The Secret to Easy Stovetop Mac & Cheese

Fact of life: Feeding children is like being a short-order cook in a busy diner. There are orders and special requests coming at you fast and if you’re not prepared, the whole operation can come apart at the seams. Those of us in the kitchen trenches are continually honing our skill set to better manage day-to-day life and meet everyone’s needs in the most efficient and effective way we can. We gather recipes and tips from fellow kitchen warriors and are always searching for ways to improve our craft.

I’ve personally searched for and tried more mac & cheese recipes than I can say including a very tasty baked version that required a good amount of prep and $20 worth of ingredients. It’s delicious and a great one to have for special occasions but perhaps not a realistic choice for my 2 year old at lunchtime. So stove top macaroni is my go-to for a quick, pleasing meal for the kiddos. With efficiency in mind, I always have the ingredients on hand to throw together a batch of mac & cheese, either for quick hearty kid lunch or an easy weeknight dinner. There are A LOT of recipes out there alleging to be the best version and I make no claim to that here. however, the recipe I’ll share- well method really- is one that every home cook should have in their arsenal. It doesn’t involve evaporated milk, mustard powder, or anything fussy. Starting with this method you’ll have your own perfect mac and cheese that will have other Mom’s asking how you do it. Play around and make this your own “Best Mac & Cheese” recipe.

Easy Stovetop Mac

Ingredients

  • 2 C or 8 oz. of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 2 T cornstarch
  • 2 C dried Macaroni or shells, prepared
  • Seasoning of choice *I use all-purpose seasoning salt and a dash of onion powder, you may want to add some cayenne or a little smoked paprika. Experiment to find the flavors that you like.

Note: You can use any cheese or combination of cheeses you like here, as long as it melts. In order to have a flavorful sauce you’ll want to choose cheese that has a strong flavor which is why I use sharp. It’s okay to use mild or whatever you have on hand though you may need to season your final product a little more to keep it from being bland. No need to run to the store, show-off your homemaker chops by making do with what you have.

cheese sauce

Prepare the pasta according to package directions. My kids like really soft macaroni so I add 2-3 minutes to the cooking time. For the cheese sauce, start by heating the milk. Get it nice and hot but don’t boil it. You can either do this in the microwave or on the stove top. While the milk is heating place your shredded cheese in a bowl and toss it with the corn starch to coat, you could also do this in a baggie. Once the cheese is coated, stir into the hot milk until smooth. Taste and season your sauce to your preference and then stir in the pasta and serve. Make this a dinner by doubling amounts and adding cooked meat, or boiling sliced hot dogs in with the pasta. This would be perfect for Meatless Monday. Add a side of veg for good measure.

Our Daughter’s Diagnosis

Our Little Girl

I’ve had that burning need-to-cry feeling in the tip of my nose for 3 days now and it won’t go away. There just isn’t a time or place that I can have a good cry and so I’m struggling emotionally to spite that fact that I really have no cause. There’s been no tragedy and our daughter’s diagnosis was expected, long awaited even. It’s a relief to have the label of Autism so that I can get her school to offer appropriate services and start therapy. Yet… I’m feeling bummed out and hermit-y. I don’t really want to talk to anybody for fear of a crying jag and also because it hurts to talk about my baby girl and be forced to really think about what Autism means for her. I can’t be bothered to get dressed. Jeans and a bra, how dare you? I just need sweatpants, to snuggle with my dogs and avoid the outside world for a while. It would be so nice to stop being a grownup for a few days.

We’ve been on this road since Stella was a toddler who seemed a bit more temperamental than one would expect. Over the past 4 years we’ve become more and more certain that there was something going on with our little one and have visited the Family Doctor or Pediatrician periodically to ask for help. Real progress came about a year ago when Stella was 5 and I told the Pediatrician point blank: “There has to be something diagnosable going on here. We need to start the process of evaluation whatever that is.” I got a referral to the Seattle Children’s Autism Center but no help immediately because they had a 9 month waiting list. I was already at the end of my rope and now they wanted me to hold? I had no choice so that’s what we did.

7 months later, 2 months before the start of Kindergarten, I was still waiting and becoming more and more nervous about how she would fair when I’d have to send her out into the fray without me, her advocate and the only person who knew how to handle her. So I visited the Pediatrician again, expressing my concern. She referred us to Occupational Therapy while we waited for the evaluation. Even without a diagnosis we could go to therapy and work on her sensory and social issues. I was amazed at how well she responded. They knew how to reach Stella in ways that made sense to her. It was an emotional experience to watch her understand concepts we had struggled with and to see immediate results. This helped my nerves immensely.

I also met with the counselor at her elementary school prior to the first day to let her know that I had a special kid who was, as yet, undiagnosed but who may have trouble in school. I tried to prepare our girl and to smooth the way as much as possible. By the start of school, she was super psyched and I felt as ready as I’d ever be. We’d already waited a year until she was 6 to start school which allowed her more time to mature and was hugely beneficial. What a difference a year makes!

Now, 3 weeks after the start of Kindergarten, we finally have our Autism Evaluation and have been given a provisional diagnosis in just one visit: Autism Spectrum Disorder. They say she has what was previously been referred to as Asperger Syndrome. The diagnosis is provisional because we still have to follow up with a Neurodevelopmental Pediatrician to do further physical tests. So far I’m told that she’s high functioning and that her physical symptoms seem mild.

Diagnosis is a relief in some ways because my husband & I now have credentials to hold up for the people who shake their heads at our concerns. Many believe that the “antics” of difficult or troubled children to be natural childhood behavior and that fussy parents like us just aren’t handling them correctly. This opinion has mostly come from our elders who perhaps take the differences in recent generations’ child-rearing methods as a personal affront. We have the benefit of science and research that simply wasn’t available to them 30, 40 and 50 years ago. So naturally there’s been a little fine-tuning to the task of raising young’ns.

It must seem smug and condescending when today’s new parents hold up our newfangled rules and standards in contrast to the way we were raised. I can only imagine how annoying that must be.  Some naysayers try to tell us that many of these mental disorders didn’t exist 50 years ago (or today for that matter) and that somehow we’ve caused Autism or are just making it up. It’s nice to be able to say, “See? We weren’t kidding and we’re not the lazy, over-indulgent parents you thought.” My Mom calls it vindication, and I’m trying not to see it that way. Diagnosis really isn’t about (well for the most part anyway) saying told ya so and I don’t want to be that person. Advocating for our daughter isn’t about me but today I’m feeling a little self pity. I really need some time to shake off the sudden depression so that I can move ahead with all the energy and enthusiasm needed to keep fighting for her future.

An Open Letter to Moms Complaining About Public Assistance

Delilah making mommy a silly-face
This was taken the month we started collecting food stamps back in 2008. We had no idea what financial strain lay ahead.

To Whom It May Concern:

Your posts on Facebook and Twitter (complaining about the hassles of getting free food) are hard to read because it’s kinda awkward to watch another person make an ass of themselves, even in writing. I hear where you’re coming from and suspect you just don’t know any better. Maybe you were spoiled as a child and are self-centered as a result. Perhaps you’re spoiled still as is evidenced by the fact that you post from your smartphone and spend a sizable chunk of your income on manicures and cigarettes while complaining about your unfair circumstances.

We can all sympathize- to a point- with whatever it is that’s wrong with you which makes you act this way. It’s understandable that you have a character flaw but may not be aware of it. How could you be? Such flaws generally cause a person to believe themselves infallible. Your constant need for attention practically forces you to broadcast all your perceived troubles on Social Media in shameless attempts to garner sympathy and attention. You’re clearly unaware of how your whiny indignation is annoying to those of us living in similar circumstances yet still managing to behave like responsible adults. We’re over here wincing at your loudmouth rants about a system which you benefit from and should be grateful for yet somehow are the opposite of grateful: entitled. You’re a mess of your own making. Please stop. Big girl panties, now.

One can only assume you have no idea how low class and selfish your public complaints make you sound. So, from someone who understands, I want to break it down from one broke Mom to another in the essence of Sisterhood, but mostly because you’re making the rest of us look bad. Oh yes, I’ve been in your shoes and can relate. You’ll find no self righteous condemnation here, my friend.

My husband & I received “Food Stamps” from June 2008 to just this past spring, 2014. We still participate in WIC for our son and each of our three kids are on Government provided health insurance. I’m what some people refer to as a “Welfare Mom”, though we’ve never actually collected Welfare, ever. The recession hit us hard since my husband was, at the time, working in new home construction and we had just bought a home 2 years prior. We fell hard, crashed & burned but learned a lot and are thankful for the wisdom and fortification that hard times gave us. So I have a lot of experience jumping through the hoops involved in benefiting from Public Assistance.

After all the years we’ve collected Foodstamps & WIC, I’ve come to appreciate how much red tape was involved in collecting those benefits. I figured all that free help was worth the hours it took to get someone on the phone-being disconnected over and over- or the hours spent waiting my turn at the DSHS office with two toddlers in tow only to find out I was in the wrong place or that I had the wrong paperwork. I decided to be thankful for what we received even though there were constant mistakes and hassle working against me to take advantage of that much needed help. My attitude was, “This is how I work for it”. After a while I got pretty good at navigating the system and it’s pitfalls.

Reality check: Be thankful. It would be in your interest to stop complaining about the hassles you endure in the process of receiving free assistance. Trust me, people will pay more attention to what you say- a benefit that surely appeals to you- if you sound less like an undeserving ingrate and more like you’re trying to make the best of it. I mean, we get it, but nobody’s impressed by your “hardship” so buck-up. Say thank you to a government employee and mean it. They’re overworked, understaffed and being chewed out by people like you who seem to think they’ve called Amazon Customer Service rather than DSHS. Funding cuts always seem to hit the programs we rely on most and so their job cannot be easy. It’s unfortunate for the un-manicured, unselfish, hardworking folks who are also collecting benefits to be painted with the same brush as you. However, due to that unfortunate character flaw which causes you to behave this way, I suspect this advice will fall on deaf ears. One can only try.

Warmest Wishes,

from Someone Who’s Been There

6 Reasons Moms Dread the First Day of School Too

I love when our kids are on summer break. We can play and explore while not having to watch the clock or stick to a rigid schedule. Another perk: casual dress and messy hair are totally fine. For them I mean. I’m a mess on the daily so more of the same here. Also I don’t have to be strict on bedtime which is nice because… laziness. Yep, summer is legit. Let’s itemize the reasons back to school sucks shall we?

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1. No more sleeping in I like the quiet summer mornings when my kids are sleeping in an hour later. I watch tv or do dishes, while slupring my mocha in peace. Me time, ya dig? And then when they do wake up all they want is to watch a show and stay in their pajamas for a while. This is the polar opposite of mornings during the school year.

2. Handing Them Off to Total Strangers We’re asked to blindly trust the public servants who will have our children at their mercy. Trust that they are competent in their job as educator and not at all abusive or creepy in any way. That’s a tough one to swallow.

3. Breaking the Bank Our school has a uniform policy which will be sorely missed when our daughters start middle school. It’s affordable and it’s an equalizer. But for two years we were in a different district that did not have uniforms and so I can speak from experience here: Having to keep our daughters stylish in order to give the mean kids less fodder isn’t cheap. However we still buy nice new backpacks, shiny light-up shoes, hair accessories that they’re sure to lose… It all adds up so bend over and kiss your cash goodbye.

4. From Playing to Sitting Still All summer long I push the kids outside to run and play and be fit. To get their wiggles out and to breathe fresh air. Recesses today are much shorter than they were when I was in elementary school in the ’80s and, in some places, have been cut out altogether. Educational demands are higher and so things like recess and music are being squeezed out to meet those standards which means our kids are asked to sit still for far longer than is natural and healthy. And with the amount of classwork they bring home there isn’t time to play after school either.

5. Sickness My kids get sick more during the school year than any other time. There are two things which parents who defend sending their sick kids to school like to say that really makes my ass hurt:

“Don’t be a germaphobe! You can’t keep kids from getting sick, they’re all going to get it no matter what you do so why try?” and “If I kept my kids home every time they were sick they’d miss the whole year which is just unrealistic.” 

If this is you, rethink your stance on hand washing and contagion and stuff because you’re doing it wrong. How about I wipe a booger on every one of you awesome people for making my kids miss weeks of school and costing us hundreds in Doctor’s visits & prescriptions each year? Huh? And (And!) for compromising the child that has a suppressed immune system or weak heart who has to swim in that petry dish alongside your snotting, coughing, non-handwashing kid? I would gladly be the finger of justice if it weren’t completely gross to do so. Okay, stepping down off the soap box and moving on…

6. Fundraisers I’m a boxtop clipping FIEND and am more than happy to support the PTA but loathe having to hit up friends & family to shell out money for some cheap (expensive! $12 for wrapping paper? You must be trippin’) stuff that nobody needs just to raise money for I-don’t-know-what. Run-on sentences are my thing, okay? Also, I resent the school using my kids as little salespeople blatantly exploiting their cuteness to make a buck. Sure, for a good cause but still…

My list of complaints is multi-tiered and ultra whiny so I’ve summed it up for you.  No doubt you, The Reader, could add a few to this list or give me a good upbraiding for my crappy attitude. To each his own and all that. Yesterday I saw our girls off on their first day and it went well. They were both so excited to get to school- especially the Kindergartner. I took about 30 or 40 pictures to remember the day by and then followed the bus to school to get more pictures. I keep scrap books as momentos to remember their school years and therefore have to acknowledge that it isn’t all bad. In fact, I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever be the Mom who celebrates at the bus stop and chugs mimosas with the neighbor ladies out of sheer relief that the kids are finally back to school. Not quite there yet but I’m sure I will be. Someday?

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Saving Money on Diapers: Name Brand vs. Generic

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There’s a significant price difference between brand name and generic disposable diapers. I’ve done a price comparison of 5 national diaper brands to illustrate the savings. All prices are Wal-Mart’s and all counts are for a size 6, which our son currently wears.

I came up with the yearly total based on the number of diapers we use a week times 52 weeks rounded to the nearest hundred: 2400. I divided that number by the count per box then multiplied the price of each box by 52 to get the annual estimated totals. These parameters give us an example of the considerable price differences among brands. Save money, buy generic.


Large Package

  • Huggies Snug & Dry: 100 ct., $34.97 (34¢/diaper) =$827 
  • Parent’s Choice: 92 ct., $19.77 (21¢/diaper) = $514
  • Up + Up: 120 ct., $28.99 (24¢/diaper) =$579
  • Pampers Baby Dry: 128 ct., $45.60 (36¢/diaper) = $866
  • Luvs: 112 ct., $31 (28¢/diaper)= $682

Medium Package

  • Huggies Snug & Dry: 64 ct., $20.97 (33¢/diaper) =$796
  • Parent’s Choice: 60 ct., $13.97 (23¢/diaper) = $558
  • Up + Up: 60 ct., $16.99 (28¢/diaper) =$679
  • Pampers Baby Dry: 64 ct., $24.94 (39¢/diaper) = $947
  • Luvs: 54 ct., $15.97 (30¢/diaper)= $718

Small Package

  • Huggies Snug & Dry: 23 ct., $8.97 (39¢/diaper) =$941
  • Parent’s Choice: 23 ct., $5.97 (26¢/diaper) = $626
  • Up + Up: 23 ct., $6.99 (30¢/diaper) =$733
  • Pampers Baby Dry: 21 ct., $8.97 (43¢/diaper) = $1,031
  • Luvs: 21 ct., $6.97 (33¢/diaper)$801

I think that a lot of people don’t consider the cheaper brands of diapers because they assume that the quality must be sub-par. Truth be told, some store brands are junk. For example, I can vouch for the fact that the Parent’s Choice brand (sold at WalMart) used to be total garbage several years ago when we were diapering our first baby. However, since then they’ve redesigned and are now comparable to Huggies in fit and absorbency much like the Target Up + Up brand. Parent’s choice is the brand we use because it happens to fit our son well, Target’s didn’t. Luvs is way too perfumey so I skip those as well. Every brand has a different fit so I say,  give a few generics a tryout to find a good fit for your baby and your wallet. Your homemaker paycheck could get a raise of several hundred bucks a year!

Copycat Rice-a-roni

Whenever I’ve bought a box of Rice-a-roni or Hamburger Helper and cooked it up for dinner my family is like, “Oh, man this is so good! You should make this all the time! I love this stuff!” Prepackaged, sodium-filled, preservative-ridden food is their favorite. I can’t blame them, it is delicious. My Mom conscience, however, won’t allow me to feed them crap on a regular basis so I try to make the things they like from scratch instead. I can make more for less and it will have fewer ingredients which quiets my inner critic that nags me to feed them all natural, BPA free, non-GMO, sustainable organic, whole foods at every meal. I strive for not fast-food and usually succeed, so pipe down inner critic.

Tonight I’m making my homemade version of Beef Rice-a-roni but I also do this recipe with chicken which is the same method but substituting chicken breast and chicken broth for the beef. Everything else is the same.


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Homemade Hamburger Rice

Serves 6-8 plus leftovers. We love leftovers.

  • 1-2 lbs. ground beef, browned & drained
  • 5 1/4 -1/2 C beef broth (I mix up some bouillon)
  • 4 T butter, margarine or oil
  • 3 Cups white rice
  • 1 pkg vermicelli

    Toasting the rice & pasta

Brown  & drain your beef then set aside or, you can take a page from my book and pull your pre-cooked ground beef out of the fridge or freezer ready to go. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add uncooked rice and vermicelli and stir frequently to toast until you can smell the roasty toasty buttery goodness and start to see pieces of rice & pasta turn golden. Add the beef and broth and stir to combine. Bring to a boil then cover and reduce heat to low. Let cook without opening or stirring for 20 minutes or until rice is tender. Serve.

Note: I use a 12″ deep-sided skillet with a lid for this recipe. If you don’t have one this recipe can be halved and made in a smaller skillet. The vermicelli I use can usually be found in the Hispanic foods section of the grocery store. 

Butter Wrappers, Cereal Bags & the Income of a Homemaker

use-it-upAs a homemaker, my “income” can be how much money I save by “making do”. I’m inspired by past generations of resourceful homemakers when it comes to making do. In WWII folks were encouraged to plant “victory” gardens and make do on rations to support the troops. We could learn a lot from those women who could feed and clothe a family with very little.

Look, I may not be cashing a pay check anymore but I’m also not spending anywhere near as much as I did back then. I can’t walk and chew bubblegum, that’s to say I kind of suck at multitasking anymore than necessary… so if I was working, we’d spend more money just buying the convenience items that allow many a busy Mom to take care of her family as well as bring home the bacon. Yes that was a major run-on sentence because I also suck at writing. We’d be spending more on gas, my wardrobe, makeup, my hair (gotta look good in the office) not to mention childcare, and still take care of the home. Working Moms are amazing.

So, spend less money. That’s the goal. In order for me to stay at home with the kids, I didn’t just quit working; we didn’t just lose an income, we had to change the way we live or else it wouldn’t work. And for a while there it damn near didn’t… There are a million & one things to buy when you’re shopping for a household, especially one with kids in it. Those supplies add up and become a huge chunk of the budget because there is just so much everyone needs. So, cutting costs is the goal.

I make money by saving money and one way to achieve that is to really get your money’s worth from the items you buy; squeezing every last drop out of things and being a total cheapskate. I admit though, this lifestyle isn’t for everyone and if you don’t do as I do, that’s super! High-five! You’re doing everything you can to make a home for your family and you’re rocking it your own way. Get it girl. This is just my way. You’re all awesome. I mean it.

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In earlier posts I mentioned cutting costs by not buying cleanerspaper towels & plastic baggies. That is my mindset- what can we do without?  How can we make do? Do we really need to buy that or can we use something we already have to get the same result? In that vein, do you remember Home Ec. class? Do they still have that? I took Home Economics in the 9th grade and still remember many of the lessons from that class because I actually use those lessons in real life. One trick our teacher taught us was to use your butter wrappers to grease baking pans or griddles and I practice that to this day. I keep butter & margarine wrappers in a plastic container in the freezer to use as needed. Keep in mind that butter is a perishable and will go bad on you. So I store the wrappers in the freezer and then when I need to rub down a pan the heat of my hand thaws it immediately. Nifty, huh? After reusing a wrapper once, I finally do throw it away.

Another thing I save is the plastic bag that cereal comes in. Someone once told me they make great piping bags for frosting & stuff but that turned out to be a bust- literally. The seams on the side of the cereal bag won’t hold up to the pressure of piping which, if you think about it, makes sense. Those seams are designed to open easily so you can get the cereal out.

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So, no, to piping bags but YES to freezer bags! When I open a bag of frozen vegetables and only use part of it, a handy cereal bag is a great way to store what’s left without having frozen corn rolling all over the inside of your freezer. I seal it with a twist tie or just fold it over. Also, I use freezer bags- excuse me, cereal bags- to wrap baked goods like banana bread, meatballs, what-have-you, and freeze. If you’re a little paranoid about freezer burn (I am) then wrap the food in plastic wrap, aluminum foil  or both, first. How much money did you save this week? Well what if I told you that’s an income? Nice, huh?

Stretching the Food Dollar: Ground Beef

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Feeding our party of 5 within a budget means making the most of every food dollar. One of the things that helps achieve this goal is shopping with a strategy. As I’ve said before, I shop the weekly store ads for the best prices on meat and make a meal plan accordingly. If beef isn’t a good deal then we’ll eat chicken, turkey or pork; if it is, then I try to buy extra for the freezer. The most I’ve purchased & processed at one time is 10 pounds.

When I do bring home beef I need to extend it into as many meals as possible. Make-ahead meatballs are an awesome and easy way to do that because of the “fillers” we add and can be used in many different ways. I also brown up any we’ll need that week and store in airtight containers in the fridge. Cooking ahead stops the meat from aging in the fridge and cuts out a step for later to help get dinner made quicker. Here are my recipes & methods for processing ground beef to best advantage:


IMG_1537Depending on how much meat you’re processing, adjust ingredient amounts to suit. Personally, I rarely measure and make this recipe using anywhere from 2-5 lbs. of beef at a time. So amounts can be approximate. The seasonings are purely for taste and can be substituted with others. I’ve used leftover ramen flavor packets, onion soup mix, steak seasoning, anything I have on hand. If you don’t have one of the items listed or are a little short, make due, it’ll be fine. Go ahead, be flexible and your meatballs will turn-out whether or not you have the perfect measurements.

The deciding factor to making good meatballs is not so much in ingredients as in the size of your balls and how you cook them. I’ve found that if the balls are too small they’ll dry out no matter what and too big can give you an under-cooked surprise. Not cool. I get a perfectly moist & cooked meatball by measuring each with my trusty #60 disher scoop. Each of my meatballs is two scoops, which is about 2 tablespoons.  Meal ideas for meatballs include: with gravy & mushrooms, Swedish, with bbq sauce, with pineapple chunks & teriyaki sauce, sub sandwiches, cut in half to use as sliders, as a party snack or appetizer,  in a soup, with  marinara and mozzarella, sweet & Sour, in a Stroganoff or almost any meal that calls for ground beef. Put any of these over pasta or rice; there are just so many options!

Make-Ahead Meatballs

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  • 2 lbs. Ground Beef
  • I C precooked rice (I prefer white)
  • 2 t salt
  • 1 t pepper
  • 1/2 T onion powder
  • 2 t granulated garlic
  • 1 t Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/3 C ketchup
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 t vinegar
  • (optional) 1 T Italian seasoning

Preheat your oven to 350º and line a lipped baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and gently mix with hands just until combined taking care not to overwork the meat as that can make it tough. Portion out meatballs onto a baking sheet then form each on into a ball by hand. Bake for about 20 minutes until internal temperature reaches 160º. To freeze, cool to room temp then place in your freezer on a baking sheet for 30 -45 minutes before transferring to a freezer bag (be sure to remove as much air as possible before sealing to avoid excess frost and freezer burn). This method individually freezes each one and ensures they won’t turn into a smashed, stuck-together blob. Freeze for up to 4 months. To use after freezing, Place frozen meatballs onto a baking sheet, pie plate, etc., and place into a cold oven. Turn oven to 350º and bake for about 25-35 minutes until internal temperature has reached 165º.


I keep cooked rice in the fridge all the time ready to heat up for a quick lunch or add to a batch of ground beef. Handy thing to have on hand! If you cook your rice in beef broth it will add flavor to your meat mixtures. I like using carrot as a filler because it’s color doesn’t stand out too noticeably in the finished product and it adds an extra dose of roughage and vitamins to our diet. You can use other vegetables in addition or instead.  Adjust the onion as you like, my husband doesn’t like onion so I use very little here and mince it fine. Add up to a cup if you like! Beans are another great  filler though not as inconspicuous. Adding fillers ensures there is no loss of volume during cooking. For example, I just browned a 2.06 lb. package of meat and after this process the meat weighed in at 2.19 pounds. 

Make Ahead Browned Ground Beef

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  • 2 lbs. Ground Beef
  • 1 finely shredded carrot
  • 1/2 C minced onion
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/2 t pepper
  • 1 C cooked rice (I prefer white)

Spray a skillet with cooking spray or very lightly drizzle with oil then saute garlic & onion over medium heat for 2-3 minutes then add beef & carrot and brown. When done browning, drain fat then stir in rice, salt & pepper. Transfer to air-tight storage containers, cool slightly and store in the fridge for up to 3-4 days or freeze for up to 4 months.  You can reheat directly from freezer without thawing, especially if you froze it flat. If you froze in a container thaw ground beef for up to 24 hours in the fridge. Food safety guidelines advise that frozen foods be reheated to 165º.


Tips

Meal planning: Did you know that we really don’t need to eat meat at every meal every day? Planning  just one meatless dinner a week saves money and is a healthy habit to get into.  If you’d like to learn more on that topic, check out the website Meatless Monday for menu ideas.

Cooking with broth: I like to cook rice in broth to add flavor as a filler and my broth of choice is bouillon. I like bouillon cubes and powder because it keeps in the pantry for a long time and is a lot cheaper than stock or broth.

Browning large quantities of ground beef: One of my favorite food bloggers, Christy Jordan, has an awesome tutorial on her site for streamlining the process of handling large amounts of ground beef (like 5 lbs or more). Her method is so much faster than browning in batches! You can see that method on her site here.food scale

Kitchen tools: When buying meat in large amounts it’s so nice to be able to weigh out equal amounts to freeze. I have a digital scale that came from Costco for about $20 and use it for a lot of different things.

Another tool I wouldn’t want to be without is my disher scoop. I use it for cookie dough and meatballs and it rocks. They come in many sizes and greatly vary in price from El Cheap-o to Fancy-Schmancey. I have a cheaper model. Dishers can be found at most department stores but certainly at a restaurant or kitchen supply. 800px-Kitchen-Scooper-Small

Ditch the Store-bought Dressings!

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I try to avoid soy which makes buying salad dressing off the shelf difficult. Also, I like fresh and am totally picky when it comes to condiments. Homemade tastes so much better than store bought, am I right? Here are 3 of my family’s favorite salad dressings that are simple to make as well as delicious. Make them your own by tweaking the recipe to suit your tastes. Diced, pickled jalapeno would be a yummy addition to the thousand island for example. Mix it up!


French Dressing

  • 1 can tomato soup
  • 1 1/2 C canola oil
  • 1/4 C water
  • 1/2 C white wine vinegar
  • 2 t montreal steak seasoning
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 2 T mayonaise
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t pepper
  • 1 t prepared mustard

Combine all ingredients in a blender and mix until creamy. Pour into a quart mason jar and store in your refrigerator. Shake before using and use within 5-7 days.


Thousand Island Dressing

  • 1 C mayonaise
  • 1/2 C ketchup
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 t onion powder
  • 1/2 t garlic powder
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1-2 T water to thin (depending on the consistency you like)
  • (optional) 1-2 T sweet pickle relish
  • (optional) 1 t hot sauce

Stir ingredients together in a small serving bowl. Can be used as a dip or dressing. Refrigerate any leftovers and use within 7-10 days.


Blue Cheese Dressing

  • 1 C sour cream
  • 1/2 C mayo
  • 2 t white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 t minced garlic
  • 1/8 t salt
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • 1 4 oz. container of crumbled blue cheese or gorgonzola
  • (optional) milk to thin

Whisk ingredients together in a bowl. This will be thick and rich but you can thin it out if you want it to be easier to pour. This is wonderful as a dip with vegetables or hot wings. Heck, I like it with potato chips! Refrigerate any leftovers and use within 5 days.

 

 

My Kitchen’s Makeup-Free Selfie

I had to cut back on Facebook. The constant whiny updates, bragging and drama were kinda bringing me down. I don’t need to be that involved in every random thought that comes into a person’s head… times 180 persons. First I went down my friends list and unfollowed everyone except family and close friends. I only want to be involved with people I actually see in real life. That helped. It was like unplugging a bit. And the nice thing about unfollowing is you don’t have to unfriend the annoying people in your life. Offended annoying people can be awful. Awfully annoying. This way, they’ll be none the wiser.

It was time for a reality check. I had to stop comparing  myself to the constant boast-posts. I had to back off and get perspective. Get real. Us Mommas shouldn’t be ashamed of the natural state of our homes. Unless you’re a Hindu Goddess with 8 arms I don’t see how a person could keep all those balls in the air without a break. This morning, I walked into my kitchen and looked at my mountain of dishes and all the things stashed behind the sink, out of the precocious toddler’s reach, and thought This is how my house always looks. I should share this. So these pictures are like my makeup-free selfie to the world. Not a quick spruce up followed by Instagram editing to make things look magazine ready.

So look everybody! Here’s my messy kitchen. It’s clean, yet messy. I won’t be ashamed as long as we can eat out of it- and eat we do. Lots of good homecookin’ takes place here and if you stop by to find the dishes piled high that means I haven’t done them yet. I cook & bake a lot. We go through a buttload of dishes.

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This doesn’t make me a slob and if your kitchen looks like this I hope you don’t feel like one either. I didn’t put that coat on the floor or that one on the counter, or those toys.  But I’ll pick them up, at some point. Probably after I step on one and hurt myself. Maybe one day I’ll even show you my bathrooms in which the surfaces are covered in toothpaste, dirt smears and toys.

Another thing that makes a girl feel inadequate is watching Giada de Laurentiis on TV. I don’t cook like her. I just don’t have the time. Or the budget. For lunch today, I didn’t feed my kids any whole grains, or perfectly measured out portions according to MyPlate.Gov’s guidelines. They got a heated up can of generic Spaghetti Os, a can of green beans and some toasted cheese sandwiches. Nothing trendy, no bento boxes or dates stuffed with goat cheese. Just plain old kid food, and I served it up hot.  ‘Aint no shame in my game!

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If Better Homes & Gardens ever stops by I’ll probably get out the pledge and start polishing… but not today. Today we’re doing schoolwork. I hope this inspires some of you to feel proud of the job you’re doing too. A good woman doesn’t need to be weighted-down by doubt and needless guilt. Your doing a great job and your family is very blessed to have a Momma like you!

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