Archive | October 2012

Cooking Substitutes

While I try to have all necessary ingredients on hand for every week’s menus, there are inevitably times when I am out of something I need. I rely on this handy chart of substitutions from CookingForEngineers.com. Maybe it is because my dad is an engineer, but this is one of my all-time favorite cooking sites. Take some time and explore the analytical breakdown of all kinds of recipes.

Pasta & Pizza Sauce

With kids and married to an Italian we go through a lot of tomato sauce. A lot. And I have found that the best way to make sauce is in large batches and freeze it. We use one main “red” sauce for everything…meatball subs, spaghetti, pizza – it all gets the same sauce. This keeps it simple.

Making a great tomato sauce is actually quite easy. You can follow instructions on the meatball subs recipe if you want to make your sauce in the slow cooker. This is actually my preferred method, because I can start it and not think about it until dinner. But there are times when I don’t have any sauce defrosted or am using the slow cooker or don’t have all day to cook sauce (like when we change meal plans because of unexpected guests!) and I need to make a quick sauce for pasta or pizza. Here are two great “standby” recipes for tomato sauce:

#1 Cooked sauce – this is best for pastas and is super easy

  • 1-2 large of crushed tomatoes
  • garlic, onion, basil, oregano seasonings to taste (generally 1-2 tbsp of each)
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp sugar (because canned tomatoes can be bitter

TIP: Sneak in carrots, celery, & zucchini by sautéing those in the pot for 10 minutes first, then pureeing the sauce before serving. No one will notice all the extra veggies!

Combine these ingredients in a pot of the stove and heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes-2 hours. If you need to leave it cooking longer, add chicken stock so the sauce doesn’t get too thick. Stir occasionally (I usually stir every time a kid comments on how great the house smells because of the cooking sauce!).

#2 Uncooked Sauce – great for pizzas and even easier that #1

  • 1 can (8 oz.) crushed tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste (if you don’t have the squeeze tube tomato paste freeze the stuff from a can in tablespoon servings and then just pull out and defrost what each recipe needs. No waste!)
  • Basil, garlic, onion, oregano to taste (generally 1-2 tbsp of each)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Whisk these ingredients together. Refrigerate covered until ready for use or freeze in 1/4 cup serving sizes. Spread over pizza crust or use as a dipping sauce for cheese or bread sticks.

Saturday Project: Holiday Glass Candle Jars

As we get ready for the holidays I am always looking for inexpensive decorations that I can theme to match whatever colors and shapes I happen to be into that year. I don’t want to spend a fortune but I love to have pieces that are new each year. A great way to do this is with glass candle jars.

The idea came from a post at Momtastic about doing 4th of July star jars. This project is easy and fun. Here are the steps.

  1. Gather glass jars of various sizes. Be sure that volute or tea light candles will fit in the jars. Wash the jars thoroughly and let them dry completely.
  2. Get stickers in various simple shapes for the holiday you are making the jars. For example – leaves for fall/Thanksgiving, stars or trees for Christmas, etc.
  3. Put the stickers on your jars. Arrange them randomly or to tell a story. Really press the stickers onto your jars.
  4. Select spray paint in your current favorite colors. Spray the jars.
  5. Allow the jar to dry for 15 -90 minutes and then peel off the stickers.
  6. Allow the jar to dry according to the paint directions (usually 24-48 hours).
  7. Put your candle in and enjoy!

TIP: Use battery-powered votive or tea light candles for longer lasting light.

Organizing a Move Part 3: Moving Day

So you have made it to moving day. Congratulations! Now the hard work really begins. To keep your moving day going smoothly here are some tips:

  1. Get the kids out of the house. Keeping the kids around will slow things down and likely cause everyone unneeded stress. Actually seeing their things in boxes and being put on a truck can cause even kids who are excited about a move a lot of stress. Hire an off-site babysitter, farm the kids out to friend’s houses, bring in a grandparent and send them off with the kids to a hotel with a pool – but get the kids out of the house for the day.
  2. Pack your last-minute items. Get all those last-minute things in boxes – sheets, toiletries, food etc.
  3. Count boxes. Before anything goes on a truck count the boxes. Assign someone to stand at the door. Label each box with a number as it goes out the door, and on a list (think clipboard) record what was in that number box. This will help you make sure you have everything and make claims easier if movers break or lose something. If you are putting items into storage, make two lists – one for storage and one for what is moving to the new location. Do this whether or not you hire movers or do the work yourself.
  4. At the new place, before anything goes into the house verify the box number and the room it goes into from your list. Make sure the people helping you move understand what you call each room. A simple diagram of your home with the rooms labeled by what you call them will get your boxes in the right rooms.
  5. Suggest using one door for boxes and another for furniture if you have 2 doors. This can speed up the process.
  6. Once everything is in the house and you are certain you have all your boxes, start by unpacking the last-minute boxes that you labeled as needing to unpack first. This will get the things you immediately need out for you to use.
  7. Go through the boxes room by room, in the reverse order of packing. Start with the kitchen and kids bedrooms. Getting your kitchen and the kids rooms put together first will help you get back to regular life more quickly.

Remember to eat and get some sleep. You are no help to anyone if you are hungry and exhausted.

Organizing a Move Part 2: Everything Happens in the Last Week

No matter how much pre-organization and planning you do, the truth is that almost all of the work for a move happens in the last week. You can go through your things and sell/give/toss but you really can’t pack up your home until the last week. We have done 2 international moves in less than 2 weeks each, and knowing how to pack and organize was critical. The move we made where we had 4 months notice was actually our most stressful because there was so much idle time where would couldn’t do anything about the move but worry about it and that was much worse than two crazy weeks. So how do you survive the last week before a move and get everything done?

  1. Make a meal plan. There will be days you may need to eat out or cook only with your microwave. Plan your meals for move week carefully so that you can eat nutritious meals at home as much as possible. Avoid the fast food trap because the poor nutritive value will slow you down as you work and no one needs the extra cost of eating out during an already expensive time.
  2. Pack room by room. Start in the least used room – the school room, office, playroom, workshop, garage, or basement are all good places to start. Pack up that room and move to the next room. Keep a few special toys in the kids’ bedrooms and encourage them to play there. Save kids’ bedrooms and the kitchen. Keeping the kids rooms relatively unchanged until the last-minute will reduce stress for them and allow their room to be a safe haven for them during packing. You will want to use the kitchen items you did not pre-pack right up until the last-minute so save that room for last. You will reverse this order of packing to unpack in your new place.
  3. Make a last-minute box for each room. This will be that box that you put all the things you are using right up to the move date. Bedding, favorite toys, clothes, bath towels & toiletries, the last pans and kitchen utensils etc. will go into these boxes. And you will unpack these boxes first at the new place.
  4. Keep up with the dishes & laundry. Yes you are busier than normal but now is a very important time to keep the laundry and dishes washed. Do a load of each everyday. This way you won’t be scrambling on the last day to wash everything, or worse yet, have to pack a box of dirty laundry.
  5. Label everything! Don’t just put the room label on a box,but include something about content. For example – kitchen: formal dishes or Bathroom: Extra linens.  Label if it is a pre-pack box (so you know you can wait to open it) or if it is an “open first” box.

Take a deep breath! Moving is hard on everyone and so this is a time to extend some extra grace to yourself and those around you. But the good news is that if you plan and organize, you really can limit the chaos to one week before the move and just a few days of unpacking after the move.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of the series: Moving Day