A Well-Stocked Freezer

Picture time …  The last three posts were long enough without adding pictures, but I wanted to give you a good visual to go along with what you were reading.  Plus I just like pictures.

Back in September I spent about a week stocking my freezer.  I took pictures as I went along, hoping to use them in the blog somehow.  So here is a quick little picture tour of my week of hard work …

A few dozen muffins …

Spaghetti sauce and meatballs …

Hamburger buns …

Pizza dough balls ready for the freezer …

Several loaves of fresh bread …

And a very well-stocked freezer!

 

Inside My Kitchen, Part 3: The Recipes

How are you doing with your meal planning and preparation?  Have you tried any new foods?  Have you started making a menu?  What convenience foods have you stopped buying?  Have any of you begun searching for local farmers?  Now is the time of year when farmers begin taking orders for beef and poultry.   If you think this is something you want to try, get on the web now and search for local farms, markets, etc, then contact the farmers and get some information.

 

When we last “talked”, I challenged you all to step out of your comfort zones and try something new.  I took on the challenge also and the following week prepared fish for my family for the first time ever.  I tried to start simple so as not to get overwhelmed and chose to prepare salmon cakes.  That meant I didn’t have to pick out or handle any raw meat, I just had to open a couple of cans of salmon (there is canned salmon available at health food stores that does not have any bad ingredients).  It did involve picking out bones and skin, as well as mixing up the mixture with my hands, but it wasn’t near as smelly or disgusting as I feared.  My husband was my biggest fan.  He loves fish and he has fond memories of his mother preparing salmon cakes when he was little so he gobbled up several right away, exclaiming at how good they were.  My children had really good attitudes, and everyone tried some.  We had lots of ketchup available.  It wasn’t their favorite dish, but all I asked was that they try it and they did willingly.  For me, I managed to eat one but it required a lot of ketchup.  Even though I still don’t like fish, the fact that I actually prepared fish and ate some was huge.  This is just what I have been telling you – making changes is a stair-step situation, not something you do all at once.  You take one or two steps up the stairs at a time.  Every step up is a step in the right direction.  And one step down doesn’t necessarily put you back at the bottom.

 

Cooking at home will keep you stepping right up the staircase toward healthier eating.   And having a good armory of recipes is one of your best strategies for defending your family from the processed food invasion.  You can easily find any recipe you want on the web.  Sometimes it may take some searching and creativity to find recipes that use whole foods rather than seasoning packets or canned soups or packaged pie crusts.  But you can also easily make these things at home yourself.  If you find a recipe that calls for “cream of …” soup, you can make your own cream sauce using a recipe from a basic cookbook.   Following are a few recipes that can take the place of processed, pre-packaged grocery store foods.

 

Have you read the ingredients of taco seasoning packets lately?  They are full of questionable ingredients!  These questionable ingredients are there for a reason:  they add “flavor” cheaply, provide shelf-life, and keep the seasoning from clumping and hardening in the packet.  They are definitely not essential and you don’t want to put them in your body.  Here are two taco seasoning recipes:

 

Taco Seasoning by Leanne Ely (author of Saving Dinner)

1 cup dried minced onion

1/3 cup chili powder

2 tablespoons cumin (you can add more if you like)

4 teaspoons crushed red pepper

1 tablespoon oregano

4 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons onion powder

 

Simply combine everything, cover tightly, store in a cool, dry place.  You can use however much you like at a time, but approximately 1 tablespoon is the equivalent of one seasoning packet.  This is a “bulk” recipe, so it makes a lot and you use a little at a time.

 

I don’t know who to give credit to for this next recipe.  It came from a homeschooling chat forum 4 years ago.  It does not make as much as the above recipe, so I usually quadruple the recipe.

 

2 tablespoons chili powder

4 ½ teaspoons cumin

5 teaspoons paprika

1 tablespoon onion powder

2 ½ teaspoons garlic powder

1/8 – ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

 

Again, mix everything together and cover tightly.  I typically use 2 tablespoons per pound of meat.  Remember that this recipe doesn’t include salt, so don’t forget to salt the meat!

 

Sausage is another processed food that contains a lot of unnecessary ingredients you definitely don’t want to consume.  While there are a few brands of sausage available at health food stores that are probably okay, it is really easy to make your own.

 

Turkey Sausage from The Urban Homemaker at www.urbanhomemaker.com

1 lb ground turkey

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon sage

½ teaspoon thyme

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Mix all together and shape into 12 small patties.  It is easiest to skip the spoon and use your hands to get this mixed up well.  Fry til done or bake at 350 for 10 to 15 minutes in a shallow pan.  Be careful not to overcook or they will become tough.  You can adjust the recipe to suit your tastes.

 

The following pork sausage recipes came from my farmer friend Kimberlie of West Wind Farms about 4 years ago.  They are designed for large amounts of meat so you will need to adjust accordingly.  Just remember that you can adjust the seasonings however you like best but go easy on the salt!  Since she gave me these recipes, she has begun selling her own incredibly delicious sausages so if you live nearby you can visit her at the Franklin Farmers Market on the 2nd, 4th, and 5th Saturdays each month.  We especially like her sage breakfast sausage.

 

Spicy Sausage

4 lbs ground pork

5 teaspoons salt

4 teaspoons sage

2 teaspoons pepper

½ teaspoon red pepper

½ teaspoon cloves or 1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon sugar

Mix thoroughly.  Shape into patties and cook.

 

Seasoned Sausage

My copy here is a little tattered and I am not sure of the exact amount of meat – I think about 2 lbs ground pork – but I use this full recipe with just 1 lb of pork because we like more flavor.

2 ½ teaspoons sage

½ teaspoon  thyme

½ teaspoon red pepper

¾ teaspoon pepper

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ bay leaf, crushed

dash celery seed  (for a more Italian flavor use fennel seed instead)

 

We love the seasoned sausage recipe to make sausage for pizzas, calzones, etc.  Instead of shaping it into patties, just brown it in a skillet and add the seasonings to it.  Then you can sprinkle the sausage on your pizza.   My son loves it when I make French bread and fill it with cheese and seasoned sausage, roll it up, bake it, then serve it with pizza sauce.  This is a really portable meal, too.  And remember, now that you have a guide for seasonings, experiment to make it tailored just for your family.

 

Pizza sauce is yet another simple thing you can make at home.  Many of the commercially prepared sauces are loaded with preservatives and other undesirable ingredients.  You can so very easily find a recipe for homemade pizza sauce on the web.  All you need is a can of tomato puree or tomato sauce, and some seasonings such as garlic powder, onion powder, basil or oregano, a pinch of sugar, salt, etc.  However I have discovered that Muir Glen makes a wonderful canned pizza sauce.

 

Switching gears a bit … here is a recipe for a breakfast favorite in our family, baked oatmeal.  You partially prepare this the night before by mixing together the yogurt and oats and let it sit on the counter until you are ready to bake it.  The next morning you add in the eggs and baking powder, mix, and bake.  The process of letting it sit out overnight not only saves you time in the morning, but it makes the oatmeal much more digestible.  If you remember my post about chicken stock, you will recall that it is really good for you when your body doesn’t have to work extra hard to digest what you’ve eaten.  So this recipe is a great way to start or end the day – it is easy on your digestive system!

 

Baked Oatmeal from The Urban Homemaker www.urbanhomemaker.com

12-24 hours before you want to eat, mix together:

½ cup melted butter

¾ to 1 cup Sucanat (found in health food stores)

3 cups rolled oats (not quick oats)

1 ½ cups yogurt, kefir or buttermilk

1 teaspoon cinnamon – optional

Mix this together, cover with plastic wrap or dish towel, and let sit 12-24 hours in a slightly warm spot in your kitchen.

 

When you are ready to eat, add to the above mixture:

2 eggs, beaten

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup dried raisins or 1-2 tart apples, chopped, or anything you like – optional

 

Bake in a greased 11×7 baking pan at 350 for 25-30 minutes.  You can eat it plain or pour some milk over it, etc.  This makes a great Sunday morning breakfast because it is so fast in the morning.  It is also great for dinner served with eggs and sausage.  The texture is a little like cake.

 

Oatmeal is, surprisingly, one food that most people don’t realize is super easy to make.  It seems that everyone buys those little flavored oatmeal packets.  Next time you’re at the store, read the ingredients, and don’t buy those again.  Basic oatmeal is an extremely nutritious food, is very hearty and comforting, and is super easy to flavor yourself.  On the other hand, oats are one of the more difficult grains for our bodies to digest so it is very smart to soak your oats overnight before cooking them.  This also speeds things up the next morning.  Here is a very delicious and very healthful way to cook oatmeal:

 

Per person, in a stainless steel pot with lid, combine ½ cup oats, one tablespoon plain yogurt, and a half cup of warm (not hot) water.  Do this the night before (12-24 hours before you want to eat).  Cover it and leave it sitting on the counter or stove top.  In the morning add one cup of milk.  Stir well over low or medium heat until the mixture is bubbly and thick.  Add salt to taste.    Now, add whatever else you want … Try some real maple syrup and cinnamon with a banana sliced up in the bowl … try just honey … try adding raisins or diced apples or nuts … Be sure to add a dollop of butter or a drizzle of cream for extra vitamin D and A to help your body assimilate all those vitamins better.  This breakfast will keep you satisfied through to lunch and possibly longer.  Remember, the above proportions are per person, so if you are cooking for two then you will want one cup oats, 2 tablespoons yogurt, one cup water, etc.

 

Finally, popcorn.  Popcorn is probably one of the most “contaminated” foods available at the supermarket, yet one of the easiest snacks to make at home.  It is so surprising how many people out there not only have never popped popcorn on the stove, but didn’t even know it was possible.  First of all, do yourself and your family a favor and never ever buy microwave popcorn again!  Not even the kind that is supposedly healthy.  All you need to pop your own popcorn is a large, heavy pot with a lid and handle (one long handle, not the two little handles on either side).  Start with good quality popcorn.  If you can get it, use organic popcorn to insure that it is not genetically modified.  Use good quality salt; unrefined salt such as RealSalt or Celtic Sea Salt.  Pop the corn in coconut oil for great flavor (coconut oil is great for your thyroid) and then top it off with plenty of melted butter.  Yes, you read that correctly, I am giving you permission to put butter on your popcorn!  Butter has vitamin D and A, which work together, and are much needed by your body.   Popcorn is a nutritious snack when prepared naturally on the stove.  It is high calorie so just remember keep it as a snack – don’t overdo it!  So here is how to pop popcorn on the stove:

 

In a large, heavy pot with a lid and handle, plop a generous dollop of coconut oil and 3 kernels of organic popcorn.  Set the pot on high heat and cover with lid.  Listen carefully for the kernels to pop.  When at least 2 have popped, then quickly lift the lid and pour in 1/3 to ½ cup of popcorn.  Quickly cover and, holding the lid tight with one hand, shake the pot constantly until popcorn begins to pop rapidly.  Very slightly lower the heat and continue shaking occasionally until popping slows.  At this point you can lift the pot from the heat by about one inch, holding it there until the popping completely stops.  This will help keep the popcorn from burning.  Once popping is complete, then immediately pour the popcorn into a big bowl.  Add salt.  Repeat this process until you have enough popcorn for everyone who is going to have some.  When you’ve made enough, turn off the heat and plop in several big dollops of butter.  The pot will be hot enough to quickly melt the butter.  When melted, pour over your popcorn and stir it with a big spoon.  Then quickly enjoy it while it’s warm!  Some fun variations include mixing ¼ to ½ cup parmesan cheese (fresh grated, not the stuff in the green can) in with the butter, or, you could add ½ cup of maple syrup (real syrup, not the other junk) to the butter for sweet popcorn.

 

There is not room or time for me to type in all the recipes for things you can make at home instead of buying processed at the store. My purpose here is to give you a few simple and very practical recipes that will help you see how easy it is to prepare your own seasonings and mixes rather than to buy them at the store.  Now you can see that you DON’T need those little seasoning packets, or those prepared foods from the store.  You can do it yourself at home!  It isn’t just easy, it is so much better!

Inside My Kitchen, Part 2: The Planning and The Meals

Part 2 of a 3-part series.  If you missed part 1, you can access it via the sidebar on the right under "Recent Posts."

 

The Planning:

Right here is the key to success: PLANNING.  You need to be planning the menus for your family, and making your grocery list based on those plans.  There is no reason in the world why you cannot do this TODAY.  Whether you have lots of money or zero money, whether you have a gourmet kitchen or a closet, whether you work or stay at home, whether your family is picky or adventurous, you can sit down and make a menu.  And you should.  Maybe I need to write a whole article on this subject.  Hmm…

 

For years I have been making weekly menus and grocery lists.  I choose to do it once a week but there are no rules, just do what works for your family.  Be flexible because your family’s schedule, tastes, and budgets will change over time.  To make my weekly menu I list each day of the week and quickly jot down the activities that never change week to week – taekwondo on Tues/Thurs, art on Mon, piano on Thurs, etc.  Then I add in the extras – haircuts, evening meetings, field trips, etc.  This shows me which days need to have a crock pot meal because I won’t have time in the afternoon to cook.  After I’ve assigned a menu to each day, I make notes to remind myself what needs to be done ahead.  For example, I might write a note for Monday reminding myself to get out meat to thaw for Tuesday, or to soak some beans for Tuesday.  These are things that are easily forgotten and result in wasting all your time planning.  I tend to save my old weekly menus to refer to because it gets hard coming up with something every week.  Some smart moms have a meal rotation where they rotate through the same series of meals every 30 days or so.  It is all a matter of coming up with a method that works for you.  The only rule is:  just do it.

 

Supplement your meal planning with your own homemade convenience foods.  It will make life much easier.  Think about what your family eats the most and stock your freezer accordingly.  It is a huge help to have my own homemade convenience foods at the ready although it does take some advance planning/time/effort to have them there.  Most often I bake in bulk – such as when I make tortillas I will make 4 recipes at a time and freeze the tortillas into one meal amounts, or when I make pizza dough I will do as much as my mixer can hold, then freeze each ball of dough.  I will soak a couple of pounds of dried beans overnight, and then let them cook all day in the crock pot.  When they are done, I freeze them in can-sized portions.  There have been times when I have devoted a full week to stocking my freezer with homemade “convenience” foods.  It was work but well worth it.  The freezer was loaded with muffins, tortillas, stock, spaghetti sauce, sloppy joe mix, pizza dough, lasagna, etc.  If there are ever left over pancakes or waffles, these go straight into the freezer for quick kid-breakfasts.  Every refrigerator comes with a freezer attached – use yours for something more than a holding place before throwing mystery leftovers in the trash.  A deep-freeze is not required in order to bake and freeze a few things in advance, and it will be well worth your time and effort to do so.

 

The Meals – Breakfast and Lunch:

There are some amazing moms out there who cook a family breakfast and/or lunch every day.  For some, due to the family’s schedule, breakfast or lunch is their main meal of the day. Think outside the box and come up with a plan that is tailored to your family. I would love to get up and prepare a real meal for my family every day.  I think everyone would be better off but so far I have not been able to make it work.  Sometimes, I will manage to get up and prepare oatmeal for everyone (topped with maple syrup or honey, cinnamon, and my husband likes to slice a banana into it), or biscuits and sausage (using ground turkey which I season myself and shape into patties).  Once we even had breakfast burritos.  Sometimes for the kids I will mix up pancake batter before going to bed, let it soak all night on the counter (this makes the grains more digestible), and have it ready for them in the morning.  This is really easy because all you do in the morning is add the eggs and leavening, then pour it straight onto the griddle from the blender.  Sometimes I will cook some sausage links from the farm, either to go with the pancakes or to just eat alone.  The norm for us, however, is I will have a fried egg on toast and a glass of milk and the kids will have either an egg, a leftover biscuit, yogurt, or toast. They always have milk to drink and sometimes a small glass of OJ.  Often my son will have a banana also. Sometimes they like beef sticks (from the farm – think “healthy Slim Jim”), and my middle daughter really likes grapefruit.  

 

For lunch, I may have any of the following:  leftovers, cheese and an apple, occasionally I’ll have an almond butter and honey sandwich or grilled cheese, a cheese tortilla or even a tortilla spread with peanut butter and honey.  Sometimes I will have a big salad with farm fresh lettuces and carrots, loaded with chunks of cheese, raisins, maybe some toasted nuts, and homemade dressing.   The kids will usually have a sandwich – peanut butter, cheese, turkey…If they didn’t have yogurt for breakfast, they might have it at lunch.  Sometimes, especially in summer, I will make kefir or yogurt smoothies for everyone.  Sometimes they will have leftovers from dinner.  Most days I will cut up an apple or orange which everyone will share.  In the summer we enjoy strawberries and peaches.  The kids also like the beef sticks or jerky for lunch along with a slice of cheese and piece of fruit.   A lot of our breakfast and lunch foods are interchangeable as you can see. 

 

Snacks typically include fruit, carrots, celery, nuts, beef jerky…  My son has taken to having some crackers and peanut butter.  If there is an open bag of chips I can’t keep them out of it.  Popcorn is a favorite snack and dessert.  I make this with organic popcorn which I pop on the stove in coconut oil and top with melted butter.  Sounds decadent but this is a very healthy snack!

 

Finally I have to mention a favorite pantry essential:  Larabars.  I forgot to list them in my pantry list, but there is always a box in there.  I love these things and buy them by the case!  They come in decadent flavors such as cinnamon roll, cherry pie, chocolate mocha, gingersnap, yet they are nothing more than a combination of spices, ground nuts, and fruit (mostly dates).  This is my choice of breakfast or lunch when I am on the go, along with a couple slices of cheese.  Another on the go lunch (or breakfast) for me, is raw cheese slices and a handful of almonds.

 

And now, dinner.  My ultimate goals for a meal are:  healthy and simple.  Secondary goals are to always have an animal food and vegetable or fruit (preferably raw).  Here is a week of meals from earlier this month…. Sunday night: eggs, biscuits, sausage; Monday night: beef stew with salad and cornbread; Tuesday night: bean soup in the crockpot, salad, cornbread; Wednesday night: baked chicken with rice, salad, green beans; Thursday night: mini-meatball soup with blueberry corn muffins and orange slices; Friday night:  slow-cooker beef and bean burritos.  You can see that all of the meals came straight from my pantry, I used the crock-pot 3 of 5 nights, and we had soup/stew 3 of 5 nights.  These were all very easy meals to prepare and also very healthful.  We often have breakfast for dinner, whether it is eggs and sausage or pancakes or waffles (although I try to limit heavy grain-based meals).   Soups are the best meals for meeting all the goals mentioned above.  This is one reason why I always try to have stock on hand.  You really don’t need a recipe to make soup and you can use a crock pot or simply set it on the back of your stove to simmer a while.  Chili is another favorite.  Other simple favorites are beef roasts, pork roasts, or roasting whole chickens.  Slow cooking with low heat is the most healthful way to prepare meats, and it is also simple to do. With different roasts I usually serve some type of potato or rice, a cooked vegetable or two, and maybe a salad.  It helps to think “meat ‘n 3”, i.e. have some type of meat dish and a few sides (2 veggies and bread, or just 2 veggies).  This is one of the easiest ways to cook.  Don’t get fancy.  I save more involved recipes for weekends or days when I know I’ll be home.  This includes chicken pot pie (totally homemade, including crust), quiche, drumsticks, wings, pizzas, and other “gourmet” type meals.  My menus are not revolutionary, they are just regular ol’ foods.  Often it feels like country cookin’.  I simply cook meats and vegetables, and skip the pre-packaged seasonings and pre-prepared foods (unless I made them myself).

 

You may have noticed an entire food group missing from my kitchen.  ?  Have you?  It is fish.  Personally I hate fish.  It makes me gag to think about it.  However fish is a really healthful food, despite the mercury fear, and I really need to learn to like it and add it to our diet.  My kids need to be exposed to it, and my husband loves it.  So I have challenged myself to give it a try.  I have collected a few recipes which I might be able to tolerate and plan to try salmon cakes this week.  I’ll let you know how it goes, and will post the recipe in part 3 of this series.

 

Why am I telling you this?  Because I know that some of you out there think that some of this whole foods stuff is gross, and you need to decide now to overcome.  The food that God created is not gross.  It is good for you and your body needs it.  Some of you have called or emailed to tell me about your cooking accomplishments as you try out new foods and new techniques.  This is great!  Don’t be embarrassed at what you haven’t done before; be embarrassed about your refusal to try.  So let’s work on this together, shall we?  I will try to like fish, and you will branch out with new veggies and get your hands deep into the cavern of a whole chicken.

 

The Conclusion:

Well, now you know how it is in my kitchen.  Sometimes things flow along pretty smoothly in here, other times it isn’t so great.  Hopefully this peek inside my kitchen will help you revolutionize your family meal plan.   It has been a little uncomfortable going public, but if you have found the freedom to move from “I don’t know where to start” to “I can do that!” then it has been worthwhile.  Changing a few things in your diet is hard enough, but to change an entire philosophy of eating and grocery shopping is really hard!  Especially when it involves an entire family.  Don’t let your job, your kid’s activities, your husband’s work, your lack of space, your budget, your tiny dilapidated kitchen, or your picky eaters be your stumbling block.  I know of people with far less money and resources than all of you, without your support systems, who are making this work well.  Know that you CAN make changes, decide that you WILL, and then DO IT.  Instead of thinking about what you can’t do right now, think about what you CAN do.  You will be surprised at the number of changes you can make NOW – just think about it and pray about it.  This is a good thing and God will guide you. 

 

Remember, eating this way will take more time and effort but with some thought, planning, and creativity it CAN be done!

 

Proverbs 14:1 Every wise woman buildeth her house:  but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.

 

Proverbs 31:14, 15 She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar.  She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household…

 

Next, in Part 3, recipes…