Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed peppers just waiting for the cheese topping!

These are such a quick and easy meal to make! Our kids will go through phases where they will eat the pepper, other times they just eat the stuffing (which still have veggies in it!) but it seems anything I make with cheese is always a win at our table. I made these a little different than I usually do and absolutely adored them, so decided to share the updated recipe.

Ingredients

1 lb ground beef (can substitute for turkey, chicken or meat alternative)

3-4 whole, sweet peppers

Cooked rice, we prefer basmati or jasmine

Mild salsa, cumin, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder

Grated cheese, we prefer cheddar

2 tbsp butter

Directions

Boil about 1c of rice as per directions on the package. Drain and set aside.

On medium, brown your ground meat or meat alternative with salt, pepper, cumin, garlic and onion powder. If not using a lean meat, you may need to drain the grease.

While meat and rice are cooking take your peppers, wash, and cut in half removing the seeds. Set the peppers aside until ready to stuff. Slice your butter and lay in the bottom of a casserole dish.

Once meat is fully cooked, turn the stove to almost low and add the cooked rice, and start with a cup of salsa. Stir it all together until blended. If the meat and rice seem dry, add a bit more salsa until you reach your desired consistency. I like to add enough just to cover the rice and meat, but not so that the dish is sloppy.

Once everything is blended, remove from heat. Pick up your pepper halves and carefully, as the stuffing will be hot, use a spoon, and fill each pepper half with the stuffing until full. You can use the spoon back to press the stuffing in. Once full, lay on the butter in the casserole dish.

Once each pepper is full and tucked into the casserole dish, sprinkle the grated cheese over top.

Cover the dish with foil and bake at 400F until the cheese is melted and peppers softened. About 20-30 min. Uncover the pepper for the last 5 min and let the top crisp up a bit. Remove and serve.

Super simple recipe with very few steps. I used to stick to italian seasonings and tomato sauce, while dicing and adding onions and peppers to the beef when browning it. I decided to try the cumin and salsa for a different flavour this time and found it worked even better! Less prep and the flavour was fantastic. If your family likes more heat, just increase the salsa to medium or hot. Quick to prep, quick to cook and a full meal in a short time.

Meal Planning

Meal Planning started when I ran a home daycare. With 7 kids needing two snacks and lunch per day, plus my own family to feed dinner to, daily organization was needed! Meal planning helped ensure we had a variety of nutritional content, food wasn’t wasted and I was using my prep time wisely. Trying to ensure everyone has something on their plate they liked, while also introducing new foods was something I strived for.

When my work reopened during Covid and life got quite busy, it was time to bring back more formal meal planning where our weekly dishes weren’t just floating around in my head. I brought up a chalkboard we weren’t using, hung some twine on the back and in seconds had an easy to use board that the whole family could see. Meal plans can be written on pen and paper, an electronic version or anything in between. Decide what works best for your family and go from there.

I like to keep things simple. Know what foods your family does and doesn’t like, ask for input (this is my kids’ favourite part) and don’t be afraid to branch out and try something new. I often try new meals when I know we have some favourites leftover in the fridge. Our rule is 10 bites, at least try it before deciding it’s a dish you don’t like. If you don’t like it, you can make your own meal from the fridge, but it has to be nutritious. Knowing the foods my family likes, I start planning by taking a look in the fridge. What ingredients need to be used up first, what do I have too much of? Often, this is produce. Once I see the items I need to use up, I start picturing meals that will use them. I head to the freezer next to see what is available. After the freezer, I check my pantry. Then, I write out our weekly meal list.

I try to plan with a variety of proteins, I look at meals that can carry into each other or the following week for easier prep and I base our meals on the seasonal produce available when possible too. We tend to do groceries on Wednesday as our daughter has Cheer practice and there is a grocery store just down the road. Two birds, one stone sorta deal. I look at what we had the week before, try not to duplicate meals more than once a month and get a little creative. I also look at our weekly schedules. What nights am I home to cook? What nights are a little more rushed? Are there any appointments or commitments? Any special celebrations, holidays or sleepovers happening? The goal of my meal plan is to be functional, tasty and easy to execute. It has to fit within the family’s lifestyle to be functional, so looking at what the family’s needs are, is key.

Once I have a rough outline of the ingredients I need to use up, I fill in the blanks. For example, the first week pictured I had a lot of salsa and tuna on hand. I could double up the mashed potatoes for Friday and Sunday. Rice or mini potatoes could work with the chicken fingers on Saturday and the weather was great for bbqing that steak. I had pork and apples on hand, but needed proscuitto and a different cheese. We had cucumbers, peppers, carrots that needed to be eaten soon, so Saturday easy dinnner was great for that. I was off on the Monday and had cottage cheese to use so stuffed shells were an easy answer.

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We did a lot of cooking the first week, so I kept it simpler the second. We had leftovers for sure. The chili and stew were pre portioned and frozen from previous weeks, which meant no effort at all. We had taco shells to use up and soup in the freezer too. We were visiting my family on Saturday and coming home Sunday which meant leftovers from that week were the easy answer for Sunday dinner. It also meant that the fridge would be cleaned out ready for a new week. No groceries had to be bought for this week as everything was on hand between the fridge and freezer.

Planning our weekly meals takes no more than 30 minutes, often closer to 15. It helps give me a quick inventory of our groceries too and sets up our grocery list for the week. If you’re someone who needs more structure, you can have a binder or recipe box of meals that can rotate. Have the recipes written down, ingredients first so you can see what is on hand and what needs to be bought. Batch cook where you can. Make a meal for tonight and one for a few weeks from now. Then, on a busier night all you have to defrost and cook. Other meals can be cooked straight from frozen. Don’t forget that simple meals can have great nutrition too. Keep some basic ingredients in your pantry and replenish once they get half to a quarter left. Buy butter, cheese, breads when on sale and freeze. Learn your spices and herbs to create different flavours. And don’t be afraid to change it up. I find tweaking an ingredient, adding something new or pairing different sides can keep a dish interesting. Have fun with your meal plan and create one that works for YOU!

Creamy Mac N Cheese

This has always been a house favourite. I love how easy it is to make and how versatile it is. The recipe is not an exact science, but I’m working on writing it down better!

What You’ll Need

Pasta. Pick something firmer, elbow macaroni, penne even fusili can work. Milk. I use 2%. You can use 2%-10% and adjust the roux and cheese portion to account for the extra creaminess. Butter, flour and cheese. I used about 3/4C of unsalted butter and 1/2C flour to make the roux. Cheese is the best part! I love using up bits and pieces in our fridge. If you want a mild flavour, use your basic marble or mild cheddar. If you want stronger, old cheddar has that nice, sharp flavour. You can really mix it up with blue, oka, brie whatever flavour you want! I have also used garlic and herb cream cheese and boursin as both melt in fantastically. I especially love adding a bit of garlic and herb cream cheese if I’m making alfredo sauce as it gives it a creamy texture without that cheese flavour. Have fun with the cheese and get creative. Salt, pepper, spices and mustard. I add salt and pepper to just about everything. With this mac and cheese I also added garlic and paprika. Depending on the cheese you choose to use you can pair spices up for added flavour. Cayenne for a kick, cumin for warmer, southern flavour, curry for something different, so many options. Then a quick squeeze of mustard. It just adds a bit extra to the flavour. Use less for a slight oomph to the sauce, or more for a stronger flavour. Then, shredded cheese and breadcrumbs for the top. You can keep the mac n cheese simple, or add veggies, bacon, prosciutto. I’ve even done lobster mac n cheese which was by far the best I’ve made. If adding veggies, dice or grate small and steam. Carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peas all work well. If picky eaters, you can steam and puree, adding them into the sauce to hide them. You can carmelize onions, sautee peppers, so many variations.

Cook It!

Start with preheating the oven to 400F. Then begin boiling water for the pasta. Then pour milk into a heavy bottomed pot. I used about 4 cups as I was using the base in alfredo for next night’s dinner. Turn the stove onto medium heat to warm the milk. While that’s warming, start on the roux. Melt the butter in a small pot. Once the butter is melted remove from the heat and stir in the flour until it’s thick, but no chunks. I started with equal parts butter and flour but added more butter after taking the picture because the roux was too thick. It needs to be added to the milk to thicken it, so you want a thick consistency without it being completely solid. Whisk the milk as it heats so it doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pot. Once it’s steaming whisk in the roux to thicken. It will get thicker than it first appears, so add slowly and be patient. The cheese will thicken the sauce further so keep that in mind. Once you get your desired consistency, start adding your cheese. Grate it, cut it into pieces, break off chunks, whatever makes you happy and whisk as you add. The cheese will melt, so keep stirring until it’s all combined. Add your spices and mustard and taste. Adjust based on the end flavour you’re looking for. By now the pasta should be ready, so drain that and add to a casserole dish. Add any veggies or protein you would like, then pour the cheese sauce over it all and stir. Add as much sauce as you desire. Less will be a thick, sticky dish, more will be a creamier, saucier dish. Once you have it all stirred together you can add bacon to the top if you like. Then top the pasta with shredded cheese and finally, breadcrumbs. Bake uncovered at 400F until the top is brown and the sides are bubbling with sauce. About 20-30 min max. Then serve and enjoy!

Linen Closet ReRoll

I read a post on #gocleango about towel folding and on it rolling towels was mentioned. I have rolled towels for Girl Guide Camp, vacations, beach days, but never had I thought of rolling them for our linen closet. It was like a light went off. I had the day off, so what better time than the present to reorganize the linen closet.

All of our sheet sets are folded and tucked into a pillowcase of the set. It keeps things together and makes it easy to grab and go when changing sheets. They are stacked in the closet based on size.

The next two shelves are body and hair towels, wash cloths and hand towels. I rolled the wash cloths and hand towels and set them into the baskets to keep them organized, but still easy to grab. The hair towels fit no problem still folded, so I left those alone. The big body towels fit so much better all rolled up. No more folding them the “wrong way” depending on which one of us puts away the laundry, they stack nicely and don’t fall over and I can fit more without them being crowded.

Such a simple switch, but it has made things so much more functional!

Stuffed Shells

This was one of my favourite things my mom made for dinner growing up. It had all the components of lasagna, but I could pick and choose whether I wanted more cheese or more meat that night. Super simple to make and easy to freeze for a quick dinner option on another night.

Ingredients

Ingredients

I do both cheese/spinach and beef shells in this recipe. You can substitute to make Vegan or Vegetarian meals.

1 box jumbo shells 1lb ground beef or turkey 1 package of baby spinach (I used a 142G pack) 1 454G container of Cottage Cheese 1 egg 1/2C grated parmesan cheese 1 small onion, diced 1 red pepper diced 1 tbsp olive oil 1 can pasta sauce Salt, Pepper and Diced Garlic to taste Grated mozzarella to top

Steps

Start by boiling water to cook the shells. In one frying pan add the ground meat, diced onion, diced pepper, diced garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Cook on medium heat until meat is fully cooked, with no pink left. In another frying pan, sautee the spinach, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper to taste. While the two pans are cooking, in a bowl combine the cottage cheese, parmesan, egg and pepper to taste. Once the spinach is cooked, add to the bowl and stir to combine. Set aside until ready to fill shells. In the meantime, open the can of pasta sauce and pour a bit into a long, low casserole dish. Pour just enough in to cover the bottom of the dish. Cover the bottom by taking the dish and tilting it around to spread the sauce evenly.

Steps

Once the pan with the meat is fully cooked, add pasta sauce to it. Enough to cover the meat and vegetables, but keep some aside to finish the shells. Once covered, remove from the stove and get ready to stuff the shells. Once the shells are cooked al dente, soft, but still firm pour the shells into a strainer, then rinse in cold water. Preheat the oven to 400F. Gently taking the shells one at a time, using a spoon, fill the shells with the meat or cheese mixture. I tend to do half meat, half cheese. If you have any meat filling left over, you can freeze to add to spaghetti sauce later. Once filled, lay the shells in the dish side by side until the pan is filled. Take the remaining pasta sauce and spread in a line over the tops of the shells. To finish them off, take your grated mozzarella and sprinkle over all the shells to cover. These are fantastic to make a big batch of, some for dinner and some for the freezer for a future meal. Seal tightly and freeze for up to 6 months in a deep freeze.

Ready to Bake

Cover the dish with foil and bake at 400F for 30 minutes until the sides are bubbling and the cheese is melted. You can remove the foil for the last 10 minutes of baking. Remove from the oven, serve and enjoy!

Pumpkin Spice Loaf

Pumpkin Spice Loaf with white chocolate chips

Today I was in the mood for pumpkin baking. I wanted that warm flavour you get with the fall spices. I wanted something fluffy, moist and something I could add white chocolate to. I searched Google and quickly found a recipe with great reviews. I made it, but didn’t love the way the batter looked or the way it turned out. I decided to tweak the recipe a tad. It gave it the fluffy texture I wanted, but the flavour was too simple. I decided to give it one more try after dinner. Jackpot! I found exactly the result I wanted.

I only wanted to make 1 loaf to be safe, but you can double up the recipe to get more for sharing. The butter is a bit of an odd measurement because of this. I like recipes that I can make with little fuss and taste great. Ideally wet and dry ingredients should be mixed separately, but as I like my day to function as smooth as possible, I like recipes where I can just keep adding ingredients into one bowl and the recipe still turns out amazing.

Pumpkin Spice Loaf

1/4+1/8C Softened Butter

1/2 C White Sugar

1/2 C packed Brown Sugar

1 Egg

1 1/2 C Pure Pumpkin Puree

2 tsp Cinnamon

1 tsp Nutmeg

1 tsp Cloves

1 tsp Baking Soda

1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder

1/4 tsp Salt

1 1/2C AP Flour

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix the Butter and sugar until fluffy. Then add the rest of the ingredients in the order they are listed, continuing to mix after each one. I added white chocolate chips to one loaf and toffee bits to another. Both turned out fantastic. For best baking results, grease and lightly flour your bread pans. Fill the pan with the batter. Sprinkle a bit of brown sugar on top, then sprinkle pumpkin seeds. These steps are optional, but are a fantastic addition to the loaf. Bake for 60-70 min or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn out and fully cool on a cooling rack. Slice and serve. This loaf can easily be sliced, placed in containers and frozen.

Butternut Squash Carrot Soup

Cool days call for soup. This time of year, our local Independent grocery store often has bushels of roma tomatoes, shepherd’s peppers, apples and more! Throw in a few squash, carrots, onions and a desire for comfort food and I knew I could find a recipe to match my wants. I came across this recipe and realized how versatile it is. http://www.windsoreats.com/2013/11/recipe-roasted-butternut-squash-red-pepper-soup/ I was a little late to the game this year and they were out of the big bushels of peppers so I decided to change it up. Butternut squash carrot soup. Super easy to make and depending on the final flavour you’re going for you can modify your herbs and spices to match.

I used 2 whole butternut squash. Cut in half, seeds removed. 6 large carrots scrubbed, but not peeled, ends cut and then cut into larger sticks. 3 yellow onions, outer skin removed and quartered. 2 heads of garlic, peeled but cloves kept whole. Preheat the oven to 425F. Line your baking sheets with aluminum foil. Lay the veggies out, squash middle side down. Take a fork and puncture some holes on the skin of your squash. Drizzle olive oil over all the vegetables. Salt and pepper to taste. Let them roast for 30-45 min. The carrots will be done before the squash. Once the squash is softer to the touch (use the side of a fork or a spoon to push, not your finger!) it’s ready. Take the pans out, let cool. Once cool enough, toss the onions, carrots and garlic, as they are into a 6qt pot. Turn the squash over, scoop out the flesh and add to pot. I added four 900ml containers of vegetable stock. Then tossed in some fresh thyme and sage, salt and pepper. I let that simmer for about an hour. Turned off the element, removed the pot from the heat and let it sit for 20 min, then pulled out the sage and thyme sprigs. Used my immersion blender and pureed the soup until it was smooth. I tasted it and decided to add some paprika, nutmeg and cinnamon for a warmer flavour. I put the pot back on the burner for 30 more minutes to let the new spices blend in. The soup can be served right away or frozen. If freezing, cool overnight in the fridge first.

Kitchen in a Box

We rent our home and when we moved every room got bigger, except the kitchen. I have grown to work within our kitchen, but oh, how few cupboards and counter space there is to work with! We finally had our cupboard repainted during covid and moved a few things around. We tried to be creative about how to add more counter space, keeping in mind that we don’t own the home. What was the easiest solution? IKEA of course!

We already owned a couple of the Kallax shelves and loved the versatility with them. We measured planned and decided that adding two of them would fit the kitchen just fine. The shelves had to be stacked in front of one another to fit. This led to me wondering how in the world could I organize the shelves, keep things dust free and ACTUALLY reach all the way to the back with them being twice as deep? After staring at the options before me, I realized bins! Bigger items can fit easily in the back and still be accessible, while bins in the front allow me to pull them out to access smaller items or pull them fully out to reach the big items stored behind.

We added doors on the bottom because I only had so many small items that would fit in the bins. Behind the doors we have one shelf with Play Doh, making it super easy for the kids to reach and put back away. Another has our electric kettle and coffee maker. The third all our makers; waffles, grilled cheese and donuts. Recipe books and containers that tend to only get filled with Christmas baking take up the last shelf.

Our bins hold water bottles which used to be stored on a pantry shelf. They often fell over and took up valuable shelf space! Another bin holds smoothie items; the magic bullet, protein powder and cups. It also holds my immersion blenders, which sometimes get used for smoothies too! The third bin holds the tupperware lids and the last is used as a “bread box.” Everything is so accessible for the kids and easy to store items in! The bins contain small pieces but are big enough that they can fit what is needed or be changed for different items if our needs change.

It took a bit of trial and error to figure out exactly what I wanted where, but now that it is done and we’ve been using it for a few months I love it! The kids can reach what they need, I can set a bin up top to reach the back quickly and it has added a place to cool and decorate cookies and more counter space for both kids to prep their lunches in the morning. Who knew that our perfect kitchen addition would come from IKEA in a box?

Hiding in Plain Sight

I absolutely love these boxes from Winners. The only downside is that you never know what designs they will have in, but for easy storage they work fantastic. I was looking for something to store our card games, puzzles and brain games in that the kids could easily access. Something that didn’t feel too cluttered, but would also keep the dust out. These boxes have been stored in coffee tables, shelves and even on the floor when folks forget to put them away! I have a bigger one that we store our Tablecloths in and because of the pretty design on it, it’s easy to have out. The boxes come in a variety of sizes and can be adapted for anything that you want to hide in plain sight!

Apple Cinnamon Muffins

Fall brings the flavours of cinnamon, nutmeg, spices, apples and pumpkins. Flavours that feel like a warm hug on a cool autumn day. I was in the mood for apples and spices so started looking up recipes to match the kind of muffin I wanted to make. I came across this one https://addapinch.com/cinnamon-apple-muffins-recipe/ and decided to try it, but with a crumble topping instead of a dip.

The end result was ok. It was simpler in flavour and more dense than I wanted. I knew I wanted something more moist, softer, with more complexity on the tongue, warmer. I decided to try the recipe again with some substitutions. I increased the butter from 1/2C to 2/3 knowing it would moisten the batter. I switched out the 1C white sugar for 1/2C white, 1/2C brown to add flavour and keep the batter fluffy. I tossed the apples in cinnamon and brown sugar to start opening the apples up and releasing their natural sugars. Then I made a better crumble and covered the tops to create a nice, crisp top. I added about 2 tsp of cinnamon, 1/2tsp of nutmeg and 1/4tsp of allspice alltogether to the batter. Different spices added more complex flavours and really gave the muffins that fall feel I was looking for.

Then the ultimate test, I brought both muffins into work for the taste test! Results were unanimous. The altered recipe was better and gobbled up! These muffins took 10 minutes max to mix and I was able to walk to the dog and tidy the kitchen while they baked. Talk about functionality! They freeze very easily which means you can double or triple the recipe and have extras for the weeks ahead. I kept about 8 out for my family to eat over the weekend then froze the rest. Muffins are great because you can pull them from the freezer the night before and they’re ready for snacks the next day, whether it be work, school or breakfast.

You can see the difference in texture in the picture with the open muffins. The top right is the original recipe, the bottom is after the changes. Fluffier, smaller density and a darker look. Spices can always be lessened or added depending on your family’s preferences. This is the best part about playing with recipes!