Category Archives: Appetizers

Faux-fil-a chicken tenders

 

This recipe happened right after I had just said “I don’t know what I want and I don’t feel like cooking tonight”. But then I looked in the refrigerator, and realized I had thawed some chicken tenders. I looked in the pantry and realized I had an open half bag of chips.

And I really wanted to get some fried chicken fast food, but knew it isn’t good for me. Eureka! I will make my own!

Whether it’s Sunday and you just want chick-fil-A, or anytime, these tenders are tasty. And while they bake, you can whip up a honey mustard dipping sauce that will impress the pants off whoever is lucky enough to be sharing with you. And if you’re eating it all yourself, more power to you.

For the chicken:

  • 2 pounds chicken, either tenders or breasts cut into chunks/strips
  • 1 cup flour
  • ~1 tsp each: garlic powder, salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne (optional)
  • 2 eggs + 1/4 cup pickle juice (optional)
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup crushed potato chips

Step 1: If you have breasts, cut them into strips or chunks. Put the flour and spices on one plate, scramble the eggs with the pickle juice in a bowl, and mix the breadcrumbs with the chips on a third plate. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Step 2: One piece of chicken at a time, roll it in the flour and spices, then dip into the egg/pickle mixture, and then roll to coat with the breadcrumbs/chips mixture. Place them on a baking sheet.

Step 3: Bake at 350 for ~20 minutes, or until no longer pink in the center.

Meanwhile, for the honey mustard:

  • 3 tbsp yellow mustard
  • 2 tbsp whole grain or spicy mustard
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup mayo or plain Greek yogurt
  • Splash of lemon juice

Mix all the ingredients together for the honey mustard. You may need to heat the honey briefly to get it liquidy enough, I put it in the microwave for 22 seconds. Then dip and enjoy!

Weekly Eating – December 2020

 

Mid-December, and I’m going through periods where it feels very Christmasy because so many people are going big on decorations this year, and periods where I’m still kind of in denial/limbo with time; what even is it, you know? Between a 6 month old baby and all *waves hands helplessly* THIS stuff… who knows what day it is.

We continue to count our blessings in a big way. I am in a stable job, with a team I love, where I can work from home. We have a home. We were able to get a folding table so I could move my work station upstairs and be warm for the winter. Now my commute is literally 1 foot from my bed, which is both good and bad in ways.

Baby is growing and learning and becoming more and more delightful by the day. He is settling into a more predictable pattern of feeding and naps, and sleeps through the night a little more than half the time. This is *peak* baby cuteness, and I am so thankful for this time to fully enjoy and savor it. He will be crawling and walking and terrorizing us and the dogs in no time!

Anyways, we are also blessed with steady income, which means a stable grocery budget. Our budget has definitely gone up, as food prices keep inching upwards and now I’m eating a bit more from breastfeeding, as well as kiddo is trying solids too.

So we shoot for $400-500 a month now, between groceries and takeout. We are trying to order once a week from local independent restaurants since this all happened.

Going into December, we had a fair stock of meats from the most recent Butcher Box, but were down to nearly no fresh produce as I am shopping only every other week now. So I shop less often, but bigger when I do. I try to rotate between canned goods, pantry staples like flour/rice/tortillas, frozen items, and pick up the fresh stuff each time.

A run to ALDI restocked the dairy, oodles of fresh produce to last 2 weeks, and some more meats that I could individually package for the boy, as Veganuary is coming up soon!

Hubs will eat some of the same things, but I do not expect him to be fully on board for a whole month. Therefore, I put chicken quarters and 1/2 pounds of meat in the freezer, so he can add to whatever we are having or whip up some burritos anytime.

ALDI – 12/10/2020 $132.34
Meats $36.94 Dairy $28.35 Staples $31.09 Fruit/Veg $28.27 Extras $7.69
meatless sausages 4 2.89 greek yogurts mixins 4 3.56 guacamole 2 5.98 frozen broccoli 4 3.4
1lb deli ham 2.95 blueberry rasp yogurt 12 3.84 almond milk 2 3.58 spring mix 3.59 quart bags 1.89
salmon side 13.46 cottage cheese 2 3.18 baby teething rusks 1.79 brussels sprouts 1.49 oreos 2* 3.1
3lb ground beef 7.95 plain greek yogurt 3.29 baby blueberry puffs 1.15 spinach 1.19
whole chicken 4.65 unsalted butter 2 3.58 baby pouch prune 0.79 romaine 2.19
chicken quarters 5.04 eggz 3 dozen 1.74 mayo 1.79 grape tomato 1.79 tax 2.7
shredded cheese 2 5.58 pita chips 2.29 3 bell peppers 2.69
sliced cheese 2 3.58 pumpkin seeds 2.05 cauliflower 2.29
mild salsa 1.9 zucchini 3 1.67lb 1.99
pinto beans 4lb 2.99 yellow squash 3 1.65lb 1.96
potato 10lb 3.89 broccoli crowns 1.63lb 2.36
red potato 5lb 2.89 avocado 5 2.19
bananas 5 1.14

 

*I think ALDI brand Oreos are far superior, sorry Nabisco. They are more chocolatey and crunchy, which I love. They have become my absolute favorite indulgence. Too bad the Bitches Get Riches team didn’t have an ALDI to include them in their ranked chocolate cookie taste test! ALDI would have won for sure.

I also got some baby puffs and teething biscuits to try out. I’m so excited to have him try avocado for the first time! Snacks will include hard boiled eggs, bananas and apples, and homemade hummus with peppers and pita chips.

The meal plan includes lots of salads and fresh veggie sides. We will have salmon, crock pot lasagna, and some sort of mexi dish for sure. I will probably also make beans and rice, some sort of soup, and lots of potato dishes. Half of the salmon I will use to make my own lox! It is super easy, and way cheaper than buying it.

Then the week before Christmas, I did another stock up run to Harris Teeter to get things we would need for Christmas. Our parents both drove in from out of town, to spend kiddo’s first Christmas together!

We planned for at least 1 big fancy dinner and several smaller meals plus some takeout. I had been watching the Great British Bakeoff, and was inspired to make a super fancy sausage wreath! It was my first time working with puff pastry, and I think I cooked it slightly too long, but overall I was quite pleased.

It was definitely a holiday that no one expected, but we still got to spend time together and that is what is most important.

I also made some more sweets, because you must. I did a big batch of chocolate peanut butter Buckeyes, which I shared with some neighbors, and also made a big batch of Cracker Cookies with mom while she was here.

Dairy $20.44 Staples $38.93 Fruit/Veg $51.20 Extras $98.86
chobani 4pk x2 3.99 HT Peanut butter x2 3.98 can whole plums 0.99 fizzy water cans 2
yogurts 10 4 wheat cheerios 1.49 can mandarin oranges 1.98 frozen choc chip cookies x2 3.98
half and half 1.69 dry chickpeas 3lb 3.87 markdown produce 4.77 pecan pie 4.99
sliced cheddar 24 4.99 canned beans x6 2.94 bananas 2.07 puff pastry 5.49
block cheddar 1.49 simmer sauces x2 4 carrots 10lb 5.99 popcorn 1.5
block colby jack 1.49 granola cereal 2.99 sweet potatoes 1.43 ice breakers 7.98
vanilla ice cream 2.79 maple syrup 4.99 canned peaches 3.75 choc chips x3 6
gerber splashers x2 5.68 broccoli/carrot mix x2 5 lara bar x3 3
tortillas 5.99 beets 2.99
rice x2 3 baby carrots 0.99
kalamata olives x2 7
less sugar wild 3.99
brussels sprouts x2 5 tax 7.49
red cabbage 2.8
jicama 1.65
turnips 0.8

 

We had a wonderful holiday, with lots of presents, looking at lights, walks outside, and baby giggles. My mom taught me another type of crochet stitch, and brought me some super soft yarn. So now I have a scarf project, ETA 2025.  😀

We also celebrated another birthday season, with more presents, more sweets, and some lovely alone time for me! Once you have a kid, it’s amazing how hard it is to find any time to do literally anything that requires two hands, and/or some amount of focus.

Moving into January, we have tons of leftovers still from the holidays. We have several containers of dirt cake, shredded meats from the boy’s request for “the ultimate burrito” on his birthday, lots of cookies still, etc. So we are eating up those things, and then will attempt a more vegan-ish rest of January!

 

Hope you all had a restful holiday season!

Weekly Eating – 8/27/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

 

Well, Saturday ended up being MUCH more productive than I expected! I took that 20 pounds of peaches and turned it into 10 jars of peach jam (4 of which are destined for the food swap) and 6 jars of quartered canned peaches in the pantry! The pantry is slowly coming along as I edge out plastics with glass jars and canned items.

budget epicurean pantry

At the thrift store I also found some nice baskets for pantry items and a ton of excellent glassware. I also spent some time hanging up pants I bought at the thrift store for $4 each to dry, and ironing a batch of freshly laundered handkerchiefs. Oh, and had my first taste of a fresh fig! They are seriously amazing.

budget epicurean ironing handkerchiefs

Also, that ridiculously expensive spirulina? Yeah, turns out it turns all smoothies a really unappetizing brown/black color… The boy and I are both not impressed. Chalk that up to a costly lesson. No photos here… you’re welcome.

And I almost forgot, Sunday I hosted another tea party! I had a few girlfriends over for a few hours, to snack and chat and drink tea (of course). It’s always nice to have time to relax and catch up on each others’ lives. And also the food. I love making it, and I love sharing it, and I love eating it!

budget epicurean appetizers
Local tomato bruschetta and goat cheese stuffed dates and figs with sage and balsamic drizzle

Monday:

Breakfast – smoothie with banana, frozen mixed berries, and spirulina

Lunch – I had a later than usual breakfast, and an earlier than usual dinner, so no lunch today

Dinner – Tonight was Food Swap night! I inhaled some leftover quinoa with veggies before running out the door.

Hosted at Bull City Ciderworks, we had a good turnout, and lots of new faces. I made some new connections, and came home with a pretty great variety of stuff. My first time making biscotti turned out great, thank goodness, and the pistachio cardamom was a hit.

budget epicurean pistachio cardamom biscotti

Tuesday:

Breakfast – smoothie with frozen cherries and blueberries and fresh peaches. Yes that is a plastic straw but it is the heavier reusable kind.

budget epicurean breakfast smoothie

Lunch – I prepped two big kale and chickpea salads over the weekend to have for grab and go lunches. It couldn’t be simpler: 3-4 handfuls of kale, rub with olive oil and lemon juice. Split a drained can of chickpeas between 2 salads, sprinkle on garlic salt, pepper, and grated parmesan cheese if desired.

budgetepicurean kale and chickpea salad

Dinner – leftover chicken and rice soup

Wednesday:

Breakfast – smoothie with frozen tropical mix, fresh peaches, cherry juice, and amla powder. I love this mix of fruit, but I hate that they put coconut chunks in it. Just why?

budget epicurean breakfast smoothie

Lunch – thawed homemade ravioli from a previous food swap with thawed pesto made from my own basil 🙂

budget epicurean ravioli with pesto

Snack – fresh heirloom tomato pico de gallo and blue corn chips

Dinner – I had a bunch of random odds and ends to use up: some pinto beans, a tiny bit of pico de gallo, a couple wet bruschetta. So I figured, why not make a Mexican strata? I layered the bruschetta in a pan, topped with pinto beans and pico, and poured on a few eggs. Baked at 350 for 40 minutes, and top with cheese and avocado.

budget epicurean breakfast strata for dinner

YUM! And now the fridge has more space! #nomorefoodwaste

Thursday:

Breakfast – Leftover pancakes with coffee. Whenever I make more pancakes than we can eat, I pop the rest in a bag in the fridge. Then all it takes is a quick reheat in the toaster, and good as new.

budget epicurean pancakes

Lunch – the other kale and chickpea salad, with grape tomatoes and an apple

more kale

Snack – I had myself a lovely tea time in the afternoon with green tea, my own biscotti, and a johnnycake from a previous food swap

budget epicurean tea and biscotti

Dinner – Thursday $3 Co-op dinner! Tonight was biscuits and gravy. None of us were brave enough to try the vegan biscuit, but the vegan gravy was okay. Not my favorite meal ever, but 8 of us all got together, there was much laughter, and live music. I’d eat cardboard and be happy in that situation. There’s nothing I love more than chill and cheap hangout with friends time!

budget epicurean co-op dinner

Friday:

Breakfast – a sad bowl of cocoa puffs. It was so tasty though!

Lunch – the rest of the leftover Turkish red lentil stew & some more grape tomatoes

budgetepicurean red lentil stew and tomatoes

Dinner – I started a crock pot full of chili this morning, and cannot wait to come home to that delicious smell! It also used up tons of odds and ends: field peas from the last produce box, rest of baked pinto beans, several heirloom tomatoes that needed used up.

The Weekend

Well, this weekend kids off Brofest at our house. Hub’s closest friends from childhood through college are all turning 30 this year, so they decided to do one big reunion /get together / celebration. At our house. For a full week. I have several friends with spare bedrooms on standby and a bag packed if I need a quick escape.

I kid. I’ve met all these dudes, and love them to pieces.

Anyone who is vetted by the boy and remained that closely in touch for two decades or so is clearly a good person. This week of relaxation, bonding, video games, and beer could not be more needed at a stressful point in his career, and I could not be more excited to have a houseful of hungry boys to cook for!

Though that does lead to the next point…

 

Food Total: $366.76

Ouch. Feeding a half dozen grown men for a full week is not a cheap ambition, let me tell you. But I am up for the task. We are now stocked for sandwiches, cereal,oatmeal, grilled cheeses, pizza, and more burritos than I would know what to do with.

There isn’t a spare inch of unused freezer space at this point. And I bet it will be nearly cleaned out by next Sunday. (HOW do parents with multiple boys in their teens at the same time stay solvent??)

But you know what?

Worth it.

Lessons Learned

As Mrs. FAF just pointed out, leftovers are a beautiful thing! I am so thankful both of us not only tolerate but actually enjoy eating leftovers. And I quote often even cook twice or three times as much food on purpose, to save us time later in the week. This is definitely one of my top tips for eating well on a budget.

 

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

 

 

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup

 

Minestrone soup is one of my favorite soups out there. Not only is it packed with veggies, it is also super easy to adapt to whatever odds and ends you have in your refrigerator, and is very filling.

Many soups leave you ravenous a few hours later, but with all the lovely fiber and nutrients from the veggies, and extra staying power from beans and noodles, this hot and hearty soup keeps your tummy from growling all day long.

You can thicken it up easily by pureeing half the beans, or using mashed potatoes rather than chunks of potatoes. Or you can thin it out by doubling up on the stock, adding extra water before serving, or adding extra tomato juice.

I’ve written before how easy it is to make minestrone in ten minutes, but sometimes you want deeper flavors. That is where the slow cooker comes in.

slow cooker minestrone soup

The slow cooker is a great option because you can just “dump and go”, then come home to a delicious smelling house and a hot and ready meal. It’s also great because, unlike a boiling pot on the stove, you don’t need to constantly watch and stir. The soup won’t burn or stick to the bottom, and there’s no risk of boiling over.

And a programmable slow cooker is the best option yet, that way there is no risk of over-cooking it either! But don’t worry, if you don’t have the kind with a timer it will still work just fine.

Leave it on longer, on low rather than high, for the lowest risk of burning or over cooking. You can add the pasta noodles at the beginning, if you want a truly one-step meal and don’t mind soft pasta. If you want “al dente” slightly harder pasta, it’s best to boil it separately and add just before serving.

slow cooker minestrone soup

Ingredients:

  • ~1 cup fresh, canned, or frozen green beans
  • ~1.5 cups cooked pinto beans (or any bean you prefer)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 2-3 carrots, diced
  • 2-3 stalks celery, small dice
  • 1/2 large white onion, diced
  • 1 can tomatoes (whole, stewed, diced, etc)
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen spinach
  • Either: 1 cup mashed potatoes or 2-3 small potatoes, diced
  • 4 cups broth, stock, or water
  • 1/2 pound pasta noodles, any shape you like

slow cooker minestrone soup

Step 1: Dice up your veggies, by hand or in a food processor.

slow cooker minestrone soup

Step 2: In slow cooker, combine all ingredients (except noodles, if you are cooking them just before serving). Cook on low 6-10 hours, or on high 3-4 hours.

slow cooker minestrone soup

Step 3: When you’re ready for dinner, just boil your pasta according to the directions. I prefer shapes, such as elbow macaroni, shells, or bowties, but any noodle works. Drain, mix in the noodles, and serve!

soup, salad, and smoothie

This soup is hearty enough to be a meal on its own, but it also pairs well with salads, or a nice thick garlic bread for dipping. It is super healthy, vegetarian but meat eaters will also love it, and quite cheap! Especially if you have a garden to get some of the vegetables.

You can easily change it up, for example if you hate green beans but have some fresh zucchini, go right ahead and swap. Bell peppers go great here, and you can use fresh diced tomato or canned or even juice. Or forget the tomato altogether and just use broth, you’re in charge!

Restaurant Review: Morgan’s Tavern & Grill

 

In case this is your first Review, let me remind you of the rules.

The Budget Epicurean has not been compensated in any way for this review, and all opinions are my own. For reviews, preference will be given to unique, local, family-owned establishments.

Food locations will be evaluated based on:

  • Taste: 1 (wet toast) – 10 (your taste buds have died and gone to heaven)
  • Atmosphere: 1 (gas station bathroom) – 10 (Buckingham Palace)
  • Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)

This is a review of a local diner in New Bern NC, called Morgan’s Tavern & Grill. We had come to historic New Bern for our anniversary knowing little about the town. After exploring the downtown Farmer’s Market, we were getting hungry. We wandered around, and just as we were about to pull out Google, we saw their adorable outdoor patio space, like a beacon in the dark.

It is made of beautiful multi-hued brick and wooden beams, and the interior is astounding. The super high cathedral ceilings and exposed brick, metal, and woodwork merge with multiple skylights and segmented dining areas to create a feeling of openness and airy comfort.

Morgan's Tavern Review

Their stated philosophy is simple: “Provide great service in a casual and comfortable atmosphere with quality ingredients.” They also say “At Morgan’s, we believe in tradition, not trends.”

The waiter was super pleasant and funny, he made us feel like we were lifelong friends. He made several suggestions based off our answers to questions about what we were looking for in our lunch. The sweet tea was hurts-your-teeth sweet, the way it should be, and I never saw the bottom of the glass long before another full one was set in front of me.

We also tried 2 of their local brews, Morgan’s Porter and Morgan’s Nut-Brown Ale. They were both splendid, smooth and crisp with no bitter hoppy after-taste (just the way I like it). Sort of dangerous, because you keep wanting more… unfortunately you can only get it there and on tap, so we couldn’t take some back to our airbnb.

Morgan's Tavern Review

Before anything else, your table gets a plate of fresh-from-the-oven flaky croissants drizzled with honey butter. These things were so light and buttery, we inhaled them in seconds flat. And wished we had more. I’m sure they would have brought more too, but we held ourselves in check, waiting for the good stuff to come.

We also decided to try the Lobster bisque as an appetizer, because we were at the coast, after all. It was light and creamy, and not at all ‘fishy’ tasting. There were some pretty good chunks of lobster meat as well. I normally don’t like bisque style soups, but this is one I could have eaten a whole bowl of by myself.

Many of the menu items had creative and clever names, and it was difficult to choose because they all sounded so good! Their lunch and dinner menus are similar, though the dinner one adds more delicacies from “Sound to Sea” and “Pasture to Plate”.

The menu was clearly written by someone with a great sense of humor. It included all kinds of classics like chicken sandwiches, a Reuben, a black & bleu cheeseburger. But they also have such offerings as portobello burgers, tuna lettuce wraps, and a grilled salad for the health conscious among us.

And for those who want the opposite of healthy? Well… they get what we ordered!

*The Why Did You Do This?
Our half a pound burger on our classic kaiser roll but this time
we top it with smoked bacon, melted cheddar cheese, fried onion
rings, fried cheese and roasted red pepper ranch sauce. This is
not for everyone!!!!! 12.50

Morgan's Tavern Review

This burger… was… massive! Why did we do this??

I’m glad this was mostly the boy’s responsibility to finish. I could barely get my mouth around the whole thing. The crispy fried cheese and onion rings were pretty awesome when combined with the burger and bacon, I must say. And the roasted red pepper sauce was on point.

Meanwhile, I wanted something slightly less filling.

Hot Turkey, Bacon & Raspberry
Thinly sliced roasted turkey topped with melted provolone cheese,
bacon, raspberry jam & ranch…… Sounds strange but it works. Your choice of sourdough or wheat berry.
Served with your choice of side item. 8.50

Morgan's Tavern Review

This sandwich sounded like Thanksgiving on a plate, and it was essentially that. The sweet jam and the salty bacon was an awesome combination. And the fries were seasoned with something slightly spicy which we both enjoyed. It was more than enough, I ended up eating half and taking the rest to go.

They also have a cart with all their desserts on it sitting in the aisle so you can’t help but walk past it once or twice. When I saw something molten and chocolatey I knew I wasn’t leaving without it! So even though we were stuffed by now, we went all in and ordered the molten lava cake with ice cream!

Morgan's Tavern Review

It was ooey gooey amazingness drizzled with even more chocolate and caramel sauce and I was in heaven! Pretty sure between that and the four glasses of sweet tea I’ve doubled my diabetes risk but what can I say… worth it.

All the food was amazing, the service was great, and the atmosphere was relaxed and comfortable. We would definitely come back here again if we lived nearby to try more of the menu offerings. Overall I’d rate Morgan’s:

  • Taste: 9.5
  • Atmosphere: 9
  • Value: 8.5

 

Want more? Check out the Reviews page!

Restaurant Review: The Little Dipper

In case this is your first BE review article, I’ll remind you of the rules.

Food locations will be evaluated based on:

  • Taste: 1 (wet toast) – 10 (your taste buds have died and gone to heaven)
  • Atmosphere: 1 (gas station bathroom) – 10 (best you’ve ever experienced)
  • Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)

All opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean.

Tucked inside the North Building of Brightleaf Square on the outskirts of downtown Durham NC is a hidden gem. Called “The Little Dipper: Fondue on Main”, Durham is its second location. The owner is from Durham, and followed a girl to Wilmington. Their first date was at the Wilmington location, and it must have made quite the impression. When they eventually married and moved back to Durham, they decided to take a leap and open their own here.

The Durham location opened in April of 2013 as a full service fondue restaurant. Each table has at least one burner built into the center for the table to share. The owners also designed, built, and painted the entire interior from booths to eclectic decor to crazy sand wall art. They are known for our specialty sauces, all homemade and delicious for dipping cooked meats and seafood.

The Durham location also offers a “LOCAL ‘919’ MENU,” which includes options for each course made with locally sourced farm ingredients.  The Durham Dipper is proud to be part of such a strong community who supports local farmers by offering seasonal features and sustainable menu items changing on a regular basis.

The Menu is insanely huge and can feel a bit overwhelming at first glance. It is set up to be a three-course experience, so make sure you have plenty of time set aside to fully enjoy this meal! You get to choose your cheese dipper appetizer, a soup or salad, and you main entrees and cooking style.

The desserts are priced separately, but honestly it is the best part of the experience! Make sure you also have a lot of room, and very stretchy pants 😉

review the little dipper durham

The servers are extremely helpful and friendly as well, and can answer all your questions and provide suggestions based on what you like and are looking for. We decided on a premium fontina and basil starter. They light your burner, and bring over a massive cast iron pot full of molten cheese and a sampler tray, and then the fun begins!

They supply long fondue forks which you use to spear your fruit or veg, and then dip into the lava like bowl of cheese. I was a little leery of the fruits, but it turns out cheese covered grapes are delicious. We ate and ate and then realized we had 3 more courses to go!

review the little dipper durham

Once you throw in the towel on the cheese, they whisk it away and bring your salads. It is not the star of the show to be sure, but it felt nice to have a light lettuce moment between the heavy cheese and the goodies to come. And the salad itself is large enough to be a meal, so I ended up packing up half to take home.

Then your main course arrives. We went with the traditional peanut oil, which is again brought out in a huge iron pot. You can choose a pre-selected variety of meats, or like we did, the “undecided” where you get 3 different protein options.

I went with tuna, dumplings, and filet while my dining companion chose scallops, shrimp and filet. It comes with your choice of 3 of their homemade daily dipping sauces, as well as a plate of mushrooms which you stuff with their aphrodite herbed cream cheese, dip in breading and fry.

There is a handy tip sheet on suggested cooking times for each item, in case you don’t know how many seconds in boiling peanut oil it takes for a scallop to be considered done. They also supply a long “rescue spoon” for anything that happens to jump off the fondue fork for a swim.

It was great fun dipping and dropping different cuts into the pot while chatting about life and stuffing our faces. The wasabi lime sauce on the filet was my personal favorite of the night.

review the little dipper durham

Drumroll please……

Then they cleared the table, and brought out the steaming bowl of molten chocolate laced with caramel and topped with pecans that I’d been waiting for! Oh yeah, you better believe we went with the Turtle dipper. And a ‘classic dippers’ plate, because we’re indecisive like that.

You can also go with just fruit dippers, or upgrade to the “supreme dippers” or “Swanky Fondue” options for things like rice crispies, oreos, or liquor-laced dipping sauces.

review the little dipper durham

The Turtle fondue was so amazing, I wanted to just eat it with a spoon. Thankfully I was in so much pain from being too full so I couldn’t do it! 😉

The whole meal took about 2 hours total, and was a very relaxing experience. I loved the funky atmosphere, and the energy of the place. I cannot wait to go back!

 

Overall I’d rate The Little Dipper:

  • Taste: 10
  • Atmosphere: 10
  • Value: 9

Weekly Eating – 4/2/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Easter weekend was filled with relaxing and outdoor adventures! Friday was a day off, which was awesome, and I got to take a 5 mile hike, resulting in a new high score for daily steps this year. Then on Saturday we were all about gardening. I got broccoli, spinach, and romaine sprouts in the ground, as well as some beans and peas.

We also are trying berries this year, with 4 blueberry and 4 blackberry bushes. The back yard is super shady (thanks to a million trees) but we are planning on taking several down this summer, and hopefully there will be enough light that the bushes can at least survive and establish themselves. It would be amazing to have pounds of free organic berries every year!

And on Easter Sunday, I decided we should at least do a little something to celebrate. We have no kids and no family nearby, so your typical church or egg hunt or Easter baskets or brunch were not happening. Instead, I made some French toast, and cut a piece in half to make bunny ears! Then I used colored white chocolate and sprinkles to make a cute face. It was tasty, and we hadn’t had French toast in a long time so we both enjoyed it.

bunny rabbit french toast

Oh, and back to Lowes we headed, because the boy wanted to complete a project we had talked about several times: building a stone fire pit! We had a small plain metal fire pit that sister in law gave us for our housewarming gift, but we wanted to spruce it up and make it look more permanent. So we got a big pile of stones (thank goodness they were on sale, why are literal rocks so expensive?!) and he built up a lovely fire pit ring.

And while the boy was playing with rocks and building that, I was playing with tortillas and building some enchiladas. I consider that a fair trade. For Sunday dinner we had turkey or black bean enchiladas with Spanish rice and  watermelon mojitos I’d found in the freezer from last summer. Then we hung out outside during sunset & into the night to enjoy it. I’m looking forward to many bonfire nights.

Monday:

Breakfast – Coffee with protein powder, & an energy bar

Lunch – Frozen lamb stew, & a salad. Over the weekend I also did a quick freezer inventory, which happens a few times a year. This way we find ‘lost’ food and hopefully waste less. I pulled out a few things to thaw and eat up this week.

Snack – I had a meeting after work, and was planning to go to dinner afterwards. But I was also pretty hungry by 5:30pm, so I stopped real quick at a Walmart, and they had a snack box on sale 1/2 price. So I grabbed it, and enjoyed the apples and grapes and cheese. I ate about half, and gave the rest to the boy at home later.

Dinner – Chicken fajitas! It’s always so fun when they bring out that sizzling plate, and I feel like an artist crafting my tacos. I also always end up with leftovers, which is like a 2-for-1 meal deal.

chicken fajitas

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Blender crepes with Lemon yogurt filling! I followed the recipe almost exactly (I know, gasp) but also added in a spoonful of cottage cheese to the filling, because I honestly forgot I had it and needed to use it up. I also microwaved a cup of blueberries to put on top. SO GOOD.

blender crepes with lemon filling and blueberry topping

Lunch – Leftover black bean enchilada and Spanish rice

Snack – If you are my friend on Twitter you know I succumbed to the sugar demon… someone at work is having a baby, so there were tiny cute cupcakes in the office! I ended up having 2, 2 days in a row…

Dinner – Lemon garlic asparagus pasta, a recipe Kroger sent me in the mail with my ‘super shopper’ coupons. For the boy I cooked some chicken quarters too.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Skinny vanilla latte and pumpkin bread. I have a Starbucks gold card (I don’t know how that happened either, but it has my name on it so it’s not a mistake…) and today was super double star day! That means I get 4 stars per $1 I spend. Starbucks is a rare treat for me, and I hoard giftcards just for these days.

Lunch – Chickpea salad sandwich with some carrots. Y’all. This has seriously changed my life. I added a sheet of nori seaweed in the morning when I made the sandwich, so the bread wasn’t soggy and the seaweed was soft by lunch time. This is mindblowing, it is seriously better than tuna salad. I’m in love.

chickpea salad sandwich

Snack – a cherry yogurt

Dinner – Chana Saag and brown basmati rice

I’m so excited its spring, because Farmers market Wednesday is back! I didn’t know and as I walked by the tables I was drooling over all the gorgeous in season greens. I dug through my pockets and came up with 3 dollar bills, and don’tcha know, that was the price for a big bundle of collard greens!! My lucky day.

Thursday:

Breakfast – More crepes with lemon yogurt and blueberries

Lunch – Chickpea salad sandwich with carrots and clementine. I ate the CLIF cherry-chia-apple bar as a snack around 4pm. It was really tasty, and I’m so sad I didn’t buy every single clearance box.

Dinner – I needed to do something creative with the gorgeous leafy Swiss chard I bought yesterday, so I made some spring rolls!

Swiss chard spring rolls

I used this recipe (mostly because I have a childish sense of humor and liked the site name) and even remembered to cut the veins out, but totally forgot to steam them… oops! The leaves were tender enough though, and they were really good. And actually really filling.

Swiss chard spring rolls with peanut sauce

Even the boy said they didn’t suck. He said the peanut butter sauce made him nervous, but it was surprisingly good.

Friday:

Breakfast – Crepes filled with peanut butter and banana and drizzled with honey

Lunch – Leftover Chana Saag

Dinner – I finished off the Swiss rolls. And then went out for some drinks with friends, which was so fun! But, also, led to Taco Bell on the way home… What can I say, sometimes a rice and bean burrito and cinnamon twists just has to happen.

 

The Weekend

There’s a slight chance I’ll hit the stores again Saturday, because Kroger is running some really good sales. But I told myself I’m not allowed to go unless I take the boy with me, so he can keep me from browsing and over spending!

I’m actually really happy it’s raining this weekend, it should help the berry bushes and garden plants we planted last weekend get more established (and let’s be real, I can be lazy and not water!). But it does put a damper on my hopes of hiking a lot… probably will be a very chill weekend.

I definitely need to do some laundry, I think it has been almost a month! I re-wear heavier things that don’t get dirty, like blazers and jeans, and the only things that automatically go into the wash pile are undies, socks, and workout clothes when I actually sweat in them… so… since I’m nearly out of all of them I guess it’s time!

 

Food Total: $26.93 + $3 cash

Woo hoo for low grocery totals!

I meal planned a bunch of things that were already in the pantry, and cleaned/inventoried the freezer. So the majority of our meals this week were ‘free’, or pre-paid basically. Then I made a quick stop to a WalMart while in the area, because we were nearly out of yogurt and that makes the boy sad.

Dairy $6.48 Staples $4.46 Fruit/Veg $7.17 Extras $8.82
4-pk Greek yogurts 2 4.48 Ravioli frz 3lb 2.58 Bananas 8 (0.52/lb) 1.42 Bistro snack box 1.9
4pk reg yogurts 2 2 Cucumber 0.54 Softsoap refil 64oz 3.84
A H DEO 1.88 Sweet potato 3 (.88/lb) 2.21 Mascara 2
CLIF fruit bars 4 3 Tax 1.08

And this total includes mascara and soap, which aren’t even food! So really it’s more like $20 total, plus $3 cash for Swiss chard.

Lessons Learned

I definitely need to keep up with eating from the freezer and pantry. I come from a family that is borderline Hoarders, never wanting to throw things out and always maximizing sales. I definitely think if you have the initial cash that stocking up will save money over time… but only if you then use the items!

At this point my pantry is full to bursting and it’s getting ridiculous. I need to work pantry items into the meal plan each week, not only to use things up before they expire but also to keep our future grocery totals low. So the focus will be on using up staples with interspersed seasonal produce, until my pantry is as sleek and gorgeous as Dr. McFrugals! #goals

 

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

Hand-Dipped Chocolate Covered Strawberries

With Valentine’s Day being tomorrow, you may be one of those people who is desperately searching the internet for the perfect “last-minute” ideas. Maybe you are almost ready to run to the store and shell out way too many dollars for over-priced and sub-par drug store candy.

Or perhaps you are celebrating solo, or with your friends, and just want a little treat for yourself or your girls, to make the day extra special. But you don’t have all day to slave over a hot stove.

Here’s your answer!

Chocolate dipped strawberries. They are universally loved, as who could resist a sweet, juicy fruit dipped in chocolate? And they are marvelously easy to make, taking mere minutes plus a little bit of chill time. But, you could make them as fancy as you wish, by mixing dark, regular, and white chocolate, sprinkles, coconut, crushed nuts, or any other whim of your imagination.

coconut oil and chocolate with a strawberry

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup chocolate chips (whatever kind you like)
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • Berries

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Step 1: Put a smaller pan over a large pan of water, and bring the water to a boil. This helps to melt to the chocolate, but keep it from burning or getting scorched on the bottom. The coconut oil also helps to make the melted chocolate smooth and glossy.

very last minute valentines day dessert idea

 

Step 2: Once melted, dip your strawberries in! Hold them by the green parts and the top, and drag through the melted chocolate.

Dipping a strawberry in chocolate

Mmmm look at that melty goodness! You could use any kind of berry or fruit for this honestly, bananas or pineapple would also be great.

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Step 3: Lay your chocolate covered berry on wax paper, on a plate or cookie tray that can fit in your refrigerator or freezer.

Chocolate dipped strawberries

Step 4: Put the berries in the fridge or freezer, to harden, at least 10 minutes. If using the freezer, don’t forget about them! You don’t want strawberry ice cubes. They are best fresh!

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The fun part about making your own chocolate-dipped treats is that sometimes you have extra melted chocolate. And you can go as crazy as you want! I had some almonds and peanuts, so I made nut clusters with mine, and sprinkled it with sea salt. The same idea applies, just let them chill for 10 minutes to an hour in the fridge before enjoying.

 

Do you have any Valentine’s Day plans tomorrow? If you want to avoid the crowds and overpriced “prixe-fixe” food, I’d suggest a simple yet impressive meal at home; everyone loves to be cooked for 😉 <3

Crispy Oven Baked Tofu

If you’ve ever had the perfect crispy tofu, where it is still soft and creamy on the inside but the outside has a shattery crisp crunch, then you know what I’m after. If you have not, then boy are you missing out, and you need to try this recipe!

Tofu is a beautiful blank canvas, able to suck up and take on the flavor of whatever sauce or dish you pair it with. It is great in all types of Asian dishes because salt in particular brings out its best qualities, but it is also a great stand-in for scrambled eggs, and it blends right into a smoothie without a trace.

But we all know that tofu’s true calling in life is to be the star of a good stir-fry.

Ingredients:

  • 1 block firm or extra firm tofu
  • 2-4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Step 1: Drain the tofu, and place on a paper towel or dish towel on a plate. Put something heavy on top, to help press out the water, and let it drain for 20-30 minutes. This dries out the block a bit and lets it soak up your marinade instead.

Step 2: Cut the block into 5-6 strips, and then cut each strip into cubes, about 1 inch square. Mix all marinade ingredients in a bowl, and toss the cubes to coat well. Lay the squares out on a baking pan (I lined mine with foil to make it easier to clean up afterwards).

Step 3: Bake at 400 degrees F for about 30 minutes. If you can, flip each piece once or twice halfway through, to crisp up all the edges.

You can douse them in buffalo sauce once baked for a can’t-resist party appetizer, dunk them into dips (or even some Green Goddess dressing), or toss onto a salad like bread crumbs. Or of course, toss into a good stir fry, and let the tofu feel that it’s life mission is complete.

 

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter

Ravioli is a nearly universally loved food, and yet I’ve only met one person who has made it from scratch. Because sadly, the time and knowledge and desire to spend hours making and rolling and cutting your own dough has been essentially lost to today’s fast-paced and convenience-based lifestyle.

Well I have good news!

You can have your ravioli and eat it too. With one easy trick, you can make fresh, ‘homemade’ ravioli in minutes. Honest.

The trick? Wonton wrappers.

The wrappers are basically very thin dough, and they are perfect for stuffing with a delicious autumn spiced filling. Whereas making your own noodles requires hours of work, tedious rolling, or having a fancy pasta machine, these ravioli take only about 10 minutes total once you have your filling ready!

This recipe makes about 25 ravioli, or half the number of won ton wrappers in your package (’cause you need 2 per ravioli).

Ingredients:

  • 1 package wonton wrappers
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 butternut squash*, roasted
  • Optional: pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, sage, sea salt, brown sugar, maple syrup, parmesan cheese, ground nuts

Sage Brown Butter**:

  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • Handful of sage leaves
  • Optional: sea salt, cracked black pepper

Step 1: Roast a butternut squash by slicing it in half, removing the seeds, and placing it cut-side-down on a baking sheet or pan. Bake at 350 F on the bottom rack of the oven for 45 minutes, flip, and bake another 25 minutes. The flesh should be tender and you can scoop it right out into a bowl.

If you want your filling to have more flavor, you can choose to add any of the following: dried or fresh sage or rosemary leaves, a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom, salt and or pepper, shredded parmesan cheese, crushed pine nuts or walnuts. I just left my filling as butternut squash because I love the flavor.

Step 2: Mash your squash up with a fork; lay out a single layer of wonton wrappers on a flat surface. Place a scant tablespoon of your filling in the center, and then use your fingers or a pastry brush to spread the egg all around the edges. Place another wrapper on top, and press down to seal.

I recommend doing these just 3-4 at a time, you don’t want your egg sealant to dry up before you press the top layer on.

Step 3: Bring a pot of water to a boil, and drop your ravioli in 2-3 at a time. Boil for 5-7 minutes, until they are floating, and then remove to a strainer or pan.

Step 4: While the ravioli are boiling, you can make the sage brown butter sauce. Melt a half a stick of butter in a pan, and bring it to a gentle simmer.

“Browned” butter and “burnt” butter are only a few seconds apart.

Step 5: Add a handful of fresh sage leaves. They will begin to shrink up and get crispy. They only need to cook in the bubbling butter for about 1-2 minutes, don’t let them get black. Take the pan off the heat, add some sea salt and cracked pepper, and you’re ready to roll!

Put 2-3 ravioli on a plate, and drizzle with the sage butter. It makes for a very impressive presentation, and a delicious, complex flavor with minimal ingredients and time.

This is a perfect, satisfying fall or winter recipe to use up seasonal, affordable squash, get some needed vitamins and fiber into your diet, and impress your dining companions. Once boiled, you can store in the refrigerator for 3-5 days, or freeze in a single layer for up to 3 months.

 

 

*Butternut is not the only squash that works in this recipe. You can also use acorn squash, delicata squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, or really any firm-fleshed autumn or winter gourd here.

**Sage brown butter is not the only sauce, either. It complements the flavor of squash well and is seasonal at the same time. However, the ravioli would be equally delicious with an Alfredo or marinara.

 

What are your favorite squash recipes?