Surviving the Holidays-Hosting Thanksgiving

The key to surviving any holiday planning is to start ahead.  Sure people may think you’re a bit odd, but the stress you will save yourself will be worth it.  I developed the habit of planning 2-3 months ahead of time long ago so I’m actually a bit behind where I usually am. I may have also begun planning my Christmas baking at the same time as planning on what I want to make for Thanksgiving…

It’s never to early to start planning, so here is a checklist of things to keep you on track so stress is less.

  1. Get a rough idea of the guest list.  It doesn’t have to be definite, but a rough head count and who is coming is handy, especially if there are allergies to work around.
  2. Determine if people are bringing items or if you are supplying everything.  Having a checklist of who is bringing what will help keep you on track.  If you need a visual a handy dry erase board on the refrigerator is great for making notes. I make a huge mess in the kitchen so I tend to not use technology around food, but there are several planning apps out there if you’d rather use a phone or tablet.
  3. Your menu should be finalized at least two weeks before the big day, so looking for ideas for recipes can begin at any time.  Check out my Thanksgiving Pinterest board for ideas and links to recipes.  Try to choose some items you can make before and don’t forget to leave room in the oven.
  4. Don’t forget it takes a few days to thaw that turkey or ham.  You also don’t want to go to the store the night before (I made that mistake once and I’ll never make it again).  Most turkeys have a thawing chart right on the package if you aren’t sure how many days you’ll need.  You’ll also want to make sure that you place it on a pan to prevent a mess of water in your refrigerator.  Plan on purchasing food 7-14 days before, especially if you are making food early.
  5. Cleaning the house will depend on when people are arriving.  Aim for 3 days before your guests arrive unless you need to deep clean.  The kitchen should be clean and ready to go before preparing any food.
  6. When planning oven space figure out which items need to be served hot (green bean casserole) and which items can be served warm or at room temperature (rolls). You’ll also want to look at what can go in a slow cooker instead of an oven to save space. It’s also good to note which dishes need to be cooked at which temperatures and for how long. If you find yourself with five items with five different temperatures and five different times you may need to adjust your menu or come up with another way to prep the items.
  7. Appoint one person to be in charge of the organization of the kitchen and keep everyone else out. If you are cooking have someone else keep track of what needs to go in the oven and when and help you to bring items out to the table. Too many cooks in the kitchen definitely equals disaster and chaos.
  8. Remember to account for that turkey taking longer than you planned. Have plenty of board games or activities for your guests to do while dinner is cooking. My grandmother is the only person I know that managed to get the turkey on the table at exactly the right time. I did not inherit that skill.
  9. It always annoyed me that dinner was hot and ready to eat and we had to wait for 20 people to say what they were thankful for before we could dive in. An alternative to this if you have a large group of people is to do it while food is being passed around, during dinner as part of the conversation, or even after dinner before dessert is served.
  10. Remember earlier how we wanted to keep everyone out of the kitchen. At the end of the meal allow them to help by clearing dishes and bringing items back to the kitchen and helping with clean up. Do not try to clean up everything yourself!

These are just a few tips and tricks. Remember that everyone has traditions around the holidays and these should also be incorporated into your plans. Staying organized is key to everyone enjoying the day.


Finding Recipes

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is “Where do you find your recipes?”  Since I’m a librarian by trade I have no problem in sharing my resources with you.

  1. Cookbooks-it’s true print is not yet dead and I still use these.  Small town midwest ones are best because it’s very rare that the recipe isn’t excellent, otherwise the entire town would be all over the person that submitted it.  Definitely the accountability factor for those.  I also have a few of my own that I’ve picked up on sale (Barnes and Noble sales get me every time) and I check out some from the public library.  The library is a great go to if you don’t want to purchase and entire book and just want to browse through some to get ideas.
  2. Pinterest-linked from this site is my Pinterest.  I will give the disclaimer that I haven’t made all of the recipes yet, but I’m working my way through them.  I’ve also attempted to organize them for easy browsing.  Again my librarian skills are being used in my personal life.
  3. Websites-just a quick disclaimer, I’m not receiving anything from recommending these so hopefully they won’t mind.  My favorites are Taste of Home, Pioneer Woman, All Recipes, and Betty Crocker.
  4. Make up my own-sometimes I just have a bunch of leftover stuff and I throw it into a pot and make it into soup.  I also modify most of the recipes I find and add in my favorite ingredients.  I’m not afraid to experiment, especially with soup.  When it comes to soup you can either add in more broth to dilute the flavor or add in more flavor.  Since it stirs right in you can always taste test once it heats up.  I always taste test anything I fully make before it goes in the freezer.

There are definitely other resources out there, but these are the main ones that I use.  Happy cooking!

Soup: The 2nd Round

soup ingredients August 2018

Last year I decided to try only soup as freezer meals.  After some mishaps, I determined that it turned out not to be a bad deal and last fall I loved coming home from work and having a wide variety of choices in the freezer full of summer veggies. This year I decided to do the same and learn from my mistakes last year.

My biggest struggle with making this much soup at once is choosing which recipes to use. Limiting myself to only 12 soup recipes is actually difficult!  After pulling six of my favorite recipes I tried my skills out on six new recipes this year and modified two of the ones I tried before.  I’m happy to report that again I have a freezer full of amazing soup.

meatball couscous soup

I stayed under $120 for all 12 recipes and managed to get over 72 meals out of this round.  This time of year is amazing in Iowa for the local farmer’s markets and I ended up spending less on produce there than at the store. I also made my own broth and saved quite a bit of money doing that.  I did end up buying a new stock pot this year as the 6 quart size was just too small for a few of the recipes and I decided to make my own veggie broth this year and needed quite a few cups for the recipes.  Having the extra pot definitely came in handy and I got one with a ceramic liner so food didn’t stick and it was lightweight (weight becomes important when looking at 12 quart pots).

Again I spread out the process over a week since ingredients have to be added, simmered, etc. and there just isn’t enough time to do that in one day.  Not to mention that I only have so much room on the stove.  When I organize the soups I’m going to make I typically calculate which pot I’ll need to use and try to have one going in the slow cooker at the same time as one or two on the stove.

minestrone soup


Here are the recipes that I made this year (you’ll note some are the same as last year):

Pepper Jack Chicken Fajita

Olive Garden Pasta e Fagoli

Olive Garden Minestrone

Italian Sausage, Kale, and Tortellini

Beef, Tomato, and Macaroni

Ham, Potato, and Corn Chowder

South of the Border Corn Chowder

Beef Stroganoff

Couscous Chicken

Couscous Meatball

Meatball Veggie (I used a recipe out of a cookbook for this one, but this is close to the recipe I used)

Roasted Tomato-for this recipe I combined two recipes and made up my own.  Basically I roasted 5 pounds of tomatoes (seeded and quartered) and 2 red bell peppers (sliced) in the oven with olive oil and garlic.  Added those to some cooked, diced onions and boiling veggie broth and simmered until nice and mushy. Added in some basil then used an immersion blender to blend smooth and finished with adding a 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream.

Roasted tomato red pepper soup

Again getting everything into the freezer took some work, but the end result was worth it!

soup in freezer August 2018

Just one of the freezers during the organizing process.





5 Ways to Use a Recipe

I made some delicious Hawaiian chicken tonight and naturally I’m left with lots of leftovers.  As I began pondering what to do with all of it I came up with these five simple ideas that I can use with this recipe.

  1. Use the leftovers as a salad topper.  I’ll be adding just a bit of bbq sauce to top mine off, but it would also be delicious with a poppy seed dressing and strawberries.
  2. Make it into sandwiches for a quick lunch.
  3. Serve it over rice.
  4. Enjoy it paired with some coleslaw.
  5. Make it into some tacos paired with a mango salsa.

The link to the recipe can be found here.  Though I should note I didn’t follow the recipe exactly.  I made it into a freezer meal and dumped the ingredients into a gallon sized bag with the chicken cut into chunks.  I also used crushed pineapple to get some extra juice so that I wouldn’t risk it drying out.chicken salad

5 Ways to Organize Your Time

5 Ways to Organize Your TimeLet’s face it, we all feel that we need more time. As I find myself in school yet again I’ve found ways in my own life to create margin so that I can not only get my assignments finished, but so that I also have time to sit back and relax. Unfortunately time isn’t something we can save up like money so how we organize our lives really does matter. Here are 5 simple things you can do to manage your time better.

  1. Stop binging on TV shows and movies.  Here in the United States we pride ourselves when we binge watch the latest series on Netflix or have a movie marathon.  There’s nothing wrong with doing this once or twice a year, but we tend to do this too often.  Limit your time so that you can do something more productive.
  2. Multitask the healthy way.  Multitasking is not meant for all areas of our lives, sometimes we do need to give something our full attention.  However, folding laundry while watching one episode of a show is an example of two tasks that do not require undivided attention. Paying bills is an example of one task that does require more attention.
  3. Stop going to the store multiple times per week.  Before heading out to the store make a list (there are several apps for your phone) and buy what you need to last you the week.  I have a magnetic white board on my refrigerator that I write items that I will need if you don’t want to use your phone. Walking around the store takes a long time and if you’re like me there’s always a distraction that causes me to take more time.
  4. Keep a time log of how much time you are spending doing various tasks.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of cutting something out or rearranging a schedule to create more time.  Hint: social media eats up way more time than you realize.
  5. Naturally I’m a huge fan of bulk cooking food, so try a freezer meal round to save you time.  While the organization and prep takes a while, overall time saved is huge.  Not to mention that it also saves money and those extra trips to the store.