Saturday, January 16, 2016

Freezer Meal Prep Day: Italian Beef Sandwiches

Italian Beef Sandwiches with Green Beans and Cantaloupe (not pictured)

My mom makes Italian Beef Sandwiches. They are spicy and savory and all around delicious. This is my compiled recipe using my mom's recipe and tips I read online. I make these up ahead of time in a gallon freezer bag, thaw it in the fridge the night before, and dump it in the slowcooker in the morning. How do I know when to make it? If it's the middle of the work week or near the end and I don't feel like putting forth the effort to cook anymore, I'll get out a freezer meal. Not having to worry about dinner for just one night is really nice, and I can get something else done or just relax a while.

Serves: 2
Prep: 10 mins
Cooking: 3-4 hours in slow cooker

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 lb roast meat (optional: cut into smaller chunks to facilitate quicker defrosting)
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1-2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup sliced jarred banana peppers
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • black pepper to taste
  • hoagie buns
  • provolone cheese (optional)

Directions:
  1. To freeze: put all ingredients in a gallon size freezer bag except the buns and cheese. Press out as much air as possible and freeze.
  2. Otherwise, pour everything into the slow cooker (except the buns and cheese), and cook on low for 3-4 hours or until the meat can be shredded easily with two forks.
  3. Shred the meat and pile it into your hoagie (optional: toast your buns first to keep them from getting soggy, but you'll probably eat them too fast for that to happen!). Add a slice of cheese, if desired. Scoop the excess liquid into a small cup for dipping!
Enjoy!
-Linciel


Freezer Meal Prep Day: Chicken Pot Pie


I was off for a few days and decided to use the time to restock the freezer. I like to keep several ready-to-eat items on hand for packing for lunch or when we get busy and don't eat until we are absolutely starving. Homemade is infinitely better than anything pre-made from the store; it's healthier, tastier, AND cheaper. I also make up dinners to keep in the freezer for long work weeks. Chicken Pot Pie falls into both of these categories. I can make up a whole pie and freeze it for later, or I can make up a bunch of these Mini Pot Pies (pictured above) to keep around for lunches.


Makes: 1 (9 inch) pie or 20 mini pot pies
Prep: 20 mins
Cooking: 30 mins

Ingredients:
  • 2 potatoes, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/2 c peas
  • 1 cup shredded Rotisserie Chicken
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • pie crust mix, pre-made roll-out pie crust, or homemade pie crust (*see below)
    • Note: You will need 4 pie crusts (ex: two boxes that make two pie crusts each) when making the 20 mini pot pies. You can alternatively make 10 mini pot pies and 1 slightly less stuffed big pie. If making just the big pot pie, you will need 2 pie crusts.

Directions:
  1. Prepare your pie crust if it isn't pre-made.
  2. Boil vegetables for 20 minutes; drain.
  3. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet on medium-low heat. Sprinkle in flour a little at a time, stirring constantly while adding. Slowly add in your milk, stirring constantly, and continue stirring until thickened. (Try to break up any lumps.)
  4. Stir in the chicken stock, wine, vegetables, and chicken. Season to taste, and simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, if you are making a whole pie, get the crust ready to go in your pie pan. If you are making the mini pot pies, use a large mouth cup that has a larger diameter than your muffin pan to cut out 40 circles.
  6. Use 20 circles to press into your muffin pan. I highly suggest using strips of freezer paper to make it easier after baking to pop the mini pies out (refer to the picture on the right).
  7. Pour your filling into your pie crusts. For the big pie, I suggest adding all the vegetables first and then the liquid because you will probably have too much liquid.
  8. Press your top crust on, cut some slits, and you're ready to bake!
  9. Bake at 450F for 10 minutes.
*If you want to make your own crust, that's fine, but I personally don't like to mess with it. I buy the Betty Crocker pie crust mix, but you can also buy a pre-made roll-out crust in the refrigerated section by the biscuits and cinnamon rolls.

--Linciel


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Spicy Corn Soup



Why just a picture of a blender? Because you will need one and because if I show you a picture of corn soup, it would just be a bowl of yellow AND because we apparently have eaten this so fast that we never even thought to take a picture. This stuff is amazing, but it's not photogenic. Give it a chance! My husband and I started making this after our two best friends suggested it. He tweaked it and improved the original recipe so much that I only let him make it now (haha, "let him"). This is our go-to recipe for whenever we get home late and don't want to cook. It takes 20 minutes, minimal effort. If you go out to eat, it will take longer than that to get your food!

Serves: 2
Prep: 5 mins
Cooking: 15 mins

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 2 carrots, chopped into small bits
  • 4 garlic, minced
  • 3 shallots or 1/2 an onion, chopped
  • 1-15 oz can corn
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • Curry and Cheyenne powder to taste
  • Rolls (I like Sister Schubert's)
Directions:
  1. Cook the carrots, garlic, and shallot (or onion) until starting to caramelize.
  2. Meanwhile, start heating up your rolls in the oven or toaster oven.
  3. Once the vegetables are nice and fragrant, mix in the can of corn and chicken broth.
  4. Blend until smooth.
  5. Season to taste with the curry and cheyenne powder.
  6. Heat and serve with rolls.

Let me know what you think!
--Linciel

Indian Dal



This recipe is from America's Test Kitchen with minor modifications. Everything I have made of theirs is delicious! My husband and I bought their Cooking for Two book off Amazon. I doubled the recipe to have leftovers because it warms up great for lunch at work!

Serves: 4
Prep: 5 mins
Cooking: 25 mins

Ingredients:
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped fine
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • Generous pinch cayenne pepper
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup lentils (recipe calls for red, but I highly suggest mixed *see below*)
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 4 tbsp minced fresh cilantro
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 cup jasmine rice or quinoa

 Directions:
  1. Start cooking the rice or quinoa.
  2. Cook onions in oil until softened (5 minutes).
  3. Mix in garlic, garam masala, ginger, and cayenne and cook until fragrant (30 seconds).
  4. Stir in broth and lentils. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes until lentils are tender.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in the tomato, cilantro, and butter until the butter is melted.
  6. Serve over your rice or quinoa!

* Buy pre-mixed lentils (brown, red, black) or buy them individually in the bulk section and mix them yourself (which is cheaper). They have a variety of textures and flavors that I just love in this dish!

--Linciel

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Curb Appeal


We moved in January, and it was COLD! It took a couple months before Spring broke through and I was able to get outside. The first time I saw this house, I knew I needed to repaint the garage doors. Kind of an odd thing, but it's true. All the houses around ours had their accent pieces on the garage doors painted white. I really like the look of that. I repainted the whole door because new paint makes everything look fresher. It took a while because we have a three car garage, but it really increased our curb appeal!

I was in a painting mood after that and got some metallic black spray paint for the outside lights. They used to be silver, and the clear coating on then was flaking off and looked terrible. They look super classy now!
Repainted Garage Door
Outdoor Light Repainted

Next, I repainted the front door! (I told you I was in a painting mood.) It used to be black or dark dark green maybe. I painted it while it was on its hinges still and was careful to watch for drips. I got a mini foam roller from Harbor Freight for this. It took three thin coats of paint, but the result was definitely striking!

Hello Google Fiber Rabbit
Our front door is Bright green with a capital "B". It's actually called "Mermaid Sea", I think. It was a bold choice. I almost chickened out, but I'm glad I didn't. A bright front door is eye catching and recommended on every single article I've ever read about increasing your curb appeal.

For each of these painting projects, the steps were essentially the same:
  1. Gather your materials (outdoor paint, masking tape, a drop cloth, sanding block, paint brush, roller and tray)
  2. Mask off what you don't want to paint and cover the ground below
  3. Sand off any old flaking paint and wipe clean
  4. Begin painting around the edges and then the main pieces
  5. Repeat with a second coat
Finally, I finished my outdoor painting spree by painting our house number on the mailbox. I did this by printing off the numbers, cutting them out, and sketching an outline to paint. This really felt like the icing on the cake, my friend! This photo I took afterwards with the sun on the horizon really felt to me like "Welcome Home".


--Linciel

The Kitchen Sink and Beyond!


Our list of "Things I Want to Improve About My Home" just keeps getting bigger and bigger as we complete more projects. Truth be told, I like working on the house though. If we ever did complete everything we wanted to do, what would we do then? Sit around and bask in the glory, I suppose, but I'm sure that would get boring eventually.

Some small improvements we made right away when moving in. These things were simple to do, even for us DIY newbies, and each improvement increased the value of the house, which is really what we wanted to do right away. Buying a home is an investment. Will this be our one and only home for the rest of our lives? Probably not. So, whatever we can do to increase the home value now will result in a bigger down payment on our next home.

We started with the kitchen sink. The granite counter top in our kitchen is beautiful; it was one of the selling points for me. The sink is really deep too, and I like deep sinks because I don't like doing dishes, but the faucet was so blah. There was really nothing wrong with it apart from the sprayer not matching, which annoyed me. I think our reasoning for changing it was 40% because a new faucet would make the kitchen look so much nicer, and 60% because we don't have a water dispenser on our fridge, and a higher faucet makes filling the water purifier so much easier! Priorities. That old thing just had to go!
Before - Blah
After - Ooh La La!

--Linciel

Saturday, January 9, 2016

An Awkwardly Shaped Living Room


Whenever we first saw our future home, the living room seemed so perfect. It is connected to the kitchen and dining area. I like that I can watch TV while cooking. However, deciding where to put the TV and the couch was a problem.

My husband and I personally dislike the TV being above a fireplace. It's too high up, and I just don't like the look of it. So, we put our TV against the only wall in the living area, but then, where does the sofa go? The carpet angles around the doors to the pantry. So, you can't have the couch following the carpet line or it is crooked to the TV, and if it is parallel to the TV, there's a huge chunk of living room that isn't being used -- it looks empty.

You can see the shape better in this next picture. Here, the futon is following the line of the carpet. While not the prettiest thing in the world, this futon is very special. It was our first big piece of furniture -- a gift from my grandmother in law. And it is soooo comfortable to sleep on. Now that we have an adult couch for the living room, this baby is in the basement, and I take naps on it regularly.







It took a long time to finally arrange the living room in a way that feels right for us. This is how it looks today -- except for being decorated for Christmas with a tree where the leather chair is.

Don't mind the burlap draped over the cat tree; Snickers is taking a nap in her tree house.

It's functional, easy on the eyes, and feels like home. I try not to have too many decorations or things because I like minimalism. It looks clean, and it's easy to keep clean. We don't have a coffee table because surfaces tend to attract junk. Keeping the side table next to the Ikea chair clean is hard enough. It accumulates all sorts of things: hats, batteries, receipts, change, jewelry, etc.

We do have a small table in front of the sofa (surface area of approximately 10"x10") that is actually a plant stand. It is just large enough to put the TV remote and a drink on.

My husband and I are not tidy people. We leave things where they land, and because I'm a neat freak, I go on crazed cleaning sprees regularly. I can't focus if things aren't where they belong. So, to cope with these dueling personality traits, I think it's necessary for me to have a minimalist decorating style and many organizing systems. I also try not to keep anything we don't use. If we don't use it, it's just taking up space. I donate clothes and household items that we don't want anymore and keep a record of each item for taxes. You can keep your house clean and do a good deed all at once!

Have a great day!
-Linciel


Organizing on a Budget: The Makeup Drawer

Before

It's easy to organize drawers using drawer organizers, but they aren't cheap and they don't fit every drawer.

I made a DIY Drawer Organizer for my makeup drawer using paper poster board and later foam poster board leftover from organizing the kitchen pantry.

The paper poster board was easy to cut to size, and I used tape to hold it all together. It made a huge difference!

After

I sorted it according to use. We have brushes, make up remover and sample packets (because I always end up with some of these), fingernail clippers and files, lipstick and glosses, eye shadow, primers/powders/blushes, and eyeliners/mascara/eyebrow color and gel.

This worked amazingly well! However, after many months of use it started to break down. Opening and closing the drawer causes everything to shake around and pull on the paper. I needed something more sturdy!

Like I said, I had foam poster board leftover from when I organized the kitchen pantry. I used it to cover the wire shelves in the pantry, and the excess was just sitting in my craft room waiting for a use!
Even Longer After

Instead of using tape to hold everything together, I cut the foam board with notches so that the intersections slip into one another. It is very sturdy and cost me nothing!

I love love love my makeup organizer! If you don't already have a system or have a drawer containing something other than makeup that needs organizing, I hope you will try this method.

- Linciel

Organizing on a Budget: The Pantry and Linen Closet

Closets are useful storage space, but over time, they tend to accumulate tons and tons of junk! Step one to having a clean, organized space is having somewhere to put your stuff. It is so much easier to clean house (and find things again afterwards) if everything has a place.

We moved into our house two and a half years ago, but it took me a good two years to really get organized. Moving is tough -- especially if it is to a different city because you move everything all at once!

The linen closet was my first project. This houses all of my cleaning supplies; so, it made sense to organize it first and move on from there having all cleaning tools within easy reach. I went to the dollar store and got 6 containers: 3 tubs and 3 baskets with holes. Total cost: $6.

Shelf #1 (going down): Extra Supplies including pads/tampons, tissues, Ziploc bags, napkins, and paper towels

Shelf #2: OLD bath towels (for when you just need an old towel, i.e. the new dishwasher you installed is leaking all over the floor) and toilet paper (unwrapped for easy grabbing)

Shelf #3: Three baskets containing kitchen towels, wash cloths, and bath hand towels. On the sides, I have misc things: table cloths and placemats.

Shelf #4: Three Buckets containing "Specialty" cleaning supplies (examples: lint roller, dusting cloths, and washing machine cleaning tablets), regular "Cleaning" supplies (examples: sanitary wipes, class cleaner, multi-purpose cleaner), and "Extra Toiletries" (example: extra toothpaste, toothbrushes, and deodorant).

Side Note: I labeled these buckets with my handy dandy label maker. It's one of my favorite things. <3

Shelf #5: Big bottles. I've got bulk hand sanitizer for refilling the tiny bottle I carry in my purse, bulk hand soap and dish soap for refilling all the containers in the house, bleach, drying aid for the dishwasher, etc. There is one thing here that doesn't belong: a package of foil cooking containers. I use them for making freezer meals, and they just sort of ended up here. It doesn't really bother me since they are a bulk kitchen item just like the napkins and Ziploc.

Floor: A broom exclusively for sweeping up cat litter. This closet is right next door to the laundry room -- where we keep our cat box.

The kitchen pantry used to be stuffed full of various food items. An organized pantry will save you money because it is much easier to see what you have on hand -- thus not buying duplicates.

Again, I went to the dollar store and bought 10 foam poster boards and 6 tubs. Total cost: $16.

I used the poster boards to cover the annoying wire shelves. I cut the excess off to fit and actually ended up using this extra foam board whenever I organized my bathroom. I used my label maker again to label the buckets and the front of each food section.

Shelf #1 (going down and left to right): Breakfast items, candy bucket, extra flour/sugar, and "Asian" food ingredients (mostly for making sushi).

Shelf #2: Drink mixes (tea, coffee, hot cocoa) and a bucket of more drink mixes, including boba pearls and straws. Snack and lunch foods, such as chips, pretzels, crackers, and a bucket for snack bars and the like.

Shelf #3: All canned goods, Ziploc bags in use (hanging from the wire shelf above), and all baking items. The bucket holds baking chips, nuts, marshmallows, etc.

Shelf #4: All grains. Pasta, rice, lentils, etc. The bucket contains bulk spices, and on the far right, are all our non-refrigerated sauces, including honey and syrup.

Shelf #5: Before I organized the pantry, shelf 5 was also full of food items. The buckets made a world of difference! Everything is contained, and I am able to use my fifth shelf to store kitchen tools: slow cooker, rice cooker, coffee pot, immersion blender, hand mixer, and waffle iron. These items were originally houses in the kitchen cabinets, and since they have moved to the pantry, I gained a lot more room in my cabinets!

Floor: Deep fryer, bread maker, cat food, lunch boxes, and bulk oil and vinegar.





So, there it is. My pantry and linen closet are organized and functioning wonderfully. I know you may not have the same types of things I do, but the key is grouping what you have. Keep like items together to make finding them easier.

I hope you found this post helpful!
- Linciel