Appetizers in Advance

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If you are planning to throw a holiday party this season, you might wish to consider preparing time saving appetizers you can make ahead of time. You will be plenty busy with cleaning and decorating on the day of the party and the last thing you need is having to worry about cooking the entire meal. Of course, you can offer one or two store bought snacks, but it is always nice to mix it with homemade appetizers. Below are two easy recipes you can make ahead and freeze until the day of the party.

Meatballs
These versatile appetizers are perfect to offer in the holiday season. Caramelize a small onion in olive oil or butter and mix it with a pound of ground beef, a cup of bread crumbs you soaked in milk, an egg, salt and pepper, and any seasoning you like. You can go for the classic Italian taste with oregano, parsley, and garlic or draw from the Asian spice palette with turmeric, cinnamon and nutmeg. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and coat with oil. Make small, bite size meatballs by rolling them between your palms. Arrange the meatballs in rows on the cookie sheet and bake them for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Let them cool off completely before placing them in an airtight container for freezing. On the morning of your holiday party, put them in a slow cooker with some marinara sauce/gravy or simply re-warm them in the oven. You can have a dish of sauce on the side if you wish. Insert toothpicks into the meatballs for easy party eating.

Cheese Pastry
Another great appetizer you can make ahead is a simple cheese pastry recipe. Mix eight ounces of small curd cottage cheese and butter each with two cups of flour and a pinch of salt. Knead together until a firm dough forms. You may need to add a little bit more flour depending on the cottage cheese you use. Wrap the dough ball in plastic and put in the refrigerator for a half hour. Roll your dough ball out into a 1/2 inch thick sheet. You can either use a knife to cut it up to small squares or a cookie cutter or small glass to cut round circles out. Lay the pieces on cookie sheets about ½ inch apart and sprinkle some grated cheese on top. Bake in preheated 375? oven for 20 minutes or until brown.

In addition to these recipes, you can also experiment with other snacks and appetizers such as cheese puffs, a roasted vegetable cream cheese dip, or the sweet holiday classic:  homemade fudge. Miniature cheesecakes are festive desserts you can make ahead and pull out from the freezer only a few hours before your guests arrive.

 

Plan-Ahead Dinners That Kids Help Prepare

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Planning meals ahead can help you to save a lot of time and energy once dinner time rolls around. As a mother, it is highly likely that you stay busy throughout the entire day. When it's time to prepare dinner, you simply may not have the energy to get around to cooking. This could lead to spending extra money on unhealthy fast foods just because you don't have to cook in order to enjoy a meal. Now that school is out and summer has just begun, it's the perfect time to recruit your kids to help, in order to make ahead some meals that are not only fun to cook together, but are easy to freeze for a later time. Take a break from the stress of everyday life and simply spend some time together in the kitchen. These menu ideas are perfect for preparing freezer meals with the kids.

Beef Stew

While you may have a picky eater on your hands, allowing your child to help you with preparing and cooking the meal may encourage them to try some different food at dinner time. Ask for your kids' help in preparing beef stew, an easy dish that can be frozen and re-heated at a later time when you're scrambling to get out the door, but would still like to enjoy a home-cooked meal. Make this juicy beef stew in the oven, where it will cook for about 5 hours on 250 degrees F. Allow the kids to help cut up vegetables under your supervision, to measure ingredients and to then throw them all into the pot.

Ingredients:
- 2 lbs. beef stew meat
- 1 cup baby carrots
- 4 stalks of celery
- 2 medium onions
- 3 large potatoes
- 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 tsp. pepper, 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 cups V8 juice

Simply brown the meat in a skillet and transfer all ingredients to baking dish. Bake at 250 degrees F for 5 hours and enjoy. Freeze once cool to enjoy later.

Other Menu and Entree Ideas

Some other excellent kid-friendly menu ideas that the children can help to prepare include Sweet and Sour Meatballs, Basic Quesadillas and Baked Macaroni and Cheese. The classic meal of Macaroni and Cheese is a favorite among children, but making it yourself rather than out of a box will provide you with a healthier option that not only looks good, but also appeals to your kids' taste buds.

 

Fall Has Arrived: Let’s Stew! (Beef Stew)

beef, beef stew, fall stew

Fall Beef Stew

When the days grow shorter, the weather colder, and trees begin to change the color of their leaves; once I let go of the feeling that summer was not nearly long enough, I begin to revel in the beauty of the season. I begin to think of winter meals.

The onset of colder weather starts me thinking of hearty recipes that taste so good in winter. I like to prepare pork roasts, lamb or beef stew, chicken soup and other filling, comfort-providing foods.

A hearty pot of beef stew is my favorite dish for weekday winter meals.

Ingredients:

2 pounds beef stew meat (chuck roast is a good cut to use),
buy it precut, have the butcher cube it for you or cube it yourself

1½ pounds red potatoes, rinsed, peeled and cut into quarters or eighths depending on size or

1½ pounds of baby Yukon gold potatoes - rinsed and halved

1 pound of baby peeled carrots

2 large cans of whole tomatoes, or
an equivalent amount of fresh tomatoes

2 medium onions cut in half and thinly sliced

2 hand-fulls of fresh green beans, rinsed and trimmed

1 clove garlic

Dash of allspice or ground cloves.

1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce

2 to 3 dried bay leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

This recipe takes a little time. The ingredients need to simmer for some time to become tender and the flavors of the ingredients need to meld.

Coat the meat in a half-cup of flour seasoned with a little salt and pepper (I usually put the flour and seasoning in a clean, new, brown paper bag), add the meat and shake.

Sear the cubed meat in a small amount of cooking oil just until brown.
Add the potatoes, chopped onion clove of garlic, Worcestershire sauce, seasonings and 1 cup of water or broth. Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes. Add the fresh vegetables except the tomatoes and beans and cook for 30 minutes, add the green beans and cook for 30 minutes, add the fresh tomatoes if you are using them and cook an additional 30 minutes. If you are using canned tomatoes, add at the end of the cooking process and allow a few minutes for them to heat through. The stew is ready when the meat and vegetables are fork tender.

Remove the bay leaves and garlic clove before serving.

This stew will stay fresh in your fridge for one week; the taste improves with age, or divide it into family size portions and freeze until needed. Defrost and heat gently.

It is a nutritious meal and tastes wonderful. Serve it with warm bread.

Bulk Baked Ziti

Alright pasta lovers.  Here is another fantastic recipe that you can make in bulk and freeze for further use.  This is a trick I love to do with Lasagna.  I triple the recipe, assemble and freeze the portions I am not using.

This recipe is easier to make ahead and freeze. This recipe is for one family-sized portion so double it, triple it...quadruple as you wish.

Baked ziti, bulk baked ziti

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups (12 oz) ricotta cheese
  • 16 oz pasta
  • 3 cups spaghetti sauce
  • 1 lb ground beef, browned and drained
  • 3 oz pepperoni, diced
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella

Instructions:

  1. Combine egg and ricotta cheese in a bowl.
  2. Mix all ingredients together(except mozzarella).
  3. Place in a greased 3 quart casserole dish.
  4. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.
  5. Cover with foil.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Enjoy.

Half a Cow and Save Money

With all of the talk lately about cloned beef *BLECH* I was reminded of an article I wrote for for the frugal living blog on Families.com last year.  I hope you find it both timely, and useful.

 

Half a Cow and Save Money: April 1, 2007

Stop having a cow about your grocery bills each month...and *half* a cow instead! (Sorry..I couldn't resist.)

One of my husband's coworkers approached him with an idea last year. "Why don't we contact a local rancher and buy a cow." "Our families can split it and we will both save money".

It was a great idea and the timing couldn't have been better. We'd just received our tax return and figured that filling our freezer would be a great way to spend the money.

All together, our half cost us a little over $300 and we had nearly a years' worth of ground beef, steaks and roasts. While it cost us quite a bit up front, I noticed a tremendous difference in our weekly shopping bills. Imagine being able to skip the meat aisle all-together. It saved me a considerable amount of time too.

This year, we decided to do it again and we contacted two more families and split a cow, and a pig into 1/4ths. This time we spent about $500 and have a freezer plump full of ham, bacon, sausage, ground beef, roasts, steaks and ribs.

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