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.

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lesson learned

Tuesday: I had good intentions for a steak and sweep potato dinner. Those good intentions quickly went up in smoke. Literally.  I don’t know why I thought broiling everything was a brilliant idea. We have been holding out on refilling the (grill) propane tank with our move fast approaching.  We can move it ourselves but our new home has a gas line out to the patio so our thought process was ‘why pay for propane when we’ll be paying for a gas line to be installed’ … of course the close date has been pushed back 2x already. As I hang my head in shame, I managed to burn perfectly good steaks and sweet potatoes.

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Sure, the potatoes look ok – we scrapped the charred layer off which was almost impossible. I just had to add more spices before mixing them with the butter.  That steak photo was taken the 1st time they came out of the oven.  I cut in to my steak and it was more than moo-ing. Now, I love a medium rare steak but this was TOO RARE. Back in the oven they go … womp womp womp.  Josh noticed smoke billowing from the oven door and barely saved the steaks. They weren’t completely burned but they had gone past the medium rare state. Ugh. The smoke was due to the juices from the steak I cut in to.  It’s fair to say, if something it supposed to be grilled … DO IT. Go refill your propane tank and cook things properly. Lesson learned.

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Fortunately the other dinners for the week turned out GREAT.

Monday: Kielbasa & glazed carrots

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Due to the diabetes in our house, I used ‘fake’ butter and Stevia instead of real sugar.

Sass up your salad: add craisins, croutons, and blue cheese crumbles (left over from my Carl’s Jr creation!)

Saturday: make your own chicken tenders, sweet p fries, and sweet corn/pepper combo

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Tenders & fries are free foods for Josh so I picked up this new frozen corn product (corn: bad food!). It was actually pretty good; the peppers added a fresh flavor to cut through the sweet corn.

There’s nothing wrong with purchasing frozen. If it’s what you have time for, some type of veggie is better than none at all.  If you’re health conscious, check the back label to make sure the product fits into your lifestyle.  I’m not buying the cheese covered broccoli anymore or slimy sauce covered noddles (sorry Lipton… we used to be BFF’s!); that’s the nasty stuff.  There are diabetics out there that will continue to eat those things and just take more insulin to compensate. WRONG. 1 small spoonful is all Josh could eat of those Lipton noodles. Who eats 1 spoonful of them? They’re addictive!   Just change your diet, it’s so much easier to cook “healthy” than have to calculate how many units of insulin you’ll need to cancel out the sugars.

murder she wrote

OPA! My inspiration: Greek food. Prepping everything took 30 minutes… 1 entrée and 1 side dish; add on grilling the flank steak, 6 more minutes. Can it get any easier than that? Of course it can! If my sous chefs would actually help everything would have been done in 15 minutes. I tripped on sous chef Geno at least 10 times and then the stupid step stool jumped out in front of me twice.  Maybe Geno moved it on purpose hoping I would trip and drop some tasty food for him to inspect.

Really though, this is the easiest meal to put together. Even better, the recipes called for repeat ingredients which allowed me to set up a buffet station, more counter space for me!

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Josh was the grill master once again but I almost had to turn to my bestie, the broiler. We thought the propane had run out but thankfully he was able to get the grill going.  As usual, the dogs went nuts outside and ran “mad dog” the entire time.  Needless to say, sous chef Ella was pooped after playing with the big boys!

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After I finished prepping the 2 dishes there was enough time for a dance party. With an apron like this… we’re never too serious.
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I was super pumped for this meal, Josh was mostly excited about the feta cheese. We actually fought for a piece that dropped on the counter. I won and became “the meanest person ever”… mind you, the open container was sitting about 5 inches away. HA!  The cucumber salad was amazing, I think it’s my new vegetable obsession.  The recipe called for English cucumber but regular cucumbers will work if you peel them first and they’re cheaper, MUCH CHEAPER. I used 2 regular cucumbers since they’re a bit smaller.

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Overall, dinner was a hit – a few minor adjustments were realized on our end though.  The flank steak needed to be cooked longer, maybe 5 minutes on each side to MEDIUM.  If we were cooking normal steaks we prefer them “moo-ing”.  The flank steak was hard to chew through since it was still pretty rare.  With our attempt to be healthy I opted for multi grain pitas but they fell apart as soon I tried to open the pocket. They continued to break in pieces while loading the toppings too.  The pita’s were P.I.T.A’s. Someone needs to come up with better quality “healthy” bread, it’s so frustrating.

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The night ended with an easy clean up. Even our sponge was happy about it (the yellow smiley face guy… not the depressed “used to be pink” sponge).  I take that back, almost easy clean up… after the steak sat while we ate, the blood pooled under the cutting board. Gross, it looked like a murder scene.  Josh suggested we call Dexter and have him analyze it. As I wiped up the mess, in unison we started singing “murder she wrote“. Freaks? No, 100% mind readers.
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I can’t promise any “gourmet” meals over the weekend… even the best of us need to take time off.  Next week however, I can not wait for! My friend Kathy is bribing me to watch Miss E by sending me home with prepared dinners. I’d be crazy to pass up a chicken that will be marinating for 3 days. She knows I’d watch Miss E even if she offered PB&J, that kid is freakin’ cute.

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.