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Meal Inspiration: Where do you find yours?

16 Jan

This salad wasn’t even on our radar until I saw a similar one pictured in a magazine.

Do you ever find you’re stuck in a meal-planning rut? I know that I easily tire of planning “the same old thing” week after week, and we try to mix it up every two-week meal menu. Therefore, I’m always looking for inspiration for our menus. We love cooking, we love eating and we love trying new things all the time.

Recently, I was thumbing through an issue of the Gluten-Free Living Magazine that had come in over the vacation week or sometime in that mad rush of weeks and I came across an advertisement for their newsletter.

It wasn’t the idea of the newsletter that struck me, however, but more so the salad pictured on the page in front of me. We love a good salad at our house and often times we will schedule a grilled chicken Caesar salad or a taco salad as one of our meals. Recently though, we’ve been loving fresh spinach, so when I saw it pictured in the advertisement, I stopped and paid attention.

I quickly ripped this ad out of the magazine and started to plan our next meal.

I am definitely a person who is drawn to food photos and videos, and I get a lot of my inspiration in this way. I took a long look at the salad in the picture, checked out what was in it and then made a note at the top of the page of the ingredients and what else we could add to it to make it even better and more to our family’s liking. When I showed the page to my family four out of five of us thought it looked great, so we planned it for a night the fifth one of us was not going to be home.

The original ingredients were spinach, craisins, pomegranate seeds, crumbled cheese, quinoa, and nuts. To that list, I also added in grilled chicken and crumbled bacon. During our most recent shopping trip we bought it all and on Monday night we laid it all out in a make-your-own salad bar style.

Initially, we forgot to put the quinoa out, but when I pulled out the original magazine photo to compare pictures, I quickly realized it and we added it in after the photos had been taken.

The good thing about this meal besides the flavor and the fact that it’s a healthy choice is that it was fast and had a simple cleanup. The nuts were pre-crumbled, the chicken was Perdue Shortcuts, and the bacon was pre-cooked. Quinoa is easy to cook and I cooked it ahead of time that afternoon so it could chill. The hardest thing was cutting and seeding the pomegranate, and although I know that they come already done for you, the store we were at didn’t have them that way at the time we were there, so we grabbed a whole one and enjoyed figuring that process out. Otherwise, it was quick and easy. There were almost no leftovers and everyone had two bowls. For dressings, we put out a bottle of Panera Fuji Apple that my parents recently introduced us to and which is gluten and dairy free, and a Balsamic Vinaigrette which is also gluten and dairy free. I had the apple, but either would have been good.

This was a completely different salad than what we normally would’ve thought of on our own, and we all raved about it. We’d definitely make it again and it’ll be a staple in our menu cycles going forward. It looked pretty, tasted great and cleaned up well. All in all, a successful meal.

Spinach salad has quickly become a favorite of ours.

 

New year, new two-week menu, new recipes, new kitchen toys

9 Jan

One of many new recipes we’ve tried recently

Happy New Year!

It’s suddenly January.

The holidays have passed, the vacation week off of school is over, and we’re suddenly back at it. School and work are back to their regularly scheduled programming, with the exception of our college kid, who still has a couple more weeks of vacation.

The month of December was like Cookie Central on the blog, as it always is. It was Cookie Central in my kitchen too, and I was so pleased with the results. I had been apprehensive about trying some of our favorite recipes as both gluten and dairy free this year, but I have to say that all went well and the recipes went off without a hitch. I was able to pull them all off with the exception of just one. Next year I’ll be able to do them all, as I’ll have a year to solve this year’s minor issue.

One of two new kitchen toys we have been playing with since the holidays: an air fryer

Now that we’re done with cookies and my jobs are back to their normal pace for a couple of months, I’m looking forward to sharing some new dinner recipes on the blog. Even though I haven’t been sharing them, we’ve been trying them. We also have two new kitchen toys: an air fryer and a new Belgian Waffle maker. The waffle maker was done out of necessity when our old one broke during dinner prep one evening and the air fryer was a gift from my husband to me. I have wanted one since they’ve been all the hype over the past year.

As my New Year’s gift to you, today’s post will contain a Two Weeks of Meals list for you as well as the link to the new recipe we tried, which is pictured above for Creamy Steak Alfredo. We actually made two versions of the recipe at once, in order to accommodate allergies, which we don’t often do. I’ll explain that part later and show the second version then as well.

TWO WEEKS OF MEALS (Because of the holidays, this two weeks of meals is not a full two weeks. We had a couple of meals out, so I started with New Year’s day as our first day.)

Chicken and Waffles: This is a new recipe we made on New Year’s day. We fried the chicken in the air fryer and used the new waffle maker for the waffles. Our plan was to use our old waffle maker until it was broken when it came time for dinner. I will share our air fryer and waffle maker adventures in future posts.

Chourico and Peppers: This is a spicy Portuguese sausage recipe cooked in a tomato sauce with peppers. My husband’s recipe is similar to this recipe.

Zucchini Shrimp Scampi: This is a favorite recipe of ours and you can find it here.

Soup and sandwiches: We had this on a Friday night and had a homemade chicken and rice soup and grilled tuna and cheese sandwiches.

Steak and Chicken Fajitas: We use our cast iron skillet to make these and they’re delicious. We don’t use a specific recipe but they’re similar to this one. We also use a homemade fajita spice mix.

Meatloaf: I love this Weight Watchers recipe and I’ve been craving it. Now that we have had it, my craving has been satisfied for a while.

This was our allergy-friendly version of the new Alfredo pasta recipe also shown above. It was completely gluten and dairy free and she opted for no steak.

Creamy Steak Fettucini: I saw this recipe go by on my social media feed and emailed the link to myself so that we could try it. We actually used almond milk and bow tie pasta for our version above, but we had to make a smaller version that used dairy-free Parmesan cheese, almond milk, and gluten-free spaghetti. This recipe got a thumbs up from all five of us. It was very tasty and we’d most definitely make it again. We used fresh spinach and I did try putting a little bit of Balsamic Glaze on mine as was suggested in the recipe, and it was delicious.

Burritos: This is a quick and easy meal for us for a busy night.

Chicken Marsala: Another favorite meal of ours that can be served over pasta, over rice, or over mashed potatoes.

Chicken, Broccoli, Cauliflower Casserole: I am going to be preparing this meal using a new dairy-free sauce recipe instead of cheese. I’ll keep you posted.

Hot Dogs, Hamburgers: This is a Friday night meal for us and not my favorite, so we’ve planned it for a night that I’ll be out.

Enjoy the rest of your week and be on the lookout for some new recipes I’ll be sharing soon!

What’s for dinner Wednesday: two weeks of meals and a new recipe

3 Oct

Tis’ the season!

As they say… Happy Fall Y’all!

It’s fall in New England and that means two things: apples and pumpkins. We’ve been doing the apple thing in September, saving the pumpkins for October. Therefore, today’s post will be all apple, all day long.

It’s been a while since I posted a two-week menu, so I thought I’d do that today as well as share a new recipe that we tried and liked, apple-related, of course.

Where I have them, I have included the links to the recipes I have shared before so that hopefully makes it easier for you.

When you come home with so many apples, it’s time to get cooking.

TWO WEEKS OF MEALS

Sunday: Shepherd’s Pie (Although we’ve been having this for years with the recipe I’ve linked here, we now make it a new way, courtesy of a trip last spring to visit my mother in-law, MaryLou. Our meat now contains both creamed corn and cut green beans and has tomato sauce mixed in. We also took the cheese out of the mashed potatoes on top, since we can’t all eat it. This new recipe is a little bit healthier and it combines the recipes of both our mothers. It has been a hit with our whole family.)

Monday: Tacos

If you’ve never made homemade applesauce, it’s so delicious and makes your house smell wonderful.

Tuesday: Pork tenderloin (pre-marinated in the package), homemade applesauce

Wednesday: Marinated steaks

Thursday: BBQ Ribs (prepackaged, pre-bbq’d, just cook and eat)

Friday: Cast iron skillet fajitas- both chicken and steak (homemade fajita seasoning recipe from Allrecipes.com)

This was a delicious new way to have kielbasa and very fall-ish. Thanks to A Spicy Perspective for the recipe!

Saturday: Light apple onion kielbasa skillet from A Spicy Perspective

Sunday: Eggplant Parmesan

Monday: Cranberry Chicken

Tuesday: Hot Dogs/Hamburgers

Wednesday: Chicken Pot Pie (sometimes homemade using this recipe, but this time not and we have one that is a separate gluten free, dairy free pie which we buy pre-made and pre-frozen at our local bakery.)

Thursday: Homemade Pizzas

Friday: Chicken/Broccoli/Pasta

A great new meal to add to our fall menu!

 

 

 

Fun Friday: Old-Fashioned Bread Pudding (dairy and gluten-free)

21 Sep

We’ve been working with some new ingredients most recently, but we’re still turning out some delicious meals and desserts!

Since the spring, we’ve been working with a new set of dietary restrictions, adding in dairy-free to the gluten-free mix. Although it’s been a bit of a challenge (understatement), it’s been an education and it’s been a success overall. We’ve found many good substitutions for the ingredients we used to use, and we’ve been experimenting for many months now and we have found that it’s still very do-able to bake and cook great recipes.

During the summertime, my oldest daughter was having a craving for bread pudding. We had an amazing bread pudding dessert in 2015 at the Grand Canyon that hadn’t been beat in the years since. I have a great cookbook, called “Gluten-Free Bible” which had two different bread pudding recipes in it, and she decided to give one of them a try. We had all of the ingredients for it and when I list the original recipe, I will list our substitutions, but you can see them here in the picture as well.

The funny thing about this particular recipe is that we originally started out thinking it was going to be dessert, but ended up making it for our breakfast because we broke one of the golden rules of recipes and didn’t read it all the way through before starting. Partway through our preparations we got to the “refrigerate for two hours” part and suddenly we were looking at bread pudding for breakfast. I was able to justify this because I felt that the recipe wasn’t much different than an overnight baked french toast recipe. We weren’t eating it every day of the week, so just this once (and the next day with leftovers) it would be just fine for breakfast.

Caroline had been craving a good bread pudding since the Grand Canyon in 2015.

This recipe was quick, easy and delicious, and those are three things we love in a recipe. Other than the prep of the apples and the bread, neither of which took very long, the rest was super-easy, and we definitely would make this recipe again. We used whipped cream on top (both the dairy and the non-dairy kinds) and it was a really fun dessert for breakfast meal.

Here is the recipe as written in my “Gluten-Free Bible” cookbook.

OLD FASHIONED BREAD PUDDING
Makes 6-8 servings

INGREDIENTS

10 slices gluten-free cinnamon raisin bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (We used Rudy’s bread.)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted (We used Earth’s Balance sticks, vegan)
2 cups whole milk (We used unsweetend almond milk)
4 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped dried apples
(We almost added dairy-free chocolate chips to this recipe, but we were ultimately glad we didn’t as it would’ve been more of a stretch to call that a breakfast item once we added chocolate into the mix.)

Lesson learned (again and again): always read the recipe all the way through first.

DIRECTIONS

1: Grease 9-inch baking dish.

2: Combine bread cubes and butter in prepared baking dish; toss to coat.

3: Whisk milk, eggs, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla in medium bowl. Stir in raisins and dried apples. Pour over bread cubes. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours.

4: Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Bake 50-55 minutes or until golden brown and center is set. Let stand ten minutes before serving.

The whipped cream that we buy which is dairy-free is the Reddi-Wip almond cream, but they also sell a coconut cream for those who can’t do almond. I’ve found it at our local Stop and Shop and at our PriceRite.

This was a very, very close second to the bread pudding which we had at the Grand Canyon in 2015. I think that part of that dessert experience was the Grand Canyon itself, and part of it was that it was topped in hot caramel topping, whereas ours was not (but could be!) I was also happy that our daughter who doesn’t like raisins, and hence hadn’t eaten this bread up to this point in time, ended up liking them in the bread pudding recipe. I felt like we’d managed to hide an extra serving of fruit in this meal, the way I used to do when they were all little. I don’t know if it matters that I was hiding it in a dessert. She ate raisins. Mission accomplished.

If you’re looking for a great recipe for fall that is easy, gluten and dairy-free, good for breakfast or dessert, and rivals that which is served at the Grand Canyon, I recommend you give this one a try.

This was so delicious, and great for any time of day or night!

What’s for dinner Wednesday: A new recipe and a new Cave Tools cooking tool

8 Aug

This was a favorite new meal of ours, thanks to our new Cave Tools BBQ Grill Pan, and I can’t wait to have it again.

Happy August!

This summer seems to just be flying by. We had just finished the whirlwind couple of weeks surrounding graduation when I last wrote a blog post, and that was followed by two weeks of vacation. We came back from that and went right into the final days of planning and then hosting our second daughter’s 16th birthday party here, a sunflower-themed Sweet Sixteen on a beautifully sunny day. Now that we’re back into a regular routine again, albeit a summer routine, we’ve been trying out some new recipes and even a brand new Cave Tools product.

We were asked to try out a newly launched product, the Cave Tools BBQ Grill Pan in July, around the same time that I kept seeing a recipe go by on social media for Sheet Pan Chicken, which consisted of oven-roasted veggies and chicken all tossed together in a homemade marinade and cooked in the oven. When we agreed to try out the BBQ Grill Pan, we opted to use the inspiration from the recipe we’d seen online, but to do it our own way, utilizing our new pan. It seemed to be made for such a meal because it had a slotted side and a flat side, with the slotted side designed to allow the BBQ flavors and smoke to come up through the grill pan while excess grease falls through, keeping our grill grates clean.

One pan cooking is my favorite, especially for clean up.

We tossed our chicken in some bottled Italian dressing for a quick marinade, and sliced up our veggies: asparagus, zucchini, squash, Brussels sprouts and carrots. We weren’t sure if we had more veggies and chicken than space, but it was a perfect fit, with the veggies on the flat side and the chicken on the slotted side.  We also liked that the stainless steel pan had grips on three sides so that it was easy to handle.

The new Cave Tools BBQ Grill Pan is designed to cook more than just chicken and veggies, though. It’s perfect for other types of meals, including breakfast, which we’d like to try out next. Cave Tools suggests using the griddle side for sautéing peppers, onions, eggs, bacon, cheesesteaks and any other food that would typically fall through the grill grates, but the idea of eggs and bacon really appeals to us, having never cooked like that on the grill before.

Cave Tools 3

This stainless steel grill pan features a flat side and a slotted side, with grips on three sides.

I’m sure you’d like to know how you can get this great new product!

To order your own Cave Tools BBQ Grill Pan, you have two options:

  1. You can order from Amazon
  2. You can order directly from Cave Tools and use the code GRILLPAN15 to receive an additional 15% off your purchase.

As I always say, the Cave Tools products have a 100% money back guarantee, but I’d be surprised if you ever needed it. Their products are second to none. We also saw this post in the information on the grill pan’s website that we thought was worth noting, and that also speaks to the value that Cave Tools puts on the quality of their products for their customers:

A Note From The Manufacturer

We specifically designed this grill pan after seeing the popularity of PTFE (Teflon) Grill Mats. At normal grilling temperatures we concluded that the grill mats were in fact extremely toxic and potentially cancerous. Your health is more important us than the money we could make selling grill mats which is why we designed this safe stainless steel grill mat alternative.

As always, I encourage you to try out this great new product and to enjoy the fun of cooking outdoors. The cleanup is easy, especially with the Cave Tools products, and the food is flavorful.

Have a great rest of your week and keep enjoying this beautiful summer!

*I was given a free product in exchange for my review.

However, as always, my thoughts and opinions are honest and my own.*

Barbecued roast beef and a new Cave Tools product

20 Mar

New recipe and new tool!

Recently my husband and I ate dinner in a local restaurant that was new to us. We shared two meals, one of which was a barbecued beef brisket. It was similar to the pulled pork that we often make at home, but yet it was different because of the beef that was used, and the flavor was intense. We loved it so much we decided to try to make it here at home, using our Instantpot to cook the beef.

Luckily, we had a new Cave Tools product to try out, a set of two stainless steel shredding meat claws. They were going to be perfect for the meat that we would be making that night. The handles were sturdy and strong, and came with textured non-slip handles and plenty of space for our hands, thanks to the extended knuckle space. Interestingly, they are shaped like a bear’s paws, which provides a really good grip on the meat you’re working with.

We used the claws to hold the meat with one hand and a knife with the other to slice some of it off.

The claws can be used in a variety of ways and we definitely made us of them when we lifted the meat out of the Instantpot, when we shredded it, and even when we decided to slice off a portion to taste, we used the claws to hold the meat with one hand and the knife with the other.

These meat claws were fantastic for shredding the roast beef.

They’re also great for shredding the meat, which we did for most of it, since we were looking for a pulled beef consistency at the end and we planned to shred it, return it to the Instantpot for a bit longer, and then take it back out for serving.

Once the shredded meat was finished cooking, having the claws in hand for removing it from the Instantpot was key. They were helpful in scooping out good-sized amounts of meat at a time from the pot.

These stainless steel claws are available two ways. You can find them on Amazon.com here, or on the Cave Tools website here, but be sure to use the discount code MEATCLAWS on the Cave Tools site to receive a discount of 15% off.

 

Putting the meat back into the Instantpot was easy with the meat claws.

Be sure to read all of the care and safety information in your box when you get your tools. You’ll be sure to smile when you read the reference to “Wolverine” in the safety instructions!

As with all of their products, this one comes with a Lifetime guarantee and you can return it at any time if you are not 100% satisfied. Although we love a company that stands by their products, we won’t be utilizing that any time soon, as we already have plans to make use of these meat claws again soon. They’re definitely going to be a go-to tool in our kitchen from here on in.

To make the barbecued roast beef, saute an onion on the saute setting with olive oil and garlic. Add in a cup of your favorite barbecue sauce. Add in 1/4 cup of water to cut the sauce a bit. Whisk the sauce for consistency. Put in your roast, cook it on the manual setting for an hour. Do a quick release, remove the roast beef and shred it with your metal claws. Place the beef back into the Instantpot for another ten minutes on manual. Remove when done. This can be served as a sandwich or just as is. We did a little of each.

Ready to eat! There were hardly any leftovers and we can’t wait to make this again!

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals

7 Mar

Ratatouille has become a favorite meal of ours.

Welcome to the month of March! It’s been quite some time since I posted a two-week menu plan, and I thought this week might be a good week to do one.

We are marching into spring and it’s about to be our busy season at work and at school so I am reveling in this relative calm before the storm. Over these two weeks however, two of our kids are booked just about every night for “tech week” as they prepare for this weekend’s upcoming theater performances and next weekend’s drama festival competition. Therefore, we are not necessarily eating all together as we usually do, but rather in a group of three, and then a group of two later on. They come in starving at about 9:00 p.m. and their first question is always, “What was for dinner?” as they look to reheat whatever it is that we had. They’ve eaten, but it’s usually between when school ends at 2:00 and when their theater responsibilities begin at 4:00.

That said, here is our list of meals for these two weeks.

TWO WEEKS OF MEALS

SUNDAY: Shaved steak and cheese sandwiches with tomato salad and steak fries
MONDAY: Burritos and quesadillas
TUESDAY: Chicken, broccoli and pasta
WEDNESDAY: Ratatouille
THURSDAY: Cranberry chicken
FRIDAY: Opening night for theater! Out to dinner
SATURDAY: Grilled kielbasa kebabs (this is a new meal, so look for it to be featured in the future!)

SUNDAY: Pulled beef brisket (this is a new recipe, so look for it to be featured in the future!)
MONDAY: Grilled teriyaki chicken breasts
TUESDAY: Spaghetti with tuna sauce
WEDNESDAY: Nicoise salad
THURSDAY: Leftovers
FRIDAY: Homemade Pizza
 

Hopefully this inspires some meals for your next two weeks of meals!
Have a wonderful week!