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!

 

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back to life, back to reality …

You’re welcome if you’ve got En Vogue stuck in your head now. Oh, you didn’t before but now you do? My job is done.

I’m finally back on track! I haven’t spent my usual $80-90 for a week’s worth of groceries in a LOOOOOONG time. That’s what the holiday’s will do to ya! My cooking routine is normal once again as well because as I tried to eat Kraft Man n’ Cheese on Sunday night, my tummy gave me a big “F YOU” and probably the middle finger. Proof that I need to stick to healthy eating.

I can’t believe that I used to be able to eat an entire box of mac n’ cheese; the other night I got through 1 bowl and felt so incredibly sick. I guess the rest of those boxes are going to the food bank. I had purchased a 12 pack at Sam’s Club BEFORE we found out about the Diabetes; I donated 6 to a food drive a few months ago but I held on to the rest for an emergency snack situation. The new emergency was how my stomach was feeling. HA!

This week has an amazing line up – Monday was a German inspired pork chop with a side of brown rice/mushrooms; last night we had feta/spinach sausages and a baked sweet potato.

You have to know by now that we love pork chops – they are so cheap! Buy them already butterflied to make cooking time faster, plus it’ll look like you’re eating a huge piece of meat when in fact you’re not.  Recall that saying “you eat with your eyes”? Totally true! Even my husband was shocked at how big the chops were and I informed him they were just butterflied … a healthy deception.

This recipe is simple but  you’ll need some time to slice everything, get out your mandolin to help.  For 2 people, I used half a large jar of sauerkraut, 1 apple, 1 medium onion, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/2 table of caraway seeds. We have a small storage containers worth left over but it is so good served cold, making extra is okay 🙂 .

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Those of you who follow a Diabetic diet would know apples are a huge no-no with the natural sugars they contain. Yes, if you eat an apple by itself your sugars will spike however mixing them with protein and other veggies, it ends up balancing out.  I went easy with the brown sugar because well, it’s sugar! I put just enough in to cut through the bitterness of the sauerkraut – my husband didn’t even taste the sugar which is what I was going for, he only noticed the sauerkraut wasn’t so’ sauer’ 😉 .

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Simple side dish, you don’t need a formal recipe to make this. Boil a small box of chicken stock and 1 cup of water – pour in rice (I used just over 1 cup … the rice absorbed the stock so quickly, which is what the extra water is for), let it cook for 5 minutes – add sliced mushrooms – bring back to a boil – now simmer/cover for 15ish minutes. Done. You’ll need salt … or any kind of seasoning you’d put on steamed veggies (lemon/herb … garlic salt … whatever!).

So yeah, that was Monday. Now on to last night.

A slight cheat… I bought prepackaged feta and spinach stuffed sausages, added a delish baked potato, and a fun ‘hint of spring’ salad.  No “real” cooking occurred but that’s okay, it’s still better than that drive through line!  For you grillers out there, yes the sausages should have been grilled but the wind was like a tornado and actually knocked ours over. Yes, very windy. So onto the stove they went.

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For the sweet potatoes (Again, you don’t need a formal recipe! Just start cooking!) – poke ’em with a fork, spread EVOO all over, cover in salt, and let sit.  OMG these were the BEST ones I’ve made! They sat the entire day, just soaking in the EVOO and salt. My husband was in charge of cooking these since he got home before me, so I had to include instructions. It’s the teacher side of me, I can’t help it. What teacher doesn’t love stickies?!

 

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The sausages took 20 minutes on the stove (put in a pan of water, submerging half of the sausage), cover and cook on medium/high. Easy. Okay the ‘hint of spring’ salad: orange wedges! That’s it 😉 I mean, yes to lettuce, sliced carrots, and cucumbers … but the simple addition of oranges was a nice treat. My husband and I split 1 orange as to not send him into a sugar coma (those are real, stop laughing! 😉 ). A different topping choice for the sweet potatoes was cinnamon honey pecan cream cheese. You put those things in a typical casserole right? Why not a baked potato? Shoot, it was so yummy! Of course I picked up ranch salad dressing from my new favorite brand, Bolthouse. I’ll be using it again tomorrow on a pizza. I actually don’t like ranch but this one was goooooooood.  It wasn’t sweet or thick because it doesn’t use buttermilk; yogurt is the base. Plus only 45 calories per serving.

And to continue the trend of my snooping dogs …. bingo: sausages were opened. They came running.

 

pork chops, steaks, and a ‘little nugget’

What happens when you forget to buy a primary ingredient for dinner? Improvise!  That was my Wednesday evening, as I’m prepping dinner I go the ‘dairy drawer’ in my fridge and frantically search for smoked gouda. NO WHERE TO BE FOUND and then it dawned on me, I forgot to buy it; womp womp womp.  No worries, I wouldn’t let that stop me from making some tasty stuffed pork chops. Yes, we had pork chops last week but they are inexpensive and a great source of protein, so why not. I had smoked gouda and spinach stuffed chops in mind but that quickly changed to …. caramelized onions and sauteed apples stuffed chops.  Even though apples are not wise for a diabetic to eat, we just remember “everything in moderation”.  Again, with the high protein in pork + a side salad of dark greens – apples wouldn’t actually do much to Josh’s sugar level.

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You can also see the instant “mashed” potatoes … I added a decent scoop of garlic to these and a large spoonful of sour cream.  I will say it again, there’s nothing wrong with buying these “cheat” items but do something with them, make them your own. Plain instant potatoes are kind of gross – a soggy lump of mush and lack flavor.  Adding butter alone is pretty standard, go a step further and think of toppings you’d put on a baked potato; dice them up and throw in the pot. Good to go!

P.S. is anyone else a fan of those mini corns? They were my favorite topping at a salad bar and I had no clue (until a few months ago) that you could find them in the canned veggie aisle. Want to make a boring salad interesting? Take the same approach as you would to those instant potatoes.  Olives, mini corn, dried cranberries, croutons, shredded carrots, grape tomatoes, diced red/green peppers, cucumbers … we mix up the toppings every month or so because salads can and will get dull!  Remember, go for the dark green lettuce for a healthier choice.  While iceburg lettuce looks the least like a ‘weed’ it doesn’t contain a lot of nutrients.  If it looks like you could have picked it from your backyard, that’s the bag you want to grab or get spinach; looks like a normal leaf and is really good for you.

We ended the week with steaks and sweet potatoes.  It was perfect grilling weather, 75 degrees… no complaints here for a mid-December evening! Our steaks get minimal cooking time, we’re talking 4 minutes on each side. I will not eat a steak if it doesn’t ‘moo’ on my plate 😉  The sweet potatoes took about an hour so plan accordingly.  Ain’t nothin’ simpler than that guys!

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I have graduated from dipping my steaks in Ketchup; my dad would be proud.  I can’t eat it completely naked even though we used some tasty seasoning; I reached for A1 instead. Please, hold your applause 🙂  Yes yes, a salad again. It’s the best side in my opinion; I like making them and Josh always requests one.  So that is usually our veggie helping.

Real quick before I sign off, it’s my little nugget’s 5th birthday this month. She’s so fat it’s appalling but we love her anyway. She eats healthy and gets exercise, we don’t indulge in doggy treats or human food either. It’s just who she is.

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I know you haven’t read much about my sous chefs lately … well with a bigger kitchen and two levels for the dogs to frolic, they don’t get in my way anymore.  They are at my feet when they hear me say ‘dinner’s ready’; they aren’t dumb… they come around hoping to trip me while I’m serving food.  Gotta love ’em!

easy like sunday morning

Not that I’m channeling my inner Lionel Richie but Sunday’s are pretty easy … make my coffee, find the cook books and websites for my weekly menu inspirations, and just sit back – let my thinking cap go to work.

In no particular order … mostly because I don’t know Josh’s work schedule yet … this is what the week has in store for us, well, food wise at least.

Automatically Monday:  Leftovers and Salad (I need to clear the fridge out so I can go grocery shopping!!)

Spaghetti Squash and Quinoa/Pork Meatballs
– will post the spaghetti squash with my ‘daily blog’

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches and Broccoli Bites
— Reference: “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’ ” & “Remember Playground Slides? Those Were the Days”

Tilapia Burgers and Baked Veggie Medley
— Store bought burgers; will post the veggie medley with my ‘daily blog’

Chicken Marsala and Eggplant Gratin

fat, dumb, and happy

Yesterday and today we are paying homage to comfort food, foods that remind us of home-home. Typically comfort foods are never the best choice when trying to maintain a healthy diet however there are ways to revamp them.  Look at Paula Deen, her sons are making a fortune with “not my mama’s meals“; genius … because normal people don’t need 3 sticks of butter to make a meal “delicious”.

Josh had his pick of cheeseburger pie, something we had attempted a few months back trying to make a healthier version … it was a failure.  Thankfully this time it turned out fantastic and Josh was mumbling “fat, dumb, and happy” each time he took a bite. So glad “third time’s the charm” didn’t apply, I would have been really bummed if dinner was a tragic event.

Original recipe and then our changes …

  • 1 1/2 lb ground beef (we used ground turkey)
  • 1 diced onion
  • S & P (we used hamburger seasoning… it is a cheeseburger after all!)
  • shredded cheese of choice (we used monterey jack & cheddar)
  • Bisquick (we used a whole wheat baking mix)
    – follow the pancake recipe (we did 11-12), fits perfectly in a 9 inch dish
    – if you want less of a “topping”, make less pancake mix
  • oven at 400; 40 minutes

Follow the pictures so you know what to do:
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Since I’d be teaching pretty much straight through the evening, we prepped everything in the morning & stored it in the fridge.  This way when I had my 2 hour window between lessons I could actually sit down and enjoy the meal 🙂 Prep took maybe 30 minutes, not bad! Yes, Josh helped … so once again he was allowed to eat 😉
– if prepping ahead of time: keep pancake mix in a separate bowl from ground meat until ready to cook … add it right before going in the oven.

So looking at the nutrition facts on regular Bisquick vs. whole wheat mix … it’s pretty equal, I see the biggest difference in the w.w. with less fat. Oh and I can actually pronounce all of the ingredients (in the w.w. mix); which we all know is always the better way to go.

**I made Josh eat a salad as well, to help counteract the carbs from the whole wheat mix … while the recipe itself wasn’t 100% diabetic friendly, you can add something like fresh veggies or a salad to make a balanced meal

Everyone in this house is having to learn a new way to eat. Geno is pissed at us because switched him to one of those bowls that is supposed to slow him down.  Needless to say he figured out an easier way to get his food … by flipping the bowl over. *face palm*
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TONIGHT: my turn! corn moussaka
 … we’ve been bad this week; I’ll plan some seafood dishes next week to make up for it!

And this little tomato got burnt, burnt, burnt…

Did the creator of this recipe want me to burn the little tomatoes?

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The original recipe instructs you to bake grape tomatoes for 35 minutes at 425 degrees… um, bake them to a crisp? YUMMY! Word to the wise, when using internet recipes, always read the reviews left by people who have tried it already. Usually 1 review is actually helpful but in this case, each person was fooled by the cooking instructions, burning the tomatoes and shallots… people went on to say that they still ate it! Gross. Only hotdogs are allowed to be burnt via the grill. Oh my gosh crispy hot dogs are the best.  I digress, I kept the cooking temperature but only put the tomatoes and shallots in for 12 minutes – voila, perfect.

CONTINUE!
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Simple set up for tomato ravioli … 8 ingredients; takes maybe 30 minutes to prep & cook everything.  I swapped out ravioli for tortellini; it was a better value for the price.  Stuffed pasta is stuffed pasta; I don’t care if I offended you with that statement. You’ll forget all about it once you see this picture, who can resist a “kiss the cook” opportunity from Sous Chef Geno?

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While the tomatoes and shallots were baking I started boiling the tortellini.  Figuring, ‘why not?!’ when dumping all the contents into the water, not thinking about the small pot I decided to use…  SH*T! It’s boiling over.
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I let it go down and moved the pot to another burner… the crooked burner. The water spilled over again. CRAP! How difficult is this?!

**BEEP BEEP BEEP** No, that’s not me cursing, that’s the alarm on my phone telling me it’s been 12 minutes, ha. Yes, I use my phone as a timer because the oven timer doesn’t work nor does the microwave.  The plastic yellow pepper timer that I thought would be cute also stopped working after a few uses. Hey, there are two more things I can add to my “awesome kitchen” list.

I’m hungry, let’s eat. CRAP! I almost forgot about the balsamic vinegar, it’s ok though… only needed to drizzle some on the tomatoes and shallots after baking.  I don’t know what it is about balsamic vinegar, but it tastes so good when mixed with pasta. Now you can top the tortellini with the tomatoes and shallots, mix together. Plus make that 9 ingredients.

Here’s the finished product … take a look at our formal dining set up.  We sure are fancy folk, drinking out of gallon water jugs.  Seriously, you can take the boy out of the boonies but you can’t take the boonies out of the boy.  I on the other hand prefer to drink out of our sweet “Higby” glasses, wedding present courtesy of Danielle. Bark Busters bag is kept near by in case the sous chefs decide to sneak a peak at dinner.

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As another attempt to be fancy, I made wedge salads to go along with dinner.  Maybe it’s just me but I used to think wedge salads were amaze-balls… the bees-knees… only found at expensive steak houses.  HA! What was I EVER thinking? It’s stupid $1.00 ice burg lettuce that steak houses sucker you in to paying $4.00 for. Man, what a rip off! I guess the blonde hair is taking its toll.

Some of you may be wondering what Josh did while I was preparing dinner…
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HOLD THE PHONE. Jason Grilli is on the cover of S.I.