Rango- Dinner And A Movie

So Saturday nights on the pond are family Dinner and  a Movie nights.  I have decided to share these with you, in case you want to start this tradition with your own Froglets.  The conditions are – the movie has to be family friendly (each family has to choose that one on their own), dinner is served in a theme with dessert, popcorn follows and fun is had by all.  I had planned to do a cactus craft with the froglets to decorate for this movie night, but somehow in the rush of Saturday it didn’t happen.  😦    I make a poster to go in the house and one on the front door to remind the froglets that this is a special night, and to remind Papa Frog if he happens to be working.   (A printable PDF of the image can be found at the bottom of this page)

RANGO

LIZARD LEGS

One package chicken legs (we use the family size with approximately 42 chicken legs- no I reckon it is more like 10-14)

One bottle of marinade (or make your own)- this was a southwestern chipotle marinade

Marinade legs for 2 hours, then grill until cooked through.

TUMBLEWEED TOSSED IN PESTO

This was just 1 1/2 lbs of pasta with some pesto and parmesean cheese on top.

CACTUS SHREDS

Green beans and corn.

MUDDY WATER FLOATS

Root Beer Floats

What can I say?  I was not terribly prepared this past week for movie night, but I have found that if you are even slightly creative, you can make family movie dinner night work with any menu.  This month I am planned a little better.  So, stay tuned for Princess and the Frog, TMNT, Mary Poppins and Rio 2 (not necessarily in that order!)

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PRINT YOUR MOVIE FLYER HERE:

RANGO

Meal Planning- This is How Mama Frog Does it (Part Two)- In which the Work Begins

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So, you have your recipes, and you have fit them into a monthly menu, right?  If not, see Meal Planning Part One- here.  You will no doubt have filled your menu with family favorites, new recipes to try and fun treats.  And if your meal plan looks like this:

Monday- Meatless Monday

Tuesday- Tacos

Wednesday- Spaghetti

Thursday- Chicken Bake

Friday- Meatloaf

Saturday- Breakfast for Dinner

Sunday- Leftovers

Well that is fine too.  Whatever menu your family is happy with.  I would suggest making sure you have actual copies of the recipes on hand.  Also make sure your menu has an extras section for any other items you make regularly, be they bread, cookies, lunches, or that church potluck every 3rd Sunday (Yep I grew up Baptist.  We potlucked).  You don’t have to have exact recipes, but you will want to list what ingredients each recipe uses.  I actually do this with recipes like my foil-wrapped chicken and potstickers.  I don’t use an actual recipe, since I have made them enough that I have evolved my own recipes.  Now here is how I like to do things, because this blog post is about my way.  You will no doubt find your own way 🙂

I like to have actual printouts of the recipes I am making.  Some of these are from month to month, some of these are new to this meal plan.  (At the end of the year I go back through the recipes we have made all year and make a book out of our favortites.  This year I plan to have one bound for my kitche.  These make great family gifts.  When my kids are old enough to move out I plan to send a copy of our family recipes with each of them).

I copy all the recipes text-only and paste them in a Word document, then I print them off.  Each recipe gets its own page.  Then they go into a three-ring binder with page protectors.  This month I need to replace my page-protectors.  They are several years old and are hard to read through anymore.  My calendar of meals gets printed as well and put in the front of the notebook.  (Don’t worry there will be pictures of this after I get my new page protectors).

Now comes the work.  I label 4 sheets of notebook paper thusly:  PRODUCE, DRY GOODS, MEATS/DELI, FRIDGE/FREEZER.  If you are new to meal planning, I suggest you also label a fifth sheet: PANTRY STAPLES.  I have been doing this long enough that pantry staples that I know I am out of go on the dry goods page automatically.  Before I even start I can add things like flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, vanilla, oil, oats, brown sugar, and other staples that I know I buy monthly.  Don’t worry if you can’t make a list like this off the top off your head.  Just add the pantry staples, that a recipe calls for, to the PANTRY STAPLES list.  Then you can check that list against what is actually in your cupboard.  If you are increasing the amount you are cooking, then you may have a couple of months that require you to purchase a lot of pantry staples while you build up a good base stash.

One by one, I go through the recipes, adding ingredients to the proper page.  Tomorrow I will post my shopping lists for you to see in their rough form.  If more than one recipe calls for the same ingredients, you can use hashmarks to indicate that you need more than one item.   Let me give you a couple of examples:  If I am making scones and biscuits in a month, I know they will both need baking powder.  One jar of baking poweder is likely plenty.  But if I am making fajitas and stuffed bell peppers, I know I will need 2-3 peppers for the fajitas and 8 additional peppers for the stuffed peppers.  So while baking powder will be there singularly, bell peppers will have XI after it.   As I continue through I will keep adding ingredients, so I may end up needing 15 bell peppers for the month.  That gives me a very concise number as a base when shopping.  If I find bell peppers on sale, I may buy extras for the freezer, knowing that we will eat them in fried potatoes or a few to keep fresh knowing that the kids love bell peppers and dressing for a snack.  But at least I know what I NEED.

I also like to have the store flyer handy when making my list.  If I need ground chicken or turkey but I see that leg quarters on sale for cheaper than I can buy already ground (and they usually are), I will get legs and quarters to take home and grind myself.  If this is not an option for you that is fine, but keep in mind that if hamburger for burgers is $5.99 a lb and ground turkey is  $3.99 a lb, you can easily sub in and make turkey burgers.  Alternatively, instead of making burgers for everyone, you can also change your meal plan to include those legs and thighs, making half burgers and half grilled chicken legs.  The key to shopping within a monthly budget for me is flexibility.  It means thinking outside the box.

Many months, because of what is on sale, you will notice that our meals are heavy on chicken or heavy on meals that don’t use much meat.  That is because I am shopping within my local sales, and planning accordingly.  My budget doesn’t change just because the food  I prefer to cook is not on sale.   Another trick is to shop two or three different stores, time permitting.  You can often find different items on sale different places, making it easier to round out your month with different options.

So send the kids out to play in the spring sunshine, take your notebook and recipes outside and get your lists roughed out.  If they are messy or you make a mistake and put an item on there more than once, don’t sweat it.  We will get there.  Consider sides you might like to make, treats and snacks.  You are halfway there!

Meal Planning- This is How Mama Frog Does It (Part One)- In Which Mama Frog Chooses Recipes for the Month

food

It is no secret that I have been menu planning for several years now.  I have shopped once a month for as long (minus some perishables) and have found that menu planning allows me to plan well and easily, making sure that I do not go over budget.  As the Frog Family has grown, I have increased our budget little by little, and expanded my meal planning to also include snacks, desserts, lunches (homeschooling), breakfasts and the occasional craft.  If it involves food, it goes into the menu plan.  When I first started, I was drawn to menus and shopping lists that were already made and posted on the internet.  But I soon encountered several problems with them.

1.) Most menu plans do not feed a family of 8.  They just simple do not.  Most include recipes for 4 people, or maybe 6, but they are designed to be budget friendly at that level.  Doubling them to 8 servings (or 12) was cost-prohibitive for my budget.

2.) At least half the recipes on any given meal plan were recipes I would never make- For a while we dealt with dairy free eating, I avoid processed food as much as possible, I don’t like to cook with the “cream of” soups or exclusively with the crockpot.  And then there were the recipes I would just never make.  The carrot, raisin, chicken curry recipe in one of my books comes to mind.

3.) Many meal plans rely heavily on freezer meal cooking.  There are two reasons I don’t tend to go this route, although I have certainly tried it in the past.  The first is that I (up until 2 days ago) have never had a deep freezer, and cooking meals large enough to feed my entire family was not something I found condusive to the small kitchen freezer.  Second, I like to cook.  I have the time to cook.  I do not enjoy just throwing food into the crock pot or oven every night.  So, what happened was we had several meals that would never come out of the freezer.  Now, that is not to say I don’t still double up on my favorite recipes and pop a lasagna in the freezer for an easy night’s meal.  It just means I don’t like to have 30 days worth of dinners in the freezer.

4.) Most meal plans I found, involved either repeating meals (see reason #2 that this didn’t work for me).  So, I was left with the option to either put 2-4 plans together (which left me doing MORE work than making my own plan) or I meal planned part of the month and not the rest, which led to overspending.  We like variety in our food.  There is so much wonderful food out there that I don’t want my family to be limited to meatloaf friday.  If that is what works for your family, then great.  But it didn’t work for mine. (see #6)

5.) Eating whole food and skipping out on the convenience food is only affordable for ME when I meal plan.  I can afford to buy in bulk and shop sales and feed my family well on budget.  Shopping even weekly does not offer us that same ability.  Check your store and you will see that a family sized package of meat is actually significantly less per lb than small packages.  So when I shopped weekly, I either over-used the meat or over spent on smaller packages.

6.) Meal planning is such a personal thing.  We recently moved to the Pond from Texas.  What was cheap, local and abundant food there is expensive specialty food here.  The cost of food here is twice what it was there.  I used to spend $425 a month to feed our family of 7.  Here I spend closer to $800 a month to feed a family of 8.  It is just food costs that make the difference.  We can’t eat the same menu here that we ate in Texas.  There are different fruit and vegetables available, different spices, different ethnic foods available (a great under used resource).  Potatoes were super cheap where we lived.  Here they run about 4.99 more for 10lbs – unless I stock up when the local farmers offer 50 lb bags for $10.00 on the dike.  My meal plans here will reflect those cheap potatoes, but what about the people who do not have that option or miss out on the sale?  They cannot eat the same menu on the same budget.  If I shop on a week where chicken is on sale, our monthly meals will be heavy in chicken, but for the person who shops two days after me, when the sales have changed will find that what they can buy for the same money is significantly less chicken.

My goal is to help you learn to make your own meal plans, to find recipes that your family loves, to shop and to eat on your budget.  And it is from that desire that this blog series is born.   My menu runs from the 10th to the 10th of each month.  Yours will run different.  I shop monthly.  You may find weekly, or even bi-weekly works better for you.  I keep a pretty stocked spice cupboard, you may need to stock yours.  My menus are based around my local sales flyers, so there may be some differences, but the principles are all the same.

So today lef’t talk about how you get started.  Again, this is how I do it.  There may be a better way for you to go about it.  But this method is tried and true for me.  I start with a few basic tools.

NEEDED:

Lined paper

Pen, pencil, marker etc

Cookbooks and/or Pinterest

A good solid 2 hours of time

Input from family (optional)

Store sale flyers (online or on paper)

I look at how many days are in the month, and make a list of the dates down the page.  I add in any paydays that we will likely eat out, special occasions like holidays or birthdays, and any theme days that may tie into our homeschooling schedule.  What I am typically left with are 22-26 days of emptiness.  If there are family favorites or meals that my family has been asking me to make I write them in starting with the first open space.  Throughout the month, I will have been pinning recipes that look tasty, desserts, snacks, lunches, breakfasts and dinners.  I create a board for each month so May- Meal Planning 2015 will be the board I go to this month.  Sometimes at this stage I have 120 recipes pinned.  Sometimes I have 12.  If I think of a food I want to make, I also pin placeholder recipes.  My May board may show that I want to make chicken fajitas and I may have a recipe pinned so I remember, but when it comes time to make my list, the recipe I will use actually comes out of my Mennonite cookbook.  I find over pinning is better than under pinning.  There are times, I simply do not find what I want on Pinterest.  Then I will sit down with a stack of cookbooks and a stack of paper strips and mark possible recipes.  I try to make sure there is a variety of foods.  In the past I have been guilty of very unbalanced meal plans with almost all soups and stews, or pasta dishes.

As I go through my pins/recipes, I try to keep in mind what the sales are.  I also know that making my own tortillas for example will shave 3.00 a package off my spending, so if I plan meats that are more expensive or if there are no good sales, then I try to plan in more homemade accessories.  ( I know food doesn’t really have accessories- just checking to see if I have lost you.)  I make sure that I balance heavy meat options with meatless meals, or meals in which a small amount of meat is stretched.  I double-check portion sizes and how many a recipe will feed.  I know that I can add extra veggies and sauce and pasta to a dish without necessarily having to add more meat.  I also try to plan 2-3 desserts a week (although I have staples on hand for more) and something special for weekend breakfasts.

I have also started making an additional “treat” list and shopping list, because sometimes I come in way under budget and can splurge.  Now you may be wondering why I don’t just go back to the store later.  Those of you who live in more rural areas probably already know the answer.  Let me add a disclaimer here – the area I live in is very food rich.  I can go to any local farm for farm raised meats and cheeses and dairy.  The marketplace here offers fruits and vegetables weekly at a reasonable rate.  From June-October the farmer’s market is in full swing.  And I do take advantage of all those things.  But my local grocery store is not an inexpensive place to shop for most things.  I do catch some awesome sales, but they are more a case of walking in and finding 1lb packages of organic, free range ground turkey for $1.99 while supplies last, than it is of planning.  The stores I do my monthly shopping at are 1 hour and 15 minutes away.  The more I can get cheaply there, the less I have to buy at my local grocery store and the more I can then buy supporting the local farmers.

I would much rather stock up on flour in the city and buy my raw local milk here than run out of flour and have to buy it here and have to settle for ultra pastuerized milk.  (My son with the dairy issues, handles raw dairy very well.  The processed stuff makes him sick if we use it too much).  I would rather be able to drop in on the marketplace and buy extras than to have to overspend locally on essentials.  Now, for those who are wondering, my local store is a chain, I am not passing over a mom and pop.  The fact remains, that to feed my family and stay on budget I have to plan and make choices.

Once I have the list of days completely filled in, then the next stage of menu planning starts.  Tomorrow I will post my menu list and Wednesday the 6th I will take you through step two.  In the meantime, if you are serious about menu planning, I encourage you to start your own May Foods P board.  I would love to see them linked below.

Cooking With Big Froglets (Recipes Included)

Yesterday was unseasonably nice and after chores and school, the froglets spent the entire afternoon outside.  Now, understand that on The Pond, in the winter, dark falls about 4:15. When the three big froglets came in, it was time for me to start dinner.  The littles were playing computer games, and as much to stop a fight over electronics as anything I called the three big froglets into the kitchen.  (This is also an excellent way to connect with kiddos you haven’t talked to for most of the day).  I told them they could help make dinner and laid out the menu- spaghetti soup, salad with homemade bleu cheese dressing, garlic knots and chocolate lasagna for dessert.  The way it worked out, each one started with a job for one dish (we combine bread and dessert tasks here).  Ray Bear was in charge of salad and dressing, Lizard Breath made the soup and Jelly Bean helped me with dessert and bread.  Lots of little steps and careful shopping, stirring and emulsing, mixing and kneading ensued.  It wasn’t long before the kitchen smelled fantastic, and I had a group of laughing girls.   Tiny Tadpole made a couple of disasters (a bowl of flour poured over his head like water *smh* and an upturned salad) but without fail, these were met good naturedly and as a team.  Dinner was fabulous and the froglets got a lot of compliments, especially from Papa Frog who arrived at the end of dinner cooking.  And the best part- they have all volunteered to help with dinner tonight as well.  I am a firm believer that froglets should help cook.  They should know the joy and the responsibility of feeding people.  They should get to experience the service aspect and respect the work it takes to prepare the food they eat.  And they should have the satisfaction of a thank you and plates scraped clean.  At least that’s how we do things on The Pond.

Bleu Cheese Dressing

1 cup sour cream

1 cup mayo

2 T. chopped parsley

3 gloves garlic chopped

salt

pepper

2 dashes of worcestershire sauce

5 oz bleu cheese, divided

Add sour cream, mayo, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper, worcestershire sauce and half the bleu cheese crumbles to a bowl (or to the bowl of a food processor).  Using a stick blender (or your food processor), pulse together until smooth.  Stir in remaining bleu cheese crumbles with a spoon.  Adjust seasoning to taste.

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Spaghetti Soup

1 lb ground meat of choice (we used bison but any meat will work)

1 lg onion, chopped

8 oz mushrooms, sliced

1 pkg baby bell peppers (or one large bell pepper) sliced

4 cloves garlic, chopped finely

1- 32 oz can of petite diced tomatoes

1 jar spaghetti sauce (or tomato sauce and extra spices)

2 tomato cans full of water

Italian Seasoning

Salt

Pepper

Brown meat in a pot.  Add veggies and cook until tender.  Add remaining ingredients and simmer, adjusting salt and spices to taste.  In another pot bring 2 qts water to boil.  Break 4-8 oz spaghetti noodles into 4ths and add to the boiling water.  Once cooked, drain and add to soup base.  Serve immediately.

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Garlic Knots

1/2 c warm water

2 T. yeast

1 T salt

1 T. sugar

4-5 c. flour

Add water, yeast, salt and sugar to mixer bowl.  Let sit until yeast is nice and bubbly.  Add flour 1 c at a time, mixing well between each addition.  When dough is no longer sticky to the touch, cover and let rise until doubled.

For Topping:

Garlic finely chopped or garlic powder

parsley

salt

1/4 c. butter, melted

Make your bread dough and let rise until doubled.  Punch down dough and roll into a rectangle.  Cut dough into strips and knot each strip.   With a pastry brush, brush the topsof each knot with butter mixture and bake at 350 degrees until baked through.  At this point, I use any remaining butter to brush the tops of the knots again.

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Chocolate Lasagna

32 Oreos

6 T. butter, melted

1 pkg cream cheese

1/4 c. sugar

2 small pkgs chocolate instant pudding

3 c milk + 2 T.

carton of whipped topping

Crush Oreos and combine with butter.  Press into the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish.  Whip together cream cheese, 2 T. milk and 1 c. of the whipped topping until smooth.  Spread over cooking bottom.  Combine pudding mixes and 3 c. milk.  Whip together until set and spread on top of cream cheese mixture.  Spread remaining whipped topping over chocolate layer.  I garnished with chocolate syrup and chopped Reeses PB cups.

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