Alright, you all know that I love to talk about food. When I find a great recipe, I always want to share it with my friends or family members who like to cook and enjoy good food too. It feels like a secret that I can’t wait to let them in on. So it got me thinking about a new post to write for you, and I decided to create a collection of my favorite recipes I’ve stumbled across on the internet. These are ones that have proven tried and true in my household, and are loved by all three of us. Many of these are links to blogs so feel free to browse and even follow those blogs I link you to. Enjoy!

Breakfast

Bacon Egg Brunch Ring  – a way cool spin on a weekend breakfast option

Eggs Benedict Hash – a lighter take on eggs benedict, with tons of flavor.

Homemade Almond Croissants – an indulgent and oh-so delicious treat.

Orange Poppy Seed Pancakes – these will definitely get you out of your plain pancake rut.

One Pot/Pan Meals

Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Chicken  – I make this meal all the time. Tons of flavor, and all side dishes cooked on the same pan – truly a ONE pan meal!

One Pan Sausage and Veggies  – A delicious topping to some rice

Kielbasa and Pierogies Sheet Pan Meal – This is made at least once a month in my household. I stock up on pierogies when they’re on sale just for this meal!

Ranch Chicken with Potatoes and Green Beans – A simple and delicious (and another TRUE one pan meal)!

Sandwiches

Hawaiian Roll Ham Sliders – These were unexpectedly packed with flavor and made an awesome game day snack in our household

Oprah’s Favorite Grilled Cheese – Gooey, melty goodness

Chicken Banh Mi  – This recipe is packed full of flavor! My husband was pleasantly surprised at how delicious this was. Remember to start the veggies the night before.

Spicy Italian Crescent Ring – My boys thought that this recipe was a totally fun weeknight dinner.

Pasta

Red Pepper Pasta – Not spicy (which I was worried about based on the name alone) but definitely packed full of a smoky fresh flavor. Make enough for leftovers, you’ll want them!

Chicken and Cheese Lasagna Roll Ups – This recipe cooked, froze, and reheated well! Next time, I’m going to make them in bulk and have some ready to go for another meal.

Basil Spaghetti with Cheesy Broiled Tomatoes – SO quick and delicious. A good weeknight meal.

Corn and Chipotle Ravioli Lasagna – I loved this recipe so much that I made it about once a week for a couple of months.

Super Easy One Pot Lasagna – My absolute favorite, hands-down, go-to lasagna recipe now. It’s simply amazing. Takes a little bit to cook and I’ve found that draining the grease off of the meats and vegetables is best done as a two-person job…but other than that, will make this again and again and again.

One-Pot Pasta – Another quick weeknight meal option. Serve with a crusty bread to soak up some of the residual juices. Yum!

Chicken

Chicken Piccata – I love how quick and easy this cooks up. Simple and flavorful.

Peach Whiskey Barbecue Chicken – First time I made this, I was sad when it was gone! I double the recipe the second time because it’s so delicious.

Parmesan Crusted Chicken – I make this often. It spruces up baked chicken breast nicely.

Beer Braised Chicken – One of my favorite fall and winter meals. It’s a great Sunday night dinner.

Copycat P.F. Chang’s Chicken Lettuce Wraps – I make this often in the summertime, when I don’t want to turn on the oven and we want a quick and refreshing weeknight dinner.

Tomato Basil Pesto Chicken – A really simple but flavorful dish that’s on the table fast.

Beef

Nunya Business Meatloaf – My go-to meatloaf recipe now! Definitely a different take on meatloaf but this recipe is moist, flavorful, and not your mama’s meatloaf by any means.

Cheeseburger Gnocchi – I love gnocchi, and this is a nice option instead of just dumping some marinara or pesto on cooked gnocchi.

16-minute Beef and Bean Burritos – Another quick weeknight meal that’s a nice surprise to serve your hungry family at dinnertime.

Tex Mex Corn Chip Chili – my go-to chili recipe for YEARS now. You can mix this up various ways. I’ve used different bean varieties in a pinch, you can make it spicy, cilantro or no cilantro. Play with variations and make it your own! We rarely eat it with corn chips anymore because I make cornbread instead.

Soups

Tomato Tortellini Soup – when your tummy is craving a hearty soup but you’re short on time, make things easy on yourself with this deliciousness.

Curried Cream of Broccoli Soup – this is an excellent soup I stumbled across when I was following my AIP diet. Completely paleo, great for you, and can be primarily vegetarian if you’d like. I like to mix in some chopped bacon and/or shredded chicken to mine. Ham would be a good alternative also.

30-minute Chicken Pho – for stormy winter night pho cravings.

Giada’s House Soup – a nice spin on an italian soup with fresh flavors.

Slow Cooker

Olive Garden Copycat Zuppa Toscana – tastes like the real thing!

Kalua Pork – a staple in our household, so delicious with some rice and salad, or braised cabbage and carrots.

Salsa Verde Lime Chicken – SUPER FLAVORFUL. Yes, that needed to be in caps. Absolutely amazing.

Chicken Gnocchi Soup – Another fall and winter soup your family is sure to love. And, I love gnocchi, if you couldn’t tell.

Mac & Cheese – An awesome side dish or main dish.

Chicken Tortilla Soup – makes a really good, deeply flavored soup.

French Dip Sandwiches – yummy weeknight sandwiches are at your fingertips

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup – It’s not labeled as such, but this soup is a close comparison to Panera Bread’s version served on Tuesdays and Thursdays

Tortellini Soup – a creamy version with mushrooms and spinach. I always add extra mushrooms, because, I love em.

Cilantro Lime Chicken – excellent “dump” dinner. If you can spare the ingredients and $, make a couple bags of this and have dinner at the ready in your freezer.

Desserts

Lemon Bars – I’ve always loved lemon bars, but this recipe’s crust is what makes this one my fave.

Pumpkin Streusel Bars – I stumbled across this recipe as an alternative to pumpkin pie last Thanksgiving. Really sweet and rich but really, really good!

Chocolate Cupcakes for Two – When one of our birthday falls on a weeknight, I make a double batch of some “for two” cupcakes — it makes just enough cupcakes to celebrate with after dinner but we don’t have loads of leftover cake or cupcakes laying around.

Apple Dump Cake – a warm, easy dessert that most people will love.

decluttering

Simplification. Decluttering. Minimalism. These are some buzz words that are frequenting our society these days, as some people strive to find a reduction in the clutter in their lives. Often, it takes reaching a point of feeling overwhelmed with life to want to try to simplify it, and these past few years, I’ve been on this bandwagon. Mentally, I had a feeling like I couldn’t overcome all of the busyness of my life, while finishing my degree program, working, and with my husband and I raising our son and trying to make time for one another, as well. As the finish line for college was in sight, I took that opportunity to begin evaluating what I wanted in my life, (and didn’t want) and that included stuff, routines, processes, and habits. I had already found some ways to increase my personal productivity and stay sane during that time, but it was also an opportunity to practice some “out with the old, in with the new”, even if that “new” meant an idea, new habit, or, giving myself permission to give something else the heave-ho.

So here, in no particular order, here are some things that I’ve done to simplify my life.

  1. I decided that I didn’t need to hold onto everything. Books I’ve read and loved and kept because I may want to read them again. Clothes that weren’t my favorite. Jewelry I no longer wore. Kitchen gadgets that I barely made use of. Most all of them were kept with good intentions. But keeping it all for a “just in case” scenario simply didn’t make sense anymore.

2. Automate my email filters. I have my Gmail account set to filter airline travel deals, shopping promotions, and other non-essential emails that are okay to be tucked away in case I want them. When I subscribe to a new website and hence start getting emails from them, I setup a filter based on that first email I get, so that I’m not littered with more junk in my inbox. Because of these processes and habits, my inbox is not overwhelming and typically has very few emails in it, which are emails that I need to take an action on.

3. Keep a donations box. With the practice of decluttering becoming more of a marathon than a sprint, it turns out that there’s usually one or more items around the house that need to be donated. I keep a box around for us to gather items into as we find they’ve lived a good life in our household, and when the box is full, it gets dropped off at a donation center near our home.

4. Become comfortable with who you are. This tip might sound silly, but settling more into my comfort zone has rid me of the stress of trying to be someone I’m not. I’m mostly a jeans and t-shirt kind of person, large crowds overwhelm me, and I learned long ago that I’d rather have a few close friends than buckets of acquaintances. I tend to be an early to bed and early to rise person, I typically follow rules, and I don’t like surprises. It’s a work in progress, but I decided to stop apologizing for these aspects of my personality.

5. Figure out a housekeeping routine that works for you. I’ve developed routines within housecleaning that allows me some flexibility, while also providing that I’m not doing chores all day long. Some shortcuts here include daily cleaning and pickup, washing a load of laundry everyday or every other day (depending on your household size and amount of laundry produced, you may need to adjust this) and spending 15 minutes speed cleaning an area when it needs to be done.

6. Keep a meal planning notebook. I’ve got a notebook that I use as a meal planner and keep past week’s meal plans so that I can refer back to them as needed for inspiration. I have a page that lists our favorite meals so that I have additional inspiration as well. On top of all this, I review my family’s upcoming schedule on a weekly basis and meal plan around that schedule accordingly.

7. Declutter your schedule. I purposely avoid making things more difficult on myself and my family. If we have a lot going on in a certain week, I don’t commit to additional things. If my son is invited to two birthday parties back to back on opposite ends of town, we probably choose one. Our son also is enrolled in one extracurricular activity at a time.

8. Enlist help! Long are the days where the housecleaning is the wife’s sole responsibility. My husband pitches in with a whole lot around the house and my son has set chores and additional things he helps with as well. I never feel like taking care of the house is all on my shoulders.

9. Turn off the TV more. If only every so often. Engage in a different hobby, play a board game with your partner, or read a book. TV watching can be expensive, if you have cable. If you have the ability to cut your cable plan all together and become a cord cutter, I guarantee your finances will thank you. We have plenty to watch between Netflix, our HBO subscription, and Amazon Prime content, and cut the cord 2 years ago and haven’t looked back.

10. Digitize your documents. It took me a long time to get to this point, but I’m starting to do away with filing every.piece.of.paper. I used to spend hours in our office filing, shredding, labeling, and purging, (and then having to do it all again sometime later) and I simply grew weary of it. I scanned all of our tax returns and supporting documentation for storage on an external hard drive, and I lightened up some of our already filed paperwork by getting rid of user manuals (and downloading the manual off the internet and storing on external hard drive), warranties that had expired, receipts for items that we no longer have, and I shred paystubs at the end of the year after we’ve received our W-2s. I don’t keep past years Social Security statements or bank statements, I keep only 12 months worth of monthly bills in my budget binder, and I register for products that have that option in case there is a recall or warranty problem. It’s still a work in progress, but I definitely spend less time sorting papers now.

Online, I’ve seen a few variations of pre-made breakfast burritos that are batch-cooked and then stored in the freezer, wrapped individually, to make for a quick breakfast option. As I’m beginning a new job tomorrow, I decided being on the ball and having some breakfast choices ready to go would help my family and avoid (some) of the hectic weekday morning rush.

The combinations for breakfast burritos are fairly endless. You can include potatoes or rice, beans, cheese, vegetables, eggs and meat. You can also make them as spicy or as mild as you’d like, and be heavy on some ingredients versus others. Basically, you can make them however you’d like, and that’s half the fun of it!

First step was evaluating what my family liked inside their breakfast burritos, and then adapting some of these online recipes I’d seen for what I wanted to create. A lot of freezer breakfast burrito recipes include beans, which I typically love, but I don’t enjoy beans in a breakfast burrito. Something about the combination of eggs and beans together, just don’t do it for me. And, I decided to make all of our burritos mild, as my husband is really the only one in our household who enjoys spicy foods. He usually dresses up his breakfast burritos how he would like with hot sauce and maybe even sour cream. So, I decided to keep things really simple with our burritos, and stuck to some vegetables, eggs, meat, and cheese for our fillings.

I had read on several sites that one of the tricks to making freezer breakfast burritos was to make sure your ingredients are pretty much at room temperature when you assemble, and that all of the ingredients are dry, to avoid a soggy burrito that won’t reheat well. That meant that unless I wanted to dirty four pans ( I didn’t:) ) that I would need to cook the ingredients in stages. I started with the potatoes, cooking those to a golden brown color. Once they were soft and golden, I removed them from the pan and placed them into a bowl to cool.

Next into the pan went the sausage, which I cooked through completely and then placed the sausage in a paper-towel lined pasta bowl to remove most of the grease. I did a quick wipe of the pan and turned the heat onto to medium and in went all my scrambled eggs.

I chopped two red peppers and got out the cheese and tortillas, and then I had a little downtime as I let my ingredients cool down after cooking. I used my time wisely and made more coffee 🙂

 

Then came assembly time! There is a method to my madness, guys. My son is allergic to eggs and so, the easiest thing was going to be to combine all of my ingredients in a bowl and fill each tortilla that way, but before I did that, I made a few burritos with individual ingredients besides the eggs. I made four egg-less burritos, and then combined everything else in my big mixing bowl.

 

Egg-less burritosBy the way, I yielded four egg-less burritos, but my son decided these smelled so good, he wanted to eat one right then 😉

Here’s about how much filling I placed on my tortillas:

 

And, an arial view:


All in all, after the four egg-less burritos, I yielded an additional 11. Not too shabby!


See below for my quantities used. I hope you’ve enjoyed this idea to create some make-ahead breakfast options for your household, too!

Make-Ahead Freezer Breakfast Burritos

Yields 15 breakfast burritos

Ingredients:

15 burrito-sized flour tortillas

1 bag of diced hashbrown potatoes (I like Ore-Ida brand)

1/2 cup or more shredded cheese (I used a Mexican cheese blend from Costco)

1 dozen eggs

1 pound ground breakfast sausage, or other meat of your choice

Two diced peppers, or other vegetable combination of your choice

Instructions:

  1. Cook potatoes in a non-stick skillet with a little olive oil, until light golden in color. Remove to a bowl to cool. Then, brown and crumble sausage, and drain grease, then wipe pan dry with a paper towel.
  2. Crack eggs into a bowl and whisk, and cook over medium heat in the non-stick skillet until just set. Do not leave eggs wet and do not overcook.
  3. Meanwhile, chop vegetables into a small dice, and season potatoes, if you’d like.
  4. Once ingredients are cooled nearly to room temperature, mix all together in a large mixing bowl. Begin filling burritos, and top with shredded cheese, if desired.
  5. Make sure your burrito filling ingredients are in a tubular shape on your tortilla, and then fold in the two sides over your fillings and roll the burrito up from the bottom.
  6. Wrap each burrito individually in plastic wrap. Store the plastic-wrapped burritos in a freezer zipper bag and write the warming instructions on the bag.
  7. To reheat a burrito, unwrap it from the plastic wrap and place it on a microwave safe plate. Heat on high 1 minute, flip the burrito, and then heat for 1 more minute on high. Add sour cream, hot sauce, or salsa as desired!

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When life gets overwhelming, there’s nothing worse than feeling as if you’re under a mountain of to-do’s that you can’t struggle your way out of. Thankfully, there’s little steps that you can take in order to get your physical house in order, and hopefully this helps your mental or emotional house feel a little better in the process! If you’re feeling super structured, set a timer for the 15-minute mark, and vow to quit that task once the 15-minutes are up. That way you aren’t ‘losing’ yourself in what was supposed to have been a quick project to boost your productivity, morale, and improve your sanity!

15-Minute Organizing Projects for the Kitchen

  1. Quick pantry purge and straighten. Stand up those pasta boxes, group baking items together, ensure chip clips are fastened to bags well, and toss that box of crackers that doesn’t even have enough remaining for a serving.
  2. Straighten and group like items together in freezer. I like to keep the breakfast items together, meats in one drawer, frozen fruits on one shelf and frozen veggies on another. Frozen bread and tortillas go on top.
  3. Purge foods past their prime from the fridge. The yogurt you cannot read the expiration date of, the lunchmeat forgotten about at the back of the deli drawer, and a can of juice lost in the back of the fridge, can all get a new home…in the trash can.
  4. Wet a microfiber cleaning cloth, and wipe down spice jars. Group accordingly and of course, chuck anything past it’s prime.
  5. Declutter kitchen counters. Clear countertops do wonders for your psyche. Your countertops don’t benefit from last week’s mail, some coupons and junk mail you probably won’t use, or your kid’s artwork. Find an appropriate place for everything that’s not essential to cooking, cleaning, or preparing food.
  6. Straighten food storage containers. Group lids with bases, and ensure that you don’t have any orphans without either a base or a lid (if you do, set it aside in another area of the kitchen for a month. If the other part doesn’t turn up, toss it’s partner).
  7. Tidy up your coffee, tea, or smoothie making area in your kitchen. Re-arrange the space so that the most used items are front and center and can help your morning flow better. While you’re at it, stock your coffee filters, fill the sugar bowl, or wipe down the sticky honey container.
  8. Purge your junk drawer, and organize items into rough categories. Add any items that you need to your shopping list, such as batteries or a battery tester, super glue, markers, labels, etc.

15-Minute Organizing Projects for the Home

  1. Do a quick blitz around the house and gather items into one box (I like to reuse boxes from my Amazon Prime shipments) that you’ve been meaning to gather to donate to your favorite charity.
  2. Straighten coat closet. It’s inevitable that our coat closet has a coat or sweater hanging off the hanger, or a few items that were thrown in the closet but don’t belong.
  3. Straighten master closet. Put shoes back in an organized fashion, make sure there aren’t forgotten socks behind the hamper, and re-fold sweaters that fell off their stack.
  4. Tidy your kid’s toys. Whether toys are kept in their room, a playroom, or the living room, a quick pickup of dolls, trucks, or Lego’s will help your house feel more tidy immediately.
  5. Take items back to other rooms. Get a basket or other container and start in the kitchen or living room. Toss things into the basket that belong elsewhere in the house. Move quickly from room to room and pickup things for your basket that belong somewhere else and deposit items into the room they should be in, when you get there.
  6. Straighten front door area. Shake out your doormat(s), straighten shoe collection, backpacks, purses, and dog supplies.
  7. Clean out your purse or workbag. Toss trash, shred receipts that don’t need to be kept, and put things back where they belong. Deposit change to a pouch or jar for savings.
  8. File away that stack of paperwork you’ve been meaning to get to.

15-Minute Organizing Projects for Your Technology

  1. Purge apps no longer used from your phone or tablet.
  2. Perform a backup of your computer, phone, or tablet.
  3. Declutter your email inbox, archiving emails accordingly and deleting those you don’t need.
  4. Backup photos to your favorite photo storage service. (I like Google Photos). Delete the backed-up photos from your phone.
  5. Declutter the music on your phone, getting rid of songs that you don’t listen to anymore, have grown out of or simply aren’t your favorite.
  6. Straighten up your computer desktop. Archive files to organized folders so that they are accessible but not cluttering your desktop.
  7. Move sensitive files, such as last year’s tax returns, copies of W-2s, or bank statements to a thumb drive or external hard drive.

15-Minute Organizing Projects for Your Finances

  1. Shred paperwork that’s been needing to be destroyed.
  2. Organize receipts relevant for tax purposes.
  3. Go through that stack of restaurant and shopping coupons, toss what’s expired. Brainstorm a more organized way to keep coupons handy for use.
  4. Download a template to keep track of your net worth. Check bank, investment, and retirement account balances, and fill in those along with approximate amounts of your liabilities to determine your net worth.
  5. Have a sit-down with your spouse or partner, and discuss the upcoming month’s financial outlook.
  6. Brainstorm some mini financial goals, such as paying for Christmas fully in cash, saving for a vacation, saving for an emergency fund, or paying off a debt. Rough out some steps or milestones it will take to reach the goal.

15-Minute Organizing Projects for Your Family

  1. Create a list of family-favorite meals. Write down rough categories (chicken, beef, pork, vegetarian, pasta, slow-cooker, BBQ) and fill in the meals that your family likes to eat in these categories. That’s instant dinner inspiration for you, right there.
  2. Make a size chart for each family member with their current clothing and shoe sizes. This helps come gift giving time. Be sure to update your children’s size charts once or twice a year.
  3. Make a physical features chart for each family member. List height, weight, eye and hair colors, any distinguishing features, marks, or tattoos, and if you can, include a photo. In the event of a missing persons situation, you’ll have a quick reference to show police or search parties. Update this for children once or twice a year, and change the photo for adults once a year.
  4. If your family doesn’t already have one, begin making plans for a first aid and/or emergency kit. There are a ton of resources online for how to develop a well-stocked emergency kit. On a sheet of paper, start making a list of the things you’ll need for your kit. When you have a little more time, you can shop your house for the items you already have (such as first aid supplies, a spare can opener, or an emergency radio). Make a list of what you still need, and a plan of action to complete the purchases. I purchased one item a week or, pricier items once a month, until our emergency kit was complete.
  5. Start a list of date night ideas for you and your spouse or partner, and another list for family outings. Depending on the climate where you live, you may want to separate the list of ideas into outdoor vs. indoor.
  6. Create a list on your phone or in your planner or journal for gift ideas. Make the list somewhere that it will not be found easily by children or your spouse. Throughout the year as they mention something they’d like to have, make a note of it. Come birthday and Christmas time, you’ll have a list of ideas you’ve developed all year long, which can help you give more thoughtful gifts and avoid impulse purchases.
  7. Create a master babysitting or petsitting instructions form. List mealtimes, bedtimes, medications and dosages, allergies, foods not to give, and other important information on the sheet. Next time you need a babysitter or a petsitter, you can refer your sitter to your form that should answer most of the questions they would have and give them something to refer back to.

Ahh, the little things that make life easier….I sure can’t get enough of these products and shortcuts, and I hope that me sharing some of my recent favorites helps you out, too!

  1. Slow Cooker Bags

If you aren’t using slow cooker bags to cook some of your crock-pot meals in, you’re missing out on some ease of cleanup. I don’t use slow  cooker bags for every meal, but for things that are likely to burn, like some BBQ pork chops or crockpot mac&cheese, slow cooker bags are invaluable. Lighten your after dinner dishes with some of these bad boys today: Slow Cooker Bags

Photo Credit: Amazon.com

2. Coat Closet Overflow

Buying certain items in bulk has saved money and my sanity. Having a surplus of things like toilet paper, napkins and paper towels is convenient, but storing those items, in my home, isn’t. Since it’s difficult to find a spot to store 12 large rolls of paper towels, I’ve created a spot for additional storage of paper products in our coat closet. A hanging shoe rack helps store individual rolls of paper towels, zipper bags and napkin stacks. You can find a similar version here:  Hanging Shoe Organizer.  A sliding basket organizer from Ikea holds additional units of these items and some other random tidbits like our family picnic blanket, some dog toys, my spare purse, umbrellas, and my husband’s camera case. I have this sliding organizer positioned in the back corner of the closet, still not too difficult to get to but out of the way of the everyday items we reach for, like our coats and the vacuum cleaner. You can find the version that I have here: Ikea Frame and Wire Baskets.  So even if all of your bulk purchases won’t fit in your pantry or kitchen cabinets, keep in mind that you can create some smart alternative storage for those items to work for you.

 

 

3. Mini-Hamper in Laundry Room

My laundry room is right off of our kitchen, so for things that get dirty downstairs, it doesn’t make sense to haul them upstairs to our laundry hampers there. So, for things like dirty dish towels, scrubby cloths and cleaning towels, I purchased a fabric tote to use on the wire shelving in our laundry room to use as a hamper. That way, the dirty items are self contained, and I can run everything that goes into that laundry basket on the ‘sanitize’ cycle in my washer once it’s full.

Next to this, I have a durable plastic bin with lid that fits clean scrubby cloths and cleaning cloths. Most of these are the remnants of worn out washcloths or hand towels, but some are microfiber cleaning cloths. We keep all of these in the same place and then once used, can throw them in the mini-hamper next to the bin. This system works out pretty well!

 

4. Museum Putty

I stumbled across this product after seeing Alejandra from Alejandra.tv rave about it. Museum Putty is essentially a tacky putty that you can use to attach one item to another. This revolutionized both our kitchen silverware drawer and utensil drawer. Both drawers had inserts that didn’t fit perfectly, and so the inserts would slide around with the drawers were opened or closed. I stuck a generous wad of museum putty underneath all four corners, and those drawer inserts aren’t going anywhere now. I’ve also used this in the bathroom, where I’ve secured a magnetic paper clip holder containing my bobby pins, to the bottom of the drawer so that it didn’t slide around. Essentially, you can use this product to help items on a shelf stay put or secure items within a drawer, and it’s easily removable and non-damaging to your surfaces. Plus, for 5 bucks, you can’t really go wrong. Get some here: Museum Putty.

Photo Credit: Amazon.com

Chores…they’re never ending! It seems that there is always something needing to be done, whether that’s the laundry, bathrooms, kitchens, you name it. I’ve struggled for a long time to find a routine that’s worked for me, for our family, and for our household. And lo and behold, that means that there isn’t a “routine” at all!

Allow me to explain. Over the years, with changing schedules, houses, family size and circumstances, (I’m looking at you, pup!) a set cleaning routine has either changed drastically, or, the chores that comprised that cleaning routine have evolved into things we do on an as-needed basis. There are things that we do on a regular basis to keep up on our household cleanliness, and some of those tasks are done daily, so I don’t really consider them “cleaning”. I’m referring to the general maintenance things that have to be done so that they don’t pile up on you and wreck havoc on, say, your cooking area for tonight’s dinner because you didn’t do the dishes from last night’s meal. The dishes, kitchen cleanup, and general household tidiness are things that we do on a daily basis, often without even thinking about them.

So if I don’t consider those tasks true cleaning–you know, the things like dishes and picking up the living room–how do I tackle everything else? Here’s a few rules of thumb that I go by:

Analyze Your High Traffic Areas. Here’s the thing. Those ickier tasks, like scrubbing down the showers, do take a little planning, time and effort. Yet, we feel amazing when they are done. Showering in a clean shower is pretty much the equivalent of sleeping in fresh clean sheets! But keep in mind that each family and household are very different. The high traffic areas of your house and my house are going to differ, and perhaps by a lot. Your hall bathroom might need cleaning on a more regular basis if you have three children sharing it, versus my guest bathroom only being used by our four year old. If you have carpet and wear shoes inside the house, or have children or pets, your carpet will be a high traffic area. Analyze what gets used in your house the most, and that will be where you want to concentrate your cleaning efforts.

For us, that means vacuuming at least once a week, giving the bathrooms a light spiff in between deep cleanings, and keeping up on our kitchen counter clutter. Trash and recycling is dealt with on a daily basis, and dishes are loaded into the dishwasher or hand washed as needed. Those are our high traffic areas.

My husband and I decided long ago on a standard for how tidy and clean we want our home, and because of that, forcing ourselves into a box for when we do certain chores just didn’t seem to make sense. We’ve adopted an approach of doing something when it needs to be done. That’s not to say that I stop everything I’m doing to give the bathroom a cleaning during a hectic weekday morning. More or less I’m saying that I’ll take the 20 minutes to clean the downstairs powder room in the upcoming days once I see that it needs to be done.

Divide and Conquer What’s Left. As for who does what in our household, there’s not a rule of thumb for that. Whoever gets to it, gets to it. There are certain things that my husband generally takes care of, such as lawn mowing and maintenance. It’s just not my strong suit, you guys. I can’t even start the lawn mower! So he handles that area of household maintenance. By default, since he’s usually out there doing lawn stuffs anyway, he also tends to get to things like weeding and mulching before I do as well. In turn, I typically am the first to get to the bathrooms. There are not labels in our house of who’s got which duty, rather, everyone is participating, which lightens the loan on everyone.

As our son gets older and likes to “help” with chores too, we have certain things that we ask him to do each day. We feel that this helps serve several purposes. One, we’re teaching him that loafing while everyone else does chores is not okay in our family. Everyone contributes. Everyone is a part of the household. Secondly, he gets to take pride in contributing, and for some of these chores, he earns a little money for his children’s envelope system. The key is finding age-appropriate chores that are well within his abilities. The main chores that he does daily include picking up his toys, placing dirty clothes in his hamper, setting the table, feeding our dog, and weekly, he helps us fold and put away his laundry. In the spring, summer, and fall, he helps us water our outdoor plants and flowers and he also assists with weeding. He also likes to try to operate the vacuum and sweep the floors, though mom and dad help him out with these.

In the end, every family and household is different, and you have to find what works for yours. I’ve read a lot of household cleaning routines from bloggers online, and some of them are very ambitious–vacuuming their floors every.single.day(!?)–for instance. That’s just not something that’s needed or is going to work in my household, and I’m okay with that, at this stage of my life.

 

Happy Days-After-The-Holidays! Did you survive?

We had a nice relaxing Christmas and stayed close to home, visiting family that lives in our town. I took a different approach with some gift giving this year, and made some homemade gifts, which I wanted to share with you.

I always do some holiday baking, and make a few different kinds of cookies for gifting to friends and family members that we will see during the time around Christmas. This year, I had a little extra time on my hands and decided to make some biscotti for our neighbors as well. I kept this very simple by placing about half a dozen biscotti cookies on a holiday themed paper plate and sealing the plate within a gallon size freezer bag. It wasn’t a super pretty presentation, but it was practical and inexpensive, and the neighbors were thankful for the little gift. I stuck to about a half dozen per family as I know that families are typically inundated with holiday treats this time of year, so it was just a small sampling, not an overwhelming amount. I also chose to gift biscotti because they aren’t super sweet and can even be enjoyed with a cup of coffee or tea. I kept the flavors neutral by making one batch with orange zest and another with lemon zest. They were tasty but not overpowering.

Citrus Zested Biscotti

adapted from The Kitchn
Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

1/4 cup mild olive oil
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon lemon or orange zest

Instructions

  1. Prep: Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.
  2. Mix the wet ingredients: In a stand mixer, mix the olive oil and sugar on medium speed until blended. Switch the machine to low, and add the vanilla extract, almond extract, and eggs, and continue to mix until well blended.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients: In small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder. With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture and mix until blended. Add in the citrus zest and mix until distributed throughout dough. The dough will be sticky.
  4. Shape into logs: Using a spatula, give the mixture a final stir to be sure that everything is incorporated from the bottom of the bowl and well blended. Scoop out roughly half the dough and place it in a rough log shape lengthwise on the cookie sheet, leaving enough room next to it for the second log of dough. Dampen your hands and quickly shape the dough into a long, thin log, about 12 inches long and 2 inches wide. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  5. Par-bake the logs: Place the logs of biscotti in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the dough is just cooked through and very lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, turn the oven down to 275°F.
  6. Cut into cookies: Carefully pick up a log (or use two spatulas) and place on a cutting board. Using a sharp, thin, preferably serrated knife, cut the log into 1/2-inch slices. Repeat with the second log.
  7. Bake until lightly browned: Return the slices to the baking sheet, arranging them cut side down. Bake for another 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned.
  8. Cool and store: Cool biscotti on a rack. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks or freeze for several months.

Some other homemade gifts I made this year included jars of biscotti mixes for the family members we would see. I took a recipe I had found on Pinterest from Girl Versus Dough, and my son and I whipped up these biscotti mixes on a rainy afternoon. Good project for the kiddos to help with, as he had fun using my canning funnel to put my pre-measured ingredients into the jars, and then gently pound the jars to level the ingredients.

It took only about a half an hour to make five jars of mix. I crumpled up waxed paper to place in the space at the top of the jars so that there wasn’t too much room for the ingredients to shift around and the pretty layers to get messed up. Then, I used 3×5″ photo paper to print the additional ingredients and baking instructions on, and punched a hole in the corner and tied the card to the jar with kitchen twine, ending in a bow. It was a cute gift that the recipients can make sometime down the road when the hustle and bustle of the holidays are over. My dairy-free BFF appreciated that there was no dairy in this biscotti recipe, also!

Cranberry Crunch Biscotti

adapted from Girl Versus Dough

Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

For the gift jars:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup dried cherries or cranberries
For the recipe:
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • Zest of 1 small lemon

Instructions:

  1. To make the gift jar: In a small bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt. Add mixture to a large (at least 1 quart) mason jar. Top with cornmeal, sugar, then dried cranberries. Seal jar and gift to a friend with recipe instructions.
  2. To make the biscotti: Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Pour all ingredients from mason jar into a large bowl. In a separate medium bowl, whisk eggs, oil and lemon zest until combined. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients; stir thoroughly to combine.
  4. Shape and pat dough into a roughly 14-by-4-inch log on prepared baking sheet. Bake 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown and set. Cool completely.
  5. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Use a serrated knife to slice log diagonally into ½-inch slices. Place biscotti cut-side down on parchment-lined baking sheet, spaced at least a ½-inch apart. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, rotating sheet and flipping biscotti over halfway through, until biscotti are golden around the edges. Cool completely.

 

I had just enough of the cornmeal and other ingredients to make my household a ‘base’ recipe of the jarred biscotti mix. I had used all the cranberries for the other mixes, but when I do make this for us, I plan to add some more dried berries and pistachios to ours, as the original recipe had intended.

My mother in law is diabetic, and wouldn’t be able to eat biscotti or holiday cookies. I decided to come up with an idea for another jarred gift that I could give her in lieu. Enter Definitely Not Martha‘s recipe for lentil soup mixes. I used her variation ideas to make one southwest flavored soup mix and one Italian flavored soup mix. I had just enough lentils to make a small batch of soup for our household for dinner one night, and it was really tasty! I’ll now be adding lentil soup to our regular dinner rotation.

Southwest Lentil Soup in a Jar

adapted from Definitely Not Martha

(this will perfectly fill a 500 mL mason jar)

6 oz green lentils
3 tablespoons dried minced onion
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon dried cilantro
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 oz red lentils

Include a card tied to the jar or a label that reads:

“Southwest Lentil Soup. Add contents of jar and six jars of water to a pot and simmer 30 minutes”.

Italian Lentil Soup in a Jar

adapted from Definitely Not Martha

(this will perfectly fill a 500 mL mason jar)

6 oz green lentils
3 tablespoons dried minced onion
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon italian seasoning or a mixture of rosemary, thyme and basil
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 oz red lentils

Include a card tied to the jar or a label that reads:

“Italian Lentil Soup. Add contents of jar and six jars of water to a pot and simmer 30 minutes”.

Finally, the gift I was most excited to make was crema di limoncello. For our tenth anniversary this past September, my husband took me to dinner at this wonderful Italian bistro in downtown Portland. When he made the reservation he apparently dropped that it was our anniversary, so after dinner the waitress presented us with two icy glasses of crema di limoncello, on the house. I’d never tasted anything like it–it was smooth, creamy, sweet, and absolutely delicious. It’s also made with Everclear, a 151-proof grain alcohol, so it’ll knock you on your butt if you have too much (we joke that it’s a “hire an Uber” drink). When I find something that amazing, I usually research it and find out if it’s possible to duplicate, and came across several recipes to make a variation that seemed similar to what the restaurant served. In November, I had the bright idea to make a large batch of this and bottle it in smaller portions as Christmas gifts, so I set out preparing to do so. In my research, I’d found that the longer you can allow the lemon peels to infuse into the alcohol, the better the flavor, so I purchased the Everclear and lemons and set to work before Thanksgiving. I used mason jars to hold my concoction, and stored it in my kitchen until the week leading up to Christmas, where I used milk, cream, and vanilla beans to create the final product. The recipe I used was adapted from Simply Recipes, and the only real change I made was extending the time I’d soaked the lemon peels. The final product was aahhhhmazing. Because I’d made such a big batch, we have some leftover for ourselves, and we’ll be enjoying this for some time to come.

Crema di Limoncello

adapted from Simply Recipes

Yield: Makes a little more than 3 quarts.

Ingredients

10 lemons
1 (750-ml) bottle Everclear (a quality vodka will do if you can’t find it)
8 cups  whole milk
5 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, seeds and pod

Additional Supplies you will need:
cheesecloth
bottles

Method

1. Zest the lemons using a lemon zester or peel them using a sharp paring knife. Make sure that you do not include the white pith into your peels, or at least ensure that your peels do not have very much of the pith as it will make your limoncello bitter.  Place the zest and the Everclear in containers and allow to infuse in a dark, cool place for a month.

After the infusion time has passed strain the liquid through the cheesecloth into a very large glass, stainless steel, or ceramic bowl.

2. In a large stockpot, warm the milk, sugar, and vanilla bean seeds and pod over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until dissolved.

Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature (this will take a few hours). Discard the vanilla bean and strain the mixture through the cheesecloth.

3. Combine the Everclear infusion with the sweet milk and stir together. Pass through a colander lined with cheesecloth to catch any solids. Funnel into bottles and store in the freezer.

Be sure to leave room in the bottles for the mixture to expand if it freezes to avoid an explosion. Use within six months. Serve small amounts in chilled glasses.

I hope my homemade holiday foodie gifts have given you some ideas of simple things you can present your friends and family at your next gift-giving opportunity!

With Christmas right around the corner, everyone I know is in a wrapping and baking frenzy. I hope that the holidays don’t find you too overwhelmed and that you have a chance to spend some time with loved ones, opportunities to relax and unwind, and peace in your lives this season.

At my household, our four-year old son is abuzz with the Christmas spirit. He’s diligently counting down the days until Santa comes with our Melissa and Doug Christmas Countdown Calendar and constantly reorganizing the ornaments on the tree. As for me, I’ve been working on some baked goods for our neighbors and family members, as well as a few homemade food and drink gifts this year.  I don’t want to spoil anyone’s surprises just yet, but stay tuned for a post on my homemade gifts coming soon!

I want to wish all of you Happy Holidays and an exciting 2017.

Allie

Years ago, I was the type of girl who’d arrive home from work somewhere between 6-8pm, stare into the black hole that was our refrigerator, and figure out what we were going to eat for dinner based on whatever was inside. There wasn’t a plan in place, no thought had been given to the meal beforehand, and it resulted in a lot of “I dunno, what do you want to eat?” “I don’t care, let’s order pizza!” – conversations in my household.

As life became busier and there were more considerations to work around, such as when both my husband and I began college while still working full-time, I started to realize the value of a meal plan. We then had both of our work schedules to schedule around, plus study groups and night classes, and I had zero desire to resort to takeout or fast food every time we needed to eat quickly. A rough meal plan began to take shape, and I tried to become more organized by keeping a running shopping list as the week progressed, and finding new inspiration for meals. I had always loved to cook, but in the hustle and bustle of life while we were building our careers, dinner became getting something yummy on the table as soon as possible.

When I began making a meal plan, I noticed some improvements immediately. I began shopping more purposefully, instead of throwing whatever sounded good or was on sale into my cart and trying to make meals out of whatever I had purchased. We also began spending less money on takeout and pizza.

In the years thereafter, our life changed even more. We moved to a new state, started over with new jobs and schedules, changed schools, had a child. The meal plan became even more essential — it grounded our family time, finances, and eating habits. It allowed me to make the nights that we would actually eat dinner together special, as my husband and I were attending school different nights of the week and wouldn’t be together each weeknight. It allowed me to stock our freezer with meals before having our son, which became invaluable after an unplanned C-section and the subsequent recovery.

A meal plan needn’t be super complicated, but sketching out an idea of what your family is doing each week and therefore, planning meals that work into that schedule, is smart to do. For instance, if your child has soccer practice on Tuesday nights, don’t plan a meal that involves lengthy prep time. Save your sanity and plan a slow cooker meal that can cook all day and be ready to serve when you get home. These are the considerations to take into account when making your meal plan.

Shopping in bulk is a good way to save some time and money as well. For items used frequently, you may be better off getting those foods in large quantities at a place like Costco, Sam’s Club, Amazon, or Jet. Find what works for you, shop around for the best prices, and divide out your purchases accordingly. I have a list of things that I purchase frequently from Costco, and if I always have some chicken and ground beef on hand, I have a nice basis for some meal planning.

My last tip is in regards to the frequency of your meal planning. I’ve tried a lot of different methods over the years, and have had ultimate success with weekly meal planning. For time, sanity, and productivity reasons, I don’t want to be at the grocery store several times a week. But, when I made a meal plan and grocery shopped for more than a week, I had less success with keeping fresh foods fresh, and throwing out a bunch of produce that’s gone bad is not conducive to my meal planning and budgeting efforts. A week is the magic ticket for our family to restock on fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, possibly eggs, other pantry staples, bread, lunchmeat, and cheeses. I tend to shop at Costco once a month or so, to restock on bulk purchases there, such as chicken, beef, butter, cereal, applesauce, and eggs. When deciding what to purchase in bulk for your family, compare cost per unit, price, and take into consideration how quickly you’ll use the item. We go through a lot of eggs in my household, for instance, so purchasing the two dozen organic cage free egg pack at Costco for $6.99 is a good buy.

Good luck with your meal planning endeavors!

 

Food Prep