Friday, Oct 19, 2018

Taking the guess work out of dinner.

I was at a party a few months ago and was asked this question in a get-to-know you game:  “How does dinner come together daily in your home?”  I laughed because as much as I love to cook, my routine was not exciting or impressive.  Every night around 5pm  my routine was to look in the freezer, pull something out, defrost it,add fresh ingredients and serve it with a few side dishes in about 15 minutes.  It was the same every night and has worked great for us.  But when our home was hit by lightening and our oven was fried 8 weeks ago, I was unable to bake, and we had to switch things up a little.   I decided we would plan a weekly menu and repeat it weekly using recipes I could make on the stove top.  This way I would know exactly what to buy at the store weekly (or twice a month was the goal) we would save money, time and the stress of having to figure out what to make every night.   For the past few months, we have been sticking to a weekly menu and it has been wonderful.  This is how my mom stayed organized when I was young.  It is funny how it takes years of trying every other way to do things and then usually I end up doing it exactly the way my parents do.    My favorite part of having a weekly menu that repeats itself is, I can freeze most of the entrees so there is less cooking and prep time every other week.

Our weekly menu:

Meatball Monday (served with angel hair pasta, marinara sauce and steamed veggies)

Taco Tuesday (I’ve been using Taco TVP from Shelf Reliance mixed with a can of re-fried beans.  This is what is used at Taco time and my very picky family loves it.  Using it instead of ground beef also cuts cooking time and mess significantly.)

Pot Sticker Wednesday (When making pot stickers, you can freeze half of the recipe for the following week.  Pot stickers can be steamed and served in 10 minutes with a side of steamed veggies and ham fried rice.)

Pasta Thursday (We like to use sea shell noodles, penne pasta or macaroni for our pasta night.  French bread freezes well,  so we use half a loaf each week toasted with butter and garlic salt in the oven.)

Pizza night Friday (One pizza dough recipe makes 4 pizzas, so making this recipe will save your 3 weeks of prep.  Pizza is baked frozen and ready in 15 minutes.)

Leftovers Saturday (We often have leftovers from our date night Friday and try to clean out anything else in the fridge.)

Hawaiian Haystack Sunday with Brownies or Cookies for dessert.  (Lately, we’ve been mixing all the toppings for Hawaiian Haystacks in a skillet with the sauce and serving it on rice….my husbands idea.  This makes prep for this meal easier, and it still tastes wonderful.)

Let me know if you are using a weekly menu in your home and if you have any other family favorite meals you’d like to share.

My Favorite Meatballs

Yield: 20 meatballs

1 large onion, finely diced

1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs

½ cup water

2 cloves garlic, minced

1½ pounds lean ground beef

2 tablespoons parsley flakes

1 cup grated Parmigiana Reggiano cheese (or Asiago cheese)

2 large eggs

2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a hot skillet, sauté
diced onions with olive oil and cook for 5 minutes until translucent. Add
garlic and sauté another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

In a large bowl, mix together the meat, eggs,
cheese, parsley, and breadcrumbs. Add onions and season with salt. Use your
hands to thoroughly mix together. Add water. (The mixture should be quite wet.)
Sprinkle on more salt, then shape into golf ball-size portions.

Place meatballs in a hot skillet and brown all
sides. Place browned meatballs on a cookie sheet and bake for about 15 minutes.
Cool and use some right away and freeze the rest on a cookie sheet for 1 hour.
Then place frozen meatballs in a zip-top bag, label, and freeze.

To serve: Warm
meatballs in microwave and serve with spaghetti sauce, or as an appetizer with
barbecue sauce.

These are the frozen veggies I use.  I buy a 5 lb bag from Sams Club and put 3 cups of frozen veggies in a microwave steamer bowl with a lid and add 1 tablespoon water for 6 minutes.  I season with Salt and Pepper, a little garlic salt and serve.


Taco Tuesday

1 cup Taco TVP

2 cups water

1 (15 oz) can re-fried beans

Taco toppings and soft shell tortillas, taco shells or tortilla chips

Toppings include:  diced tomatoes, chopped cilantro, salsa, sour cream, shredded cheese

Heat 2 cups of water and 1 cup Taco TVP in the microwave for 3 minutes.  Mix in 1 cup re-fried beans, serve on warm tortillas, taco shells or tortilla chips and top with toppings.

Pot Stickers

Serves 10 to 12

I usually serve 10 pot stickers per guest and
serve another dish as well.

2 packages of circle wanton/dumpling wrappers
(2-inch circles)

2 cup thinly sliced Napa/bok choy cabbage
(diced sweet potato works as well)

1½ pounds ground pork sausage

4 teaspoons minced fresh or bottled ginger

1 green onion, finely chopped

2 teaspoons soy sauce

Dice cabbage into very tiny pieces. Discard the rest of the cabbage or use in a soup. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except wanton wrappers, mixing well with hands.

Lightly flour 2 cookie sheets. Put some water in a small bowl to dip your fingers in. Wet one side of a wanton wrapper and spoon 2 teaspoons filling on the center of the wrapper. Fold in half like a taco and pinch edges closed. If the edges don’t seal, wet them with your fingers and pinch edges until they seal. Continue filling wanton wrappers until sausage mixture is gone.

Place pot stickers on a lightly floured cookie sheet and freeze for 1 to 2 hours. Then put frozen pot stickers into a large zip-top freezer bag. Pull out pot stickers as needed for dinner.

To serve: Heat 2 tablespoons canola oil in a
non-stick skillet, then place frozen wantons in the skillet on high heat. Add 3
tablespoons water and cover with lid to steam the pot stickers. Cook until
liquid is gone, about 7 or 8 minutes. When pot stickers turn brown and crispy
on one side, flip them over and cook the reverse side until it is brown and
crispy. If you flip them too early, they will stick to the pan. Also, only cook
them on a non stick skillet.

Serve pot stsickers hot with dipping sauce.

*A more healthy way to cook pot stickers is to
drop them into a pot of boiling water . When they float to the top, they are
done. Serve hot with dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon water

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 clove garlic, minced

Combine ingredients and place in small bowls
for each person to dip pot stickers in. For a spicy sauce, add 1 teaspoon hot
sauce or chili pepper flakes.


Pizza Dough

Yield: 3 large pizzas

12 cups white flour

1 tablespoon salt

3 tablespoons instant yeast

½ cup sugar

2 tablespoons dough enhancer (optional)

½ cup canola or vegetable oil

4 cups water (warm)

1 tablespoon oregano

½ tablespoon garlic powder or garlic salt

In a large mixer, combine the flour, salt,
yeast, sugar, and dough enhancer. In a glass liquid measuring bowl, warm the
water in the microwave for 2 minutes.

Add the water and oil to the flour mixture a
few cups at a time. When combined, let the dough mix for 2 minutes. Dough
should be elastic and not stick to your fingers. Add more flour if too sticky,
more water if too dry. Let the mixer knead the dough for 8 minutes. (The dough
may be frozen at this point. Just place each piece in a large freezer zip-top
bag, then label and freeze it. To use, simply defrost in the microwave 1 minute
on high and roll out dough to make a pizza, stromboli, or calzone.)

Preheat oven to 500ºF. Place pizza stone (best
for a crispy crust) in the oven while it is heating up. Or use a greased baking

Shape dough into a large circle, then cut it into
three sections with a knife. Lightly oil counter top and roll out each pizza
crust with a rolling pin. Fold over the edges and press down to form a crust.
With a fork, pierce pizza dough every inch or two to reduce the number of
bubbles in the crust.

Sprinkle cornmeal or flour on the pizza pans and place pizza dough on pans by folding over half the dough on your forearm and then lifting dough onto pizza pan. Bake for 4 minutes at 500ºF. You can freeze pizza crust (when cooled) or continue with toppings.

Remove hot crust from oven and top with ½ cup cheese first (this will keep the frozen pizza from getting soggy).  You can freeze the crust right now wrapped in plastic wrap, or continue to load pizza with toppings.

Prepare pizza sauce (recipe follows) and pour sauce on top of cheese. Pile on toppings; top again with cheese.

Cool pizza and then wrap it in plastic wrap without the pan. Label “500ºF for 10 to 15 minutes” and freeze. You can also freeze extra sauce in zip-top freezer bags.

To serve:
Do not defrost frozen pizza. Remove and discard plastic wrap. Place pizza on a pizza stone dusted with cornmeal, or on an aluminum pan in the oven while it is pre-heating to 500ºF. Bake for 10 to 13 minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is golden.

Pizza Sauce

Yield: 10 ounces, or enough sauce for 3 pizzas.

1 large can (29 ounces) tomato sauce  (I also like to use 1/2 8 oz can per pizza if you have smaller cans)

2 tablespoons oregano

2 teaspoons minced garlic

Open 29 oz can of tomato sauce and add oregano and
garlic to the can. Stir carefully so it will not spill. Pour about one-third of
sauce (just over one cup) right onto pizza crust. Divide remaining sauce in
half and freeze in zip-top freezer bags.  Use more or less sauce on your pizza according to your families taste.

Hawaiian Haystacks

Yield: 16 servings

4 cans (10 ounces each) cream of chicken soup

4 cups of cubed boneless skinless chicken

2 cans (10 ounces each) water or broth

2 bay leaves

8 cups cooked, frozen long-grain rice

Topping Choices (1½ cups each)

pineapple tidbits, chopped green onions, green
peppers, celery, cooked chicken (cut into bite size pieces), cooked rice,
sliced water chestnuts, grated cheddar cheese, fried chow mein noodles, toasted almonds (slivered), diced or sliced tomatoes, shredded coconut

Combine the soup and water or broth in a medium saucepan to make the gravy. Stir to blend. Add cubed chicken and bay leaves. Simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until heated through.  Cool sauce and then place in zip-top baggies, label, and freeze.  You can serve half the sauce for dinner, lately I’ve been dumping the toppings into the sauce on the skillet and then serving it over rice.  It is not as pretty, but tastes delicious and makes cleanup easier.

To serve: Warm the chicken sauce and rice in the microwave. Chop all the toppings and set them in individual bowls. Warm the cooked rice, cube the chicken, and then mix together
the chicken gravy. To serve, layer on plates by stacking first the rice, then
the chow mein noodles, then toppings and chicken gravy.

Big Fat Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yield: 2 dozen

2½ cups flour

1 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup softened butter

2 eggs

2 teaspoon

½ cup white sugar

1½ cups packed brown sugar

1½ cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line cookie sheets
with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray. In a small bowl stir together
the flour, baking powder, soda and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl cream together the softened
butter, sugars, eggs, and vanilla until creamy. Mix in the dry ingredients
until blended. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand.

Wrap half of the cookie dough in plastic in a
log shape. Label “350ºF for 12 minutes.” Place in a zip-top bag and freeze up
to 3 to 6 months. Bake the leftover dough by rolling it into golf ball-sized
portions. Place on a cookie sheet and smash flat until it is ½ inch thick.
Place cookies 3 inches apart, since they will spread. Bake 12 minutes or until
just golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or freeze for later.

Frozen dough: Defrost
dough in the microwave for 20 to 30 seconds. (Just soften the dough—don’t melt
it.) Shape cookie dough into golf ball-size balls. Bake at 350ºF for 12 minutes
or until golden brown.




  1. Yum! Thanks for sharing! I’m loving crock pot meals lately, but I made egg rolls yesterday. The recipe I have makes a ton so I stuck some in the freezer. So yummy! I was actually wondering if my ham fried rice will freeze? Do you know? I had a ton left over. It has celery, bean sprouts, ham, eggs, rice and soy sauce in it. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to freeze some and give it a try to see. How do you make your fried rice? Do you do any pre-prep on a different day or do you have to make it all fresh? I need to try your meatballs! It’s nice that I’m in the mood to cook lately with the cold weather. I need to freeze a bunch of meals for when my baby comes.

    1. Egg rolls sound so good right now. Ham fried rice freezes really well as long as everything is chopped up tiny. I have before frozen large veggies in my ham fried rice and they turn out kind of soggy when I reheat. So keep everything diced. Just re-heat in a microwavable dish with a lid. Don’t add water, the ice in the water is enough to steam it. It should be hot and fluffy in 5-10 minutes on high depending on your microwave. I usually make my ham fried rice with 3 cups of white cooked rice already in my freezer. Once a month you can cook up a large batch of rice, cool it and package it in 2-3 cups per bag for the month. Squeeze the air out of the bags of rice and freezer flat like bricks. Pull it out as needed. I heat up my rice in the microwave. Meanwhile I cook bacon, diced ham in a skillet. I like to had a whole egg or two and fry that, add the rice, soy sauce to taste and some diced green onions, salt and pepper. How did you like the bean sprouts in your rice? That sounds yummy. The meatballs are amazing and make for a great quick meal. It’s so fun to think of that baby coming soon. I’m glad you will be ready so you can enjoy every moment with that sweet baby. Happy cooking!

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