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FOOD PLANNING: Halloween Treats, Freeze-Ahead Crock-Pot Meals, & More! (w/pics)

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Saturday, November 05, 2011

It's been a little while since I've posted a food-planning blog, so I thought today would be a good time to give you all a little update and peak into my cookin'-bakin'-eatin' life.

After I post a blog like this, I inevitably get a lot of bewilderment from friends, and many questions about HOW I make/find the time to do all this cooking, and where do I get my ideas? I have a few secrets for you all who may be wondering those very things:

1) HOW DO I FIND TIME? I have a very busy life. I may not have kids right now, but I juggle three jobs, a hubby, a home, two cats, hobbies, time with family and friends, and now school work. I do NOT always plan all my meals for the week-- there are many nights when I come home wondering what in the world I'm going to make. However, when I DO have time on the weekends (time = a few hours in an afternoon that I plan out) I do a ton of prepping to freeze and store snack items and meals for later. I almost always have several forms of baked goods in my freezer (healthy muffins, homemade protein/granola bars, extra protein pancakes, maybe cookies...), and several options for meals (frozen portioned meals, soups, stews, and a few MorningStar meatless patties for when I'm in a bind). I'm not super-woman. I'm just woman. (ROAR!) You can do this too. ;)


2) WHERE DO I GET ALL MY HEALTHY FOOD IDEAS? I collect them. If you do not search out, track, collect, print, tag, and read about ideas, you're going to be on the boring-food-train for SURE (chicken breasts and steamed veggies sound familiar, anyone?). Seriously. I don't have magical powers or endless creativity with my cooking. I just read healthy living and food blogs frequently (I subscribe to several), I bookmark blogs and recipes I find using tools like and, and then when I'm at a loss for ideas, I browse things I've saved earlier and print them off. I keep a FULL 1.5" binder of recipes I've printed and put in plastic sleeves for me to reference daily. I also have several favorite healthy-clean food cookbooks, which you can check out if you're interested:

Okay, here we go. I haven't been taking as many pictures of my food lately, simply because it adds to the monstrousity of these blogs (i.e. my time and effort). But I'll share a few from last weekend, since I hinted at the fun Halloween goodies I made for hubby's and my workplaces.


*Kitty Litter Cake* This was super fun to make, very easy (using boxed cakes), and not the slightest bit healthy or clean. It was an idea I found online-- you can find tons of versions of this concept by doing a quick search. I bought a new little litter pan and scooper, and had fun making the "turds" in the cake. Paul brought this to work on Halloween and his coworkers were sufficiently grossed out, but they loved it.

*Forked Cookie-Dough Eyeballs* I used an Oh She Glows recipe for cookie-dough-balls, froze them, then dipped in white chocolate. Add food coloring to the remaining white chocolate to swirl on the iris colors.

At one of my random trips to TJ Maxx, I came across this interesting Butternut Squash pasta sauce, and decided to give it a try. I finally used it last week, and WOW delicious! It's all natural, and actually quite "clean" in the ingredients.
(You can look up Dave's Gourmet pasta sauce online for ordering.)
I tossed the sauce with vegetable spiral pasta, peas, spinach, and chicken for a super quick and tasty meal. [This was one of those "What in the world am I going to make tonight?" nights.]

Now to this week. On Monday, I put a whole local-chicken in the crock pot for my workday and wondered what to use the chicken for that evening. I knew I wanted to make chicken noodle soup eventually, but wanted to let the skin/bones simmer in the pot afterward to make a delicious stock. So I decided to make chicken and rice. Boiled wild and brown rice together (not instant), and then sauteed onions, carrots and celery with some garlic. To the saute pan I added a couple cups of frozen mixed veggies, and then when heated through, a can of fat-free low-sodium cream of mushroom soup. Mix in the crock pot chicken, and then mixed with the rice and served with salad. Comfort food at its best!

After I pulled apart the chicken, I put all the skin and bones back in the crock pot to cook overnight with 4 cups of water. Then in the morning, set up a colander over a large bowl, and pour the chicken stock/parts through the colander and discard parts. Put the stock in mason jars in the fridge, and it will congeal up really nice, separating all the fat at the top to scoop off easily later.

Thursday, I used this homemade stock in a quick chicken noodle soup. Sautee chopped onion, celery, and carrots for several minutes in a soup pot. Season to your liking (I used herbs, garlic powder, sea salt and white pepper), and add the chicken stock to liquify. Bring to a boil, add the pre-cooked chicken (leftover from crock pot!), and then add 4-6 oz of whole wheat egg noodles. Cook until noodles are done, and season to taste.

This was the best chicken noodle soup I've ever had, using organic carrots, onions, celery, homemade stock, whole-wheat organic pasta, and local chicken. It even just FELT good to eat. :)

Last night was pizza night. I'd been craving homemade pizza for a few days (the order-out versions didn't even SOUND good to me, which was nice), so I finally had the time to make it. I made wheat-thin crust pizza dough, which I've shared here several times before:

I wanted to try a "carbonara" style pizza. So, I did a little reading about the ingredients and how-to's for making Spaghetti carbonara, and then modified for my pizza! I bought one single pre-cooked ham steak (I couldn't find local/organic pancetta bacon, so I opted for the local ham instead), and used frozen peas, chopped onion, roasted garlic, one cage-free local egg, and fresh parmesan cheese.

I roasted one bulb of garlic for about 40 minutes, and had my pizza stone in the oven at the time. When the garlic and dough was ready, I formed my crust over cornmeal, and then spread the buttery garlic on the crust. I mixed together one egg and 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and pepper to make the "sauce" for the pizza, and then tossed it with sauteed onion, peas, and ham. Spread on the dough, then topped with shredded mozzarella.

Bake at 425 for about 10-12 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and slightly brown.

Oh my goodness... this was sooo beautiful and amazingly tasty.

Paul said it was the best homemade pizza I've made to date. He had 5 slices. (LOL)

I enjoyed mine with a glass of red wine. :)

This morning, I got up to get my grocery shopping errands done EARLY. I headed out to the bank for a deposit, then to two different groceries (one organic, the other not). I bought mostly organic groceries this week (experimenting with budget to see if I can make it work), as well as several bags of nonperishable items at the regular grocer to donate to the food pantry. This is a view of what $91 of organic food looks like:

I started my project-food-prep day by roasted cauliflower and a full bulb of garlic again for Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic Soup (from my Clean Start cookbook, pictured above).

When roasting garlic, peel the outer layers off, then cut off the tips of the cloves with a paring knife. Drizzle olive oil on and wrap in aluminum foil. It will take about 40 minutes to roast at 400-425 degrees, or about 1 hr 15 min at 350 degrees.

When it's roasted, it will caramelized and golden. Roasting takes away the pungency of garlic and makes it buttery and almost sweet!

Once its cooled, the garlic will just squeeze out of the peel, very soft and spreadable (delicious on toast!).
After simmering and pureeing in my food processor (among other ingredients and steps), this is what resulted of these items:

The biggest feat of my day was tackling THREE crock-pot recipes to chop and prep, then store in 6 freezer bags (for six different easy throw-in-the-pot meals!!). For the three recipes I found, GO HERE: mamaandbabylove.blogspot

*Mama Barbeque Chicken* [Turkey, for me]
I couldn't find any organic chicken thighs, so I opted for turkey thighs. [These were a huge bummer to cut apart, with skin on and bone in, so go for skinless/boneless if you can find them to make your life much easier. I wrestled with cutting these for what felt like FOREVER.]

With each of these recipes, I chop chop chopped my heart out, combined all the veggies in a giant bowl, then the sauces/seasonings in a smaller bowl, and then layered into the freezer bags with the veggies at the bottom, then the meat, then the sauce/spices. Shake 'em up to mix, then expel air and label to freeze for later.

My cat Nina was being very helpful today in the kitchen (eyeing the raw stew-beef no doubt).

*Stephanie's Goulash*
This recipe required cooked noodles, so I used the rest of my whole-wheat egg noodles, and layered them at the very bottom, so when I dump into the crock, they'll be at the top and cook less than the bottom ingredients. I'm anxious to see how these recipes taste, as this goulash uses BEETS, which I'm not a huge fan of, but will try in here to see if I like them more *IN* a recipe than alone.

*Curry Chicken*
I just used chicken breasts for this recipe, and left them whole and frozen. When frozen chicken cooks all day in a crock pot, it's VERY easily shredded apart with forks when it's done, which is what I'll do for these batches.

I feel SO productive and satisfied knowing I have all these meals prepped already now! Each bag will likely make 4-6 servings, which means I'll have extra meals for lunches during the week as well. For dinner tonight, I have one of the BBQ Turkey meals in the crock pot now!

After prepping all these meals, I wanted to use up three of my super ripe bananas I've had sitting around a few days. I found this amazing recipe this week for Lemony Olive Oil Banana Bread, which I knew I had to try:

The bread turned out BEAUTIFUL and amazing... probably the very best banana bread I've ever made. Outstanding.

Of course I had to sample a slice (hey, one is for Paul!!) while it was still warm from the oven!

[Aside: My cats were very helpful throughout the entire day. Can you tell?]

What takes this banana bread over-the-top amazing is a lemon icing frosted over the whole thing... oh my word... I want more now just typing about it!

Lastly today, I made a quick batch of chocolate chip granola bars, recipe courtesy of my fav, Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows:

These are still cooling on my counter. I can't wait to try one tonight for a treat!


That's my Saturday, folks. Tomorrow I have a full day of work at my church (one of my jobs as a Coordinator) as we have several events happening that I've been stressed about this week. I will be glad for tomorrow to be over. ;)

I hope you enjoyed reading about my food adventures, and that you give some of these recipes a try!! Let me know (as always) how they turn out if/when you do ever make them. Remember: EVERYONE can cook!! Just collect ideas, follow recipes, try new things, and realize that even the best of us foodies out there make total flops every now and then [ahem, it happens, trust me]. ;)

Have a great rest of your weekend and week!
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