Holiday Checklist, Dinner – Done!

The hustle bustle is tuning up, and soon moms across the world will have to-do lists longer than their arms.  Please let me give your bustle a little less hustle with planned out meals for the holiday season.

Daily Dinner Plan – with Crockpot options

November 30
Pork Chops with Caramelized Onions, Apples and Thyme, Quick Roasted Asparagus

December 1
Diner Comfort Food – Cheesesteak Style or Patty Melt Sandwiches

December 2
One Pot Chicken and Rice – you’ll have leftovers, so you won’t have to worry about hubby’s lunch tomorrow or the rice for next week’s soup

December 3
Minestrone Soup

December 4
Baked Chicken Parmesan or this yummy looking Milanese (less cheese, more calories for cookies) An even easier version is this chicken parmesan casserole you could assemble ahead.

December 5
Paula Deen’s Pulled Pork Stuffed into Baked Potatoes (make a double batch of the pork, and you’re ready for next week)

December 6
Chicken Cordon Bleu with Steamed or Roasted Veggies and a Green Salad

December 7
Baked white fish sliders with not-your-normal cole slaw and oven fries

December 8
Shredded Beef Tacos or mix it up with these Korean Style Lettuce Wraps (both of these yield awesome leftovers)

December 9
Chicken and Rice Soup

December 10
Stuffed Pasta Shells (add in sautéed dark greens instead of meat and make this dish for Meatless Monday) A great reason to make a big pot of marinara and freeze for another busy night.

December 11
Texas Chili Bar – no beans here! (brown the meat , onion and garlic, then pop in the crockpot with all the other ingredients so it’s ready when you are)

Tonight is family game night, and make your own bowls of chili couldn’t be easier! Save the extra cornbread for next week’s stuffed peppers.

December 12
Mediterranean Style One Dish Herb Chicken Bake

December 13
BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches (this is actually leftover pork from the baked potato night that I froze for a super quick meal)

December 14
Veggie Lo Mein

December 15
Tis this season for family and friends, so why not make Taco Tuesday an event? Grab a holiday flick or make an impromptu craft or gift wrapping party.  Try these Seven Layer Tostadas

December 16
Pioneer Woman’s Pork Chops with Pineapple fried rice

December 17
Chicken and Cornbread Stuffed Peppers OR My Stuffed Bell Peppers

December 18
My Potato Soup – a nod to my family heritage — so easy and yummy

December 19
Broiled Salmon and roasted veggies

December 20
Whisky BBQ Meatballs ( I use my BBQ sauce recipe, then  add mashed potatoes (or steamed veggies, or herbed noodles – the side options are endless)

December 21
Kid’s Night – Bake cookies, make treats, watch your favorite holiday movie, let them invite friends over for a sleepless slumber party – the kids hang out, then everyone goes home and goes to their own beds for sleeping

Dinner cooked in muffin tins makes everything easy to divide and easy to eat – Mary Beth’s Knock Your Socks off Meatloaf and Mac and Cheese Cups

December 22
Soupeasy dinner so you can get to those last minute items on your list

December 23
In Texas, Christmas brings Tamales – order some, or try these cheats

December 24 & 25
Christmas Eve & Christmas Day are not included since everyone has their own traditions

December 26
With new toys to try and games to play, try one of these breakfast casseroles to start, or end , your day

December 27
Supreme Pizza Pasta (toss in the slow cooker or even freeze ahead)

December 28
Grilled Venison Backstrap with Gingered Carrots

December 29
Pioneer Woman’s Sausage, Potato, and Kale Soup

December 30
Baked chimichangas

December 31
Stay in Date Nite – going out when you have young children is rare; I don’t want to spend it with crowds

Chicken Marsala with Garlic Whipped Potatoes & Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots

Forget the bubbly, this year I’m making these bourbon Blizzards.

Keep in the Freezer for One of Those Really Long Days – seriously, you don’t even need a side!

Make a Bunch and Save for Lunch

Pioneer Woman’s Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork – In the oven or slow cooker, this make it and leave it dish is great on slider rolls with sliced gouda or piled in tortillas with cilantro, queso fresco, sliced avocado, and a lime wedge for quick pork tacos – Plus there are usually plenty of leftovers to freeze and use again*

Pecan Crusted Chicken – these take some prep up front, but they are easy to make and freeze great

Browned & seasoned ground beef, bison, or turkey (use in tacos, quesadillas, as pizza toppings)

Chicken Fajita meat – try this marinade to elevate them beyond normal week night.

Bring a Little Holiday Spirit into Your Kitchen

Christmas Scones

Gingerbread Waffles – I haven’t made these yet, but they are on my must try list

Fresh Cranberry Scones

Hosting Guests? These touches are sure to impress

For their room:

  • Recently I stayed at my brothers’ and one of the most welcome treats was their selection of pillows. Doesn’t sound like much, but with everyone having their own preference, being able to choose was a luxury. Of course, I picked them all!
  • Have an extra throw blanket in the room, especially for those who travel across the country, the climate change can be shocking

In the Morning:

  • Create a coffee and tea station next to a bowl of fruit so early risers can serve themselves and relax.
  • Your guests will be convinced they’re at a B&B with these breakfasts-Homemade donuts – these puppies are all baked so you can indulge without standing over the frypan or having guilt-Blueberry Baked Oatmeal or Bobby’s Oatmeal Stuffed Apples
  • Baked egg boats would be restaurant worthy
  • Set a loaf of bread to make overnight, so you wake to Fresh Bread machine with make ahead berry butter spread
  • Save some time with this gourmet casserole

Stock Ahead for Comfy Touches:

  • make sure the bar is stocked, grab an extra bottle of wine to mull (awesome on the day guests are arriving), have some bottled sparkling water or ginger ale on hand
  • early in the month, check dry goods in your pantry so you are prepared for last minute at home meals that come with an unexpected winter storm front
  • make cookie dough and freeze, so fresh baked cookies are quick to whip up

Fix-Aead Dinners that Feed a Crowd:


Prepping for fall: the back to school dinner debacle

I love the idea of having a pantry stocked and ready freezer full, and not ordering pizza, grabbing fast food, or eating way late on busy nights. as with most things in mothering, a little advance preparation goes a long way. Below are some options to help you find a dinner plan that fits your family.

I love this spin on meal planning from Beauty Through Imperfection! Such a simple and easy solution. 

Erica at Confessions of a Homeschooler (my new favorite blog for all things home) has monthly meal plan calendars all set and ready to download. Just another way she makes life a little easier for us regular folk! 

For those of us who have the room and are willing to do a little more advance prep, freezer cooking is so nice. 

I actually tried my first round of freezer cooking right before baby girl was born. It went okay.  Back to school and sports has driven me to try, try again. For this round, I am a little more seasoned. I stuck with recipes I know score well. SO, I thought I would share my plan with you. 

I like to follow the cook & freeze extra for most of my freezer stock. It’s just easier for me versus two days of three to four hours of shopping & prep. Plus, I feel like I’m not breaking the bank with one monster shopping trip. I’m also a sucker for the assemble, freeze, and dump in the crockpot later plan. 

I will plan my menus for the month of Septwmber off of the following list, making sure I fix every dish at least once. This way I can still plan according to my store’s weekly deals. Each of these recipes will be doubled and the excess frozen. This is especially helpful on time consuming recipes. Once you are committed time wise and the mess is made, it not much of a pain to work a bit longer for that extra day of cooking freedom. For the mixes and kits I will buy the ingredients for a couple recipes each shopping trip.

Blueberry muffins
Banana bread
Waffle sticks
Pancake mix
Breakfast burritos
Cinnamon rolls
French toast
Mini frittata

Beef enchiladas
Chicken enchiladas (sans sauce, to be made serving day)
Chicken chile relleno casserole
Sloppy joe filling
Dirty rice kit
Italian Sausage & peppers
Taco meat
Meat sauce
Turkey toquitos
Chicken chile toquitos
Shredded beef tacos
BBQ pork
Shredded spicy DP pork
Garlic lime chicken
Meatloaf cups
Pork chops
Marinated pork tenderloin
King ranch chicken casserole
Chicken pot pie

Soup de jour
Cheeseburger soup
Tortilla soup
Tomato soup base
Chicken noodle soup base
Wedding soup base

Freezer stockpile
Smoothie packs
Tex, teriyaki, and Mediterranean spiced chicken
Organic veggies
Chicken nuggets – if you have a good baked version- I’m all ears, please send it in!
Chili meat (browned and seasoned)
Pizza dough
Pie crust
Pizza sauce
Apple crumble
Cookie dough
Pound cake

Jarred salsa
Chipotle peppers
Green chiles
Chipotle peppers in adobo
Vegetarian refried beans
Canelini & black beans
Chocolate chips
Maple syrup

Taco seasoning
Ranch seasoning
Cinnamon sugar 
Tex-Mex Seasoning

Checkmate. Ready for fall.


Need a little more inspiration? Check out my Dinner Advent Calendar from the holidays last year.

Gumbo! A Break from Holiday Overload

I thought I would be writing this post weeks ago, but our house has been SICK. Head cold, viruses, upset stomach, put us out of our misery sick. Bah Humbug. The weather in Texas has been warm, then rainy, then cold and dreary. Bah. The small attempts I have made to rejoin society have been through hurricane kit craft stores and bustling grocery aisles. Bah.

The school week is winding down, the kids’ excitement is growing, and Christmas is around the corner. Time for a little break from holiday overload. This afternoon, Baby Girl took a long nap, the boys started a Mario Bros marathon, and I caught up on Hallmark’s 2014 Holiday Movies. What a delightfully cheesy way to catch a little Christmas joy. A Royal Christmas and Christmas Underwraps (LOVE Candace Cameron Bure) did not disappoint: sweet, predictable, and made me smile. It was up and at them for some food love – Gumbo. I have used a version of this recipe I originally tore out year’s ago from Cook’s Illustrated by America’s Test Kitchen, and those guys know their stuff. I have added chicken thigh meat over the years, but tonight we had a little duck thrown in.

Cajun Duck, Shrimp, and Sausage Gumbo
Serves 4-6
1/2 # gulf shrimp, shells removed and reserved, cut into pieces
1 3/4 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup clam juice (on the canned food aisle, usually by tuna)
1 1/4 cups ice water
1/4 cup peanut oil
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 onion, fine dice
1 stalk celery, fine dice
1/2 green bell pepper, fine dice
1/2 red bell pepper, fine dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 ounces frozen okra, thawed
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme leaves
pinch cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
1/2 pound smoked (Andouille preferred) sausage

1.5-2 pounds cubed duck (I brine ours for a day or two before cooking)
1/4 cup parsley leaves, minced
2 medium scallions, thinly sliced, green and white parts
black pepper
white rice

To Make:
Bring the reserved shrimp shells and vegetable stock to a boil, over medium-high heat. Reduce to medium-low, and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the stock, add ice water and clam juice. Add additional vegetable stock until you have 1 quart. Discard shells, and set aside.
Heat oil in a dutch oven or heavy saucepan over medium-high heat for 1 1/2 – 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and gradually stir in the flour with a wooden spoon, making sure to work out any lumps that may form. Continue stirring constantly for about 20 minutes until the roux has a toasty aroma and is deep reddish brown. Don’t try to rush it. The roux will thin as it cooks, and if it begins to smoke, remove from heat and stir so it cools slightly.
Add onions, bell pepper, celery, garlic, thyme, salt and cayenne to the roux and cook, until the vegetables soften. Attend to them, stirring frequently. This should take 10-15 minutes. Add the stock, while stirring continuously. Increase the heat to high, and skim any foam that rises to the surface. Add the okra and bay leaf (I also add the duck here) and simmer, uncovered (keep skimming foam) for 30 minutes.
Add in sausage, and continue simmering another 30 minutes. Start the rice. Stir in the shrimp and simmer until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, add in the parsley, scallions, and season with salt, pepper and cayenne to taste.
Spoon over rice.
Now there’s time for more Christmas movies. I’m thinking on to the classics – White Christmas and maybe A Christmas Carol.

“God Bless Us, Every One!”

Updated 2020

Dinner? Soup’s On!

It’s starting to finally cool down. For me, that means SOUP weather!

I am looking forward to a yummy winter.

Roasted Broccoli Cheddar Soup
This final recipe is a culmination of years catering lunches and teaching cooking students; a few tweaks each time I prepared it for someone. It is a winner.
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 large crowns of broccoli, trimmed to florets
1/4 cup butter
1 medium onion, chopped (approx. 1 cup)
4 medium carrots, chopped (approx. 1 cup)
2 stalks celery, chopped (approx. ½ cup)
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, fresh grated
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
2 cups low sodium chicken stock
2 cups half-and-half
¼ cup finely grated parmesan
8 ounces grated sharp cheddar
To Make:
Place broccoli in roasting pan and roast in oven at 350 for 20 minutes. This is an extra step, but the added flavor is soooo worth it.

While broccoli is roasting, place half and half in a small saucepan and warm over low heat. In a large saucepan, melt butter under medium to medium high heat and sauté onions, celery, and carrots.

Add in flour and cook for 3-5 minutes making a blonde roux. Add seasonings and whisk in chicken stock.  Bring to boil, reduce to a simmer, and simmer on low.  When the broccoli is done, add it in, and simmer for an additional 20 minutes.

Using either an immersion blender or ladling into a regular blender, puree the soup. Return the soup to the saucepan and add in warmed half and half and cheeses.  From this point, do not allow to boil.  Gently simmer soup for about 20 minutes, allowing the flavors to combine and cheeses to melt. Ladle into bowls, find your favorite bread, crouton, or crackers and dive in to some cheesy comfort. Trust me, my phone does not do justice to the yumminess.

Beef & Vegetable Soup like my Dad made it
1/2 pound ground beef
1/3 large onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 large red potato, large dice
14 ounce can whole tomatoes
3 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons dried herbs de Provence
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 bay leaf
3 cups beef broth
To Make:
In a large soup pot, over medium-high heat, brown the meat with onion, celery, carrot, pepper, and garlic. Remove from heat, drain, and discard the grease.
Return to heat add tomato paste, Worcestershire, and herbs. Cook over medium-high heat until dry. Stir in broth, add potato, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low/medium-low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are softened.

A’s Potato Soup
This is an original S’more Mom recipe, and one of my all time winter favorites!
Serves 4
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter
1 celery stock, fine dice
3 baked Yukon gold potatoes
1 clove garlic
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 1/2 cups thick cubed black forest ham
1/2 medium sweet onion
1 shallot
2-4 cups chicken stock
2/3 – 1 cup cream, half-and-half, or whole milk
1/4 cup sour cream
2 Tablespoons chives, finely chopped
To Make:
Bake potatoes at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Sauté ham, onion, celery, shallot, garlic, and thyme with olive oil and butter over medium-high heat until veggies are translucent and ham slightly browns. While cooking, bake potatoes an additional 15 minutes, and allow to cool slightly. Peel and dice, set aside. Add salt and pepper to taste. Deglaze with a small amount of chicken stock, just enough to scrape brown bits. Sprinkle veggie mixture with flour, and cook several minutes. Add enough chicken stock to cover veggies, dairy, potatoes, and chives. Simmer an additional 10 minutes, but do not boil.

Chicken Enchilada Soup
Serves 6-8
3 Tablespoons butter
1 sweet bell pepper, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 rib celery, chopped
2 carrots, peeled & chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper
4 cups chicken stock or low sodium chicken broth
28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
1 lime, juiced
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons salt
¼ – ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 corn tortillas, cut into think (1/4”) strips, divided
2 cups diced cooked chicken
½ teaspoon baking powder
4 oz cream cheese
4 oz American cheese or queso blanco (good melting cheese)
1 to 1 ½ cups half and half (can substitute cream, Mexican crema, or sour cream)
4 oz can green chilies
*can substitute 2-3 Tablespoons of non-msg taco seasoning for chili powder, garlic powder, cayenne, cumin and salt.
**the baking soda keeps the dairy from curdling when added to the tomatoes and lime juice in the soup base
To Make:
Melt butter over medium heat and sweat pepper, onion, celery, and carrots until softened. Stir in seasonings, stock, tomatoes and 4 tortillas.

Bring to a boil, reduce and simmer 15 minutes. Puree and return to pot.

While soup simmers, bake remaining tortilla strips at 375 degrees until crispy.

Add baking soda, and when bubbling calms, add cheeses, chilies, half and half, and chicken. Simmer over low heat 30 minutes longer, stirring occasionally to prevent scalding.

Garnish with: crispy tortilla strips, sour cream, pico de gallo, avocado, cilantro, grated cheddar

Minestone Soup Base
1 Tablespoon EVOO
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery sticks, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups beef broth
28 ounce petite diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 sprig rosemary, minced
salt and pepper to taste
any vegetables you want to add, diced
1 can Italian beans, rinsed & drained
To Make:
Sauté onion, carrots, celery, and garlic until translucent. Add it broth, tomatoes, vegetables, herbs, and seasoning. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer. Simmer at least 20 minutes, checking for tenderness.

Toss It Together Southwest Chicken Soup
This soup can be easily assembled with pantry and freezer ingredients

Tomato Parmesan Soup

Williams-Sonoma French Onion Soup

Try these other recipes from my Souper Pinterest board and let me know your thoughts!

I need a spa day!

I have been stressed. The other day I was thinking and I could not remember the last time I felt unburdened. So, I have been going on for months about needing to get away. One of the best ways to relax is to go to the spa: get a massage, manicure, pedicure, and be pampered.

Boy did Man deliver!

I came home to our routine dinner, clean up, kids’ baths, bedtime, dishes. Then, I upon retiring to the bedroom I found dim lights, soft waves and beach sounds, a massage table, and the opportunity to shower in peace by myself (only a mom of small children would consider that special). When I came out of the shower, Man gave me a nice little spa snack plate (on a tray in bed).
I wish I had taken a picture!!

Fresh berries drizzled with chocolate, sparkling water, and cucumber ice cubes.

I was then treated to an hour massage….and drifted off to a very good night’s sleep.

That got me to thinking…
The next time I wish I had a day at the spa, I’m going to try to recreate some of that magic at home by whipping up some spa inspired dishes. They are decidedly different, but all spa worthy so give them a try.

Triple Berry Salad

Organic field greens
Half pint each sliced strawberries, blackberries, blueberries
Feta crumbles
Spiced pecans
Balsamic vinaigrette
Add grilled chicken breast if desired

Giada’s Apple Mint Green Tea Punch
It’s crisp, slightly sweet and very refreshing! One of my favorite drinks to have on hand.

The Lemon Bowl Brown Rice Greek Salad
Light, packed with yummy nutrients, and full of flavor

Strawberry Cake
Moist, not too sweet, and icing not required!

Today’s Mama’s Tomato Parmesan Soup
Rich and decadent

How do you recreate the best of the spa at home?