Thursday, September 25, 2008

More Meatballs!

I have a full week's worth of ideas for fast and frugal dinners using my meatballs.

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Empty frozen pack of meatballs into heating spaghetti sauce. (I don't tend to heat (canned) spaghetti sauce very long or at very high temperatures, so I usually microwave the meatballs in the opened bag for 2 minutes before placing the meatballs into the sauce.)

Meatball Minestrone
This truly doesn't even need a recipe, consider it a suggestion.
Combine like amounts of water and beef broth in stockpot. Bring to boil, add favorite pasta (I frequently use spaghetti that has been broken into short pieces but it would be fun to use shaped pasta, as well) when about 5 minuted remains on pasta cook-time, add favorite frozen vegetables, when water returns to a boil, add a pack of meatballs. Feel free to add additional seasonings to taste.

BBQ Meatball Sandwiches
I love to use my crock pot for cooking. Usually, I'm running late for work and need something super fast to throw together. This is a family favorite!
Prep crockpot with non-stick cooking spray. Dump in a couple packages of frozen meatballs, mix your favorite BBQ sauce with a small amount of water, pour over meatballs.
Cook on low for 4 hours.
Place on favorite bun and top with favorite cheese.

Meatball Grinders
Same as above, but use spaghetti sauce instead.

Sweet and Sour Meatballs
Place meatballs in microwave-safe container. Heat (covered) for a minute ot two, then turn meatballs and heat another minute or two if necessary (you know the power of your microwave best, it aslo depends how many meatballs you are preparing at once). Add sweet and sour sauce, heat additional 45 seconds.
Arrange creatively on a plate, then spear meatballs with a toothpick and serve as appetizers, or
to prepare as a meal, cook oriental-mix vegetables seperately, combine with meatballs, add sweet and sour sauce, microwave for additional minute, then serve with rice.

Swedish Meatballs
It might be kind of a cheat, but I'm going to mention my Swedish Meatball recipe again.

No drippings? Heat meatballs for 2 minutes in microwave (they don't have to be heated all the way through). To skillet, add about 2 TBSP. of vegetable oil, mash a (thawed) meatball or two into hot oil then follow the recipe as I have listed, I generally make this with two to three frozen packs of meatballs.

Meatball Stroganoff
Heat meatballs. In oiled or sprayed skillet, mix 1 can cream of mushroom soup with 1/2 cup sour cream, add small can (or freshly sliced, if preferred) mushrooms. Add meatballs and stir frequently until mixture is heated through. Serve over cooked noodles, rice, or baked potatoes.
(If you don't care for mushrooms, they can be omitted and you can substitute cream of celery soup).

Cheesy Broccoli Meatballs
Heat meatballs. Cook broccoli until fork-tender. Combine in soup pan or microwave-safe container. Pour can of cream of cheese soup over mixture, stir. Heat evenly. Serve over cooked noodles, rice, or baked potatoes.

There you have it, eight easy meals. Lots more possibilities exist. Clearly, you wouldn't want to make all eight meals in a row, as there are similarities (spaghetti and meatballs, marinara meatball grinders, etc.) But I hope I gave you some ideas. Some I've never tried (cheesy broccoli meatballs and meatballs stroganoff), so you may need to adjust thickness by adding milk, but you have a basic starting point. So go on, eat some meatballs!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Favorite Meatball Recipe!

I'm going to share my secret meatball recipe. It's versatile and delicious and it's the cornerstone of many different meals.

Theola's Meatballs
(units per 1 lb of hamburger)
1 c. bread crumbs
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/3 c. milk
1/4 c. minced onion
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 clove garlic
1/8 tsp. italian seasoning
few shakes Lawry's seasoning

Mix ingredients and shape into balls. Brown in approx. 2 TBSP. of oil until cooked through.

Which brings us to another recipe. I always make this on "meatball day".

Theola's Swedish Meatballs
Remove meatballs from skillet, reduce heat.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, prepare baking dish for cooking.
To skillet drippings add:
2 TBSP. flour and stir to form a bubbly "paste" (roux)
Slowly stir in:
1 1/2 c. beef broth
1/2 c. milk or light cream

Stir frequently. Add salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg to taste. Bring to a gentle boil and stir constantly, gravy will thicken within 1-2 minutes. Consider it done when the gravy clings to the back of a spoon without dripping.

Place meatballs in baking dish, cover with gravy then bake for 30-40 minutes.

Excellent served over rice, potatoes or egg noodles!

My favorite recipe! However, when I make meatball, I make them in bulk. I don't make 1 pound, I make 5-6 pounds at a time. With that in mind, I have discovered a time saving alternative:
turn heat up on skillet, brown outsides then place into prepped baking dish. Once all meatballs are browned, place baking dish into 350 degree oven and bake for approx. 20 minutes and check for doneness. (Cut in half, is it pink or brown?)
(I know it still doesn't save tons of time, but I've found I can generally clean the kitchen in the time I would have been standing over the meatballs while they cooked in the skillet, just DON'T wash the skillet until after making the gravy!)

Saving out just enough for supper, I count the meatballs out into plastic bags and freeze. I have found that about 14-16 walnut-sized meatballs works well for my family's spaghetti dinners; if a recipe needs more meatballs, I grab two bags instead of one.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Little Greener

Lately I've been more focused on the environment. I'm far from being a tree hugger and I'm certainly not an activist (although there is nothing wrong with either), but I'm concerned and trying to be more responsible.

Raised in a farming family, I've always been conscious of the earth; especially the soil and the water. Small family farmers generally have a very logical approach- if you contaminate soil, crops won't grow; if you contaminate the water, animals die. The use of pesticides and/or fertilizers are carefully considered; what will have the best results with the least negative impact.

Being from Iowa (a 5-cent deposit state) I have always recycled my aluminum cans. When my husband and I moved to Kansas, we discovered that our city had recycle service. As we already saved our cans (to bring in to our local metals recycling facility, where I am the office manager) it took very little effort to set-up a second bin for plastic and glass. Paper and cardboard went into the largest cardboard box we had available and it's been no problem to keep it going throughout the years. Our children have no problem with it (sometimes our three year-old gets confused, but big sister helps him out). They are going to grow up to recycle because it is just going to be habit. I actually feel taken aback when I visit someone's house and see aluminum and plastics in their trash; I want to lecture them. I don't even see recycling as "green", it's just responsible and it saves the community money*; it makes sense.

Almost out of the blue, a number of things have STOPPED making sense to me.
1. I got frustrated with disposable diapers. They cause so much waste, are so expensive and contain stuff that I really don't want next to my baby's skin: wood pulp and chemicals. Remembering the cloth diapers and rubber pants my mom used on my three half-sisters at home, I really didn't think I had an alternative.
2. Every time I go to the grocery store, I cringe when I realize I'm going to have to choose between paper and plastic. I really don't care to use either. Plastic is less inclined to tear, but I always feel slightly sick when I look at the empty bags and wonder how long it will take for them to break down.

Somewhere along the line, I had an epiphany; if something makes me feel guilty or ashamed, don't do it because it's not the right choice for me.

So following that line of thinking I:
1. started using cloth diapers at home. The new options are a lot cooler than you would imagine. They are so not my mom's cloth diapers!
2. am in the process of making a few market bags. It will give me a fun way to show off my creative sewing abilities and ease my conscience in the check-out lane.

I'm still not an environmentalist, but I believe I'm just a little greener than I used to be.

What about you? Are you green? Are there any small changes you could make? Are there changes you have made that you would like to share? Weigh in, people!

* The city is charged the landfill's tipping fee for all of the refuse brought to the landfill. Recycles are brought in separate loads, the tipping is free. Prisoners from the area correctional facility sort out the material for recycling and the solid waste facility is able to sell the material to processors. This not only keeps many tons of trash out of our landfill, it also helps to keep the city's trash fees lower as less refuse=lower utility costs.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Cloth Diapering Version 2.0

Theola has already spoken of her experience with cloth diapers. She's been at it for a few weeks already, using prefolds and covers.

Me, I intend to cloth diaper when Baby gets here in December, and I'm already collecting a stash. For my first experience with diapers at all, I've decided to go with a more expensive, but hopefully easier route of using pocket diapers, or All-In-Twos (which are the same as All-In-Ones, but with an optional insert). What's more, I'm being very picky about it and getting only One Size diapers, preferrably with snaps rather than Velcro.

The difficulty of all of this is that, well, by setting such restrictions on myself, I'm drastically limiting my options. Even worse, I'm buying all of this before Baby gets here, so it may turn out that the diapers I get don't fit her, or don't work very well for her, or leak, or perhaps she just won't like them. That's the risk I'm taking. Considering all of this, the plan is to collect a variety of types rather than just a bunch of one type. And since I'm still researching what's available, I'm continually finding more that I want to try.

Right now I only have 12 bumGenius 3.0 diapers. And I'm going to have to get at least 4 more, because they just came out with 4 new colors. It's a start.

I've also decided to go with cloth wipes, because 1) if I'm already doing the laundry, I might as well throw in the wipes with the diapers, and 2) disposable wipes are never substantial enough for me to do anything with, so I just know I'll end up making a mess, and no one wants that. So far I've got 12 bumGenius Flannel baby wipes.

Just as a note: I ordered the bumGenius diapers and wipes from Cotton Babies. I placed the order on Monday morning, and they were at my house by Wednesday evening. Front what I've seen, prices on cloth diapers are fairly close everywhere you go, so there's no real deal anywhere (unless you buy used, which I'm not at the time), and Cotton Babies has pretty good package deals, and free shipping on orders over $75. They also sent me a detailed email about how to care for my new cloth diapers, which is good, because they do require special care, and I need all the help I can get. In other words, Cotton Babies gets a thumbs up from me.

Other diapers I want to try out include Rump-a-rooz®, which look fabulous to me mostly because of the double gusset, the option of either snaps or Velcro, and the option to upgrade the inserts to hemp fiber; Blueberry(TM) One Size Deluxe snap diapers, and a few of their Minky counterparts; and BumWear One Size pocket diapers, which have some adorable prints and colors available. There may be others that I try as I find them, and I definitely want to try at least some hemp product at some point.

My plan is to have about 30 diapers and at least as many wipes by December. I figure I'll end up buying a few more after seeing what works best for my baby, and I'll be sure to post reviews as I go.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Frugal Parenting: Lesson One

Hand-me-downs are a blessing. Say that to yourself, “Hand-me-downs are a blessing”. I’m not talking about “Brady Bunch” era Peter pan collar shirts and plaid pants (which are somewhat stylish again), I’m referring to gently used baby and toddler clothes. It is so easy to get carried away with all of the delectable clothes available. After all, your child is the most precious, beautiful person you’ve ever seen and you naturally wish to showcase your little jewel in the manner best befitting him or her.

Keep in mind though, babies and small children need a lot of clothes. There are constant messes and wet spots and it’s impossible to guess the direction of the next projectile attack. If you can afford to foot the bill for all the adorable outfits your child will wear three times before outgrowing then you have a far more lucrative career than I do.

I recently hit upon “The Mother Lode”. A friend (with excellent taste) asked if I would be interested in the baby clothes her son has outgrown. (Would I? Do bears… well, we know what bears do in the woods. Right?) One week later, she came to my house bearing four boxes of clothes, sized from six months up to 18 months. (Four boxes!)

As soon as I opened the first box, I knew I was in love. The brands ranged from Carters and Old Navy to Gap and even Sonoma Lifestyle! I was entranced by the softness of the sleepers (inside and out) and the charming prints of the sturdy play clothes. There were a number of impossibly cute sweaters which I never would have purchased on my own, although they assuredly would have caught my eye.

Imagine my surprise when I thanked my kindhearted friend and she acknowledged, “Some of those were hand-me-downs from [another friend]”. Being open to gently used clothes from others can free up the funds to buy a few special guilt-free pieces (for your child or for yourself)! And the best part- when your child has outgrown the clothes, you can pass them on to someone else. It’s truly a circle of fashion!

Next time someone offers you free clothes, graciously accept. Don’t allow pride to get in the way. Even if you aren’t as fortunate as I was, there would certainly be enough to suit your taste to make it worth the time to look through it. Likewise, if you have a friend with an older child, don’t be too timid to mention, “If you want to get rid of his (or her) outgrown clothes, I would love the hand-me-downs.”

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Company picnic

My husband and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary a day early this year. We went out of town, to our favorite restaurant for lunch. The meal was fabulous. No fancy-schmancy food for us, the portions were generous and the overall feel to the food was Sunday dinner at Grandma's- if Grandma was a hefty German woman... who happened to live in a microbrewery.

Afterwards, we drove to the cabin owned by my husband's boss, Gale. It was the first time we had ever been there and my husband had left the directions at home. The drive took a bit longer than necessary and involved more frustration than I really wanted to experience on the eve of a monumental day, but oh, it was worth it.

I was too awestruck to take pictures and for that, I apologize. We turned off the highway onto a well-traveled path through a corn field. After a low clearance water-crossing, we found ourselves in a completely different world. I really didn't think we were in Kansas anymore! Acres of sunflowers guarded large hills. The gravel road curved along the edge of one such, limestone filled hill. Cattle grazed contentedly at the top and despite the beauty of the scene, I was frustrated and beginning to think the cabin didn't exist. Suddenly, on our way down the opposite side of the steep hill, the hidden valley came into focus.

My words can't express the awe I felt. A small, lovely cabin and matching garage seemed right at home surrounded by trees and lush grass. The large deck on the cabin's front stood sentinel overlooking a small pond festooned with paddleboats. The cabin itself had plenty of storage, yet was no more than a small family needed. Clearly, it was a get-away in the truest sense of the word. My husband was most pleased about the pool tables in the (heated and air-conditioned) second story of the garage. This was truly a place for resting, relaxing and entertaining. It had everything we needed and it brought all of us a little closer together.

I have never seen a more compelling argument for downsizing belongings and living a richer life and I look forward to future visits.