I love frozen dinners. They’ve come a long way since I was a kid, and they’re a really easy, fast way to eat consistent portion sizes and diet-friendly food. That is, if I make them at home with ingredients I can control. I am not saying that store bought frozen meals can’t be healthy… but many of the “healthy” ones have tons of added ingredients that I can’t pronounce! The healthiest ones, like the ones I can find at Whole Foods, are expensive! For the cost of two-three individual single meals I can make my own large pot that will feed my family dinner and I will have several servings of leftovers!
I’ve mentioned here, here and here that since I’ve begun my MOMables™ challenge I’ve lost weight, I feel good about what I feed my family, and I’ve become more educated on what it’s in my food. So, how can I eat healthy foods without going overboard and eating too much, or spending too much money when Christmas is right around the corner?
I’ve discovered the answer: make my own. I can make a big batch of a healthy meal and freeze or refrigerate portions that are quick to heat up when I need them. It’s so much cheaper, and I know exactly what ingredients are going into them.
Some of my favorites are chicken chili, MOMables™ chicken and rice soup (from the subscription meal plan), homemade macaroni and cheese, or cheese ravioli with a broccoli alfredo sauce (one of my favorite store-bought freezer meals, made at home).
When I’ve made a batch of these meals and divided them up, I can grab them when I’m ready to eat (before I get so hungry that I feel like I need to snack on everything in the house), take them in the car (so I don’t need to stop for fast food), and spend the money I’ve saved on the kids’ Christmas gifts or shoes for myself.
Do you do make-ahead freezer meals? If so, do you have a favorite recipe?
Want an amazing Creme Brulee recipe that you can actually make yourself?
Growing up in Spain, our desserts were lighter and smaller portioned; yet, hugely satisfying. My favorite dessert has got to be my grandmother’s custard Crèma Catalana. The recipe is still written down on a post-it in my recipe binder. Every Christmas Eve, I host a dinner at my house for family and friends.
Last year, I pulled my grandmother’s basic recipe out, and the Crèmas were an instant hit. This fall, I’ve experimented a bit since I roasted an entire pumpkin and I have a lot of pumpkin puree left. The result: a delicious dish that is so satisfying, it will be a hit when you make it.
The caramelized sugar crust is totally optional; but don’t I just look like I’m having a blast with the blowtorch? I tell you, I go all out over at the MOMables kitchen! That torch is actually a plumber’s version and not the foodie gourmet one you get for $20 at the store. It was left over from one of my husband’s projects years ago!
Courtesy of MOMables™ Abuela’s Recipe Stash Yield: 6 – 7 Ramekins (depending on size)
3 cups half & half
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup pumpkin puree
6 large egg yolks
½ cup granulated sugar, plus 6 tablespoons for browning tops
Preheat the oven to 350F. Place the ramekins on a cookie sheet (with sides), and fill with enough water so that it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins (water bath).
In a 2-quart pot, heat the half & half, vanilla, cinnamon, and pumpkin puree over medium heat.
Place the egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a small bowl. Mix until you achieve a pale yellow color, and the sugar has dissolved.
Remove the pot from the heat, and slowly whisk while you incorporate the egg mixture into the half & half mixture. Whisk continuously until both mixtures are well combined.
Fill each ramekin with the mixture, but do not overfill. This yields enough for six (5-ounce) oval ramekins (gratin dishes).
Place the pan in the oven on the middle rack, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. To test for doneness, jiggle the pan to see if the custard is set (pudding like). If so, remove, and let it cool on the counter before refrigerating overnight (you can make these up to 3 days ahead of time).
Optional: Before serving, spread 1 tablespoon of sugar on each ramekin, and, using a blowtorch, caramelize the sugar to form a candy coating. Don’t have a blowtorch? That’s okay, these are delicious without the added sugar.
Do you buy that packet of taco seasoning from the store with who-knows-what in it?
I am a big fan of making my own seasonings because I am able to adjust the spiciness, salt, and quality of ingredients. I also choose to make my own of something I might use often. I find taco seasoning to be extremely versatile and useful on many of my go-to recipes: roasts, tacos, quesadillas, scrambled eggs, dips, soups—just to name a few.
The ingredients in this recipe are very basic, and having the other spices in bulk allows you to use them in other dishes. The best part is that it’s free of salt, MSG, preservatives, and anti-caking agents. Hello, fresh!
Visit your local farmers’ market, Whole Foods, or grocery store, and you will see new varieties of apples on display. With so many options, how do you know which ones to buy? Haven’t heard of one before? Stop grabbing the same red delicious apples day after day, and start enjoying some of the juicer, sweeter varieties out there! Here is a quick guide on apples you’ll see this fall. Go ahead, try a new variety. And just for fun, you can get baking with our easy apple turnover recipe below.
Royal Gala apples have a mild flavor and are crisp and sweet. Their characteristic yellowish orange skin has a distinct red striping. They are perfect for salads and eating out of hand, and cook nicely in applesauce.
Golden Delicious apples are a perfect all-around apple. They have a sweet, rich, and mellow flavor, and hold their shape best when baked.
Popular, crisp, and tart, Granny Smith apples are a good all-purpose apple. Their flavor is enhanced when paired with sweeter, spicier apples in pies and crisps, and delivers that perfect balance between richness and tang.
Honeycrisps are sweet, delicious eating apples. They are crisp (just like their name), and juicy, with a sweet honey-like flavor and a bit of tartness. They work well in baking and are perfect for applesauce.
Cortlands are juicy, with a slightly tart flavor. They have a bright, red skin and pure white flesh. They are excellent for baking, especially in pies, cobblers, and crisps. Because their flesh doesn’t discolor quickly when sliced, Cortlands are great for fruit salads and fruit and cheese plates.
Empires are a combination of a McIntosh and a Red Delicious apple. They have a firm texture and a slightly tart flavor. They are an excellent eating apple, and a good one to have around for applesauce, pie, cakes, and salads.
Mutsu apples are usually very large, with a yellowish green skin. They are juicy and very crisp, with a very sweet flavor. They’re excellent for fresh eating, as well as using in salads, applesauce, and baked goods.
Ida Reds are tangy with a pink flesh. They give a nice pinkness to applesauce and keep their shape well during baking. They also freeze well and are nice and crisp in salads.
If you’re looking for a tart apple with a rich, spicy flavor, Jonathan apples are a good pick. They are also great to balance out sweet apples in baking because they hold their shape well. They’re a versatile apple that makes good salad and applesauce, too.
A delicious eating apple, Macouns are sweet, aromatic, and perfect for nearly everything. They have bright red skin and a snow-white flesh. Their juicy taste makes them perfect for daily eating, but also for salads and applesauce.
Jonagolds are a combination of Jonathan and Golden Delicious apples. Their tangy, sweet flavor is housed inside a characteristic yellowish-green exterior with a blush stripe. They are excellent both for eating fresh and for cooking.
These classic bright red apples with green undertones are juicy and crisp. McIntoshes tend to break down when they are cooked. They are delicious and readily available, making them a good choice for eating out of hand or made into applesauce. For baking, they are best paired with Golden Delicious or other apples.
Popular Red Delicious apples were bred to be eating apples. They don’t make good baking apples, but are perfect for eating out of hand. They have a mild flavor, are sweet and juicy, and are known by their deep red skin and a classic heart shape.
Winesap apples are firm and sweet, with a bit of a spicy kick. The Winesap is very firm and aromatic, with a spicy bite. A sweet-flavored apple, Winesaps are good in sauces and for baking.
With so many types of apples to choose from this fall, you can get creative and bake away! Why bake apples? They are inexpensive, they are delicious, are good for you, and paired with some sugar and cinnamon, who can turn them down?! Here is my go-to recipe for easy apple turnovers. Save it, print it, enjoy!
You can choose any variety of apple, but Granny Smith is the traditional variety to use. Avoid baking with red delicious apples; these do not bake well. Prep time: 25 minutes. Bake: 25 minutes. Total time: 50 minutes. Yields 8 turnovers.
Combine the lemon juice and 4 cups water in a large bowl. Place the sliced apples in the water to keep them from browning.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Drain the water from the apples, and place them into the hot skillet. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Add the brown sugar and cinnamon, and cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes. Stir together the cornstarch and 1 tablespoon water. Pour into the skillet, and mix well. Cook for another minute, or until the sauce has thickened. Remove from the heat to cool slightly.
Preheat the oven to 400F (200C).
Unfold the puff pastry sheets, and repair any cracks by pressing them back together. Trim each sheet into a square. Then cut each larger square into four smaller squares. Spoon the apples onto the center of each square. Fold over from corner to corner into a triangle shape, and press the edges together to seal. Place the turnovers on a baking sheet, leaving about 1 inch between them.
Bake for 25 minutes, until the turnovers are puffed and lightly browned. Cool completely before glazing.
Mix together the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla in a small bowl. Adjust the thickness by adding more sugar or milk if necessary. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled turnovers.
A couple of weeks ago, this was a rare sighting; my two kids, peacefully helping me in the kitchen. Lunchtime, let alone dinner time was more of a battle ground than a Norman Rockwell picturesque moment.
It was usually loud, chaotic, full of, “I’m NOT eating that!” or “I don’t want to help you!” Now, I am not saying that my kids are selfish monsters, but at times and especially at mealtimes, they can be. What changed? Me.
I got fed up with all the negativity around our kitchen at mealtime and looked my screaming monsters darling babies in the eyes and said, “Well maybe mommy would make all the yummy things you like if you helped her every now and then.”
I don’t know why or how, but they understood me completely. Now mealtime is full of, “I help you mommy? We make noo-noos?” [Barrett speak for noodles]
Enter the local Farmer’s Market and life got a whole lot easier. This not only has helped educated my children about food and its origins, but it has become our Sunday family tradition and I couldn’t be happier about it.
The kids and I began just walking around the Farmer’s Market to check out all the local goodies, but slowly, with more visits, they began to run up to counters with their eyes lit up, “What’s this mommy?” asked Brayden pointing to an eggplant. “PURPLE!” blurts out Barrett, “My favorite color!
BAM! Eggplant was then introduced to my children. Seriously, I would have NEVER thought to buy an eggplant. 1: I can’t remember the last time I had an eggplant; 2: I have no idea how to cook an eggplant; and 3: what kid on earth is going to openly ask for it? However, purple food was an easy sell to Miss B, even when she didn’t like the taste all that much; she got really excited about trying it and having purple food for dinner.
This was when I experienced, firsthand, the power of making our children apart of meal planning and mealtime. They were excited, intrigued by the things they were seeing; the colors, the different textures, the sizes, the everything!
They were hooked and so was I.
I then began to ask for the kids’ advice and input when preparing their meals; “What do you think we should have with our chicken tonight? We need a vegetable. Did you see any vegetables at the Farmer’s Market?” The fact that I, the big mama, was asking for their help inspired and empowered them. They feel special and important when we, as parents ask for their input. The proof is all over their faces.
Does this mean that all my meals are now blissfully domestic? No, I wish, but it has made my nights a lot easier.
Lunchtime was just as difficult.
I would pick them up from preschool and see that they barely touched their lunches, even if it was the lame standard of pb&j. On days I don’t have my act together and forget to prepare ahead with MOMables, I turn to them and ask them what they would like for lunch. “We need a fruit and a veggie in our lunches today, can you help me pick?” The conversation opens up and again, makes their little minds think about what we saw last weekend at the Farmer’s Market.
I know it sounds simple and some of you are probably thinking, “DUH!”, as you read this, but this is huge for our family. I have a tendency to try to “do-it-all” and shush away the kids so I can just get it done, but that doesn’t work well on many levels. Take a calming breath and inviting the kids into the kitchen has been one of the greatest things I have ever done. It makes mealtime fun, a teaching moment, and empowers my little people.
I have even researched other local Farmer’s Markets that run not only on the weekends as a way to keep the kid’s engaged with our weekend tradition if we can’t make it on Sunday. Grocery stores are just as good, and we hit up Whole Food’s on a weekly basis, but I have a special place in my heart for local Farmer’s Markets. It is the easiest way to help educate the kids on where our food comes from and why. This lesson can get lost immediately when you walk into a grocery store that offers no seasons.
How do you get your children to engage with your mealtime choices and preparation?
Do you explore your local farmer’s markets in the same way my family does?
What have you learned from asking your children their input on mealtime choices and preparation?