Meal Planning Monday ~ Kitchen 911

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

Cooking and Meal Planning is more art than science.  That being said, sometimes a meal is a masterpiece and other times a dish is best hidden at the bottom of the garbage can!  If you’ve been cooking for any length of time, you’ve probably experienced a few culinary disasters.  I know I have!  Whether it’s a forgotten ingredient, a misread recipe, an over – or under – cooked dish, or just a bad recipe, sometimes we all need “emergency assistance” in the kitchen.  Today I’m going to talk about different levels and types of cooking issues and give you a little “Kitchen 911” to help you fix or avoid those issues in the future.

Level One Kitchen Emergencies ~ Level One Kitchen Emergencies aren’t really emergencies, but more like annoyances or inconveniences.  Don’t get me wrong, they can still stress you out!  My most common Level One Emergency is thinking that I have an ingredient on hand for a recipe, and then I discover that something is missing in the midst of my mixing and measuring.  Thank God for Google!  I usually whip open my iPad and Google “substitute for buttermilk (or whatever) in recipe” and some article with the answer pops up.  I found this great chart from that I keep with my cookbooks because it has a comprehensive list of substitute ingredients.  Another common kitchen annoyance is realizing that extra folks are coming for dinner and you may not have enough food to go around.  If you’re making a dish with ground beef or turkey, consider adding a cup or two of rice or beans to stretch your meat.  You could also add shredded veggies like carrots or zucchini to stretch a pasta dish or casserole.  Usually with a bit of creativity and effort, Level One Kitchen Emergencies are pretty easy to resolve.  This past Christmas Eve, I was preparing to bake my much anticipated Rum Cake for Christmas Day dinner.  To my dismay, I realized there was no yellow cake mix among the dozen or so boxes of Betty Crocker in my stockpile.  So I grabbed a dark chocolate cake mix and a bag of chocolate chips and consulted my cookbooks and the internet.  The result?  A Chocolate Rum Cake that my family deemed superior to the previous version.  My “happy accident” of a recipe is below.


Level Two Kitchen Emergencies ~ Level Two Kitchen Emergencies cause panic: burnt cakes, too-salty soup, lumpy gravy, super spicy chili, etc.  Google to the rescue again!  Chances are, someone else has already encountered your problem and posted a blog about it.  This article covers many of the common fixes you might be looking for.  Usually with Level Two Kitchen Emergencies, your dish or recipe is salvageable.  Maybe you saw something awesome on Pinterest but your result doesn’t quite look like the original picture.  Again, you’re in good company: check out some hilarious Pinterest food fails here.  I remember making this four layer cake with a berry crème filling in between the layers… It looked more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa!  So, before it completely fell over, I scooped it into a trifle bowl and called it my Berry Dump Cake.  Problem solved! ;)

Level Three Kitchen Emergencies ~ Most Level Three Kitchen Emergencies can’t be recovered from, unfortunately.  The roast is burnt to a crisp, one of your key ingredients is spoiled, a dish is just plain inedible, or God forbid – you set the kitchen on fire.  Don’t panic!  Just grab the fire extinguisher if you need it, toss the disaster in the trash, and call for pizza delivery.  Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up because kitchen disasters happen to the best of us!  None of us succeed 100% of the time in the kitchen.  And hopefully you won’t have to really call 911!

 Do you have a memorable culinary catastrophe to share?


Here is my Meal Plan for this week:

Monday ~ Homemade vegetable soup with hot turkey, cheddar, and pesto sandwiches.

Tuesday ~ I’m going out to my favorite Chinese restaurant (Oriental Wok) with my friend, Heather.  I’ll probably get my favorite dish: Black Bean Chicken with Asparagus.

Wednesday ~ I’ll be trying a new recipe called “World’s Best Chicken.”  I’ll let you know if it lives up to its name!

Thursday ~ Beef Stew in the Crock Pot.  I’ve been using steak seasoning in my stew instead of the usual pepper, salt, and paprika.  Hubby approved!

Friday ~ Turkey Meatloaf with parmesan potatoes and green beans.

Saturday ~ Polish sausage, potato and cheddar pierogies, and broccoli.

Sunday ~ Ginger Glazed Mahi Mahi with rice and snow peas.


Chocolate Rum Cake   (Based on a recipe from The Cake Mix Doctor Cookbook)


  • Cooking spray
  • 1 package dark chocolate cake mix
  • 1 package (3.9 oz.) chocolate instant pudding mix
  • ¾ cup water
  • ½ cup Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum
  • ½ vegetable (or coconut) oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup semi-sweet (or dark) chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mist a 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray.  In a large bowl, place all ingredients except the chocolate chips.  Blend on low with mixer for one minute.  Scrape down the sides and beat with mixer for 2 – 3 minutes until batter is smooth.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Bake 50 – 55 minutes until the cake springs back lightly when touched.  Let cool for at least 20 minutes.  Run a long knife around the edge of the cake and invert onto a serving platter.  Top with the Butter Rum glaze, if desired.

Butter Rum Glaze (optional…but highly recommended!)


  • ½ stick of butter
  • 2 Tbs. water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum


Place butter in a small saucepan and melt over low heat, about 2 – 3 minutes.  Add water and sugar, stirring well.  Increase the heat to medium and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and let simmer 4 – 5 minutes until thickened, stirring constantly.  Remove pan from the heat and stir in the rum.  Spoon the glaze over the warm cake allowing it to drizzle down the sides and into the center.  Allow cake to completely cool before slicing.

Meal Planning Monday ~ Double Duty Dinners


This week’s post is by Rose Siders of An Exercise in Frugality.

When I get in the kitchen, I have three goals:

  1. Make something delicious.
  2. Don’t spend a lot of money to make it
  3. Get out of the kitchen as quickly as possible.


Sound familiar? I mean, don’t get me wrong, nothing beats good ol’ fashioned home cooking. But who wants to spend all night in the kitchen after a long day? Not me, and I know I’m not alone-especially now after all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season! So unless you plan on ordering takeout every night (not recommended) or starving (definitely not recommended) how can you possible cook less? One way is by making double-duty dinners!

Double-duty dinners are meals you can prepare one way, and by making a few minor tweaks, can serve as different meal on a  second day. You can use the second meal for lunches or dinners. Using this method, you do only one full meal prep, but get a second “bonus” meal with minimal effort. Chances are your mother or grandmother used a similar way of meal-planning: tonight’s roasted chicken became tomorrow’s chicken noodle soup, for example. But we can be more creative than that!

Here are a few recipes I love, that can be turned into OTHER great recipes to get you started.

First Make This:                                                     Then Make This:

Cheesy Ham and Hash Brown Casserole                 Slow Cooker Potato Soup

Paula Dean’s Meatloaf                                              Sloppy Joes

Pepper Steak                                                            Steak Salad with Bleu Cheese Vinagarette

Mississippi Roast                                                        French Dip Crescents


Another great way to halve the time you spend in the kitchen is by preparing double the meal, or as I like to call them: “premeditated leftovers”. For example, instead of cutting and stuffing two chicken breasts, do four. Or six. Freeze the rest, and next time you don’t feel like cooking, just take out the other set and pop them in the oven. Make two pans of enchiladas instead of one. The disposable tin pans you can get at the dollar store work great for this purpose! It’s like freezer cooking, but on a much smaller scale. Basically you cook once and eat twice!


Rose Siders is no stranger to pinching pennies. She writes her blog An Exercise in Frugality as a way to teach others how to get more while spending less. When she’s not blogging, she can usually be found cooking, playing video games with her husband, or spontaneously crafting.  You can find An Exercise in Frugality on Facebook and Twitter.

Meal Planning Monday ~ One Meat, Many Ways

         I love the versatility of ground turkey!  I don’t eat beef or pork, which means I can get sick of chicken pretty quick.  My husband says he doesn’t notice much of a difference in taste between ground turkey and lean ground beef, so we’re both happy.  I’m a fan of ground turkey because it’s high in protein, low in fat, and inexpensive.  The Meijer brand frozen ground turkey goes on sale at regular intervals, so I’ll buy six to eight pounds at a time. It typically makes an appearance in our meal plan, in one form or another, once a week.

            I love to experiment with new recipes, and we tried a great one the other day called Firecracker Casserole (recipe below).  It’s a Mexican style casserole with ground turkey or beef, and black beans.  When I first read the recipe, I thought it was strange that there was a can of cream of mushroom soup in it, but it tasted fantastic!  Nick and I both had seconds, and leftovers were gone within 24 hours.  That fits my definition of a keeper!

            I also experimented with my turkey meatloaf recipe.  Last fall, I was on a quest for an awesome recipe.  After trying five or six different varieties, hubby and I agreed that the McCormick’s meatloaf spice packet made the best one.  I try to eat as naturally as possible, so when my friend, Julie Brawley of Eating Clean 4 Life shared a copycat recipe for the McCormick’s meatloaf mix (the original has added gluten) , I knew I had to try it.  It was pretty tasty; however, the recipe was not quite as good as the real thing.  (Why does gluten have to be so darn delicious??)  However, if you or someone in your family can’t eat gluten, you could certainly use this recipe with gluten free breadcrumbs for a good meatloaf.

Sometimes, I brown several pounds of ground turkey at one time and freeze it.  This saves me a ton of time on busy evenings!  In the morning, I will just take a pound of cooked ground turkey out of the freezer and it’s ready to add into recipes by the time dinner rolls around.  Here are some of my other favorite ways to eat ground turkey.  Of course, you red meat lovers feel free to substitute ground beef.

  • Pasta – There are so many ways to use ground turkey with pasta dishes!  I make turkey meat balls, meat sauce, and eggplant rollitini with it.
  • Mexican – Besides the Firecracker Casserole, ground turkey can be used to make tacos, burritos, and enchiladas.  I found a recipe for homemade taco seasoning that I’m going to try this week.  (Hopefully it will be a better success than the meatloaf seasoning!)
  • Comfort Foods – Ground turkey makes great cheese burgers and is a good addition to all kinds of casseroles.  One of my favorite comfort food recipes is turkey stroganoff.  If you like mushrooms, you’ll love it!
  •  I’ve been eyeing this yummy-looking recipe for Turkey Barley Stew which I plan on making in the next week or two.

What’s your favorite ground turkey or beef recipe?  Comment here with a link, because you know I love trying new recipes!


Firecracker Casserole  (From

8 Servings Prep: 15 min. Bake: 25 min.


  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 flour tortillas (6 inches)
  • 1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
  • 1 can (10 ounces) diced tomatoes and green chilies, undrained
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese



In a large skillet, cook beef and onion until the meat is no longer pink; drain. Add the beans, chili powder, cumin and salt. Transfer to a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish. Arrange tortillas over the top. Combine soup and tomatoes; pour over tortillas.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until heated through. Yield: 8 servings.

Nutrition Facts: 1 serving (1 each) equals 363 calories, 18 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 72 mg cholesterol, 941 mg sodium, 21 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 28 g protein.




Meal Planning Monday ~ The Big Thaw


            Currently the East Coast is digging out from under three plus feet of snow from one of the worst snowstorms we’ve seen in a while.  We certainly hope all of our fans are safe and warm today.  So much for that groundhog’s prediction of an early spring!  Spring is inevitable though and will be here before we know it.  While you’re waiting for the warm weather to arrive, take advantage of these next few weeks of cold to tackle a meal planning chore – defrosting and cleaning your deep freezer.

            It’s important to defrost and give your freezer a good cleaning at least once a year, or any time there’s a good amount of frost build-up on the inside.  When the frost builds up, it keeps your freezer from running efficiently and can cause freezer burn due to uneven temperatures.  When you’ve invested time and money into making freezer meals and stockpiling sale items, the last thing you want is to have to throw away the fruits of your labor due to freezer burn.

            Every January or February, I pick a weekend when I know it’s going to be very cold.  My husband and I load up our reusable shopping bags with our freezer stash and take it out to the garage and put it in coolers.  (This is also a great time to weed through your freezer stockpile and throw away anything that is past its prime.)  We allow the freezer to defrost overnight, and then clean it really good the next day.  Then it’s time to reload the deep freezer and pop in a new box of baking soda to keep it fresh.

            I defrosted and cleaned my freezer a few weeks ago.  I noticed that there were some items in the freezer that needed to be used up soon before they expired.  So I’ve worked them into my meal plan for this week so nothing gets wasted.  Here’s my Meal Plan for this week:

Monday ~ Turkey Meatloaf with parmesan potatoes and green beans.  I bought a huge amount of fresh green beans from my produce co-op in October and froze them, so it’s time to use them up.

Tuesday ~ Grilled Chicken Tenderloins (Cracker Barrel style) with hash browns and spinach.

Wednesday ~ Fend For Yourself!  I have a financial coaching appointment, so it will be leftovers or grilled cheese and soup.

Thursday ~ Happy Valentine’s Day!  Since Nick is still working second shift this week, we’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day this Saturday.  Cilantro Lime Shrimp with rice and asparagus.  This shrimp is so simple to make and absolutely delicious!

Friday ~ Honey Lime Tilapia with garlic roasted cauliflower and zucchini

Saturday ~ If we don’t go out to eat tonight, I’ll make something easy in the crock pot, like beef stew or BBQ chicken thighs.

Sunday ~ Thanksgiving in February!  I purchased a 13-pound turkey during the Thanksgiving sales in November and put it in my deep freezer.  I’m having my husband’s family over for turkey dinner with all of the fixings.  And since my homemade mashed potatoes kind of suck, my sister-in-law, Emily, is going to bring some of her always-awesome mashed potatoes.  Thanks Sis!



Meal Planning Monday ~ Country Cooking

             This week’s post is by Leah Kelley.

            There’s nothing better than a spontaneous road trip during the summer!  After dealing with sewage backup in our condo and having the whole first floor under construction for a month to fix the problem, I desperately needed a get-away.  My husband and I decided last Thursday that we would take a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee for the weekend.  We had a wonderful time and can’t wait to go back!  (Yes, that’s our family pictured above.)  While we were down in Gatlinburg, we ate some nice country cooking.  Chicken and dumplings, country fried steak, and pancakes. I thought I’d share with you my top five favorite down-home country recipes.

Chicken and Dumplings ~ These are so easy in the crockpot.  Put in two cans of cream of chicken soup, a little water, uncooked chicken breasts and a little salt and pepper.  Cook on low 5 to 6 hours.  The last half hour, tear up a small can of biscuits and throw them on top.  This is one of my favorite meals to make.

Country Fried Steak ~ I haven’t perfected my recipe for this yet, as I’m still learning how to make the pan gravy.

Turnip Greens ~ On the way home we stopped at Cracker Barrel and I had some greens.  I love, love, love their turnip greens.

Fried Chicken ~ Nothing says country cooking like some fried chicken!  I have finally perfected my fried chicken.  It took me years to get it right and I had to consult my husband’s grandma on how to do it.  That woman makes the best chicken!

Meatloaf ~ I love meatloaf.  Lately I’ve been experimenting with different kinds, like taco and turkey meatloaf.  They’re good but nothing beats good classic meatloaf.

And of course, to go with all my favorites, I always make homemade mashed potatoes and gravy.  What’s your favorite Country Cooking dish?