Thursday, December 31, 2009

Let the Ball Drop!

*** Cross-posted at all the Lotsofkids blogs. ***

It's New Year's Eve (at least in this part of the world). 2009 is almost gone and 2010 is standing before us. It was a difficult year for many people. Financial hardships and insecurity made the year a struggle for so many. That said, even though things were hard, the trials led so many back to focusing on what is important, such as family and friends, as well as simple living.

2009 was a difficult time for us over at Lotsofkids, as we had to focus our spare time on projects to help make money to pay the bills, including our server costs. Though things are not particularly better now, we are thankfully at a point where we can re-focus on the site and our blogs like we want to.

A big "thank you" to all of our followers here, as well as our wonderful Bloggers who have kept things going during this down time. We appreciate you all! We are looking forward to 2010 and hopes for better times. We are excited as the prospects and hopeful that in the coming weeks we'll be getting things back to normal with regular blog posts and new content.

In the meantime (and while there is still a couple days left in the "holiday" season), we leave you with a little visual/musical gift created by me and my husband. We hope you like it...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

OH NO! The turkey is still frozen!

I answered the phone yesterday to a question from a friend...Where's your turkey? She was wondering if I'd remembered to take it out of the freezer to defrost. Seems she'd just remembered that morning and it was a 28lb hunk of wonder so didn't know if it would be defrosted. It was then that I told her that I didn't have to worry about the turkey since my mom was cooking it. I also let her in on a little secret of mine...I very rarely defrost my turkeys anymore. Having only one refrigerator I don't really have the room to do it safely. What I do is cook the turkey right from the freezer. And the great thing about it...the turkey comes out juicy!

There were then lots of questions about it staying in the danger zone too long and introducing salmonella and whatnot to it. The same ones I had when I first wondered if it would work. Then I read this article over at and decided to give it a shot. Now for me, it's the only way to go.

In a nutshell the above article says that it's safe to cook it this way. It's actually even safer since there's no juices to cross contaminate surfaces or other foods. The legs defrost first allowing them to cook longer and get to temperature. The breast being denser defrosts last and cooks less, allowing it to stay moist.

While the article says a 15lb turkey takes 5 to 5.5 hours. What do you do for a larger bird, like my friend's? I've used this method to cook a 21lb'er before and it took about 7hrs like the article stated. I've also read other articles that say to increase your time by half the thawed roasting time recommendation. Using this time chart I'd agree if you used the stuffed turkey time guideline. The important thing is to use a reliable meat thermometer and check everything....Legs and thighs should be 175 to 185, breast should be 160 to 170 and stuffing inside the bird should be 165.

Yes! You can still cook your stuffing inside the turkey with this method. The key is to stuff the bird (and remove the giblets packet and neck) about 2/3 through the cooking time. Just be sure to protect your hands since the turkey and cavity will be hot. Oh and a note from me, you definitely want to tent the bird in foil, otherwise the top layer of the breast will get too dry. Remove the foil an hour or so before the end of roasting time so the skin can brown up.

So don't panic if you forgot to defrost the turkey, you won't have to order pizza. Just get up a little earlier on Thanksgiving and take a little longer to cook your frozen bird. And enjoy!

I also wanted to remind everyone that Mirz wrote a great article last Thanksgiving which included her menu and timetable that helps her organize her time in the kitchen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Planning the Perfect Turkey for Thanksgiving

For our family Thanksgiving is all about the TURKEY. I've been cooking at least one whole turkey every year for the last 25 years or more, so it seems simple. But every year I hear people fretting about the fact they have to make THE turkey this year.

Here are a few tips that I've picked up over the years.

If you're buying a frozen turkey, be sure to give yourself enough time for it to defrost (preferably in the refrigerator) 14 lb turkey is going to take 4 days to defrost in the fridge

Invest in an electric roaster pan, this has saved my sanity on more than one holiday. The turkey can cook all day while you cook everything else in the oven.

Use online tools like to figure out how much turkey you need, how long it will take to defrost and how long it needs to cook.

Watch for grocery specials...this year I'm getting a FREE 14 lb frozen ButterBall turkey by using my customer rewards card at a local grocery store....I had to spend a minimum of $300 on groceries in a 45 day window, but since I needed to spend at least that much on groceries this month it was a GREAT deal. ButterBall currently has a $2 off printable coupon on their website that is good until the end of December.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Easy Peasy Red Beans and Rice - crock pot style

This is a VERY easy recipe, makes a lot, is tasty and can be served many different ways.

*cross posted from my personal blog*

Easy Peasy Red Beans and Rice - crock pot style

2lbs dry kidney beans
2 cups brown rice
8 - 12 chicken bouillon cubes
garlic powder
onion powder
3-4 bay leaves

Soak your beans over night or do a quick sock (as described on the back of the package). Dump in your 6 qt crock pot and fill with water until the beans only take up only half the space in the water. Add your two cups of brown rice (uncooked), garlic powder and onion powder to preference, chicken bouillon cubes and bay leaves. Cook on high until beans are soft and rice is done (you can cook longer and it won't hurt it). It will take approximately 6 hours on high or 10-12 hours on low. Taste great served with chips, on burritos or with cornbread. Top it with a bit of cheese, sour cream and or salsa. Just as a side note, mine needed a little more salt and pepper before eating - I used 6 bouillon cubes. My hubby likes to add red pepper to his personal serving :).

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Bread, delicious bread!

I found this recipe & wanted to adapt it to try with my kitchen aid stand mixer. I also had some white flour I needed to use. AND I never make just one loaf of bread, so I wanted to double the recipe. This is what I came up with and it's officially a WINNER in this house. It was very tasty!

Christina's Honey Half Wheat Bread

3 cups unbleached white flour
4-5 cups whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons active dry yeast (I buy it in bulk @ costco) = 2 packages
3/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups warm water
1/4 cup butter

Here is how I made it.

Warm 2 cups of water up in a measuring cup (approximately 110-120 degrees), then stir in active dry yeast. Let it stand approximately 5 minutes, until foamy.While yeast in standing, I measure out 3 cups white flour, 3 cups whole wheat flour, and 2 teaspoons salt, into a bowl. Then in another measuring cup, I measure out honey and heat it up for 30 seconds (makes it easier to pour). In my kitchen aid bowl, I put my butter (melted or room temperature) at the bottom. Then I pour my water yeast mixture in and mix it. Then I add my honey and mix. Then I add my pre-measured flour into it and mix by hand for a moment. Then I put my kitchen aid bowl on my kitchen aid stand mixer and start it going at speed two. I gradually add the remaining flour (1-2 cups whole wheat) until the dough is still kind of sticky, but still is hangs onto the dough hook. Once it reaches this point, I let it run for a 4 or 5 minutes more. By then, it forms a nice smooth ball of dough (leaving some of the dough on the edges of the bowl). Then I take my ball of dough out, and plop it into a greased bowl to rise. I will often scrape out the dough that is stuck to the sides of the mixing bowl and add it to the ball of dough and knead it for a minute. Let it rise until doubled and punch down.

Divide in half or in three parts (just in half produces two LARGE loaves, three parts makes 3 average size loaves). I don't do anything fancy to shape my dough. I just pat and punch until it feels as if I've gotten most of the air out and then do some more patting until I get into the shape I want it. I then put the dough in two (or three) greased bread pans and let them *almost* double and at that point I bake them at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.

*cross posted from my personal blog,

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Rainbow Cake

Over the past few weeks, the food blogsphere has been buzzing about rainbow cakes. All because of this post. To tell you the truth, I hadn't heard of them until someone linked that blog entry on the LOK Household forum. The idea of a color cake certainly piqued my interest. With a combined birthday coming up in July, I thought I might give it a try. My problem was that the author (as well as many variations I found around the web) only showed how to do a round cake. With a big family, most cakes I make are sheet cakes. In fact, we eat cake rather often around here since a box of mix is pretty cheap and a sheet cake can feed my crew nicely for dessert (we usually skip frosting and just use powdered sugar or fruit for topping). So, my plan to make a rainbow cake this weekend turned into a bit of an adventure as I decided to see if I could get as good results with a rectangle baking pan. Since this is feeding a crew, I doubled the recipe. The post above noted a diet version of the cake. I decided to make the traditional version.

Here's the ingredients. I would normally use a generic cake mix, but Duncan Hines was on sale. Assuming you have food coloring on hand, the cost of this cake (including the eggs and oil for the cake) is about $5. Mine easily fed my family of 11 with leftovers. I actually wanted to try the neon food coloring, which added another $4 to the cost.

Make the cake mix as noted on the box. Separate the batter into small bowls. Add 10-15 drops of food coloring, depending on how deep you want your color. I wanted this to be a family food project, so I had the kids mix the colors. They had a blast. Note that I used both the neon food coloring and some regular food colors I had on hand.

I decided to do a wide variety of colors. The neon food coloring made things interesting! I have to laugh. In the original blog post about rainbow cakes, the author had such nice pictures of her colored batter in glass bowls. Nothing like that in these parts. We used Gerber snack bowls and Zoopal spoons!

I wasn't really sure how to arrange the batter, so I just winged it.

Here's the finished first layer.

I then just poured the remaining batter in various spots over the top of the first layer. When you do this, don't worry about the batter mixing. As long as you simply pour the batter on top (or next to) another color, it will be fine. The completed "pour":

My cake was doubled, so it took about 45 minutes to cook. Just cook according to the box directions and be sure to check it periodically. It's done when a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Cool thoroughly. Even though the picture is not the greatest, you can see the colors came out quite nice. I said the cake looked like a jigsaw puzzle. Jim said it looked like a map.

Here's a side view of a few of the cut pieces. I was very pleased. Doing a sheet cake worked out perfectly. As you can see, the neon food coloring definitely made some bold colors.

Because this was a test cake, I purposely did not frost it right away. I did go with the same type of frosting as the original blogger. I used lemon pudding, only adding half the milk (1 cup) so that it was very custard-like. I then folded in 2/3 of the container of whipped topping. I then frosted each piece before serving. Here's a bit blurry picture of the finished product.

The experiment was a success. The cake looked great and tasted great too. I have 2 kids' birthdays on July 4th (yes, can you believe that--2 of my kids born on Independence Day). I originally thought that doing a rainbow cake would be cool, but this technique would also make a great red-white-and-blue cake.

Whatever I decide to do for the birthday, the most important thing is that the kids had a blast making the cake...and even more fun eating it.

You can find the full recipe (including printable version) HERE.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Experimenting with menus

I am going to be trying a little experiment with my menu planning style. For this month (and into the next I guess) I am going to make a two week basic menu (and their will be repeats, trust me) and we'll just repeat for the second half of the month. I know, people have said to do things like this before, but I'm slow at catching on LOL!

I loath making a menu every week, after doing the same thing for weeks on end I feel a tremendous pressure to change things up and impress my family (this is all in my head btw - they're happy to eat whatever they don't have to make themselves).

SO, tell me how do you plan your menus? or do you even bother?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Fifteen minutes or less....

I value healthy eating, but I also value my sanity :). As a mommy of five precious little bundles, managing the home and homeschooling, I am left with very little mental energy to really think about much else, like cooking! I have little unwritten rules to make my life easier, one of which is making dinner prep no more than 15 minutes long. Any longer and it's not a practical meal for me to make for my family more than once every great now and again. Prep time does not include cooking time, so if it takes me 5 minutes to throw a casserole together and an hour to cook it, that still qualifies.

We love to eat pizza around here (what good ol' American family doesn't?), but I am unwilling to pay for the delivered kind and right now I don't have the time management skills to make my own pizza dough every time we have pizza. Thus was born the tortilla pizza. I'm sure it has been made many times before in many different ways, but here is how we do it around here. General ingredients are as follows: 1) Burrito sized flour tortillas, purchased in the ethnic food section for $2 for a pack of 10 (each has 5 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein per serving), 2) shredded mozzarella or cheddar cheese, purchased in bulk from Costco to cut back on the cost, 3) pepperoni, also purchased in bulk at costco to cut back on the cost, 4) fresh roma tomatoes purchased at costco in bulk (we LOVE costco!). You can add all sorts of stuff to these if you'd like (green peppers, onions and mushrooms for instance), but this is the basic recipe.

Heat your oven to 425 degree F. On tortilla #1, add slices of roma tomato, top with cheese, then add pepperoni. Pop it in the oven on a cookie sheet for about 4 minutes. While first one is cooking, prepare the second one. As soon as the first one is done, slide it onto a plate and pop the already prepared tortilla in the oven and proceed like that until you have all that you need cooked. One will serve and adult in our house (served with cut up veggies and fruit of some kind). Also, if you do not have fresh tomatoes (or just don't like them!) a can of crushed tomatoes is a great substitute.

I hope you enjoy!

Large Family Cooking

Large Family Cooking

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Large Family Recipes + Meal Planning

First of all, I wanted to announce a brand new area on the website. Large Family Recipes is a new sub-site focusing on recipes for large families. These recipes are a compilation of recipes submitted by the LOK visitors and staff. There are currently over 350 recipes and the number is growing. Be sure to check it out HERE.

Also, I just posted a very extensive article on meal planning on the main LOK site. You can read it HERE. Now, admittedly, there are a lot of articles out there about meal planning. In fact, our blogger Denise did a post about this subject a while ago. Whether you use the system in the LOK article, Denise's, or another, meal planning is truly an essential in a large family kitchen. It can be hectic enough around the house. It really is a blessing to have one thing taken care of ahead of time.

One of my favorite frugal cooking sites was Steph's Kitchen (of are a few other Steph's out there and I don't want to get them confused). Steph offered hundreds of budget meals and recipes. I was saddened to learn that after being a staple of the internet for years, Steph closed her site for good late last year. One of the articles she had which I saved was on meal-planning. I am posting a copy of it below in the hopes that it will offer yet another viewpoint on how to meal and grocery planning.


Do you feel like thisafter a trip to the grocery store?

With three children, I know I sure have! But, since I simplified my meal planning and grocery shopping, I am able to breeze through the grocery store in less time and with less headache.

In my earlier days of marriage I would go to the grocery store empty handed~no list, no coupons, no store ad, and no earthly idea of what I was going to buy for a weeks worth of dinners. That must explain why we ate so much "prepared" food. Prepared food is okay once in awhile, but I like to rely on my own home-cooking now, and going to the grocery store un-prepared is a disaster waiting to happen~missing key ingredients, forgetting you need toothpaste, or only buying enough food to last 5 days instead of 7, then going back and doing it all over again!

So, with that in mind, skim through my meal planning tips and apply what will be of use in your household. Those I have shared my plan with say it's easy, quick, and saves them money. Use that money you saved to treat your family to an evening treat at Baskin Robins! Yum!



This part may be time consuming at first, but once you have completed this important step, you'll reap the rewards from having done it. There are many different ways you can organize your recipe files~by category, by ingredients, by ease/difficulty, alphabetical, etc. I have mine organized in Recipe Books according to category (Appetizers, Meat, Chicken, Casseroles, Soups, Cookies, Pies, etc.). This, with my cookbooks, magazines and index cards, are stored neatly in my pantry. Space will determine where you store your cookbooks and recipes, but if they're organized, they'll be easily accessible anywhere (except maybe the attic!).

Okay, now you have that job done~whew! You deserve a rich mocha espresso!

In your organizing, did you notice you have quite a few recipes that you have clipped or marked in a cookbook that you have not yet tried? I sure did! So, to eliminate the hunt-and-peck game for that "something new" to try, I created a simple file of just recipes to try. I took a big recipe filing box and made category cards (this can be fancy or simple, however you wish to do it). Then I filed all of the loose recipes behind the appropriate heading. On an index card or piece of paper for each category, write down "to try" recipes in cookbooks (title, cookbook and page number) and file them accordingly, too.

Now you're set...tried-and-true recipes are organized, and you have a handy box full of recipes you want to try. You are ready to begin meal planning.



Grab a piece of paper or two, a pen and your "To Try" box. If you shop weekly, number 1-7 on the top of your paper (1-14 for two weeks). Now you have 7 (or how many ever you're shopping for) dinners to plan (the fun part, I think). Start with line number one, and write down a complete meal (ie: Lasagna, Garlic Bread, Salad...or Grilled Steak, Rice Pilaf, Green Beans). Continue on down through the remaining lines, trying to add a new recipe or two if possible. I usually add 1-3 new recipes a week. I often put my family through what we call "the guinea pig test".

To save money, try to plan meals according to your grocery stores specials. If their chicken breasts are on sale, plan a couple of meals using chicken (there are several on my recipe page!), or the same goes with ground beef, roasts, pork chops, etc. Also browse your coupons for ones that expire soon and see if you can't incorporate that item into a meal or dessert. I can often times buy a box of cereal for well under $2 because I buy the store's special and use a coupon to go with it. I have bought items for pennies using this thrifty method. Another money-saving tip: plan on using leftovers! If you make a pot roast one night, automatically plan on French Dip Sandwiches the next night. Team it up with some home fries and a vegie or fruit of some sort and you'll have a complete and inexpensive dinner!



Once you have all numbered lines filled in with a complete menu, now go through those recipes and determine what ingredients you need to buy. Categorize your second sheet of paper (or the back of the first one) with appropriate headings (meat, dairy, produce, canned, frozen, bread, cleaning, etc.), leaving enough space in between categories to write down what you need underneath. Let's take the first line, Lasagna, Garlic Bread, and Salad. Under meat, do you need ground beef for your sauce? If so, write it down under "Meat" (or if you buy canned, write spaghetti sauce under "Canned"). Same with lasagna noodles, cheese, spices, etc. Continue on with the Garlic Bread and Salad. Once that line is completed, move on to line number two, and so on. Very simple, and not as time consuming as it may sound.

Once you have your dinner ingredients complete, decide if you'll be doing any baking in the next week or two. If you will, write down the ingredients you will need. Now is a good time to try a new dessert recipe!

Now go through your refrigerator and cupboards to determine what staples you are low on. Don't forget to keep breakfast and lunch items in mind...cereal, eggs, bread, fruit, etc. Make sure to check out your bathroom and cleaning needs, too. Running out of toilet paper is the pits!

Want something even easier? Keep a handy list posted on your refrigerator or somewhere within easy reach, and whenever you run out of something, write it on the list. Just grab that list when you're making out your shopping list!



This part is easy when you have a tidy little list with you! Bring along your list and menu, and your coupons. Make sure you take your menu, because often times I have had to refer to it during my shopping. Better to be safe than sorry. If you've been shopping in the same grocery store for awhile, you probably know the layout by heart (and you can even organize your shopping list by the store layout rather than category, if desired). Tackling the store now should be a breeze. You'll no longer be rushing around with no idea of what to buy, and going through the same aisles three times because you forgot something, or are "planning" meals as you go. We can all simplify life in small ways, just like this.



*** I do want to note that over the last couple of months, I have tried to reach Steph to offer her free hosting to put her site up again. Unfortunately, I have been unsuccessful at reaching her. In the past, she has allowed people to re-post her recipes and articles with proper credit, so I have posted the above article in that spirit. ***

On her original site, Steph offered a wide range of monthly menus which could be used for easy meal-planning. While her site is not up any more, you can find a copy of a good portion of it at the Internet Archive. Here is a link to the monthly menu page to help inspire you: Wayback Machine.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Convenience foods....what's your limit?

We recently had a discussion on LOK's Household Tips board asking what is considered a convenience food. I was surprised by what was deemed convenience, I consider them economical and/or staples. There was a time that store bought bread was considered a convenience food. Now if you make your own bread you're considered frugal, earthy/crunchy/granola'y. Granted some things in the store, like canned goods, were brought about for health safety reasons instead of convenience. But technically, unless you're growing, grinding, hunting, catching or raising your're using convenience food.

So what is today's definition of a convenience food? For me, I don't look at how the food is prepared. Just because it's already cooked, sliced, diced or shredded doesn't necessarily mean it's a convenience food. In our area and in the right places, shredded mozzarella cheese is cheaper or the same price as a huge block of it. Yesterday I found it for $1.90/lb....over $1 cheaper then anywhere else. I'd have been foolish to pass that up even though I have almost 5lbs in the fridge already. I bought 10lbs (and wishing I grabbed more lol). I'll bag it up into pizza size portions and throw it in the freezer.

For me, a convenience food is anything that costs a lot more to buy then it costs for me to make from scratch. I say a lot more because I consider my time to have some value (although not at the present rate of minimum wage). For other's though their time may be worth more to them. The other important thing is the the food has to taste as good or similar. For instance I can buy frozen meatballs for the same or almost the same price as ground beef. If I buy them...they are a convenience food because we're not particularly crazy about their taste. Now the brand that we like the taste of isn't considered a convenience food even though it costs $.20 more a pound then ground beef. Just the additional ingredients could eat up the $.20. But if they don't, my time is worth $.20 more.

Some things can change from a convenience food to an economical choice. My $3.99 for 33 servings size box of Potato Buds is normally considered a convenience food. Last winter when the price of potatoes went sky high, the box then switched from a convenience food to an economical choice. The same could be said for my bag of frozen sliced peppers and onions when green peppers were $2 a pound this winter. (frozen they are $1.25 per pound).

So how do you decide whether something is an economical or a convenience only choice? Check the unit price! Figure in the other ingredients you'll need to make the dish you're buying. And if it suits you...the cost of your time. Add it up and weigh the options.

Some things that I don't consider convenience that others may...

* Salsa, taco and spaghetti sauce...cost less then if I were to buy canned tomatoes and ingredients to flavor it. (green peppers, sausage, onion, cheese, garden veggies, spices, etc) If our garden does well enough this year and I get things canned, these might move into the convenience category.

* frozen fish patties, sticks, canned tuna or's way cheaper then buying fillets and preparing them.

* canned veggies and fruit. Not a convenience food, only a way to preserve it. Same with juice

* certain cuts of meat...only a different way to purchase it, not a convenience. Allows for less waste. For example...boneless skinless chicken breasts compared to a whole chicken. I never really considered deli meats to be convenience either, just a different cut of meat. I mean salami is a sausage. Granted I could cook a turkey breast or ham and try to slice it really thin for less. But that's like saying that steak is a convenience food because you could buy a whole side of beef cheaper and cut it up yourself.

So what would my list of regularly bought convenience foods look like...

Cake mix (for those lazy day snacks)
Brownie mix (can't seem to find a from scratch recipe that compares to boxed)
Pudding mix
Instant coffee
gravy mix
taco seasoning
boxed mashed potatoes flakes
pancake mix
bottles of salad dressing
boxed mac and cheese (could be considered an economical buy but since it doesn't taste the same as's convenience)
frozen pizzas (I consider it convenience because I don't like them much, the rest consider it economical as it can be cheaper then homemade and they like them well enough)
pizza rolls
chicken nuggets (again could be economical but the taste isn't the same so it's convenience)
canned refried beans
canned beans
canned soups (although I consider this a staple)
tortillas, flour (can't seem to make corn ones well so that's a staple, not a convenience)
microwave popcorn
tortilla chips

What would your list look like? What's a convenience food to you?

A Tough Time

When I heard that there was a new outbreak of the Swine Flu, I have to admit my response was more of weariness than concern. Now, I'm not downplaying the seriousness of the situation at all. It's a dangerous flu and people have died--that's not good at all. However, over the last couple of months my family has been wracked with one illness after another. Stomach bugs, flu bugs, and severe chest colds. There was one brutal week where literally everyone was so sick there was no one available to play nurse to the others. This culminated in me and 2 of my daughters getting pneumonia a few weeks ago. So, when the Swine Flu news hit, it was more of an "oh no, not more sickies" from me than anything else.

I am sharing this because I know this blog has been a bit slow over the last couple of months. It's been a hard time for my family, as well as some of our other bloggers. Juggling a large crew is difficult enough. Throw in illness and general economic woes and things get even more harried. So, please forgive the quietness around here. It wasn't intentional, and we don't mean it to be permanent. I'm hopeful that this current flu will not turn into the horror story that it could and that soon everyone will be enjoying warm summer weather and be healthy...and blogging again.

I want to thank everyone who has been following this blog for your patience and continued support. We are working on getting things together and having more regular posts. We also hope to do a few interactive things with our readers--so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, remember to wash your hands and keep safe until this latest threat has passed.

***This message is cross-posted on the various LOK Blogs.***

Friday, April 3, 2009

Your Pantry Essentials?

A recent question over at the new LOK Household forum got me thinking. We all know about staples--the items you keep on hand to use for cooking everyday. Things like sugar, and flour, and spices. However, depending on who you are, your "essentials" could be very different from someone else's. My family lives on pasta, however I have a friend whose husband and kids hate it--and thus she never really keeps it on hand. So I began wondering, what would be in a person's top-10 essential list. I did a few searched and I loved the variety of answers I found, such as this one.

After giving it a bit of thought, I came up with my individual list:

1. Dried Pasta - As I mentioned above, pasta is one of our core foods. Granted, the fact that it is relatively inexpensive helps. However, I can safely say my family loves the taste. There is so much you can do with it, and unlike some other starches (such a potatoes), you can pretty much cover it in any kind of sauce and it tastes good.

2. Rice - Another no-brainer, but again one of our favorites. It's funny to think my husband never ate rice as a child, and therefore didn't like it much when we married. Now we have it regularly and he loves it. We use it as a side dish frequently, but more often eat it with stews, chili, etc.

3. Tomatoes - In any manner, but mostly canned. Yes, I know fresh is best, but there are times you simply don't have, or can't get, fresh tomatoes. We use tomatoes for everything, from homemade salsa to stews. You can eat them as is, or puree them to make a sauce. Versatile and yummy.

4. Cheese - For our family, cheese is an essential. It is just one of those things that makes meals taste better. Not to mention that my son who is autistic will eat several foods that he wouldn't normally otherwise, as long as they have some cheese-sauce on them.

5. Garlic - This is probably *the* most used spice in our kitchen, aside from salt and pepper. It is simply an easy way to add flavor to a dish. We used fresh sliced on pizza, minced from a jar in stews, and powdered on pasta. One of my kids' favorite quick meals is simple egg noodles with butter and a healthy shaking of garlic powder.

6. Pinto Beans - Whether dried, refried and canned, or otherwise, this is one of those foods that our family lives on. We use them in typical Mexican dishes like tacos and burritos, but also eaten in a bowl with just a little salsa and cheese on top.

7. Tortillas - We probably go through twice the amount of tortillas than we do bread.

8. Potatoes - Any way shape or form. I keep instant on hand for "quick eat" nights. Bake potato bars are a favorite. Frozen fries covered in cheese sauce is a great treat. Many of our meals would be considered "hashes" because they are served over some sort of potato.

9. Seasoned Salt - I know some people would bristle at this, but if you read the Pioneer Woman Cooks, you'll know she is a big fan. It's not lazy cooking, but quick cooking. I use it in a ton things.

10. Hot Dogs - Again, probably not what everyone would think, but for our house, this is a staple. We eat them often in a variety of ways, from chili-cheese dogs to corndog casserole. For my autistic son, there are times he simply won't eat anything that we are making for dinner, so his alternative dish is hot dogs. Granted, not the epitome of health foods, but dependable sustenance.

So, pushing aside practicality (as much as you can, that is), what would be your top-10 essential list?


On a sidenote, while doing the search on essentials, I came upon this article about the top 10 frugal essentials for a kitchen, to help feed a family on a budget. It's worth a look.

Top-10 Frugal Staples.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Depression-Era Cooking

Even though we are technically *just* in a recession, many economists say that the U.S. is actually experiencing a depression. There are people who are scraping to simply put food on the table, not to mention trying to keep a roof over their heads. How does one survive? Many lessons can be learned from looking to our past, to the last time our country went through this.

Clara is a 93 year old woman who lived through the Great Depression. She talks of having very little to eat. Dinners consisted of a hearty helping of starch (usually pasta), veggies, and a small amount of meat. Sound familiar? Yes, large families eat like that often, even during good times. Nevertheless, Clara has created a series of YouTube videos showcasing recipes her family enjoyed during hard times. The recipes themselves are only part of the charm. Her musings of days goneby are reason enough to watch the videos.

I'm linking episode 1 in the series below. To view the rest, visit Clara's YouTube Channel HERE.

Monday, February 16, 2009

How many days

I just recently found the blog Serious Eats. Very recently they had a discussion on what 20 dishes you need to know inorder to feed your family well for a month (figuring in eating out and pizza once a week). The discussion then came up, not to learn 20 dishes but to learn techniques which would open the door to lots of dishes.

When I first saw the title I thought.... 20 dishes would be boring! Not only that I'd have to have more then 20 because eating out and buying pizza is a rarity with my family size. I tend to think along the lines of categories when planning my meals. I try not to have pasta near another heavy starchy meal, a type of meat more then one day in a row, mixing meat heavy and non meat dishes evenly. Of course it's not always perfect, nor can I follow my rules all the time. Still I think it helps.

So I got to thinking....What would my monthly menu look like? Categories (and ideas that fall into those categories would include... (note...some meals fit multiple categories) I've included a link to the LOK recipe section for each category, when available, to give you more ideas.

Pizza...because I'd make it, not buy it

Convenience...because we wouldn't normally eat out...chicken nuggets, pizza rolls, snack night

Pasta...alfredo, goulash, pasta with sauce, raviolis, lasagna, baked ziti, mac and cheese

Rice...spanish rice, fried rice, taco bake, cheezy broccoli rice,

Beef/Venison...steak, hamburgers, beef and gravy, bbq beef/sloppy joe sandwiches, stir fry, tacos/fajitas

Pork...ham, chops, loin roast, bbq pork, stir fry, ribs and kraut,

Poultry...roast, lemon chicken, bbq, stir fry, bbq sandwiches, dump chicken, chicken and gravy, fajitas

Seafood...baked, broiled or fried (fish, shrimp, scallops), shrimp scampi, sauteed scallops

Sandwiches...lunchmeat/subs, grilled cheese, tuna, egg salad, egg, blts, tomato (summer favorite)

Soups and Stews...chili, beef stew, scalloped potato soup, broccoli, tomato, bean, veggies, and tons more

Casseroles...chili corn dog casserole, tater tot, shepard's pie, pot pie,

Non Meat/Vegetarian... salad (green, pasta, potato, mac), bean burritos, quesadillas, nachos, baked potato bar,

Breakfast... eggs and sausage, breakfast burritos, breakfast casserole, french toast, pancakes, waffles, egg mcmuffins, cereal, oatmeal

And you can't forget using your Crockpot on those really busy nights.

So there are 14 categories above, that's half the month taken care of! Pick two dishes from each category and you're done. Of course you're going to have some categories more then others. We tend to do pizza at least every other week, not once a month. Breakfast is almost every week lately since we're getting a lot of eggs from our chickens. Seafood is something I'd love to do more often but moneywise, isn't always doable. When you think broadly though, there are TONS of options to make meals interesting and easy.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Wishes Good Cooking and Some Candy Today

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cooking With Anne

Anne Coleman is a professional blogger. She used to be among the ranks of forum hosts and household bloggers here at Lots of Kids, until she made the difficult decision to leave and focus on her family and professional career. You'll see her main blog linked in our sidebar. It's full of frugal and yummy eats for families of any size.

Anne was recently featured in a newspaper article and was kind enough to let us know. It really is a great write-up, and it gives a lot of info on her various other blogging projects. Give the article a read, and drop in to Anne's blog and give her a shout. I'm sure she'd love to see you.

Disney's Short Order Mom

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Quick Eats

This post might be a no-brainer, but bear with me here. I am reading more and more in the news about how eating out hits your pocketbook. I have to laugh, because anyone with a large family (and a good deal of small families too) know this. However, the bottom line is that the drive-thru is still a convenience many people turn to and it can truly derail a budget. There are ways to eat-out cheaply, but when money is particularly tight, avoiding McDonald's is an absolute must.

One of the ways to quell the temptation to order pizza is to keep a few quick meals on hand for those times when you are just too busy or tired to make a full meal. You will hear a lot of moms talk about the virtue of cooking from scratch, and I'm all for that. But there is something to be said about convenience foods as an alternative to eating out. If you are tempted to go pick up burgers, a better alternative is to have a few cans of chili on hand and a box of instant rice. In 10 minutes you can have a meal, and even paying the higher cost of the convenience fare, it will still be far less money than hot dogs and fries at the greasy spoon down the street.

When I make my menu plan, I always work in 2 quick meals that are not in the actual plan, but are stand-bys for the nights when I am just too tired to do what's on the chart. The quick meals can vary depending on what I have on hand and what's on sale, but here are a few of our staples:

Nachos -- This one is a family favorite and super easy. A couple of bags of tortilla chips, a jar of cheddar cheese sauce (or shredded cheddar from the fridge), 2 cans of refried beans, sour cream, and a jar of salsa--you're good to go. You can add frozen taco meat from the freezer, or even canned chicken. I love to make a quick batch of guacamole and add some sliced black olives.

Baked Potatoes -- We do meatless a few times a week, and a "baked potato bar" is an inexpensive and relatively quick meal. Granted, the pots need to cook for about an hour, but prep is simply washing the spuds and wrapping them in foil before popping in the oven. As for toppings, be creative. This is a great way to use leftovers. Aside from the traditional toppings, consider using alfredo sauce and some diced chicken, steak or Worchestershire sauce, cooked veggies, or beef stew. When my kids want a little more than just baked pots, I open a few cans of soup to have on the side. A good tip is to make a few extra pots and freeze them for future lunches, or to use in other dishes like the burritos I talk about here.

DIY Noodles -- This idea actually came from a great Italian restaurant near our home. They had a build-your-own-pasta night, where they would have platters of different type of pasta, a myriad of sauces, cheeses and toppings, and a chef would cook it all up for you right on the spot. While we don't get that extravagant, noodle night is a huge hit in our house. Simply make a big pot of egg noodles, spaghetti, or even ramen noodles. Open a few jars of sauce, pull out some toppings of choice (again a good way to use leftovers), and have everyone create their own dish. Some of my kids go the traditional spaghetti sauce route. My husband loves a big bowl with butter and a healthy topping of garlic powder. I'll often make a white sauce and throw in some veggies. Either way, it's also a way to allow everyone to have what they want, without making 10 separate meals.

Frozen Pizza -- Take out pizza for our household of 11 can cost anywhere from $40 to $70! Even in times of plenty, that was only an occasional treat. Homemade pizza is oftentimes far superior, but on those nights you need to eat quick, that can just be too much. Frozen pizza is a great alternative. You can usually pick up Jack's pizza or equivalent for very reasonable. If you keep your eye open for sales, you can even grab Tombstone and other "deluxe" brands for cheap. I oftentimes buy just cheese and then dress them up myself. Some shredded chicken from the freezer mixed with alfredo sauce (you can used canned chicken) spread on the top. Or bacon and chopped onion. BBQ chicken. Taco meat and black olives. Pick up a few packages of shredded cheese to sprinkle over the toppings. Cook until bubbly and enjoy! A quick eat that is delicious, and even with the cost of the extras, still far less expensive than take-out.

Whatever you decide as the quick-eats for your home, the key is to make sure you have the ingredients on hand so you can make these dishes when you need them.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Potato Soup

This is a great winter comfort food. It is quick and easy whether you are making it to feed just a few people or a crowd. The basic recipe feeds about 4.

  • Ingredients
    6 medium peeled potatoes cut into cubes
    1/2 yellow onion diced
    1 stalk celery diced
    4 strips bacon diced
    1 can yellow corn (drained)
    2 cups milk
Put the potatoes in a small stock pot and cover with water, cook until fork tender. While the potatoes are cooking, fry the diced bacon, then set aside to drain. Fry the onion and celery in the bacon grease. When the potatoes are done, do NOT drain, add milk, onion, celery, bacon and corn to potatoes. Cook an additional 10 minutes to incorporate all flavors, then serve with fresh baked biscuits.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Shopping on a budget for a Large Family

I am no expert shopper, but I do have a few tricks that I thought I would share. Using a weekly menu plan has made getting dinner on the table every night much easier, but unlike many people, I do not shop from my menu. I do my shopping FIRST and then write a menu based on what I have in the house. I also give myself permission to juggle the nights on my menu to fit our day to day needs.

I do not get the newspaper, but I keep the coupons that I get at the checkout and I use and P & G to get online coupons downloaded directly to my Kroger Plus card. The advantage to this for me is that I don't buy things just because I've got a coupon and it comes off my total automatically when I check out without having to remember to actually bring any coupons to the store and give them to the checker.

There are certain products I will only buy if they are on sale, things like boxed mac & cheese, boxed rice mixes & other convenience foods that I can do without if we run out between sales. Once a month, I also stock up on whatever dessert things are on sale, sometimes it is cake mixes, other times it is pudding. I like to keep things like that on hand in the pantry, it has helped me to avoid going out & splurging on sweets when a sweet tooth hits the house. I also keep white rice, flour, yeast, baking soda and baking powder well stocked, buying more whenever it is on sale whether I'm running low or not.

I check unit prices on all packaged foods I buy. Sometimes the bulk packages are the best deal, but I often find it is cheaper to buy several small packages than it is to buy the biggest size. The grocery store I shop at has unit prices on the shelves, they sometimes try to be tricky by using cost per ounce on some packages versus cost per serving on others. You have to be alert to those types of tricks. I also avoid picking things up from the end caps, if it is something I need, I go to the section it is in to compare it to the other package sizes available.

I generally buy meat twice a month, concentrating on what is on sale. Usually, if beef is on sale at the beginning of the month, chicken will be on sale in the middle of the month, so I buy a LOT of whatever is on sale. Recently, I've also bought meat that is on clearance, I cook it right away & have gotten some pretty expensive cuts of beef for less than half the original price. Once the meat is cooked, you can freeze it for longer than uncooked meat. I'm hoping to buy an upright freezer in the next few months to be able to really take advantage of good sales. I'm looking on craig's list for one and I've also been pricing new ones at Home Depot and Lowes.

Other than apples, bananas and potatoes, I don't buy a lot of fresh produce in the winter, it is too expensive and really doesn't seem worth the money. Instead, I stock up on canned veggies and fruits along with whatever frozen fruits and veggies are on sale. I don't buy any veggies that come in a sauce or fruits in syrup.

I am not good at budgeting, so I try to pay all my bills first and buy groceries with whatever I have left. This way if we are having a good month I have extra money to stock up and if we are having a tight month I can rely on my pantry, just buying the absolute essentials.

I have three personal rules that I have been trying to stick to when it comes to grocery shopping:

  1. Don't shop hungry
  2. Don't shop tired or distracted
  3. Don't go to the grocery store more than once per week (trying for every other week, but not there yet).

I know this method won't work for everyone, but I hope you take something from this that will be helpful, it has taken me 20 years to figure out what works for me.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Cooking with a bug in mind

It's a sure menu buster...a stomach bug running through the house. And this time of the year is prime time for it. I don't know about anyone else but around here as soon as someone starts vomiting...the menu goes out the window. There are SO many things that I don't trust in tummies that may not continue to hold it's contents. You can't selectively feed the meals you'd planned. Someone who seems perfectly fine this minute may be the one with a bucket in hand the next.

So what to do? One of the first things is to cut the three C's...Crunchy, chewy and chunky. Out goes the popcorn, hot dogs and spaghetti. In goes the light soups, mashed potatoes, sandwiches and cereal. Dairy heavy dishes are out too, although cereal is the exception here. I also try to stay away from family favorites, even if they don't fall into the three C's and are deemed "safe". This is based solely on my personal experience of banning canned raviolis from my presence for over 25yrs after my first case of carsickness when I was tween. I'd hate to have one of our loved meals suddenly become something they loathe. One of the best things to serve is breakfast for dinner...pancakes, french toast, waffles (breaking the dairy rule and served toped with ice cream) oatmeal, homefries, scrambled eggs. Just steer clear from the greasy stuff like sausage and bacon. :o(

We can't forget the kids who are sick. Our main food of choice once someone's become a vicitm of the bug is...soda!!! Mostly it's lemon-lime and ginger ale. I know some people swear by cola and as a kid I was given cola syrup as a tummy calmer (used to be bought over the counter but had to get it from the pharmacist) but I prefer the clear non staining varieties. I don't do juices like some doctor's suggest because my kids are sensitive to them. It tends to give my younger kids diarrhea and a rash. It's also good to make sure the freezer has popsicles and the fridge has jello (which means mom has to have her act together and remembers to make it).

Once the bug starts to let up we start trying to add solids...bananas, applesauce, toast of the BRAT diet doctors recommend. I don't include rice in there as I consider it something chunky. We also add back in the good bacteria with yogurt.

I probably should've listened to my own advice and not served the BBQ cocktail weenies for dinner last night. And now I'll have to go to the store and stock up on some of the above mentioned things. Hopefully the deviation from OUR menu plan is short and painless.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Cooking into the New Year

With food prices still risings and the economy limping along, it's with a hesitant hope that we go into the new year. All of the bloggers and staff of Large Family Cooking and wish you and your family a healthy and happy New Year. Here's to hoping the 2009 brings better things for our country, our world, and each other. In the meantime, we'll continue to be here, sharing our cooking inspiration and ways to feed your family on a budget. We hope you'll continue to visit!