Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Almost 3!

On her new Trike!
Ava is such a big girl these days! We're starting to plan her third birthday party in March. She's so excited to have a birthday party coming up and she likes to talk about who will come to celebrate with her. She wants all of her friends and teachers from school to be there. I'm planning to do a bird theme party. Here's a look of some of the fun things that Ava is up to these days.

For Christmas, her Berkey grandparents got her a pink tricycle. We keep it in the basement in our spare room. It's really funny because she disappears for a bit to play with toys in there and then all the sudden you'll hear the little bell and she comes out. She usually pushes it with her feet on the ground instead of using the peddles. We'll put it outside in the Spring when the weather is warmer.

Lunch with Daddy at work
At work with Mommy
On New Year's Eve, Aaron had to work because it was the end of the quarter. I had the week off from work and I was excited to take Ava to visit Daddy for lunch. I had to finish my final expense report before the end of the year so I brought her up to my desk first. She enjoyed playing with her book while I was busy at the computer. Then we met Aaron for lunch! Aaron and I both work at the same company and even in the same building! He just recently moved to another building a couple blocks away, but it was fun when we were in the same building. Ava got to meet our coworkers and she was very friendly that day. We had fun! She's excited to visit Daddy for lunch again soon!
Watching Diego
Ava is really into watching Diego, even more than Dora! We have Amazon Prime and we can get free streaming movies on the computer. We limit her TV time so it's a big treat! She knows how to work the iPad and iPhones, of course! When she's on my laptop watching Diego, she tries to push bottons on the screen because she thinks it's a touch screen. We just got her a kids table, which is in the kitchen now. She really likes having her own size furniture to have a snack, do art projects, or play with her baby dolls. She often moves the two chairs so they're side by side so she can sit next to her baby, which is really sweet.
Washing dishes after making brownies

For my January Freezer Meal Exchange, I made homemade brownies. Ava is really into chocolate! She was so excited to taste the batter, which she never does with when we're baking. Then after we got the brownies in the oven she asked me to help her wash the dirty dishes. She pushed the step stool to the sink and put on my gloves. It was so cute!

It's so surreal that Ava is about to turn 3 years old. People ask us if we're planning to have more children. We're not sure which way we'll go. Aaron takes the possibility of adding to our family very seriously when it comes to more responsibility where I see more about the emotional side of having another person to love. It's hard to say what will happen in the future, but we're really enjoying this moment in time with our little family!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Freezer Meal: Beef and Quinoa Meatballs, Homemade Spaghetti Sauce, and Pumpkin Spice Mini Cheesecakes

Meat Balls cook quickly in the oven. They were fantastic!

My October meal got really good reviews by the families in my freezer meal exchange group so I thought I would share it! The meatballs were very flavorful and great for kids because they contain shredded zucchini and carrots along with a whole grain. I made 6 whole meals so I bought 5 pounds of ground beef and cooked about 2 cups of dry quinoa to make the meatballs.

The spaghetti sauce was fabulous! The recipe made enough for all 6 of my meals so you can make the entire recipe for many meals for your own family or to share.

With the exception of casseroles, when our meals involve pasta we provide dry pasta since it doesn't freeze well. This meal was very easy to reheat and serve to our family on a busy weeknight. I usually plan on Monday nights as our freezer meal night of the week and sometimes we make two freezer meals depending on how many we have on-hand.

Read below for the menu and tips for freezing and reheating!
Meal exchange day!

Freezer Meal Menu: Serves 5
Quinoa and Beef Meatballs, spotted this in a Whole Foods email newsletter
Homemade Spaghetti Sauce, from the LLL Whole Foods for the Whole Family cookbook
Dry Spaghetti, cook when ready to serve
Frozen Peas (store bought)
Pumpkin Spice Mini Cheesecakes, made individual sizes in muffin tins and used graham cracker crust recipe from Better Homes cookbook. *I used roasted butternut squash instead of canned pumpkin. You can use any winter squash that you have on-hand.

Very Tasty Spaghetti Sauce (25 servings Large Quantity for Feast or Freezer) --I made 1 batch for 6 meals. Need a 10 qt saucepan or 2 pans.
  • 6 onions, chopped
  • 2 green bell peppers chopped
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 8 oz fresh mushrooms (I omitted)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 12 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 lbs ground beef (I omitted because I made meat balls - see recipe above)
  • 7lbs fresh or canned tomatoes
  • 26oz tomato paste
  • 48oz tomato juice
  • 2-3 tbs dried oregano
  • 4 tsp dired basil
  • 4 bay leaves
  • Dash of pepper
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 3 tbs flour

Saute onions, green peppers, celery and mushrooms in olive oil in a 10qt saucepan over medium heat until tender. Add garlic. Saute for several minutes; remove vegetables to a bowl. Add ground beef to drippings in pan. Cook until brown. Add sauteed vegatables and add the next 8 ingredients; mix well. Bring to a boil, reduce to a heat. Simmer uncovered for 1 hour. Discard tomato cores and bay leaves. Mix 1 cup of the sauce with flour. Stir into saucepan. Cook until thickened, stirring frequently. Freeze in needed quantities for later use. May add chopped green chiles to taste.

Freezer Prep Tips:
  • Label freezer bags with printed labels or hand write with a Sharpie pen before you fill them. Make sure to include name, date, and any specific information such as reheating instructions. 
  • Let meatballs and sauce cool completely. I portioned 20 meatballs per meal. Package meatballs with spaghetti sauce in 1-gallon freezer ziploc bag. Make sure air is completely out of the bags before sealing and "burp" them. Place flat on a cookie sheet stacked up, then in the freezer. 
  • 24 Mini Cheesecakes (each meal had 4 minis): I used the recipe for filling, but to make the individual sizes I made my own graham cracker crust in 2 muffin tins. I made a double batch of graham cracker crust. TIP: replace the Cool Whip brand with Trader Joe's version so you don't get hydrogenated oils. I used TJ's graham crackers for my crust because they don't have high fructose corn syrup. After the crust is cooled, make pumpkin cheesecake mixture and spread evenly in all 24 muffin tins. Place filled muffin tins in the freezer for 1-hour. Using a knife, carefully pop out each cheesecake and place 4 mini cheesecakes in a pint-size freezer ziploc bag.
  • Defrost meatball and sauce bag in the fridge for 1-2 days. Remove the cheesecakes from the bag and place into 4 ramekins covered with plastic wrap.
  • Meal Day: Reheat spaghetti and meatballs on the stovetop. Cook spaghetti pasta according to package instructions. Cook peas or prepare other vegetable. 
  • Serve the dessert in the ramekin or in another plate for dessert. Each mini cheesecake may be a bit large for a small child. I can usually serve 2-3 times to Ava for a small dessert. She loved it!