Thursday, September 1, 2011

Quick Meals and Suggestions

Today I am thrilled to introduce you to the second contributor who will be posting about cooking!  Britni from My Recipe Box is super talented (and not just in cooking!). One of the reasons I love her blog so much is that she not only uses personal recipes, but she pulls recipes from EVERYWHERE..something that I appreciate as a busy mom who doesn't have hours to just look through yummy recipe books and blogs. She tweeks some recipes and others she leaves the same.  SO happy to have her on board here on the blog. Welcome, Britni!

Hello Kiki Creates readers.  I am Britni, and I like to cook!  This was not always the case.  When I was working full-time, I was all about the takeout meals on the way home from work or a quick box mix that was probably loaded with preservatives.  A few years back my husband started dental school, and my working days were slowly cut back so I could be with my kids.  Therefore, my budget changed and I was forced to start cooking more.  I have grown to love it :)
I started my blog, My Recipe Box a few years ago as a way to keep my family's recipes organized and easily accessible.  From that I started adding other fun recipes I wanted to share, and now I am obsessed with looking for and trying new recipes.  I am so excited to be able to share some fun kitchen tips, recipes, and other food fun with you :) 

A little background on me...I am currently living in Ohio, where my hubby is attending his LAST year of dental school (HALLELUJAH!) and am honored to be a mommy of 2 little boys.  I work as a RN at a local hospital and have seen the consequences of poor lifestyle choices and eating habits on a daily basis.  This is why I am committed to eating out less, using more fruits and veggies in my cooking, and keeping the sweet treats to a once a week occasion. 

My back to school time is a little different, instead of sending kids off to school, I am sending my hubby off to school.  Many nights he walks in just long enough to have dinner with us as a family before I walk out the door to work my crazy night shifts.  On these kind of nights, a quick meal is the best I can do without ordering a pizza a few times a week :)  I have learned over the years that a fast meal doesn't have to be one out of a box, it can still be nutritious and full of flavor if you do just a small amount of work yourself.

I have put together a few of my tips and recipes for busy weeknights when everyone is getting pulled different directions between practices, meetings, hanging out with friends, and doing homework.
1.  Freeze homemade pizza dough for easy pizza and breadsticks.  The next time you make up a batch, why not do a double or triple recipe?  How fun is it to have pizza night with the family!?  You can make individual, smaller pizzas where everyone can have their own toppings (make 4 smaller pizzas and put them on a cookie sheet) OR make 1 or 2 different kinds on a regular size pan.  Or my favorite, grilled me, it will change your life!

Basic Pizza Dough

1 1/2 c. warm (105-115 degrees) water
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. yeast
1/2 tsp. salt
3-4 1/2 c. flour
In a large bowl or mixer, combine water, sugar, and yeast. Let stand for 10 minutes or until yeast is bubbly.
Add salt and stir. Add 1 1/2 c. flour and mix well. Gradually add more flour (usually between 3-4 cups, depending on your elevation and your humidity) until dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl and it barely sticks to your finger.
 Spray a glass or metal bowl with cooking spray and place dough in the bowl. Cover and allow to rise for 45 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

To freeze the dough balls, dust each one generously with flour as soon as it has risen (it will continue to rise in the freezer for a few minutes), wrap in plastic wrap, and put each one in a separate zip-top bag. Freeze for up to a month.  Good for breadsticks as well.

It's best to transfer frozen dough from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before (or 10 to 12 hours before) you want to use it. But I've found that dough balls pulled straight from the freezer and left to warm up on the counter will be completely defrosted in about 1-1/2 hours. The dough is practically indestructible.
To grill your pizza, on a floured surface roll out dough into a circle about 1/8 inch thick. Place on cooking sheet. Place one pizza on a clean, oiled and preheated grill. Grill pizza crusts for about 1 minute on until the bottom is brown. With tongs, gently flip it over and grill for an additional 30 seconds. Remove from grill and repeat with remaining pizzas. Let cool. Top with your favorite pizza toppings and return to a preheated grill for about 2-3 minutes. Watch carefully to avoid burning. It's best to grill one pizza at a time (If your dough starts to char on the grill after the first few minutes, you can finish melting the cheese and toppings with your broiler, watch your crust closely!)

Some of our favorites we have made include:

BBQ chicken pizza (bbq sauce base, chicken, bacon, red onions, mozzarella cheese, cilantro, green onions)
Chicken Pesto Pizza (pesto base with mozzarella cheese, chicken, artichokes, bacon, red onion)
Traditional (pizza sauce base, mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, italian sausage, olives)
Margherita (olive oil and garlic base, fresh mozzarella, basil, thinly sliced tomatoes)

2.  Pre-cook and freeze chicken.  The next time you find chicken breasts on sale, buy a few bags!  Cook the chicken using your preferred method, i.e. crockpot, boil, bake, grill, etc.  Chop some of the breasts into cubes and shred some others, then measure them out into about 2 cup portions and put them in small freezer ziplop baggies.  Date them.  The next time you are running short on time for dinner, pull out a baggie, defrost it, and it is ready for your favorite casserole, chicken tacos, sandwich, nachos, stir-fry, salad, enchiladas...use your imagination!

This recipe is good year-round, no need to wait for ingredients to come into season :)

Turkey (or Chicken) Cranberry Wraps
From:  my recreation from Fresh Cafe in Owings Mills, MD
*No real measurements...just put as much as you want on that will fit in the wrap!*
tortillas--flour, whole wheat, or spinach
chopped up turkey or chicken, cooked (I like mine grilled)
romaine lettuce, chopped
mandarin oranges
swiss cheese, shaved or shredded
raspberry vinaigrette dressing (Kraft makes a good one)
Assemble and enjoy!

3.  Skillet Meals.  There is nothing wrong with throwing a bunch of fabulous ingredients into one pan to make a fabulous meal.  The best part about these is they usually take 30 minutes or less.  I know, some of you are thinking I'm talking about hamburger helper type stuff, but trust me, there are wonderful recipes out there that you will love!  It is a great way to use up veggies and sauces out of your is an example for you:

Potato Keilbasa Skillet

1 pound red potatoes, cubed  (About 3 medium sized potatoes)
3 Tbs. water
3/4 lb. smoked kielbasa or Polish sausage, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. brown sugar
2 Tbs. cider vinegar
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. pepper
4 cups fresh baby spinach ( I like to chop my spinach, but you can use them whole if you prefer)
5 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
Directions:  Place cubed potatoes and water in a microwave-safe dish. Cover bowl with plastic wrap (no need to poke any holes) and microwave on high for 4 minutes or until fork tender; drain.  (Mine took closer to 6 minutes before they were fork-tender)
In a large skillet on medium-high heat, saute kielbasa and onion in oil until onion is tender; about 3-5 minutes. (I skipped the oil and just used the bacon grease to fry it in.)  Add potatoes; saute 3-5 minutes longer or until kielbasa and potatoes are lightly browned.
Meanwhile, combine the brown sugar, vinegar, mustard, thyme, and pepper; stir into skillet. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered for 2-3 minutes or until heated through. Add spinach and bacon; cook and stir until spinach is wilted. Yields 4 servings.
From:  Recipe Shoebox

4. Keep a bag of frozen meatballs in your freezer. 
~Throw some in a crockpot with teryaki sauce, bbq sauce and a can of crushed pineapple, or a bottle of chili sauce and grape jelly.  Cook on high for 2-3 hours.  Serve over rice.
~Heat some up  using stovetop directions on package with some bottled or homemade marinara sauce.  Serve over cooked noodles or put on a hoagie roll with some sliced cheese for a yummy sandwich.

5. Utilize your crockpot.  I never realized crockpots were so useful for EVERYTHING!  I have used my crockpot over the past few years for everything from dessert, to soup, to a Sunday roast.  They make meats tender, and gives you that "home-cooked" taste with little effort.  The only hard part is planning ahead.

It doesn't get any easier than this...3 ingredients AND you put the chicken in frozen.  Everybody wins :)

Crockpot Hawaiian Chicken
5-6 FROZEN chicken breasts
1 (20 oz) can pineapple chunks, drained
1 (16oz) bottle BBQ sauce

Spray crockpot with cooking spray and place frozen chicken inside.  Cover with BBQ sauce, then dump pineapple over top.  Place lid on and cook on HIGH for 3 hours.  Shred chicken with a couple of forks and stir so the sauce covers the chicken.  Serve over rice.
6.  Omlets in a Bag.  Who doesn't love breakfast for dinner?  This is an easy way to make a bunch of omlets at once with everyone getting EXACTLY what they want.

The instructions are simple.  Gather your favorite omlet fixin''s a few suggestions:

handful of cubed ham
2 Tbsp cheese--cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, monterey jack
handful diced turkey (or deli turkey sliced)
1-2 Tbsp bacon crumbles
handful fresh spinach leaves
1 Tbsp yellow or green onions, diced
handful of asparagus, diced
handful of sliced mushrooms
1 Tbsp salsa
1 Tbsp pesto (my favorite)
1-2 Tbsp diced green or red peppers
dash of salt and pepper
dash of hot sauce

Put a large pot on the stove filled half way with water and bring to a boil.

Then, whip up 2 eggs per person in a bowl with a fork and put it in a quart size heavy duty ziplock bag (not the cheap flimsy stuff).  Have everyone add their favorite ingredients, seal up the bags and write each person's name on their bag with a Sharpie. 
Place bags in boiling (up to 8 bags) water and cook for 13 minutes.  Open and the omlets should slide out easily. 
7. MEAL PLAN!  I cannot tell you how this has changed my life.  If you do this, you will spend less at the grocery store (instead of buying ingredients for things and then forgetting what you bought them for OR buying extra things), you can plan quicker meals on the nights you know will be crazy, and you can utilize the sales.  Every Sunday I sit down and look through the ads to see what is on sale.  Then I look at my recipes and decide what I can make for the best deal (when I can use coupons on sale items, this is a major bonus).  It does take work on your part, but you will be a lot less stressed and prepared for dinner if you do this.  TRY IT!

I wish you all a happy, safe school year and I am excited to share more of my ideas with you :)

Amazing, right?! I cannot wait to try a few of these recipes and suggestions out.  Do you have any go-to meals for times when you need a meal in a snap?

Also..Kristen Duke is starting a really fun series today called:

I am excited to be her guest on the 22nd of this month. BUT I will let you know she has some AMAZING blogs the entire month showing ways to show off your family pictures. So fun, right?!
You can find her blog HERE and there will also be a button on my sidebar for the month!


Davis and Laura said...

That's amazing advice!!! And great tips! Thank you! I'm making that Hawaiian chicken tonight---yum!

Bluesbaby said...

These are some awesome ideas! We all have faced the dreaded "what's for dinner" question with no time for cooking.

My cooking style varies now from my earlier times, because I eat more from scratch. Now I have more time some days but can appreciate meals quick to fix on others.

Feel free to look at, use, copy any of my recipes just make sure to keep the original credit with it. I have posted over 500 recipes since 2005. Some recipes I have modified but most were wonderful to start so needed no changes.

Search on the words slow cooker or crockpot to bring up those things I have found and used over the years. It looks like not all of them can be reached that way but scanning back over time may net you some gems of recipes.

Crystal said...

I am so excited to try these tips and recipes. This time of year is crazy for our family. Thanks for sharing. And Britni, I love how you spell your name. My daughter, Britni, spells it the same way!! We rarely see this spelling and it's fun to find someone with the same spelling. :) Can't wait to read more from you.