Archive | May, 2017

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Make it a burger bar!

31 May

I was inspired by this new cookbook that had come in a fundraiser order.

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

We are in the home stretch. We have just 17 more days of school for our middle school kids and 15 for our high school kid and then we get a nice, long summer break.

We can’t wait. The days of no schedules, no homework and no pressure are just weeks away.

This past weekend was Memorial Day weekend. I spent a good portion of my Thursday and Friday honoring those who lost their lives in service to our country as I covered various ceremonies and events over the two days’ time. As the latter part of the weekend loomed near, I had to begin to focus on a menu of sorts for a Sunday evening get- together that was taking place at our house. It’s a regular get-together that we do several times a year with the same group of people, and this time it was our turn to host.

I was looking for something different or unique to do for our portion of the meal, which included the main dish and one dessert. We tossed around some ideas. There were going to be about 12 of us eating, and we wanted to keep the meal budget-friendly as well as schedule-friendly, something that didn’t take all day to prepare and cook. Everything we had thought of, we had done before or seemed too unexciting for what my mind was reaching for. Although I didn’t know what I wanted to serve, I seemed to know plenty of what I didn’t want to serve.

Suddenly, one afternoon, my eye caught on a pile of items that had arrived from my daughter Caroline’s high school fundraiser. Two of the items specifically called out to me: a burger stuffing tool and a gourmet burger cookbook. I knew we couldn’t use the new tool to sit and stuff a dozen people’s burgers individually and uniquely, but as I flipped through the cookbook and saw all the yummy different types of burgers and toppings, I came up with an idea: a burger bar.

We are fans of the taco bar, the baked potato bar, we’ve done a crepe buffet, and we often do DIY chicken and make-your-own pizzas, so why not set up a burger bar so everyone can have some fun, not-your-average burgers?! I thought it was a fabulous idea, and it checked off my boxes of being budget-friendly and schedule-friendly too. As it turns out, since there is a national day for everything, Sunday ended up being National Hamburger Day.
Even better.

When I ran it by the rest of my family, it got a thumbs up, so I made my list of toppings and condiments that I’d want to have available so that people could customize their burgers.

What would be at your burger bar? This was ours.

We had several kinds of cheeses: American, Provolone and Swiss. I added Bleu Cheese to the list.

We put out several condiments: relish, ketchup, mustard, mayo, and I added in BBQ sauce as well.

Next up, some fun items: French’s onions (similar to the onion straws I love at Smashburger and at Texas Roadhouse restaurants), avocado, red onion, sauteed mushrooms, bacon (Who doesn’t love bacon?? There wasn’t a crumb left.) Sliced lettuce and tomato topped the list, and we were ready to roll.

Just one of the burgers created this past weekend at our burger bar. Creation by: Liz.

People got in line, got their rolls, chose the burger with their favorite cheese and made their way down through their choices. On mine, I had bacon, French’s Onions, tomato, and mushrooms. Everyone’s burger was different.

It was a lot of fun and I’d do it again this way. It made a typical meal less than typical and let everyone have what they wanted to have, and maybe try something they didn’t know they wanted to have.

There were a couple of outliers…they had hotdogs. We aim to please.

That same day, we tried out two other new recipes which I will be sharing with you in my next couple of posts, but for now, I’d like to know, what would you put on the list for your own burger bar?

Leave a comment and let me know! What did I miss?

Fun Friday: Summer is here!

26 May

Ready to plan your summer?

Well, not officially, but it’s Memorial Day weekend, and that often signifies the un-official start of summer, while seasonally it doesn’t officially start until mid-June. Today, I wanted to share two exciting links with you from my work with The Providence Journal, which will help you plan your summer adventures, if you are local to Rhode Island, most especially your eating adventures.

The Providence Journal published its annual Summer Guide last weekend, providing readers with nearly 100 pages of summertime fun. I was asked to be a contributor to the guide, providing readers with a comprehensive roundup of great places to eat during the summer months and great food festivals to visit all summer long.

To create my lists of places to eat and festivals to visit, I polled my social media community. I asked them where they like to eat, and what their favorite festivals are each summer. I was amazed by the answers. My family and I tend to be creatures of habit, and we often visit our same favorites over and over again, forgetting that our littlest state packs quite a punch when it comes to delectable meals. I found myself saying, “We’ll have to remember this place, and that one, and that one….next time we want to eat out.”

And so, here are my two pieces for you so that as you sit down and with your calendar to plan out some summer fun, you have a place to start.

You too, might find a new place to eat that you never knew about!

To see the roundup of Rhode Islanders’ Favorite Restaurants, visit the link here.

To find some great new food festivals to visit (Swedish Meatballs anyone?) visit the link here.

Foodie festivals for everyone’s tastes and budgets!

And finally, to read the entire guide, visit this link here. You can find the best beaches, historic homes, fairs and more, to fill your summer months with fun and adventure.

Budget-friendly camping tips from The Penny Hoarder

24 May

Camping on a budget can make you a very happy camper!

It’s the end of May, Memorial Day weekend is just days away. I can almost taste the summertime…if it would just stop raining! We had some hot, 100 degree days last week, and the flip flops and tank tops were out, the sun shining, kids playing in the yard, I could see the lazy days of summer just ahead.

If summertime includes camping for you, as it does for us, you’ll be happy to read the most recent post from The Penny Hoarder’s site, “Get the Vacation You’ve Been Craving on a Budget: Go Camping.” The post contains six tips for budget-friendly travel through camping.

If you’ve been a fan of The Whole Bag of Chips recently, then you know that we purchased a new-to-us camper in 2015 and used it to travel in a budget-friendly manner over the past couple of years, touring the country in 2015 and touring NYC this past spring. We also traveled to Mystic, CT and to Meredith, NH as well as hanging out by the beaches here in the Ocean State in 2015, 2016 and again this coming summer in 2017. Having our own camper is thousands of dollars cheaper than renting a beach house in New England for a week every summer.

I was so thrilled when Lisa Rowan, writer for The Penny Hoarder, reached out to me for some tips to include in their camping post. The only thing that makes me happier than being able to do things because of the fact that we budget, is to be able to help others achieve their own goals by doing things on a budget as well. Stretching a dollar has helped us to achieve so many things, including all of the recent travel that we’ve been doing.

So if you are wishing you could do more traveling, but just don’t have the means, be sure to read the above post, or check out my travel pages #crosscountryadventure2015 and #thecowartstakemanhattan2017 for some tips and tricks for traveling and camping on a budget.

Fun Friday: “The Cowarts take Manhattan” and what was for dinner

5 May

April was incredibly busy, and here is the rest of why!

Last week in my What’s for Dinner Wednesday post, I promised you that I would share more of what had been keeping me from posting recently and I also promised you some weekly meal inspiration with a twist. Today’s Fun Friday post is all of those things wrapped in one.

As you’ll see in this week’s Cranston Herald feature article, we took a whirlwind trip to New York City and the surrounding areas, including Jersey City, Hoboken and Brooklyn, just to name a few. It started out as a college tours trip primarily, but because we had never taken any of the kids to NYC, and because they all wanted to visit so badly, we decided to try to make it a mini family vacation, on the cheap rather than one adult taking one child to New York and everyone else staying home.

Super cheap.

We accomplished that goal by using our camper, although very early in the camping season, and despite the fact that we wouldn’t have a ton of time for prepping for the trip due to work obligations and the Easter weekend. One of the ways that we made it work was by eating many of our meals in and only eating a few special things out, as we visited the city. We had extra money and we could’ve spent it all on eating out, but we didn’t want to. We opted instead to choose a couple of extra-special eating adventures and to choose a couple of extra-special sightseeing adventures too, giving ourselves the best of both worlds.

Our camper has a full kitchen with a microwave, oven and stove as well as a refrigerator, freezer and pantry. Therefore, we could plan meals as extensive or as simple as we wished. We decided to go simple. We knew we’d be out a great deal of the time and the last thing we wanted to do was come home and spend an hour and a half cooking. We also knew that simple meant cheap, and if our meals were inexpensive, that was more money we could throw into our travel budget from our normal grocery budget.

Because the weekend before the trip was Easter (an expensive, busy weekend in itself), we did have some leeway in our meals leading up to the trip and we were not eating at home on Easter Sunday. Therefore, my list of meals starts with Monday, the first night we arrived at Liberty Harbor RV Park and Marina. Here’s what we ate while we were away:

TWO WEEKS OF MEALS

Monday: Quesadillas (extras became lunch the next day) with Spanish rice and corn. We also had chips and salsa for appetizers when we arrived because it had been a five hour ride and we’d eaten lunch in the car earlier in the day.

Tuesday: Chicken burgers and hot dogs, fresh sugar snap peas, sauteed.

Wednesday: Macaroni with Chicken Parmesan, (chicken cooked in the cast iron skillet). Today we also used some of our spending money to have treats at Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, the original bake shop featured on the TV show, “Cake Boss.”

Breakfast on Wednesday morning: Carlo’s Bakery sweet treats

 

Very inexpensive, delicious and a fun end to our trip to NYC!

Thursday: We opted to eat out that night, experiencing NY Style Pizza, $1 a slice, in Times Square at 2 Bros. Pizza. DELICIOUS.

Friday: We were home again by Friday night and we had French Toast for dinner. Breakfast for dinner is fast and easy and a good meal to make when you get home. It was a breakfast option we never used on the trip so we had all the ingredients ready to go.

For the second week of our two week cycle, we tried to choose meals that were still inexpensive and that used some things we had at home already

Saturday: Homemade chicken and rice soup (perfect for what ended up being a cold, rainy, raw day)

Sunday: Pork Chops and homemade applesauce (I brought applesauce to dinner on Easter Sunday, so I made a triple batch that day, freezing one batch for our trip. We never used that meal on the trip, so we had it Sunday night instead.)

Monday: Zucchini shrimp Scampi (recently featured in this blog post)

Tuesday: Taco Bake (recipe here)

Wednesday: Chicken, Broccoli and Pasta

Thursday: Leftovers

Friday: Pizza