I love summer!
I love the blue skies, the sunshine, the warm breezes, and the bird song. I love the lazy days, the play outside, the lack of routines. I don't love heating up the house with cooking, however, so now is the time I start cooking ahead to make summer easier for us at meal times.
I realized today that we're well into summer weather already, and I'm fortunate to have had a jump start in freezer stocking, but it's never too late to start planning and executing some of these tips and tricks for yourself. Here's a short list on ways to get started planning for your own hot-weather meal ideas.
1. Make a list, brainstorming all the foods you like to eat in the summer
2. Separate that list into its cooking needs- grill, slow cooker, stovetop, oven, no cooking, etc.
3. Note what requires cooking, and research if (and how) it can be done ahead of time.
As a family we like to eat a lot of fresh fruit, vegetables, and sandwiches in the summer, but we also enjoy "bowl foods", such as chili and meat sauce and pasta.
Having lean proteins cooked and sliced in our freezer means sandwiches are easy to pull together, and by consciously doubling our chili, meat sauce, casseroles, and meatballs now means there's a supply of meals ready to pull out and reheat. I plan on roasting chicken this week as well as cooking a pork loin in the next week or so in order to put away extra cooked meat for summer. It also makes sense to batch cook rice and quinoa to keep in your freezer so your side dish is ready to serve or turn into something else, such as fried rice, filler for meatloaf, or a salad ingredient.
Recognizing that sometimes summer isn't hot in Alberta, there are also frozen portions of cooked soup ready to reheat on those dreary days or for quick lunches or dinners to serve with salad and sandwiches.
Did this jump start your ideas? I hope you have found some inspiration to keep summer happy and carefree. Cooking doesn't have to stress you out, and I'm happy to offer you custom-built solutions for your situation. Email me here to learn more about my pre-summer cooking mini session.
All the best today, friends!
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Cool Summer Meals
Planning Meals in the Heat
For many years, my fridge freezer was all I had. It was a typical top freezer and it was a struggle for me to know what was in there because I was too short to get into the back of it.
This fridge was a huge improvement for us- I wanted the pull out drawers and I love them still. We bought a small upright deep freezer for the basement just a couple of years ago, and the majority of my uncooked meats, ready-to-eat meals that I've cooked ahead (chili, meat sauce, shepherds pie, etc), extra vegetables, dinner rolls, containers of soup, and bones that I'm keeping for stock live in it. I routinely bring up food from that one as I meal plan each week so that I don't have to run down to the basement to grab the food I need each day.
Right now my freezer isn't as organized as usual because I'm in the middle of using up what we have so we can restock for the fall, but in this small snapshot you can see leftover rice, leftover navy beans, a bag of perogies, bagged vegetables and fruit, whole tomatoes, sliced ham, cooked chicken and meatloaf, a ginger nub, vegetable scraps, a couple of baggies of soup stock, and several freezer packs of various sizes. The kids lunches also live in here- in the top right compartment (where my vegetable scraps are right now) is everything I have made for lunches- meatballs, burgers, cheese strings, and muffins. When I get organized I also like to roll and freeze wraps so they can just grab and go.
I consider my freezers reasonably well stocked. But why? What makes it stocked? Why does it matter?
Here is the best article I've ever read with tips and suggestions on correctly stocking and organizing your freezer. I've done most of these things, myself, and if you want to start getting the most out of your freezer space I recommend you start with this resource.
You can always call for a companion to help you out if you're ready to do a fridge, freezer, or pantry audit. The big jobs are easier with a helping hand, and I'm just a message away.
Did you enjoy this article? Please share!
Have a great day, friends!
It's not a cold.
If you haven't had the flu, it's impossible to imagine that you can feel that bad. And I've had the flu before, but I'd forgotten just how bad.
Having just gone through the worst of it and coming out the other side, I can tell you it is really awful. There's no way you can have the flu and not know it.
I'm sure each strain is a little different and effects everyone a little differently, but mine started with a headache. I kept it at bay for several days but after a sleepless night it came roaring in...congestion, whole body aches, and then the fever- that fever that just kept going up and up, and stayed there. I spent literally an entire day in bed, and then most of the next as well. Today's day 5 of symptoms, and I'm still not well enough to go to work or do much housework of any kind. This illness requires time and rest to recover. We'll see how long that process takes.
For a complete discussion on the Flu, check out this article.
In the meantime, I wanted to share some practical real-life tips for meal planning and cooking ahead. Doing that helped us survive the flu, because there was literally no way I could have cooked beyond pushing a button on the microwave.
1. Double your Meals.
Some foods are meant to be pulled out of the freezer and used in a pinch, and these are the ones to double. Think versatile.
My favourite one this time was meatloaf. I haven't been hungry, but since everyone got sick at different times, there were hungry people needing food. The best part about meatloaf is you can slice it into sandwiches or chunk it to be eaten with steamed vegetables and toast or tossed into a bowl of broth- the versatility that doesn't require a lot of effort earned it a gold star from me this time around.
2. Don't forget the Soup.
So here's the thing...I had no soup in the freezer. I had tons of stock, but no soup made already, and that was entirely too much effort for me. I had people wish me well and say things like "good thing you know how to make good soup!"- which I do, but the irony of getting this sick is the inability to put a meal together. A simple soup was simply too much. When you make soup try to put some aside in easy-to-thaw containers in small portions so you can just push a button on the microwave and have something nourishing to eat.
3. Batch Cook Proteins.
If you cook a roast- beef, pork, turkey, whatever- keep some meat aside in portions that are easily used and sliced exactly as we did with the meatloaf. It may be a simple thing to pull a bag of cooked chicken out of the freezer and eat it like that but at least it's food, and a nutritious one at that.
4. Score points with Casseroles.
I had a brick of shepherds pie frozen for just such a time, and I didn't pull it out the night before or have any sort of pre-thought about it at all. Instead, the oven got turned on to 350*F, it got covered with foil and sat on a cookie sheet in the oven. Eventually it warmed all the way through and got hot enough to eat, and it was big enough there was enough of that for 2 days of meals.
5. Order in.
Normally eating out is not the most nutritious food, especially when you're sick. But if you need to, just do it. And don't feel guilty. We ordered pizza last night, having exhausted all our frozen food. And I picked up a big batch of that Pacific Rim soup from OJ's when my husband was fevered so he had some hot soup to eat in between fever spikes.
6. Ask for help- and if it's offered, accept it.
A new friend asked me if she could make me some congee. I've never had it, but I was happy to say yes. It was such a sweet gesture and a welcome gift. And she made muffins for my family, too, and added a huge bag of citrus fruit for us as well. I'm eternally grateful.
Do what you can when you are well to help yourself when you aren't. Because I had no idea I'd be too sick to even make soup- it's hard to fathom being that unwell when you feel fine.
Until next time, friends, enjoy your day and stay warm...and well.
It's always a little hard to say goodbye to our carved pumpkins. A couple of years ago we left them as "nightlights" in the boys' bedroom until they went off and then threw them away. This morning, however, our friendly pumpkins will be kissed goodbye and diced up for dinner, with good reason: pumpkins are a super source of nutrition. It's cold and flu season, and because pumpkins have their fair share of vitamin C, they help our bodies fight infection.
Sharing vegetables with kids is a marvelous way to support their nutritive needs, and the beta carotene in pumpkins will help their eyesight. They are a versatile vegetable and if hitting #halfyourplate is your goal, this is a wonderful vegetable to get you there. Preparing pumpkin ahead of time makes it a quick meal starter. Toss frozen pumpkin chunks into soup, casseroles, and stir fries. Slice fresh pumpkin thinly to make skillet chips. Add pureed pumpkin to mashed potatoes, turnip, or rutabaga. Make pumpkin themed muffins and loaves, or hide it in gingerbread cake if your people aren't a fan.
Don't forget canned pumpkin. It's just as good for you, though not quite as versatile. You can find it in the baking aisle because pumpkin pie is a seasonal favourite. Before you buy it, however, check the ingredients label. It should read "100% pure pumpkin", or something along those lines. They may tell you what kind of pumpkin is in the can, and that's fine. But many pie fillings come pre-sweetened or spiced, and you want to avoid those ones. Controlling your added ingredients is an important consideration for health when cooking, baking, and eating.
You can do a lot with a whole pumpkin. A very common way to deal with them is to place them in the oven and roast them, as I've detailed here. I also discussed dicing them and freezing them raw- that is the future of these pumpkins. In fact, I'd made dinner with pumpkin processed this way about a year ago, and that's what we're eating for dinner tonight, pictured here:
It's a good thing pumpkin is so flexible, because in addition to our carved baby pumpkins, we have a big one we didn't get to. My freezer will be full...and that means I have to start baking. I think I foresee a month of pumpkin-themed meals coming up! Perhaps a pumpkin-spice cookbook? Maybe a private Facebook group with new recipes and challenges each week. Do you have any ideas for me? Drop me a line!
In the meantime, my #testkitchen today will be a pumpkin-spice steamed milk. My lucky newsletter subscribers will be the first to receive this delicious gem. Want in on that? Just fill in your details and the rest will follow.
All the best, friends. Welcome to November!
Leftovers get a bad reputation. I don't know if it's because so many people just put out the same food as the night before and get bored, or because they get left in the fridge and forgotten about until they go bad, but let me encourage you to reclaim your leftovers. Add a little flair to your leftovers to help your food budget flow a little more smoothly.
This morning I made my first ever food video (I promise, I'll get better!) after trying to decide what to do with our leftover pizza ingredients from dinner last night.
As you can (sort of) see, there's not a lot left. A little pizza sauce, a few slices of meat, a few chopped peppers and onions. And no mozzarella. My usual go-to meal when I only have a little bit of this and that left is soup, so that was an option. I could always cut up another pepper, add a can of tomato sauce with loads of garlic and oregano, and have a reasonable facsimile of pizza in soup form. I also considered loaded pizza baked or roasted potatoes, and a casserole of sorts was taking shape in my mind. In the end, though, I decided to send my oldest to school with a pizza grilled cheese sandwich, which is what you see in my video. I made sure to cool it to send it to school with a freezer pack, so maybe not quite as tasty as hot, but still a delicious lunch. I'll probably eat one for lunch too, actually.
When you've got a pile of leftovers, consider how you can change them up to make something else. Dinner tonight is again leftover-based. A month ago or so I cooked a pork loin, sliced the leftovers, and froze them in meal sized portions- these are my meal starters. To a baggie of pork loin slices I am adding leftover brown rice from dinner a couple of nights ago and creating a yellow pepper, spinach, and yellow curry cream sauce. It's going to be delicious! And quick. I like quick. Quicker than sitting in the drive-through window and ordering dinner, then driving home to eat it. Definitely tastier and better for you, too. I will have dinner on the table tonight in about 15 minutes, because the rice and pork are already cooked.
Varying your foods exposes your family to different flavours in a nutritious way. You've probably heard "Variety is the Spice of Life", and it's true even when related specifically to food. We need a variety of foods in our diets to achieve the most nutrition naturally, and many spices have their own specific health-supporting properties. We definitely need as many supporting players as possible this time of year when flu and cold season starts up in full swing.
If you'd like to experiment with building your own spice blend for Garam Masala (what we in the west mostly call curry), I found this delicious-sounding recipe online this morning during my search for internet treasure. I have created in-house blends for many of my favourite spice mixtures, and sometime in the next while this will be something I experiment with. In the meantime, though, I have a brand new package of store-bought to use up, and we all enjoy eating it.
Happy Friday to you, friends! What's for dinner at your house tonight?
One year while in college I lived with 3 roommates. We shared a 2 bedroom suite and it was one of the best years of my life.
Every Sunday I'd make "Sunday Soup". Whoever was around could come and eat soup. Sometimes it was just me, sometimes it was my roommates, sometimes guests. It always started with a package of ramen noodles and enough eggs just dropped in to poach for however many people were eating it. Whatever leftovers I could scrounge from the fridge went in there, and sometimes a handful of vegetables. The specifics are long gone, because that was 22-23 years ago, but I remember loving my soup tradition. Plus it was cheap, a very important consideration for broke college students.
Nowadays I don't make soup every Sunday, though I'm thinking I may want to revisit the idea for the fall and winter. Last night we enjoyed Sunday Soup for dinner. It's the time of year when our people are starting to catch colds or just feel under the weather. It's warm outside, but there's still a bite in the air, especially when it's windy. And I worked hard all day and was too tired to really think. Like I said on my interview with Carrie Ann, soup is my all time favourite meal to cook, especially the last week of the month when we're on the end of our fridge food.
Growing up with a mom who didn't usually waste anything, soup is one of those things we ate often. I don't remember her ever using a recipe. I got my Sunday Soup idea from her, and over the years I've cooked periodically without following a recipe as well. I like to know I can stay a little more free-flowing with my ideas, something that's a challenge for me sometimes.
This soup started with some meal starters pulled from the freezer, flavour added to with fresh onions and carrots, and enhanced with basic herbs and spices. It was gentle on the taste buds and delicious.
And sadly I will never be able to recreate this particular soup because I used some of my meal starters- a bit of this and a bit of that from my freezer- some leftover gravy, a baggie of roasted pork drippings, some turkey stock I made last Thanksgiving, and the rest of the pork loin I cooked last winter. A handful of pasta left in the bottom of the box filled it out, and voila! Dinner was served.
We saved money cooking in rather than ordering in. We used up leftover bits of food from the pantry and freezer, and took advantage of meal starters I'd been keeping track of and organized. This meal was more nutritious then anything we could have brought home and was less expensive than ordering food for the family from any local establishment- and as an added bonus, we get to enjoy the leftover soup for lunch.
What's your go-to homemade meal when you're at the end of your energy? Do you have a favourite Sunday Dinner tradition?
Enjoy your week, friends.
My Baked Savoury Oatmeal turned out as tasty as I anticipated! Check out the recipe here. There will be more #testkitchen and other meal starter meals to follow!
Enjoy your week, friends!
It was a busy week, and with school in full swing again, it's going to be another busy week. We ran to Costco one day this week to get a few things ready for cooking ahead, and one of those things was a package of breakfast sausages. Today was the day we cooked ahead to fill our freezer with meal starters.
I cooked a lot this morning, but started with the sausages because they take the longest- 30-35 minutes to reach their internal temperature of 160*F. The quickest way to cook a lot of sausages at once is to line a cookie sheet with foil, and then put them in a 375*F oven. After about 20 minutes, flip them and poke them with a fork. After another 15 minutes or so and confirming internal temperature, place them on paper towel to allow them to drain as much grease as possible.
While sausages aren't the best food to eat nutritionally, they add an enjoyable flavour punch to many dishes, and a little can go a long way. My philosophy is to enjoy them in moderation- the sausage won't be the focus of my meals, but an interesting flavour component.
Some of the meals I'm able to make with these sausages:
I also cooked a double batch of oatmeal...but that was because I accidentally added too much salt to my first batch. I cooked a second batch to mix with half of the first batch, and half the first batch will be used to #testkitchen a meal I referenced above, baked savoury oatmeal. I've got some good ideas stewing around in my head, and tomorrow morning I hope to try them out. #wastenotwantnot!
Oatmeal is one of the greatest breakfast foods of all time, in my humble opinion. You can dress it up or down for whatever mood you're in, and leftover oatmeal reheats beautifully and tastes wonderful. Dress it up right and you can make yourself a satisfying meal that keeps you full for longer. It gives you fibre to help lower cholesterol and keep you comfortable and provides iron and protein. It's easy to make and my goal is to get my boys to try it a few times before Christmas. I'm under no illusions that they'll actually love it or ask for it anytime soon, but eventually their taste buds and bodies will acquire a taste for it, hopefully sooner than later.
Some of my favourite ways to enjoy oatmeal are:
I'm sure as I play around with flavours and moods I'll find more ways to enjoy oatmeal. I definitely prefer to cook it plain rather than add flavours to the pot, because I like to cook enough for a few meals and I don't know what kind of mood I'll be in when I'm ready to eat it. Mental and emotional states definitely influence what we eat, when we eat, and how we eat, so cooking ahead in this way gives the best chance possible to eat well no matter what our emotional or mental state happens to be.
I toasted sunflower seeds and almonds today too. Toasted nuts make the most amazing flavourful topping to anything from yogurt to oatmeal to salad. I enjoyed a bowl of fruit salad this morning with a sprinkle of toasted almonds on my fruit as well as on a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries. As with any food, it's easy to overdo it with nuts- pay attention to portion sizes- but the health benefits of nuts make them valuable to add to your daily routines. If food allergies are an issue, don't forget to read the labels.
I hope your Sunday was excellent. Enjoy your week, and keep watching for my #testkitchen meals!
Questions, comments? I can't wait to hear them. Feel free to hop over to my facebook page and start a conversation there, add me to your email subscriptions, comment here, or email me!