Mar 162015
 

I really believe that taking the time in the kitchen each weekend makes a huge difference in my #make1healthydecision’ing.  I do so for the sake of future Heather, who will thank me because the “work” is already done for her, making the healthy choice EASY.  And the fact that I can cook and dish and prep and wash with podcasts in my ears means I enjoy it doubly so. 

easy

When it comes to meal planning, I write out a two week calendar in a note book and block off days depending on what type of dinner is needed.  Bar Trivia nights or other planned dinners out are marked down, followed by Nick’s work schedule.  On night’s he works I typically do dinner on my own, often enjoying ingredients I love that he doesn’t care for as much.  The other nights are usually the nights I cook meals to feed both of us, and leftovers can be used for lunches or repurposed for other dinner meals throughout the week.

I look through the freezer and fridge, listing every ingredient I see that needs to be used.  Then I start to fill in meal ideas using the ingredients, minding their “use by” dates, on the calendar.   Sometimes I use this post-it method.  When it comes to meats in the freezer, I use Healthy Aperture, the Recipe Wednesday Link-Ups on HLB, and the interactive Butcher Counter at Beef It’s What’s for Dinner to get ideas for new dishes or techniques to try. If the freezer is empty, I look at the sales flyer at our local market and choose some recipes to try based on the best prices and selection.  I typically make about 50% “old favorite” meals and 50% new-to-us recipes. 

Once I have my list, I’ll go through all the ingredients lists of the meals on the menu plan and make a shopping list to include all the items we don’t have in the house. If I haven’t already, I’ll browse the weekly sales ad to see what produce is on-sale that would be good for snacking throughout the week.

mealplan

I’ve also started making a big batch of smoothies on the weekends and pouring 12 ounces into jars for breakfasts throughout the week.  Having it already made and ready to go is making the getting of freggies into my day A LOT easier come the morning time when I’d rather grab-and-go than spend time dirtying dishes before leaving for the office. 

Every once in a while I like to do a big batch of freezer cooking prep.  It takes a trip for some bulk shopping or REALLY great sales, and a good chunk of hours in the kitchen, but I can easily prep an entire month+ worth of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners with a good day of work.  If we had a deep freezer, I would do this more often as I know it is more cost effective, but also not v. small-space friendly.

There is a lot of really great meal planning and food prep content out in the healthy living blog community to inspire your own menu for the weeks to come. Here’s some recommended reading in terms of meal planning techniques, meal plans themselves [they’ve already done the work for you!], food prep organization, healthy to-go meal inspiration and more!

red set food prep

Food Prep and Meal Planning Inspiration:

How to Food Prep on the Weekend – The Lean Green Bean.  Start here. Simple as that. Also, don’t forget to read the comments for other suggestions and ideas!

Top 10 Foods for Sunday Food Prep – The Lean Green Bean.  This list covers specific categories or types of foods to consider prepping, such as whole grains and breakfasts, rather than specific recipes or ingredients.  A great post to get you started!

Food Prep & Menu Planning: The Key to Healthy Meals All Week – Love Life Surf. Love the idea behind this post and the ideas IN this post, too.  Great tips.

How I Prep Food for the Week – Back to Her Roots.  Cassie has found a system that works for her family and she swears by it for making healthy eating easy.  She loves options and using yummy foods to fill their mouths for an entire week.

20 Make-Ahead Breakfasts – Healthy Delicious. Great ideas to make the mornings easier on yourself.  More time to ease into the day plus something delicious to eat? SOLD!

 healthylunchideas

Healthy Office-Friendly Lunches:

Bento Lunches – Following in My Shoes.  I don’t have a bento lunchbox, but I get SO MANY ideas for creative bring-to-work lunches from Rachel’s blog.  She shares lunches fit for littles’ mouths but lots of adult-sized-appetite friendly lunches, too. I love the way she styles her boxes; pretty-to-look at posts are always nice, too :)

20 Creative, Healthy Salad Ideas for Lunch – Run to the Finish. So many great ideas for changing up the salad routine in this post.  I am totally guilty of getting in salad ruts!  This post will be bookmarked for future use, for sure!

50 Packable Lunch Ideas – The Lean Green Bean.  I love getting food ideas from RD blogger friends, I always feel good about my choices when they come from a list like this!   Lindsay is especially good at rounding up recipes and listing creative ideas for making easy, healthy choices a part of your every day life.  This post is no exception.

Salad-in-a-Jar 101 – Back to Her Roots.  Make your every day lunches Pinterest perfect with this post filled with the basics and great tips for building your own jar salads on the regular.

Lunches Lately September 2014 and Lunches Lately February 2015 – Back to Her Roots.  Cassie works from home but packs her lunches each day to keep portions and good choices EASY.  Each of the photos and lunch lists she shares makes my mouth water.  She’s totally inspired my own snack-box type lunches being brought to the office.  Try to resist doing the same after reading these posts!

 fillyourfreezer

Fill Your Freezer:

Frozen Spinach Cubes for Smoothies – The Lean Green Bean.  I love this technique for using spinach on it’s last leg and really stretching that grocery budget.  Sometimes buying a giant bag of spinach is so much more cost effective, but we can’t always use it all before it starts to turn. THIS IS THE SOLUTION!

Freezer Cooking 101 – Back to Her Roots. This is the post that got me started with thinking that freezer cooking was for more than just Mom’s with families of five.  I come back to this post ALL THE TIME for recipes and tips. 

Freezer Fill Up 1 and Freezer Fill up 2 – Back to Her Roots. The follow up posts to the 101 post above, I’ve tried and loved recipes from each post.  I really like picking and choosing recipes from all Cassie’s posts to create my own Freezer Fill Up day menu!  Her dishes are so tasty and often very nutritious!

15 Freezer Meals and Snacks – The Lean Green Bean. If you don’t already have your notebook out making a list of the recipes you want to make during your next Freezer Fill Up, this post will push you over the edge into the planning phases.  Lindsay has so many great ideas for making future you happy you did all that work!

10 Foods That Freeze Well – The Lean Green Bean.  This post offers broad suggestions for Freezer Fill Up Day, from “soups” to “beans and lentils.”  But along with keeping things general, she offers specific suggestions and recipes along with offering tips for each of her 10 suggestions.

How to Freeze Enchiladas – Savvy Eats.  Julie has tons of great content on freezing a variety of dishes, plus preserving and canning any number of ingredients and recipes.  Her blog is the place to visit for answers on how to best store ANYTHING from backing ingredients to homemade muffins, and tips on freezing granola, stock and so much more.  Savvy Eats is a great resource for writing out your Freezer Fill Up Plan.

mealplans and menus

Already Created for You Meal Plans:

Healthy Meal Plan: Loving Lentils – Back to Her Roots. A week of vegetarian dinners plus a printable shopping list.  BOOM!

CSA Meal Plan #15 – Relishments. I love the week of meals Emily came up with using her CSA collection for the week.  This menu features Brussels Sprouts, Carrots, Cauliflower, Arugula, Butternut Squash, Kale, Sweet Potatoes and Onions

A Savvy HLB Week: Caramelized Onions – HLB.  Caramelized onions are a favorite ingredient in my kitchen.  I love this idea of making a big batch of them on the weekend to be used in several dishes throughout the week.  In the Savvy HLB Week series, Julie shared a grocery list and steps for each day of the week, including food prep on Sunday.  

A Week of Quick, Healthy Meals – The Lean Green Bean. This post guides you through a choose your own adventure style meal plan.  I love that this meal plan includes all three meals as well as food prep suggestions for snacks and other dishes to add to the menu.

Mar 102015
 

Way back in 2012, I participated in a “Coffee Before it was Cool” campaign in which I got to review the then new to the market Mr. Coffee Latte machine.  You can read my full pro/con review of the machine at that link, but to sum it up – the machine is cool.  It makes frothy, warm beverages in a jiffy with very little effort on my part, which as the laziest person in the kitchen makes me incredibly happy.

Since writing the review, my love for the machine seems to have grown.  I know that if our machine were to stop working, I would very likely purchase myself a new one.  I’ve gifted a Mr. Coffee Latte machine as gifts to friends 3 times over the past few years. They typically retail from $60 – $100, but I have found them on sale for as low as $40. [They are currently on sale with free shipping on the Mr. Coffee site for $68.99]

AlmondBreeze1

Recently as part of the Blue Diamond Tastemakers Program, I was gifted some unsweetened Almond Breeze to use at home.  I knew right away I wanted to give my Mr. Coffee Latte machine the opportunity to froth up some delicious warm beverages with the Almond Breeze.

I have been a fan of Almond Breeze for several years now. We use dairy milk in our home, too, but there are some things I prefer to use almond milk for in our kitchen. When I’m buying almond milk I almost always go for Almond Breeze. It’s usually the most reasonably priced and I know and trust that I will enjoy the taste of the product.

I use almond milk most often in baking, blending it into soups, and most definitely in warm beverages.  I love that Almond Breeze can be subbed for the “milk” or “water” with any uber-convenient drink mixes to make a rich, almondy-delicious and bonus! – nutritious! – beverage.  I’ve been enjoying a variety of easy, Almond Breeze pairings on cold nights over the past few weeks with the help of my Mr. Coffee Latte machine, but you could easily heat on the stovetop and whisk your ingredients together, or use a handheld frother like this one to add that frothy element to your beverages: Aerolatte Milk Frother

Here are 2 of the Almond Breeze pairings that we loved the most so far!

almond breeze maple chai

Almond Breeze Maple Chai, served alongside Maple Donuts

16 ounces Unsweeted Almond Breeze
+ 4 Tablespoons David Rio Maple Moose Chai Mix
Heat and froth and pour and enjoy!

Can’t find Maple Chai Mix near you?  Try a regular Chai mix and blend in a bit of maple syrup!

abpeperminthotcoco

Godiva Peppermint Almond Breeze Hot Chocolates, I shared the recipe for this mug of double deliciousness on my Instagram account the night that I made it. 

16 ounces Unsweetened Almond Breeze
+ 1 packet Godiva Hot Cocoa Mix
+ 1 splash peppermint coffee syrup [amount to your liking]
Heat and froth and pour and top with
+ marshmallows
+ crushed candy canes
+ a peppermint stir stick
and enjoy!

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Almond Breeze Almondmilk.

Feb 172015
 

open faced fajitas

I’ve mentioned recently that I’ve been working as part of the Beef Expert Bureau funded by the Beef Checkoff.  In our partnership, I get to share with them all I’m learning and experiencing through blogging and social media and they get to share with me all they are learning and experiencing through working with beef.  There is so much interesting research out there and I’ve been really lucky for all which the opportunities working with the Beef Checkoff over the past several years has rewarded me.

One major benefit from getting familiar with the resources that Beef It’s What for Dinner offers is gaining major confidence in the kitchen.  One of my favorite resources from the beef team is the Interactive Beef Counter, which I’ve raved about on this blog and via social media many, many times before.  I use it myself ALL of the time when preparing for trips to the grocery store or meal planning. It comes in handy to decode cuts of beef in recipes I want to make or that show up in sales ads.  Did you know that some types of beef go by different names depending on the region you live in?  The “Also Known As” listing on each cut’s definition is extremely helpful, as is the recommended cooking methods listed for each cut.

I’ve been looking for the best resources for becoming a better home cook on my own.  I am a regular old kitchen “newbie” turned “practice makes better” who still calls her mother when she doesn’t know where to find something in the grocery store and finds solace in the fact that Google is always just a few clicks away to decode any direction found on cookbook pages and blog recipes.

Through my work with the Beef Checkoff I’ve received hands-on demonstrations on butchering, participated in discussions about shopping smart and keeping beef affordable for my family, studied research behind the nutritional benefits of lean beef, and as the photo below shows, worked my indoor grilling magic with the help of a handful of culinary professionals who I leaned on for guidance and tips along the way.
CYMERA_20140808_111422

 

Cooking in the Beef Kitchen was one of the most nerve wracking things I’ve ever done, and I totally wasn’t expecting to be so wigged out.  Rationally, I knew there was no reason to be nervous, but boy-oh-boy, I couldn’t shake the “feeling like a fraud” anxiety.  Instructions I would normally read in my home kitchen and jump to starting without hesitation suddenly left me second guessing what my next move was.  I asked Erin, the brilliant lady behind the Mouthful blog, one question after another, after another.  Occasionally I found myself next to Chef Dave, taking in his pointers, learning I’ve been holding a knife wrong my entire adulthood.

In the end, we had created a delicious dish to share with the room: Zesty Moroccan Grilled Beef and Eggplant.  I picked up a bit of knowledge along the way; for instance as your cooked beef sits in the open air over time a redness will return to the center of meat due to change in oxidation. This is why it’s best to serve your dish very soon after slicing.

After my confidence growing experience in Denver with indoor grilling, I started pulling our electric countertop grill out for dinner a couple of times a week.  One of my favorite dishes to make is fajita toppings.  I go a bit crazy with the amount of peppers and onions I cook up, which I find stretches the meal into extra servings.

before

This recipe is a great way to put on-sale steak from the butcher counter to use!  I’m obsessed with this marinade and have been making it every few weeks since first writing it out 3 months ago.

Fajitas1

My Favorite Fajitas

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil
2 T Worcestershire
1/4 cup lime juice
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 packet low sodium fajita mix
1 T brown sugar

1 – 1.5 lbs top sirloin or top round steak
2 red onions, thinly sliced
1 package button mushrooms, washed and sliced
4 small bell peppers, thinly sliced [I like to aim for the rainbow and tend to use one of each color pepper sold at my market: green, yellow, orange, and red.]
olive oil for pan grilling

Instructions

Place first 6 ingredients in a plastic container with a lid.  Shake to mix.

Set steak in appropriate sized plastic container for refrigerator storage.  Pour half of the combined sauce over the top of the steak.  Flip steak and gently shake uncovered to coat meat in sauce.  Top with a small handful of each sliced onions, mushrooms and peppers, cover and give a gentle toss to lightly coat.

Add remaining sliced mushrooms, onions and peppers to the plastic container containing the remaining half of sauce. Cover and toss to coat.  Place both plastic containers in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to over night.

marinade

Heat grill pan over medium-high heat and drizzle with olive oil.  Once heated add veggies, not forgetting those in the steak container, too.  Cook for several minutes, being sure not to move around in the skillet too often, allowing to caramelize.  When you’ve reached your desired level of caramelization, add to dish and cover lightly to keep warm.

Turn the heat on the grill pan up to high and drizzle again.  Cook the meat for 2-3 minutes per side, until medium rare – registering 145 degrees internal temperature. [Here’s a great resource about determining beef doneness if you’re interested] Remove steak from pan and tent with foil, allowing to rest for 5-7 minutes.

Slice immediately before serving on your favorite tortillas, topping with sour cream and salsa of your choice.

Easy Flavorful Beef Fajitas

One of the best things about this recipe is that with one steak, I get several meals.  I usually buy a piece of meat between 1 and 2 pounds, and because a serving of beef is about 3 ounces of cooked meat (which is about 4 ounces of raw) and my including extra onion and peppers, my fajita fillings ends up being 7-10 servings in total.  I use the leftovers for breakfast hash or tacos, in salads with tortilla strips at lunch, on a pizza or simply a second evening of fajitas for an easy weeknight dinner.

fajitas