I have vanilla on my oatmeal every single morning. The problem? I can absolutely tell the difference between vanilla extract and imitation vanilla. And the real stuff? It’s not cheap. At our grocery store, the good stuff is $3 an ounce. Our family joke was that it would be cheaper for us to take a Baja cruise and get of in Ensanada to buy cheap vanilla than for me to get it at Costco.
So when I saw recipes floating around the web for homemade extract, I gave it a try. It is super easy (the hardest part is waiting the six weeks for the beans to masticate in the vodka.
Want to make this cheaper (and oh so delicious) version?
Meal time can be one of the most hectic times in a mama’s day. With today’s busy schedules, it is easier to drive through than dive in to your kitchen.
These easy steps will help you make meal planning easy so that you can get to the fun part of connecting with your family and not just the food!
Create a master list of meals for the month. Click here for a list of FREEBIES where you can find a shopping/inventory sheet to make your meal planning easy! Keep in mind your family schedule as you create meals for each day. Tuesdays and Thursdays tend to be less chaotic in our home, so I can plan a little more elaborate meal for those days. Now, some days, elaborate may mean that I just put a pat of butter on the green beans before serving, but usually it means that I can make something that might take a bit more time or preparation. The “What’s For Dinner?” Solution is a wonderful resource to create quick, easy, affordable meals.
Put each of the meals into categories for easy planning. A few that I use are Freezer meals – ones that I have on the freezer already, Slow Cooker meals – ones that I will need my crock pot for and create ahead of time, or LOOP meals – Left Over On Purpose. This might mean a turkey pot pie from the leftover turkey from the dinner the night before. Once you have the meals, you can organize what you need for each meal.
Create the calendar and make copies of it for the next couple months. Some things might change, but when you have a template to work from, it makes life a whole lot easier. After you use it, you can evaluate if the system is working.
Planning your meals ahead of time will help you feel more in control and less frazzled at dinner hour. Thinking ahead gives you the freedom to enjoy your day. To help you start planning right away, just subscribe to my blog right over there in the purple little post-it and get a free copy of The Ultimate Guide to Man Food. Easy Peasy!
I know – we aren’t even past Halloween yet. (I’m as bad as Target and Macy’s…) But hear me out. I want you to me the least stressed hostess on the block. I want you to give thanks that a bunch of this stuff is already done. I want you to enjoy that piece of pumpkin pie instead of kicking yourself for not having all the ingredients.
Make a MenuI know it seems obvious, but once you write down everything you’re having, you can start to divide, conquer, and shop.
Invite Others to CookI think that one of the big ways that young hostesses go wrong is that they want to do everything themselves. But, if you are inviting other people over, they will feel better being able to contribute (with the possible exception of your younger, single brother…) No one wants to feel guilty because you’re stressed out by having too many things to do. Plus, you’re going to need all your precious oven/fridge space. You will be so grateful that you sister brought the pies (and you could always ask that younger brother to bring extra ice.)
Gather Up Your Recipes I hate it when I can’t find the recipe the day of. So don’t wait. Gather up all those family favorites into one place. (I even transferred them all onto my computer so I can just search for “Thanksgiving Recipes” and they are all there. I also keep copies in my Holiday Binder so they are safe and sound.
Create Your Shopping ListThis is not only a stress saver, it’s a money saver as well. You can buy your non-perishables and frozen turkey when they hit rock bottom prices, and spread the money hit over several weeks.
Wash Your Linens“Linens” sounds so formal – like you’re going to be getting out the while lace tablecloth and matching napkins. Round these parts, it’s the fall colored table cloth, the funky yellow, orange and purple napkins, and some cute theme-appropriate dish towels. I just want to give them a wash and make sure they’re not too wrinkled.
Clean Out Your Fridge and pantry, if it needs it. You’re going to be storing some extra food for the next several weeks. Time to recycle those boxes of cereal that no one will eat.
Give Your Guest Bathroom a Once OverThis is the room that I ignore until actual company is coming. Make sure you have fresh towels, soap, working light bulbs, a scented candle (or some room freshener if there are little kids) and a large stock of TP. Your guests will thank you.
Get Some Leftover Containers Even if they’re just Chinese take out containers, you will be so happy when you can send the leftovers home with all your guests. (Of course reserving enough for your own Turkey, Cranberry, Stuffing Sandwich for Friday.) And that way you won’t be sending your Tupperware off with people and looking at them with judgement when they don’t return it in a timely manner…
Case Your Neighbor’s House If you have a neighbor who will be traveling over the holiday, see if you can borrow their oven and some fridge space. (Leave them a plate of cookies as a thank you!)
Cook Five Things Ahead Look at your menu and see what can be done ahead of time. Here are some ideas of things to be prepped in advance:
Make cookie dough ahead of time and freeze
Make casseroles ahead of time, then freeze before cooking
Cheeseballs can be made in advance and frozen
Brew iced tea
Prep pies the day before and bake the day of
So tell me your best trick for making your holiday a less-stress situation.
If you want the freezer instructions for my Chicken Cacciatori (and nineteen of my other favorite freezer recipes,) check out my Facebook Page and download the free ebook: Six Chicks Freeze and Fix – How to Start a Freezer Meal Co-op (look at the “Tabs” at the top of the page.)
And wait – there’s more!
Sign up for my monthly newsletter (filled with great tips about keeping your life in order!) and you will receive my free ebook THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO MAN FOOD filled with great recipes to keep that man in your life extra happy.
You can listen live, or go to their broadcast page and get free recipes, as well as some bonus recordings of our conversation about making meal times meaningful.
If you would like to hear more conversations like the one on today’s Focus, would you let them know over at their Facebook Page. When broadcasters hear from you, it goes a long way.
Thanks for being a part of my ministry – here on the blog, on Facebook, and on radio. You are each so precious to me. I just want to squeeze your cheeks.
The World’s Easiest (and best!) Whole Roasted Chicken
I just got home from the MOPS International Convention in Dallas Texas. I shared this recipe with the audience and since then I’ve had a bunch of requests for the recipe. Well here is the deconstructed recipe for the the best Whole Roasted Chicken I’ve ever eaten that is so easy I now have it memorized and make it at least once a week.
My family loves it, and the leftover chicken makes a great topping for salads, or is wonderful in some tacos.
The only secret is to use a meat thermometer to get the internal chicken temp to 165 degrees – enough to be cooked, moist enough to eat right off the bone.
The World’s Easiest (and best!) Whole Roasted Chicken
1 Whole chicken – giblets removed, rinsed and patted dry
6 garlic cloves cut in half
½ stick of butter
Garlic salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 425
Put the chicken in a roasting pan breast side up
Salt and pepper cavity, put garlic in cavity
Chop up butter into pats and place all over the top of the chicken
For the longest time, I was asking you for your Meal Planning on Mondays for the week.
OK that’s just crazy.
On Monday, it’s just too late. The damage is done and the pizza has been ordered. I thought – why not do it on Friday for next week? So I’m here to share my meal plan, as well as ask for yours (and one of you will win THE WHAT’S FOR DINNER SOLUTION just for submitting your plan!)
This way, not only will you have the chance to come up with your menu, but the time to shop for your ingredients!
Since I will be traveling all next week, I thought I would share what we did this week for meals. I’d love for you to tell me what your dinner plan is for next week (Monday through Sunday,) and give me one great tip that we can all use to make meals easier.
Here is my menu from last week:
Monday Pizza (Our favorite place does 50% on Mondays. An extra large pizza for $9? And I get my busiest day of work off from cooking. Sign me up…
Tuesday Salsa Chicken (Freezer to Slow Cooker) , Spanish Rice, Vegetarian Re-fried Beans, and Roger’s Homemade Guacamole
Thursday Brown Rice and Chicken Casserole with leftover chicken
Friday Leftover Brown Rice and Chicken Casserole (made from leftovers…)
Saturday On the Road
Sunday On the Road
I know – no fair – I get almost a week off of cooking… But if it makes you feel better, I’m going to Missouri where everyday it’s 93 degrees for our entire trip. (And my Texas friends give me no sympathy…)
But to make up for it – if you tell me what you’re having for dinner next week (Monday through Sunday!) I will enter you to win THE WHAT’S FOR DINNER PROJECT. But you really win by not being in a panic every night for dinner next week.
And now – two recipes that are no-oven required
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
32 oz. salsa (2- 16 oz. jars)
1 can corn, drained
1 can black beans, drained
Place all ingredients in your slow cooker.
Cook on low 6-8 hours.
30-60 minutes prior to serving, remove chicken, shred and return to crock pot
Serve over Mexican rice or let everyone prepare their own tortillas using the chicken mixture as filling inside tortillas.
Add desired condiments.
1 pound Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 T Vegetable Oil
1 ¼ cup Onion
2 cups Mushrooms
1 t Minced garlic
1 28 oz can Crushed tomatoes in puree
¼ t Pepper
2t Italian Seasoning
Preparation: Cut chicken breast into cubes. Slice onions and mushrooms. Chop garlic.
Cooking: In a large skillet, sauté chicken in vegetable oil until no longer pink in the center. Remove chicken from skillet and sauté onions, mushrooms and garlic until the onions are transparent. Add chicken and remaining ingredients except for parmesan cheese. Simmer for 15 minutes.