August 29, 2013

Week 34 - Back to School Series, Part 1 and The Freezer Reveal

Printable Version of Meal Plan

I'm super excited about this weeks post.  First, it's the big freezer makeover reveal which was a huge success!  Second, this is the first of a four part "Back to School" series.  More on that in a minute...

Freezer Makeover - After

Let's talk about my freezers.  They were a mess and long overdue for a major cleanup.  We have the standard freezer on top fridge and one of the biggest challenges I have is finding things that get pushed to the back.  So I took a trip to the Dollar Store to buy some cheap baskets to act as drawers.  I'm using them to store loose bags of fruits and vegetables and snacks such as apple sauce and yogurt tubes. The rest is labelled and stacked nicely.  The door is now only holding freezer packs, electrolyte freezies and "Boo-Boo Bags" ( or little cold packs for tending to boo-boo's).  I highly recommend them if you have basic sewing skills and little ones.

Fridge Freezer - After

Fridge Freezer Door - After

The deep freezer was a much bigger job.  I followed these instructions for defrosting, using the hurry up and wait method.  As the ice started to melt I'd break off big pieces so they didn't thaw in the freezer leaving me with a big puddle to mop up.  Sadly most of what was in there ended up in the green bin because I could no longer identify it.  But the freezer is now sparking clean and housing our boxes of blueberries and a few other things.  My plan is to keep extra servings of meat and well packaged leftovers here, while the fridge freezer will get the snacks and items I need while cooking.

Deep Freezer - After

Now that that job is done I vow to clearly mark everything as it goes in!!  If this has inspired you to clean out your freezer I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!

Back to School Series

So what's this back to school series all about??  As mentioned, I love back to school time - new year, fresh start!  But for me back to school also means the end of summer hours (I get off work 1/2 hour earlier in the summer) and an end to easy breezy commutes.  This is what my summer commute looks like some days...

Halifax Waterfront from the Dartmouth Ferry

This means I get home about an hour later every day so I'm dealing with getting supper on the table, cleaning the kitchen and packing lunches for the next day with less time.  It's a bummer.  But... staying organized helps.  So I thought that "Back to School" was too big a topic to cover in just one week and therefore it's turned into a four part series, all designed to make meal time easier at this hectic time of year.

Part 1 - Freezables
Part 2 - Healthy Lunchbox
Part 3 - Fast Fix Suppers
Part 4 - Double Duty Meals

The freezer cleanup and theme this week was very much inspired by a recent post on 100 Days of Real Food - Real Food Tips: 10 Recipes to Freeze for School Lunches.  For those of you who have kids heading back to school this post (and blog) is full of great ideas!

Freezable items on the meal plan this week

Hamburger Buns - I never use a full pack of hamburger or hot-dog buns, leftovers always end up in the freezer and can be taken out individually as needed.

Soup - Soup is a perfect thing to big batch.  I had always been freezing leftovers in one big container so I could never thaw just one serving.  Lisa Leake from 100 Days of Real Food freezes individual servings in mason jars.  My sister-in-law freezes hers in freezer bags that she lays flat so that they stack nicely.  I'm leaning towards the bags so that I can "file" them in a basket, taking up less freezer space.  And now that I've had this "a-ha!" moment of freezing soups, chili, spaghetti and meatballs, etc... in single servings I can see myself big-batching these things more often.  This week I had a Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup on the menu which is absolutely delicious.   However, not peanut free obviously.  If this is a concern for you just substitute your favorite soup.

Rice - Brown Rice takes almost an hour to make so sometimes I'll make a double batch and freeze leftovers in single serving sizes.  It freezes well, thaws quick and is very versatile for easy last minute lunches.  Some ideas...
  • Mix rice with black bean, shredded cheese and salsa and roll in a tortilla.
  • Saute vegetables and whatever protein is leftover from supper. Stir in rice, a scrambled egg and some soya sauce for a quick "fried rice".
  • Serve it with a stir-fry
  • Make sushi rolls or a Sushi Bowl
  • Make rice patties such as Tex-Mex Rice Cakes

Berries - I often buy frozen berries, they're perfect for smoothies, mixing in with yogurt, adding to your cereal and for baking.  You can also freeze fresh berries if you're not able to use them right away.

Nuts - If I buy nuts in bulk I store them in the freezer to keep them from going rancid.

Herbs -- I don't know how many times I've bought a big bunch of herbs only to use a small amount and have the rest go bad.  I've used the ice-cube tray method before but find the herb cubes don't work well for all recipes.  A friend recently gave me a great tip - wash the herbs and dry well, chop and place in a freezer bag.  When a recipe calls for fresh herbs they're all ready to go!  Another "a-ha!" moment here!

Pancakes - If I make whole wheat pancakes on the weekend I'll toss the leftovers in a freezer bag.  I pop them right in the toaster to defrost and reheat.  If I had a waffle maker I'd freeze those too!  Maybe Santa is listening??

Tortillas, Pita or Naan - I'm still blown away that I was able to make tortillas and I've recently come across a recipe for naan that I'm going to try soon, but these don't have to be homemade.  If you buy a pack of tortillas, pita, naan, etc... stash leftovers in the freezer so they don't go bad.  They can be used for wraps, quesadillas, pizza, cut into triangles and toasted (or not!) for dipping, etc, etc, etc...

Smoothies - This week I froze both "smoothie packs" and "smoothie pops".  In each smoothie pack (freezer bag) I put strawberries, banana and spinach or kale, enough for a single serve smoothie -perfect for a quick grab and go breakfast.  While I had everything out I made a smoothie with these same ingredients plus plain yogurt, avocado, milk and honey.  I poured it into Popsicle molds for little after daycare treat.  They've been a hit this week!

Hamburgers - Either homemade or boxed... I loved having burgers on hand for an easy supper.

Muffins - I rarely get through a whole batch of muffins before they start to get mouldy so extras can be tossed in a freezer bag in the freezer to be used as an easy snack.  I've got a Blueberry Spelt Muffin in my lunch today!


Chicken & Avocado Salad
(from The Australian Women's Weekly Cookbooks)

Citrus Chicken & Chickpea Salad

This is a recipe I stumbled upon years ago and use to make often.  I haven't made it in ages but it's a good one!


  • 4 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
  • 1 Tbsp each lemon & lime rind
  • 300 g can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 Medium Red Onion, finely chopped
  • 2 Medium Tomato, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp Fresh Cilantro, chopped
  • 1 Medium Avocado, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice


  • Combine chicken with lemon and lime rind, cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.  I left them overnight.
  • Combine remaining ingredients and mix well.
  • Grill chicken until cooked through.
  • Spoon Salad into bowls and top with slices of the cooked chicken.

Whole Wheat Cheddar Crackers (Weelicious)

I mentioned last week that Marin had an epiphany that we should add feta to the Cheddar Crackers.  So we made a batch this week and I replaced about 1/2 cup of the Cheddar with Feta.  As expected - delicious!  She thought she quite the little genius.

Whole Wheat Cheddar Crackers

What are your favorite freezables?


August 23, 2013

Week 33 - Freezer Makeover - Before

We were out of town last weekend for an overnight getaway with friends.  We had a blast at Upper Clements Park on Saturday and then took our time working our way back into the city on Sunday.  We didn't get home until suppertime and I was Tired (yes, with a capital T) so my plan was to get groceries Monday night.  However, at around 7pm I realized that I was donating blood Monday night... so I literally threw together a meal plan with the help of the awesome September issue of Canadian Living and reluctantly headed out the door to get some grub.

There was no real theme this week, my only goal was to fill our bellies with as little effort as possible.  But by mid-week I started to think about some of the back to school articles I've been reading.  I still have one year before Marin starts school but I've been working at a University pretty much since I left University so to me September is the real New Year... I always get excited for a fresh start!

In particular I was feeling inspired by a post from 100 Days of Real Food re freezable lunches.  I have a confession... I'm 33 weeks into my meal planning resolution but my cupboards, and especially my freezers, are a mess!  I'm not really one to freeze meals in advance or stash leftovers.  Instead I tend to cook my meals fresh and make enough for just the servings I require for that week.  But this whole idea of having a stockpile of things like soups, pizza dough and muffins in my freezer to make at least one easy lunch a week is really appealing!  I mean come on... freezing individual servings of soup in mason jars - brilliant!!  So in the spirit of back to school I'm cleaning out the freezers!  Think of it as my New 'School Year' Resolution. 


Freezer Makeover - Before

I can't believe I'm posting this because it's super embarrassing but here are the before pics...

Fridge Freezer - Before

Fridge Freezer Door - Before

Deep Freezer - Before

This project is apparently long overdue!!  I'll post after pictures next week... and now that I've put it out there I really have to follow through!  Eek!

Let's talk about the food...

Lasagna - This is note-worthy because it actually came from the freezer!  Before leaving town last weekend I realized I had 2 pieces of the 'Easiest Lasagna Ever!' frozen.  It was the best feeling in the world to know that I wouldn't have to make lunch on Sunday night.

Orange Chicken Salad - This was one of the life-saving recipes I found in Canadian Living last Sunday night.  Just what we needed after not eating the best for a couple of days.  I used the PC Organic Field Greens with Herbs Mix and added a little feta.  Marin was loving the feta and said excitedly "Mom, I have a great idea!  We can make the cheese crackers and add feta and mix it all together!!!  That's what I'm talking about!".  I think I have a little foodie on my hands.

Orange Chicken Salad

Tomato and Chickpea Salad - Another Canadian Living recipe.  I enjoyed and it was a very easy and packable lunch.

Grilled Steak and Salad - We marinated the steaks (see the Favorites/Salad Dressing & Spice Mix section) and grilled them.  To go with them I did up a foil pack with mushrooms, onions, zucchini and butter and made a super simple salad using the rest of the salad green & herb mix, tossing it with olive oil, lemon juice and honey.   A quick, easy meal that we could eat anytime!

Homemade Tortillas -  I'm (almost) speechless... I made whole wheat tortillas!!  I figured if corn tortillas were easy and worth the extra effort than flour tortillas were probably worth a try too.  I took the time to read the recipe and they actually sounded like a breeze to make.  I'll admit they take a bit of effort but they were far from difficult (thanks in big part to my KitchenAid Stand Mixer) and I think it's a recipe that will get quite easy once I make it a few more times.  And the results... totally worth the effort!!  For me the best part of eating at a good Mexican restaurant is the fresh, chewy tortillas... and now I can make them myself!!  We made a cheese quesadilla as a snack to test them when they were hot out of the pan and they were divine!  Then we had them as part of our lunch for the next 2 days (Quesadillas on Day 1 and Chef Salad Wraps on Day 2) and even on the second day they were perfect.  Plus... you can freeze them! Another item for my freezer! Hurrah!  This was the highlight of my week.

Fish Casserole - I had an idea in mind of what I wanted here.... I was thinking white fish, rice, creamy sauce and Frenches Fried Onions crumbled on top.  I couldn't find a recipe anywhere so I made one up.  I basically used a Scallop Potato recipe but with fish (I used cod) instead of potatoes.  Once the fish cooked I used a fork to break it up and added the rice and shredded mozzarella.  Once that was all bubbly I topped with the Frenches onions and put it back in the oven for a few minute.  The results - delicious!!  It was kind of like Cheesy Scallop Potatoes meets Green Bean Casserole.  Just what I was looking for.  Dave loved it too, Marin not so much.  You win some you lose some...

Fish Casserole

Slow Cooker Chicken Gyros (Recipe from Six Sisters' Stuff ) - Slow cooking in the summer is awesome - there is just nothing better than coming home on a hot day to a cooked meal.  I'm pretty excited to get home tonight to try this one out!

Now I'm off to clean my freezers!


August 16, 2013

Week 32 - Easy Eats and Local Treats

Printable Version of Meal Plan

Last Saturday we took the ferry to Halifax for brunch at Stayner's Wharf (nice patio, great food!) and as we were passing through the Alderney Farmers Market we picked up much of the produce we used this week (including kale, zucchini, tomatoes and carrots).  On Sunday we fit in our annual trip to Between the Bushes, a blueberry u-pick in Canning, NS and on the way home popped into Tangled Garden for a jar of Ginger Lime Thyme Jelly.  It all resulted in some pretty good eats this week.  Have I mentioned how much I love summer in Nova Scotia?!

I'm sticking to the same format I used last week... thought is was more to the point and I feel I have a lot to say about the food this week so "to the point" is probably a good thing!

Let's talk about the food...

First - Snacks!  Tuesday evening was cool here so I took advantage and got baking.  I put my fresh blueberries to good use in these Blueberry Spelt Muffins (recipe from The Athlete's Plate).  This was my first time using spelt flour and I was really impressed with the outcome.  They came out perfectly moist and not too sweet. 

Blueberry Spelt Muffins

I also made a batch of Whole Wheat Cheddar Crackers (recipe from Weelicious).  Haven't made these in awhile and we were all a tad excited when they came out of the oven!

Whole Wheat Cheddar Crackers

Toast w/ Butter, Maple Syrup and Blueberries - I don't usually talk about breakfast (well except for hounding you to try Overnight Oats!) but this is one of my summer favorites so I had to mention it.  I'm a toast girl... prior to this year I probably had toast, with either peanut butter or jam and cheese, nine mornings out of ten.  But come summer when I have fresh blueberries and in-season juicy peaches I like to switch it up.  Toast, butter, blueberries or sliced peaches and optionally a drizzle of maple syrup.  mmm. mmm. mmm.

Cheese and TVP Quesadillas - Quesadillas are a go-to packable lunch that I've mentioned before but this time I opted to add a little TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein) which is a bit different for me.  I rehydrated the TVP and then browned it with Mexican Spice Blend, using it as you would ground beef.  This is really the only way I've ever used TVP - as a ground beef substitute in quesadillas or nachos.  Just can't seem to get on board with it.  What am I missing?

Grilled Pesto Salmon Packets w/ Roasted Potatoes and Kale Chips - So I totally enjoyed this meal.  I had made the pesto the night before - first time ever, but now I know how ridiculously easy it is so it probably won't be the last!  In fact this whole meal was ridiculously easy and required almost no cleanup.  Bonus!  I coated the inside of each piece of foil with olive oil and then layered carrots, peppers, cherry tomatoes and sugar snap peas.  On top of the veggies I placed a piece of salmon (boneless skinless) and topped that with a spoonful of pesto and a squeeze of lemon juice.  In a separate foil pack I had mini potatoes halved and coated with olive oil, salt and pepper.  While all that was grilling I made a batch of Kale Chips (recipe from 100 Days of Real Food).  It had been a long time since we had a batch of 'green chippies' and Marin devoured them.  Dave liked supper but wasn't as enthusiastic as I was... I don't know, maybe it was just that cleanup only required putting our plates in the dishwasher and throwing away the foil, but I thought this meal was pretty awesome.

Quinoa Feta Patties and Kale Salad - I was loving this lunch too!  I like to turn pretty much anything into a patty these days.  Remember I did whole week themed Patty Cake??!!  I'm at the point that I rarely follow a recipe - just use whatever grain, legume, ground meat or fish I have on hand... throw in a couple of eggs, spices, cheese, breadcrumbs and then shape them into patties and fry them up.  This week was Quinoa with Oregano and Feta and they were delicious.  If you want to follow a recipe I've linked one from Marin Mama Cooks and while you're there you can also grab the recipe for Kale Salad... which I'm pretty sure I'm now addicted to.

Pork Chops with Roasted Vegetables - Another easy one.  Preheat the oven to 425.  Put the pork chops in one baking dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Chop a variety of veggies (I used sweet potato, carrots, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes) and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper in a second baking dish.  Bake until done... I find the veggies will take longer so get them started first.  But what took this meal from 'ok' to 'wow!' was my Tangled Garden Ginger Lime Thyme Jelly.  I spread a little on the chops for the last few minutes of cooking and then had another little spoonful for dipping.  I could actually skip the chops and the veggies and just have the jelly.

Ravioli with Cherry Tomatoes -  Again, easy peasy!  I picked up some fresh Spinach and Cheese Ravioli at Costco which takes no time to cook.  While the water was boiling I heated some olive oil in frying pan, added some minced garlic and cherry tomatoes and tossed them around until the tomatoes started to burst.  I added the cooked, drained pasta to the pan to coat it with the tomatoes and oil and that's it!  I wasn't sure if it would dry out or reheat well for lunch but it was fine!

Summer Squash Strata -- This was another meal that I was enthusiastic about but Dave and Marin not so much.  Dave liked it but felt it was more of a breakfast dish... fair enough.   I made some substitutions... 
  • Grape Tomatoes instead of Beefsteak Tomatoes
  • English Muffins instead of French Bread
  • Dried Thyme instead of Fresh
  • Old Cheddar instead of White Cheddar

Summer Squash Strata

Plum and Oregano Chicken Kababs, with Roasted Potatoes and Carrots - Dave was happy to fire up the grill again.  I actually used boneless skinless chicken breasts and had read a review that said the plums got overcooked and mushy on the skewers so I just placed the chicken and plums on the grill separately.  I did the potatoes and carrots in separate foil packs.  This chicken was super easy and nothing fancy but turned out really good.  We could have skipped the plums but overall this meal was a hit.

Gourmet Grilled Cheese - My niece Bailey is the "Gourmet Grilled Cheese Queen".... no Kraft Singles for that girl!  I think she'd approve of the Ginger Lime Thyme Jelly with Old Cheddar combination.  However, Dave had a hankering for nachos so we had nachos tonight and I'm saving the grilled cheese for Sunday night.  We're off for a weekend getaway with friends so an easy supper on Sunday will be perfect!

Happy Weekend Everyone!  Hope you're all getting out to enjoy some of your own local flavors!


August 09, 2013

Week 31 - Lighten Up

Printable Version of Meal Plan

We're just back from a week at the cottage and arrived home Monday evening with grocery stores closed for the holiday.  So... I drew up my meal plan in the car knowing I wouldn't be able to get a grocery order until the next evening after work.  That made Tuesday a challange since the fridge was completely void of everything except for the odd jar of this or that.  Marin was starring into the fridge after daycare on Tuesday and declared 'Wow, we're out of A LOT of things!'.  We picked up bread and milk at a corner store and that got us by.  My main goal this week was to lighten things up... nine days of chips and sweets had me craving a good old salad!

I'm posting a regular Monday to Friday meal plan but for us this was actually Tuesday to Saturday.  We were so low on everything that I wanted to make sure we had enough to get us through the weekend.  And since I'm still trying to get back into the swing of things my post is again taking on a different format.  No grocery list and instead of "Quick Links" and "Week in Review" I'm trying out what I'll call "Meal Reviews", which will include all the appropriate links and any notes I think are worthwhile.  Who knows... this might stick.  Let me know what you think.

Meal Reviews

No-Cook Overnight Oats -- Have you tried this recipe yet??  I have my sister hooked - she loves it for camping.  Some of my favorite add-ins are mango, peaches, fresh figs, coconut and pumpkin seeds.  What are yours?  Note:  I make mine with Steel Cut Oats, even though the recipe says not to.  One of these days I'll try it with regular oats.

No-cook Overnight Oats

Slow Cooker Deli Style Chicken with Tomato & Zucchini - this was the perfect quick and light meal for the first night back from vacation.  First of all, the slow cooker takes no more than five minutes to prepare in the morning and then you come home to a fully cooked, delicious, moist chicken... and no need to turn on the oven on a hot summer day!  For a side we had slices of orange and red tomatoes and yellow zucchini, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic and a crack of salt and pepper.   Yum.

Whole Chicken in the Slow Cooker

Mexican Chicken Wraps - for lunch the next day I diced up the leftover chicken and made kind of a chicken salad with a mexican twist.  I added shredded cheese, mexican spice blend, lime juice and plain yogurt. I would have used salsa if I had it but I was out.  I packed some raw veggies to have on the side.

Grilled Steak with Arugula Salad - Loved this meal!!  Dave wasn't feeling well this night so I was on grill duty and I have to say... I did a bang up job.  I had picked up a couple of really nice striploin steaks so I let them speak for themselves adding just a little salt and pepper.  The salad was one my brother-in-law's partner introduced us to last week and this is totally going to become a regular thing.  Arugula, drizzle of olive oil and fresh lemon juice, crack of salt and pepper and shaved parmesan... that's it!  Simple and delicious.  And because this came together so quickly Marin wasn't quite ready to eat so I ate in peace, on the deck, drinking a spritzer while flipping through a magazine.  Aaaahhhhh... almost as relaxing as drinking my morning coffee on the deck at the cottage.

Chickpea and Avocado Salad - I had a pop-in on my Facebook Page from a fellow Maritime food blogger.  I went and checked out her blog ( and my eye instantly caught a recipe for chickpea and avocado salad.  Chickpeas? Avocado? Yes, please!  Her post was very convincing that this salad was worth a try and that it was.  A very hearty, tasty and packable lunch.  And I totally agree with her that it's very customisable.  Start with the chickpeas, avocado and slaw mix and then go nuts (no pun intended) with whatever dressing and add-ins you feel like. 

Marinated Tofu, Greek Salsa and Tzatziki - had I been on the ball I could have prepped most of this meal the night before but I was not very on the ball this week.  C'est la vie.  I get home decently early in the summer so I whipped up some Greek dressing, marinated the tofu for about 20 minutes and then crisped them up in the frying pan with some olive oil.  I made a Greek salsa (tomato, cucumber, red onion, yellow zucchini, orange pepper, feta and dressing) with tzatziki on the side.  I don't typically enjoy homemade Tzatziki all that much but this recipe was a good one!  Greek food never disappoints in our house.  The salsa was so colorful I had to take a picture...

Greek Salsa

Cajun Shrimp and Orzo Salad & Indian Spiced Yogurt Marinated Chicken -- Because we're not actually following this plan Monday through Friday I haven't actually tried these recipes yet.  I am looking forward to them though!  Both are compliments of Canadian Living Magazine.  And if you don't subscribe you might want to pick up the September issue -- it's full of great recipes that I can't wait to try!

What are you all cooking up this summer?