Menu Plan Monday - August 21-September 1, 2010

OK, here's the drill. As a working mother, I need to know what I'm cooking each day. I cook more difficult, time consuming, or labor-intensive items on days I don't work. I cook quick, easy meals on days I work. Everyone is usually on their own on days I work night shifts. I get paid every two weeks. I work a rotating shift, so some weeks I plan for two weeks of food. Other weeks it may be closer to three weeks of menu planning and grocery shopping.

To see what others are eating, Laura's blog, I'm an Organizing Junkie, is the home of Menu Plan Monday.

Enough with the preliminary stuff, let's get to the good part..... Food!

August 21 - Mini Meatloaf (OAMC), Mashed Potatoes (OAMC), Macaroni and Cheese (OAMC), Steamed Broccoli

August 22 - Tater Tot Casserole (OAMC), Steamed Carrots

August 23 - Chicken Enchiladas (OAMC), Whole Kernel Corn

August 24 - Chicken Fingers (OAMC), Fried Potatoes, Broccoli and Rice Casserole (OAMC)

August 25 - Zucchini Parmesan (OAMC) or Chicken Parmesan (OAMC)

August 26 - Spaghetti (OAMC), Salad, Garlic Bread

August 27 - Beef, Macaroni and Tomato Casserole (OAMC)

August 28 - Pulled Pork Sandwiches (OAMC), Slaw, Make Ahead Twice Baked Potatoes (OAMC), Beans

August 29 - Fish Fillets, Fries {buy already made and frozen at the grocery store}

August 30 - Baked Spaghetti (OAMC), Garlic Bread

August 31 - Hamburgers {buy pre-made patties at grocery store}, Potato Salad, Whole Kernel Corn, Green Beans

September 1 - Cheesy Chicken and Rice (OAMC), Mashed Potatoes, Steamed Broccoli and Carrots

This time, I thought I would try to cook more things that can be frozen. I used to do some OAMC (Once A Month Cooking), but with chasing Colt and Bo's fottball season starting and work and everything else, I haven't done any OAMC or batch cooking in a looooong time. I have scanned through my cookbooks I have saved at, picked out a menu's worth of things we'll probably like, and the best part is, they can all be frozen. So I can cook double batches of some foods and freeze the extra for another night (like during our upcoming month of torture outage). I'm also trying to clear a little room out of our upright freezer so I can do some OAMC or batch cooking. I would LOVE to get to the point, space and budget-wise, to do a plan by the ladies over on Once A Month Mom.

Anyway, the idea this time is to cook double batches of several items on the menu. I'll use the cook-one-and-freeze-one method. Then we will see how well each dish stood up to being frozen, thawed, and cooked. Maybe that way I can add to my list of foods I know handle OAMC well and still taste good to us.

I'll post recipes for those items that don't already have one linked. I'll post reviews after we've eaten each dish.

From Lulu's Kitchen - Mini Meatloaves (OAMC)

I love meatloaf. Love it! Also, I love cooking meatloaf this way. I hate greasy meatloaf, swimming in all that fat from the ground beef. I also hate meatloaf covered with a nice burnt layer of what was tomato sauce or ketchup. So, this is how I cook my meatloaf. This also freezes well. I'll include that in the instructions, too, in case someone out there is interested.

Mini Meatloaves

2 lbs. ground beef (chuck, etc.- whatever kind you prefer)
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup bread crumbs, crushed saltine or Ritz-style crackers, etc. (again, whatever you have - this is great for using up old, stale bread or crackers)
1 package meatloaf seasoning (I usually use McCormick, just because that is what's available in my stores near here. I probably should look into making my own, though.)
1 (14oz) can italian diced tomatoes
1 (small? 6oz?) can tomato sauce

For most of these ingredients, I just use whatever I have or can find on sale. All the grease that cooks out of this will drain away, so I'm not concerned about buying low-fat (80/20 or 93/7 or some such) beef. Also,I try to stretch our grocery budget just a little, so I usually buy the store brands of canned goods when I can. As stated above, about the only thing I don't buy store brand is maybe the seasoning, because I don't think I've seen store-brand seasoning. I could probably make my own cheaper, especially if I also made my own taco seasoning, etc. I may look into that. But for now, store bought it is.


1. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Get out your broiler pan and the rack that goes with it.

I love using my broiler pan for cooking meatloaf. All the slits in the pan let all the nasty grease drain into the bottom of the pan, keeping my meatloaf high and dry, you might say. If you don't own one of these, you can use any pan with sides deep enough to hold the grease. However, I really do suggest you go out and get one if you don't have it. You'll thank me for it later.

2. Spray your pan with non-stick cooking spray. This helps the meatloaf not stick to the broiler pan, or what ever pan you're using.

3. In a medium mixing bowl, beat the eggs, milk, and tomato sauce together. Add seasoning and bread crumbs (or which ever you're using). THEN add the meat, mixing well with your hands.

4. While your hands are still covered in the meatloaf mixture, grab the meat by the handfull and shape into a ball/loaf shape. Place on the broiler rack (or other pan). Continue until you've used up all the meat.

5. Place your pan of meatloaf in the oven and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until meat is cooked all the way through. If you like, you can spread tomato sauce or ketchup or whatever your family prefers over the loaves, before or during cooking. I don't like it, so I omit this part.

Some helpful tips for making mini meatloafs:

1. A muffin pan can be used, also. Just spray the pan before you fill it. Press enough of the meat mixture into each cup to fill it over. Place muffin pan on a pan deep enough to catch any grease that runs out of the muffin pan.

2. For freezing, either use a muffin pan, or line baking sheets with wax/parchment paper (whichever you have). When using muffin pans, spray each cup before filling. Fill and freeze until the meat is frozen solid. Transfer to zippered freezer bags and freeze. When using baking sheet, spray the wax paper with cooking spray. Shape each loaf by hand and place on the paper, not touching. Freeze until frozen solid. Transfer to freezer bags and freeze.

3.) This recipe doubles and triples easily. Monday I cooked 5.3 pounds of hamburger meat into meatloaf. (Yes, all of it was for eating that night and leftovers the next day). I used: 5.3 pounds meat, 1 (14 oz) can Italian diced tomatoes, 1 (14 oz) can tomato sauce, whatever stale saltine/Ritz/oyster crackers I had in the cabinet (pulsed them in the blender to crumble them up quickly), 5 eggs, two packs of seasoning, and enough milk to hold it all together (1/2 to 3/4 cup? I don't know, I just poured some in the bowl). I mixed it up following the directions above. It made 19 mini-meatloaves (each was a full handful of meat), which filled up my broiler pan completely. I had to cram them on there, touching. It only took them about 75 minutes for them to all be cooked completely. I checked with my meat thermometer, and every one was 190°F or more inside. This fed 7 adults (some of which ate two or more loaves), gave me a plate (with 2 1/2 loaves) for lunch at work Tuesday, and left 5 in the fridge for the guys to eat Tuesday.

4. Alternatively, you could double or triple the amount you need when you make this. Cook what you need and freeze the rest. Dinner in a flash later, with only a minute or two of extra work now!

5. To cook after freezing, just place on the pan you want to cook them in (still frozen) and put them in the oven. It'll take longer to cook, but there's no defrosting needed. In fact, defrosting is really a waste, because then you'll probably have to reshape each one before baking.

6. If you want to make traditional meatloaf (one big loaf) this recipe works, too. I find it takes less time to bake if I make mini loaves for each of us, so that's what I do. By all means, use a loaf pan and make one big one if that's what you want. Or better yet (in my opinion), shape it into a loaf and place it on a broiler pan that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. All the grease still drains off, and it's still one big loaf.

7. When using a broiler pan, spray both sides of the rack with non-stick spray. Also spray the inside of the bottom pan. Trust me, easier cleanup later. The slots in the top pan will collect tiny pieces of meat and gristle and such as they cook out of the loaves, and then you'll have to scrub to get them off. Trust me. Spray the whole pan. You'll be glad you did.

8. Be careful when taking the broiler pan out of the oven when your meatloaf is done. Hold that pan even and level, and don't slosh it around. If you don't watch it, you'll pour hot meatloaf grease all over yourself. Not fun. I poured it all over the toe of my leater and suede work shoes the other day. I didn't burn myself, but I could have. Thank goodness I wear my shoes inside the house.

Anyone have anything else to add? If you do, leave a comment!

From Lulu's Kitchen: Tater Tot Casserole

Tater Tot Casserole

This is a family favorite! Basically, all it is, is chili-cheese tater tots! Who doesn't love that?!?! Whenever I'm asked by my guys "What's for dinner?" and I answer "Tater Tot Casserole", there's nearly a stampede right then and there. This also freezes well. Details on that under the helpful tips section of this post.

Tater Tot Casserole

1 pound ground beef
1 (2 pound) bag tater tots
2 (10 oz.) cans hot dog chili sauce
2 cups shredded cheese (any)

1. Pour tater tots into a 9x13 rectangular Pyrex dish or other such baking dish. Cook per package directions until tater tots are crispy and cooked completely.

2. While tots are baking, cook meat. Set aside. (I like to boil my meat in a big pot of water and then drain the water out. Less fat, cooks quicker, doesn't burn and get all crunchy like browning meat on the stovetop in a frying pan can. See the tutorial on Southern Plate that Christy Jordan wrote for more information on this.)

3. Mix chili sauce into the cooked, drained meat. Heat through.

4. Pour chili sauce over crispy tater tots. Top with shredded cheese. Bake at whatever temperature your oven is already set on for about 5 minutes, until the cheese is melted.

Some helpful tips for cooking this dish:

1. If freezing, assemble without cooking the tater tots or heating the chili sauce. Let the ground beef cool before assembling, but go ahead and mix the meat in the chili sauce before pouring over the tots. If you do heat the chili sauce, let it cool before you pour it over the tots. Trust me, if you cook the tots before assembly, or pour hot chili over the tots before freezing, you will have yucky, soggy tots. Not cool! After assembly, wrap well and label. Don't forget to label with cooking directions, too! This way, if you need your husband or teenager to start dinner, you can thaw this in the fridge the night before, then call when you need it popped in the oven and just tell them to follow the instructions on the label you made!

2. If you freeze this, it can be cooked two ways. The first is to thaw in the fridge overnight, then bake at 350°F about 20 minutes, or until heated through and the cheese is melted. The other is to unwrap and throw it in the oven frozen. Then you would bake it at 350°F until heated through. I would guess 30-45 minutes, but I've never done it this way, so I'm not sure.

3. If you're worried about your cheese burning due to the increased cooking time after freezing and thawing, but don't want to cover it with foil while baking (so the cheese won't stick to foil, of course), then try this. Assemble the casserole, everything but the shredded cheese. When you bake this, bake for all but about 5 or 10 minutes of the time called for. Take it out, add the cheese, then bake another 5-10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.

4. Short on time? No need to cook the tots if you need to throw this together really fast. It will just make for soggier tots if you don't cook them until they're crispy first. Plus, it takes about as long to cook the ground beef as it does the tots, unless you have ground beef already cooked in your freezer, like I do.

Have any more suggestions? Share them in the comments.

Evidently I'm not quite the domestic goddess I fancied myself..........

As a 1930s wife, I am
Very Poor (Failure)
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