80/20 Rule of Christmas Baking (The Law of the Vital Few)

8020 rule of Christmas baking

Do you ever think about all the things you have to do to get ready for Christmas and begin to feel overwhelmed?  Some years I’m excited and ready to get started with all the holiday fun.

And other years are more of a struggle.  Whether it’s because of sickness in the family (mine or a child’s) or some other reason, the holiday season can get overwhelming.

I’m a big believer in the 80/20 rule.  This principle states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

It’s also been called The Law of the Vital Few.

About 20% of the things we do are vital for moving our goal forward.  The rest may be important, but 20% of the effort is going to create 80% of the results.

What’s your family’s “vital few” when it comes to Christmas baking?  When you think of the memories you’re building in your family, which foods are the most important?

If you find yourself in a place where you just can’t do everything this year, focus on the vital few.  For my family, that includes Peanut Butter Balls, Fudge, and Frozen Fruit Cups (I left these out last year and I heard about it!).

Maybe for you it’s your grandma’s Nut Bread recipe.  Or the country ham dinner.  Or the evening of cookie decorating.  Focus on those memory filled dishes and keep everything else simple.

And if you’re just now building traditions for your young family, consider making a couple of them super simple.  One of our vital few Christmas breakfast items is canned Grand’s cinnamon rolls.  The only time we have these is at Christmas, so they stay special.  It doesn’t get easier than popping open a can.  On difficult years, we add scrambled eggs and Frozen Fruit Cups.  On years with more energy we add something like Western Omelette Casserole and homemade hot cocoa.

I’d love to hear about your vital few recipes in the comments.

And I know we’ve been talking about Christmas baking, since this is a food blog.  But you can adapt this line of thinking to any type of holiday tradition.  Focus on the vital few and add in other things as time, budget and energy allow.

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10 Recipes to Use Costco Rotisserie Chicken (or Leftover Turkey)

One of the best things I do to keep weeknight meal prep easy, is to have chicken cooked and frozen. Having the meat ready to go is such a time saver!

If you’ve got leftover turkey, count your blessings! Then package it in plastic freezer bags and stash it away. You can use cooked turkey just like you would chicken.

10 Recipes to Use Costco Rotisserie Chicken

Lately, I’ve been buying Costco rotisserie chicken to keep in the freezer. But sometimes I cook it myself.

The main thing is to get some cooked chicken or turkey ready for use in recipes. Many of the recipes below are 15 minute meals. Some take a little bit longer, but they’re all easily doable on a busy weeknight.

Here are 10 recipes to get you started.   [Read more…]

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24 Ways to Make Dinner Cleanup Better – From the Practical to the Sublime

24 Ways to Make Dinner Cleanup Better from the Practical to the Sublime

Dinner dishes are a fact of life. And since it comes at the end of a busy day, pretty much no one looks forward to it. At least I don’t look forward to it.

Here are some ways to make the process easier and more enjoyable. The practical and the sublime. I’ll let you decide which is which.

1.  Work with your spouse.

Tag teaming dish duty not only makes it faster, but gives you a chance to catch up with each other.  Kids tend to clear out when it’s clean up time, leaving you to have nearly uninterrupted conversation.

2. Make the kids do it.

Then go read a book or watch a favorite show.

3. Try to start dinner with an empty dishwasher.

Easier said than done sometimes, but having the dishwasher ready to load is a huge help.

4. Wash as you cook.

Start dinner prep by running a sink of hot, soapy water.  Then quickly wash things as you go.

5. Use all cotton towels for drying dishes.

They absorb better than other materials.

6. Knit your own dishcloths.

Patterns can be found on MomAdvice.  Or buy some pretty ones off Etsy.

7. Get a good scrubby.

My favorite is this yellow smiley face scrubby from Bed, Bath and Beyond.

Make Dinner Cleanup Easier

8. Buy a pot scraper.

Pampered Chef sells these little gems, but you can also get them on Amazon.

9. Consider using a crockpot liner.

Scrub free slow cooking is pretty nice.

10. Buy nice smelling dish soap.

I love Mrs. Meyers for scent.

11.  Use hard working dish soap.

But you can’t beat the way Dawn works.

12. Put on some happy music.

If you don’t own much music, try Pandora or Spotify.

13. Listen to a podcast.

My current favorites:
Hope*ologie
The Art of Simple Podcast
How They Blog Podcast

14. Listen to an audiobook.

15. Call a friend.

Use a headset with your phone or some other kind of hands-free device.

16. Buy a cushioned mat for in front of your sink.

This one’s nice.

17. Use a nice smelling counter spray to finish up.

Mrs. Meyer’s in Lemon Verbena is my favorite. It makes the counters shine and smell good too.

18. Enjoy the process.

This might sound a bit crazy, but when I stop and think about what I’m doing and take time to enjoy the warm water and good smelling suds, the dishes aren’t so bad.

19. Relish the quiet time.

Think over your day. Ponder at least three things you’re grateful for today.  Think of things you’re looking forward to tomorrow.

How to Make Dinner Dishes Easier Work

20. Pray

As you clean up and load the dishwasher, pray for each person who ate at the table that night.  I do this with laundry sometimes, praying for each family member as I fold their clothes.

21. Rinse dishes with hot water, but rinse the suds down the sink with cold water.

A hot water rinse will help your dishes dry better, whether you towel dry or air dry.

But when you’re all done and trying to rinse the suds down the drain, switch to cold water.  Detergents are designed to suds up in hot water, so cold will help them deflate and rinse away.

22. Find a dish drainer or drying mat you like.

Whether it’s a dish drainer that sits on the counter next to the sink, a small one that sits in the sink or a cloth drying mat, make some kind of place to put the dishes after you wash and rinse them.  As much as we’d like for everything to go in the dishwasher, the reality is that some things have to be hand washed.

Currently, we use a dish drying mat that hangs on a hook under the sink when not in use.

23. Store silverware, plates and glasses near the dishwasher and sink.

This makes putting away clean dishes much easier.

24.  Keep your counters clear.

Counter top triage is a constant in our house and we have one spot that seems to catch everything. But try keeping the counters clear of small appliances, pretty decor and other things.  You’ll have more work space.  And it’s a lot easier to clean when you don’t have to clean around things.

 

What’s your favorite way to make dinner cleanup easier?

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Our Menu for a Weekend Family Gathering (including our “Fakes-giving” menu)

Tomorrow my sister and her kids and my parents are all coming to our house!  We’ll be celebrating Peter’s 20th birthday (how am I old enough to have two kids in their 20s??).

We’ll also be having and early Thanksgiving dinner (dubbed “Fakes-giving” by the kids), because my nephew is headed to Marine bootcamp in mid-November.  This is the last time we’ll all be together for a long while.

Enchilada Dinner

Peter requested enchiladas for his birthday. That seems easy enough for 13 people, because some of it can be made ahead of time.

white enchiladas

I’ll be making a double batch of these White Chicken Enchiladas.

grilled chicken and cream cheese enchiladas done

I’m also making Enchiladas with Chili-Tomato Sauce. The photo above is actually Grilled Chicken and Cream Cheese Enchiladas, but it’s so, so much better than the photos of the Chili-Tomato Enchiladas, I thought I’d spare you a little bit.

Of course we’ll have chips, guacamole and salsa. And a big salad to combat the cake and candy.

Speaking of cake, Peter requested Pudding Cake. It’s not the most beautiful (and the photo is pretty bad), but it tastes great!  It’s chocolate cake that makes it’s own pudding-like sauce.

Not that anyone needs cake with all the candy that will be around, since it’s Halloween, but that’s what happens when you’re born on October 31.

Early Thanksgiving Meal

My mom is making most of this meal. She’s baking a chicken or a turkey breast. Here’s a recipe for an easy Turkey Breast in the Slow cooker.

turkey breast in slow cooker

And of course we have to have Chicken and Dumplings (or turkey and dumplings).  Mom has already made the dumplings and frozen them. We’ll cook them up on Saturday.

chicken and dumplings done

Cornbread Dressing is a must have for us.

apple cornbread dressing done

We make homemade Cornbread Dressing, but the photo above is Apple Cornbread Dressing that starts with a box mix.

We’ll also be having some vegetables and cranberry sauce.

gingerbread with lemon sauce

And for dessert instead of pie, we’re having Gingerbread with Lemon Sauce.

Another good option would be these Gingerbread Bars with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting.

gingerbread bars with orange cream cheese frosting done

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!  I know we will.  We’re definitely going to be eating good!

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Freezing Single Servings for Teenage Boys and Other Hungry People

Freezing Single servings

 

A reader asked the other day about what types of foods are good for freezing in single servings.  She’s got a hungry teenage boy to fill up. (I can relate to that!)

Short of keeping the kitchen open all the time, with a cook waiting on hand, filling the freezer with single serving foods is the best way to keep those boys filled up.  And it works for others in the family too, who need to eat at off hours.

If you’re trying to feed boys, there are a few things to keep in mind:

1.  Include protein.  They like foods that will stick with them.

2.  Make it easy.  Hand-held is good.

3.  Keep a list on the freezer so they know what’s in there and where to find it. Or is it just my boys who forget what I’ve told them?

Here’s a list of recipes that will keep all kinds of  hungry people happy:   [Read more…]

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6 Ways to Use Leftover BBQ Chicken

How to Use Leftover BBQ Chicken

 

No matter if your BBQ chicken was grilled, baked, slow cooked or even a BBQ rotisserie chicken, it is wonderful to have leftovers.  It might not be quite as versatile as plain cooked chicken, but there are still a lot of possibilities.

1.  Fajitas

bbqchickenfajitas_thumb.jpg

We love this version, but you can add any type of veggies you like.  You might even try adding pineapple!

2.  Quesadillas

Instead of wrapping in a soft tortilla, use the BBQ chicken to make quesadillas.  Try adding your choice of cheese, along with bacon and green onions.  Toast until crispy on the outside and melty on the inside.

3.  Nachos

15 Minute BBQ Chicken Nachos

 

I made these 15 Minute BBQ Chicken Nachos with rotisserie chicken, but they’d be even better with BBQ Chicken.  Keep the ingredients handy for game day, because these are great for a party!

4.  Top baked potatoes or baked sweet potatoes

Use leftover, shredded bbq chicken to top baked potatoes or sweet potatoes.  This is a great meal if you’re dealing with a few picky eaters.  You can bake both white and sweet potatoes and let everyone have their choice.  And if they’d rather have the meat on the side, that works too.

5.  Slop Bucket/BBQ Sundae

photo-52

 

I ran across versions of this treat twice this summer.  Basically, it’s a layer of cheesy potatoes, a layer of baked beans, a layer of bbq meat topped with slaw.

Or there’s this version:

10620803_758871124154922_6880181212675736571_n

This one has baked beans on bottom, then cole slaw and topped with meat.

I’ve never done this at home, but why not?  They’re delicious and a little different.  And again, if someone wants to keep all the elements separate, they can do that.

6.  BBQ Chicken Pizza

Top your choice of pizza crust with bbq chicken, bbq sauce, red onion, pineapple and Monterey Jack cheese.  Or change it up with different toppings to go with the chicken.  Sounds like a winner to me!

How do you like to use leftover BBQ Chicken?

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Who are you cooking for?

Dinnertime rolled around the other day and I did not want to stop what I was doing to cook.  I would have been just fine that day eating a simple plate of pasta with chopped tomatoes and cheese.  In fact, that sounded pretty good.

pasta and tomatoes

But I wasn’t the only one who would be eating what I fixed for dinner that night.  I have a husband and son who would come in hungry from work.  A growing daughter, who had a long day of classes.  And a teenage boy, who would be eating dinner later, but would be ravenous after soccer practice.  Simple pasta works for some nights, but not for that one.  I knew dinner would demand some type of protein to satisfy them.

I didn’t cook for myself that night.  I cooked for them.

fifties-prime-time-meatloaf-done

We get a lot of messages about food in our culture.  And we have our own individual likes and preferences.  Sometimes these conflict with who we’re really cooking for.

When you keep things simple and familiar for your young son with sensitivities to textures, you’re nurturing him.

When you avoid certain foods for the child who is allergic, you’re caring for her.

When you serve comfort food to your new husband, because that’s what he likes when you’d rather have a spicy curry dish, you’re showing him love.

When you serve plenty of meat with more meals than you’d care to, because you’ve got growing teenage boys who are in the “age of meat”, you’re nourishing them.

Blueberry Crisp in the Slow Cooker

Theories and ideals are all well and good.  We do want to work to broaden the palates of our children (and picky husbands).  We want to introduce new foods and encourage better eating habits.  But we balance that with meals that both nourish and let our family know that we love them.  That we’re taking care of them.

Who are you cooking for?

 

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How to Use Leftover Meatloaf

6 Ways to Use Leftover Meatloaf

I have to admit – leftover meatloaf in our house doesn’t happen often.  Teenage boys are very good at making sure of that.  But if you do find yourself with a lot of leftover meatloaf here are a few ideas for turning it into a different meal.

Don’t forget that meatloaf slices can be frozen to use another time.

1.  Serve it like Salisbury Steak.

Cook onion slices in a pan and pour in a jar of gravy.  Serve this over the top of reheated meatloaf slices.

2.  Meatloaf Parmesan

Top slices of meatloaf with spaghetti sauce and mozzarella and/or parmesan cheese.  Reheat in the oven, with a quick broil at the end to brown the cheese.  If you’ve got leftover mashed potatoes, add some garlic and cream cheese when you reheat them.

3.  Classic Meatloaf Sandwich

We like it cold with ketchup.

4.  Use it like meatballs

Cube leftover meatloaf and add it to spaghetti sauce instead of meatballs.

5.  Meatball(loaf) Pizza

I’ve had pizza topped with meatballs or sliced meatballs before.  You can do the same thing with leftover meatloaf.  Add other toppings that you like and go for it!

6.  Italian Style Meatloaf Sandwich

Toast hoagie rolls and top with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese and any veggies you like (onion, mushrooms, green peppers etc).

 How do you like to serve leftover meatloaf?

 

 

 

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How to Make a $17 Stand Up Desk

standup desk2

 

I’m so happy with this stand up desk we made!  It’s cheap.  It looks nice.  It’s easy to move out of the way when I want to sit down.

In short, (or tall or average), this is the perfect solution for a stand up desk.

Last week, I shared that because of my increased drive time each week, it’s hard for me to want to sit down in the desk chair to work.  I made a make-shift stand up desk one afternoon.

IMG_4997

 

And although it worked okay, it was not an ideal solution.  But it did get me thinking about stand up desks.  A quick google search revealed several nice options in the $200 range.  Too much for me.

And there was a diy option using an Ikea table hack.  I was ready to make a trip to Ikea to buy a Lack table, when I thought of hitting up the thrift store instead.

IMG_5003

 

$15 bought us this ugly thing.

Jim cut the legs off at the right height for me (11″ above my desk surface).  I removed the batwing handle and used black paint I had in the garage.

We also added some stick-on gripper pads on the feet, so it doesn’t scratch the desk.  Those added a couple of dollars to the total, hence the $17 cost.

standup desk side vertical

 

When I want to stand to work, I scoot the chair out of the way and lift the little desk on top of my big desk.  I could add a new handle, but I probably won’t.  I don’t notice those holes at all, other than in that photo.  And it’s easy to pull out the drawer without a handle.

standup desk3

 

There’s plenty of space on the stand up desk surface for my laptop and a calendar too.  And there’s a lot of space left on my desk surface below for things, like my camera.

If you want to build your own stand up desk, I recommend looking for a wooden end table, so the legs can be cut off.  Also look for one with a flat top to it (no elevated edge).

We are not big DIYers, but we did make a charging station a few years ago that is still in use at our house.  We store (and charge) laptops, kindles, cell phones etc in this.

charging station finished

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7 Ways to Use Leftover Rice

How to Use Leftover Rice

Leftover rice is so versatile.  It’s one leftover you’ll be glad to have.  Here are 7 ideas for using it:

Turn it into Cheesy Rice

One of my favorite lunches growing up was cheesy rice.  We would could minute rice and add cheese, but it’s even better if you have long grain white rice or brown rice.

Heat the rice and add any kind of shredded cheese and a generous shake of black pepper.

Make Pizza Rice Casserole

Easy Pizza Rice Casserole

 

I used instant brown rice in this Pizza Rice Casserole, but you can also use leftover cooked rice.  This makes a quick and easy lunch or dinner.

Make Chipotle’s knock-off Cilantro Lime Rice

Reheat the rice, add a splash of lime juice and a handful of chopped cilantro.  Serve it with any Mexican dish.  Here’s the recipe I wrote on the Savings Lifestyle blog.  I used basmati rice, but you can use leftover rice.

chipotle cilantro lime rice done

Make Freezer Burritos

Vary the filling according to what you have available, but this is a great way to use up leftover rice.

freezerburritosdone_thumb.jpg

Make Haystacks

Use taco meat or this slow cooker recipe for Sweet Korean Haystacks.  Either way is great!

Slow Cooker Sweet Korean BBQ Haystacks

Fry it!

Fried rice is easy and a wonderful way to clear out your fridge.  You can use up leftover rice, meats and veggies with this one.

fried rice new pic

Make a salad

Wild Rice or Brown Rice Salad is fantastic for lunches, picnics or as a side dish.

Wild Rice Salad - redeeming leftover rice

 How do you like to use leftover rice?

 

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