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!

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Slowly introducing cool-weather comfort foods

Finally. It’s finally October however that doesn’t mean the weather is cooling down any 😦 We had an enjoyable weekend with windows open and the AC off… today it’s sticky-humid and 72 at 8:30am, a high of 90 is expected. Just when I wanted to start decorating for Halloween/Autumn the weather gods turn! I love heat and I love sun but I’d take a real fall before winter gets here – it’s supposed to be a doozie again this year. So with the tease of cooler temps I started to introduce new comfort foods to the weekly menu.

How about stuffing covered baked pork chops.Yes you read that right. Since stuffing is a no-no item with our new eating ways, I was missing it. I think it’s overlooked 99% of the year and then everyone goes crazy with it at Thanksgiving, it needs to be used more often and this is a great way to incorporate it throughout the year.
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Egg wash, flour, egg wash, coat in uncooked stuffing – seriously it’s that easy! Bake it and cover with yummy gravy (it’s absolutely needed or else you might chip a tooth on the stuffing, lol). Add some veggies (steam bag, cheat!) and instant mashed potatoes (added lots of shredded cheese, another cheat!). I’ll tell ya once again – if you have a “labor intensive” feature for dinner then opt for easy side items, in my case steam-in-a-bag veggies and instant potatoes. Use your own extras or seasonings to add some creativity and flavor. Although 2 pork chops took maybe 10 minutes to prep but dredging is messy which is why I picked easy side items.

Baked fish was on order as well this past week, I’ve made it once before – it’s a Rachael Ray recipe. Giving another nod to comfort foods I whipped up a mushroom & orzo dish, this one I’ve made 2 times before (1st time grand reveal at Christmas), the 2nd time I used whole wheat orzo and it was disgusting … the texture was not appreciated by myself or my husband, it was like cardboard! SOGGY CARDBOARD! I went for regular orzo this time and it was just as yummy as I remember the 1st time was. It’s a keeper.  I’ve also started using frozen pearl onions, do yourself a favor and copy me. Peeling a pearl onion is a pain in the neck x 12 (how many I originally used).

I had to turn it in to a casserole because I cooked it in the morning and reheated it for dinner.

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Who’s up for a 2 pot meal? EASY CLEAN UP!!! I heart the Pioneer Woman and her yummy creations. This recipe was on her show a few weeks ago when it was still 90 degrees and I was waiting for the right time to make this. Friday it was beginning to cool off and I knew the weekend would be nice as well; we always have leftover pasta so I wanted to enjoy it over the weekend too; anyway it was perfect! We got comfy on the couch with this piled high in a bowl, then there was silence. A sure bet that the meal is delish. Ok so back to the easiest dish ever; the pasta is cooked in 1 pot and the sauce/chicken/moz cheese goes into another. The cutest thing EVER at the grocery store were these mozzarella balls – you could either fight with the huge ball of moz and slice/dice it into small pieces to scatter around the sauce OR buy these lil fellas! Same price and none of the fuss. Yes of course it made plenty of leftovers which we enjoyed on Sunday, we needed a meal to comfort an embarrassing Steelers loss … while it didn’t make us feel any better about that game our stomachs were at least satisfied.

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At the beginning of last week since it was bea-u-tious and I figured to make a fun, tropical inspired steak. The sun was shining and screamed “MANGOES!”. I found the most amazingly juicy mango and was incredibly pleased with how much “meat” was on that sucker. I’ve finally figured out how to slice mangoes the right way, thanks to The Kitchen (TV show).

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Here it goes – I used the mango mixture on top of the rice and steak, 2 for 1 deal.  All it is, is mango/jalapeno/cilantro/lime juice. DONE.  While the rice cooked I tossed in cilantro and lime juice to boost the flavors.  Once plated I topped the rice with mango and same for the steak, add a side salad and it really looks like something you’d pay a good penny for at a restaurant. Hubby is home for dinner for the next few weeks due to a training class he’s in right now so he actually has “normal” work hours. I love it and am living in the moment each night we get to have dinner together – no planning what can be reheated and not turn in to rubber, it’s pretty fantastic.

I wonder if dogs like jalapeños …

Knives dropped: zero … wow, this is some accomplishment.  Actually it’s not, Josh had the dogs outside while he was cooking on the grill.  I know, I know! You must be thinking, Josh helped with dinner? Well this is how that magnificent miracle went down.
J- can I help with anything?
D- do you want to put the steaks on the grill?
J- what do you want?
D- do you want to make my blog?
J- YES
D- go start the grill
He always asks to help and I usually give him a dumb task such as getting out the griddle. It’s not that he can’t cook but he’s screwed up spaghetti. No, seriously.
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Back to tonight’s dinner… Grilled sirloin steak with mango & chile salad (coconut-ginger rice was to be a side but let’s be honest, I ain’t got time for that!). This was a super easy dish, took 25 minutes of prep, it should have been 15 but the damn mango was too ripe & was leaking EVERYWHERE. My counter turned into a mango juice pool… I almost lost a knife. Half way through mutilating the poor mango, I realized I should have peeled it, whatever, it turns out the same.
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So, chopped cilantro without slicing my fingers – I don’t have the best technique. I compare my chopping style to the “grandma bowler stance”… it’s awkward but gets the job done.
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Yes, that’s bottled lime juice, deal with it.  I hate buying limes because I forget about them, I can’t make that up! Now remember to cover the extra cilantro with a wet paper towel & store in a container… to the fridge it goes for another meal.  It can last for a week so freakin’ reuse it (read my 1 TBSP blog on July 16). Next I had to chop a jalapeño, I took the ribs & seeds out of my half and left Josh’s half in tact, he’s a freak & can handle any amount of spice. What’s that you say? The furry white and black thing at my feet? Oh, that’s Sous Chef Ella hard at work.  She got a taste of that pepper, serves her right. Let’s continue, almost time to get the steaks on the grill until Josh stops me, and I shit you not he asks me to measure his arms. Remember, he asked to help and managed to get side tracked with his muscles. Here’s how that went down: I’m in the middle of chopping carrots for a side salad and…..
J- where’s your measuring tape?
D- it’s on the other table
J- I want to measure my arms
D- ok
J- babe, measure my arms… well, when you get a chance. I want to see how big my arms have gotten
(he’s standing in the kitchen, holding the measuring tape out to me)
D- you realize I’m putting this in my blog too
J- no! Don’t do it! Actually good, because if April reads this she’ll appreciate it.
Sorry, no picture… but I did stop to measure his biceps and they are a gnarly 14 1/2 inches.  He’d want me to brag.

Image  Alright, dogs… uh, sous chefs are ready to approve of the steaks

Image Final product! Cut the steak AGAINST the grain after letting it rest for 5 minutes. Side dish: brown rice & cilantro (healthy option!), not everything has to be “fancy”. I typically aim for one homemade item each night, seriously who has time to make an entire meal including 2 side dishes + the entrée. HA.
You want the perfect steak? Salt & pepper each side, brush on some vegetable oil – good to go. 3 minutes on each side. NO MORE, NO LESS. Josh isn’t allowed to leave the grill once a steak goes down. P.S. if you don’t have a grill, the broiler should become your new bestie.  Really! Cook any meat on top of a greased cookie cooling rack (pan underneath covered in foil), BOOM… meats are juicy and takes maybe 5 minutes for steaks on “HI”. I love the broiler.

We had a side salad as well, I used the left over grape tomatoes and lettuce from yesterday’s dinner. Plan to use ingredients more than once.
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California BLT’s + zucchini/tomato/goat cheese wrap.