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  • Chief Family Officer’s Favorite Things: Progressive Chop Turner

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    Progressive Chop Turner - Chief Family Officer's Favorite Things

    Over ten years ago, when I first began cooking for my husband, one of the first things I learned was that he likes his ground meat to be as miniscule as possible. We have a wooden spoon that curves into a point on one side, much like this OXO Wooden Corner Spoon:

    It was our utensil of choice to mash ground beef and turkey as it cooked, but the cooking process required a lot of intensive attention – time that I could (and preferred to) spend on other meal prep tasks while the meat cooked. Still, I love my husband and I want him to enjoy his food, so I did my best to get the ground meat as small as possible.

    Then, one day, I received a promotional pack for some product. The box included the item I was supposed to promote {I honestly don’t even remember what it was anymore}, as well as various kitchen items, including the Progressive Chop Turner:

    It’s really odd-looking, and I didn’t know what to make of it. I’m not even sure why I decided to use it, but I’m so glad I did! More than any utensil I’ve ever used, it gets my ground meat down to uniformly small pieces:

    ground meat using the Progressive Chop Turner

    It’s hard to make out each individual lump of meat because of the uniform color, but that’s now how all of my ground meat comes out looking if the recipe calls for crumbling it – tiny! And the best part is that I don’t need to stand over the stove while the meat is cooking. I can wander away for a few minutes to do something else, then come back, vigorously stab and turn the meat a few times, then leave again. (Yes, I get to work off some angst too!) I repeat the process for as long as it takes the meat to cook, and by then, I’ve accomplished quite a few other tasks around the kitchen too.

    Not long after my husband and I got together, I discovered that one of my friends likes her meat the same way {I learned this because she pulled out a lunch from home one day, and I gawked at how perfectly small and uniform her ground turkey was}. So for perfectionists and picky eaters alike, I highly recommend the Progressive Chop Turner!

    You can buy the Progressive Chop Turner for $7.99 at Amazon.

    See all of Chief Family Officer’s Favorite Things here.

    Baking When You Only Have Cold, Hard Butter

    How to Quickly Soften Cold Butter for Baking -

    Many baking recipes call for softened butter. But I rarely remember to take the butter out of the fridge to soften, and all too often, when I do, I run out of time to bake and end up tossing the butter back in to the fridge. Fortunately, I picked up a little tip from my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, which I adapted from Thomas Keller’s cookbook Ad Hoc at Home, and this technique works great for all of my baking now:

    To quickly soften cold butter for baking, simply cut the cold butter into small pieces, then put the butter in a mixer and beat until creamy.

    As you can see in the photo above, I cut the butter lengthwise four times on each side, then slice the butter into half-tablespoons, which creates a cross-section of sixteen small pieces. A stand mixer is great for this method, because you can dump the butter pieces in, start the mixer, and walk away. But a hand-held mixer should work fine too. The process takes anywhere from five to ten minutes, depending on how cold the butter and air in the room are.

    This method works a lot better than microwaving butter, which tends to melt the butter rather than softening it.

    Happy baking!

    Meal Prepping for the Week

    Simpler Menu Planning -

    I’ve been discussing my menu plan struggles for the last few weeks, and my plan has been to use Mondays to prep for the week. I haven’t been very good at accomplishing much, though, and I’ve decided today is The Day It Happens. Here’s what I’m going to get done:

    1. Bake brownies
    2. Make strata for tonight’s dinner
    3. Roast cauliflower for tomorrow’s dinner
    4. Make tomorrow’s dinner
    5. Wash and chop veggies for salad {I keep lettuce in the salad spinner in the fridge}
    6. Cut pineapple {my “second” mom gets us a year-long organic fruit-of-the-month subscription from Harry & David}
    7. Turn brownies into bons bons
    8. Make simple syrup
    9. Make chai tea latte concentrate {recipe to come}

    I’ve already got the brownies in the oven, and the bread and ham for the strata are defrosting. My plan is to have everything done and the kitchen clean by the time we’re sitting down for dinner.

    If this goes well {fingers crossed}, I will try to do this every week!

    Simplifying My Menu Planning

    Simpler Menu Planning -

    The benefits of menu planning are undeniable: You save money by not eating out or picking up take-out. You also save money buying only mostly what you need, and not buying food that just goes to waste. You can even save money by having leftovers for lunch the next day. And you tend to eat healthier, since you control the ingredients.

    However, as I’ve mentioned a few times now in my Menu Plan Monday posts, I’ve been looking to simplify my monthly menu planning. When I first started planning weekly menus, a monthly plan felt so overwhelming. But Gina, Camille, and others encouraged me to try it, so a couple of years ago, I finally did.

    I’ve been amazed at how much easier it is to plan a weekly menu when the monthly menu is already done. And I’m much more likely to plan a weekly menu if I’ve already done a monthly one. Oddly enough, even when I don’t follow my menu plan, I’m still more likely to make dinner at home than when I don’t have a menu plan at all. But at the end of each month, I dreaded sitting down to make the next month’s meal plan.

    Wendy suggested that each month, I start with a list of meals that I make regularly, and then fill in some of the days with other meals. I thought that was brilliant, so I promptly created a list of 30 favorite meals, which I referred to last week when I was drawing up my menu plan for March. I still needed my calendar of family events – in particular, the boys’ sports schedule, which once again includes weeknight games, in addition to weeknight practices, weekend practices, and weekend games. My menu plan has to be carefully constructed to take into account nights when food has to be ready the moment we walk in the door, or even taken to the field. {Admittedly, sometimes I just throw my hands up in the air and go with fast food or take-out. But it happens far less often when I have a menu plan than when I don’t.}

    You can see my monthly list of meals here {pdf}. Most of the meals have links to recipes, so you can try them yourself. And feel free to send me your list of favorite meals – I’m always on the lookout for new family favorites, especially ones that the kids will enjoy, and I’ll share them with other readers so we can all menu plan more easily.

    This post will be linked to Thrifty Thursday at Living Well, Spending Less.

    Image via by Witthaya Phonsawat.

    5 Menu Planning Tips

    menu planning tips

    Last week, I shared six ways that menu planning saves us money. Hopefully, that convinced you that menu planning is worth the effort!

    Over the years, I’ve picked up a few tricks that help make menu planning a little easier. Here they are:

    Plan monthly menus. I found creating a monthly menu plan daunting at first, but I got the hang of it after a few months. And now I find that I’m much more likely to plan for the week if I already have a starting point in a monthly plan. A monthly menu also allows me to space out different kinds of meals.

    Start with your schedule. I use a basic monthly calendar template in Google Drive to create my menu plan each month, and I always have my calendar open as I plan. This allows me to take into account social plans, the kids’ activities, and anything else that might affect what we have for dinner. For example, if we’re going to be out in the late afternoon but home in time for dinner, I’ll plan for something that I can make ahead and have ready when we walk in the door.

    When prepping your menu for the upcoming week, you may also want to check the weather report. I use the 7-day forecast to figure out which days I want to grill or bake, taking into account any rain or temperature fluctuations predicted.

    Decide on a weekly pattern. Some people do meatless Mondays, Mexican Tuesdays, pizza Wednesdays, and so on. Here’s how I like to plan my week:

    • 1 meatless meal
    • 1 pasta meal
    • 1 fish meal
    • 1 Japanese meal
    • 1 freezer meal
    • 1 breakfast meal {for dinner}

    Sometimes these meals overlap, such as when I serve misoyaki, which covers both the Japanese and fish meals. Or if I make my favorite bolognese sauce, I always make extra to freeze and it is also our pasta meal for the week. These parameters help me vary the meals we have throughout the week, as well as manage costs since meatless and pasta meals tend to be cheaper than Japanese and fish meals.

    Have some tried and true recipes to incorporate into your menu plan. I like to plug these recipes in when I’m first starting my monthly menu plan. These recipes are particularly handy because I have a good idea of how long it will take me to prepare them, and I know which ones I can make ahead for the busy days on my calendar.

    Collect recipes you want to try. I used to have a large three-ring binder for my recipes, but I now exclusively use Pinterest. As I plan my monthly menu, I peruse my Pinterest boards for new recipes I want to try. I take into account the season, what’s languishing in my pantry, and of course, whatever captures my fancy. As I mentioned last week, regularly trying out new recipes keeps things interesting at home and reduces the temptation to eat out just because we’re bored of having the same foods.

    If you have a menu planning tip or recipe to share, please leave a comment!

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    Original menu image via by Sujin Jetkasettakorn.