10 Apr
2012
Posted in: Gardening
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Making a retaining wall

This past week my husband and I decided to tackle our front flower bed. It hadn’t been maintained very well before we bought the house and there were some massive bushes taking over.

flower garden before

flower garden

The garden we tackled this weekend is the one on the left. Over the years we had already replanted the daffodils and removed the bushes but we were left with a big pile of dirt just sitting there looking ugly. We had removed the front tree next to the flower bed so we knew that sun might actually climb through the trees at some point this year and we intended to get our garden going. We wanted to build a retaining wall to create some depth and dimension in the garden.

Little did we know we’d see 90 degree weather in March. It’s Missouri and we’re used to weird weather but this was out of control. Naturally we were right in the middle of the project when that 90 degree weather hit, then rain, and I was suffering a case of poison ivy from another project so let’s just say this project didn’t go as planned.

As planned would be to dig out the dirt to form a trench, layer 2 inches of gravel at the bottom of the trench, layer an inch of sand on top of the gravel, and then place 3 rows of pavers on top of all that. Then we would sip sweet tea, admire our work and be awesome.

What really happened was something like:

1. Discuss what pavers we want. Refuse to agree on anything and take a zillion trips to Lowes and Home Depot

flower bed

2. Wake up Saturday morning to see husband digging a trench. Realize that the roots from the removed tree made that flower bed their home. Use shears to cut out roots and scowl at the past homeowners and their bad decisions.

3. Realize that we made a giant trench and had no clue on paver choice. Rather than dwell on the possible mistake we made we just decided to try to make a guide to help keep our future work level.

flower bed

4. Go to the store and finally agree that we both don’t hate 2 pavers and that 1 is cheaper so it will win if we like the look at our house. Buy 5 bags of paver base (gravel), 3 bags of sand, and 3 pavers. Put everything in the car and realize it is dragging the ground.

5. Get home and agree we like the pavers but we need about 62 more. Considering the car situation, realize we’ll need a delivery and freak out over the cost.

6. Go online and discover that for the next 24 hours Lowes will deliver for free. Place the order for 62 pavers, go out and grab pizza, then put down some paver base and paver sand.

flower bed

7. Realize we made the trench way too big for these pavers, make our 4th trip into town for the night and pick up more paver base and sand. Work our butts off the next day in 90 degree temps and start to regret a lot of life choices.

flower bed

8. The pavers arrive Tuesday morning and we spend the second 90 degree day putting row 1 down. There’s a lot of leveling that goes on here. Realize we’ll have to cut one paver and decide we’ll do that and row 2 on Wednesday.

flower bed

9. Temps are only in the 80s but the poison ivy has spread from my arm to the rest of my body. Run to the drug store for all the drugs in the world. Husband grabs a chisel from the store to split the pavers along with 2 tubes of landscape adhesive so our pavers will stay in place. We cut one paver down to size and then lay row 2 with adhesive. It gets dark really early (okay, this is a lie– it was Opening Day) so we end the evening after row 2.

10. It rains overnight so we decide to let the pavers dry before adding the next row and its adhesive. We still take a trip into town.

flower bed

11. Friday we work our butts off and lay down the top row of pavers minus the end one that needs to be cut down. It’s just too dark to see the cutting lines.

flower bed

12. Saturday I wake up and go out with friends and when I come home the flower bed is finished, the dirt is pushed back in place, the lawn is mowed, and my husband wants to go out for dinner. An Easter miracle! (or just an amazing husband)

flower bed

In reality our quick and easy flower bed went from me wanting to put down a few landscape timbers to a week long project but the final look is so much nicer. We still have to add some soil and compost, some plants, and some mulch but now we feel like paver laying pros and figure we gained a lot of knowledge for our next paver project. I’m happy to say it’s still standing and my husband and I are no longer regretting this project because it looks so nice. It was almost worth all the trouble but I really wish we had checked the 10-day forecast instead of the weekend forecast before starting.

flower bed

Lesson learned:

  1. Check the weather
  2. Have a full tank of gas for all those trips into town when you inevitably forget something.
  3. Make your wall look awesome so you forget all the trouble your project was
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8 Apr
2012
Posted in: Site Announcements
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Happy Easter

Happy Easter everyone! I had some friends come in from out of town and some projects I’ve been working on so I’ll be back Tuesday with new updates. Enjoy the extra time with your family and have a good holiday!

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5 Apr
2012
Posted in: Food
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Hot Cross Buns

Until last year, I don’t think I’d ever eaten Hot Cross Buns. I’d heard of them but only in the sense that I learned to play that song Hot Cross Buns on the recorder, the piano, the trumpet, and the french horn.Yup, that’s right, I was a total band nerd in my youth.

Last year I was determined to see what the fuss was all about and I was happy with the idea of hot cross buns but I wanted to jazz them up a bit. This year’s recipe came out perfect. I made sure the dough had plenty of cinnamon and orangey taste and I added much plumper raisins to the mix. The best part was the smell, my whole house smelled of spices and sugars all day long.

You can make these tonight and let them do their second rise in the fridge overnight. Tomorrow morning just pull them out of the fridge, take a shower, preheat the oven, and pop them in while you get ready. They taste perfect with some milk or tea and if they make it till Easter they’ll still taste good.

Hot Cross Buns

Prep Time: 2 hours, 25 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours, 50 minutes

Yield: 1 dozen

Serving Size: 1 roll

Ingredients

  • 1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 cup warm milk (warm to the touch)
  • 1/4 cup butter, cubed
  • 1/2 cup baking raisins
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • Rind of 1 orange
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 3/4 cups flour
  • For the icing:
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon butter, softened
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (you can also substitute almond or maple extract here)
  • 2 tablespoons milk

Instructions

  1. In your stand mixer bowl, dissolve the yeast and 1 tablespoon of sugar in the warm milk. Let stand for 5 minutes until the mixture becomes frothy.
  2. Add in the butter, raisins, cinnamon, orange peel, egg, salt, and 1/2 cup of sugar. Use a spoon to mix gently until smooth.
  3. Place the mixer bowl onto the mixer base with the dough hook attached. Slowly add in flour while mixing on a low speed until the dough begins to pull from the sides of your bowl. Move your mixer to speed setting 3 and let your dough hook knead the dough for 5 minutes.
  4. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise until doubled. In a warm environment this should take about 60-90 minutes.
  5. Punch down your dough and divide into 12 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball and place in a 13x9 inch glass pan.
  6. Cover and let dough rise until doubled again, about 45 minutes to an hour. If you are preparing this recipe at night, place the dough in the fridge to rise overnight instead. The cold will slow down the rise of your dough so it shouldn't rise too much.
  7. Bake at 375° for 25-30 minutes or until golden. Let the buns cool in the pan on a wire rack.
  8. For the icing:
  9. Combine the powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla. Slowly add milk until the mixture reaches piping consistency. Using a Ziplock bag with the corner cut off, pipe an "X" on top of each bun.
http://www.thehyperhouse.com/2012/04/hot-cross-buns/

 

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3 Apr
2012
Posted in: Household
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April Centerpiece

April centerpiece

This month’s centerpiece theme is based around Easter. I’m loving purples and greens this year for Easter so I painted some dollar store Easter eggs with some Krylon Make It Stone spray paint. Then I topped them off with some acrylic paints and some watered down paints I misted on for a watercolor effect.

April centerpiece

Then I took a flat wreath base and covered it with a mossy green yarn following this technique so I looked like I had a nice grassy base to hide some eggs. Then I plopped eggs all around and inside of my favorite scalloped bowl from Pier 1 for this super simple look.

April centerpiece

For an added bonus, I folded up my napkins to look like little bunnies popping out of my dinner mugs. I got the technique from Better Homes and Gardens

Tomorrow I’ll show you a perfect breakfast treat in the week and later on I’ll show you my favorite carrot cake recipe. If you want to try either of these dishes, the first requires yeast, an orange, and baking raisins in addition to the usual baking items. The second dish requires carrots, crushed pineapple, coconut, walnuts, cream cheese, and powdered sugar.

What will be on your table for Easter weekend?

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2 Apr
2012
Posted in: Household
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April Task List

How is it April already? I can’t believe we’re already a quarter of a way through the year. It got warm so fast I had to jump out to tend my beast of a yard instead of finishing indoor renovations so I feel behind but also ahead. Thankfully, I’m back with this month’s Get Organized Now checklist to keep me on track.

I’m mapping out my favorites on the calendar and then scheduling all my other projects around their list. Up for me this month: building a new flower bed, planting tons of plants, and if I have any more 90 degree days I’m just going to sit inside and work on my fireplace instead. I can’t handle this anymore!


Source: Downloadable Desktop via Your Little Birdie

Some of my top tasks for April from the checklist include:

  • April 11: Get outdoor furniture ready and clean for the season. Celebrate with an outdoor dinner and BBQ.
  • April 18: Consider getting your carpets cleaned. If winter and spring did damage this will pretty them up before all your summer gatherings.
  • April 20: Scan your documents into the computer and shred them. I’m considering getting this mobile scanner and limiting myself to just a few file folders. A girl can dream!
  • April 21: Wash the windows! It’ll brighten up your whole house. Check out this post on Curbly for window cleaning tips and average rates for hiring a pro to do it for you.
  • April 23: Inventory kitchen supplies. Donate duplicates and buy replacements for all those melted or damaged tools.
  • April 26: Review your insurance policies and make sure you have enough coverage. In my college torts class I learned just how important things like underinsured driver coverage and medpay can be in an accident that isn’t your fault. I actually changed my policy after that one class and it cost me only a meal out a year to protect ourselves. I don’t work insurance but I’ve seen firsthand how being underinsured doesn’t pay when you’re the victim.

If you’re local to St. Louis, here’s a list of my Top 10 Things to Do in St. Louis for April. Lots of sporting events, Swan Lake, a Scottish festival, Earth Day, and even a way to give back to the community.

What’s your must-do task for April?

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30 Mar
2012
Posted in: Food
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Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

A few years ago I had a friend mention to me that she had discovered a new ice cream place. She said it was an amazing place but considering she lived in Ohio I wasn’t going to make the drive. Besides, the had mentioned that her favorite flavor was olive oil. Olive oil? In ice cream? I was unconvinced.

Then one day I discovered this amazing book, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams At Home by Jeni Britton Bauer. Flipping through the book I quickly realized this was the Jeni of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams that my friend had told me about. The book even had the recipe for that same olive oil ice cream.

The book is so much more than a cookbook; Jeni shares advice on ingredients, entrepreneurship, and her growth in the kitchen. I really love how Jeni shares her failures and how owning a restaurant is so much more than knowing how to cook. It’s very refreshing. I read the book, saw all the amazing recipes and fell in love. I wondered in my head if I wasn’t overhyping how good her ice cream really was. I had to find out for myself but there was no way I could drive to Ohio.

Enter Straub’s Markets. Jeni’s has retail partners across the country that stock the ice cream flavors Jeni created. In St. Louis, Straub’s is the closest location to me that carries her ice creams. I was already across the river at a museum so I stopped by Straub’s to see their selection. They didn’t have that infamous olive oil flavor but they did have Jeni’s Gooey Butter Cake Ice Cream. As STL locals know, gooey butter cake is our thing. Did an outsider have what it took?

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams- Gooey Butter Cake

Jeni nailed it. The hype around Jeni’s is that her ice cream isn’t full of ice crystals like all those other ice creams. It was weird taking that first bite and not hearing or feeling that usual crunch you feel when you eat most ice creams. This really was just like eating cream. Cream that was flavored with honey, butter, and butter cake. You can tell this is quality ice cream from your first taste to your first look, with so many vanilla beans lacing the ice cream.

jenis flavors

Gooey butter cake ice cream is one of the many recipes Jeni includes in her book. She has 53 ice creams, 7 frozen yogurts, 9 sorbets, and 13 desserts in her big book of recipes. She divides the book up into seasons so you can mimic her love of fresh, seasonal goods in your ice cream making. For spring she has a twist on classic strawberry ice cream with her version- Roasted Strawberry & Buttermilk Ice Cream. Summer has a more dramatic twist in the Sweet Corn & Black Raspberry Ice Cream. You can tell Jeni loves autumn because most of her recipes fall in this category and this is where you’ll find that olive oil ice cream, her most famous salty caramel ice cream, and even a nod to her beloved Ohio with The Buckeye State Ice Cream (Honeyed Peanut Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate Freckles). Winter is where Jeni keeps her top chocolate recipes so feel free to indulge.

Expect lots of posts coming up this spring and summer as I start making some recipes from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams At Home as I attempt to fill up my freezer with some amazing treats. I’m already searching the stores for rhubarb so I can tackle one of her frozen yogurt creations.

Have you been to Jeni’s? I’d love to hear your favorite flavors so I know what to make next.

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28 Mar
2012
Posted in: DIY Projects
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Watercolor Easter Art

Looking for a simple Easter art project? This one can be done with supplies from the Dollar Store and it’s a great project to do with kids.

Watercolor Easter art

Supplies

You’ll need:

  • watercolor paper
  • watercolor paints and paintbrush
  • white crayon
  • glass filled with water
  • pen and ruler
  • frame
  • tape and scissors

easter egg art supplies

How To Do It

1. Split your watercolor paper into 9 sections using a pen and ruler. You want the sections to be taller than they are wide.

watercolor Easter art

2. In each section, draw a pattern using your white crayon. It’ll be hard to see so use simple patterns or try to look at an angle in the light to see where you’ve drawn.

3. Wet your paintbrush and dip it in the paint until wet. Use one color per section of your grid and paint it up.

watercolor Easter art

4. After the paint dries, draw a template of an egg and trace it onto each section. Cut out the egg shape.

5. Use your frame to determine how your eggs will be laid out. I had made 9 eggs but used my favorite 6 for my final design. When you find a layout you like, attach them to a background with an adhesive like mod podge or double-sided tape. Once you like the look, close up the frame and admire your work.

Easter Egg Art

It’s not quite the watercolor masterpieces I showed off yesterday but it’s a simple way to add some color to your Easter decorations.

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27 Mar
2012
Posted in: Household
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Favorite Etsy Art

I love Etsy for affordable and beautiful art but sometimes I can be overwhelmed because there are just so many good pieces and artists. I’ve favorited many shops and works over the years so I thought I’d share some of my favorites with you. Right now I’m on a big watercolor kick so I thought I’d start there. I’d love to hear who your favorite Etsy artists are or if you have a shop of your own so chime in below in the comments.

DogArtStudio

Despite the name, Ron Krajewski doesn’t just paint dogs. I have seen him make amazing watercolors of sea turtles, cats, horses, and yes, dogs. I love how he’s able to capture the spirit of animals and bring a black dog’s coat alive in color. He even does custom pet portraits based on a photo of your pet.

Created by Storm

Sarah Storm finds beauty in nature. She sells watercolors and watercolor prints of birds and other creatures you might find on a nature walk. I really love how she uses muted colors that still manage to pop in her works. You can save 20% in her Etsy shop through the end of March when you use the code SPRING20.

The Joy of Color

The Joy of Color is such a fitting name because Yael Berger has so much fun with color in her works. As a textile designer based out of Israel, Berger has an eye for color and pattern. Many of her pieces are inspired by nature with vegetables, trees, and fruits as a recurring theme. Her works don’t end there so make sure to look at her full collection.

The Wheatfield

Katie Daisy Art

Artist Katie Daisy mixes whimsical designs with watercolor. She loves the beauty of rural America and inspirational sayings. Her own art has caught the eye of brands like Target, American Greetings, and HGTV.

Share your favorite Etsy artists in the comments!

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26 Mar
2012
Posted in: Gardening
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Flower Bed Season

I think everyone I know spent most of their weekend either outside or at The Hunger Games. Naturally I did both.

My yard has suffered for years. We’ve had trees more than a century old blocking off sunlight from reaching the ground since I lived here but last year we cut down 7 of them. Calm down Lorax lovers, we have plenty of trees and privacy still and we’re replanting as we go. Now our lawn has 7 bare spots and giant areas of lawn that hadn’t seen sunlight since Elvis’s last show. Mud pit would be a nice description for how awful our yard has looked in past years. This weekend we leveled out the ground and put down some grass seed and straw. It was a lot of work but hopefully we’ll see a reward soon.

hostas

Speaking of rewards, remember my post about my favorite plants for a shade garden? All my plants are coming up early so I have something to show off. We have so many varieties of hostas but my most  successful ones were split from my mom’s garden. She knows how to work a garden.

hostas

My mom also picked out a garden peacock for me for my last birthday. What’s that you say, what is a garden peacock? It’s this decade’s flamingo but with more flair. Plus it matches my peacock Christmas tree.

garden peacock

I’ve got some bluebells coming up and blooming for the first time and my pulmonaria are out of control. I thought I had lost some plants after so much hail damage last year but I spied my ginger coming up earlier this week and today I spotted this:

fiddlehead fern

My fiddlehead fern survived! I’m hoping his fellow ferns come right up with him. Spring came so early this year we hadn’t had a chance to clean all the winter sticks out of it or even to remulch it but now that I’ve finished up some indoor projects it looks like it’s time for me to head back outside and maintain that flower garden.

What kept you busy this weekend?

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23 Mar
2012
Posted in: Food, Household
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Bulk Cooking: The Meats

So the other day I shared my top 5 tips for freezer cooking and as promised I’m back to show you how I prepped 26 meals while I cooked dinner and cleaned the dishes. This big project focused on Step 2: Make Your Meals Speedy. Do you ever run into that dreaded feeling around 5 o’clock that you didn’t pull anything out to thaw and now dinner won’t be ready until the end of time when all you want to do is sit on the couch, drink some wine and watch some trash TV? I hope I’m not alone in those kind of days.

26 meals

The best way to avoid those days is to cook your meat ahead of time. I don’t suggest cooking all meats ahead of time by any means but ground beef and chicken cuts are the perfect thing to prepare and have ready in a pinch.

Supplies

Pay close attention to these supplies as you plan your freezer cooking. You’ll be cooking several meats so save money by shopping the sales (rule 5) and visiting Costco (rule 4). I also had luck at my local Aldi store since you can’t beat their celery prices most days.

You’ll need:

  • An empty dishwasher
  • A clean stockpot
  • A clean crockpot
  • 10 pounds ground beef
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 9 chicken breasts
  • Water, chicken broth, or a combination of the two
  • Measuring cup
  • Containers (I used Ziplock bags)
  • Labeling tools (sharpie, address labels)
  • Bonus: A kitchenaid mixer, a strainer, and a food processor

Preparation

The night before your cooking day, thaw some chicken breasts. Some people will stick frozen chicken breasts straight in a crockpot and while some modern crockpots may keep your food in a safe zone, it’s safer to put thawed chicken in your crockpot so that’s what we’ll be doing for this project.

About 4 hours before dinner, place your thawed chicken breasts in a crockpot. I have a small Rival crockpot so 9 chicken breasts fit about perfectly. This will vary based on the size of your crockpot and chicken pieces. You’ll want to fill the crockpot at least halfway with liquid. I like to pour in one can of chicken broth and fill the rest with water. Set your crockpot on high and cook about 4 hours.

Let the cooking begin!

I was making a long but hands off meal in the kitchen so I prepped my meal and my bulk cooking at the same time and finished assembling while dinner was in the oven.

The Beef

chopped celery

First, I chopped up the entire stalk of celery. Rather than waste time with a knife I just threw it in my food processor attachment and chopped it up very finely. I had two separate packs of ground beef I had gotten on sale so I chose the smaller pack (3.4 pounds) and threw it and the diced celery into the preheated stockpot on the stove. I use my Pampered Chef Mix n Chop to separate the beef, then I throw the lid on so the meat cooks faster. After about 10 minutes with some occasional stirring, all my meat was cooked and finely chopped. I poured the meat into a strainer to drain the fat and let it cool. While it was cooling I cooked the other 6.6 pounds of meat I had in the same method, sans celery. You can season these meat batches any way you want while cooking them.

The Chicken

chop up chicken

While the beef was cooking and dinner was still in the oven, I had strained my chicken of all the liquids. I then threw the chicken breasts into my Kitchenaid mixer with the batter blade attached and in seconds I had perfectly shredded chicken. I could easily chop the chicken by hand but remember, this is a speed run.

Packaging

measuring chicken

My dinner was nearing completion as I rushed to finish my last pre-dinner task. I used my handy Pampered Chef Measure-All Cup and set it for 2 cups. I had quart sized Ziplock bags* set aside and I filled each bag with 2 cups (1 lb) of whatever meat I had prepped. I threw an address label on some bags and wrote out what was in the bag (1 lb ground beef + veggies) and the date. I left all the bags open and on the counter to finish cooling (since steam=water=ice crystals=freezer burn) and I served up that night’s dinner while the cooling took place.

After dinner I came in, sealed the bags after squeezing out as much air as possible, and stacked them flat in my freezer. After frozen you can store the bags upright in a mail crate in your deep freeze. One person takes care of the bags while the other loads the dishwasher and you can still fit in your wine and TV time.

*Some people might freak out at Ziplock bags but here’s the deal: since you’re working with cooked meat you can reuse the bags and they take up the least amount of space in a freezer. Just cover up your old label with your new one each time you cook and you are good to go.

The Results

oamc meals

My chicken batch produced 7 1/2 cups of shredded chicken. This meant I had 3 bags plus a small container set aside for a lunch. I can thaw a bag of cooked chicken on the counter in 30 minutes, under hot water in 5 minutes, or it can go straight onto the stove. I use the shredded chicken for chicken salad, chicken pot pies, chicken burritos, or many other dishes. The chicken batch created 4 meals.

My ground beef mixed with celery started off as 3.4 pounds of meat but the vegetable added stretched it to 12 cups. I would have had 7 bags of meat but I cheated and used one bag’s worth of meat in that night’s dinner. I thaw it the same way as the chicken and I use the meat+veggie combo in tomato based dishes like sloppy joes and spaghetti. The ground beef plus veggies batch created 7 meals.

My plain ground beef batch started as 6.6 pounds of meat and created 25 cups of beef. I separated these into 10-2 cup batches that I’ll use for tacos and lasagna and 5-1 cup batches when I want a meal light on meat like ziti. The ground beef batch created 15 meals.

The average cost of my beef packs ended up at $1.40 per pack since my original 10 pounds of ground beef turned into 22 meals. I don’t remember the chicken price but I’ll take a look the next time I stop by Costco.

While I don’t have 26 complete meals on hand, I prepped ingredients so now none of the above recipes will take longer than boiling noodles. That’s a huge way to shave time off your cooking and with most of your prep work done on those meals, you’ll have more time to watch Game of Thrones or How I Met Your Mother.

Bonus

freezing pesto

I had some Costco pesto in my fridge nearing the expiration date so the night before my cook day I threw it into ice cube trays and froze it. While I was bagging all my other goods I put the ice cubes into some bags and stored them back in my freezer. Now I have perfect servings of pesto for baked potatoes or pasta, I didn’t waste my goods and I followed rule 5: freeze seasonally. If you can fit all 5 freezing rules into one cook day, you know you’ve done well.

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