2 Creamy Tomato Chicken
2 BBQ Honey Mustard Chicken Tenders
1 Montreal Pork Shoulder
1 BBQ Chicken


GROCERY LIST:

Meat -
3 three-lb. bags of chicken breasts
1 3 lb. bag of chicken tenderloins
1 8 lb. Pork Loin (this will be cut into fourths)
1 Pork Shoulder
2 Packages of Bacon
4 lbs. of ground Italian sausage (I used mild but you could also do sweet or hot)
3 lbs. of ground beef

Sauces & Seasoning -
5 bottles of BBQ Sauce
2 bottles of honey mustard
4 49 oz. cans of chicken broth
1 container of curry powder
1 bottle of GLUTEN-FREE soy or teriyaki sauce

Dairy -
10 8 oz. packages of cream cheese
2 pints of heavy cream
1 small bag of shredded cheese of your choice

Produce -
4 large sweet potatoes
2 Green Peppers

Refrigerator -
1 tub mango salsa
1 tub medium salsa

Freezer -
1 large bag of broccoli florets
2 bags of tater tots
1 bag of hash browns

Canned Goods -
4 cans black beans
2 cans kidney beans
5 cans of corn
6 15 oz. cans of tomato sauce
12 cans of diced tomatoes
4 small cans of tomato paste
2 cans coconut milk

Bulk Goods -
1.75 lbs. of quinoa (approx.)

Other -
4 packages of corn tortillas (to freeze)
2-pack disposable cooking trays with lids
1 Strainer (if you don't have one, you'll need it for the quinoa)
1 box of gallon-sized plastic bags

Seasonings I had at home -
Smokey Mesquite BBQ Seasoning (any BBQ seasoning will work)
Red Pepper Flakes
Chile Powder
Basil
Fresh Garlic
Montreal Steak Seasoning
Brown Sugar

When you get home, unload everything and leave it on the counter. Wash the peppers, peel the sweet potatoes, cook the ground sausage and beef (separately), and start opening cans. There are a lot of cans to be opened. If you have an electric can opener, use it. If you don't enlist your husband like I did. :) Get out your plastic bags and start labeling with a permanent marker.
See? Lots of cans!
After that...start dumping!

RECIPES:

Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin (make 2 of these) -
Cut 1/4 of the 8 lb. pork loin
Rub the loin with 1 Tbsp. Brown Sugar and 1 Tbsp. of Smokey Mesquite BBQ seasoning
Wrap the seasoning loin with half a package of bacon
Add half a cup of broth for cooking

8 hours on low, 4 on high
Update: Yum.

BBQ Pulled Pork (make 2 of these) -
Cut 1/4 of the 8 lb. pork loin
Add 1 bottle of BBQ sauce

8 hours on low, 4 on high
**Shred when done
Update: Yum.

Creamy Sweet Potato Soup (make 2 of these) -
1/2 can of broth
1 package of cream cheese
2 sweet potatoes (peeled and cut in bite-sized pieces)
1 tsp. Pepper
Salt to taste

8 hours on low, 4 on high
Update: Not my favorite.

Quinoa Chili (make two of these) -
1 can tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can corn
1 can kidney beans
1 can black beans
1 Tbsp. brown supger
1 tsp. chile powder
1/2 (approx. .75 lbs. uncooked and RINSED quinoa) **Be sure you rinse it well! If you don't, I hope you enjoy eating sand. Also, rinse your beans.

8 hours on low, 4 on high
Update: Yum.

Mango Salsa Chicken (make two of these) -
1/2 tub Mango Salsa
1/2 tub Medium Salsa
1 package cream cheese
3-4 Chicken breasts

8 hours on low, 4 on high
**Shred and serve on corn tortillas or corn chips
Update: Yum.

Mexican Chicken with Corn & Beans (make two of these) -
1 can corn
1 can black beans, rinsed
1 package cream cheese
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tsp. chile powder

8 hours on low, 4 on high
**Shred and serve on corn tortillas or corn chips
Update: Yum.

Teriyaki Chicken (make 2 of these) -
1/2 bottle of GLUTEN FREE Teriyaki Sauce
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 clove minced garlic

8 hours on low, 4 on high
**add veggies towards the end of cooking, serve over rice
Update: Yum. A husband favorite.

Creamy Tomato Sauce with Italian Sausage -
1 lb. cooked ground Italian sausage
1/2 can of chicken broth
1 package of cream cheese
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 tsp. dried Basil
2 minced cloves of garlic

8 hours on low, 4 on high
**Serve over gluten-free noodles, veggie noodles, or spaghetti squash
Update: Yum.

Spaghetti Sauce (make 2 of these) -
2 cans tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
1 lb. cooked Italian sausage
1 tsp. Basil
2 cloves of minced garlic
1 Tbsp. brown sugar

8 hours on low, 4 on high
**Serve over gluten-free noodles, veggie, noodles, or spaghetti squash
Update: Yum.

Tater Tot Casserole (split into two) -
Add 1 package of cream cheese to the cooked ground beef (3 lbs.)
Let it melt
Add 2 tsp. of Montreal Steak Seasoning, mix well
Split the beef between the two disposable trays
Add a layer of tater tots
Top with shredded cheese

Cook in the oven for about 1 hour at 375 degrees.
Update: Kids love this.

Bacon Potato Soup (make 2 of these) -
1 pint of heavy cream
1/2 bag of hash browns
1/2 can of broth
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
2 cloves of minced garlic

In a separate bag freeze half a package of uncooked bacon. Cook 8 hours on low, 4 on high. Before serving, cook the bacon, crumble it, then sprinkle it on top with cheese, sour cream, and scallions.
Update: Yum. Maci's favorite.

Coconut Curry Chicken (make 2 of these) -
In a blender, add:
2 cans coconut milk
2 green peppers
2 Tbsp. curry powder
2 cans tomato paste
4 cloves of garlic

In two bags, place 3-4 chicken breasts and pour 1/2 of the blended mixer in each bag. 8 hours on low, 4 on high.
**Serve over rice
Update: Some people love this. I realized I don't like curry though.

Creamy Tomato Chicken (make 2 of these) -
3-4 Chicken Breasts
1/2 a package of cream cheese
1 can of diced tomatoes
1 clove of minced garlic
1 tsp. Basil
(salt and pepper to taste)

8 hours on low, 4 on high
Update: This was pretty good, though not a favorite.

2 BBQ Honey Mustard Chicken Tenders (make 2 of these) -
1/2 bag of chicken tenders
1 bottle BBQ sauce
1 bottle honey mustard

8 hours on low, 4 on high
Update: Yum. Don't over cook. BBQ Sauce burns.

Montreal Pork Shoulder (make 1 of these) -
1 pork shoulder
2 tsp. Montreal Steak seasoning (approx.)
1 cup chicken broth

8 hours on low, 4 on high
Update: Yum.

BBQ Chicken (make 1 of these) -
3-4 chicken breasts
1 bottle of BBQ sauce

8 hours on low, 4 on high
Update: Yum. Don't overcook, BBQ sauce burns.

If you choose to serve any of the sauces with spaghetti squash, be sure to place the spaghetti squash in the crock pot and cook it with the sauce. It's the easiest way to cook those things. When the sauce is done, the squash will also be. I also really want one of these so I can make zucchini noodles. Yum! Yum!



So there you have it. 30 gluten-free meals for $168. That's $5.60 per meal to feed your whole family! Who said being gluten free had to be expensive?