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Week 4 of the Just In Time Family Meal Planning Challenge

Posted on 20 February 2012 by noelskitchen

Having already stocked my freezer with main dish ingredients, I can prepare my weekly meal plan when I’m pressed for time.

Need ideas for your weekly meal plan? This week, for my Just In Time Family Meal Planning Challenge, I’m sharing my make-ahead cooking strategy which is guaranteed to save me time in the kitchen and add some tasty dishes to our dinner menu. When you’re especially pressed for time or when you just want to get in and out of the kitchen extra fast, the meals I’ve got planned for this week will have recipes that take no more than 15 to 30 minutes to prepare.  I’ve replenished my pantry and I”m ready to add more meals to my freezer. Let me know if you like this and if it helps you out with planning your meals this week.

My Weekly Meal Plan

Here’s a look at the week ahead with recipes posting throughout the week:

Sunday: Taco Chili, leftovers will be used for the hubby’s lunch. (recipe posting soon) I also made a batch of Quick Minestrone Soup for lunch this week.

Monday: Crock Pot Roasted Chicken, Bacon, Lettuce, Artichoke Salad with Homemade Buttermilk dressing and Homemade Croutons.

Tuesday: Skillet Macaroni and Beef (using make-ahead ground beef)

Wednesday: Chicken and Dumplings (recipe posting during the week)

Thursday: Spaghetti Florentine

Friday: Pizza Night!  We’ll have pepperoni pizza for the kids and a specialty pizza for the hubby and I with the traditional Homemade Pizza Dough with Homemade Pizza Sauce.

Saturday: Country Supper Omelet

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Tags: , , Soups

Quick Minestrone Soup

Posted on 19 February 2012 by noelskitchen

A basic but lovely vegetable soup – it’s jam-packed fully of goodness and will do anyone who eats it the world of good! 

Soup is a great way to make the most of leftover vegetables which can spoil more quickly. Make up a big batch of soup– you can keep the rest in the fridge for light suppers, packed lunches, and even freeze portions in zip-loc bags to eat another day. This soup is great for using up any odds and ends of pasta.

 Quick Minestrone Soup

Serves: 8


  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 strips bacon, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery sticks, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
  • 1 large potato, scrubbed and diced
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • Large handful of spinach leaves
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Parmesan cheese


  1. Heat a large pot over a medium heat and add olive oil. Throw in the bacon and fry it gently until it starts to turn brown.( The kitchen should smell fantastic right about now.) Add the garlic, onion, carrots, and celery and cook slowly for about 15 minutes, stirring now and then, until the vegetables have softened.
  2. Add the tomatoes, potato and vegetable broth, then cover with a lid and bring everything slowly to the boil. Simmer for about 30 minutes, then check (with the tip of a paring knife) that the potato is soft and cooked through.
  3. Add the spinach and pasta, and cook for 10 more minutes, until the pasta is cooked. If the soup is too thick for you after cooking the pasta, thin it with a little more broth or water.
  4. Finish by seasoning with a little salt and black pepper and pass the Parmesan around the table for people to sprinkle on their soup.

The ingredients I used were just what I had on hand in my pantry and refrigerator. You could certainly use kale, leeks, basil, chick peas or kidney beans in this recipe.

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Make Ahead Meals For Busy Moms On Weeknights

Posted on 18 February 2012 by noelskitchen

Last week we started talking about what makes our time in the kitchen more efficient when we have such busy schedules. Making good use of our crock pot/slow cookers came in very handy with our busy schedule and allowed for some tasty dinners. Prepping and making meals ahead so their ready to toss in the crock pot are another great technique for busy moms trying to serve dinner to their families on weeknights.

Make Ahead meals allow us to prepare our meals ahead of time, save our sanity, and gives us more flexibility for those busy evenings filled with activities, so that we will have more time with our family. Plus, our pre-made freezer meals are ten times healthier than those pre-packaged meals from your grocer store’s freezer.

This Shepherd’s Pie recipe was the third recipe made during this week’s Make Ahead Meals.

Meal planning becomes easier for busy moms on weeknights with easy make ahead recipes saving time in the kitchen.

Shepherd’s Pie

Makes: 6 servings


  • 2 cups frozen Make-Ahead Ground Beef
  • 1/2 cup onion chopped
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 cups frozen corn or your favorite vegetable
  • 1 cup beef gravy (gravy leftover that had been frozen)
  • 2 cups mashed potatoes
  • 1/2 cup cheddar jack cheese, shredded
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Defrost ground beef mixture in microwave, 5 to 7 minutes or until it’s thawed. Remember to remove the lid before defrosting.
  2. Chop onion. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and pressed garlic. (I use my garlic press a lot when adding garlic to a recipe.) Cook and stir 2 to 3 minutes or until tender. Stir in ground beef mixture and seasonings. Add corn or other vegetables and gravy to skillet. Bring the mixture to a boil. Spoon into an oval or round baking dish.
  3. Shred half the cheese over potatoes. Mix together. (A Make Ahead step here is to already have the mashed potatoes made and frozen; just pull from freezer and thaw.)
  4. Spread mashed potato cheese mixture over ground beef mixture. (I piped the mashed potatoes over the top for something different.)
  5. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove baking dish from oven. Shred remaining cheese over potatoes; let stand 5 minutes before serving.

With the Make Ahead Ground Beef  I made at the beginning of the week,  I was able to create three tasty dishes this week.

  • Tamale Pie
  • Zesty Taco Ring Bake (recipe coming soon)
  • Shepherd’s Pie (recipe above)
Do you having any great Make Ahead Meals?


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Strawberry Spinach Salad with Grilled Chicken and Gorgonzola

Posted on 16 February 2012 by noelskitchen

Spinach Salad marinates in fresh strawberry balsamic vinegar before being topped with strawberry slices, grilled chicken, lemon zest and gorgonzola cheese, resulting in a flavorful and fresh salad.

On Valentine’s Day, I wanted to try something a little different approach to our family meal. I wanted something fresh tasting and healthy. Spinach doesn’t make it to our table a whole lot for reasons unknown really. I love a good spinach salad but always afraid the kids with give me that Ewww!!!! comment.

One way that I’ve found that works and the kids seem to really enjoy having fresh spinach  is to marinate it in the dressing for awhile before I serve it. In this way, the spinach gets a little bit of extra flavor at the last minute before serving, resulting in a very fresh and still crisp salad.

The addition of oranges, dried cranberries, and sunflower seeds lends texture and complexity at the same time as sweet, tart, and nutty goodness.

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Grilled Chicken and Gorgonzola

 Serves: 6


  • 1 Tablespoon balsmic vinegar
  • 6 strawberries hulled and sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon tarragon
  • 1/4 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup sliced toasted almonds (optional)


  • 8-10 ounce bag fresh spinach leaves
  • 1/4 cup sliced red onion
  • 1/2 cup sliced strawberries
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, grilled
  • crumbled Gorgonzola cheese


  • Create the dressing by adding balsamic vinegar, strawberries, salt, pepper, tarron, sugar and lemon zest to food processor or blender. Blend until well pureed.
  • While blending, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the dressing.
  • Place in a mason jar with lid and refrigerate until ready to use.
  • Prepare the salad: spinach, red onion, sliced strawberries. Drizzle some dressing over the top. Mix lightly. Add grilled chicken and Gorgonzola cheese. (I have an easy way to “grill” the chicken for those of you who don’t have an indoor or outdoor grill that I’ll write up in another post. It’s so easy!)
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Tags: , Desserts,

Classic Strawberry Cheesecake

Posted on 15 February 2012 by noelskitchen

A creamy cheesecake recipe that’s delicious and easy to pull together!

Classic Strawberry Cheesecake


Serves: 16


  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/3 cup butter , melted
  • 2 (4-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • zest of half a lemon


  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees.

  2. Mix graham crumbs, 3 Tablespoons sugar and butter; press onto bottom of 9-inch springform pan.

  3. Beat cream cheese, sour cream, 1 cup sugar and vanilla with mixer until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing on low speed after each just until blended. Add lemon zest and mix. Pour over crust.

  4. Bake 45-50 minutes or until center is almost set. Loosen cake from rim of pan; cool before removing rim. Refrigerate 4 hours. Serve with stawberry glaze (recipe below)

Strawberry Glaze:

  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup sugar


  1. Add strawberries to medium saucepan. Add water and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Cook and stir until mixture is thick and clear. Cool room temperature.  Place atop chilled cheesecake. Pour glaze over. Chill 2 hours.


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