It happens all too often: it’s 4pm and I don’t know what’s for dinner.
Now, having my pantry stocked correctly and my plan possibilities already lined out once-for-all (in Simplified Dinners) does help tremendously in these situations. Really, in some ways, it enables me to have such situations, because I know I have meal-makings on hand that I can pull together quickly.
However, sometimes the meat is frozen, rock solid, at 4pm — or even later.
I found a solution to this dilemma, so I can be further enabled in my dinner-preparation-procrastination! And now you can be, as well.
Thaw Ground Beef Quickly Without the Microwave
Same dish, no extra mess, fast! The beef I am using is local, from the whole cow we purchased last summer. Our ground beef is packaged in 2-pound blocks.
Unwrap your ground beef and place in your skillet with a small amount of water (just enough to cover the bottom).
Bring the water up to a light simmer with the skillet covered. The water prevents the meat from burning and sticking to the pan while the insides thaw. Covering the pan helps the steam quickly defrost your meat.
As the water comes to a simmer and the meat is brown on the outside, scrape the brown, thawed exterior off and into the water to reveal the red, still-frozen meat.
Continue this process until you have a very small piece of frozen ground beef left. Keep the pan covered and a very small amount of water in the pan as you work. Check and scrape the meat about every 3-5 minutes.
When your meat is more than half thawed, add whatever vegetables (onions, peppers, etc.) that you’re going to add to whatever dinner you’re going to make this into (mine is sloppy joe topping). At this point, you can also let the water simmer down and out. The meat and vegetables will produce enough juices to keep it from burning, and you’re almost done with the thawing process!
As soon as the remaining frozen meat is thin enough, break it apart with your spatula/scraper. Proceed to cook and brown until the meat is cooked through, as you would normally.
And now you have dinner extra fast, and no evidence that you went all day without a plan for whatever marvelous dinner you were now able to pull off.
Before reading Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, it never occurred to me that I might make my own flour tortillas. Doesn’t it require extra tools? Wouldn’t it take a lot of time?
No! It doesn’t!
So, not only do I get to cross “tortillas” off my master pantry list, making one less thing I have to shop for (making tortillas doesn’t require any additional ingredients not on the pantry list), but I also can make 100% whole wheat tortillas for a fraction of the price of cheap white tortillas. Added nutrition, fresh and delicious tortillas, at a cheaper cost. Yes, it requires more effort, time, and preparation, but it’s not onerous at all.
In Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, Jennifer Reece gives a recipe and instructions for typical white flour tortillas. Below is my simplified, modified whole-wheat version.
Homemade Whole Wheat Tortilla Recipe
Makes 12-16 tortillas
Into a medium mixing bowl, measure 3 scant cups whole wheat flour with a teaspoon of salt.
Drizzle 1/3 cup oil, melted butter, tallow, or lard (basically, your liquid fat of choice) into the flour and whisk (or mix with your hands) under the mixture is crumbly.
Add 3/4-1 cup water and mix until it forms a workable dough.
Let the dough rest for 10 minutes, then divide into golf-ball-sized balls. With a rolling pin, roll them out. Roll them about the thickness of a wheat thin cracker, not paper-thin. If you roll them too thin then they quickly overcook and become crunchy, losing their pliability.
I don’t worry about them being perfect circles, either. Think rustic. Thick handmade. Authentic. Not perfect.
Heat an ungreased skillet or griddle until very hot. Place tortillas (as many as fit at a time) onto the hot cooking surface and cook for 30-60 seconds and then flip. Cook the other side 30-60 seconds then flip them. Keep them wrapped in a dry flour-sack towel or a paper bag and eat very soon.
As Jennifer Reece writes:
These do not keep well, probably because they do not contain 14 ingredients, most of them unpronounceable, so eat them as soon as possible.
Besides that, they taste absolutely delicious. Try melting a bit of butter or cheese onto a fresh tortilla and see if you’ll ever think of store-bought tortillas in quite the same light again.
As far as healthy habits go, drinking water is one of the simplest and easiest improvements to implement. When compared with exercise and changing the way we eat, simply drinking water is a no-brainer. Still, even with such an easy change, instilling it as a habit takes time and attention and effort.
If you are using water to replace sugary or fake-sugary (diet) beverages, the change can be even more challenging because your taste buds are used to flavor and sugar.
Until you are used to being constantly hydrated, flavoring your water with natural ingredients will not only keep you from being bored with water, but will also add some antioxidants and minerals to boot.
Water Infusion Ideas
Classic: lemon slices
Citrus Medley: orange, lemon, and grapefruit slices
Zinger: lime slices
Spa: cucumber slices
Refresher: cucumber and lemon or lime slices
Winter Bite: cinnamon sticks
Berry Hint: a handful of fresh or frozen berries
Ginger Spice: peeled and sliced ginger root with a cinnamon stick
Peppermint: crushed fresh peppermint leaves
I like to slice up whatever I am going use and add 3-4 slices to several pitchers in the evening. Then I stick them in the fridge or outside (my wintertime second fridge) so I have cool, flavored water all day long. When I empty one, I refill it and stick it back in the fridge or on the patio. You can reuse the same infusers for two or three days, just keep refilling with fresh water as needed.
It’s the center of your home, with loads of action, and full of delicious treats.
Inevitably, when I start cooking, no matter if it’s oatmeal for breakfast or lasagna for dinner, my kids clamor, “Can I help?”
No doubt, it’s a lot faster when I’m flying solo in the kitchen, but letting your kids join in the process is a definite recipe for fun.
Here are my best tips for sharing the kitchen duty while keeping your sanity.
1. Take a Chill Pill, Mom.
Trust me, I KNOW.
I’m the mother of five and I know that having many little cooks in the kitchen can double your prep time and multiply the mess.
Cooking with your children opens up so many doors:
children learn by watching
science and math lessons abound in the kitchen
you’re fostering a sense of independence and self worth
have a teenager? Cooking together offers a chance to connect and have real conversation
you are making memories that will last a lifetime
2. Play it Safe
Establish a set of kitchen rules from the get-go. My kids know not to ever touch the oven, stovetop or the pizza stone. How did we teach these rules?
Lots of repetition along with a few mishaps along the way. My son Adam has been burned (literally) a few times by grabbing the hot pizza stone or reaching in the oven despite being reminded otherwise.
Keep a first aid kit on hand and remind your kids constantly. We start out when they are very small by signing and saying, “HOT!” whenever we are working with the stove or other items that can burn.
If they are working with the stove, we stay right beside them. Here, Rachel is stirring cranberries while I watch.
3. Get Started Early
Believe it or not, kids can help in the kitchen from a very young age. Children as young as three years old can help wash vegetables, rinse beans, or get out safe silverware for dinner.
Our newest baby even hangs out with us in a carrier while my husband and I cook.
Let your little ones watch what you’re doing from a learning tower. (These will grow with your child, too!)
4. Dress the Part
Want to spark your little ones desire to be a chef? Let them dress the part in a kid’s apron. Wearing an apron gets them in the mood to help out and makes them feel a part of the process.
Don’t have a kid’s apron? No worries. My kids just take over mine. (can’t see the video? Check it out on You Tube.)
5. Take Them Shopping
Before you start cooking, you’ll need ingredients.
Take your little ones to the grocery store and take your time. Show them the vegetables. Tell them WHY you don’t pile your cart full of sodas and potato chips. Explain how you start with tomatoes and end up with chili.
Give them their own list and let them help you collect their supplies.
6. Age Appropriate Activities
A three year old can’t bake a souffle on his own, but he can learn how to help you break the eggs.
For the preschool set, there are plenty of fun tasks that not only get them involved, but help them learn other important skills.
In my house, we have kid sized kitchen tools from Curious Chef.
I store them in a container away from my own kitchen tools so that they are easy to grab and go. The kids feel special, because they have their own equipment, and I can rest easy that they’re not going to try to grab one of my knives.
9. Service with a Smile
In my family, serving delicious meals is a gift and a way to show others how much we care. We head to family dinners, always taking our best dishes. For the next family get together, sit down with your little ones and find a selection where they can be the star.
Let them help you prepare as much as possible and then watch their faces shine when you take their creation to share with your loved ones.
10. Record Your Efforts
Hand your husband the camera or video to record these moments with your children. You’ll look back years from now and cherish them.
Do you have tips for involving kids in the kitchen? Be sure and leave your thoughts in the comment box!
Dianna is the mother of five, ranging in age from an infant to a high school senior. You can find her writing at The Kennedy Adventures, where she chronicles her adventures in homeschooling, living her Catholic faith, trying to stay fit, all while managing a large family. You can connect with her on Twitter, find her on Facebook, pick through her Pinterest boards and get together with her on Google +.
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Set up your pantry, grocery list, menu plan, and dinner recipes to simplify and streamline the process. Dinner happens every day. Be prepared. 31 Days to Simplified Menu Planning will show you how to develop a simple, easy, and effective strategy for feeding your family every day: without an arsenal of recipes.
Having a menu plan is vital to being organized and minimizing the stress of the day, but that menu plan will do you no good if you don’t ever look at it when it matters.
Checking your menu plan is an important part of keeping that menu plan you took the time to make. Without checking it, it will not help prevent frequent last-minute dinner emergencies.
There are several ways to make checking your menu plan easy and habitual:
Keep your written plan in a place you often refer to anyway. If you don’t have such a spot, you might have to create one. But keeping your menu plan in a place you will often and easily see it is key to making it useful. There are several options:
Keep it on your daily or digital calendar. I keep mine on my Google calendar, which I look at first thing in the morning, last thing in the evening, and multiple times throughout the day.
Keep it in your home management binder.
Keep it posted on the fridge or some other prominent place in your kitchen.
Make it a habit to check it every evening. While you want to check your menu plan in the morning to get a feel for your day, you also want to check it in the evening to see if there is anything you need to prepare like soaking beans or pulling meat out of the freezer. While there are techniques for shortcutting these things, which we will discuss on later days, it’s best to be prepared beforehand and ready in the morning for the day’s business, including dinner.
If you not only write down your menu plan, but look at it so you can work off of it daily, you will derive the full benefit of taking the time to menu plan.
Mystie Winckler began menu planning at 11 years old when her mom delegated one dinner a week to her. Marrying at 19, she’s had a lot of practice over the years. But between growing and homeschooling her family, meal planning often requires brain power that just isn’t there any more. Simplified Dinners is her solution to take the effort and thought out of healthy, frugal cooking. And now it is available for you, too! During the month of October only, while this series is running, use discount code31daysand receive $4 off!