Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Taco Stuffed Shells

Because I work for a school, I have had the last week and a half off and I have another 5 days before I go back to work. I'm really enjoying the break. But I know it is going to be over before I know it.

I love my job! I really, really enjoy going to work everyday. But there are some adjustments when you go from a "stay-at-home" mom to a working mom. Getting dinner on the table is one of them. I only work til 2:30 but by the time I get home, help with homework, return phone calls, etc, it seems like dinner time creeps up on me. I have done "mega-cooking" (or freezer cooking, or batch cooking or once-a-month cooking, whatever you want to call it) for years now. While I was going to school it saved me more than once! I haven't done it lately.

So, before I go back to school on Monday, I'm going to cook up a few meals to put in the freezer. One of those is "Taco-Stuffed Shells" one of my family's favorites. I have no pictures but I'll try to post some later. This recipe is for two meals worth, feel free to double as desired.

Taco-Stuffed Shells

Fry in a pan:

2 pounds ground beef (this time I'm going to try a vegetarian substitute)

When it hamburger is done, add enough taco seasoning to make it "taco-y" enough for you. The original recipe (from Quick Cooking- January/February 2001), they say "2 envelopes taco seasoning." That is too spicy for us, we use less.

Cook according to the directions on your taco seasoning. When it is ready, turn off the heat and stir in:

1 pkg (8 oz) cream cheese (I use reduced fat),

stir until the cream cheese is melted and throughly mixed into the meat. Cool for awhile (while you boil the pasta shells).

In a big pot, boil:

24 jumbo pasta shells

When done, toss gently with butter (this will help them not stick together). When they are cool enough to handle, stuff each shell with meat mixture. The shells should be full but not overflowing. At this point I put them on a cookie sheet and put all the shells in the freezer until solid. Then I take the shells out and put them all in a freezer gallon bag.

When you are ready to serve, put the number of shells desired in a greased casserole pan. I usually use 2 or 3 shells per person. Cover the shells with salsa and/or taco sauce (about 1 -2 cups). Cover and place in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Uncover and top with grated cheese and crushed tortilla chips. The best cheese is a mixture of cheddar and Monterey Jack but plain cheddar works fine, too. Return to oven and bake 15 minutes or until heated through and cheese is bubbly. One thing I do is buy a big bag of tortilla chips on cooking day and divide them up and put them into freezer bags and store them in the freezer. That way I actually have chips when I want to serve this meal!!

We serve these with shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes. Sour cream is really good, too. I almost always make Spanish rice to go on the side.

It is really good and super easy!



Sunday, December 21, 2008

Menu Plan Monday - Snow Edition

Since the weather is so bad, and Christmas is on Thursday, this is going to be a weird week food-wise. Mostly eating out of the pantry and what we have on hand. In addition, it is Christmas break so the kids are home from school. I might be a little more organized in the lunch department, but I doubt it!

  • cereal
  • toast with jam
  • bagels
  • whatever else the kids can come up with
  • Christmas Morning: overnight waffles and sausages (our family favorite! We LOVE these!)
  • leftovers
  • ramen noodles with eggs
  • sandwiches
  • bagels
  • whatever else the kids can come up with
  • Lentil Rice Casserole
  • Wagon Wheel Chili
  • Soup and Bread (whatever kind of soup strikes my fancy)
  • Christmas Eve: pizza with the cousins
  • Christmas Day: Hubby's favorite potato dish - yum! (I don't have this recipe posted yet, but I'll post it, with pictures, after I make it on Thursday)
We will be having all sorts of appetizers at parties that we are having this coming weekend. All our parties got canceled this weekend. We have about 10 inches of snow with more on the way. Oh, and on top of the 10 inches is about a 1/4 inches of ice from the freezing rain we had. Such fun! It is driving us all to do strange things!

One of our favorite appetizers is Crab Buns.

1/2 lb of Velveeta Cheese
1/2 c. butter or margarine
1 can crab (I use the refrigerated "crab" that isn't really crab but tastes like it)
garlic to taste (we like lots)

Soften the cheese and butter and mix everything together. Spread on sliced baguettes and broil until bubbly. Yum!

If you want more ideas, check out Organizing Junkie!


Stir Crazy!

We are all going a little crazy here! It has been a week of bad weather here in the Northwest - something we are not used to. School was canceled three days last week and our Christmas parties last night and tonight have been canceled. We haven't been able (or willing) to get out much the last week.

It is starting to wear on us. Case in point, last night. We were playing a game of Clue as a family. People were, um, pushing each other's buttons. For the most part, it was in fun and the kids were fake fighting with each other. The screams and general loudness, however, were driving the parents nuts.

Finally, Hubby had had it! "The next kid who attacks someone is getting thrown out on the deck!"

Now, in order to truly appreciate that threat you have to see the deck:
That is a 18 inch snow drift covering the deck. Pair that with a temperature of about 19 degrees and suddenly being thrown out on the deck seems like a real punishment!

So what did they do? They stopped actually attacking each other and settled for screaming and yelling. So that was the new rule, "Anyone who yells, gets thrown on the deck!"

Kaden pushed the boundary just a little too far and Hubby picked him up and set him down in the snow drift. Upon which Kaden cried, "But I didn't do anything!" At that point, Jana decided it was time to post the rules:
(Have I told you all how much I love this white-board? It has almost never been used for messages - its intended purpose - but it has provided tons of entertainment for our family.)

After Kaden changed his clothes, we resumed our game but by the end of the night the board looked like this:

Can you tell what kind of night we had?

As much as I love the snow, please let it melt!!


Friday, December 19, 2008

Monkey Bread

Every year for the family Christmas brunch I am asked to bring two loaves of monkey bread. What is monkey bread, you ask? It is like bite-sized cinnamon rolls that are wonderful! My friend Kari heard that I was making monkey bread and said, "Will you please post the recipe on your blog?" Here at Jill's Crazy Life, we aim to please, so here, without further ado, is the recipe for Monkey Bread!

Monkey Bread
Dissolve in a bowl:

1 c. warm water
1/3 c. sugar
1 Tbs. yeast

Let sit until it becomes bubbly and foamy. (If you have never made bread before, you can get step by step instructions from my Bread Making 101 post. Just substitute these ingredients for the ones in that post.)


1/3 c. instant powdered milk (I mix mine with the flour so it doesn't get lumpy. I don't think mine is "instant" powdered milk!)
2 eggs at room temperature (I put mine in a bowl of hot water while I'm waiting for the first mixture to get foamy.)
1 tsp salt
1/3 c. melted margarine
5 1/2 c. to 6 c. of flour

Mix and/or knead until dough is smooth and elastic. Place in a greased bowl, cover and allow to rise until double in bulk. This should take about an hour or so. Unless you put it in the refrigerator overnight - in that case you will need forever to get it to double in bulk. I made that mistake last night and was late for my party this morning because the stupid stuff wouldn't rise!!!

After you have let it rise, the hard part starts. Ok, it's not really hard, it is just time consuming and fussy. It's worth it though, trust me.

This recipe will make one really, really large loaf or two slightly smaller than normal loaves. I like to bake the smaller loaves because this bread typically gets done on the outside before it does on the inside. I'd rather have smaller loaves and no gooey insides than larger loaves and either undone insides or burned outsides.

So, divide your dough into two equal portions and set one aside. I take one half and cut it into small little chunks. I don't worry about equal sizes I just try to make them more or less the same size. You want to roll these little chunks into balls. Then you are going to roll them in melted butter and then cinnamon-sugar. This is my assembly -line all ready to go:

I haven't cut all the little chunks at this point, but you get the idea. After you have rolled them in the butter and cinnamon-sugar, place them in your greased loaf pan.
Look at those two lonely little dough balls. Don't worry, soon they will have lots more friends and a lot less space. In fact, look at them now:
I'm just starting the second layer in this picture, eventually they whole thing will have two layers. After you have all the balls in two layers, you set it aside and let it rise til it is puffy and fat. Then bake at 350 degrees until done. I use an instant-read thermometer, when it is 180 degrees or more on the inside it is done. I wish I could say "cook until golden brown" but it doesn't work that way. When it is golden brown outside it is sometimes still gooey inside. Instant-read thermometers are fairly cheap and useful for all kinds of things, you might want to consider one.

Here is one of the finished loaves all bundled up waiting to go to the party:
I try to get them to the party still warm. Doesn't always work but I try!

Try some monkey bread, your family will be glad you did!


See Jenny? It Really is Snowing!

This picture is for my sister who doesn't believe that it is snowy here at my house. She lives about 5 miles away and it isn't snowy at her house. These were taken at 11 am on Friday. The forecast is for 6 - 10 inches tomorrow - I'm sure she'll get some then!!


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Baby Bunnies!

Please welcome the newest additions to the Crazyville household - three little baby bunnies! We bought our two youngest children pet bunnies back in May for their birthday. I told the pet store guy "I need two males or two females -I don't want baby bunnies." I was assured that the two we got were two boys.

"If we get babies, I'm bringing them back to you." I said. He just laughed, "Don't worry, it's two boys."

Three months later, our "boy" named Thumper gave birth to three stillborn babies. We were surprised (although I had seen some "behavior" - ahem - which made me think twice), and my children were heartbroken that the babies didn't survive.

Because I am a wimp, and because I was as disappointed as the kids, we decided to let them have one more litter and then take a trip to the vet to make sure it doesn't happen again.

It took a lot longer than we thought but a week ago we were surprised with three baby bunnies! The mom is grey and the dad is all black and the babies are one white, one grey and one black. They are SO cute! They are tiny and still in their little nest. Their eyes are closed until about 10 days old so they are blind right now. We are trying to only look at them once or twice a day because it seems to stress the mom out a little bit (although she was less stressed today than she has been, maybe she's over that "new mom" panic stuff!).

The plan right now is to keep the white one (which Tali has named Buster - even if it is a girl!), find homes for the grey and black ones, and get them all "fixed" so we stop at three bunnies! I work for a school district so I'm hoping some elementary teacher is looking for class pets and will take the other two.

If not, I'm going back to that laughing man at the pet store. Ha.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Winter Wonderland!

It doesn't snow very often here in the Northwest. You can tell that by the fact that the TV stations in the area have pre-empted regular shows to talk about the weather all day. Reporters posted on every overpass in town, shots from ODOT (Oregon Department of Transportation) cameras of area roads, press conferences from the mayor of the city and the head of Tri-Met (our local bus/light rail). You'd think the world was coming to an end!

We got 2 inches of snow.

Yes, all that for two inches of snow. My kids' schools are closed for tomorrow, as are most of the schools in the area.

The problem is that Oregonians have no idea how to drive in snow. It really isn't safe to be out and about because there are a lot of really stupid people on the roads.

Which leads me to why I love snow in Oregon. I love it because everything stops when it snows. Schools get closed, people stay home from work, stores close early. People just stay home and play in the snow. The hill by our house fills up with all the neighborhood kids and their parents - and their sleds! It is so fun!

We only get snow once or twice a year here, I'm sure if it came more often we would have to learn how to cope and it wouldn't be nearly as much fun. People who move here from "snow areas" laugh at us, but we don't care. We just love the snow!