February Holidays and Food Ideas

February will be here soon and there are many wonderful “February holidays and food ideas to share!  I like February because it represents the beginning of the end – the end of winter that is.  So, let’s celebrate February.

Holiday’s are a great way to teach our families about historical events and people, as well as traditions that we hold near and dear.  So, let’s cook our way through this February as we celebrate, Groundhog’s Day (Feb. 2), Super Bowl Sunday (February 6), Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14) and President’s Day (Feb. 21, 2011).  By the time we finish this very short month (28 days this year), we will be ready for spring.  So many holidays, so little time!

I will share recipes and ideas for February cooking with “in season” foods that are cheaper to buy and easy to prepare.  Fresh ideas that will inspire greatness in your kitchen and mine!

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January – Soups, Stews and Chili Thoughts!

While making and featuring soups, stews and chili this month I have gleaned some “wisdom” about these hardy dishes.  Today  I would like to share them with you.  I have made 23 soups, stews, and chilies in the last three weeks and that has given me some fresh insight about this category of foods.

  1. Soups, stews, and chili are very easy to make.  You can find success with most of these recipes without  a lot of cooking skills.  It’s really hard to mess up a soup!
  2. Soups, stews, and chili are very quick to make.  Most soups don’t take more than 30 minutes to make.  Even the stews don’t take long to prepare – they just require a longer cook time.
  3. Soups, stews, and chili are usually made with broth.  Broth is an essential ingredient in many and a great staple to keep on hand.  This includes bouillon granules that can easily be turned into hot broth.
  4. Soups, stews, and chili are meals in and of themselves.  With just a slice of bread or some cheese and crackers – you really don’t need to do a lot of cooking with soups, stews, and chili.
  5. Soups, stews, and chili are healthy dinner offerings.  Using fresh vegetables, grains, legumes, and seasoning you can actually make a hearty meal that’s under 500 calories.  That’s a lot less than most meals at most restaurants and a lot less than we normally eat at dinner.
  6. Soups, stews, and chili are extremely filling and warm you up on a cold winters day.  As a matter of fact, I think that January was warmer due to the warm pot of soup on the stove as well as the warm meal it provided.
  7. Soups, stews, and chili are relatively inexpensive to make.  Most of them cost less than $10 per meal (8-12 servings).
  8. Soups, stews, and chili are wonderful leftovers.  Almost every day we had plenty of leftovers and even froze large amounts for another meal.

Now, I would like to tell you that winter is over and we can all move into a spring category of foods but February is coming and will bring more cool temperatures.  If you didn’t try some of the featured recipes, there’s still time to go to the Soups, stews, and chili category of recipes at MealEssence.com and try one of our delicous recipes.

Remember, you could save time and money, eat healthier, tastier meals before this season is over!

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Meal Planning made Easy!

One of the great things about creating meals – finding and cooking with fresh, delicious ingredients – is also one of the worst things about creating meals.  Do you have problems keeping track of what ingredients you need for your weekly dinners?  Do you often drive to the store for ingredients at the last minute?  Quit investing so much time and money in daily food purchases and preparation, and start using MealEssence.com!

MealEssence.com makes meal planning easy!  It organizes the meal-planning stage with an interactive online calendar.  Instead of pouring through cookbooks and recipe cards, you can easily select recipes and meals for your week and put them in the online calendar.  Let MealEssence generate a comprehensive shopping list with the push of a button and then zip through the grocery store with a shopping list that is in store order, buying only what you need and saving on impulse purchases.  That is the beauty of MealEssence.com.

MealEssence.com is about forethought instead of afterthought!  Planning meals and menus is not intuitive – it takes time and effort.  But, planning meals means more nutrition and healthier meals and that should be motivation enough for making mealtime a priority.  It’s a long term investment that will pay off in the health and social well being of our families.

We’re all so busy and our schedules are so full that we really have to manage our time together – time to stay connect with one another.  You will love being able to sit down with your family each evening and find out how their day went.  With MealEssence.com you can easily begin to plan meals and schedule family dinners without all the hassles of meal planning and guilt of no meal planned.

MealEssence.com was created to help busy families enjoy mealtimes together!

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Warm up this month with Soups, Stews and Chilis

January is a great month for Soups, Stews and Chilis, while the “weather outside is frightful.”  Be sure to browse the MealEssence.com database for our list of delicious soup and stew recipes for hearty one-dish meals that can be served with as little as a slice of crusty bread or side salad.

This weeks line up includes Taco Soup, Cheesy Chicken Enchilada Soup, and a wonderful Italian Sausage Soup.  These soups are full of healthy ingredients that warm you up inside and out.  They are also very easy to make and a quick meal at the end of a long day.

I’m also including a Chicken Gumbo recipe that is prepared in the crock pot.  Chicken Gumbo is so easy to make and a delicious one dish meal.  If you put it in the crock pot first thing in the morning you will return home to the smell of a wonderful meal.

Soups are so easy to make and often very inexpensive to make.  Most of these soup recipes make 10-12 servings with plenty of leftovers that can be frozen for next week or lunches.    I like to serve them with a crusty bread and you can find that at MealEssence.com as well!

Throughout this month we will be featuring Soups, Stews and Chilis.  You can follow MealEssence on facebook or twitter for a daily update and a featured recipe. We have many more recipes to feature before the spring thaw…so be sure to plan one this week for your family.  Try something new – change up dinner!

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Decorating the perfect Sugar Cookie Recipe

Last week I posted the “perfect sugar cookie recipe.”  If you remember, we made them back in October, placed them plastic freezer bags, and froze them until this week.  Now it’s time to frost them!

My daughter came home from college last week and I always like to save the decorating until she gets home.  She enjoys helping and we have lots of fun.  This week we spent two hours decorating 50-60 cookies.  We were so organized that it went very well.  Here’s how we made the job a little easier:

1.  We begin by browsing the Internet for decorating ideas/designs.  After we chose some designs we liked we drew them on paper so we would have a pattern to use.  This was by far the best idea we had.

2.  Next we got all the decorating supplies out, including pastry bags, tips, food coloring, sprinkles, offset spatula, and toothpicks.  This really helped us and saved time.  We weren’t looking for tips or tools once we starting piping them.

3.  We began with a double batch of butter frosting.  After it was made we divided it into 4 bowls, making red, green, and white colored frosting.  We saved one bowl for extra in case we needed more of a color.  Some people like to use Royal Icing but my Butter Frosting keeps the cookies tasting great!

4.  We covered every cookie with a base coat of red, green, or white.  We iced every cookie with a cover coating before we began adding the details.  Then we began piping the icing onto the cookies using the designs/patterns we had made.  As we handled the bags of icing they got warm and start to melt (disadvantage of Butter Frosting) so we rotated them through the fridge to keep the icing stiff and easy to pipe.

5.  Once the cookies were finished we placed them on a rack and put them in the freezer to harden quickly.  Once they were hard we placed them in airtight storage containers in layers divided by wax paper to protect them.  It is critical to use wax paper to divide the layers, otherwise the cookies chip or stick together.

Our cookies are finished and ready to eat!  We will store them in the freezer for a couple of days to keep them fresh.  Our children will be excited to see this years cookie choices.  If you recall, I made about 10 cookies recipes back in October and stored them in airtight containers.  I can’t wait to put together the cookie trays and share the goodness.  It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!  :)

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Sugar Cookies…here’s the perfect recipe!

Iced Sugar Cookies can be made months ahead or at the last minute but be sure to make Iced Sugar Cookies.  It is the #1 cookies choice for MealEssence Fans.  So remember, it’s never to late to add this cookies to your Christmas list.

After years of searching – I believe this is the best Sugar Cookie Recipe!  Sugar Cookies are not to be taken lightly – especially at Christmas.  You will want to save this recipe for every holiday cut out…Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, or birthdays.

The secret to a good Sugar Cookie Recipe is structure on the outside and soft on the inside.  Lots of cookies taste good that fall apart when you’re decorating – but this recipe handles well when icing and decorating and it also stores well in the freezer so that you can decorate as you go.  While sugar cookies can be iced and then frozen, I recommend icing them just a day or two before serving.  I also find that icing a frozen cookie is easier – so I remove them from the freezer a few at a time, icing and decorating them before they thaw completely.

If you’ve never tried making Iced/Decorated Sugar Cookies for the holidays this is the one to try.  With only six ingredients that most of us keep on hand and three simple steps you will please everyone on your Christmas list this year!

I will be posting pictures of this years decorated cookies and more tips for making Sugar Cookies!

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Nutrition and Family Dinners

I recently read several articles tying the childhood obesity rate to regular family dinners.  Studies have shown that more family dinners equal less obesity.  You may be thinking that family meals do not guarantee nutrition and that is a valid concern.  However, when you plan – you do eat better.  Meals that are created on the fly are typically less healthy.  Meals that are pre-made, canned, frozen, typically have hidden fat.

The study also showed that children that eat regular family meals eat more fruits and vegetables.  With so many working parents, many children often return from a day at school to an empty house and head for the fridge.  They snack in an unsupervised environment – often sitting while watching television or playing video games.

This is just one more reason to use MealEssence.com.  MealEssence.com helps busy parents plan meals so that everyday dinner is served.  It’s not a decision that is made at the end of a long day with no preparation and planning or the necessary ingredients.  Since our family began using Mealessence.com we have practically eliminated snack foods.  We eat healthy nutritious meals that don’t require lots of snacking.  Additionally we are able to add healthy snack foods to our shopping list and avoid impulse purchases which may lead to less healthy eating.

Make a decision to eat dinner regularly with your family.  Plan 5 meals this week,  Monday – Friday, plan to eat dinner at the table with your family!  For more information about childhood obesity and family meals check out this article, http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/do-it-yourself/sns-health-family-kids-doc-dinners-obesity,0,6221559.story

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Pocket Cookies – 2010 Best Cookie

I like to try a new recipe each year and “Pocket Cookies” are my 2010 pick.  I chose them because they’re just so darn cute.

While you can probably use whatever you like for the filling I stuck with the recipe and they are delicious!  The filling seems to penetrate the pastry while baking.  When you bite into them it just tastes like pure goodness.  They’re not real sweet but they are real good.

After tasting them…I am convinced that this is a winner for my family this year.  I can’t wait for them to try them -  I  know they’re going to love them and you will too!  Be sure to add the recipe to your next shopping list.

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Bake your gifts!

Warm up your home with a some holiday baking and gift giving this year.There’s still plenty of time to bake gifts for teachers, friends, neighbors, and anyone you would like to remember at Christmas! I wanted to make some bread for friends but I’m always challenged with the presentation.  It’s often a struggle to find a way to present food gifts but this year I saw an article about gifts you can make and got a great idea.

As you can see it’s a loaf of my favorite banana bread set in a large coffee filter and wrapped with ribbon.  I added a cut out of scrapbooking paper and used a pair of scissors that cut in a design.

It cost 1.08 for the paper, 1.99 for the ribbon, and the coffee filters were free.  After baking the bread and allowing plenty of time for it to cool, I wrapped each loaf in plastic wrap.  Then placed each loaf into a filter, added the round scrapbooking paper that resembled and ornament and wrapped a ribbon around it tying a bow on top.

$3.07 plus the bread baking recipe…we’re giving a gift that everyone can use and we know will not go to waste!  I’m so excited I can hardly wait to give them away.

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November is over…countdown to Christmas!

After coming to the realization that Christmas is only 24 days away I think we should get out a calendar and start planning our meals for the month of December. Plan now, save time all month long.  There are 3, yes only 3, weekends between now and Christmas and that doesn’t give us a lot of time.  Many of us depend on the weekends to get things done, like decorating, shopping, wrapping, baking, cooking, and the many activities of the season.

This year let’s try to minimize our time in the kitchen and the grocery so that we have extra time each day for holiday jobs.  I think one easy way to save time in the kitchen is the crock pot!  MealEssence.com has a “slow cooker” category that makes crock pot recipes easy to find.  Crock pot cooking takes a few extra minutes in the morning but each evening when you arrive home to the smell of a home cooked meal it will be well worth it.  Plug in that slow cooker and have some delicious soups and stews or one dish meals this month!

Save even more time with MealEssence.com‘s easy-to-use meal planner that let’s you plan an entire month of meals in as little as 5 minutes – select a range of days you want to shop for and print a grocery list.   You can also save time planning your holiday baking at MealEssence.com by adding holiday favorites to your calendar and print a list that includes every ingredients – you can even scale your recipes so that you have exactly what you need!

MealEssence.com can save you time all month long.

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