Sunday, October 10, 2010

Menu Plan October 10 - 16

I'm doing everything in my power to stay under our grocery budget for the first half of October.  I have $1.13 left.  All we bought this week was milk, yogurt, produce and ice cream.  If I can stay out of the grocery store for the rest of this week, it'll be my first time EVER staying under budget on groceries.

So, we're basically having an "eat what's in the freezer/pantry" week.  Fortunately, our freezers and pantry are about as well stocked as it gets, so this isn't really a challenge for me.  The bigger challenge will come after I've been sticking to the budget for a while and the freezer and pantry are no longer jam-packed full!

Here's the plan for this week:

Sunday:  Creamed tuna on biscuits

Monday:  Chorizo black bean soup

Tuesday:  Cordon bleu casserole (this recipe, served with noodles)

Wednesday: Jambalaya with kielbasa (from a box, though I'm thinking about trying to bake it instead of stove-top, so it'll be more make-ahead.  I'll let you know how it goes)

Thursday:  leftovers

Friday:  Chicken paprikash over baked potatoes

Saturday:  We'll be out of town for a birthday party that day, so we'll grab dinner on the road.

Have a great week!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Black Bean Chilaquile Casserole

Another Friday, another meatless meal.  The part of me that grew up Catholic finds it kind of ironic that our meatless meals always seem to land on Friday.  Guess it's in my genes...

The original recipe for this dish came from the book Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites.  I modified it to spice it up a bit, use pantry staples instead of fresh produce, and, well, fatten it up simply because I didn't have the fat-free/low-fat ingredients on hand.

10 small corn tortillas
oil for frying
1 T. olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, chopped
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 15-ounce can whole kernal corn, drained
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained
1 10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
2 T. fresh lime juice
1 t. salt
black pepper, to taste
8 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
2 cups salsa, plus extra for serving
sour cream

In a small skillet, heat one inch of oil over medium heat until shimmering.  Fry tortillas, one at a time, until crisp and light brown.  Drain on paper towels.

In a large skillet over medium heat, saute onion, garlic, and jalapeno in olive oil until onions are soft.  Add tomatoes, corn, beans, spinach, lime juice, salt and pepper.  Simmer 15 minutes or until thickened. 

Crush tortillas and spread half of them in the bottom of a greased 8x8 pan.  Pour vegetable mixture over, then spread half the salsa and half the cheese over the top.  Top with remaining tortillas, then spread remaining salsa and cheese over. 

Bake at 350 degrees until hot and bubbly, about 45 minutes.  Serve topped with sour cream and salsa.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Turkey Tenderloin in Creamy Mushroom Sauce

I got a great deal on turkey tenderloin at the grocery store this week.  It was one of those orange tag markdowns, where the meat is about to hit its expiration date.  That's a great way to pick up spendier cuts of meat that you might not normally buy - they're usually marked down 40 - 50 percent.  Just make sure you use or freeze the meat that day, or you negate all that savings!

I made this with a can of cream of mushroom soup because I had some on hand, but it would be equally tasty and healthier (and not much more time consuming) to whip up a batch of white sauce instead.  If you do this, omit the milk from the recipe.

Serves 4 - 6

2 turkey tenderloins
1 T. butter
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup milk
1/2 t. celery seed
1 t. dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Place turkey in an 8x8 baking dish (I cut them each into three chunks first). 

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add mushrooms, onions, and garlic.  Saute until the onions are soft.  Add soup, milk, and seasonings, stirring to combine.  Stir until the soup is smooth.  Pour over the top of the turkey.

When ready to cook:  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until turkey is cooked through.  Serve over cooked pasta.

Menu Plan Sept. 27 - Oct 1

I do, in fact, have a menu plan this week, I just haven't posted it yet! 

Monday, we ended up with leftovers because - get this - I FORGOT to make dinner!  Craziness, I tell you!

Tuesday, we had turkey tenderloin baked in creamy mushroom sauce.

Wednesday, we had lemon chicken.

Tonight, it's baked chicken taquitoes (this is my new favorite recipe!).

Friday, it's meatless night, and I have no idea what that will be yet, but I'd better get on it!

Gotta go post a couple of recipes from this list or I'll never remember what they were later.  Have a great week!

Black Bean Lasagna

We're trying something new in our house - meatless meals once a week.  This is mainly for budget reasons, but we also eat (in my opinion) far more meat than necessary.  This was good, but my husband told me I'm only allowed to make it again if I promise to never, ever refer to it as lasagna.  In his mind, lasagna is Italian, and this is definitely not Italian!  I think I'm supposed to call it "Layered Mexican Casserole".

I actually made this with no-boil noodles, because that's what I had in the pantry, but it came out a little dry so next time I'll definitely use regular noodles And the leftovers were even better than the initial dish, after the flavors had had a chance to meld.

Serves 4

6 lasagna noodles
1 15-ounce can black beans
1 T. canola or olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
2 t. chili powder
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper
1 cup cottage cheese
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sour cream, plus extra for serving

Boil the noodles according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, saute the onions, peppers, and garlic in the oil until the onions are soft.  Add the beans, lightly mashing them with a fork.  Stir in tomato sauce and seasonings.

In a small bowl, combine cottage cheese, cream cheese, and 1/4 cup sour cream. 

Lay two noodles in the bottom of a greased 8x8 casserole dish.  Spread 1/3 of the bean mixture over the noodles, then spread 1/3 of the cheese mixture over that.  Repeat layers again, and then a third time, stopping at the bean mixture.  Save the rest of the cheese mixture for after baking.  If baking later, cover and refrigerate or freeze at this point. 

Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  Remove from oven and spread remaining cheese mixture on top.  Let stand 10 - 15 minutes, and serve with salsa and sour cream on top.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Menu Plan September 19-23

I haven't planned a menu for a while, but it's not like I don't need one!  We recently revised our budget and eliminated restaurants completely, so organization is paramount at the moment.

Here's the plan for this week:

Tonight, I made buttermilk chicken, with mashed potatoes and sauteed summer squash.  One of my favorite meals ever, and yes, it can be made ahead (but I didn't).  I'll post instructions soon!

Tomorrow, we'll be having cranberry pork chops.  How have I never posted this recipe on either blog?  Must remedy that...

Wednesday, teriyaki chicken.

Thursday, something meatless.  Hubby has promised we can start having meatless meals once a week to save money.  I'm not sure what yet, I need to do some recipe hunting!

Friday, we're babysitting our nieces and nephews, so I think we'll just be picking up a pizza or making something super quick at their house.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pad Thai, make ahead version

For tonight's dinner, I'm making Pad Thai.  This isn't exactly what you'd call a make ahead dish, but I'm prepping it ahead of time to minimize the time needed to finish the meal.

Day before yesterday, I pre-cooked the chicken.  I got a screaming deal on chicken tenders that were rapidly approaching their sell-by date, so I chopped and sauteed the whole bunch, then divided it into meal-size bags for the freezer.  I just need to pull out a bag a defrost it, and it'll be good to go.  I made a double-batch of sauce last time, so I pulled it out of the freezer last night and put it in the fridge to thaw. This morning, I will chop and refrigerate the scallions and garlic, as well as blanching the bean sprouts.  The noodles will soak in cold water for the day, and will hopefully be ready by dinner time.

When I get home, all I'll need to do is heat up my stir fry pan and quickly cook it.  Shouldn't take more than 15 minutes, tops.  Good to go!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cheesy Chicken Spaghetti

I must admit that, since hubby got all wrapped up in a project and forgot to put it in the oven for dinner, this recipe is, at this moment, untested.  So I may come back and edit it tomorrow.  We shall see...

Cheesy Chicken Spaghetti

2 T. olive oil
2 ribs celery, diced
1 small onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
8 ounces dry spaghetti, broken in thirds
3 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup white wine (could substitute milk)
2 cups cooked chicken (I used ground)
1 t. Italian seasoning
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. season salt
2 c. grated cheddar cheese, divided

In a skillet over medium heat, saute the celery, onions, and bell peppers in the olive oil until onions are translucent, about five minutes.  Meanwhile, cook spaghetti according to package directions, leaving it a little more al dente than usual. 

In a large bowl, combine next 7 ingredients (cream cheese through season salt).  Add vegetable mixture once it has finished cooking.  Stir in one cup of cheese.  Finally, mix in the spaghetti once it is cooked.

Pour mixture into a greased 8x8 baking dish.  Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 - 40 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Vegetable stew with chickpeas

This is one of those awesome meals for make-ahead, because it tastes better the longer it sits.  I found the original recipe in Organic Gardening magazine, and tweaked it a bit to use what I had on hand.  That recipe suggested that it be served over bulgur or couscous, but I liked it on its own with just some good bread and butter on the side.  Next time, I'm going to try it with white beans instead of chickpeas, because I prefer those and think their creaminess will go well with the vegetable textures.

Note that this is not someting I would serve to my picky eater - I made it because it sounded good to me, and will eat it for lunch for a few days.  It is VERY filling!

1 medium eggplant, cut in 1-inch chunks
4 T. olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced
1 bell pepper (I used orange), cut into wedges
2 small zucchini, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1 t. paprika
1/2 t. turmeric
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 T. tomato paste (I used ketchup because I didn't have any tomato paste - turned out just fine)
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 15-ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
1 c. water
handful of fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
dash hot sauce, to taste
salt and pepper to taste

1.  In a large, nonstick deep-sided skillet or Dutch oven (I used my cast-iron chicken fryer), cook the eggplant in 1/2 of the olive oil over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown on all sides, 10 - 15 minutes.  Remove from pan and set aside.

2.  Put the rest of the oil in the pan, and cook onion, pepper, and zucchini until just starting to brown, about 10 minutes.  Add the paprika, turmeric, and garlic and cook an additional minute or two.  Add tomato paste and water, scraping the bottom of the pan to mix up the caramelized bits.  Add tomatoes, chickpeas, and eggplant, as well as salt and pepper to taste.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 - 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in cilantro, parsley, and hot sauce just before serving.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Summer is the worst time in the realm of make-ahead meals.  The concept of make ahead lends itself beautifully to casseroles, roasts, and other heavier, comfort-type foods, not the lighter, quicker-cooked fare that is desired in hot weather.  Who wants to turn on an oven when it's 95 degrees outside, even if the house IS air conditioned???

It's during heat waves like the one we're having now that our menus get pretty boring.  This week, I've been lucky to have some leftovers from our 4th of July weekend of play that have gotten me through.  Tonight we had our old standby, taco salad.  I know that there will be a few times in the coming months that I'll be able to get away with a dinner salad, or a chicken pasta salad, but with my picky eater, not every week!

So, it's time to pull out the cookbooks and last year's summer menus to figure out what we'll be eating in the coming weeks.  We're fortunate to have a great garden this year, so fresh produce is right at hand. 

Stay tuned for details - and I'm open to suggestions if anyone has any!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Menu plan July 5 - 9

Another week, another menu...this week we're able to take advantage of some leftovers we brought home from our 4th of July weekend at my sister-in-law's house.  We camped out in their barn and didn't eat everything we brought, which is very helpful when you're tired and not really feeling like menu planning!

Monday, we had grilled steak, corn, and chard.  Since it was a holiday I was able to cook at dinner time!

Tonight, we'll have burgers (leftover, just heat and eat) and potato salad

Tomorrow, we'll have fried ham and baked potatoes (not make ahead, but the ham slices I bought will fry up in about five minutes once the skillet is hot)

Thursday, we may finally eat that turkey I've had on the menu for several weeks!

Friday, we'll have taco salad.

Have a great week!  Don't forget to check out for tons of awesome menus!

Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed peppers are a great make-ahead.  Everything can be cooked and assembled ahead of time, then put in the fridge until it's time to pop them in the oven to heat through.  I've heard you can easily make them in a crock pot or pressure cooker, too, though I've never tried it because it's not something I've ever needed to do.

This is also a great "make it once, eat it twice" (MIOEIT) meal -you can make a double batch of filling and put the extra in the freezer.  The next time you want to eat it, just thaw the filling, clean and parboil your peppers, shred some cheese, and voila!  Stuffed peppers ready for baking in about 15 minutes.

Stuffed Peppers
serves 4

4 green bell peppers (you want decent size ones that can stand up straight)
1 pound ground beef
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 cups cooked rice (I prefer brown, but white works, and even Minute Rice will do)
2 cans condensed tomato soup (like Campbell's)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the tops off of the bell peppers. Remove seeds and as much of the ribs as you can with your fingers. Rinse well.

2. In a large pot, bring enough water to a boil to cover the peppers. Add 1 tablespoon salt; when dissolved, add peppers. Boil for four minutes. Remove with tongs, taking care not to tear or puncture them (careful! They'll be full of hot water, drain them carefully!). Place them in an 8x8x2 baking dish.

3. Brown the ground beef with the onions and garlic. Drain the fat off the beef. Add rice, soup, and salt and pepper to taste. It should be fairly loose, but not too soupy. If it's too soupy, you can add more rice or spoon some of the soup out.

4. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until bubbly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add one cup of cheese and stir until melted.

5. Spoon the mixture into the peppers. Top with remaining cheese.  Refrigerate.

6.  When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Immediately put peppers in the oven, and bake for 45 minutes.

Note:  If you're baking them right away, you only need to bake about 30 minutes, since the filling will already be hot.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Menu Plan June 28 - July 2

I'm a bit slow getting going this week but I do, in fact, have a menu plan!  Yay! 

Monday, we had leftover pizza and salad.

Tonight, we had grilled chicken and creamed peas and potatoes.  I don't usually grill on weeknights, but there wasn't any room in my fridge for a pan of chicken to be put in the oven, so we improvised.  Oh, and the peas and potatoes were from our garden.  AWESOME.

Tomorrow night, we're having spaghetti.

Thursday night, we're having baked turkey cutlets.  I just need to figure out what I'm going to do to them to give them some flavor!

Friday doesn't need to be make-ahead, since we're both taking the day off, so it'll probably be jambalaya or tuna helper.  We'll see.

Have a great week everyone!  And don't forget to visit for Menu Plan Monday each week!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dinner Salad

Entree salads are a great make-ahead meal.  All of the components can be prepped and stashed in the fridge for a quick dinner on the go.  Here's what we had tonight (utilizing leftover fajita meat).

Grilled flank steak or grilled chicken (diner's choice)
Tossed salad
Chopped hard boiled egg
Shredded cheese
Homemade croutons
Choice of salad dressing

Quick, easy, and delicious!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Menu Plan June 21 - 25

We pretty much failed at our menu plan last week.  I can't remember what happened, exactly (other than I forgot to thaw out the Cornish game hens, I do remember that), but we ended up getting take out twice.  Twice!  Shocking.

Anyway, on to a new week.  We had my family over on Saturday for a Father's Day dinner, and I grilled enough fajitas for about 40 people (there were 13 of us, including all the kids).  So we're having lots of leftovers this week, and it's time to get creative!  Here's the plan:

Tonight:  we had leftover fajitas.
Tomorrow:  Stuffed peppers
Wednesday:  Sausage and pepper penne (this will use our leftover peppers and onions.  I just have to figure out how to make this a make-ahead - I'll let you know!)
Thursday:  salad topped with our choice of chicken or steak (using the leftover fajita meat)
Friday:  Spaghetti

Should be a good week!  Remember, for tons of menu ideas each week, check out Menu Plan Monday at!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Recipe Review - Cucumber Fennel Salad

I made this to go with our dinner tonight (we were supposed to have the Cornish game hens, but I forgot to thaw them, so we had lemon pepper chicken instead).  I planted fennel in the garden for the first time, and I've never even really had it before, so I was on the lookout for a recipe and this sounded good.  Kind of a take-off on the cucumber salad I make every summer, which has vinegar and celery seed (and no fennel) instead of the lemon and dill that this recipe has.

It was really good!  I think I'll use a little more lemon next time, but it had a very light and fresh flavor.  The dill was a nice touch.  My onion was a little too powerful, so I avoided most of that (next time I'll try chives or scallions instead), but on the whole I thought it was good and will definitely make it again. 

It was a great recipe for a make ahead meal, because sitting all day gave the flavors extra time to meld.  I give it four stars!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Taco Salad

First of all, an aside.  I think I figured out how I overcooked the Pad Thai noodles - I soaked them in boiling water instead of hot tap water.  Silly me!  Won't make that mistake again - they were really mushy!

And now, on to today's recipe.  Taco salad is a great make-ahead, because all the cooking and chopping can be done and stored in the fridge until dinner time.  I usually cook the meat and add the water and taco seasonings, but don't cook it all the way down to the point that I would if I was going to eat it right away - I leave it a little runny.  Then, when it's dinner time, I just pull it out of the refrigerator, put it in the microwave for a few minutes, and it gets nice and steamy hot.

Our taco salads are pretty simple.  They include:

taco meat
iceberg lettuce
sliced olives
shredded cheese
chopped green onions or chives (we have a massive chive plant in the herb garden so I use that most of the time)
sour cream
taco sauce or salsa

Most of the time, I just use Lawry's taco seasoning packets when I cook the meat.  It has quite a bit of sodium in it, though, so when I'm organized and take the time to put it together, I like to mix up a couple of batches of this seasoning mix to have on hand:

Taco Mix Seasoning Packets
Makes enough for one pound of meat

2 tsp. minced onion
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional, if you like more heat)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin

Mix well in a small bowl.  Add to cooked meat with 1/2 cup water and cook until thickened.

Menu plan June 13 - 18

This is a really busy week for us, so I'm going to have to rely on some super-quick meals for most of it.

Last night, I made Pad Thai.  I overcooked the noodles somehow (never had that happen before!), but other than that, it was great!

Tonight, we're having taco salad.

Tomorrow, it'll be crock pot roast beef.

Wednesday, roasted Cornish game hens.

Thursday, should be leftover night but we'll see if we have any!

Friday, lemon pepper chicken.

Enjoy your week!

For tons of great menu ideas, visit Menu Plan Monday at!

Friday, June 11, 2010

How it works

Here's a typical weekday, which illustrates how I ended up with the "make ahead meals" concept. My daughter and I get up around 7:00. We eat breakfast around 8:00, finishing around 8:45 or so. Shortly after that, I go into the kitchen to make dinner. Sometimes it's a casserole, sometimes it's a hunk of meat or a soup in the crock pot, and sometimes, if I literally have five minutes to throw it together, it's chicken with some bottled marinade thrown over the top.

I've been doing this for about 15 months now, and it still seems a little odd to be making dinner at 9:30 or 10:00 a.m., but I'm sure it will eventually feel perfectly normal! I put whatever I've made in the fridge or the crock pot and write baking instructions (if necessary) on a white board that is hanging on the fridge.

After lunch, I go to work and my husband is home with our daughter. At the appointed time, he puts whatever it is in the oven. He doesn't preheat and he doesn't let the Pyrex sit out of the fridge for a while to take the chill off, and everything always turns out just fine.

When I get home, I change my clothes, fix whatever sides we're having (more about that later), and then we eat. Usually we're sitting down to dinner within 15 minutes of my coming in the door.

Once in a while, he gets distracted and forgets to put dinner in the oven. For these occasions, I keep some super-quick convenience foods on hand, such as potstickers or those really nice frozen pasta meals you can get in the grocery stores now. Sometimes we eat those. Sometimes I just make a run to Burger King or Taco Bell. Depends on how we feel and what the budget looks like.

I have to say, sometimes I miss grilling, sauteeing, and skillet meals, but I save those for the weekend so they aren't lost all together!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Apricot Chicken

The first time I saw the recipe for Apricot Chicken, I thought it sounded like the most disgusting thing a person could ever eat. Probably doesn't help that I don't care for apricots! For some reason, though, I had all the ingredients in the house, so one day I gave it a shot. Delicious!

The really nice thing about cooking in the morning and eating in the evening is that your meat has extra marinating time. This usually makes everything taste better.

Apricot Chicken
Serves 4

1/2 package dry onion soup mix
1/2 cup apricot preserves (I like to use the all-fruit variety)
1/2 - 1 cup Russian salad dressing (depending on how saucy you like your chicken)
8 - 12 chicken tenderloins

In a small bowl, mix soup mix, apricot preserves, and salad dressing. Place chicken tenders in a glass baking dish, and pour soup mixture over the top, thoroughly coating each piece. Refrigerate until cooking time.

Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Serve with your favorite sides (as you can see, we had this with roasted red potatoes and salad).


Hello! Welcome to "My Make Ahead Meals"! Stupid title, but you get the idea. My name is Karen. I'm wife to a picky eater and mom to a toddler who will eat just about anything I throw at her, as long as it isn't meat (and I will be enormously grateful for her non-pickiness for as long as it lasts).

I started this blog because I refuse to believe that I'm the only home cook in the world who has this issue - I make dinner around 10:00 every morning, and then we eat it around 7:00 every evening. See, it's like this - my husband works mornings/early afternoons, and I work late afternoons (that way one or the other of us is always home with our daughter. A beautiful schedule if you can't swing life on one income). I get home an hour and a half before he goes to bed, so dinner pretty much has to be on the table when I walk through the door. And he doesn't cook.

So this blog will serve two purposes: first, to give me a single place to keep all of my recipes and menu plans that are specifically centered around make-ahead cooking (my other blog, Living the Life, has lots of recipes but they aren't necessarily make-ahead friendly). Second, to provide you, my readers, with tips, tricks, recipe reviews, and other helpful information gleaned from my experiences.

This isn't a freezer cooking blog. I'd love to do once a month-type freezer cooking, but I'm pretty compulsive at the grocery store, so my freezers are generally packed full. I do, however, subscribe to the "cook it once, eat it twice" philosophy of life, and I'll note in the recipes where this is easily done.

This isn't a crockpot cooking blog. I love my crockpots, don't get me wrong (I have three), but for us, they are only suitable for certain applications.

This isn't a diet blog. Some of my recipes are very healthy, some are very, very fattening. Most fall somewhere in the middle.

This is simply a journal and a journey through nightly dinners at my house. I hope you enjoy.