Category Archives: Easy to Prep Ahead of Time

School-year Swing!

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School started this last Monday for us and we are in full swing at this point.  As most of you know, eating as a family is very important to me.  I like to gather my family around the dinner table and talk about our day and not think about homework, lesson plans, etc for a few minutes.  However, after re-entering the full-time work force two years ago, getting dinner made is harder than it was for many years.  Tonight I prepped this dish for my high schooler to start in the slow cooker once she gets home on Monday and I made breakfast tacos to zap in the mornings for a little sturdier breakfast for each of us.

How did I find time tonight to do all this?  Well, I cooked a roast in the slow cooker for Sunday lunch and told everyone they were on their own for dinner!  Then tonight I was able to spend about an hour in the kitchen getting these two separate things ready.  So this is my plan for the “School-year Swing”– to try to prepare ahead of time so that I can enjoy my time at home with my family more and not be standing in the kitchen too often on weeknights.

And now, I’m going to sit with my feet up for a bit before the second week of school gets underway!

Take it Easy

 

Summer Salads- Tortellini Salad with Asparagus and Lemony Dressing

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Summer…nothing better than the lazy days of summer on an educator’s schedule.  We have had a great summer of just relaxing and enjoying each other.  It has been a few years since we have been able to do that with the house on the market back in 2013 and then our move last summer from PA to TX.  Add to that a full year of working crazy long hours as teachers with our schedules being set by others and you can imagine how we have taken great pleasure in having a very loose schedule and hardly any “hours” to keep during the summer of 2015.

Summer 2015!

Summer 2015!

Summer has also allowed me to be in the kitchen again and try some new recipes.  Those that know us, know that the girls and I make frequent trips to the library in the summer.  Recently I picked up some cook books.  This recipe is from The Make-Ahead Cook.  One could prep it in advance and then store it up to 2 days…but I made it for my family to each for lunch today!

Tortellini Salad with Asparagus and Lemony Dressing

Bring a large pot of water to boil.

  • Add 1 pound of thin asparagus, trimmed and cut into about 1-inch pieces
  • 1 Tablespoon salt

Cook until the asparagus is crisp-tender, about 2 minutes or so.  While the asparagus boils, prepare a large bowl halfway with ice and water.

Once the asparagus is crisp-tender, remove it with a slotted spoon- transferring it to the ice water and let it cool for about 2 minutes.

Remove the asparagus from the ice water and then pat it dry with paper towels.  (If making this ahead now you would put the asparagus in a storage container and cover it…but if making to eat immediately just leave it out on the counter like I did!)

Return the pot of water to boil and cook according to directions on package:

  • 12-16 ounces of dried cheese tortellini

Reserve 1/4 cup cooking water- in case you need it later.

Drain tortellini and rinse it with cold water and drain it again.  You want to leave the tortellini slightly wet.

While the tortellini cooks…

Whisk together in a large bowl

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (I used lemon juice out of a bottle but you can use fresh—you will need about 2 lemons for the entire recipe)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed through a garlic press
  • 1/4 cup of yellow onion minced

While whisking the above mixture together constantly, drizzle in:

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Remove 1/4 cup of the dressing to a small bowl and stir in:

  • 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice

Cover the extra dressing if you are saving it for later.

Now add the tortellini to the large bowl with the dressing

Toss the dressing and tortellini to combine.  Add reserved pasta cooking water as needed to adjust consistency (I didn’t use any when I made it but I’m leaving the step in just in case!)

Cover the tortellini if you are saving it for later.

To store the salad:

Refrigerate the asparagus, tortellini mixture and dressing separately for up to 2 days.

When ready to serve it get the items out and let them sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.  You can stir in some boiling water to the tortellini to loosen it up and whisk the dressing to recombine it.

Last Steps:

Drizzle the dressing over the tortellini

Stir in the asparagus.

Add:

  • 12 ounces of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 -1 cup of Parmesan cheese, grated or shaved
  • 3/4 cup of fresh basil  (you can try mint or parsley too if you don’t have basil)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts toasted (I threw mine in the oven on a cookie sheet at 350° for about 10 minutes)

Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.  I sliced and apple and made some iced tea (sweet of course, is there any other way!)

Serves 4-6

 

Enjoy!

Back to School Plans

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We start school in a few days and my head has finally accepted it.  I have decided what meal we will have that first evening (one I can prep ahead) and of course snacks too.  These are normal plans each year.  However, I have taken a new step this year and prepared some items for “fast breakfast”.

Our middle schooler has to leave an hour earlier than her old elementary school schedule so I’m thinking this means a few more breakfasts on the run!  My Aunt Gwen shared an easy recipe several years ago for some yummy Breakfast Tacos.  So tonight, I served leftovers for dinner and spent my time in the kitchen preparing breakfast for the freezer.

Breakfast Tacos

Bake Ahead of time:

  • 1 large baked potato

Brown in skillet:

  • 1 lb regular flavored bulk sausage (I used Jimmy Dean)

Set sausage aside to absorb the grease

Chop into pieces and brown in left over grease:

  • the baked potato (I did take most of the potato skin off)
  • one large onion (I cut this really small as my girls say they don’t like onion)
  • Add pepper to taste and just a smidgen of salt

Scramble in butter over low heat

  • 12 eggs
  • Add pepper to taste

Add to eggs while they are cooking

  • 6 slices of American cheese

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl

Breakfast Tacos from beckinpa.wordpress.com

Place spoonfuls in tortillas and wrap in foil (20 tortillas)

Breakfast Tacos from beckinpa.wordpress.com

Place a few spoonfuls in for a large taco and a spoonful and a half for a small taco.

First fold

First fold

Now fold the sides in over the first fold and wrap up in foil.

Now fold the sides in over the first fold and wrap up in foil.

Reheat- Oven at 275° for 35-40 minutes or Microwave, remove from foil and wrap tortilla in a paper towel.  Heat for about 40 seconds for one taco.

Wrapped and ready for the freezer.  I marked the Large and Small Tacos and dated them.

Wrapped and ready for the freezer. I marked the Large and Small Tacos and dated them.

Enjoy!

 

A Great and Easy combination: Inside-Out Stuffed Peppers and Garlic Parmesan Pull Apart Bread

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A few months ago, at the Moms4Moms group I attend at Faith Community Church one of the specials was on kids helping in the kitchen.  A recipe on the handout was Inside-Out Stuffed Peppers, it is a great one to have in your menu plan and my girls have each helped make it.  I’ve even taken the recipe on the road and shared it with my Mom and one of my Aunts and Uncles when I was in Texas recently–they loved it too.  The only catch to the recipe is that it takes an hour in the oven.  So you have to plan a little in advance.

Then a friend posted a recipe for what looked like a delicious, easy bread from The Virtuous Wife on his facebook page and I thought….hmmm….that might be good with the Inside-Out Stuffed Peppers.

So this weekend, I tried them together and Y-U-M.  I served some fruit and it was an easy meal that pleased everyone at the table.

Inside-Out Stuffed Peppers

In a skillet brown and then drain:

  • 1 lb ground beef

Add to the browned and drained ground beef:

  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 can chopped stewed tomatoes (or diced if that is all you have…but stewed is a better flavor.  I chop them right in the can using kitchen shears.)
  • 1 large green pepper chopped
  • 1/2 cup uncooked long grain rice (I prefer Uncle Ben’s)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper

Transfer to a greased 2 quart casserole dish

Cover and bake at 350° for 1 hour or until the rice is tender

Uncover and sprinkle with

  • 1 c shredded cheddar cheese (or whatever kind of cheese you have on hand…mozzarella would be good, Italian blend or even colby-jack)

Return to the oven until cheese melts.

(This is a recipe you could prep the night before or even earlier in the day and then pop into the oven when you get home.  It could take a bit longer to warm but not too much.)

 

Garlic Parmesan Pull Apart Bread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (but if you are cooking the Inside-Out Stuffed Peppers your oven is already at 350°!)

Place in a bundt pan:

  • 1/2 stick of butter

Put bundt pan in oven and let it melt.

While the butter melts, cut into quarters:

  • 1 can of refrigerated Grands biscuits (each biscuit will be cut into 4ths)

Toss the biscuit quarters in a bowl mixed with:

  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning

Once the butter is melted, add the biscuit mixture, sprinkling with any cheese and garlic that gets left behind in the bowl.

Bake at 350° for 20-22 minutes until golden brown.

Turn out on a dish (you may need to run a knife down the sides a bit) and enjoy!

It was light and fluffy and even warmed up well when we had leftovers.

Valentine’s Smith Style

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I know that Valentine’s Day is always on February 14 but somehow this year the 14th got here way too quickly!  Life has been zipping by at breakneck speeds lately-I’m sure you can relate.  Yesterday my youngest pulled out a can of Chef Boyardee and asked if she could have it for dinner tomorrow night (which would be Valentine’s).  Her older sister said “No, it is Valentines Day and Mom probably has a big, special dinner planned.”

Sigh

I am thrilled that she has noticed the special efforts I have given in previous years.  But this year I just didn’t have it in me.  Thankfully, I was able to say “We will have lunch tomorrow since y’all have a half-day of school and Dad is working in the evening.”  Whew, lunch is easier to do than dinner!  Then I didn’t let myself fret over it but got the evening wrapped up and ended watching my favorite TV show…Nashville!

This morning I kicked into gear getting  potato soup going by 9AM (recipe below).  My handsome fella was kind enough to bring home some awesome cupcakes from a bakery near his office so I didn’t even have to try to make a dessert.  Now to get the annual Valentine clues written for the hunt for the treats.

Fortunately I picked up some small little gifts for my girls on an errand run in the last few weeks so all I needed today was to run get some twizzlers.  Our candy selection is limited as the 7-year-old just entered the world of orthodontia with an expander…so no more gummy candy for a while 😦 But they gave approval for twizzlers so the world didn’t stop spinning.

After a salted caramel mocha at Burlap and Bean with my handsome fella, we made the Target run and came home with just enough time to get the Valentine Treat all set up.

I started getting the table set and really wanted it to be fun for the girls….so what could I do.  I remembered some special heart hotdogs that I repinned from my cousin-in-law and I came up with a clever way to make our soup Valentine-y too.

Here are some pictures from our table:

:Heart Hot Dogs

Hearts in soup

Here is how the entire table ended up for our family lunch:

Valentine Lunch 2013

Making the heart in the soup was super easy and such a fun way to make it fit with the theme.  I simply put  sour cream in a small bowl and dropped some food coloring in to make it pink….but whoops it was purple!  Oh well.  Then I put the colored sour cream in a small ziploc and clipped of the corner so I could “draw” the heart on the soup.  I made my snip too large but it still worked out fine.

So in the end, we had a great family lunch together.  The soup is always excellent and the cupcakes were great!  We ended our lunch reading the “Love” chapter from the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13.

Baked Potato Soup

Combine in a large slow cooker:

  • 6 large potatoes, peeled and cubed (use Russets/Idaho NOT Yukons…Oh and my definition of large is like 6 inches long so if you have small potatoes use a few more to equal out large ones)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 quart of chicken broth
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • pepper to taste (I pepper the entire top of the crock with pepper and then mix it in)

Cook on High for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours.

Mash the potatoes until the soup is slightly thickened.

Stir in:

  • 1 cup of 1/2 and 1/2  (or you can use cream)
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

I like to serve it with sour cream, bacon and (of course) more cheese.

 

Mamma Mia Italian Stew- Slow Cooker Alert!

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This was so easy to throw together late in the morning on Saturday and then dinner was ready just before we sat down to watch some College football.  I love recipes like this.  It is not quite a “magic pot” recipe as you do have to cook the Italian sausage prior to putting it in the slow cooker, but other than that —easy!

I found this recipe via some link to myrecipes.com back in August.  Everyone was happy with it and I think my girls tried some vegetables that they normally would never try (I didn’t reveal the contents until everyone had eaten!).  This made just enough to feed four….but it was our only thing besides some bread.  So you could stretch it if you had not only bread but also a big salad.  I think when we have some holiday company I may try to have this again but I will put in twice as much sausage and a tad more vegetables.

Mamma Mia Italian Stew

Brown in a non-stick pan:

  • 1 pound Italian sausage (I used sweet as my girls don’t go for the hot version.  Also I browned it in the links and then chopped it into bite-sized pieces after it was cooked through)

Combine in a large slow cooker:

  • the cooked sausage- sliced
  • 1 eggplant, peeled and cubed
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced green beans (I used frozen Trader Joe’s green beans)
  • 2 green peppers, sliced
  • 1 potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 zucchini, cubed
  • 1 yellow squash, cubed (next time I will peel the squash or at least take off some of the peel…it wasn’t very good)
  • 1 cup onion, thinly sliced
  • 15 oz can Italian-style tomato sauce (yes they actually do have this…I had never purchased any prior to this but basically it is tomato sauce with Italian seasonings all in it.  So you could use plain tomato sauce and add seasonings yourself if you needed to)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt

That is what the recipe says then I added, all to my taste:

  • dried oregano
  • dried basil
  • dried thyme
  • white pepper

Stir everything well.

Cover and cook on low setting for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours.
It was so easy.  Definitely one you could prep the night before and then dump into the slow cooker just before you walk out the door for work or a busy day running errands.

I also made a Slab Apple Pie for dessert.

Shrimp and Rice Casserole

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My “Queen of Banana Bread” friend sent me this recipe in August and I stuffed it into my recipe file to use the next time I noticed that shrimp were on sale.  Well, this is the week (at least at Giant Grocery Stores).  Now, I have to preface this by saying the actual recipe calls for baking the casserole with raw rice and raw shrimp….two things of which I am not fond.  So I ended up making this much like the recipe my MIL wrote in the cookbook she gave us for our wedding (Shrimp New Orleans….which is fairly similar to this just messes up more pots and pans and has more of a kick to it.)  This way I got the entire thing prepped before my kids walked through the door and then later I simply put it in the oven.  Then when I was making my second trip back to the school in the 4:00 hour…it didn’t matter that I wasn’t there to stir it like the original recipe required.  I like recipes that I can prep ahead (if you aren’t going to be home during the day you can prep this one the night before) and then stick in the oven and forget about until the timer goes off!

Both of my girls ate this one so that was good….they didn’t eat as much as I did but that is another story!

Shrimp and Rice Casserole

Cook according to package instructions.

  • 1 1/2 cups rice

Peel and devein

  • 1 1/2 lbs raw shrimp

Boil water in large soup pot in order to cook the shrimp.

Once the water is boiling place the peeled and deveined shrimp in the boiling water and allow them to cook for about 3-5 minutes….they will turn a nice pink.  (My cat usually starts to meow about the time they are cooked through!)

In a large bowl combine:

  • cooked rice
  • cooked shrimp
  • cream of celery soup (10.75 oz can)
  • cream of chicken soup (10.75 oz can)
  • 1 can of Rotel (I noticed that Pace Brand now has their own version of this wonderful diced tomatoes and green chilies combination)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Stir it well to combine.

Now if you plan to bake this later, cover the bowl and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook.

Baking the dish:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a large casserole dish melt

  • 4 Tbsp butter

Once the butter is melted, pour the shrimp and rice mixture over the melted butter.

Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

I had chilled my casserole and it needed a bit longer to warm through so after 30 minutes I removed the foil, stirred it around a bit and cooked it for 10 more minutes.