Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Summer Family Weekend Trip

"Fishing is much less about the fishing, and much more about the time alone with your kid, away from the hustle and bustle of the everyday."
(Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing)
The weekend of July 19-21, my husband Sam and I joined my parents and my sister's family for a couple of nights by a lake in the mountains of northeastern PA. (My family spent a weekend there 2 summers ago, which I had referenced in my "September Sweets" post, and last summer we went to the Jersey shore.)

It was nice to spend time outside of the city, doing little more than lounging around, cooking and eating, sitting by the fire at night, and watching my nephew Peter get excited about reading with me, playing a board game with my husband, singing with Guitar Hero, rowing on the lake, and fishing with my brother-in-law.

I also loved spending extended time with Ellie, my baby niece, and of course Emma, my puppy niece. Ever since I moved to Brooklyn, it's been more of a challenge to see them as regularly as I did when Peter was a baby.

In preparation for the weekend, I made strawberry rhubarb jam... 

...Reese's peanut butter banana bread as a cake to celebrate Peter's 4th birthday...

I added some fruit for color, after a generous slathering
of chocolate frosting!

...and a key lime pie, at my sister's request (I've posted about key lime pie several times, so in this case I'll just include this photo)...

Below are my bird print nails that I did that Saturday. My wedding band and engagement ring were being professionally cleaned and inspected, so I decided to have some fun with my rings as well.

This past Sunday, Peter and Ellie got baptized at their church, and afterwards, we all went to lunch at Minado. There I gave Peter his birthday gift: Despicable Me on DVD ("But I don't understand. The minions are so little. How do they help the daddy stop the bad guy?"), and a DC Comics Super Heroes Collection book ("Can you please read more, now??"). Ellie's 1st birthday is 4 weeks from today, and we'll be celebrating it in a little over a month.

I hope everyone is making the most of the summer weekends, and making memories with family and friends. Today I received a lovely birthday card in the mail from our nephew Isaiah, which brightened a long day!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Brr, It's Cold In Here!

"So, are we like best friends now that you've seen what's in my freezer?"
(Ralphie May)

I mentioned in my last post that I wanted to use my oven less this summer. Cue "freezer cooking"; has anyone tried it? My freezer is currently chock-full-o' pre-prepped egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches, slow cooker meals, and homemade biscuits and cornbread. I'm hoping that the time I spent upfront will be mitigated by the time not spent having to plan and prepare every single meal. I enjoy cooking, but I'm a busy working girl. This seems like a great timesaver for parents as well.

My fully-packed freezer

That's the idea behind freezer cooking: Dedicate the time to prepare menus, buy groceries, chop vegetables, cook portions of a recipe if needed (e.g. in my case, cook eggs, brown ground turkey, and bake biscuits and cornbread), put everything together, and make room in your freezer. When you're done, you have a variety of frozen meals and snacks ready to throw into your slow cooker or reheat, no thought required. Sometimes the summer heat makes me unable to think clearly. Of course, all of this does not mean that I'm not using my oven or stove these days, but I like options.

Microwave Breakfast Sandwiches

I've always needed to eat a substantial breakfast, and if I don't have enough I get growling hungry by 10 AM. I don't have time to prepare anything in the morning, but popping something into the microwave oven for a minute is doable. We don't use our microwave very often, but it's proven to be invaluable at times (like when I need to reheat my coffee). It's also perfect for these egg and cheese English muffins, which are much healthier than packaged frozen breakfasts or what you might buy on your way to work in the morning. I've found that 1 minute in the microwave, wrapped in a paper towel to absorb moisture, does the trick.

It's not exactly a recipe, but I loosely followed Flying on Jess Fuel: I pierced the yolks and baked the eggs in a muffin pan, used 2 ultra thin-cut slices of cheddar cheese per multigrain English muffin, and seasoned with salt and pepper. You can also make them with bagels or tortillas, and add ham or turkey cold cuts, or cooked bacon or breakfast sausages. My husband usually makes turkey sandwiches for lunch during the workweek, so I didn't feel the need to add extra protein.

Freezer-to-Crockpot Meals

I can't attest to how these slow cooker meals taste because I haven't cooked them yet, but judging from the comments on the blog I got them from, Baked In The South, they turn out well. I like that most of the recipes use simple and unprocessed ingredients, but I first noticed them because the spaghetti sauce called for herbes de Provence, of which I have lots from a friend's trip to the south of France! Why not use what you've got?

My tip: Stand bag in a pitcher for easier and cleaner filling

I also made my own Italian seasoning, rather than buying a pre-made blend. To make Italian seasoning, mix all of the following ingredients together:
3 tablespoons dried basil, 3 tablespoons dried oregano, 3 tablespoons dried parsley, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes.

Italian seasoning

I'm very cautious when it comes to handling raw meat. If you are also, you might want to deal with all of the raw meat first, and then move on to the veggies and other items. I have different cutting boards for poultry, seafood, and red meat, and wash those items and knives separately. My hands have probably aged a good 5 years just from washing them repeatedly when cooking!

9 different dinner recipes
All-Star Celebrity Apprentice viewers will understand

Most of these meals just need to be thawed enough to place into the slow cooker -- mine is the Cuisinart 4-Quart Programmable Stainless Steel Slow Cooker*, a lovely gift from our wedding registry -- and cooked from 4-8 hours. They can be served with any side dish, a simple salad, or bread.

Pre-Cooked Biscuits and Cornbread

Just for good measure, I decided to bake and freeze buttermilk biscuits and jalapeƱo-cheddar cornbread to enjoy with any of the slow cooker meals. There are some meals that are meant to be eaten with pasta, or could go well with rice or quinoa, but at other times, I can take out as many biscuits or pieces of cornbread as I want, and reheat them easily.

If you've tried freezer cooking, or plan to, let me know! I recently pinned more recipes for slow cooker freezer meals, and I hope the ones I try turn out well. And in a world of Pinterest-perfect food photos, this is refreshing and hilarious: "37 People Who Are Worse At Cooking Than You."

Just in case you didn't catch my millenial reference in the title: O-E-O-E-O, ice, ice, ice! Stay cool in this heat wave.

*Another small kitchen appliance I want to mention is the SodaStream Source, which we just bought over the weekend. I don't like single-use products and we're already so pressed for space, but we have a bad sparkling water habit and I had a Bed, Bath & Beyond coupon. Even though we recycle everything, making our own seltzer should be better for the environment and save us money. Plus, the city already bills for water, so I don't think anyone should have to pay more to drink it just because it's bubbly, especially when New York has good water!