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Quick dinner idea: Meatball Sandwich Casserole

Categories: Cooking, Entertaining, Lunches, Meal Planning, Uncategorized, recipes, summer living

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The holidays can be a crazy time of year with shopping to be done, preparing for guests and getting kids ready for exams. We’ve been out late a lot during the week lately, and traveling on the weekends, so there’s not been a lot of time to fix dinner. Since it seems my family insists on eating every night, I figured I should try to do something about feeding them.

As a matter of fact, I even had most of these things in the pantry and fridge already, so this was easy.

Meatball Sandwich Casserole

Slices (about 1/4 inch thick) baguette French bread(enough to cover a casserole dish)
olive or vegetable oil to brush on bread

1-2 pounds (depends on what size dish you’re using) frozen cooked Italian-style or regular meatballs, thawed. Works best if they are smaller, bite-sized meatballs.
1 bag frozen chopped onions thawed and drained (I sauteed mine, but I’m sure it’s fine without)
NOTE: you’re supposed to use the onions and green pepper mix to make it like an authentic meatball sandwich, but no one here but me likes green peppers.
1 1/2 cups pasta sauce (I used a tomato-basil one)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Heat oven to 350°F. Brush 1 side of each bread slice with oil.
  • Line the bottom and side of a casserole dish with bread, oil side up and slightly overlapping slices.

  • Bake 5 to 10 minutes or until edges are light golden brown.
  • In large bowl,  mix meatballs, onion (and bell pepper), and pasta sauce.
  • Spoon meatball mixture into crust; and bake uncovered 25 to 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated in center.

  • Sprinkle with cheese; bake 5 to 10 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.

It was a hit with everyone, and it’s been just as good the next day!

5 ways to get ready for the holidays early

Categories: Uncategorized

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It’s that time of year, again. With less than 3 months to go, we’re hearing rumblings of the holidays and some stores even have Christmas decorations in stock, can you believe it? Even though we want the holidays to be a picture perfect time filled with family and friends, the reality is that it’s a busy time of year and there are lots of things that need to be taken care of before that can happen.

Though I’ve given up pretending I’m going to have everything done before Thanksgiving, each year I vow that I’m going to “start early” to get ready for Christmas, but each year I seem to be that person who’s racing the clock on Christmas Eve trying to finish up.

Despite my procrastinating, I do know what I need to do to prepare for Christmas and over the years I’ve learned that it really begins the prior year. Here are a few things I’m going to do to facilitate getting ready for Christmas early:

1. Pack the decorations properly at the end of the season - The best gift I give myself is well-packed Christmas decorations. When the holidays are over, it’s tempting to just toss things in a box to get them put away quickly, but it will just leave you with more to do next year. I try hard to discard unused decorations, make sure everything works and pack things carefully and logically.

2. Shop the after Christmas sales - More shopping is last thing I want to do when Christmas is over, but I find that if I make myself visit the sales, even with just a couple of things in mind, it’s well worth it the next year. Beginning the next season stocked with even just gift wrap, bags and bows helps a lot.

3. Shop early for known items - I know people who begin Christmas shopping in January. While that seems like a good idea, it would be hard for me because I don’t know what people will be asking for by the end of the year. However, I do know that there are gifts and other items I buy every year and while I admit I probably won’t do it in January, there are some things like batteries, stocking stuffers and gift cards that I can start gathering in August or September.

4. Set a goal date for decorating - Sometimes, we end up decorating late in the season because we say we’re going to get to it “sometime this weekend”, and before we know it 2 weekends have passed, and then we’re in a mad rush. I find that if we put it on the calendar, the house gets decorated and the tree gets put up in time for us to enjoy it.

5. Wrap presents as you go - This is the area I struggle with the most and I vow to change this year. I’ve seen 2:30 am on Christmas morning more time than I care to admit while wrestling with wrapping paper and tape. This year, I’m going to make myself wrap things as I buy them, especially since my chief wrapper is away at college.

Do you have a favorite hint for getting ready for the holidays early so you can enjoy time with family and friends?

Maintaining the weekday routine

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By now, school has been in for a little while for most of us. The excitement of a new year is starting to fade into routine. Fall can be especially busy with sports practices and other activities, and before you know it, all the promises of being organized and early to bed begin to fade when suddenly you find it’s 7:30 pm and dinner’s still on the table and homework isn’t done, yet.

It’s tempting to just get everyone off to bed and worry about the rest, “in the morning”, but (oddly enough) that just shifts the chaos to the next day, and before you know it, the week becomes more about survival than anything.

Over the years, I’ve found there are a few things that I have to do consistently (no matter how tired I am, or when I have to be at work the next morning) that are essential to making the week run smoothly:

1. Commit to keeping the family calendar updated - We write things on a monthly calendar as they come up, and each Sunday I transcribe the upcoming week to a larger M-F format and the whole family meets briefly about it for any updates. I’ve also started maintaining it online so we can have it on our phones as well.

2. Keep up with the laundry and the dishes each night - Maybe it’s just me, but after a long day at work, I can easily talk myself into dealing with those “tomorrow”, and then they somehow reach critical mass. I’ve been working hard at clearing the sink each night before bed, and it’s much nice to wake up to a clean (OK, clean-ish) kitchen where there’s room for everyone to get ready. I may not do laundry each night, but I gather dirty clothes each night and sort them to make sure there’s nothing we need to clean for the next day.

3. Have kids do homework in the same place at the same time when possible - Our evening routine gets in trouble when we change up the homework routine. Even if it’s a late night with sports practices, things always go better when we do things in the same order.

4. Prepare books, lunches and clothes the night before - I struggle with this, but no matter how late it is, I’ve been working hard at making myself prepare lunches, get out clothes and supervise the kids packing backpacks before bed. It makes a big difference when it’s time to get out the door in the mornings.

5. Deal with clutter spots each day - Our kitchen counter is a clutter magnet. We tend to pile things there when we’re in a hurry. If I do a little sorting each night to throw away trash and return stray items to their rightful places, I find that I’m much less stressed and it’s easier to find what we need.

These are some things that I’ve learned to do that help us during the week. How about you? What are the tasks you have to do consistently to keep your week running smoothly?

What’s in your travel toiletry bag?

Categories: Organization, Uncategorized, travel

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I’ll start this out by saying, I have a bit of a travel-sized item disorder. I spend more time perusing Minimus than I probably should admit, and I have only recently thinned out my hotel soaps and shampoos collection so I may think about these things more than the average person.

Since it’s summer and travel is on the agenda, I’m using my toiletry bag a lot. While I’m not really a minimalist, I pride myself on packing an efficient, yet well-stocked bag to be prepared for a variety of situations. I rarely carry full-sized versions of anything unless I’m going to be gone for quite a while, yet my daughter has never met a super-sized version of anything that didn’t accompany her everywhere she goes. It’s like we’re not even related or something.

I carry a bag with 2 compartments, it measure about 12×8x4. In one side, I carry the items I will use every day, and the other side contains spares and items you don’t want to be without when you’re away from home.

The things I will use every day on a trip include such items as: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, make-up,  makeup remover, shampoo, conditioner, face wash etc.

The other side contains spares of things I’m prone to forgetting such as a hair brush, toothbrush, toothpaste and a razor. It also contains items that may or may not be provided at the destination such as lotion, soap or cotton balls as well as items that I may or may not use, but don’t want to be caught without such as nail clippers, medicine, spare contact lenses, a small flashlight, dental floss, band-aids, some change and a pen.

I go through that side occasionally to check the stock and to think of things I may need to add.

What kinds of things do you carry in a toiletry bag? Are you a minimalist or do you have special luggage just for your shampoo? Any ideas for unusual, yet handy items to have? Do share!

5 tips to help you get out the door and on the road to vacation

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It’s vacation time of year! Many people are getting packed up and ready to go someplace for a little rest and relaxation. However, if your family is anything like ours, the actual getting out of the house and on the way part is sometimes easier said than done.

I’m more of a “let’s get this show on the road” kind of person, and my husband is more, um…”methodical” when it comes to getting on the road, and that can make for some interesting preparations. However, over the years, we’ve gradually found a system that helps us meet my need for speed, and his need to check everything twice (or 3 times, or 20…).

These are some of the things we’ve found helpful:

1. Create a re-usable task list (store it in your phone) - A list of tasks that need to be done the night before, and the morning of departure helps keep us on track, and we don’t have to recreate it each year. Be sure to include, “turn off the water to the washer”.  Just trust me on that one.

2. Load the things that can be safely kept in the car the night before - While it’s not a great idea to leave everything you own in the car all night, we go ahead and put bulky items such as beach chairs and fishing poles in the car.

3. Do as much food preparation as possible the night before - Decide what needs to go in the cooler and make sure everything fits. I even put all the cooler items on the same shelf in the refrigerator so I can just grab them and go. It may also be helpful to bag up car snacks, and pack the non-refrigerated items so they’re ready to go out the door.

4. Banish the habit of, “We’ll do it on the way out…” - Sometimes we have to push ourselves when it’s late and we’re still packing, but things go much more smoothly when we gas up the car and get cash the day before we leave.

5. Inspect each family member’s version of, “I’m packed.” - Our kids are older, and they can pack their own bags, but it’s very helpful to visualize their handiwork the night before we leave because it seems, “packed” can mean everything from, “I thought about what I want to take”, to, “Here’s my 5 bags, where should I put them?” Looking at what they’re taking has been helpful in avoiding surprises.

Do you have any hints about getting up and out of the house to get on the road to vacation? Do share!

Just for fun: deep frying stuff

Categories: Cooking, Uncategorized

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This fall, my oldest child and only daughter will be heading to college. It will be a huge transition, fraught with excitement and emotion as you might imagine. Therefore, I’ve had a lot of things on my mind lately.

One of my biggest worries is that when she leaves no one will know where I am. With only guys left in the house with me, I could be missing for a few days, and eventually, someone would say, “Hey, I haven’t seen Mom in a while…”, and someone else would likely reply, “I dunno, she’s probably upstairs or something.”

Another fear I have is that I will find myself living in a frat house when she’s gone. However? I think that part may have already begun.

My middle child is a boy and I’m always working on cooking skills with him so that when he leaves for college in a couple of years, he’ll be able to, you know, eat. But, now it appears I should have been more specific about what to cook, since he’s 15.

The evidence: Deep Fried Swiss Cakes.

Ingredients
A box of whatever looks like it needs deep frying (Swiss Cakes and Oreos preferred, so I’m told)
Some Crisco
A box of pancake mix
Powdered sugar

Directions:

Chill whatever you’re going to fry in the fridge for a bit.

Mix the pancake mix as directed “until you have enough”, it should be pretty thick.

Melt the Crisco in a pan.
Using tongs, dip whatever you’re trying to fry in the pancake mix.

Then dip it in the hot Crisco (In all seriousness, this is only done with an adult around since it is hot grease).

Wait for it to turn golden brown.

Remove from oil to a paper towel-lined plate.

Sprinkle it with powdered sugar.

Eat it.

While I hope it’s obvious we don’t actually eat like that, it was pretty funny to watch him do it, and it actually tasted pretty good.

However, I think I’ll make sure he chooses a healthier alternative and bakes them next time.

Corn salad with walnuts and feta cheese

Categories: Cooking, Entertaining, Food, Uncategorized, side dishes, summer living

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The most difficult part about cooking dinner for me is coming up with new and interesting side dishes.  Especially in the summer when we are likely to have guests eating with us.  There is only so many times you can serve pasta salad or potato salad before you bore even yourself.

I came across this recipe last year sometime and jotted it down on a scrap of paper and stuffed it into the bottomless abyss that is otherwise known as my purse.  I found it again last week and knew it would  the perfect accompaniment to the burgers I was grilling for some friends that night.
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Mini Cherry Cobblers — Picnic Perfect

Categories: Cooking, Entertaining, Food, Holiday Entertaining, Kids Cook, Uncategorized, summer living

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I found these adorable ramekins at the grocery store a few weeks ago.  I am a sucker for this color blue and pretty things in general.  For only $1 each, I could not pass them up.  I knew that I would find something to use them for.  So far I have served grapes in them, hummus, dips of all kinds– the best part of course is that no one is concerned about double dipping since they all have their own individual ramekin.

I have yet to find the cure for the unparalleled horror of having a sibling breathing near your food, but should I discover the answer to that I will be sure to let you know. I am here for you, people.

So Fourth of July came and I had them setting out on the counter and I decided that I would make a red, white and blue treat with them. 

The best part? The recipe is so easy that even your youngest children can make this with minimal help.

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To make 10* individual cobblers you will need:

2 21oz canned cherries
1 tube of biscuits
1T melted butter
2T sugar
1tsp cinnamon

*Why 10? The biscuits come 10 to a tube and the 21oz can makes 5. So, uh, do the math! Or better yet, make your child do the math and then pat yourself on the back for helping them keep their mind sharp during their summer vacation. Their teacher will be proud of your efforts!

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Divide the cherries up evenly between your ten ramekins.

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Whack your tube of biscuits open against your counter until you hear that satisfying pop. Then take the biscuits out, flatten them slightly, and stick one in each ramekin on top of the cherries.

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Brush the top with the melted butter. Sprinkle with the cinnamon/sugar mixture.

Bake in the 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes.

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These taste delicious hot, cold, or any state of cooling from hot to cold. I have already made another batch today since it was easier than listening to the complaints that 10 is not evenly divisible by 7. (See, more summer math work! FTW!)
 

Cinnamon Roasted Cashews

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School is quickly coming to an end.  If you are like me, it is coming to an end in the next few days.  Cue the angels singing hallelujah.  

What do you give to your children’s teachers?   I like to make a little something as well as give them a giftcard.  Even thought my daughter insists her teacher loves candles I just don’t think she wants one from every kid in the class.  Unless of course she is going for that Amish theme in her house and shunning electricity.

Coupled with school coming to an end has been my ongoing quest for a recipe to make the cinnamon roasted cashews that I love from Whole Foods.  I could eat them every single day.  And I would if the Whole Foods store wasn’t so far away from me and if they didn’t cost so much money.  For whatever reason, my children want to eat more than a small hand full of nuts for dinner everyday. They are so selfish like that.

As I searched for recipes, some of them were way more complex than what I wanted to do. I had zero desire to put trays of nuts in and out of the oven multiple times. Nor did I want to brush my nuts with egg whites.

(I am resisting the urge to add, That’s what she said.)

And so I came up with this shortcut version of the recipe. It suits me and my short attention span perfectly. Not to mention it is so delicious that I ended up hiding some of it from my children. I just don’t think they appreciated my nuts enough.

(Sometimes I think I am really a 12 year old boy.)

I think that this recipe tastes even better than the version they sell at Whole Foods, if only for the fact that it costs about 1/10th price to make at home.

You will need:

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6 cups of Cashews, or really any nut you desire
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2T cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla

Again, this recipe, like most of my recipes, is not an exact science. Add more or less of whatever you like or don’t like. It will turn out perfectly fine. I promise.

Step One:

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Put the nuts in a large heavy bottomed pan. Heat them up over high heat, stirring them so that they don’t burn. This will take a few minutes.

Step Two:

Once the nuts are heated thoroughly dump the brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla into the pan.

Step Three:

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Stir it while the sugar mixture gets all melty and sticks to the nuts.

Step Four:

Turn off stove and let it cool slightly before you remove the nuts from the pan. Resist the urge to taste them right now unless you want to burn the tastebuds off of your tongue. Trust me on this.

Step Five:

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Scoop the nuts out of the pan and into a bowl. If you have allowed them to cool too long and they are stuck in your pan like a massive piece of peanut brittle, simply turn the stove back on for a few minutes to loosen the sugar up. it is much easier than hacking at it with a butter knife. Not that I know anything about that.

Now you can package these nuts up into little decorative containers to give to the teachers. Or you can just eat the nuts yourself and tell yourself that you need it, no, you deserve it, because soon enough the kids are going to be home all day and sometimes you just need to sneak into the pantry and have a little snack to susatin you while you think of ways to burn daylight.

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Miles approves.

 

Easy Peach Cobbler

Categories: Cooking, Food, Kids Cook, Uncategorized, summer living

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With the warm weather approaching, or if you live on the face of the sun like I do, the warm weather has already arrived, entertaining demands to be made easier and more casual. Afterall, who wants to slave over a hot stove on a sweltering day? No one that’s who.

This dessert is perfect for the casual entertaining of summer. It is easy, ridiculously so. Your children can make this entirely by themselves. And it is delicious. As a matter of fact, I hid the leftovers so that I could have it all for myself. What? Don’t judge me! You have done the same thing.
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