Cooking Tips & Tricks

Pomegranates are on sale this week at Meijer! A lot of people avoid them, because they just aren’t sure how to serve them or what to do with them. Instead of sticking with the same old fruits like apples, bananas, and orange, you should definitely pick up a pomegranate and give it a try. Especially, if you like sweet and sour fruits.
First of all, pick a pomegranate with a thick, unbroken skin. This ensures flavor. The part of the pomegranate that you want to eat is the seeds. And, you want the entire seed, even the tiny chewier seed in the center of the juice. The seeds are actually pretty simple to get out. When we get home with ours, I slice them in half, then use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Often there are many seed pockets within the pomegranates, so you may have to make a few extra cuts or it is very easy to just break apart.
My daughters prefer to eat pomegranate seeds raw. They just sit with a bowl of seeds and a spoon and dig in! They even beg for more afterwards. However, you can use them in recipes too. Try sprinkling them over your salad or use them to top pudding, pancakes, waffles, cereal, oatmeal, cheesecake, etc..! They are truly delicious.
Pomegranate Smoothie
1 Cup Ice
1/2 Cup Vanilla Yogurt, Ice Cream, or Frozen Yogurt
4 TBSP Milk
4 TBSP Pomegranates
Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. You can also add your favorite fruit. Try adding a banana for a Pomegranate-Banana Smoothie

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With the final post coming out next week, we’re wrapping up our Freezer Series with a fun event to help you have many meals on hand quickly.

While many of us have participated in a cookie exchange around Christmas time, the idea of a meal exchange has never crossed our mind. OAMC may sound appealing to you, but the work involved is an absolute turn off. Instead of doing it all yourself, try it with friends.

There are two options for cooking with your friends to split the load. If you have a large enough kitchen, invite your friends over to cook. Each of you prepare 1 or 2 meals for every family involved in the Cooking Party. Each person brings his/her own ingredients and spend the day cooking together. When you leave, grab one of each meal to take home and freeze.

If, like me, you’d never fit that many people in your kitchen or have the room for a Cooking Party, try a simple Meal Exchange. In this scenario, each family involved prepares 1 or 2 meals beforehand, then you meet and swap. It’s simple!

The greatest part of a Meal Exchange or Cooking Party is that you get to enjoy some meals that you wouldn’t necessarily have cooked yourself. It’s a chance for your family to try new things. Plus, it saves you money to buy items in bulk and prepare one meal for several families.

5 TIPS FOR A COOKING PARTY/ MEAL EXCHANGE
1) Set limits before hand so everyone is on the same page. For example, make sure everyone knows to prepare 2 meals per family participating. Also make sure they know that each meal should cost approximately $5 a meal and include 5 servings. This stops one family from preparing fillet mignon, while another makes sloppy joes, and evens up the costs.

2) Make sure everyone submits their recipe beforehand, so you don’t have two of the same meal. This creates variety.

3) Instead of making 2 different meals, have each family double the servings in a meal to create more food for everyone participating. For larger groups, only make 1 meal per participating family.

4) Make sure each family notifies the others of any allergies beforehand!

5) Keep is simple. If you overdo it or make it too complicated, no one will want to participate.

Check out the entire Freezer Series HERE to see what you missed!

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For those of you who don’t enjoy cooking, OAMC can sound like a nightmare and a lifesaver all tied into one.

What is OAMC? It stands for Once-a-Month Cooking. The theory is that you spend one or two days a month and cook an entire month’s worth of meals, so you don’t have to cook every day.

Freezer cooking is similar, but could mean just cooking one meal to freeze or a week’s worth of meals instead of an entire month’s worth all at once.

The key to making OAMC manageable is organization! The more organized you are beforehand, the less stressful it will be for you.

Though I haven’t attempted OAMC for a while, I did when I worked away from home and it was honestly the greatest thing ever, because no matter how tired I was or how much I didn’t feel like cooking, I always had a delicious homemade meal on hand. Recruit your children to help you out, because it will not only teach them to cook, but also lessen the work for you!

5 TIPS FOR OAMC OR FREEZER COOKING
1) Plan your entire menu ahead of time and make sure you have all ingredients on hand.

2) Prepare ahead of time by chopping all your vegetables and making sure all your ingredients are ready to go into each recipe.

3) Multi-task by cooking meals that contain similar ingredients at the same time. For example, cook hamburger in a skillet for a spaghetti meal kit, sloppy joes, and a taco meal kit.

4) Don’t try to take on too much too quickly. If this is your first time, try making a week’s worth of dinners first. Or divide up the tasks to cover a few days – dinner day, side dish day, and baking day.

5) If you don’t want to cook an entire month’s worth of meals, just try cooking one now and then to store in your freezer. When making a casserole, soup, or dish, double up and make two, then freeze one for a later date.

Check out the entire Freezer Series HERE to see what you missed!

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Sometimes, it makes more sense to freeze a meal in parts, instead of freezing an entire meal. For example, pizzas, spaghetti, and tacos freeze better in a kit then after fully prepared.

An example of a taco kit would be:
-Pre-cooked seasoned hamburger or chicken
-Cheese
-Taco Shells

You could put each of these items into a separate freezer baggie, then put all of the individual baggies into one large baggie. When you’re ready to enjoy, pull out the kit and assemble. Don’t forget to have your favorite extras on hand like tomatoes, sour cream, and other ingredients that won’t thaw well for a kit.

In addition to meal kits, sometime it’s great to just freeze a single part of a meal, like meatballs. If you tray freeze meatballs and store in a freezer baggie long term, you can pull out a few to toss in spaghetti sauce or to make a meatball sandwich. Or make a partial spaghetti kit by putting sauce in one baggie and meatballs or seasoned cooked hamburger in another, and leaving your pasta in the pantry uncooked.

Meal Kit Ideas:

Spaghetti & Meatballs (or other pasta meals, keep pasta in pantry)
Tacos
Pizza
Sloppy Joes (or Pulled Pork/Chicken) & Buns
Burritos
Nachos
Stir Fry (keep rice in pantry)

Check out the entire Freezer Series HERE to see what you missed!

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Fruits and vegetables are a bit trickier to freeze than meats. Mainly because they won’t thaw out and be beautifully fresh and ready to eat raw. Instead, I recommend, only freezing fruits and vegetables to use in meals you’re going to prepare. By freezing fruits and vegetables, you can significantly increase the shelf life and have ingredients for meals ready to simply pull out.

For example, I love to buy produce like onions and peppers when they are very cheap. When I get home, I dice them up into small pieces and place on a cookie sheet to freeze. When the small pieces are frozen, I dump them into a large freezer baggie, so when I’m cooking a meal that calls for onions or peppers, I can simply grab a few out and toss them in! They don’t even need to thaw before being tossed a in a recipe and cooked. It’s so simple, I’m more likely to use them!

Each vegetable needs to be prepared to freeze differently though. While some can be frozen raw, others need to be blanched or cooked first. Visit HERE for a great detailed chart on each vegetable and how to freeze it to perfection.

Frozen vegetables keep approximately 12-18 months if your freezer temperature is below 0.

BLANCHING
When freezing some raw vegetables, it’s important to blanch first. Enzymes cause vegetables to lose their flavor and color, making them less appealing or even inedible when thawed. Blanching stops these enzymes.

To blanch, boil 1 gallon of water in a large pot. Only blanch 1 pound of vegetables per gallon of water at a time. Submerge vegetables using a cheese cloth, strainer, or basket. Immediate pack vegetables in airtight containers in family size portions.

Check out the entire Freezer Series HERE to see what you missed!

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The average American consumes more meat then recommended on a daily basis, because we tend to make it the center of our meals. Meat just happens to be one of the most expensive grocery items, so save some money by cutting it out now and then. Vegetarian meals can be both healthy and delicious, and a lot of your favorite recipes can be made vegetarian just by skipping the meat. I try to have one or two vegetarian meals a week to cut down our budget. It’s a big change at first, since meat it typically the primary focus of a meal, but once you get used to the idea it can be a great change.

Try having a salad night where you make a large entree salad. My kids love this, because they get to make their own salads and throw in their favorite ingredients. As I’ve mentioned, salad night is a VERY serious thing at our home. We include everything from shrimp to cheese and oranges to onions, depending on our moods.

Need more vegetarian recipes? Visit VegCooking.com.

Have a delicious vegetarian recipe? Share!

Have a great tip to share? E-mail me or leave a comment and I’ll give you credit.

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