Monday, March 28, 2011

Planning Ahead & Meat Balls

Spring break is almost here. Next week we are going to visit Williamsburg, Virginia for a week. We are so excited. I can't wait to see history through the eyes of my kids. We have been talking about all the sites, but hubby and I have been having a few conversations about more than just the sites.  Going on vacation takes a lot of planning.  Oil change, dog sitter, maps, clothing, food, money, mail, bills, everything needs to be pre-planned so that we can have a carefree week away from home.

When we go on vacation, we love staying in a condo for the week. We get room to spread out, we can hang out at the condo pool and relax, and most importantly we get a kitchen. This saves us so much money. It would be great to go away and eat out for a whole week, but truthfully that would be so expensive for us to feed our three boys alone, we would never leave home. Having a kitchen in the condo saves us so much money. We always say that we are already budgeted for groceries so that part of our vacation is paid for. 

For this trip we are lucky enough to be in a condo. I have already planned all the meals and I have bought all the make ahead items as well. The last dinner entree to go in the freezer today is the make ahead part of baked spaghetti and meat balls. I am making the meatballs and sauce at home to put in the freezer for a couple of reasons.   First of all, have you ever tried pronouncing all those ingredients on a bag of frozen meat balls?  Also, instead of using expensive jars of marinara, I buy much cheaper cans of  diced tomatoes, paste and sauce to make my non-authentic, but oh so yummy spaghetti and meatballs.   

  For this recipe you want a short wide pan if you have it. Start with a drizzle of olive oil in the bottom of your pan over medium heat.

Add your diced onion, salt and pepper.

Give it a stir and let it do it's thing.  One thing to note.  After you stir the onions, move them in the pan so that they are evenly distributed on the bottom of the pan.  You do this so the onions can take advantage of the entire cooking surface.   

Please do not leave them like this.  They are begging you for more cooking surface.   

Now onto the garlic.  I have a garlic press.  I really do.  It's in that drawer that has all these weird kitchen things that I use once a year.  That drawer is a mess.  So, I am just going to use my little grater.  I have to grate some cheese for the meatballs, so this is going to get dirty anyway. Rachel Ray does it. 

Just take the clove of garlic and run it across the grater.

Don't forget that yummy goodness on the back of the grater. 

Add the grated garlic to your lovely caramelized onions.  Burned garlic is yucky.  So we want to want until the last minute to add the garlic.  Stir the garlic into the onions and give it exactly one minute to cook while you stir.

Add the tomato paste.  Stir it around and get it evenly mixed into the onions and garlic.

It should look something like this.

Immediately add the diced tomatoes and give it a stir.

It is starting to get more of a tomato sauce look to it. 

Add the tomato sauce... well as the Italian seasoning and pepper.  If you are buying tomato products that does not have any salt added to it, then you will want to add salt here as well.  

Stir in the seasoning and turn the heat down to low.  Cover the sauce while you mix up the meatballs.

In a large bowl add the ground turkey, bread crumbs, grated cheese, egg, freshly chopped parsley, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and grated garlic.

Mix everything up so that it is very well mixed.  You want everything incorporated, chunks of any one ingredient would not be good.   

I would now like to introduce one of my favorite little speed demons in the kitchen.  This is how I can make a whole pan of turkey meatballs in one minute.  :-)

Get a nice even scoop of turkey. 

Give your sauce a stir and then add the meatball right into the simmering sauce.  

It looks perfect.  It is perfect.  It looks lonely.

That is better.  Squeeze them in tightly so you can get all your meatballs in at once.  If you do not have enough space to get them all in at once, just repeat the process after these are finished cooking.

This is what they come out looking like.  Remove the meatballs with a slotted spoon.  I am separating the meatballs from the sauce.  If you had more meatballs to cook then you would remove all the meatballs, give the sauce a stir and then drop in the rest of you meatballs.

Give the meatballs and sauce time to cool off.

The sauce.  It is going to be so good.   

After the meat balls and the sauce have cooled to room temperature, then bag them up.  If I was going to leave this in my freezer, then I would probably use plastic container that can be reused.  But these are going on vacation with us and space will be limited, so I am bagging them.  I'll show you how I put it all together next Monday. 

Make Ahead Meatballs


1 Medium Diced Onion
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
4 Cloves of Grated or Crushed Garlic
1 15oz Can of Diced Tomatoes
1 15oz Can of Tomato Sauce
1/2 of a 6 oz Can of Tomato Paste (You can freeze the rest for another time)
Italian Seasoning
1 lb Ground Turkey
1 Egg
1/2 Cup Breadcrumbs
1/2 Grated Parmesan Cheese
2 Teaspoons Fresh Parsley, Minced
2 Teaspoons Italian Seasoning


1. Add a drizzle of olive oil to a wide low pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until slightly brown and tender. Add two cloves of crushed garlic. Stir for one minute.

2. Add the tomato paste and mix into the onion mixture. Add diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. Mix. Turn heat down to low and simmer, stirring occasionally.

3. Add ground turkey, egg, bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, Italian seasoning, a pinch of salt and pinch of pepper to a mixing bowl. Stir ingredients together until well combined.

4. Using a 1 tablespoon scoop, or a tablespoon measuring spoon, form meatballs using all the ground turkey mixture. Stir sauce and then gently add meatballs into sauce.

5. Cook meatballs on low for 20 minutes, or until meatballs are cooked through and there is no pink in the middle. Stir meatballs and sauce every few minutes, gently so as not to break up the meatballs.

6. Pull meatball out of sauce with a slotted spoon. Cool sauce and meatballs. Package items for freezer storage. Label items. Freeze.

For a printer friendly version of this recipe click here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ribbon Towers

Today, I am enlisting the help of my children to help me tackle this ribbon storage problem that is bugging me. They are so excited they can hardly wait. Just kidding.

I came up with a fantastic idea...I think. But first we need to gather a few things before we get started. I have a massive collection of empty tin cans for the luminaries that the kids love to make, so I borrowed a few. I also took a few ribbon spools to Lowe's and found the biggest dowels that would still fit into the spool centers. I also have my daughter's beach bucket, a wooden paint stick which I can now tell you is not strong enough, water, a bag of quick setting cement, and painters tape. I love painters take for everything except painting. :-) I also covered the floor with newspaper.

Close up of one of my new favorite things.

Step one. Do this outside. Step two. Wear a mask. Step three. Pour the 'Quikrete' into the bucket. Do you see all that dust?

Don't fill your bucket up all the way. You will need plenty of room for water and stirring. Also, I would probably recommend using something a little wider and more shallow for the mixing. Our deep and narrow bucket was not ideal.

Now, add water. Not too much. The wetter it is, the longer it takes to dry.

Now, mix. I would recommend a heavy plastic or metal trowel. Or maybe even a sturdier stick. Mixing this stuff took a bit of muscle. His muscle...not mine. I had to save my finger for taking pictures. You understand.

When the stuff is all mixed up and your son is happy with it, it can be poured into a can.

When the can was full I put on a pair of latex gloves and patted the top so it looked a little nicer and less lumpy. You don't really have to do that. Ribbon spools will cover it up later.

Now, in goes the dowel. Push it in all the way to the bottom of the can.

When all the cans were filled with cement and the dowels had been placed in the can, we started cleaning up. I pushed the bench up against the wall and then started taping the dowels to the side of the bench so they would all dry straight up and down. But then I started thinking about four kids, a hubby and a dog that bump into things so I taped the cans into place as well.

Like this. I am sure that the standard threatening to stay away while the cement dried would have been useless. So I used tape. :-)

I would say that we gathered supplies, did the project, cleaned up and taped everything down in less than an hour and a half. Quick project if you do not count the drying time. By the way, quick drying might take longer than you think. We left ours over night before I took the tape off.

The next day I went through my ribbon and organized it into six categories...because we made six towers. We just slid the ribbon spools on and we were good to go.

And the finished product....

I have them displayed on a board on a bench so they are straight and easily visible, but I plan to store them in a closet. I am so happy with them. If I could do it over, I might paint the cans before I willed them with cement, but for now, I am VERY happy!!! They are portable too. When I was making a little package up for a neighbor, I grabbed the whole thing and took it to my work area. How cool is that?

I also used more blue painters tape to tape the loose ends of the ribbon down. I love blue tape. :-)

My six ribbon categories are from left to right:
  • Plastic Curling Ribbon
  • Non-Wired Craft ribbon
  • Wired Project Ribbon
  • Scrapbook Ribbon
  • Thin Single Color Ribbon
  • Wide Wired Decorating Ribbon

Note* Please read your cement package to find out how much water and drying time your project will actually need.

Note* To be honest, I was going to do the work and have the kids take pictures of the process, but they said I was too slow and too worried about making a mess so they revolted and made me get out of the way. That is the truth.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mexico for Lunch

My kids are hard workers. They play sports, do well in school and help out around the house. By the time the weekend comes, we are all ready for a little fun and a little relaxation. This weekend we invited the kids' friends over for a Mexican inspired lunch and lots of laughs.

I decided to make a favorite of ours, which also happens to be a pretty kid friendly meal.  I made a platter of quesadillas stuffed with peppers, cilantro and cheese.  To go with the quesadillas, I served tortilla chips along with a few toppings so the kids could make their own nachos.  It was a fun meal and all the kids had a great time.

I found this nifty little wire holder.  I added a few half pint canning jars of guacamole, salsa, sour cream, and nacho cheese so the kids could scoop out a few condiments for their tortilla chips.  They loved it and it was so handy.

For fun, I made a tres leches cake.  It was a bit sweet and rich after this meal, but the kids did not care.  They mostly all loved it. Next time I would probably go for a different dessert though.  

Now onto the main attraction.  These are our absolute favorite quesadillas.  They are meatless, but yet still filling and so satisfying.  They are an easy fix for any night of the week and the board of ingredients are simple items that you can find in any grocery store.  I just happened to find these little mini bell peppers in the store.  They were so cute I had to get them. 

To start, we need to cook our bell peppers.  I am going to show you how I cut down peppers.  I start by cutting off the top of the paper. 

The bottom comes off next. 

Then stand the pepper up on the widest end. 

Then cut one side, or one third of the pepper off leaving the ribs and seeds in the pepper.

Then turn the pepper and cut another third off. 

Then cut the last third off.  Your pepper is ready to slice and you can toss the entire middle of the pepper. 


Now you can slice the peppers up and get them ready to cook.

I add all the sliced peppers to a bowl and give them a tiny pinch of salt and a generous pinch of black pepper.  Then toss the peppers and seasoning altogether.

In a non stick pan over medium heat add a drizzle of olive oil to the pan and let the pan heat up a bit.

When the pan is heated, add the peppers to the pan. 

Cook them, stirring occasionally until they are slightly charred and softened like this.

Now it's time to assemble the quesadillas.  Start with a few tortillas, the cooked peppers, fresh cilantro and freshly grated cheese.  I am using Colby-Jack cheese.  

Add about 3/4 of a cup of cheese to the tortilla.

Add a few cilantro leaves.  You could also finely chop the cilantro and sprinkle it all over the cheese if you wanted to.  We like the whole leaves.

The trick to the peppers is to make sure you spread them around so you get pepper in every bite.  So yummy.

Top is all off with another tortilla.

Then they go into a dry non stick pan over medium heat.  Keep an eye on them.  They burn so quickly.  I usually make a whole stack of quesadillas and then cook them so I can keep a close eye on them.  Cook the quesadilla on both sides.

When the tortilla is toasted on both sides and the cheese is melted, then remove it from the pan.  I always put the quesadillas right on a cutting board.

Cut it into quarters.

Look at that oozing cheese.

You can see the peppers and cilantro peaking out along the cut lines.  I can't wait to eat this.

Pepper and Cilantro Quesadillas


3 Bell Peppers, Cut into thin strips
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
Fresh Cilantro Leaves
1 Pound Freshly Shredded Cheese
10 Medium Size Tortillas


1. In a large bowl, add peppers, a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper. Toss the peppers and seasoning until the seasoning is well distributed. In a medium non stick skillet over medium heat add a drizzle of olive oil and peppers. Cook, stirring occasionally until peppers are slightly charred.

2. Lay out 5 tortillas. Divide cheese between the 5 tortillas. Add peppers and cilantro leaves on top of the cheese. Cover with a second tortilla.

3. Cook the quesadillas one at a time in a dry non stick skillet over medium heat. Keep a close eye on the tortillas so they do not burn. Cook on both sides.

4. Put the quesadilla on a cutting board and cut into quarters.

5. Serve immediately with your favorite condiments like low fat sour cream, nacho cheese, salsa, guacamole, or pico de gallo. Enjoy! Makes 5 medium sized quesadillas.

For a printer friendly version of this recipe click here.