Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Simple Summer Meals: Shortcuts



The past week I have needed shortcuts. I love watching jars fill with peaches, applesauce, grape juice, and tomatoes. I have wonderful helpers this year and am amazed at how much faster these projects take than a few years ago. But it still makes busy days and simple meals became priority.



I feel a little silly admitting this but I find it hard to take shortcuts. I love to cook from scratch. I like to make my own bread, rolls, tortillas, granola bars, and crackers. In the summer I walk through the grocery store arguing with myself. I don't need that; I can make it myself. No, you can't; you are too busy; just buy it.

So whether your busy season is August, December, or May -

Whether you love to make your own bagels and peanut butter or your idea of from-scratch cooking is adding toppings to a frozen pizza crust -

I'm giving you permission to take whatever shortcuts you need in your busy seasons.

Without guilt. Just do it. Buy that frozen pizza. Pick up that pack of granola bars. Hide a loaf of bread behind the carrots in your cart. Do what works for you in this season of life.

And I'll try to take my own advice.

Besides making extra purchases at the grocery store, I also try to stock up on homemade time-saving meal ingredients.

A big one for me is canned meat. The other year a friend told me how much she loved having canned chicken. I tried it and now I don't know what I would do without a few jars of canned chicken in my pantry. I buy a 40-lb box of boneless, skinless, chicken thighs at our local butcher shop and pressure can it in jars. It makes such a fast start to so many different meals. Having some pre-cooked ground beef in the freezer is also a great time-saver.

I also like to have a selection of pre-cooked dried beans such as kidney, pinto, navy, and black beans. These I also pressure can so they are ready to add to salads, enchiladas, and other meals. (The directions for canning dried beans is one of the most read posts on this blog.) I also cook a crock-pot full of refried beans and freeze them in pint containers for quick quesadillas and dips.

Yeah...I know. I could just buy cans of beans. I told you I have issues.

Dried seasoning mixes also get used hard in the summer. A few minutes mixing up various mixes make a difference on a busy night. Here is six of my favorite mixes.

I didn't do it this summer but some years I have mixed up a fruit crisp topping and fruit cobbler topping. (For fruit cobbler I use the muffin mix recipe and pour it over fresh fruit in a baking dish.) This makes super easy desserts with various fresh fruits during the summer. I should mix these up for some apple crisps or cobblers this fall.

Now your turn. I know summer is nearly over, but can you share your favorite meal shortcuts? Maybe next year I'll remember to look back on this list early in the summer.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Simple Summer Meals: The Pantry

A list of simple summer meal ideas is valuable.


But if all I have is some tomatoes and green beans, my meal options are limited.

Far too often I get to four o'clock and start flipping through my meal ideas. I'll make a quiche; oops, no eggs. How about stir-fry? No rice. I can put together some sandwiches. No, I don't have bread or rolls.

For me, the key to simple meals is a well-stocked pantry. And I find that more difficult in the summer than winter.

I'm not sure why. I tend to be at the grocery store far more often in the summer. I might want a watermelon for a picnic or stop in for some more jar flats. Maybe I'm going to pick up peaches and make a quick stop at the grocery store on the way past or maybe I'm shopping for a camping trip. It would seem that more frequent stops at the store would result in a better stocked pantry, but somehow it doesn't work that way for me.

I think it all has to do with planning. When I make a quick stop at the store, I pick up whatever is my pressing need or the items that happened to make it to my grocery list (if I remembered to pick up my list on the way out the door.) When I am at the store more rarely, I do a better job at preparing for the shopping trip before leaving the house.

In the winter I tend to go on a big shopping trip about once a month. I use my master shopping list to go through the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room to find out what I need to add to my shopping list. Those few minutes of preparation are given back many times over when I reach for a box on the shelf, find it nearly empty, and realize I picked up a new box the last time I was at the store.

This is clearly a case of not always doing what I know I should do. I know that nothing wastes time like an extra shopping trip because of lack of planning the last time I was at the store. I know that it is more fun to cook when I have a well-stocked pantry. I just need to slow down enough to prepare before my quick stop at the store.

My challenge for you...decide on some simple meals that your family loves and figure out what ingredients those meals require. Commit to having those ingredients in your pantry or freezer at all times. For me that means items like rice, eggs, rolls, and tortillas. Your list may be completely different. Whatever it takes for you to feel like you have quick options on hand to put together a meal for your family.

In the next post I'll share some shortcuts that I take in the summer, but in the meantime I'd love to hear your hints on keeping a well-stocked pantry in the summer craziness.


Monday, August 15, 2016

Simple Summer Meals: What's On My List

I promised to share my simple summer meal list for your inspiration. Some of these ideas you all have already shared in the comments of the simple summer meals post.

I have  purposely kept the list short. It isn't recipes but just ideas to jolt my inspiration. My goal was meal ideas that can be adapted in lots of different ways depending upon what produce is in season and how much time I have available.

Simple Summer Meals - My List

Quiche
Stir-fry (beef, chicken, pork)
Tortilla (quesadilla, fajita, burrito, enchilada, wraps)
Pizza
Salad (taco, chicken, minute steak)
Sandwich (pork bbq, sloppy joe, burgers, chicken salad)
Meat/Veggie (grill, crockpot, oven roasted)

This list gives enough variety that I can cycle endlessly through the list all summer long without feeling like we are stuck in a rut. This brief list works for me but here is a more detailed explanation of the list.
 Quiche
This is an all-time favorite at our house. I use whatever meat and vegetable I have on hand. Last week I made a quiche with eggplant, green pepper, tomato, and onion with a sprinkle of bacon. Yum! I use this basic quiche recipe.




Stir-fry
I cook a big pot of rice and then stir-fry whatever meat and veggies fall out of the fridge. If I think ahead to marinade the meat (chicken, beef, pork, or even venison) a few hours before, even better. I pour on some stir-fry sauce, or teriyaki sauce, or soy sauce before serving.



Tortilla
I try to keep tortillas in the fridge all summer because of their endless meal options. Here are some ideas.
Quesadillas- Spread refried beans on a tortilla, sprinkle with cooked chicken, veggies (either raw or sauteed) such as pepper, mushrooms, olive or onions, sprinkle on cheese, layer another tortillas. Fry in pan on stove or (for a crowd) do several at a time on a baking sheet in 400 degree oven until slightly toasted.
Burritos - Fill a large tortilla with beans, meat, cheese, veggies, rice, salsa - whatever you wish and wrap up. Sometimes I make these ahead of time, place in a baking dish and heat. Makes a faster meal to serve. Other times I serve all the ingredients hot and allow everyone to make their own.
Enchiladas - Basically the same as the burritos but placed in a baking dish with enchilada sauce poured over them, sprinkled with cheese, and baked.
Fahitas - Small tortillas served with grilled meat and veggies.
Wraps - Tortillas spread with toppings and rolled. Options include chicken salad, taco meat and cheese, chicken/bacon/ranch. Check out this recipe for BLT wraps from a Home Joys reader.


Pizza
We have pizza at least once a week. I've been known to add everything from broccoli to asparagus to a pizza. Change it up with using bbq sauce, Alfredo sauce, or ranch dressing instead of pizza sauce.



Salad
When we have fresh lettuce in the spring and fall, salads are common sights. Along with the lettuce and whatever raw or sauteed vegetables I have on hand, I add grilled chicken, minute steak, taco-seasoned ground beef, cooked ham, or hard-boiled eggs to make a complete meal. Next week I must bake some cornbread so I can make the bacon-tomato-cornbread salad.


Sandwiches
I like to cook a large pork roast in my crockpot and make a pork bbq for several meals of sandwiches. This also works well for doing a large beef roast which can be shredded and seasoned for sandwiches. Of course there is grilled meat like sausage, chicken, or hamburgers that make great summer sandwiches. And my family loves sloppy joes.



Meat/Vegetable
Sometimes I just want a meat-and-potato meal. I might throw some chicken legs in the crockpot with some veggies. Or place sausage, potatoes, and carrots in a pan in the oven. Or bake chicken with some oven roasted veggies on the side. My seasonal recipe binder comes in handy when I want a vegetable side dish to go along with some kind of meat.

After typing up this list I found that I wrote about this before - six year ago. Check out this summer menu plan from 2010.  I must be a slow learner. Or this proves that this general summer menu  plan has been a staple for me for many years. I am wondering why I ever have a problem with meal planning.

But ideas are only the first step. I'll share the next step in my next post.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Simple Summer Meals: The List

"What happened to this week?" asked my daughter. "It was totally empty, and now it is busy."

After twiddling my thumbs while staring at all my empty jars waiting for the craziness of August to begin, the craziness jumped out this week. I brought home a box of chicken to can on Tuesday while my children helped my parents with their huge potato harvest. On Wednesday I bought peaches to make fruit slush and got the call from the orchard that my canning peaches were ready to pick up on Thursday. On Friday a friend heard my green beans were not producing well and she blessed me with a whole bucket of beautiful beans.

So it has been busy. But good. I love filling jars with golden fruit and listening to the ping of sealing jars. The children have been a great help. It is SO much easier now than a few years ago. But I was glad to have a break today and have a chance to clean up the mounds that accumulate during canning season.

Thanks so much for all your ideas on simple summer meals. If you haven't checked out the comments yet, go get inspired.

I needed the inspiration this week because even if the canner has been bubbling non-stop, everyone still wants something to eat three times a day (or more.)

I have three tips for summer meal planning but since my time is limited today, I'll only give the first and save the others for next week.



Simple Summer Meals: The List

If I have a busy day, whether I've been canning, gardening, shopping, or just tackling the summer laundry pile, my brain can turn to mush when I think of meals. I tend to lose my appetite in hot weather and who wants to think of food when they are not hungry? I've already said that meal planning doesn't work well for me (or maybe I haven't tried hard enough) in the summer since our schedule varies and I want to use whatever garden produce I have.

So my alternative has been a short list of meals that are adaptable with lots of different veggies. These are meals that can be made quickly and are family favorites so I can make them again and again through out the summer.

I have to keep it simple when I have brain mush. A detailed meal plan or a long list is too much. A short list of five or six meal ideas on the fridge door is just perfect for me.

I'll want to share my list - but I'm out of computer time. How about making your own list (check the comments in the last post if you need some ideas), and we'll share our lists next week.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Question: Simple Summer Meals


Summer here has been busy, but not too crazy to enjoy. Or maybe we haven't hit the crazy time yet.

My goal of keeping the garden simpler this season seems to be working. I've done very little garden preserving since my beans are not doing well, we only grew enough corn to eat fresh, and my tomatoes are only beginning. I have peaches ordered for later this month and also plan to can some pears and applesauce in September.

We started school a month ago (since we have a July to April homeschool schedule) which is going far better than I expected (or maybe it is just in contrast to last year which was Hard.) Even though we've been having extremely hot weather the children are spending hours in the pasture building huts and teepees. I'm still working on some room painting as the mood hits and enjoying the fresh look.

But even when summer is going well, I still struggle with the question, "What should I make for supper?" Somehow cooking in the winter seems easier when I can stir together a big pot of soup or a comfortable casserole. But whether it is the heat or the number of activities, I often lack meal inspiration in the summer.

Maybe one problem is that I don't want to meal plan in the summer. I want to eat fresh produce from our garden but at the beginning of the week I don't know when the corn will be ready to pick or if I'll have an abundance of zucchini on Friday. I should at least come up with a general plan for meals, but I don't. So maybe my problem is laziness. Or lack of planning.

My ideal summer meals will be simple (of course), utilize lots of fresh veggies, adapt to various veggies, and not heat up the kitchen too badly.

Several years ago, Stephanie asked me to do a post on simple summer meals. I love post suggestions and fully intended to write on the topic. But, well, it was summer and the words got no further than my head. And each summer since then, though I scrawled a few notes, the post wasn't written.

But this is the summer it is going to happen.

Because - though I have a few ideas myself - I know you all have many more.

So before I tell you what works for me for simple summer menus, I'm going to open up the question for your input. Can you share in the comments your favorite summer meal ideas or any handy hints or shortcuts?

Because we all want to spend less time in our kitchen and more time enjoying these last weeks of summer.

Can't wait to hear from you.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Cabbage Salad

I like coleslaw but I love this cabbage salad. The original recipe came from my friend Jeanne and I made some adaptions. I love the crunch of the veggies and nuts with the light dressing. Since my garden has both green peppers and cabbage, we've been eating this cabbage salad frequently the past few weeks.



Cabbage Salad

2 T. sesame seeds
2 T. sunflower seeds
1/2 cup almonds or pecans, coarsley chopped
1/2 head cabbage, finely chopped
4 green onions, diced
1/2 green sweet pepper, diced

Dressing:
2 T. sugar or honey
1/2 cup olive oil
1 T. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp chicken bouillion powder

Toast the nuts and seeds in a pan until lightly browned. Mix vegetables. Mix dressing ingredients until dissolved. Stir dressing with all other ingredients about one hour before serving.

The salad will still be edible the next day but will begin to get soggy and by the second day, I don't like it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A July Garden

Two weeks ago I took some photos of my garden. Since then it has grown - both more weedy and more dry. The last two weeks have had many days with temperatures above ninety and with no rain, we feel rather parched. 

If you, like me, like to see others gardens, here is a glimpse of mine. Thankfully you can't quite tell how much of the green in the photos are weeds.


Our lower garden (the smallest of our two patches) has zinnia, sweet corn, and pumpkins this year. Yesterday we ate our first sweet corn. Yum. Our resident ground hog was also enjoying the corn but he made the mistake of showing up this morning, sluggish from a belly full of corn, before Ed had left for work -  and that was his last meal.



This is our larger garden. In the front is the strawberry patch which we rejuvenated by mowing, narrowing, and mulching. It is beginning to green up again. Beside the strawberries was a row of garlic that was just harvested.


Next is peppers interplanted with marigolds, zucchini squash, and eggplant. My eggplant looks terrible this year. I didn't use a row cover this year and the tiny flea beetles are chomping it down. Out of sight behind the taller plants is what should have been a row of carrots. I planted twice and still only have a few tiny plants growing. 


But the potatoes look great, so as usual, some things grow well and others do not. (And the red roots always do well.)  Beside the potatoes are the green beans. The ground hog took a nibble at these, but not nearly as badly as last year. But the beans are not doing well. Maybe because of how hot and dry it is? I'm getting a few to put away but I wish they were producing better.


The onions are nearly ready to pull. Behind them is the broccoli and cabbage hiding under row cover. We have eaten several meals a week from these broccoli plants. They look overgrown and misshapen but  they keep producing side shoots so they earn their spot in the garden. Behind the broccoli is two rows of early potatoes that we are digging.


The tomatoes are just starting to show signs of blight. I'm hoping they produce some before they succumb. It doesn't seem to matter what trick I try, blight hits our tomatoes every year. 


And here is the view from the tomato end of the garden showing both garden plots.


The red raspberries are looking great. If we would just get rain...




Last year my herb garden had totally grown up in weeds and grass so I dug it all out and started over this year. It is still a little sparse but I'm enjoying fresh dill, parsley, and basil.



Not everything that grows here is green! In the last month this girlie has started crawling and sprouted two teeth - what a change from six months ago when we were cuddling our newborn. She loves to be outside, she loves to eat, and she loves her mama so I expect I'll have another garden helper before long.

What challenges and joys have you faced in your garden this year?

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