Monday, September 16, 2013

a pantry party.

Yes, my name is Eryn, and yes, I think pantry parties are the best. Sue me. You may have noticed, however, that I have yet to blog about our new pantry in our nueva casita. I initially showed you our pantry in our apartment here, but I've been mum on the subject since. The reason? Not much has really changed. Other than being a bit wider, our pantry in the house was quite similar to the one in the apartment. Same storage containers, same labels, same overall layout, blah-blibby-blah-blee-blah.

So let's take a couple of quick notes. Yes. That is a microwave, and yes, it's in the pantry, and yes, we made the conscious decision to have it there. The previous owners installed the microwave in the pantry, and at first, I wanted to send them to the asylum. I mean, who in the world puts a microwave in the pantry?! But now that we're here, I absolutely love it. No microwave sitting massively on the counter or taking up any of my precious cabinet space. Perhaps it was I that should have been sent to the asylum for judging the other owners. Previous casita owners: 1. Eryn: 0. Lesson learned.

Other than the microwave, I would say about 75% of the pantry was fairly organized. The middle section of shelves were well labeled, container-ed, and functioned efficiently. The very top shelf and floor, however were nightmares. The top shelf was a tragic collection of spare containers, bulky cookware, and bulk canned goods:

While the floor was a grotesque collection of more bulk items and a sad reminder that we need to buy higher quality food for the pooch:

While the middle shelves and bins needed a bit of sprucing and pruning, my main areas of attack for this project were the top and bottom shelves of our pantry. I also wanted to figure out a way to move my less frequently used muffin tins, pizza stones, cooling racks, etc. from underneath the oven to the pantry so that my cookie sheets are easier to access every night. Up until this point, all semi-flat bakeware had been stored in the drawer underneath my oven:

I started the project by taking absolutely everything out of the top and bottom shelves, and sweeping the floor in the pantry (a completely disgusting process, unfortunately).

Then, like everyone and their mom on Pinterest, I installed three tension rods between the floor and the bottom shelf of the pantry to create a storage area for my bakeware.
{disregard the disgustingly stained baseboard - I put about an hour of elbow grease into that puppy and the stain chose to remain right where it was. loser.}

I then moved on to addressing a storage solution for my bulk items that had been haphazardly thrown on the floor and on the top shelf of the pantry up until this point. I decided to use these uber popular crates from JoAnn for our bulk storage:

While I purchased the pre-primed bins, they still needed one coat of white spray paint once I got them home for a more even, smooth finish. I also wanted to make the bins easy to access, and figure out a way to avoid them scratching or scuffing the tile in the kitchen. I originally planned to put wheels on each of the corners of the crates, but while at Home Depot shopping for said wheels, I ended up finding this ingenious tripod:

Swoon-worthy, indeed. It could support up to 200 pounds, the three wheels can swivel and roll in any direction making the crates easy to get out of the pantry, and they are so small that it wouldn't add too much height to the crates, so they would still fit between the floor and the shelf! Three dabs of Gorilla Glue later, and those puppies were firmly affixed to each of the crates! It's almost repulsive how easy those things made my life.

My last step in making these crates ready for business was....wait for it....a label! Shocker. Using my Silhouette and a bit of leftover hot pink vinyl, I cut some "bulk" labels out and  used painters tape to transfer them to the crates.

After removing the tape, I big-time-dug my little storage crates.

After loading up all of my bakeware and bulk goods into their new home, I was smitten!

The bakeware is perfectly contained in its upright home and all of my over-sized and bulk items are happily sequestered in their new digs. All is right in the world.

As for that top shelf? After cleaning out those extra cans and a bit of straightening, it's looking rather sassy as well:

No fabulous storage solutions here, but it's the perfect space for my huge roasting pan, cupcake tin, and foil freezer containers.

Now, I can officially say that the pantry is ready for its close-up and functioning splendidly!

{my apologies for all of the lighting issues in these photogs...pantries have a secret aversion to good lighting.}

Oh, happy day. Mr. Spouse could do with a bit less pink in the pantry, but I say, who's the one cookin?

Monday, September 9, 2013

healthy freezer meals.

Remember that time I wrote for a blog all about home and school organization? Yeah, me neither. Seriously - where does the time go?! Between starting a new school year at a new school, tons of home improvement projects, and training 3+ hours per day for a half ironman triathlon, these past few weeks flew by! My deepest apologies for the hiatus, friends. Things are starting to calm down and this little bloggity blog is back at the top of the priority list!

I wanted to share with y'all a little two day project I took on a couple of weeks ago. As you can tell from my opening, things are getting a bit busy in the little casita, as they always do in the fall! Even with me getting out a bit earlier from school, my afternoons/evenings are usually consumed with a house project and training, so I have little time left for cooking. The Mr. and I really do love eating home cooked meals, so I needed to find a way to still provide nightly home cooked meals despite our ridiculous schedules. Enter healthy freezer cooking.

I feel like the majority of freezer meals are chalk full of cheese, pasta, cream of disgusting, and who knows what else, so I really wanted to find healthy soups, sauces, etc. that I could make, freeze, and then bake when we were ready.

So, I took an afternoon and headed to SAMs, where I felt like a restaurant owner for coming home with this stash:

I mean, seriously. But with just one afternoon of shopping and about $150, I was going to be able to prep enough meals to last us for a couple of months, at least! So here's what I did.

I started by having the Mr. grill a 10 pound bag of chicken which I then froze and threw in a foil container for a quick and easy addition to salads, sandwiches, or just a protein with vegetables.

I then made several pounds of "taco meat" using ground turkey and taco seasoning for a quick taco salad.

I also made a quadruple (yes, quadruple) batch of my grandmother's spaghetti sauce. This stuff is so ridiculously easy and ridiculously divine! I bagged some in Ziploc bags for a traditional spaghetti dinner (over spaghetti squash instead of pasta) and reserved some for vegetable lasagna (more on that in a minute).

My grandmother's recipe for spaghetti sauce is:
2 lbs. ground beef (I actually prefer to use ground turkey - less greasy and tastes fabulous!)
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
3, 16 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes
2, 6 oz. cans of tomato paste
2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 cup parsley
1 tsp. oregano
  • Brown beef/turkey and onion in oil in large pot, drain fat.
  • Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 4-6 hours on low heat, stirring occasionally. (The longer it simmers, the better!)
After making a few bags of spaghetti sauce, I used the rest to make vegetable lasagna. For vegetable lasagna, I simply replace the noodles with thinly sliced squash and zucchini to make it a bit more tummy friendly! As it's just the Mr. and me, I decided to make 2 lasagnas per foil pan:

Inside each foil packet, I simply layered my grandmother's spaghetti sauce, squash/zucchini (I alternated layers with each veggie), and a bit of ricotta. Easy peesy!

When we are ready to eat it, I will remove one foil packet from the pan and bake it!

I hope I don't gross y'all out with this next bit, but the Mr. and I love us some meatloaf! I know a ton of y'all have nightmares about this stuff, but my recipe is pretty mild, not too weird, and goes great with mashed cauliflower and roasted broccoli! My recipe for meatloaf is:
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef (again, I use ground turkey)
1 onion, diced
1/2 can tomato sauce
1 egg beaten
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • Combine all ingredients in large bowl. Form into a loaf and bake at 350 for 1 hour.
  • **After about 30 minutes of baking, I typically add a bit of ketchup and siracha chili sauce to the top of the meatloaf to keep it moist and add a bit of flavor!
After quadrupling this recipe, I made 4 meatloafs as well as two pans of meatballs (rather than forming the meat mixture into a loaf, I simply made small balls). We love to have baked meatballs over spaghetti squash and this marinara sauce:

In the crockpot, I made a double batch of Brown Sugar and Balsamic Glazed Pork Loin:

I then moved on to making four soups/stews that won't make all of our hard work in training go out the window.

I made a red lentil soup...
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 celery stalks, diced
1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes
 1 1/2 cups dried red lentils
1 turnip, peeled and diced 1/2 cup chopped, fresh, flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
salt and pepper
  • In a pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and celery; cook, stirring until tender, 6 to 8 minutes.
  • Increase heat to high and add tomatoes, cook for 1 minute.
  • Add lentils, turnip, and 6 cups water.
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until lentils are tender, 20-25 minutes.
  • Stir in parsley and vinegar, season with salt and pepper.
...the Pioneer Woman's beef stew...

...white bean and kale soup...

...and taco soup of my own design.

I don't exactly have a recipe for the taco soup. What I usually do is saute an onion, then add chicken stock, canned tomatoes, Rotel, corn, black beans, and a rotisserie chicken. I then add chili powder, cumin, and salt to taste.

So that's it for cooking! But after just 2 days of cooking (AKA: one weekend), this is the result:

A whole freezer full of healthy, fully prepared meals! As far as storage goes, all soups, sauces, etc. were stored in Ziploc bags and frozen flat. The meatloafs, meatballs, grilled chicken, and vegetable lasagnas are stored in disposable foil pans (hooray for easy clean up!).

Yes, I probably could have added adorable hanging labels to my freezer, but for this project, simply labeling the pan or Ziploc was good enough for me!

Tonight's menu, you ask? Meatloaf, roasted broccoli, and cauliflower mash, oh my! Stop gagging, you meatloaf haters, you! Try my recipe and you will be transformed!