Leftovers can be exciting!

So you know I’ve been trying to branch out by trying new flavors … not just for dinner but for bbq’s as well, hoping to prove that eating healthy is yummy! There are plenty of skeptics out there but come over to the dark side, I promise you won’t regret it 😉

My new go-to dip is cucumber salsa – people stuff their faces and about 5 scoops in I hear “what is this… it’s awesome!”. Just note that you should really use English cucumbers. The last 2 times I have but the 3rd time I picked up regular cucumbers … let’s just say it became a soup! Regular cucumbers are full of so much water; I had to drain the salsa before serving it. Even 1 day later (I prepped the day earlier), having 2 drains, and serving it up in smaller bowls … each bowl was filled 1/2 way with liquid after an hour 😦 Spend the extra $1 and buy an English cucumber.
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Next on deck .. chicken wings! You don’t have to make hot wings/fatty ranch for dipping or greasy fried wings for football Sunday, check these out – no breading, no “bad for you” ingredients, just 100% yumminess! I forget the site I found this recipe on so here is the check list:
To make apprx 24 wings –
2 cups lime juice (1 large bottle)
4 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper
2 tsp crushed red pepper (use more or less depending on your tolerance of heat!)
4 tsp minced garlic (I used 3 medium garlic cloves OR you can buy pre-minced garlic & measure … either is fine!)
1 cup chopped cilantro
2 cups olive oil
MIX everything in a large bowl, pour over chicken, and marinate for 30 min-2 hrs
We grilled them or you can bake them … enjoy!
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Ahhhh, the pasta salad. It’s such a familiar dish that you don’t even have to tell people what’s all in it … all you say is “there will be a pasta salad” and you know it will be devoured.  I don’t know what it is about this comfort food but everyone likes it.  This version is: 1 box of low carb rotini pasta (Dream Fields / black box), 1 medium “summer sausage” log cubed into even chunks, frozen corn (microwavable steam bag, cook for 6 min & let it cool), 1 large block of cheese cubed into even chunks (use your favorite cheese!), and roasted red peppers (I had a jar in my fridge already opened, may as well use them!), and top with Italian salad dressing (1/2 at prep time and 1/2 before serving it … mix well!).
Cook the pasta FIRST, drain/let it cool … then start slicing and dicing the ingredients. Once the pasta is cooled, combine ingredients into a large bowl & stir 🙂 EASY

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Now I’m just going to overwhelm you with a ton of photos … recipes will be in links!

IMG_7886 Tater tots! Toss tots with hot sauce, crumbled blue cheese, chopped celery and diced chicken.  I left the chicken out because I used this recipe as a side dish to smoked sausages … it was out cheat night 😉

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steak with french onion sauce! We have mostly red wine in our collection so I bought this cute picnic white wine cup; it was perfect for the recipe so if you are not a big wine drinker, look for one of these guys. Also have no fear if you can’t fine veal consomme … I used beef stock and it turned out a-okay 😉 Since the main dish took some extra energy (it was difficult but you have to keep your eyes on it!) I opted for canned green beans and frozen/oven baked bread sticks. An easy meal that you could order from a steak house … at your own kitchen table, LOVE!

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It was cooler last week and I busted out my immersion blender to whip …er, rather blend up some sweet potato soup. It’s from my favorite magazine, Cooking Light. Do yourself a favor and buy one of these guys! Rather than pouring hot things into a blender and risk burning yourself just keep everything in 1 large pot and blend together. I paired a yummy smoked gouda grilled cheese sandwich and the dinner was perfect. In with the new … you don’t have to use Kraft singles for grilled cheese! I love using new cheeses each time we make grilled cheese – yes, a good cheese will cost a few more dollars but it’s so worth it as a splurge meal.

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Saw this on an episode of Barefoot Contessa and it couldn’t have been easier! Cripsy mustard chicken and cheesy grits (again I opted for microwavable veggie since the 2 other items took some energy). Another must have gadget, I love my pint sized food processor. It’s easy to store since it’s small and it’s perfect for our family (there’s only 2 of us) however if you only want to spend $30 and have a larger family – just make recipes in small batches & combine in a large bowl, you have to dump most mixtures into a bowl anyway! The grits will need your attention as it must be stirred every few minutes as to not burn on the bottom of the pot, it is an easy recipe though. I used those ‘5 minute’ grits – just not the instant (comes in packets), you don’t have to buy anything crazy. Trust the recipe and use 1/2 & 1/2, the grits are beyond creamy. These are 2 yummy recipes you can impress your guests with … hello, holiday season is around the corner!

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Okay these 2 dinners are buddies … one night it was garlic shrimp & potato/onion pouches and the other was meatloaf with the same pouches.  I made 2 pouches to be grilled on the same night so I could have a plan ahead dinner 🙂 Who says everything has to be cooked fresh each night?! Yeah so this meatloaf was the bomb dot com. Yes, I went there 😉 A little over 2lbs and we still have leftovers! I have found a dish that has outsmarted my husband, lol! I made/cooked the meatloaf earlier in the day (Friday morning) and reheated it for dinner; I hid the leftovers in the back of the fridge so we’d have dinner for Sunday … he had no idea! Plus we still have 1/3 of it left. Leftovers can be fun, take these open-face meatloaf sandwiches: toasted bread, thinly sliced tomatoes, meatloaf (reheated first), a fried eggs, and ketchup or gravy.

IMG_7968 Pizza night! My husband got spicy Italian sausage and I got mild … everything else was the same: sliced red bell pepper, moz & parm shredded cheese, sauce… done. I love pizza night & trying new toppings!

IMG_8023 Okay this was our splurge meal last night … a 3lb brisket ($20!) which was actually a good deal but it’s the smallest guy I could find so I took it. Into the slow cooker it went and 6 hours later, dinner was ready. We had leftover pasta salad and veggies … I love clearing out the fridge.

Last but not least … brats simmered with onions and beer. One of my husband’s favorites (that he actually cooks! I’m not allowed to help w/ this one… okay 😉 !)
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Simmer for 30 minutes and throw the brats on the grill to crisp the skin … pour the leftover ‘sauce’ (beer/onions) into a large dish, place grilled brats on top, and let people serve themselves. Oh, I should mention we cooked this up for a bbq (along with the pasta salad & cucumber salsa). I also made burgers and they were devoured. We had 2 sausages leftover so of course we took the cheesy grits and cubed the sausages for breakfast the next day. I LOVE LEFTOVERS.

It’s been a good few weeks of leftovers … It was a bigger grocery trip than usual HOWEVER we had and still have meals ready to go. Whether it’s making over a dish (meatloaf turned into sandwiches) or just throwing things together (sausages in grits), don’t think leftovers have to be boring. Same for dishes that you’ve made 10 times … try a new sauce or seasoning. Making something seem “new” can make dinner or any meal for that matter, exciting!

cheap cheap cheap eats

I’m all about cheap eats and recreating dishes I see on menus, for waaaaaaaay less.  With returning from vacation and a few inspirations I decided to make our final Lenten meal a special one. Considering my husband will be working on Easter, why not splurge on a dinner I know he’ll be able to actually enjoy fresh.  I say ‘splurge’ in the sense that it’s not a dish I’d typically cook; just a touch of fancy. It was definitely not a splurge on my budget, which I’m sure anyone would appreciate.

My inspiration: Salmon Niçoise Salad … I know it sounds fancy but it’s quite simple. I saw this on 2 different menus while in Palm Springs, CA. Now, the spinach salad alone (some versions are a dark green leaf or spinach, doesn’t matter) was $10, if you wanted to add salmon it was an extra $10. I mean, what a rip off! I can buy 3-4 bags of spinach for $10 … yes salmon can be pricey especially if it’s fresh, but I’d be more content with it only being an $8 surcharge.  Anyway, I wanted to create my own version on a smaller budget. Needless to say mine was $6 per serving … that’s $12 for the two of us. HELLO! I just saved $28 🙂 .

On to my version: I didn’t like how the salmon filets were looking on my grocery trip and then I eyed tuna steaks. They were frozen which is a great way to save and only $6 for 2!

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No it doesn’t look exactly like the Nicoise Salad but again, it’s my version! We wanted baked potatoes so instead of incorporating them into the salad, it became a side.

Tuna marinade: EVOO, honey, dijon, parsley. Let it sit for 30 min or more (S & P both sides of the steak!)
Salad dressing: red wine vinegar, EVOO, dijon, pepper
I kept similar flavors from the original but after finding so many versions of this recipe, I took ingredients from a few and combined them – it turned out quite nicely!
Baked potato: butter, cheese, S & P (really, did you need me to explain that to you?)

I grilled the tuna on my George Foreman, they only need 4 minutes to cook – no sense in heating up the grill for that.  Let them sit for 5-10 minutes OFF of the grill so it can cook all of the way through without making the center too tough.

Man this was the best idea ever and I’m so glad the salmon looked sad at the store. It’s okay to improvise if you can’t find an ingredient, find something in the same family and you’ll be just fine.

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Here are a few other creations from this week:
Lasagna – ground turkey, mushrooms, cheese, onions, DONE.
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Josh’s famous chili:
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Annnnd Feta/Spinach Chicken Sausages with spicy black bean patties

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So there you go, a few new recipes. Try them out & let me know how they go!

 

You can’t outsmart a bad diet …

With the help of social media I get to stalk everyone’s food photos … it’s interesting to see different perspectives of “healthy”. I put quotations on that word because the attempt of eating healthy is there but the amount of food in some pictures makes me sick.

I applaud those who have begun their own journey to a better lifestyle but we must remember that MODERATION IS KEY. That phrase doesn’t pertain only to junk to food; just because you cook lean ground turkey doesn’t mean you should eat 1lb of it (per serving … you think I’m joking but I’ve seen it!).

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Since starting my cooking adventures a year ago I definitely think the serving suggestions are a bit off in some cook books however that doesn’t mean you should cook quadruple and then eat all of it! I stick to 6 servings for the 2 of us, we’re starting to have more leftovers which is perfect for weekends when I don’t cook … I eat 1 serving of the entree plus sides and Josh will eat 2 or 3, but he walks 12 miles a day. Let me repeat that TWELVE MILES EVERY DAY! Don’t believe me? He did a step counter. So if you are using that much energy then yes, you need to replenish your body but if you’re still a couch potato and don’t care for exercise then you have to still watch what you eat.

Not only will you lose weight with eating less food your wallet will start to thank you … eating less means buying less! Take the first step and cut out snacking, you will see that grocery bill drop significantly. We snacked for a few weeks and saw the bill go up about $30 (that’s $60 over 2 weeks… cut it out and hello, that’s a savings of $120 PER MONTH), I got tired of that real quick.  FYI we were buying ‘non junk food’ snacks too – quinoa/flax seed chips and organic veggie dips … but with snacking meant us keeping the couch warm. My opinion is to cut it out completely because snacking brings on laziness.

Being healthy takes work but it’s totally doable … it’s a change you’ll be thankful for in multiple ways.

I’ve got you beat, Olive Garden.

I was craving Panda on Sunday … not just “Oh I could go for some Panda right now” … but “I really REALLY want stir fry and egg rolls, there’s a Panda 5 minutes away”. I think I was craving it because there’s one next to the UPS store I’ve been frequenting.  You pass something enough and your brain starts wanting it. I had a moment to myself and gave a kind reminder that any trip to Panda has left us not feeling well. Take matter into your own hands and make a home made stir fry! Which is exactly what I did 🙂

Seriously it couldn’t be easier. Chop up your favorite veggies; I used:
– yellow squash
– green bell pepper
– yellow bell pepper
– orange bell pepper
– onion
– broccoli
– water chestnuts
– baby corn
– bok choy
– garlic

Here’s what took some time – I had to find the best choice of stir fry sauce, originally I wanted teriyaki but the sugar content was really high so I went for stir fry sauce instead. The goal is 2g of sugar per serving, I used the entire bottle though because I wanted leftovers and MADE a ton of it! I read about 6 bottles/labels and picked the best, so do your reading!

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How could anyone NOT want to eat that beautiful rainbow of veggies?

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Yes I cheated and bough yummy, crunchy egg rolls.  They actually weren’t greasy like most of these prepared items are.  20 minutes in the oven and a delish side dish.  Regular white rice was the base; with the amount of veggies it was ok to eat 1 1/2 servings of rice (measured out, seriously do it – you’d be surprised what 1 serving actually is). Such a filling dinner and it didn’t require extra insulin for my husband, he did his normal 3 units. When we’d go to Panda, he’d take 5 units… what a difference!

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My sous chefs staring at me because I NEVER cook on Sunday’s. They were really confused.

Monday: venison sausages and polenta bake.
The sausages were from our friends in Austin. These were packaged after a hunting trip, so we’re talking FRESH and absolutely not processed in some big ol’ factory. There was pork added (fat is necessary with such a lean/gamey animal), jalapeno, and cheddar cheese chunks. WHOOOO WEE these were good and super spicy! I could only eat one saving the other two for my husband. Now onto the polenta bake; I never get these kind of casseroles to turn out properly! It’s like, there’s always too much liquid. I drain and strain but crap keeps coming out soggy! I’m getting so tired of this. The flavors were good and boy did it look pretty but I’m going to leave out the spinach and tomatoes next time.
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Tuesday: chicken alfredo.
Yes, this was a diabetic friendly dish … I KNOW, RIGHT?! Quick, to the kitchen you must go!
White sauce is typically a ‘no no’ item but again, read your labels and find the right brand for you, I picked Bertolli Light. Really flavorful, lots of garlic – YUM!

I used Dream Fields spaghetti *GASP* I didn’t use ‘alfredo noodles’ … oh please. But, but, but … you’ll have a bigger butt if you opt for the regular, carb filled noddle. Ha!

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Steam fresh broccoli (it takes 20 minutes … don’t be lazy); I baked 3 chicken breasts (evoo, s/p); stir in enough sauce (lightly coat) once the noddles are done, add in broccoli, slice the chicken and serve it on the side. I put a bit of the sauce on the chicken so it wouldn’t be dry. You don’t need a ton of sauce! It’ll weigh the noddles and broccoli down, becoming slimy and gross. You want to keep the integrity of your dish! I mean, you bought fresh broccoli so why not showcase it. Again, husband only needed 3 units of insulin, his norm/doctor recommended.   You know Olive Garden probably charges $12.99 for chicken alfredo … mine was $4.30 per serving.

Voila. 3 easy dishes that were nice to my wallet and really friendly to our health. My menu board quote for this week: “good food doesn’t have to be fancy”.  I hope I keep proving that to you with my weekly blog posts!

Gotta pinch those pennies!

After splurging last week on my grocery trip I needed to pull from a colleague’s blog, all about cooking on a budget. As a fellow music teacher she knows all about making those dollars stretch.  I was inspired by 3 of her recipes and was able to come up with a remix of chicken alfredo, vegetarian quesadillas, and a polenta bake; the remaining 2 recipes for the week are basics: pork chops with new potatoes and veggies, and salmon burgers with a quinoa salad. I seriously planned this menu is record time! Sometime I’m beyond stumped on what to make and today I didn’t feel like dwelling on my grocery trip so I went to her blog, knowing I’d find something yummy! I’ve made a few of her recipes in the past and they were successful.

I’d also like to brag that last night I wrote on my menu board: “goal: leftovers” … WINNER WINNER! I cleared out the remaining containers and put together a real meal for myself! THIS NEVER HAPPENS. My human garbage disposal (aka my husband) takes care of any and all leftovers so I never have a chance to revisit my dishes.  His work schedule was in my favor – there was not enough for both of us. Anywho, with the fridge being cleared out I’m definitely ready for what this next week brings 🙂

On to the remaining of last week’s meals – gourmet grilled cheese (Wed) and blue cheese turkey burgers (Thurs)

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I used smoked provolone cheese and sauteed yellow onions, swapped out regular white bread with sour dough – so good! I brushed the bread with melted butter (you need something to keep it from turning rock hard!).  Nix the mayo (some people use it on grilled cheese).  I baked sweet potato fries; let them soak in evoo/garlic powder/smoked paprika – what a combo. This is absolutely diabetic friendly – surprised? You shouldn’t be if you actually listen to your doctor/nutritionist/dietician. And as always, we had a side salad… because who doesn’t love some greens in their life? It keeps you regular, people!!!

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Who doesn’t love a good burger? 1.5 lbs of ground turkey makes 4 perfect burgers 🙂 It’s cheap too! After I measured each patty, I flattened it out, sprinkled blue cheese in the center and mixed it. After the blue cheese looked to be evenly distributed I formed the patty, done! It was beautiful weather so Josh got to man the grill; he was off on Thursday so I took advantage of me not having to actually cook. I really do loathe cooking on Thursday’s – it’s my longest day with zero breaks, the last thing I want to do is stand for another hour prepping/cooking dinner. I was able to prep the burgers & corn in the morning before I left for work. I had 1 potato leftover from the day before – 1 large sweet potato makes enough fries for 2 people (good to know!).  I microwave-boiled them in quarter size chunks for faster cook time (12 minutes!); once they came out I sprinkled cinnamon, ground nutmeg, s/p, and topped them with hunk of butter… mashed them up in the skins and voila! A perfect side dish.  For the corn: rubbed on butter, sprinkled s/p and parsley, wrap in foil, and grill it. Top each burger with MORE blue cheese and dinner is ready!

Get your cookin’ started! Where do you get your inspiration from … a family cook book, TV shows, your favorite restaurant… tell me!

One is the loneliest number

And that’s how many meals I cooked this week: ONE. Don’t you just love leftovers? I told you I had pulled pork for days!

What was the honorable dish that got me to cook? PIZZA!!!  I ended up going to the grocery store and picked up ingredients for 4 dinners and I’ve gotten around to 1; pretty sad. I’d have to say that since I didn’t cook much I was really looking forward to homemade pizzas.  I did the individual pizzas a few months back and kept those pretty basic (green peppers, olives, sausage, etc.).  This time around I went gourmet.   If you live in San Antonio (or Dallas) then you know about Dough: a very pricey but incredibly delish pizza restaurant.  Plus I’ve mentioned the place in a few other blog-posts, so yeah there’s that too. Anywhoooooo … I took inspiration from their pizzas and created our own mozzarella/prosciutto/sun-dried tomato/artichoke, sensational pizza. I cheated and purchased 2 pre-made flat-bread crusts.  Really it’s not a cheat, I mean who honestly has time to make dough after working a full day?  If you’re raising your hand, screaming “I do, I do!” then come over to my house and cook for me.

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Prep + cooking time = 30 minutes.  So it’s your call … order take out and spend close to $40 for 2 pizzas like this (and hopefully it arrives in 30 min), or buy it yourself and have a fun evening (adult beverages totally optional but suggested 😉 ).  So you don’t spend $40 on ingredients at the store, check prices first.  There was quite the price range with a few of the items (mozzarella, artichokes, and dough); for example the organic artichokes were close to $7 but I found this brand for only $3… take some time and do your searching, it’ll save you $$ in the end. Unless then again you don’t care, come to my house and you can do the shopping too (on your dime though!). What a treat that would be … free food and a free chef! If only …

I’m now going to order a pizza stone from Pampered Chef … I’d like to have regular pizza nights. They’re fun (hubby helps out!), easy to put together, and really an endless amount of options. I’m just mad because about a year ago my mom asked if I wanted her pizza stone and my answer was “No, we don’t have a freezer that can hold pizzas” (yet another dilemma from that horrid rental house). Oh well.

Mexican stuffed peppers, stuffed jalapenos, and Thai beef rolls for football Sunday. I’m so excited for today! The first 2 are my creations and the last is Chelsea’s … I’ll post tomorrow (hooray for a 3 day weekend … obviously no hooray for why).

This little piggie was full, full, full.

We officially gave our property management a 60 day notice to us moving out! WOOHOO!!! We were approved for our VA loan and the lead contractor on our house says Nov. 20 is a firm closing date. We have our rental until the end of Nov. so we can take our time moving the small stuff, no rush!  I will have an amazing kitchen and an actual music studio/office and Josh will have his man-cave 🙂 .  We can’t wait to spread out.

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In the mean time, I will put up with my current small/nasty kitchen for another 30 days and cook delish meals, to the best of my ability.  Having friends to help is a Godsend, chatting & drinking takes away the constant thought of how disgusting the kitchen is.

Let’s get to it, my menu changed mid-week because we decided to go to dollar beer night at the Rampage hockey game (Friday) so I needed an easy dinner.  Chelsea made her sword fish on Thursday, spaghetti squash moved to Friday, and I made the chicken marsala on Monday. If you know food won’t go bad feel free to moves things around, no one said your menu was set in stone.

Friday – spaghetti squash with quinoa/pork meatballs
You will need to put in some extra muscle for this meal. Holy cow, I seriously worked up a sweat between trying to cut the squash in half and then scraping the seeds + “spaghetti” out; I was so tired when dinner was done.  I couldn’t cut through the first squash, thank goodness Cory was here. The second squash was easier, smaller ones are not as tough but then you don’t get as much “meat” from them.

I got this recipe from Emily, a college classmate – her blog is all about cooking on a budget and the meals are healthy! So for all y’all complaining on FB “eating right is expensive… it’s too hard to find healthy meals that taste good… I don’t know how to shop for healthy foods” STOP IT!  Quit your belly aching and do some reading, educate yourself and you’ll quickly realize changing your diet is incredibly simple. I mentioned it a few weeks back, just by changing my diet I lost 6 pounds in 1 month. Just to note, I am a somewhat active person but I don’t go to the gym.

Anyway, back to the squash + meatballs.

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Spaghetti squash has zero flavor so you must add seasoning. Emily’s recipe called for sour cream, cheddar cheese, and red pepper flakes.  While I did not have sour cream (I hate s.c. at this point, I had to make 3 trips to the store because I kept running out of it last week. I refused to go back again.), I used a TON of cheddar cheese which melted nicely, get some s & p on there with the red pepper flakes – you’ve got yourself a tasty dish!  The quinoa meatballs were incredibly easy and took 20 minutes from start to finish. You’ll spend most of the time on the squash so the meatballs can be saved until the end or they will dry out from sitting around.

Monday – chicken marsala
WOW what a simple dish! I always thought it was this complex Italian meal that would take hours. Nope, maybe 30 minutes! For a protein and vegetable, of course we added a side salad, but this is a complete meal that people will be impressed with.

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What can be easier than coating butterflied chicken breasts in flour, cooking them on the stove for 5 minutes on each side (you can do 1 at a time and just stack them in a dish so they stay warm), throw 2 large packages of mushrooms in the same pan when the chicken is done … boom, dinner is ready.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, add the chicken stock, Marsala wine, and butter – honestly though, I started at 7 and we were at the table by 7:45. The extra 15 minutes includes pulling out the ingredients, setting everything up, etc. plus setting the table and serving our plates.  Now this recipe calls for prosciutto which I left out, didn’t miss it.  My wallet appreciated the left out ingredient as well 😉 .

Tuesday – sloppy joes
HOMEMADE! None of that canned Manwich crap (which is incredibly delish but not the best healthy eating choice out there)
I’ll have to get the exact recipe from Chelsea but I believe she combined a recipe she already knew with a recipe from the Pioneer Woman’s blog.  BTW, love the Pioneer Woman. I think she might be the next cook I turn to for more inspiration.  Rachel Ray, while I love you and your “burger of the day” … I can’t stand how many ingredients your meals call for (like she’s actually reading this, HA!).

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Use any kind of meat, we had turkey and fake meat (hence the double stir action happening); halve *uncooked* biscuits, put cheese on one side, pile on the meat, and put in the oven to bake (until biscuits are golden brown). These were amazing and not sloppy! I know, totally defeats the name but these would be awesome for football Sunday’s or parties. Everything is contained in its own little biscuit of goodness. I ate 3 plus a side salad, Josh ate 5 (he’s so gross! LOL!) – between 4 adults I think 16 sandwiches were made and we have 2 leftover. Hello! Talk about being piggies last night. Whatever, you can indulge every once in a while.

Tonight’s line up is pretzel bun hot dog minis (stacked with cheese & sauerkraut), Thursday is shrimp scampi pizza (courtesy of Chelsea), and Friday calls for homemade pierogies + sauerkraut.

STAY TUNED & HAPPY COOKING!!!!