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

27 Sep

It seemed as if everyone was getting one of these for Christmas last year. I watched, and I waited, and then I bargain-shopped.

Happy Wednesday! Since it’s been a while since I gave you a two week menu, I thought I owed you a really good post when I shared one this time around. To that end, I have the two week menu, some new recipes to go along with it, and our experiences with a new kitchen toy.

It’s been a while since we got a new”toy” to add to our collection of small kitchen appliances, but around Christmastime last year, I started seeing this new Instant Pot appliance floating around blog posts and status updates, and my interest was definitely piqued. When I looked it up, the appliance was a bit costly, and with our impending kitchen renovations, not a priority at the time.

However, it’s a new school year, we have the usual “stuff” each night and/or after school, and yet we still try to eat as healthy as we can, at home, as often as we can, together. This Instant Pot seemed to really be calling my name, in that it seemed it might be able to help us continue to achieve those goals.

I finally bit the bullet, as they say, and on the advice of my friend Kim, I used a Kohl’s coupon code to get one for 30% off, on sale, with Kohl’s Cash (and earning Kohl’s cash with the purchase too) and I scored the Instant Pot for $75 (no shipping, including tax). I picked it up in the store, carried it home, and then I wondered what exactly to do with it. It reminded me of when they send you home with a new baby: it’s very intimidating, it makes some crazy noises, and you’re not quite sure if you know what to do if something goes wrong, or how to know if you’re doing everything right. For such a tiny appliance, it’s got a big intimidation factor, just like a new baby.

Ratitouille was a request from our oldest daughter as a new recipe to try. She cited the fact that we like all the veggies that come in it, so why not try it?

We let it sit there for almost a week, and then as the following weekend approached, we broke it out and did just what you’re not supposed to do: we used it (or attempted to) without reading the directions. We were also making a new recipe for Ratitouille, which is something we’d never made before with any recipe, never mind a recipe for use with a new appliance. New recipe, new appliance, no directions. Well played. Dinner took over an hour to make because we had no idea what we were doing, but it was delicious and although we were still a bit wary, we were thinking we liked this new toy. If we knew what we were doing, we’d like it even more.

These potatoes were so fast, so easy and I used them a total of three different times, for pork, for leftover salmon, and for a potato and egg omelet.

In the meantime, two of my friends, Gina and Marcia, also bought an Instant Pot the same week I did, and we all took our new “babies” home within days of each other and a texting thread emerged, sharing recipes, tips, new “parent” fears and more.¬† There were some successes in that thread, and we began to try each other’s recipes the following week. I chose to make Gina’s potatoes to go along with our grilled pork tenderloin one night and Marcia inspired me to try out a Mac and Cheese recipe another night.

During our trial week, the kids would come home each night from wherever, and joke that we were at it again, making something in the Instant Pot, moving it around to the best location in the kitchen, and they’d shake their heads, but they enjoyed each and every meal we made with it, and I joked that by using it every day, we didn’t need to find a place to store it. (I wasn’t really joking.)

On Sunday, a few days into our Instapot cooking adventures, we tried something new. We took a recipe we’d made before, nicknamed “Liz’s soup” because she requested it last year and I copied the recipe off a video and I have no idea where it came from originally. It was a crockpot recipe last year, but we didn’t have enough time to devote to using the crockpot this time around. Instead we found a recipe that was similar, had the same sorts of ingredients more or less, but used the Instant Pot to cook it. We adapted our recipe for Liz’s soup to that recipe for chicken stew, and presto….we had a delicious soup in a short amount of time. Each time we cooked, we seemed to have more of an idea of what we were doing, and in the meantime, with three of us friends trying out recipes every night, we had triple the ideas and solutions to any problems.

And so, today I share with you our two week menu, some new recipe links to go along with the menu items, and my encouragement for you to try out your Instant Pot too, if you haven’t yet, and if you haven’t jumped on that bandwagon, maybe this will be helpful to you in your own decision-making and bargain-shopping process.

Growing up, I’d only had Ratitouille at my friend Jen’s house. Her mom made it often. I channeled my memories of them as we ate this delicious meal over rice and chicken.

Two Weeks of Meals

WEEK ONE: In the days before the Instant Pot

Monday: Pastene Soup recipe here (Today I brought the Instant Pot home!)

Tuesday: Meatloaf Burgers recipe here

Wednesday: Paninis recipe here

Thursday: The Instant Pot is Opened:
Ratitouille recipe here 

Friday: Leftovers

Saturday: Grilled salmon with pesto (be watching for a post about this meal in the coming days!

WEEK TWO:

This soup is delicious and makes the house smell wonderful!

Sunday: Liz’s soup, adapted using this recipe

Monday: Grilled pork tenderloin, frozen homemade applesauce from the last time we grilled pork, and these Instant Pot potatoes.

Tuesday: Leftovers again!

Wednesday: Six Sisters Macaroni and Cheese (I am making this recipe tonight, but sharing it now. Gina and Marcia have made it already, and I love the Six Sisters’ recipes any time I try them!)

Thursday: Burritos and Quesadillas

Friday: We are leaving our new “baby” home and going out to dinner, we’ve definitely earned a night out tonight!

Liz’s Soup is amazing, especially if you top it with sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese and use some crunchy tortilla chips on the side!

 

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Are we back in the swing of things? I think we are!

12 Sep

Back to delicious fall meals on our menu!

Happy fall y’all!

Technically, it’s not quite fall yet, and it’s actually still warm out. But, meal-wise, we’re all in. It’s fall on our menu here at home.

After a pretty lengthy absence here on the blog, I am back at it. Our kitchen is fully functional, although not completely finished (and won’t be for a while) and our kids are back to school- week two, so my schedule is much more normal and structured, our meals are back to normal, and I’m ready to share some great new things with you.

Today’s photo does not do my new recipe any justice at all, but I didn’t realize it until I looked at the picture later on, that I must’ve taken it after we’d eaten all of the broccoli, and there was barely any left on my plate when I snapped the photo that night. (I guess I still wasn’t 100% back in the game at that point last week!)

So you must take my word for it, our word for it. This recipe was simple and amazingly good; a great way to dress up a simple vegetable. Everyone in my family raved about it, and to be honest, it wasn’t even the recipe I started out looking to make. I stumbled on it completely by accident.

Just a few recipes I’d put aside to go through “some day.”

When we first emptied our kitchen, I had a whole big, long countertop of cookbooks to store until I found them a new home. On top of that big pile was a big pile of torn out, pulled out, printed out recipes I’d stuck on top of the pile to go through at some point.

During the summer, after the kitchen work had ended, I found my cookbooks a new home on a couple of closet shelves, but I couldn’t avoid the obvious: I had to go through the pile.

In doing so, I found many new recipes I’d been meaning to try and a whole year’s worth of Gluten Free Living magazines to go through. Some my daughter and I had already tabbed the recipes we wanted to try, and some still needed to be tabbed. Then I needed to pull those recipes out and put all my single recipes into a folder to store on the shelf.

A couple of weeks later, I was looking for a smashed broccoli recipe from Whole Foods that I’d tried a couple of years ago, and I went to my folder and pulled it out. Turns out though, although it was on the same paper as the one I’d gone in for, this broccoli recipe wasn’t the same one. Instead, it was for a Broccoli Parmesan side dish. It looked good though, easy and it looked like something everyone would like so instead of hunting around for the other recipe, I tried this one out. It said right on it that we’d tried it before, but I had no memory of it.

Everyone loved it. They all thought for sure I’d never made it before and all requested that I make it again. Being such a simple recipe, I told them I definitely could do a repeat performance, even if this might have been a repeat already.

So, although you can’t quite get a good look at it here, since we’d eaten most of it by the time I took the photo, you can get the general idea, and then when you make it, you can get the full picture.

Here is the recipe, thanks to our local Whole Foods.

Garlic Parmesan Broccoli

Ingredients

1/2 Broccoli

1 tsp. minced garlic

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

 

Instructions

Cook broccoli to your preference. Add oil to saucepan.

Add broccoli, minced garlic and Parmesan cheese. Cook until broccoli is coated.

Enjoy!

 

Cave Tools Pigtail Food Flipper: a great new tool for summer grilling

30 Jun

We’ll be taking these with us to the campground this summer!

It’s officially summer! Summer means so many things, but one thing it means for us is grilling. Another thing it means for us is camping.When we camp, we grill! Therefore, I was very excited when Cave Tools asked me to try out another one of their fabulous products. I have reviewed several of their other grilling tools and have yet to be disappointed.

The Pigtail Food Flippers arrived on our doorstep just as we were creating our menu for a week’s worth of meals, and we put steaks right on the menu so we could try out our new tool. We would be grilling at home, but soon we will be camping and we’ll be grilling over a campfire. These new tools, a pair of two-one longer and one shorter-seemed to be perfect for all the grilling we do. Although we were doing steaks on this particular night, the tools are great for so many other things, including bacon, chicken, hot dogs and ribs, just to name a few ideas.

The Pigtail Food Flipper was great for grilling steaks, but it has many other uses as well.

When I asked my husband what he liked about the new Pigtail Food Flippers versus using a spatula, a fork or tongs, he said that the shape of the hook which made for easy flipping.

“I liked the way the hook was shaped,” he said. “All you had to do was hook the meat and flip it rather than trying to get a spatula underneath. I also liked that it came in two sizes, I didn’t have to use a big one for a small piece of meat and I won’t have to use a small one for a big piece.”

The tool was super-easy to clean because they’re dishwasher safe, and to store, which is a big plus for a small kitchen. Additionally, the handles fit well into the palm of your hand, much more comfortable than the flat form of a spatula.

You can find this great new tool set in two places and it’s very affordable. It’s on Amazon here, and on the Cave Tools website here. If you choose to order from the Cave Tools site, there is a great 15% off discount available by entering the coupon code PIGTAIL15 at checkout.

As we pack up for camping, we’ll be including our Pigtail Flippers, and I encourage you to check them out too!

 

***I was given a free product in order to do this review. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.***

 

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.

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

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals

5 Apr

Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

Has two weeks already gone by?
I can’t believe it’s already time for a two-week menu list for you. The weeks are flying. We have made it through February and March, which tend to be rough, so onward to and through April!

Here are two weeks of menu inspiration for you from our last meal cycle. We did have to make some on-the-spot changes and revisions, but this was our original list:

Sunday: Eggplant Parmesan

Monday: Teriyaki Chicken Wings

Tuesday: Antipasto

Wednesday: BBQ Ribs and Cole Slaw

Thursday: Macaroni and Cheese Casserole

Friday: Taco in a Bag (this was a birthday party dinner)

Saturday: Shaved steak sandwiches with cheese, onions, peppers and mushrooms

Homemade pizza is the best and we like to mix up the varieties from time to time. Here are our ingredients for the Hawaiian and veggie pizzas.

Sunday: Whole chicken dinner

Monday: Grilled Kielbasa

Tuesday: Chicken Marsala

Wednesday: Pork Chops

Thursday: London Broil

Friday: Homemade pizzas (This week we made one Hawaiian pizza, one veggie pizza, and one cheese pizza.)