Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Small Laundry Room Organizing Ideas

This week the organizing bug got hold of me. Specifically, my laundry room was in dire need of drastic reorganization. It was a chore I had put off far too long.  Friends, I had been procrastinating for three years in tackling this project.

Well, it's done and I am happy as can be.  This is not a pretty reorganization.  The pictures of this reorganization will not be Pinterest worthy. This laundry space is pretty much my space these days and I wanted to reorganize it for me. I don't love doing laundry and wanted to think through how I could make this a more productive space for me. This reorganization emphasizes practical solutions and reflects what I need. If you love practicality, too, stick with me. If not, do you.

Three Steps and Three Days to Organize a Laundry Room

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A Small Laundry Space
Small Laundry Room Before

Let's step back for a minute and talk about my laundry room.  Truth be told, it's not a room.  It's a closet and I love it.  I have always loved everything about it.

First I love my laundry room location.  My laundry room is part of my kitchen.  As you can see in the picture, it is in the hall/entry to the kitchen hidden behind double doors.  This location has served us well over the many years we have lived in this house.  Dirty clothes are easily discarded after a day of yard work without traipsing through the house. A load of laundry can be efficiently washed at the same time as preparing dinner.  Clothes are quickly transferred from the washer to the dryer while heading to the pantry for a snack.

Second, I love the open shelves that sit above the washer and dryer.  Those shelves have been workhorses, holding all the essential laundry room products and tools as well as most of the cleaning supplies for the house.  They are sturdy and roomy.  This has been both a blessing and a curse. Over time those shelves had become the resting place for anything we didn't know what to do with.  The shelves were overflowing with not an inch of space remaining.

Organize Your Laundry Room
Finally, I like that the space is limited.  I like that it only has room for a basic washer and dryer.  I like my basic washer and dryer.  I have no time to fuss with fancy settings on a washer or dryer.  I just want to turn the machine on and have it do the job.  Easy peasy. Plus basic washers and dryers are easier on the budget.

I had been living with an overflowing laundry room for far too long.  The top of my dryer had also turned into a shelf holding stuff. Every inch of it was covered. The space between the washer and dryer was crammed with junk. It was a mess.  The straw that broke the camel's back was it seemed like every time I opened the doors something tumbled out at me. Something had to be done.

I hope my process will inspire you to tackle your laundry room, too.

My Laundry Room Reorganization Approach


Step One: Empty the Laundry Room
Yes, remove everything. That includes the washer and dryer.  When was the last time you cleaned behind and under your washer and dryer?  This emptying turned out to be a very good thing.  We identified a tiny leak that must have recently started in my washer shut off valve. Happily, it was found before it turned into a bigger issue.

Organize the junk as you remove it from the laundry room. The negative part of this step was having a bunch of junk strewn out through my kitchen and dining room for the three days it took to finish this project. I used boxes to organize the junk by type.  I had laundry supplies, cleaning supplies, gardening stuff, craft supplies, lighting supplies, pest control supplies, batteries, and some baking pans. Yes, I told you there was a lot in there.

As part of this step, I did an initial purge. Anything that was obviously unusable was bagged for the trash immediately. Buh-bye!!

Step Two: Clean, Repair and Paint
Everything has to be cleaned in preparation for painting.  In my case, it had been many years since the laundry area got a good cleaning.  It was far too long. Special attention was paid to dryer lint as part of this cleaning.  We make sure to take care of dryer lint regularly for fire safety purposes and this step was due.

The walls and shelves needed repainting.  They were not repainted when we remodeled the kitchen three years ago.  The shelves required some minor repair and a primer coat after some sanding.  That was all completed on the first day of the project.

The painting was completed on the second day. I opted for a bright white enamel paint from Home Depot to make it look clean and bright.  It took two quarts of paint for a total of $41.00.

Step Three: Get Organized
The third and final step was returning the laundry room to an organized state.  One of the things that had kept me from addressing my laundry room mess for so long was my inability to decide how to organize.  I had seen so many "pretty" laundry rooms and was intimidated by them.  Too often when I look at those types of laundry rooms I think the decisions made were impractical for busy people.

So I finally decided to focus on practical solutions. First, I completed a second purge.  There were many bottles of cleaners or other products bought on a whim and never really used.  It was time to dispose of those.  There were other things that were better to be stored in another place in the house.

Once the final purge was complete I assessed what was left and what I needed to help me organize those items.  I decided to buy clear plastic containers of various sizes. The clear plastic will be more practical for my lifestyle because I'll be to be able to see my stuff rather than have it hidden in "pretty" containers. Secondly, you know there will be spills and the plastic can be easily cleaned.

Making this decision lifted the weight from my shoulders that had been holding me back and I was excited to get organizing.

Organizing Tips
#1 Choose containers that fit the need.
I chose to use both low sided and deep containers.  Most of the containers are low-sided because it is easier to remove things from the low sided bins without taking them off the shelves. The deeper bins are great for multiple like items, like rags and microfiber cleaning cloths. Many of the containers have built-in handles making it easy to pull them from the shelf when necessary.

Deep Bin
#2 Focus on usability.
Every container is clear.  I already love that decision.  I can quickly and easily find the cleaning product I need. The containers are filled by category of items and each bin is prioritized with the most often used products near the front. This has already been a time saver for me.

Bins for Cleaning Products


#3 Be thoughtful about your needs.
I bought seventeen bins of various sizes and shapes. I used fifteen of them but decided to keep them all because I know I'll use them in the future. I particularly love these boxes with a hinged lid I got for batteries.  One box is for standard batteries and the other is for rechargeable batteries.

Bins with Lids


#4 Optimize your space.
I also bought a three-shelf, skinny rack with rollers on the bottom to keep between my washer and dryer.  It only measures 17.25" x 6.75" x 27.75" high, when assembled and fits perfectly in the space. This cart easily shares the space with the canister for my cordless Dyson stick vacuum. It makes me happy.

Small Cart for Laundry Products


I'm so pleased with the results that I find myself just standing and staring at my organized space. You can see I have plenty of extra space now.  I also have a small rack attached to the underside of the shelves to the right of the dryer for hangers.  That makes it easy for me to hang dress shirts as they come from the dryer as avoid ironing.

Organized Laundry

Is it time to organize your laundry space?  It's worth taking the time to think through what you need so you can spend less time on laundry tasks and more time doing what you love.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Red Lentil and Sausage Soup

I'm a soup lover and during the winter months, I make soup about once a week.  Lentil soup has been in the rotation this winter and this year I've been loving this red lentil and sausage soup.

Lentils are legumes, high in fiber and protein and low in fat.  That makes them perfect for a hearty winter soup.  You don't need sausage for a yummy, healthy lentil soup but adding sausage kicks up the flavor quotient.

Hearty Red Lentil and Sausage Soup

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Hearty Red Lentil and Sausage Soup
Hearty Red Lentil and Sausage Soup

While the lentils are a light red before cooking, you'll find that they become more cream-colored when cooked.   You can find red lentils at most grocery stores.

This is a quick and easy soup to make.  It will take you approximately 45 minutes from the fridge to the table.  That includes 30 minutes of cooking time. That means this recipe is great for a hearty weeknight dinner.

I used a half-pound of hot Italian sausage in the soup.  That was just enough for a lot of added flavor with just a little added heat. When using links of sausage, remove the sausage meat from the casing before cooking.
Hearty Red Lentil and Sausage Soup

Here is my YouTube video for making the Lentil and Sausage Soup.
There's a big blooper in the video.  I didn't realize I had made that mistake until it was too late for me to reshoot.


Two tips for making the soup:

Tip#1  Freeze tomato paste from the can in one tablespoon portions.  Wrap each tablespoon of tomato paste in a piece of plastic wrap and place the packets into a freezer-safe bag or container.


Tip #2  Use a garlic press when using fresh garlic in a soup.  The garlic will meld into the soup and you won't get pieces of garlic in your mouth when eating the soup.


Red Lentil and Sausage Soup

Printer Friendly Recipe

Red Lentil and Sausage Soup Ingredients
Red Lentil and Sausage Soup Ingredients

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1/2 pound hot Italian sausages, removed from casing
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 lemon, optional


Directions
Brown the loose sausage meat in a soup pot over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent.

Add the garlic, spices, and tomato paste. Stir to combine and cook for a minute or two.

Add the diced carrot, lentils and chicken stock.  Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer.  Partially cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Serve as-is for a delicious homestyle soup.  You may also cool the soup slightly and puree half of the soup for a smoother texture.  Squeeze a little lemon into the soup for added brightness.


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Enjoy!



Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Easy Chicken Parmesan-A Perfect Freezer Dinner

Chicken Parmesan is a favorite dinner in the Just One Donna house.  It's also a favorite restaurant menu choice.

I like to keep Chicken Parmesan prepared in my freezer for those busy weeknights when we might be tempted to head to a restaurant instead of eating at home. That way, we'll have a delicious dinner all ready to go into the oven and save money to boot.  What's not to like about that?

A Make-Ahead, Freezer Chicken Parmesan for Busy Families

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Chicken Parmesan for Dinner
Easy Freezer Chicken Parmesan for Dinner

This Chicken Parmesan recipe is made with everyday ingredients in the spirit of semi-homemade. You may already have the ingredients you need in your pantry.  That makes this an easy recipe for any mom or dad to prepare in advance for those busy weeknight dinners.

Make a double batch and you'll have a baked Chicken Parmesan dinner for tonight and another one for the freezer.

I like to use ceramic or glass dishes when I freeze my chicken Parmesan. Pie plates work really well, as long as you won't be needing them for baking pies.
Quick and Easy Freezer Chicken Parmesan

Easy Chicken Parmesan

Serves 4
Chicken Parmesan Ingredients
Chicken Parmesan Ingredients

  • 2 boneless chicken breasts, pounded 1/4 inch thin
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs 
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil 
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 jar prepared Italian tomato sauce or your favorite homemade sauce

Directions
Pound the chicken breasts between double pieces of plastic wrap.  Pound using the flat side of a metal meat mallet.  Cut each breast in half and set aside.

Pounded chicken breasts for chicken Parmesan
Pound the Chicken Breasts
Break the egg into a pie plate.  Add the water, salt, and pepper and mix to combine.  Place the chicken breasts in the egg mixture to coat.

Egg and water mixture.
Mix an Egg with Water
On a plate, mix together the Italian seasoned bread crumbs, Italian seasoning, and the grated cheeses.

I like a 50/50 mix of bread crumbs and cheese.  You may want to adjust the mixture.  Using one hand, coat both sides of each piece of chicken in the bread crumb mixture.

How to coat a chicken breast with bread crumbs.
Coat the Chicken with Breading
Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan, over medium-high heat.  Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the breaded chicken breasts.

Cook until one side is browned.  Turn the chicken and continue cooking until golden brown.

Remove to a plate lined with paper towels.

Browning the chicken breasts for chicken Parmesan
Brown the Chicken in Oil
Coat the bottom of a baking dish with the prepared tomato sauce.  Add the breaded chicken breasts.

Breaded chicken cutlets.
Place Chicken in Baking Dish

Top each breast with additional sauce and the shredded mozzarella cheese.

Cover first with a layer of plastic wrap and then a layer of aluminum foil. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to cook.

Chicken Parmesan
Top with Tomato Sauce and Mozzarella Cheese
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  If you use a high-quality plastic wrap you don't need to remove the plastic wrap.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, until bubbly and heated through.  Serve with your favorite pasta and a green salad.

Chicken Parmesan in the baking dish.
Baked Chicken Parmesan Ready to Serve
Follow my Chicken Pinterest Board for more yummy chicken recipes.


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Enjoy!


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Classic Italian Lasagna Your Family Will Love

One of the rules I live by when planning meals is to make things easy for myself.   Lasagna is one of those dishes that solves many menu problems and it is for this reason, I turn to lasagna when I think of easy foods. That's especially true when I'm planning dinner for a crowd.

My Classic Lasagna Recipe

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Traditional Italian Lasagna
Yummy Italian Lasagna

Are you feeling like you need hearty comfort food?  Lasagna, a green salad, and warm garlic bread will certainly fit the bill.  Do you need to feed a group of family and friends this weekend?  Lasagna, a Caesar salad, and some flavorful focaccia bread will feed a large group.

Do you want to have a ready to go meal in your freezer for any occasion?  Lasagna is easily reheated in your oven and ready to go when paired with a Caprese salad and warm garlic bread. I love this enameled cast iron pan for my lasagna.  It works perfectly when I'm going from the freezer to the oven with my lasagna.  That's something I do all the time.

Classic Italian Lasagna

Are you seeing a pattern here?  Lasagna is the answer to your needs.  Most people love lasagna, so it is a very good option when planning a meal for a group of friends or family.  Making lasagna can feel like an overwhelming exercise, but it doesn't have to feel that way.  If you plan and approach your preparation in steps, you will find it to be well worth your efforts.

One step I in lasagna preparation that I have always found to be tedious is the preparation of the lasagna noodles.  One way around this step is to use packaged lasagna noodles that don’t require precooking.  Another option is to place traditional lasagna noodles in a 13x9 inch pan and cover them with boiling water for thirty minutes. Pat the noodles dry before layering in your lasagna.

Soak Lasagna Noodles in Boiling Water


My classic lasagna recipe began many years ago, maybe 20 years ago or more, when I saw this recipe in Good Housekeeping magazine.  Yes, I still have the original page from the magazine tucked away in my recipe archives.

A Classic Lasagna Recipe
Good Housekeeping's Classic Lasagna Recipe
Over the years, I have made some changes, so the recipe I'm sharing with you below is an adaptation. I encourage you to make changes that will suit the tastes of your family.  We like lots of seasoning, so make adjustments as you see fit.  Lasagna is relatively easy to make and delicious to eat.  It’s not a dish you whip together for a quick weeknight dinner.  This lasagna freezes very well, so it really is a great dish to make when you have a little time and freeze for later.



Just One Donna's Classic Lasagna

Printer Friendly Recipe
Makes one 13x9" pan

The Lasagna Ingredients
Lasagna Ready to Bake
Lasagna Ready for Baking

  • 1 pound ground beef 
  • ½ pound hot Italian sausage
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 ½-2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1-2 Tablespoons dried Italian seasonings
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 3 T chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 12 lasagna noodles
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 15-ounce container ricotta cheese 
  • 1 16-ounce pkg mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1-cup Parmesan cheese

Directions
In a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat, cook ground beef and hot sausage until all the pan juices evaporate.  Add the diced onion and cook until soft.  Add the garlic and cook one minute more. Your beef mixture should be well browned.  This is important to the flavor of your lasagna.

Tip:  I like to drain my meat mixture in a colander placed over a paper towel-lined pie plate.

Return the meat mixture to the pan.  Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, sugar, salt, bay leaf, and the dried herbs, crushed between your palms.  (Note:  I don’t always add sugar.  I taste the tomatoes to see how acidic they taste and add the sugar, if necessary.)

Heat the sauce to boiling, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Taste for seasoning and make adjustments. Discard the bay leaf and remove from heat.

Prepare your lasagna noodles as the package directs, or use one of the tips I mentioned above.  Put a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch heavy pan.  If using traditional lasagna noodles, arrange four noodles in the pan, overlapping to fit.  For oven-ready noodles, use three.  Combine the eggs, ricotta cheese, and chopped parsley.

Spoon 1/3 of the ricotta mixture over the noodles, spreading thinly.  I use either a spoon or an offset spatula to spread the layers.  Top with 1/4 of the mozzarella cheese, a sprinkle of the Parmesan cheese and 1/4 of the sauce.  Repeat two more times.

Finish with a layer of noodles, sauce and then cheese. Cover the prepared lasagna with plastic wrap and then aluminum foil.  Let is cool on your counter and then either refrigerate or freeze until ready to bake.

Layering Lasagna with Cheese and Sauce

Bake the lasagna in a 375°F oven for 45 minutes or until bubbly and heated through.  Remove from the oven and let stand at least 20 minutes before serving.  Makes 8-12 dinner servings.

Lasagna makes my life easier at any time of year.  Make it.  Freeze it.  You'll be happy you did!

You might also like to try this lasagna that uses eggplant and zucchini slices in place of lasagna noodles.

Vegetable Lasagna


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Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Crunchy, Spicy Gingersnap Cookies

Crunchy, spicy, and yummy are all words used to describe a good gingersnap cookie.  While my hands-down, favorite cookie is a gooey chocolate chip cookie I occasionally crave a spice cookie, like gingersnaps or this molasses cookie.  This gingersnap cookie is a winner.  It's easy to make and will be a favorite in your recipe rotation.

Did you know the gingersnap cookies we make in the United States are related to ginger cookies made in the United Kingdom and Scandinavia?

Traditional Gingersnap Cookie Recipe

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Gingersnaps Cookies

In the U.S., gingersnaps are usually a drop cookie with lots of cracks in the surface.  That's exactly how I like them.  Those found in other countries may be thinner and sliced.  The Lebkuchen, a traditional German cookie, and the pepparkakor, from Sweden, are often cut into festive shapes.  My gingersnaps are round.

These gingersnaps are tasty cookies at any time of the year.  Their spiciness is perfect as a holiday cookie, as well, so go ahead and add them to your holiday cookie tray.

Don't reserve this recipe for holidays.   Enjoy them with a hot cup of coffee or tea, or a tall glass of milk at any time of year.  In the summer, spread some vanilla ice cream between two gingersnap cookies for a sweet and spicy ice cream sandwich.  You can even crush ginger snaps and use them for a cheesecake crust.  However you decide to use them, gingersnaps should be in your cookie rotation.
Crunchy, Spicy Ginger Snaps

Gingersnap Cookies

Gingersnaps cookies ready to bake
Ginger Snaps Ready for the Oven
Printer Friendly Recipe
Makes 2 dozen 3-1/2 inch cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar, I use light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • granulated sugar for rolling the cookies

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Mix together the brown sugar, oil, egg, and molasses in the bowl of your mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment.  In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.  Add the dry ingredients to the molasses mixture, mixing to combine.

Roll the dough into balls 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 inches in size.  I like to use a cookie scoop to keep my cookies uniform in size.  Roll each ball in the granulated sugar to cover.  Place the balls on an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes until browned and the centers are set.

Baked Gingersnap Cookies
Yummy Ginger Snaps
You might also like this molasses cookie recipe.
This sugar cookie with buttercream frosting is one of my favorites, too.


Essential Kitchen Tools

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Enjoy!