flip it, change it … rearrange it.

I caved. I put up all of my Halloween decorations. Plus fall decorations (minus a few Turkey’s; one holiday at a time THANK YOU).  The last Halloween I decorated for was 3 years ago, in 2012 we had our wedding and then moved, again in 2013 we were packing to move into our new house… so yeah. With that being said some of the items have seen better days, candles melted, things were beyond squished, and I couldn’t figure out a few other things, lol! So I guess when things are looking a little sad it’s time to find new decorations to replace them.  It’s good to update what you already own, kind of like food…

Look at what you’re eating and see if there’s a way to revamp it; cut out food that doesn’t look fresh, bring in colorful veggies, or buy 1 beginner cookbook and make a promise to try a few new recipes. Trying something new for the first time can be scary but the outcome becomes better and better each time, you have to start somewhere.

That was my experiment for the last few days, I took known favorites and did something new with them.

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We often have fish and pork chops so those were at the top of my list to have a make over.  For the fish I used a lemon vinaigrette recipe but changed one of the sides by using cabbage instead of radicchio. I wasn’t sure how it’d turn out but it was sooooo good! The sauce was so flavorful; it made the cabbage/bean side edible (we know those 2 items have ZERO flavor). The fish was lightly coated in flour and quickly pan cooked to create a slight crust then I finished it in the oven at a low temp. for maybe 15 minutes. We needed a starch and I had a bag of baby red potatoes, whipped up an easy version of rusty mashed potatoes. I quartered the potatoes, placed them in a bowl filled with water (covering the potatoes), and microwaved them for 15 minutes while the fish baked.  I then gave them a rough mash, added garlic powder and cheese, done! Oh, also milk and sour cream to help with the mashing.

On to the pork chops where I used a Trisha Yearwood recipe. The cut of chops were awful and made it quite difficult to make them pretty. I didn’t have thick chops but usually with the thin cut I can put “stuffing” in the middle and wrap the meat around, securing with a tooth pick.  This meat was paper thin and tearing from every way possible.  I made it work somehow and it turned out okay. I didn’t have any sides in mind so I scanned my pantry and grabbed hese tomato-basil noodles, given to us from a friend (the house we watched over), then over to my fridge which had leftover veggies.

Classic ingredients made over; it was rough trying something new but in the end I’m glad that I did because next time I know what to do and not to do – you learn each time you cook!

I made a special breakfast on Sunday … my husband surprised me with breakfast last weekend at a yummy cafe so I surprised him this past weekend. I’ve made a frittata once before and we loved it so here’s another one! I used the foundation of one that the Pioneer Woman cooked, changing some ingredients.  Really though, you can use whatever you want in one of these! I used: canned/pre diced potatoes (this is a Sunday morning we’re talking about, ain’t no one got time for dicing!), canned mushrooms (read previous statement about dicing), onions (I cut those myself, thank you), and red peppers (from a jar too). I added cheese, LOTS OF CHEESE – parm & cheddar. I had to up the cooking time to 45 minutes, the eggs were not setting like I had hoped, no biggie though.

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I guess this could be one of our favorite dishes too, spaghetti and meatballs. I took my world famous meatball recipe (as in, famous in this house) and added shredded parm cheese … soooo good.  Just remember that with parm cheese you don’t have to add a lot of salty, it’s a very salty cheese.

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THESE WERE FUN! Spaghetti squash burrito bowls. AWESOME-SAUCE!  The blog post where I got the recipe from was lacking some instructions but I figured it all out.  Bake the squash ‘meat’ side down on a lined baking sheet – 425 for 45 minutes, the ‘meat’ will scoop right out, no effort needed. Use whatever veggies you might order at say, Chipotle or Freebirds, and boom, done! I used canned corn, canned black beans, 2 green bell peppers, 1 red bell pepper, 1/2 red onion diced, cilantro, fajita seasoning, cheese, sour cream, and salsa.  Layer everything like a lasagna in the squash shell: cheese, veggies, squash, cheese, veggies, squash, more cheese, salsa & sour cream. We each went back for 2 helpings – it didn’t leave us feeling gross but we were definitely full. I’d suggest 1 squash per person, you serve the burrito bowl in one of the halves. This recipe is staying in rotation. LOVE!

Go find “old” recipes and brainstorm how you can make them over. Add a new sauce or try to make a meat dish into a vegetarian dish (swap a steak for shrimp), even if it’s 1 ingredient that you change (I added parm cheese to my meatballs, they tasted new to us!) it can make a big difference. Don’t be afraid to change up your routine.

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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.

Halloween decorations > Halloween candy

With it officially being fall I’m debating when to bust out my 5 storage tubs of Autumn/Halloween/Thanksgiving decorations. It is cooling off maybe 1 degree less each day but it’s still hard to think Halloween is a month-ish away with 90 degree days going strong. With Halloween around the corner we have to stock up on candy and be more prepared than last year. We ran out of 3 bags with in an hour or so! Lots of kids … but that was in our old neighborhood, I don’t know many kids we’ll get this year being in a new neighborhood where only 1/2 of the houses are completed. I know we’re a healthy house now but there’s no way I can’t pass out yummy, sugary goodness… we all have a guilty pleasure. I like passing out candy and seeing all of the kids in hopefully creative costumes, they get 2 pieces of candy and the teenagers who put on a mask get 1. Yes, I have a ranking system. If the costume is amazingly over the top they get 3 (a rare occurrence). I just wish candy isn’t so expensive – 3 bags of the good stuff costs about 1/2 of what my weekly trips are! Proves that eating right is better for your wallet – cut out the candy and save mega bucks. I always prefer decorating over buying candy; decorations can be recycled.

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On to our meals for the past few days …

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Who doesn’t love a casserole? 😉 I know, most of you cringe at the word but c’mon they make dinner easy and this one is a throwback to one my mother would cook up. I posted this picture on Instagram and a rude lady commented that she’d NEVER make this … her username was “diva” something or another, go figure. Well lady, just la-ti-da for you – I’m sorry that you’re missing out on the best casseroles ever and don’t know how to enjoy the simpler things in life. YOUR LOSS!

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I’ve made these once before and they were just as tasty. Gotta love a good Philly cheesesteak that you can make in your own kitchen, especially here in Texas.  I’ve heard of one restaurant that supposedly makes bomb.com cheesesteaks but it’s a 45-60 min. drive … yeah, I’ll keep to my kitchen.

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Y’all are gonna think I’m crazy, I’ve never done this before and I regret it so hard! I don’t really care for “naked” drum sticks (no bbq sauce) but I put a small blob of butter under the skin and the chicken turned out so juicy! I also doubled up on seasoning, under the skin and around the entire drum stick. I let them marinate for the day and they turned out great. I’m seriously doing this EVERY TIME from NOW ON. Bake for an hour at 350-375.

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This was a new recipe from the diabetic magazine I told you about in my last post.  Maple-mustard turkey thighs with tiny potatoes. Cook on low for 6-7 hours, or high for 3-3 1/2 hours.  You’ll need to spoon the leftover sauce over your plate once it’s all served up; the inner turkey thigh was a little dry and could have used a bit of the sauce. It was yummy and my house smelled amazing!

1 lbs tiny new potatoes (quartered)
4 turkey thighs (2-2 1/2 lbs total), skin removed –> BTW it was super easy to remove the skin with a paring knife
1/3 cup grainy brown mustard
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp quick cooking tapioca

1. Place potatoes at the bottom of the slow cooker. Arrange turkey thighs on top.
2. In a small bowl stir mustard, syrup, and tapioca.  Pour mixture over turkey.
3. Cover and cook on low for 6-7 hrs or high for 3-3 1/2 hrs.

Serve turkey & potatoes topped with the maple/mustard sauce.

I ran out of ketchup.

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My parents would be shocked.

I was saddened by the discovery.

My husband just laughed.

At 3:30pm yesterday I realized I didn’t have enough ketchup to make a bbq sauce; I didn’t even have enough to make 1/2 of the recipe. I had maybe 2 TBSP of ketchup remaining and that surely wasn’t going to cut it. There was a day when my mother always had a back up bottle in the pantry because I literally drank ketchup.  I too began stock piling ketchup, buying the mega 4 pack at Sam’s however as of lately with all of my new cooking adventures, I find myself using less and less of this fabulous condiment. I mean, to give you an idea of my ketchup addiction: I wouldn’t even touch a steak without ketchup – I don’t care if I was at home or at a 4 star restaurant. I could give a hoot about the eye rolls in my direction. I LOVE KETCHUP. My favorite dinner is chicken nuggets with too much ketchup for every bite.

You know you’re obsessed when:
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This is the first time I’ve ever run out of ketchup and I’m sure it’ll happen again but it made me stop and think – I hardly buy ketchup anymore, it’s not on my weekly shopping list anymore… maybe monthly if that. Wow, what a difference a year makes. Yes, in 1 year I’ve almost kicked my addiction of ketchup. I still use it but as sauce bases or for the obvious hot dog dinner.

I digress; hubby picked up an emergency bottle on the way home from work and dinner continued.
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burger recipe here                                                                       green bean salad recipe here

A ‘montage’ of pictures for the last 2 weeks of meals …
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slow cooker ribs                                                       meatball subs – leftover from a spaghetti & meatball night 😉

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mac n’ cheese & pork chops w/ caramelized onions/apples               slow cooker stuffed peppers

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potato salad (Martha, you disappointed me… this was not very good; from her “Great Food Fast” book)

IMG_6521 PIZZA NIGHT! No recipe… just used my imagination 🙂

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stuffed portobello caps (George Foreman recipe)                                pork chops … try this yummy marinade
goat cheese, evoo, black pepper, pesto, & I added tomatoes

food is essential to life: make it good

I actually remembered to plan a meatless meal for tonight! BOOM!

With my new cooking adventures I think it’ll be easier for me to come up with vegetarian meals each week. In years past I would buy boxed fish sticks and whip up some mac n’ cheese. Every Friday this was my dinner! I may as well have gone to McD’s and picked up their fish sandwiches (God I love those things, don’t get me wrong – there is something about them that are addicting! I would LOOOOOVE to go for one of those now but I know better). Lenten meals don’t have to consist of seafood though, not everyone likes fish or shrimp. So I’ll give you tonight’s dinner.

Grilled cheese & sweet potato fries. Simple!  We’re not talking plain old Kraft slices either. I picked up smoke provolone, an avocado, and I’ll saute red onions – stack it up on some sourdough bread. I’m making homemade fries too – 1 potato per person, slice them up, and sprinkle smoked paprika – bake and eat. That sounds DELISH!!! I’ll let you know how it turns out!

I’ll do a picture show of the last few nights of meals (in no particular order). Chicken sliders inspired by Ree Drummond, remember that you can change recipes – the recipe police will not come after you! This also shouldn’t stop you from making something that looks good; if an ingredient doesn’t seem necessary to the overall flavor then it’s okay to omit.

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Another Pioneer Woman recipe, this one I followed to the T. There wasn’t anything you could leave out. When you open the link it will say quick and easy – so true, it was ready in under 20 minutes. The only thing that wasn’t quick and easy, opening the darn pasta box. SERIOUSLY! “Tear here” is a bunch of BS.

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I forgot to include the picture of me food processing the red peppers but that is an important step. Look at Ree’s instructions, she gives step by step pictures – love her blog!

Next in the line up braised short ribs. A bit pricey but this isn’t something we will make on a regular basis; it was actually my first time cooking short ribs. I found this on the Food Network’s website from Claire Robinson’s 5 ingredient fix. The only thing I changed was the cooking time… I did it low and slow – 300 for 6 hours! Do it and you’ll thank me later.

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I had planned root veggies as a side however the tax office took waaaaaay longer than expected. So I didn’t have time to put them in the oven and had to bust out the insty mashed potatoes. No biggie. As I pulled the meat out of the pot, the bones fell off – yepp, I knew this was a good plan 🙂 This could easily be a slow cooker meal but you’ll still have to brown the meat before, it’s crucial to keep the juices inside the meat.

Oh yes, on the disaster that was brinner. It was a huge hit the first time around, I had to plan a second one… except it actually became a real breakfast. I didn’t feel like cooking that night and since we were both home the next day for breakfast, why not make a proper meal to start our day.

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Seriously, Pinterest… you can really suck sometimes. My cute idea quickly changed to scrambled eggs with chopped green peppers. That is where Josh stepped in, he makes THE BEST scrambled eggs; McLane agrees.  Want to make your waffles stand out? I added cinnamon, so yummy.  We needed protein so I cooked JD’s sausage patties. There’s an easy meal!

The final dish: mahi mahi with a mango salsa. I used the root veggies that were skipped from the night before, didn’t want them going bad and having to toss. The marinade that I found for the fish was s0-s0, I think I just needed to have more liquid but the fish was covered … maybe it was the marinade. I won’t even post it. It wasn’t bad, it was just lacking flavor.

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That’s it! I know it’s a lot but now you have no reason to be uninspired. So many meals to choose from 🙂 Pick your weapon!

 

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!!!!