January Family Menu

Everyone knows I'm a meal-planning, menu-making person! If one of your resolutions was to be more organized and save some cash through meal-planning, consider this a gift to get you started on the right foot.

We do have a method for our madness! You can find the easy formatting for how we plan our menus each month in this blog post.

Even if our daily themes are not exactly what you have in mind for your family, it is easy to alter these for your own family.

A Christmas Tradition that is good all year!

As a military family, it has become incredibly important to develop traditions that can be kept with or without the extended family. We're not always able to celebrate holidays with anyone outside our 'Core Four' as we call it. Traditions are really important and we have A LOT of them! It’s how we develop consistency in a family that could be heading to a new place at a moment’s notice. One day we'll talk about those that come with birthdays, Fakesgiving, and others. Today, on this beautiful Christmas day, we're talking about LASAGNA. 

When it comes to Christmas supper, we're over the turkey and ham. We don’t even have potatoes & gravy! *Gasp* I mean, can we even call ourselves southerners? Haha!

What does our supper look like…? It’s filled with Cesar salad, cheesy garlic bread, and the 'I Could Win a Contest With This Lasagna’ lasagna. 

 

This first time I had this particular lasagna was when one of my best friends, Butter, made it for me. Mr. Darlin’ was deployed and I was feeling really down. Most of y’all know that food is my love language! Haha! Butter, Peanut (another best friend), and I (you guessed it, my nickname is Jelly) got together and ate until it hurt. It was the exact therapy I needed! Best friends and amazing lasagna can sure turn around deployment blues! Since then, I have given up my old recipe and moved to this one. I made a few tiny tweaks but it is mostly the original from my BFF. For nearly a decade, It’s the one I have been making every year for Christmas supper! Besides the secret ingredient, what I love about this lasagna is that it brings such fond memories of Christmas celebrations with the Core Four and all the fun we’ve had with the PBJ family all these years. I hope you’ll try it out and let me know how you like it. I know you’re going to love it. Maybe it’ll become a family tradition for you, too!

 

lasagna.jpg

 

I Could Win a Contest With This Lasagna Lasagna


Ingredients:

1 box Lasagna noodles (you can absolutely use the oven ready noodles to save time)
1 1/2 lbs lean hamburger
1 pkg Pepperonis, chopped in half (SECRET INGREDIENT!!!!)

1/2 cup chopped Onion
2 clove Garlic (pressed)
16 oz diced Tomatoes
16 oz Tomato Sauce
2 tsp Oregano
2 tsp Basil
Large container Cottage cheese
16 oz Ricotta cheese
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
2 cups Mozzarella cheese (1 cup in the cheese mix and 1 cup for on top)
2 Eggs
1 tsp fresh Parsley

Cook noodles according to package – or just skip this if you’re using the oven ready ones! Brown the hamburger then add pepperoni, onion, garlic, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano and basil. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes. While that’s simmering, in a large bowl mix the cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, eggs and parsley. In a deep 9 x 13 pan layer meat mixture (the first layer – on the bottom of the pan- should be thin), noodles, then cheese mixture. Keep on trucking until it’s about an inch from the top of the pan. You won’t want it to over flow.  Use the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella to top it off (or more…I won’t judge). Cover it with foil. Cook at 350 for 1 hour. After the first 30 minutes remove the foil.


This always makes one 9x13 and one 8x8 pan for us! Sometimes I double the recipe and freeze one pan. 

 

NO MONEY MARCH - FUND FREEZE

NO MONEY MARCH! FREEZE THE FUNDS!

Our whole lives aren’t about Dolce Darlin’ cupcakes – although it seems like it sometimes! I pride myself on letting y’all in on the whole package: the family, the dog, the friendships, the food, etc.! So, I thought it might be fun for y’all to see a little adventure we’re going on from the comfort of our own home!

We are spending NO MONEY in March. Does that seem crazy? It does to me! We already are NOT big spenders. However, we enjoy eating out on occasion, going to a movie at the $3 theatre – pretty often, and our big ones….home improvement projects (lumber and paint mostly) AND BOOKS. Oh the books! We could spend all our dollars on books! I read them all! I hold them in my hands. I smell them. I love them each in their very own way. I don’t have a problem. Really, I don’t. Well, if I do, there are worse problems to have.

For us, November through February are busy months. They absorb a lot of our time and our money. Little d has a birthday in December, Mr. D. in January, and Mrs. D. in February. Adding Thanksgiving and Christmas to that timeline means that around this time of year, it’s always a good idea to reset, take a breath, and tighten the purse strings a little. We don’t have debt but we certainly aren’t following our budget the way we should during all of this. So, this month, we’re FREEZING THE FUNDS! It’s also a good time to remember to *repair not replace* if possible. Further, this will be a time for every person in my house to be mindful of what is a WANT and what is a NEED. We don’t generally have a problem with this, but it’s an important lesson to be reminded of…for everyone!

I thought it might be fun to include y’all in this little experiment in case you wanted to freeze with us! Who doesn’t want to save a smidge, right!?  

The Rules (these are ours but if you join us they may be an inspiration for yours):

·      Mortgage, gas for the vehicles, insurance, and other regularly occurring bills are exempt.

·      Continue meal planning (you can see our blog about that HERE) as usual EXCEPT one night per week must focus on cleaning out pantry/freezer items that have been overlooked.

·      No eating out whatsoever. We’re not Starbucks folks, but if we were, that would be a no-go for this challenge!

·      No new want items, including books, movies, toys, clothes, shoes, etc.

 

If it isn’t a bill, don’t buy. If it is a want, it can wait.

That’s really it!

We’re really excited to start this. I’m sure it will be more challenging as we begin but we’re up for it! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments and let me know if y’all want to do it with us! I’ll try to blog a quick blurb daily so y’all can see how we’re doing!

March 1st begins NO MONEY MARCH. Let’s freeze these funds!

 

Homemade Italian Ragu, from me to you!

Y’all, look here…I am not only a baker! I’m actually a pretty good cook! Of course, my standards were raised pretty high after living in Italy. I mean, their food is incredible! It’s so fresh and they make a point to use what is in season. 

Yesterday, on our FB page, I posted a picture of a giant pot of homemade Italian ragu! Here in America, ragu is something you’d see on a jar label, but in Italy it’s a homemade meaty pasta sauce! I have not purchased a jar or can of pasta sauce in FOUR years! There have been a BUNCH of requests for the recipe so here you go! You’ll love this super simple recipe!

In my photos, you’ll see my recipe has been sextupled so keep that in mind if you only make one batch. You're not gonna have the giant pot I do! Ha! Here’s the thing though…you should at least double it. Then you can put some in a Ziploc bag, stick it in the freezer, and be 10 minutes from supper one night! Or you could do what I do and gift a bag to a friend that may be sick, recently had a baby, or just needs some lovin’. Bonus, there’s no dish for them to worry about returning.  I personally make six batches at one time so I can have a ton in reserve!

So, here goes! 

In a deep skillet, do a good swirl of olive oil and turn it on low. 

After chopping the celery, carrot, and onion (if you’re using it), toss it in a food processor and push the button! *If you don’t have a food processor, you can either chop it finely or you can grate them! :D 

We aren't onion people, so we left it out! Before the button...

We aren't onion people, so we left it out!
Before the button...

After the button! 

After the button! 

Toss the veggies into the pan with the oil and cook them on low for about five minutes. 

Meanwhile, put all the meat in a skillet and cook throughout. 

Once the meat is done, put the meat and veggies into one pot. Then add the water and tomato sauce right in there! Stir well! 

The veggies and meat all mixed up! 

The veggies and meat all mixed up! 

Water and tomato sauce go right in there with it all! 

Water and tomato sauce go right in there with it all! 

Then, there are two ways to do this! Get that pot up to a boil and stir often for about 10 minutes... OR you can do it the Italian way and put the pot on low and cook for about an hour and a half, stirring occasionally. 

 

If that ain't pretty I don't know what is! 

If that ain't pretty I don't know what is! 

When you’re finishing method is done, whether it be 10 minutes or the hour and a half, turn off the stovetop and lay a sprig or two of rosemary right on top of the ragu (I forgot to include a picture of that. Oops). Put a lid or towel over it for a few minutes while you grab out bowls and forks. That’ll give it an incredible boost of flavor from the aroma! Also, if you’re eating it now, this is a great time to put your pasta noodles on. 

Serve or bag it up!

(If you’re making one batch – you can pour all the ingredients into the deep skillet instead of transfering to another pot)

R&R’s Ragu
Serves 4-6


1 pound of beef (I use lean, you use whatever you like!)

1 pound of Italian sausage

1 carrot

½ white onion (we aren’t onion fans, so you’ll see I left it out)

1 17-oz can of tomato sauce

swirl of GOOD olive oil

1 cup of water

1 spring of rosemary

salt and pepper

That’s it, y’all. It’s awesome. You’ll love it. Enjoy and buon appetito! 
Please leave me some comments! And share with your friends! <3

CLOSED IN AUGUST!

*CLOSURE NOTICE!* Darlin' family and friends! We have had an amazing opportunity to have a once-in-a-lifetime SECRET adventure! We have to take it! As soon as we're allowed to declassify, we WILL! I promise! For now, please accept our apologies for having to close for the month of August. We will reopen in September! I can't wait for the chance to tell y'all all about it! But for now, MUMS THE WORD! Don't unfollow us or unlike us. You will WANT to be a part of all this!!!!!

Potato Escapades Episode 1

We LOVE fresh food. Living in Italy really changed the way we viewed food and Little d took a SERIOUS interest in farming. While we were overseas, he had a pretty successful go at potatoes. If you came to our home there during this event, he was sure to show you exactly what he had going on and probably printed a copy of his instructions for growing. 

With a little more research we're confident we'll get better success this time! Since today was planting day, we figured it'd be neat to do a serious of videos to see how they grow! Here is the first installment! 

(Comments and likes get you stamps!) 

Meal Plannin - aka No More "What's for supper?"

My least favorite question of all time is "What's for supper?" I KNOW I'm not the only mama who gets a little rowdy over that question. My own mama used to respond with "Whatever you're cooking!" Haha! 

Seriously, if you live here and you ask that question...you're gonna get a little of this...

Yeah, this is what my crazy mama eyes look like.&nbsp;

Yeah, this is what my crazy mama eyes look like. 

But alas, these kids want to eat three times a day!!! Who knew? Haha! So, we have a little method that saves our family a lot of time and I want to share it with y'all! 

We plan our meals by the month. I know, I know, it seems so daunting to do it for an entire month! It's even worse for us because I get a bad case of food boredom! I am not a huge fan of having the same meal more than a couple times a month...max. 

So, we started a new process for food planning and it has changed my planning time from a couple of hours of digging through cookbooks and Pinterest and asking the family what they think to about 15 MINUTES! It's true! 

Here's what we do. We theme out each night of the week with very loose themes. Loose is the important word here. When we were more restrictive on our themes, it made planning more stressful.

Here is our weekly schedule but yours can be whatever your family likes to eat!&nbsp;

Here is our weekly schedule but yours can be whatever your family likes to eat! 

Our schedule looks like this but adjust it to whatever y'all like! 

Sunday: Sunday Supper - this is a slightly more in-depth meal that might take a little longer to prepare. I do these on Sundays because we grocery shop after church then head home for the day. 

Monday: Pasta - this can be any sort of pasta dish! After living in Italy for three years, we take our pasta very seriously!

Tuesday: Crockpot - Our kids have practice on Tuesdays so this is a perfect way to balance out the work. There are a million things you can stick in the crockpot so the ideas are endless! 

Wednesday: Soup/Salad - A lot of times these soups end up going in the crockpot so bonus there. We do, however, try to do a slightly more adventurous salad for this. 

Thursday: "Breakfast for dinner" (although we say breakfast for supper)

Friday: Take out/eat out - We don't eat out a ton but having this scheduled once a week made it a lot easier to say no to stopping in at a fast food place or something during the week. 

Saturday: Adventurous food! This is the time we introduce our kids to stuff they're less likely to try. They're super receptive to this because they know they're going to like pretty much everything that's prepared throughout the week so they're up for an adventure. Plus, they watch a lot of Food Network and they're not afraid of food! 

Then, we sit down together and each person chooses one meal for each theme. This is a perfect system for us because we happen to have as many family members as typical weeks in a month. 
When I have some down time, I browse Pintrest and pull some ideas into a Monthly Menu board and then I have them at hand when it comes time to make the actual menu. 

I like to jot it down in pencil on a free printed calendar. We shop once a week so our produce stays good but also so if we miss a day (we've eaten leftovers or gotten wrapped up at an event and ended up eating out - hey, it happens!) we don't waste food and we can cycle that day into the next months menu. 

In addition to that, each of our children chooses one of the themes to cook for the entire month. It's a great opportunity for them to learn to cook with our assistance. Doing the same theme for a month gives them a chance to have some practice. Each month, they do something different. 

We eat dinner together every single night, no matter what! I really hope this method helps your family create more time to be together and relieves some stress! 

 

<3, Mrs. Darlin' 

BEST banana bread tip ever!

Do you like banana bread?

We certainly do! Here's a trick we learned a few years ago. Before you put your favorite banana bread batter (say that three times fast!) into your pan, put a thin layer of butter across the bottom and all sides. Yes. I consider that a thin layer. You don't judge me and I wont judge you! Haha!

Then, shake a cinnamon sugar mixture onto the butter.


After it's cooked, spread some melted butter on the top and sprinkle more of the mixture on top. When you take it out of the pan it will have an amazing cinnamon sugar crust! It's a huge hit and everyone always wants to know how we did it. 

Happy baking from our family to yours! 

Mrs. Darlin'