Freezer Cooking

This past week I have done some batch freezer cooking every time I’ve been in the kitchen.  Recipes I’ve put away are 6 breakfast burritos, 18 beef and bean burritos, and 6 chicken verde taquitos.  Plus, I pre-chopped 5 pounds of onions, 6 bell peppers, and 3 zucchini for the freezer.  Here are the recipes if you are interested.

Breakfast burritos:  7 whole wheat flour 6″ tortillas, 14 eggs-scrambled, 14 turkey sausage links-chopped, 1 box of frozen spinach-sqeezed completely dry, and 1 cup of any kind of cheese you like.

I did not season the scrambled eggs.  I try to use very little sodium.  Plus, I used pepper jack cheese which is full of flavor.  I mixed all the ingredients together then scooped approximately 1/2 cup onto each tortilla shell and rolled up.

Tip:  These are decent sized breakfast burritos, not huge, but decent.  You can cut these in half with a serrated bread knife before you microwave it and just eat half with a piece of fruit yogurt and coffee and have a very filling, nutritious breakfast and make the burritos last longer.

Beaf and Bean Burritos:  8 inch flour tortillas, 1 lb of fajita seasoned ground beef with onions and peppers, 1 cup chopped zucchini, 1 bag of birdseye southwestern seasoned rice-or 2 cups of any rice your have that is precooked, 1 bag of black beans-2 cups-cooked from scratch, 1 cup of cheese, and 1 can of diced tomatoes.

I always cook my beans from scratch to control the sodium and seasonings.  To reduce gas and stomach upset, I recommend the quick soak method on the back of most dry bean bags.  It has worked every time I make a pot of beans.  For these black beans I added light salt, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder and chili powder, not much because the meat has fajita seasoning.  When the beans are finished I completely drain them.  I just browned the ground beef and drained it.  Then in the same pan I sauteed the onions, peppers and zucchini.  I saute separately so the grease from the beef doesn’t absorb into the vegetables.  Mix together all ingredients in a large bowl.  Lay out each tortilla shell and scoop approximately 3/4 cup of the mixture onto the shell.  Fold over one side of the shell to cover the bean mixture, then fold in the ends, then roll the shell on over and close it up.  This makes a sort of pocket burrito with a square shape.

Tip:  I plan on serving these with a guaca salad and fruit for a nutritious, quick lunch.

Chicken Verde Taquitos:  6 whole wheat tortilla shells, 2 cans chicken breast meat-drained, 1 box frozen spinach-completely squeezed dry, 1 package cream cheese, and 1 can of diced green chiles.

Mix together all ingredients.  Scoop approximately 1/2 cup of mixture onto tortilla and form into a thin, long strip.  Tightly roll up tortilla and place in freezer bag.

Tip:  I plan on baking these on my pizza stone and spraying with smart balance cooking spray.  This will save calories by not frying them in grease as is the traditional preparation but  not sacrifice any of the brown crispy goodness.  I will also be serving these with guaca salad.

What are recipes you use for freezer/batch cooking?


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Are We There Yet?

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Any parent who’s traveled more than an hour with their kids has heard this question at least once.  With a little creativity and planning, your next trip can be as fun getting there as the attractions you are going to enjoy.  Part two of the Vacation Planning Series is Travel.  That seems to be a very broad topic…because it is.  There are as many choices of how to go on vacation as where to go on vacation.  Plus there’s always the, “Mommy, I’m bored!” to contend with.  Let’s start with the most obviously utilized:  automobile, plane, and train.

If you decide to take a road trip vacation, you can use your own car or a rental car.  If you use your own, make an appointment with your mechanic at least a few weeks before your road trip to do a pre-trip inspection. Bring a checklist of things to ask your mechanic to review including:

  • Check all fluids.
  • Check belts and hoses.
  • Look for any leaks.
  • Check and fill all tires, including the spare tire and make sure they’re in good condition.
  • Perform a four-wheel brake check (if not done in the last six months).
  • Check the condition of the exhaust system.
  • Flush the cooling system (if not done in the last year).
  • Pressure-check the cooling system to inspect for leaks.
  • Load-test the battery to test its ability to hold a charge.
  • Check the alternator output to make sure that the charging system is working well.
  • Replace the spark plug wires if they are more than two years old.

If you choose to use a rental car, there are some things to keep in mind:

  • Beware of hidden fees and extras-If the rental company has to top-off the gas tank after your return, you will pay a ridiculous price per gallon. Always ask that the car be filled up prior to your departure, and then bring it back full of gas. Go to the reservation page, and you learn what your taxes and fees will become.
  • Airport rentals are best avoided-There will be an “airport fee.” It’s often very convenient to rent a car at the airport, but keep in mind that you’ll pay for the privilege.  It will be cheaper to pay for a shuttle or cab to your hotel and rent the car from there.
  • Decline the insurance-Most travelers know this one, but there is a lot of pressure to change minds at the rental counter. Companies make big profits from insurance fees. Some clerks are trained to create as much anxiety as possible for people who decline it. They’ll tell you their insurance closes expensive loopholes, which may or may not be true in your case. They’ll tell you stories about how a customer’s auto insurance or credit card failed to cover damages during a recent accident. There may be truth in the stories, but the odds are slim that you’ll need any of this coverage. It is very likely, however, that your auto insurance policy at home covers rentals as well. Call your agent to verify it. Also check with your credit card company to see if using the card to pay for a rental provides collision coverage. In many cases, you’ll find it a positive response.
  • In smaller offices, reserve the smallest car possible-Most North Americans who rent cars don’t like driving compacts. Rental companies know this, and they usually order more mid-size and full-size cars. If your destination is a smaller facility or non-hub airport, chances are good that they have only a few compacts. On some days, they might not have any compacts when customers arrive. In that situation, if you’ve reserved a compact, they are obligated to give you a free upgrade. Many times, you’ll move up two categories for no additional charge. You can usually pay an upgrade fee on the spot for a larger car if they call your bluff and tell you the compact is ready to go. There will be times when the smallest cars are all that remains on the lot. Those times are fairly rare. In larger facilities, where the supply of cars is huge, this plan is far less likely to work. But it might be worth a try if you’re willing to risk getting a smaller car.
  • Surf the Net-As is the case with many purchases, you’ll usually find the best rates on the Internet. Shop around. Buying online will afford you the luxury of seeing what rates look like on any vehicle your heart desires, without the inconvenience of having a salesperson breathing down your neck. Also, many companies offer special discounts to people who rent online.
  • Go Weekend-Rates are typically cheaper on weekends.
  • Weekly Does It-Weekend rates are great, but weekly rates are usually the best of all. If you plan on using the vehicle for five days or more, choose the weekly rate.
  • Book Early-Rates depend on how many vehicles the company has on the lot at the time the rental is made, so sooner is better. Reserve your car at least a week in advance.
  • Think Twice About Prepaid Gas-From a financial standpoint, prepaying is a bad idea unless you’re absolutely certain that you’ll use the full tank.
  • Join the Club-Many of the larger companies offer club membership in which members pay a yearly fee in exchange for certain perks and privileges. These clubs can save you money with benefits like free rental days and airline miles, but you’ll likely only see savings if you’re a frequent renter. If you fall into this category and use rental vehicles more than occasionally, go clubbing.

Now if you decide to choose an airplane to reach your personal paradise then you’ll need to remember a few things to get the best fare:

1.  Be flexible with your travel dates.

2.  Book at least two weeks ahead, preferably three.

3.  Stay overnight on a Saturday during the trip dates.

4.  Fly mid week if you can.

5.  Fly into/out of a neighboring airport-Remember the US Virgin Islands trip example from the Budget article?  Flying out of Atlanta instead of Nashville was over $200 cheaper.

6.  Avoid holiday dates.

7.  For US To Europe trips, stop in London.

8.  Use the proper website to search for the appropriate fare:

If you are interested a train trip there are some great options.  I personally have never traveled by train but would love to someday.  With no experience personally it’s hard to advise what to do.  But I would stick with the trusted expert websites such as Amtrak and TripAdvisor.  If anyone has any tips for the readers on train travel, please share in the comments below so we can all be well informed :)

Next in the How2U Travel Series:  How to Pack

Budget: Vacation Planning, Part I

Budget:  Vacation Planning, Part I

Realistically money can only go so far and it doesn’t grow on trees.  There are a few items that a splurge would not be a bad idea and in some cases may be recommended or necessary.

  • A good hotel
  • A great room with a balcony and view
  • Dinner at a fine restaurant at least once including wine
  • Using bonus miles to upgrade
  • A digital camera
  • Good looking, comfortable shoes

Many a weary traveler has wished they had gotten the better recommended hotel for a few extra dollars than the cheap, noisy, hot and uncomfortable cheap dive they settled for.  When all is said and done you want great memories.  And for any regrets to be so small they get forgotten in the long run.  The trick is to make it seem like you didn’t plan the trip to be affordable, but to be great!

On the flip side of worthy splurges there are some things to not worry about.  Those would include:  airport food and drinks, breakfast in bed, in room calls, room service and hotel room drinks/snacks, cheap souvenirs, commercial photos, and formal clothing or trip specific clothing you will only wear once.  To practice some of these new ideas let’s put together a trip.  As an example, a trip to the US Virgin Islands (USVI) will be used as the chosen destination to budget.  Here is a sample spreadsheet layout to use that is simple and can be easily modified:

USVI Vacation Budget for Three

$880.00        Airfare
$884.00        Cabin
$130.00        Ferry Fees
$60.00            Taxi Fees
$50.00            Gratuities
$150.00        Sailboat Tour
$60.00            Trunk Bay Tour
$100.00         Bike Tour
$270.00        Snorkel Tour
$100.00        Souvenirs
$150.00        Eating Out
$100.00        Groceries/Supplies
Total Expenses    $2934.00

This is a trip myself, my son and my brother are actually taking this fall to celebrate the completion of my bachelor’s degree.  Personally, my favorite thing in all the world is a beach.  And the ultimate beach vacation would be in the Caribbean.  My best friend went to Antigua last year.  Their hotel, or hut, alone at a resort was more than the cost of this whole trip.  So even though the total looks a bit much, for this sort of vacation it is very affordable.  I decided I deserved it!  Made a plan and have stuck to my budget for two years to make it happen.

First up, travel expense.  There are lots of choices and even more opinions about how and what you should choose for travel plans.  Two years ago we drove to Orlando to make the trip more doable for our family.  While that decision served its purpose for that trip, it’s not feasible for this one.  We have compromised a couple of points though to make flying more affordable.

One, we are driving to Atlanta to catch our flight.  There is a difference of over $200 per ticket flying out of Nashville to the USVI.  I feel a three hour drive to Atlanta is a small sacrifice to save almost $900 for this trip.  The second compromise is we are trying an airline we have never flown before, Spirit Air.  I have read the reviews and they are mixed.  Keep in mind that having a Saturday stay over during your trip and flying to an area in an off season will reduce your flight costs if that is the choice mode of travel.

We are choosing as a family to overlook the negative and suffer through a few hours for an 8 day – 7 night dream vacation in the long run.  To help ensure we don’t have as negative an experience as some do with this airline, we are paying a little extra to have the big comfy seats up front.  Hopefully when all is said and done, this won’t end up being a big regret on our trip.  I will update you the first of October and let you know!

For our lodging choice we are staying at a wonderful place called Virgin Islands Campground, an eco-sensitive resort with self-contained tent cottages.  On Trip Advisor, USVI Campground has a 100% positive recommendations from past visitors.  The tent cottages are canvas tents built on wooden frames.  They are located right on the beach and the Caribbean trade winds blow through day and night.  You can hear the surf as you drift off to sleep and rise in the morning.  Granted it’s not a five star luxury resort.  But no five star luxury resort can beat their location and atmosphere on Water Island.  And staying there is not harmful to the environment to boot.  To me that is worth every last penny of the $884.00.  Plus they have facilities to store and cook food so you do not have to eat out at every meal, saving more money in the long run.

It is unavoidable that most vacationers will have taxi fees, ferry fees and gratuities of some sort to calculate into the budget.  One word of advice, don’t be stingy.  These are locals who are opening their home up for you to enjoy.  We, vacationers, are ambassadors where ever we roam.  Generosity is always rewarded in this respect.  Plus, in such a small locale as an island, you’re liable to need their services again.  How accommodating do you think they are willing to be after you have disrespected their profession?  They make a living serving the likes of us.  Let them know they are appreciated.  If you plan a tour or day trip and have a guide or teacher of any kind, tip respectfully.  There will also be taxi fees to get to and from the airport.  And in our case, ferry rides to and from the main islands to our resort.

We are planning four different guided tours during our stay we had to plan the expenses for.  There is an all day guided tour, a bike tour, a bay scuba diving sailboat tour, and an under water snorkel tour of an underwater national park.  I chose varying activities so nothing is old and everything is new and exciting.  I chose to find local links and referrals for these tours so when we arrive I don’t have to worry about finding someone on the spot and wondering if we trusted and paid the wrong people.  These particular tours are all inclusive with gear, training on the equipment, drinks, meals and in the case of the snorkel tour it includes a day long tour of three beaches including snorkeling with a guide, drinks, meals, a theme park admission, and driving tour to the highest point of the island for panoramic views.  Everything you want to do and see almost rolled into one!  It is actually a bargain of a deal and we don’t have to pay for extra transportation because it’s included in the tour fee of $90.00 per person.

Of the eight days we will be in the islands, four days we will be out and away from our resort during midday lunch time so we will be eating out and have budgeted accordingly to accommodate this expense and one very nice dinner out for local cuisine while we are having our island experience.  For breakfast and dinner most days our resort allows for preparing our own food.  We will be enjoying our private beach getaway and the only ‘work’ we will have to do on our down days is pour a bowl of cereal, make a sandwich or grill a burger.  On Mondays, Water Island has a free movie night for residents and guests to enjoy.  They hang a huge white sheet between palm trees and relax on the sand while the latest blockbuster plays in the moonlight.  And that’s FREE!

Some of the related trip topics such as type of vacation, location, travel and dining I will be touching on in upcoming articles so don’t worry if the explanation of why that particular choice was made isn’t answered here.  I just wanted you to see of how I put together this trip budget and why I made some of the decisions I made.  Feel free to make comments and ask questions.  I am happy to share what I’ve learned over the past few years of budget trip planning with everyone!

Helpful Links:

www.tripadvisor.com

www.spiritair.com

www.tipping.org

Vacation Planning Series

I don’t have to tell you how expensive it is to go on vacation these days.  Any parent with half a heart for making their children happy has looked into theme park vacations, destination vacations and summer camp adventures.  By the time you tally in the cost of vacation supplies/clothes, food, lodging, travel, souvenirs, activities and tipping expenses the average family vacation can set you back a months worth of pay on a good day.  With some careful planning and creative twists you can have the family vacation of  your dreams and more!

There are several topics to consider when vacation planning including:
1.  Budget
2.  Travel
3.  With or without your pet
4.  Location
5.  Type of Vacation
6.  Location
7.  Dining
8.  Safety
9.  Helpful Information
10.  What to Pack
Each of these topics can make or break a vacation if not given the proper attention and research.  For the sake of keeping this manageable, let’s tackle this one topic at a time and start with Budget:  Vacation Planning Part I.

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