Monday, April 29, 2013

Taking Great Photos: Tips from Robb Cyr

Hi everyone! My hubby Robb is doing a guest blog post today!  As I've mentioned, he's an amazing photographer (just see that photo below!) and he has some great tips for taking beautiful photos to use in your layouts.  Enjoy and thanks Robbie!


Taking Great Photos

Hi Folks, thanks to Cass for letting me talk to you guys for a few. We have 2 posts planned, the post you’re reading now will be about the photos you make and use in your layouts, and the 2nd will be about actually photographing your layouts. This is my first time writing about tips for photography so hopefully you will get some useful information out of it!
I’m a photographer and web designer, and similar to scrapping, I usually start a project that is inspired by an image or concept. Having great source materials to start with can really make your final presentation stand out. In this case, having better photos will improve the overall presentation of your layout. So it is with this in mind that I have put together these tips to help improve your photos and ‘up your layout game’. Let’s get started!

1) Fill The Frame When Shooting a Portrait

Portraits are pictures of people, specifically including their faces. If you have a picture of a person facing away from the camera it’s technically not a proper portrait. When you are shooting a portrait, it’s important to fill the frame with the subject; it may seem obvious to some, but you have no idea how many times I have seen a cute picture of a kid that falls flat because either the scene is too busy, distracting, or the location doesn’t add any strength to the photo. This can be done one of 2 ways. A) In camera: meaning you actually take the picture of the subject filling your entire screen or viewfinder. B) You can crop the image on your computer to “re-compose” your photo.

The best way is the first method, in camera. This will give you the highest quality image because you’re filling all those megapixels that you paid for, with your subject. When you take a wider picture and crop in you’re basically throwing away those pixels, aka details, aka QUALITY!

Speaking of mega pixels, briefly I want to dispel the myth the higher MP = better photos. There is a lot of info on this topic online, but quickly let me just say; in MOST cases your megapixel count only determines the maximum print size you can get away with, but this doesn’t necessarily mean “better” photos. You can make prints as large as 8x10 all day long with only 3MP!!! At this stage in the game, most newer cameras come in 8, 10 , 12, 16, or 18MP!! Without getting too techy, if quality is your main concern, the actual physical sensor size in the camera is MUCH more important than the MP count.

The benefit of a higher MP camera is when you are cropping. Again, when you crop, you are throwing away hard earned megapixels, so those of you with 12MP, 16MP and 18MP cameras have a few mega pixels to spare. In theory you could crop an 18MP file down to the equivalent of an 8 to 10MP file which will still print very nicely. But no matter what kind of camera you have, if you fill the frame you get the best image quality.

Example 1

The other reason, and the most important reason, to fill the frame is for stronger portraits. In example 1 we have our son Charlie standing near the edge of the lawn with the nose of my truck peeking in the left side of the frame. The scene is boring and the truck is distracting, so you can crop this picture for a better, stronger portrait.

Example 2

You can do a tight crop like in example 2 that is ONLY of Charlie’s face. Doing this means you are only giving the viewer one thing to look at. You are also now only getting a gray background from the street, again you are now focusing the attention to exactly what you want people to see.

Example 3

In example 3 we converted that same photo into black and white. And now you can see that the photo is now a very strong standard portrait, taking on a more artful, serious tone.

Example 4

In example 4 we are doing a wider crop which eliminates the distracting truck, but from top to bottom the frame is still mostly filled with Charlie. By using the “Rule of Thirds” we are giving a little this photo a little more space to breath, and leaving open some room to overlay text, or other design elements without interfering with the subject of the photo. I applied just some simple “auto tone’ in Adobe Lightroom to brighten up the photo and give it some kick.

So as you can see, you can take a pretty dull photo, and really make it pop with a little cropping, and simple color presets. All of these edits combined took me no more than 5 minutes to crop and color adjust. Most software that comes with your computer will have these tools. In Windows you have basic editing tools when you preview the the image. On Mac you’ll have iPhoto which also has a basic set of editing tools. While this has a lot of info on cropping, you can save yourself a boat load of time if you just fill the frame in camera the moment you are taking the photo. Filling the frame in camera requires no software at all, and gives you the best image quality.

2) Rule of thirds

In the camera or on the computer, cropping and composing all willy nilly with no composition rules won’t get you very far. Enter the Rule of Thirds (ROT). This is a fundamental composition technique that is used by artists of all disciplines. Again, there is lots of info online so I’ll touch briefly on this. The simplest, down and dirty explanation of Rule of Thirds is that ROT is a technique used to have your subjects off center. Either to the left, right, top or bottom.



Look at the examples above, they each have a grid overlaid with nine blocks dividing the frame in the thirds both horizontally and vertically. It was determined years ago, by artists much more skilled than me, that when you place your subject along the right, left, top and bottom intersecting lines it makes for a more visually pleasing image. It gives your eye some room to move, leave and come back; you absorb the information more intuitively. When you place a subject dead center in the frame your eyes finds it boring, it knows where to look, you get in and you get out. It doesn’t challenge your brain, and therefore comes across as uninteresting.

One big problem with many cameras is that it clusters all of the focus points in the center of the viewfinder or on the back of your camera. A lot of people just line up those focus points and fire away. You have to be mindful of your focus when trying to execute rule of thirds. A slightly more advanced technique of focusing and re-composing your picture can help you make sure you still keep focus while executing ROT. One of the great things with cameras nowadays is that some of them will actually overlay a ROT grid in the viewfinder as an aid for composing your photos in camera.



ROT is also used in landscape photography. Let’s say you are shooting the ocean, you never want the horizon line dead center in the frame. You either want the horizon lined up with bottom line and catch more background or sky, or line it up with the top line and get more foreground, Sand and waves. Compelling photos tell a story, and these background and foreground elements help to tell the story of that landscape. Without good composition, photos become merely simple, cold documentation that you went to a beach.

3) Embrace Negative Space:

So now that I’ve told you to fill the frame and then put your subjects off to the side of the frame you’re probably saying to yourself “WHAT THE HECK DUDE!!!!”


Before getting into Negative Space, let me say that in photography the rules are meant to be broken. BUT you have to know the rules before you can break them. And even though the 2 tips above seem to contradict each other, let’s look at the portrait of Charlie again. Here we are filling the frame AND using rule of thirds. Do you see it? In portraits it’s ALL ABOUT THE EYES. They say that the eyes are windows to the soul, and that is never more true than in portrait photography. When you are doing a tight face shot, the eyes actually become the subject. If you look at this picture of Charlie, the eyes are in the upper third of the frame. We are doing both concepts at once.


Composition is mostly about focusing the attention of the viewer and telling a story with a single image. Embracing negative space is a great way to do both. Negative space is usually considered the space around the subject. Usually that space is free of a competing secondary subject, so the background should be pretty plain. Here we have a photo of a bodybuilder, He is far to the right with a TON of negative space to the left. This composition adds to the intensity of the man’s face: what is he looking at? what is he so focused on? You can let the viewer build a story in their head when you leave them some openness.

Negative space is also a layout artist’s best friend because it gives you space to overlay text and graphics. I create ads all day at work, and if I get an image with little to no negative space, I’ll edit the image and create negative space for the purpose of adding text. This is important for your layouts too because it gives you the ability to layer in and incorporate all kinds of visual, and text elements without taking away from the subject. Next time you look in a magazine look at the ads and notice how they have intentionally given themselves negative space for the sake of being able to add in other elements. Once you start understanding these concepts, it’s hard to leave the house and not notice them all over the place. Signs, ads, magazines, billboards, it’s EVERYWHERE!

4) Shoot at your child’s level


Here is a less technical tip. I’m going to assume that a lot of you have children in your life that you like to use for your layouts. Maybe more so than any other subject. So here is an easy tip for photographing kids: get down on their level. Literally get down on the ground and shoot them at their height. Shooting down on people is something that has to be done subtly and with finesse. Shooting down on people at extreme angles is pretty much a bad idea no matter who your subject is. But with kids they are obviously a lot shorter than adults, so there is not a subtle way to shoot them from above. Again, we want to very purposefully direct the viewer where to look. Getting down to their height, and filling the frame will provide great captures of your children time and time again.

5) iPhone (or other smartphone)

There is a famous photographer named Chase Jarvis who I follow that has really propelled the idea of using your cell phone as a creative visual tool. The saying goes, “the best camera is the one that’s with you.” Chase Jarvis actually released a photo book of images captured exclusively on his iPhone. These days a new smartphone has a 6 to 8MP sensor and is able to make really nice photos. If you have one of these phones, by all means USE IT! Even if you don’t follow the other tips, just keep shooting, it’s better to have these moments captured than to not have them at all. So pull out that cell phone and start shooting. The images created by smartphones are more than capable of being printed- Cass uses her iPhone all the time and I’m always super impressed with quality of her prints. Admittedly she is better at getting great iPhone photos than I am, and she is pretty stealthy too, she gets photos sometimes when I don’t even realize she is doing it. This has allowed her to have some great photos in her layouts. So don’t discount the very powerful tool you all carry in your pocket every day!

6) Shoot in Open Shade or Indirect Light

No matter what camera you have, you will almost ALWAYS benefit from shooting in “open shade”. Open shade is a shaded area from harsh direct sunlight. This could be under a large tree, a gazeebo, a pavillion, even behind a large building or house. Also an overcast day is a great time to shoot outdoors.

Why not in direct sunlight?? There are few reasons, some pretty technical, and others pretty easy to explain. For starters, direct midday sunlight is very bright, and it makes people squint and that’s not good. It’s uncomfortable for the person being photographed and it’s not a flattering expression. With the sun right above you it creates unflattering shadows around the eyes called racoon eyes, This name comes from the dark shadow that gets cast under your eyes by your eyebrows. Sunlight is a great thing first thing in the morning, or at sunset, but most people are out and about in the middle of the day with their friends and families, so unless you are specifically shooting at those times, it’s better to understand how to get great images at all times of the day, or at least the times most people are out and about.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Weight Loss Update Month 2

Hiya friends!  I just figured it was time to share a weight loss update (see Month 1 update HERE).  I've been at it for 2 months now (think I started 01Mar) and I'm down 17lbs, 14 inches, and a pants size.  I was hoping to get to 20lbs by the end of April but that probably won't happen- oh well, no biggie!  It's not a rush, just slow and steady wins the race right?

The exciting news, however, is that I fit into my goal pants (remember I mentioned them in my Month 1 update post?)!!  And more importantly, they fit comfortably too :)  I asked Robb to take some photos of me in them, since I said I would share them, but then he lost them! Sooooo phooey to that.  BUT I'll do a before and after for my Month 3 Update and hopefully that will be more telling anyways :)

I'm still chubby chubby but 17lbs is enough where I can start to see a difference so that's pretty rockin.  I was having a really hard time working out when I got home from work so I started waking up at 530am to fit in a workout and I'm surprised by how much I love it.  Now, just to be clear, it took 2 WEEKS of attempting to wake up at 530am before I actually did it.  2 WEEKS of hitting the snooze button and feeling guilty about it all day and having to cram in last minute nighttime workouts lol.  I finally put my phone on the other side of the room so I'd have to get out of bed to turn off the alarm and that worked.  It's still wierd waking up and immediately working out, but I like having it out of the way first thing and not looming over my head all day.  Plus it gives me extra energy!  And if you're wondering, Jillian Michaels and I are still bro's, I do her DVDs exclusively and I'll be seeing her live in Worcester MA next Tuesday!  Cannot wait for that!


One of the other tips I've really taken to heart is preparing meals ahead of time.  Now I obviously do this with dinner (Freezer Meals!), but I try and do it with breakfast and lunches too.  I'll prepare 4 days of breakfasts and lunches on Sunday; they're all easy to make so it only takes about 30minutes and saves so much time during the week.

Here's a typical day of eating:

0745: Berry Banana Smoothie (250Cal)- I've mentioned these before HERE

1200: Salad with chopped turkey, feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, and 2tbsp dressing (160Cal)
          Sabra Hummus To Go Cup + baby carrots (150Cal)

0330: Chobani Bite Yogurt (100Cal)

0630: Freezer Meal Dinner (appx 400Cal)
          Treat (200Cal): this can be a cookie, glass of wine, crackers, whatever

So that's about 1200 calories per day.  On Fridays I get a spinach omelette and bacon from my work cafeteria because they're delicious but still healthy.  They're around 400 calories but they usually fill me up from breakfast until snack time so I don't bother with lunch. 

The nice thing is that I can make everything ahead of time easily.  For the salads I use Lunch Blox and Stayfit salad containers.  I like the Lunch Blox better because it keeps things segregated, is easy to clean, and holds a lot of salad greens.  Some weeks I'll do sandwiches instead of salads, apples and almond butter instead of hummus, etc just depends on my mood :)

Okay guys, I'll be back next month for another update!  When I return from Puerto Rico I will start Jillian's Body Revolution DVD system, so I will make sure to update about that as well.  Thanks so much for your support :)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

T Minus 7 Days

Hi everyone!

I am getting so so SO excited because I will be in Puerto Rico in only 7 (!!!!) days!!  This is amazeeeeeeeeing and I am so shocked and thrilled that it is actually happenning!


This is where we'll be staying!

Now how did my poor ass finagle a trip to Puerto Rico, Rincon to be exact?  Well I'll tell ya- my hubby!  His boss owns a beach front timeshare in Rincon and Robb designs and manages the website.  However, the photos are lacking, because it's a gorgeous location but the pictures don't do it justice.  Sooooo Robb's boss told him we could stay there if he did a few photo shoots.  He made this offer a year or so ago but we couldn't afford the plane ride down there, however 4 months ago when he offered again it just so happenned that Robb had a photo gig that could pay for our flights!  So we've had our tickets booked since January and I keep waiting for something to go wrong lol. 

Robb and I have been together 9 years and have been on exactly 4 vacations together.  A trip to Orlando 8 years ago to visit family, another trip to Orlando 4 years ago for a wedding, our honeymoon in Orlando 5 years ago and a trip to Washington with Charlie 2 years ago to visit family.  We just can't afford to go on a lot of vacations so we pretty much only leave town to visit family or for special events.  That's what makes this trip so special! 

Oh and did I mention Charlie will be staying with Grandma and Grandpa while we're gone?  A whole week in Puerto Rico; just us, beach, books and relaxing!

We will be taking the red eye out of NYC next week and I found a great little restaurant, called LeFarm, that's on the way to airport so I booked dinner reservations.  It's all fresh local CT food and I hear the reviews are great so I'm very excited about trying that place out.  At the risk of sounding like a douchebag Robb and I are total foodies :)

I've never been to Puerto Rico before so I'm hoping you guys can help me with the following

1. What should we do? Where should we visit?
2. Best restaurants? I want to eat lots of fish! and ceviche! and mojitos!
3. What books should I bring? I plan on much beachside reading

Thanks for the tips!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Head Hugs

Charlie has started doing the funniest thing, giving my head hugs.  He thinks it's hilarious and I do too, especially because I have to beg and plead to get any kind of cuddles or hugs from him ususally (he's very busy, you see). 


You might see those adorable curls in the above picture, but alas they have since disappeared :(  Robb went and got Charlie's hair cut (way shorter than I usually like but it's my fault for not bringing him myself!), so now he's been rocking a mohawk instead :) Which admittedly is just as cute!



And we've been busy playing outside and enjoying the nice spring weather.  We set up an 'extreme hopscotch' course in our driveway lol.  He doesn't really play hopscotch but he does sprint around in circles haha.

And lastly, Noel Mignon is opening up kit subscriptions!  Pretty sweet-- as I've said many times before, her kits are the bestest and I pretty much work with them exclusively.  Make sure to grab yourself a sub!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Easter Fun

Hi everyone,

Sorry it's been a while since Easter and I'm just NOW posting this but it takes a while for Robb to edit photos (partly because he's so busy and partly because we just got Game of Thrones Ssn 1 on DVD haha). 

Anyways.  Charlie looked adorable, however he refused to wear the tie I bought him!  How rude! I was adamant he would wear that damn tie and he had a melt down of epic proportions (apparently to a 2 year old a tie looks very similar to a noose).  So after 3 failed attempts and meltdowns (and a lecture from my husband) I gave up on the tie.  Hmph.  But he still looked very handsome of course so whateverrrrrr. 


We had Easter at my parents house where they hid Easter eggs in the garden (just like last year!).  It's huge and awesome!  Spring has been a little late this year so it wasn't in full bloom but still looked great. Charlie had lots of fun finding the eggs, spilling their contents in the garden, and sneaking jelly beans in without his enzymes.  We also had a yummy lunch, I wish Robb would get photos of my mom's holiday table settings because they're always so perfect (she's an expert at arranging flowers and she always has cute little themed treat baskets at every place setting). 


Charlie finding eggs and playing with the carbeurator in his easter basket (thanks Grandpa lol)


 Charlie and I having fun spraying GrandmaMac with silly string 


Charlie, Grandma, and Cousin Izzy decided to play a little balance game.  You can see the gears in his heard turning in that first picture saying "I wanna knock that overrrr", Izzy holding him back in the second, and him flattening it in the third.  haha, such is having a boy I guess :)


Matching bunnies (Cousin Izzy is the best!)


A few more fun random pics from the day :)



I like this one below, the picture on the left is from last Easter, my my how this boy has grown!  Can you believe he's only 2.5?!  Kid is gigantic! lol



Monday, April 15, 2013

Blogs I love

Hi! 

I thought it would be fun to share my favorite blogs and then have you guys share yours!  I'd love some new suggestions, so we'll do a swap.  These are just a few of my favorite blogs that I follow.

My Most Favoritest Scrappy Ladies:

Christine Middlecamp
Paige Evans
Stephanie Howell
Heidi Sonboul
Amy Heller
Dear Lizzy and Paper Party
Jennifer Chesnick
Jill Cornell
Amy Tangerine
Suzy Plantamura
Emily Spahn

My Most Favoritest Manufacturers:

Noel Mignon Kit Club
Gossamer Blue Kit Club
Crate Paper (duh)
My Minds Eye
American Crafts
October Afternoon
Studio Calico

My Most Favoritest Non Scrappy Blogs:

Mama Laughlin:  Funny and sassy weight loss blog, love Brandi - I think she's hilarious :)
Stephanie Nielson: Just an interesting life/motivational blog about a woman and her husband who were in a massive plane accident
What's Cookin, Chicago?: Great recipes, especially for freezer meals!
Blissful and Domestic: Budgeting and thrifty tips.  I'm working on this :)
Bowl Full of Lemons: All about organization, love her uber-organized house.  I want I want. 
2nd Chance at Life: a blog by a 22 year old girl with CF who just had a double lung transplant.  I found her blog from watching THIS really informative and enlightening documentary.  You guys are all organ donors right?!

One question: how do I follow wordpress/typepad blogs using blogger?  I'm finding it increasingly annoying that I have to bookmark the majority of these blogs and then remember to visit them every week or so.  It would be so nice to see them on my blog feed.  How do I do this?  And without having to use a 'reader' app, just on my regular blogger feed? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Anywaysssss, now it's your turn!  What are your favorite blogs?  Aside from mine, of course, which is the best blog out there.  obviously. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Reasons My Son Is Crying

Hi everyone!  Have you seen this tumblr account yet?  OMG it's hilarious, it's called "Reasons My Son is Crying" and I just love it.  I thought it would make a funny weekly feature on my blog to copy that idea :)  Here's today's installment, dinner time edition.


He asked for bacon. I brought him bacon.  He had to wait 30 seconds until it was cool enough to eat.


He can't eat dinner when his hands are filled with toy cars.


I told him he had watched enough TV today and wouldn't let him pick a movie to watch during dinner.

In other news, you might have noticed I now have a label sidebar on my blog (look on the right).  I think this will be helpful because there are a lot of varied topics on my blog lately so this way if you're only interested in one particular topic you can filter using that label.  Here are the labels I'm using

Scrapbooking Layout
Cards
Mini Album
Crafts
Cricut
Decor
Blog Header
Party
Pinspiration
Freezer Meals
Photography (Robb's pictures)
Photographs (my crappy pictures)
Reasons My Son Is Crying
Everyday Life
Family
Tips and Tricks
Year in Review
Weight Loss
Cystic Fibrosis
Tutorials.

Hopefully this will be useful to some of you out there!  I also have an "about me" section, "find me here" section, and my scrapbook resume listed along the top of my blog now.  I hope this will help streamline things and make things a little more transparent.

I'd really love it if some of you would let me know the topics you like the most that way I can make sure I have more posts that you guys want to read :) 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Smoothies and Other Randomness

Hi!  One last freezer type thing to share today.  I also made these babies this weekend, I usually have a fruit smoothie every day for breakfast.  Well M-R, then on Friday I have a spinach omlette from the on site cafeteria as a 'treat', and Saturday and Sunday I usually have Kashi with honey and strawberries.  Anyways.  I use an Oster MyBlend blender that blends the smoothie right in the cup you drink from, it's super awesome and it was really low cost. 


Every Sunday I usually make up all the smoothies for the week so they're ready to go.  I use store bought frozen organic blueberries, strawberries and raspberries.  I also freeze my own bananas whenever they're on sale (just wrap them individually in saran wrap and throw them in a ziploc bag).  So to make each smoothie:

* One banana
* 1/2cup strawberries
* 1/4cup blueberries
* 1/4cup raspberries
* 6-8ounces of coconut milk (or you can use skim milk too of course)

Blend those babies up and stick em in the freezer.  Every night I take out one bottle and pop it in the fridge, the next morning by the time I get to work it's usually a perfect smoothie consistentcy (keep in mind I have an hour long commute so it's at RT for a little over an hour).  They are about 250 calories each, prolly a little less but I'd just assume over estimate than under estimate!

Other random tidbits from the past few weeks:

Charlie, Robb and I spent a morning at Mystic Seaport playing on the boats:


Cool story about the whaling ships at Mystic: my grandmother was from Nantucket and would play on these whaling boats as a little girl (back when they were in service of course), and now Charlie can go and play on them at Mystic Seaport (where they are historic display ships)!  How cool is that?  Pic below is by Robb because god knows I can't take a photo like that!


Easter was delightful!  I'll do a separate post with Easter photos because Robb got some good ones, but I will tell you that Charlie received a carbeurator in his Easter basket from his gear-head Grandpa LOL.  He keeps walking around with it saying "carbooaturrr".


The issue of CARDs with my card on the COVER is available on-line!  I can't wait to see it in person!  My first cover, eeeek!


Charlie loves to 'feed the piggy'.  In other news, this is the most mismatched outfit ever put on a child in the history of ever.


Alrighty! That's it!  I've lost my scrapping mojo after working so hard to get those Noel Mignon challenges done (and not winning the guest design spot! grr.) that I haven't been scrapping much.  And I've been busy with freezer meals too of course!  But maybe I'll try and get some scrappy time in this weekend :)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

3 Days of Freezer Meals: Part Three (Shrimp)

ETA:If you enjoy these recipes and are looking for more great and easy freezer meal recipes, please check out my e-Book, “Make Ahead Meals: Freezer Meal Recipes that Make Dinner Quick and Easy”. The book is both a step by step guide to getting started with freezer meals and a cookbook. The book contains over 50 recipes and printables for inventory tracking, labels, and grocery lists. All of the recipes use whole foods and each recipe lists the calorie content per serving (most are less than 500 calories per serving). This book will show you the best way to make and cook healthy and cost efficient freezer meals from start to finish! For more information please CLICK HERE, the book can be purchased either as an e-Book or hardcopy.

To purchase a PDF file of this e-Book (for $7.99) directly from myself please click the PayPal button below





To Purchase a Full Color, Hard Copy of this Book (for $21.99) please click the Amazon link below:

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Hi friends!  I'm here for my last installment of  "3 Days of Freezer Meals", I hope you've enjoyed my posts so far :)  See Day 1 HERE, and Day 2 HERE.  Today I'm sharing my last protein, which is frozen shrimp.  Whenever I go to Target and I notice that the frozen shrimp is on sale (which is actually quite often) I pick up a bag or two and store it in my downstairs freezer. Then once I have enough 1lb bags of shrimp I get to cooking.  This timing also happens to correspond to when I run out of shrimp meals in my freezer so it works out nicely haha.  Of course you could also buy 7 lbs of shrimp outright if it's on sale, shrimp tends to be more expensive for me so I like to spread out buying it over the course of a couple months.


The first recipe is one of my favorites- Baked Shrimp Scampi. We usually serve this over cauliflower rice and boy is it yummy. It has butter, which isn't super healthy of course but I figure the healthiness of the shrimp and the fact that we're eating cauliflower rice instead of pasta helps off set that and I don't feel too guilty (SN: it is also delicious with pasta!).

The last time I made a batch of shrimp scampi I used 1.5 sticks of butter in each tray, per the recipe, and that made a LOT of delicious buttery sauce, but I decided this go around that it wasn't necessary and I'd cut the amount of butter down. I also got organic butter this time, I tried just a teensy teensy bit and that one little bite was like WOW good. So I can't wait to try this, because I think the high quality butter is going to make it even better!

Ingredients:

4 1lb bags of large shrimp
3/4c white wine
4 sticks of organic butter
Minced garlic (12 cloves worth)
1/3c minced parsley
3/4c minced shallots
1.5c Panko
2 lemons + zest
Salt + Pepper
3 egg yolks
Red Pepper Flakes

So basically this recipe is super easy.  Let your butter soften at RT, then add in garlic, parsley, shallots, panko, lemon zest + juice, salt, pepper, egg yolks, and red pepper flakes to taste.  It's basically like making a compound butter. 

SN: I buy a big huge jar of minced garlic at BJs instead of mincing my own.  Now I get it- it's not as good this way.  Blah blah blah.  Trust me, I used to make everything from scratch and chop all my garlic fresh.  But ya know what?  Aint nobody got time for that!  I hate peeling garlic and you can bet your ass I'm not gonna peel 12 cloves for this recipe, then 8 cloves for another recipe, and on and on.  Nopers.  Plus ya know what? Tastes fine to me.  I'm not Eric Ripert, and I'm just cooking for my hubby who pretty much likes everything I make.  Pre minced garlic is just fine, thank you.

Once your butter mixture is well mixed start divvying up the shrimp between 4 trays (1 bag/lb per tray).  I only had 2 8x8 GLAD Ovensafe Bakeware trays so I used some tin foil trays I had on hand for the other two portions.  Once your little babies are in there pour some white whine over them.  I dunno how much.  A few glugs.  Like 2-3 tablespoons per tray.  Don't go overboard, otherwise there won't be enough left to drink afterwards.  ha!

After that, split your butter mixture into four equal portions and put dollops of the mixture on top of the shrimp.  Now you're done!  Howsabout that?  To cook, thaw overnight in the fridge (or not, you can cook this straight from frozen which is super helpful, just increase the cooking time), and cook at 400C for 15-20minutes until shrimp is pink and topping is golden brown. 


My last meal recipe is Garlicky Shrimp and Asparagus Stir Fry.  I wanted something quick, that could be cooked straight from frozen, and healthy.  This baby fit the bill perfectly.  The recipe below makes 3 meals.
Ingredients:

3lbs of Frozen Shrimp
2 Large bunches of asparagus, cut into bite size pieces
8 tbsp Soy Sauce
8 tbsp water or chicken broth
4 tsp sesame Oil
1 cup dry sherry
3 tbsp ginger (this is freshly grate, the store bought stuff just doesn't cut it here)
Minced garlic (12 cloves worth or about 4 tbsp)
1/2 cup chopped scallions
2 tbsp cornstarch
3 tbsp sriracha
3 tbsp light brown sugar

So this is pretty easy as well- and as a note, don't be afraid to try your own stir fry sauce!  It's super easy and sooooo much healthier than any store bought sauce.  Anyways, first mix up your soy sauce, broth, sesame oil, sherry, cornstarch, sriracha, and sugar.  Once that is mixed start sauteeing your garlic and ginger until cooked and fragrant, then add in your scallions.  Once those have cooked a bit add in your sauce and cook until thickened (usually 3-5minutes).  Don't add any salt to this, there is plenty in the sauce!

To assemble your freezer meals: add one pound of shrimp to each bag, 1/3 of the asparagus (1.5 cups or so), and 1/3 of the sauce (a little under a cup).  The asparagus is raw when added to the bag because it will cook when reheated.  To serve just dump in a pan and sautee until shrimp and asparagus are cooked through.  Easy peasy and much healthier than those PF Changs stir fries (although those are delicious too lol).

Okay so those are both shrimp meals.  Each one is intended to be served with some Cauliflower rice (in lieu of rice or pasta) which is frozen in ziploc bags along with the meals. Here's how ya make it:


Step 1. Cut florets of cauliflower
Step 2. Pulse in food processor until it looks like above
(Step 3. Freeze)
Step 4. Sautee in a pan with some oil until cooked through

So there we have it!  21 or so freezer meals total (plus leftovers) in about 5 days :)  Here was my schedule so you can see how I fit all this cooking into my weekend without wanting to shoot myself afterwards.  I know some ladies are super stars and will cook thirty thousand meals in one day but I'd just assume do little bits at a time. 

Thursday: Grocery Shopping
Friday Night: Make chicken broth and shred chicken
Saturday: Assemble Chicken Vegetable Soup, Chicken Kale Casserole, and Meatloaf.
Sunday: Assemble Meatballs and Baked Shrimp Scampi
Monday Night: Assemble Shrimp Stir Fry and Make Cauliflower Rice

Now, as promised, here is my Master Grocery List (for Chicken Veggie Soup, Chicken Kale Casserole, Meatloaf, Meatballs, Shrimp Scampi and Shrimp Stir Fry).  In case you're nutso and feel like making all 21 of these meals over one weekend here is what you will need (go organic whenever you can!).  There are actually quite a few overlapping ingredients between recipes so it makes sense to do a few meals at once:

Master Grocery List:

4 whole chickens
6 lbs of meatloaf mix
7x 1lb bags of shrimp
5 onions
6-8 shallots depending on size
2 large bags of trimmed kale
1 large bag of diced squash
1 large bag of green beans
1 bag of celery
1 medium size bag of baby carrots
2 large bunches of asparagus
3 Heads of cauliflower
Scallions
Ginger
Sriracha
Red Pepper Flakes
4 bay leafs
handful of peppercorns
Dijon Mustard (couple tablespoons)
Worcestshire Sauce (couple tablespoons)
3 boxes of whole wheat pasta
1 3lb tub of ricotta cheese
4-5 cups of parmesan
One jar of minced garlic (or about 5 heads of garlic if you're better than me and use fresh)
2 very large bunches of parsley
Panko breadcrumbs
2 sleeves of saltines
4 lemons
Eggs (16 total)
5 sticks of butter
Oil for sauteeing
One jug of milk (~3 cups)
1 bottle of ketchup (2 cups)
Light brown sugar (~1 cup)
Apple cider vinegar (1 small bottle)
Six slices of sandwich bread
1/2c soy Sauce
3 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp sesame Oil
1 cup dry sherry
White wine (~1 cup)
GLAD Ovensafe Bakeware: Three 9x13in trays, Four 8x8in trays
Ziploc Freezer Bags: 8 large, 3 small
Ziploc 72oz tupperware containers: 5


These are the storage containers that I recommend for making these recipes. The OvenWare trays and Ball Freezer Jars are all reusable and the bags are heavy duty and freezer proof.







Alright ladies and gents! I hope you've enjoyed my little "mini series".   Please feel free to contact me with any questions you might have!




Tuesday, April 9, 2013

3 Days of Freezer Meals: Part Two (Meatloaf Mix)

ETA:If you enjoy these recipes and are looking for more great and easy freezer meal recipes, please check out my e-Book, “Make Ahead Meals: Freezer Meal Recipes that Make Dinner Quick and Easy”. The book is both a step by step guide to getting started with freezer meals and a cookbook. The book contains over 50 recipes and printables for inventory tracking, labels, and grocery lists. All of the recipes use whole foods and each recipe lists the calorie content per serving (most are less than 500 calories per serving). This book will show you the best way to make and cook healthy and cost efficient freezer meals from start to finish! For more information please CLICK HERE, the book can be purchased either as an e-Book or hardcopy.


To purchase a PDF file of this e-Book (for $7.99) directly from myself please click the PayPal button below





To Purchase a Full Color, Hard Copy of this Book (for $21.99) please click the Amazon link below:

Amazon

Hiya peoples!  Welcome to Part 2 of my 3 Days of Freezer Meals blog series!  To see Day 1 click HERE

Each day I will be focusing on a different protein.  Yesterday was chicken and today is Meatloaf Mix.  Can I just say I LOVE meatloaf mix?  OMG, love.  love love love.  Pretty much anything made with this (if you don't know it's equal parts ground beef, pork, and veal) is good in my book.  Today I'm keeping things classic and simple with recipes for meatloaf and meatballs.  I bought 6lbs of meatloaf mix and split it equally for each recipe.



First up is my husbands favorite, Meatloaf.  Now I love meatloaf too but he will literally eat half of this meatloaf in one sitting.  It's madness.  Plus, when it comes to things like meatloaf, it's really not that much more work to triple the recipe, I'd say this whole process takes about 1 hour and yields 3 meatloaf dinners, plus leftovers of course (as long as Robb isn't joining you lol).

Ingredients:

3lbs of meatloaf mix
2 onions
1.5 tsp Dried thyme
Minced garlic (~ 6 cloves worth)
6 eggs
One large package of flat leaf parsley, minced
1.5cups of crushed saltines
1.5C of milk
6 tsp dijon mustard
6 tsp worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp sriracha
1.5 cups ketchup
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
4 tbsp apple cider vinegar

You can follow along with the photos on the graphic above to correspond to the different steps.

1. Sautee your onions and thyme until translucent and browned, then add minced garlic and cook until fragrant.  Let cool. (Photo 1)
2. Mix eggs, milk, parsley, mustard, worcestershire, and sriracha.  Add in cooled onion mixture (must be cooled so as to not cook the eggs). Don't forget to add salt and pepper :) (Photo 2)
3. Add in your meatloaf mix (and use your hands dammit, no mixing with a spoon like a wimp!)
4. Add crushed saltines and mix again. (Photo 3)
5. Divide your meatloaf into 3 equal sized portions.  Wrap each portion in saran wrap in a free form loaf shape.
6. To make the glaze: combine ketchup, light brown sugar and vinegar to together.  Once sugar is dissolved partition into 3 small ziploc bags. (Photo 4)
7. To make your freezer meal: put one meatloaf and one bag of glaze in a large, labeled freezer ziploc bag. (Photo 5)
8. To cook: let thaw in fridge overnight.  Heat oven to 350C, brush loaf with half of glaze, and cook for 45 minutes.  Brush loaf with remaining glaze and cook for another 15 minutes.  Let cool and serve.


Next up, Meatballs!  I love meatballs in the freezer for a few reasons.  One, I don't have to remember to thaw them out, we can eat them last minute straight from frozen in about 30 minutes.  Two, you can make so much with them!  Eat them alone, with pasta, or as grinders.  Options options.  I always keep a bunch of jars of sauce on hand for last minute meatball dinners.

Meatballs are even easier than the meatloaf.  Charlie 'helped' me when I was making these (by helped I mean trashed the entire house while I was stuck with raw meat on my hands and couldn't stop him). 

Ingredients:

3lbs of meatloaf mix
1 cup of milk
1 tbsp vinegar
6 slices of sandwich bread
Minced garlic (8 cloves worth)
1.5 cups parmesan cheese
1 tbsp Red pepper flakes
3 egg yolks
1 small bunch of parsley, minced

First up, this recipe calls for buttermilk.  But that's stupid, buttermilk is just another ingredient to buy and I never use the whole damn thing anyways so it ends up being wasted.  I make my own.  Here's how:

Next up, tear the crusts off of your bread slices and add to the buttermilk and mash into a paste.  This is your binder.

Add your garlic, parmesan, red pepper flakes, egg yolks and parsley (dont forget salt and pepper) to this and mix.  Then add in your meatloaf mix.  Once it is thoroughly mixed, without OVER mixing, you can form into balls.  I got something like 30-35 meatballs from this, I like my meatballs on the bigger side. 

Once you have your meatballs cook in the oven at 400C until browned (or you can brown in the pan if you feel like standing in front of the stove for an hour browning 35 meatballs).  It's okay if they're raw in the middle, they'll be fully cooked after reheating the day you'll eat them anyways.

To package up meatballs either let them cool and freeze them on a baking sheet.  Once frozen you can add them to a ziploc bag and throw them in the freezer.  Then you can take out a couple at a time instead of having to thaw a whole bag of meatballs because they're all frozen together.  Ah, convenience!

These are the storage containers that I recommend for making these recipes. The OvenWare trays and Ball Freezer Jars are all reusable and the bags are heavy duty and freezer proof.






Okey dokey, that's it for today! 2 simple and classic recipes, but definitely favorites in my house :)  I'll be back tomorrow for Day 3 of the series- Shrimp! And also a master grocery list for all of these recipes. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

3 Days of Freezer Meals: Part One (Chicken)

ETA:If you enjoy these recipes and are looking for more great and easy freezer meal recipes, please check out my e-Book, “Make Ahead Meals: Freezer Meal Recipes that Make Dinner Quick and Easy”. The book is both a step by step guide to getting started with freezer meals and a cookbook. The book contains over 50 recipes and printables for inventory tracking, labels, and grocery lists. All of the recipes use whole foods and each recipe lists the calorie content per serving (most are less than 500 calories per serving). This book will show you the best way to make and cook healthy and cost efficient freezer meals from start to finish! For more information please CLICK HERE, the book can be purchased either as an e-Book or hardcopy.

To purchase a PDF file of this e-Book (for $7.99) directly from myself please click the PayPal button below





To Purchase a Full Color, Hard Copy of this Book (for $21.99) please click the Amazon link below:

Amazon

Hiya people!  I haven't updated on Freezer Meals for a while and that's because.....I haven't had to make any!  That's the great thing about freezer meals, I can go 3 months without having to make more because I have such a good stock pile of things.  If you're new to freezer meals you can check out my first post HERE.

So anyways, I had an unexpected day off last week thanks to a flat tire so I took a little trip to BJ's before I brought my car in for fixing.  I had been meaning to go for a week or two so I had already planned what meals I wanted to make (and gotten my coupons at the ready!).  I focused on 3 proteins, two different types of meals for each- I chose the protein based on what was running low in my freezer.  So for the next 3 days I'll update you with my recipes and cooking plan for each protein; one for each day!  Here's what the plan is:

Day 1: Chicken
Chicken and Vegetable Soup
Chicken and Kale Casserole

Day 2: Meatloaf Mix (Updated- See Day 2 HERE)
Meatloaf
Meatballs

Day 3: Shrimp (Updated- See Day 3 HERE)
Baked Shrimp Scampi
Garlic Shrimp and Asparagus Stir Fry
Cauliflower Rice

I tried to pick meals that were mostly healthy and easy to prepare the day of serving (just thaw and heat). 

Today's protein is chicken.  I bought 4 whole chickens and then got about to making chicken stock.  I do this for a couple reasons.  One, I prefer the taste of homemade chicken stock.  Two, I like the chicken meat better than store-bought rotisserie chickens- which tend to be dry, flavorless, and expensive compared to the amount of meat you receive.


I like chicken stock because it's so easy and the majority of the time is hands-off; just letting it simmer so you're free to do other things.  I made two batches of chicken stock (2 chickens in each batch for a very flavorful broth).  Here are the steps

1. Throw half an onion, a few sticks of celery, and a few baby carrots in a pot.  Add some peppercorns and bayleafs if you feel so inclined.
2. Add in two whole chickens (this might be a tight fit!) and fill with water
3. Bring up to a boil on high heat and then lower to a simmer, cover, and let cook for appx 1 hour or until chicken is cooked through.
4. Strain broth into a container and let sit in the fridge for an hour or two.  Once the fat has solidified scoop it off with a spoon (FYI, homemade chicken stock gets jiggly once it's been refrigerated, this is normal!)
5. Shred the white and dark meat off the chicken bones and store for further use.

Easy peasy!  While my chicken was cooking away this shit was happenning so you can see how 'hands-off' it really is lol



So I did that Friday night, stored everything in the fridge, which was bursting at the seams at this point, and then Saturday afternoon during naptime I started in on the actual meals.


So first up was the Chicken Vegetable Soup.  Super easy, super healthy, and a really good light spring time soup IMHO.

Ingredients:

Chicken stock from 4 chickens (above)
4 Cups of shredded chicken (from appx 2 whole chickens, half of what was made above)
1 Bag of kale
3/4 large bag of green beans, cut into bite size pieces
3/4 large bag of diced squash
1/2 large bag of baby carrots, sliced (remaining carrots were put into small bags for snacks for the week! yum!)
6 sticks of celery, sliced
1.5 cups of parmesan cheese
1.5 Boxes of Whole Wheat Pasta (I used three boxes of a small penne pasta for this meal and the meal below, so just cook up 3 batchs of pasta so it's about 3 minutes before al dente and have it at the ready for both meals)

I made two big pots of this soup, one right after the other, because my pot isn't big enough for both at once-- so for one pot just do half of what is listed above.  First throw in a few handfuls of pasta, your veggies, and your chicken. Since there's so many veggies you don't need to have a LOT of chicken or pasta.  Fill your pot to the top with chicken broth and bring to a simmer until veggies are cooked through.  I tried to get organic veggies as much as I could and was pleasantly surprised with the organic selection at my big box store.  Also keep in mind that when i say 'bag' it means the BJ's (or Costco or whatever big box store you go to) size bag of vegetables.

You can also add some spices, I added a bit of cayenne, garlic powder, smoked paprika, salt and pepper.  Pretty simple because the broth is quite flavorful.  Next I started partitioning into tupperware containers (remember not to fill to the top because it will expand as it's frozen).  Lastly, I added some parmesan (appx 1/4c) to the top of each soup to give some depth (parmesan has umami right? haha). 

This recipe yields 5 large tupperware containers of soup (appx 3-4 servings per container).  Based on my limited calorie knowledge one serving of this soup (1.5 cups or so) should be appx 250 calories. 



So after that Charlie was up and my hubby was kind enough to keep an eye on him while I continued cooking.  The next set of meals utilized the leftover veggies, pasta, and chicken from the soup made above.  A yummy Chicken and Kale Casserole.

Ingredients:

4 Cups of shredded chicken (from appx 2 whole chickens, the other half of what was made above)
1 large bag of kale
1/4 large bag of diced squash
1/4 large bag of green beans (cut into bite size pieces)
1 stick of butter
2 Onions, diced
Minced Garlic (~9 cloves worth)
3lb tub of ricotta
3 Eggs
2 lemons + zest
1 tbsp Sriracha
Parmesan Cheese (2 cups)
1.5 boxes of whole wheat penne
To make this meal just melt the butter and saute your onions until translucent and then add your garlic and cook until fragrant.  Then add your veggies (green beans, kale, and squash) and cook 80% through.  Damn that looks yummy!


While this is cooling mix ricotta, lemon juice from two lemons, lemon zest, 3 eggs, and some sriracha (we put this on pretty much everything, it's optional of course) and appx 1cup of parmesan cheese. 

Divy up your chicken and pasta between 3 9x13in bakeware pans (I use Glad Ovensafe bakeware because it goes straight from freezer to oven and is reusable).  There's actually way more chicken in there than it looks like, the pasta is just covering it up :).  Once your sauteed veggies have cooled a bit split that up between your three trays, then split your ricotta mixture between the three trays. 


Mix everything together and cover with 1/3C of parmesan cheese.  To cook after freezing thaw overnight in the refrigerator and then cook at 350C for appx 30 minutes or until warmed throughout.

Pretty simple, and the best part is it utilizes all of the leftovers from the previous recipe!  I'm looking forward to trying this one!  I'm not sure the calories, but I'm sure it's more than the soup-- my guess is under 350 calories per serving which I think is pretty good for a casserole with meat, pasta, and veggies all in one!


These are the storage containers that I recommend for making these recipes. The OvenWare trays and Ball Freezer Jars are all reusable and the bags are heavy duty and freezer proof.







So there you have it-- 8 chicken freezer meals in 24 hours!   I'll be back tomorrow with my recipes for using meatloaf mix :)  OH also, on Day 3 I will put a Master Grocery List up for your reference (so if you're a weirdo like me and feel like making all 6 types of meals in one shot this list will have all ingredients consolidated in one list for your convenience).