Category Archives: Comfort food

Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Puppy Chow

 

OMG. Guys. Don’t make this.

Seriously, it is so delish, I cannot stop eating it! I had to make a second batch in order to have enough to share at my wine tasting weekend party. Sure, it is WAY healthier than your mom’s puppy chow recipe, but still… not when you eat 5 cups of it in one go.

Not that I’d do that.

Hopefully y’all know what puppy chow IS, by the way?

This is basically chocolate and peanut butter (strong start) with Chex rice crisp cereal, sprinkled in powdered sugar. That sort of looks like puppy food, hence the name.

And moms used to make this ALL THE TIME to get the kids to SHUT THE HELL UP and leave them alone for a minute. (No, just my mom? Whatever, your loss). Which works awesomely, cause this sh*t is addictive and delicious. See above.

But… that’s a metric crapton of sugar. Isn’t that the stuff you’re supposed to keep kids away from? Ahh, the blissful “good old days” before the food police and veganism and artificial sweeteners that actually are neurotoxins took over the world.

Anyways, in all seriousness, this stuff kinda looks like dog food, but is DEFINITELY NOT FOR DOGS. Do not feed this to your puppy. Besides, it is so good I doubt there will be any left after you hoover the bowl clean. Sharing with friends / children optional.

This recipe is slightly healthier, in that we cut out a lot of the sugar by using vanilla protein powder. You can also use regular protein powder plus 1/4 cup stevia or other (healthier) alternative sugar substitute. This of course ups the amount of protein per serving, making me feel like it’s basically a health food.

(Spoiler: it is not. It is still a treat, with tons of calories, but at least it is a slight improvement. Treat it as such, in moderation, and you should be just fine.)

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups chex cereal
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup vanilla protein powder
  • 2 tbsp. peanut powder (or peanut flour)
  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder

Step 1: In a large glass or microwave safe bowl, melt the peanut butter and chocolate chips together. I nuked it in 30 second bursts times 4, with stirring in between.

Step 2: Pour in the cereal, and mix gently but well to coat all the pieces in chocolatey peanut buttery deliciousness.

Step 3: Mix the dry ingredients in a large zip top bag. Pour the coated cereal in, and shake it like a polaroid picture! (Throwback, anyone remember what a polaroid actually is? Lord am I starting to feel old these days…)

Step 4: Pour the cereal out onto a wax paper lined cutting board or cookie tray to dry. That’s it! Try to keep your hands off the slightly-still-warm tasty snacks. Good luck  😉

 

 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Puppy Chow

Yield: 4 1/2 cup servings

Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Puppy Chow

Ingredients

  • 4 cups chex cereal
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup vanilla protein powder
  • 2 tbsp. peanut powder (or peanut flour)
  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder

Instructions

  1. In a large glass or microwave safe bowl, melt the peanut butter and chocolate chips together.
  2. Pour in the cereal, and mix gently but well to coat all the pieces in chocolatey peanut buttery deliciousness.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients in a large zip top bag. Pour the coated cereal in, and shake it.
  4. Pour the cereal out onto a wax paper lined cutting board or cookie tray to dry.
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Weekly Eating – 7/31

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!

 

Excuse me while I have an existential crisis real quick…

{OMG WHAT ITS AUGUST!? It was January like 2 seconds ago, we just moved to a new state, started a new job, had no furniture but an air mattress and knew not a darn soul… now we’ve been here TEN WHOLE MONTHS and have, like, a real adult home?!? And friends?? WHOA. Pretty sure this is where I should insert “hashtag blessed” or something..}

Okay, thanks for hanging in there readers, on to the deets of this week’s noms!

I had made a big ol’ pot of crockpot chili on Sunday night, which is one of my favorite things to do. I take all the kinds of dried beans in the house, and soak them in water overnight. In the morning, I pour out the water, refill it, and add the extra tomato juice, veggies, meat, and spices. Then you just let it rock and roll all day.

It is insanely cheap, because dried beans. It is also insanely versatile, use up the ends and bits of whatever, lentils, bell peppers, onions, black beans. So it is a little different every time. This became lunches several days, kept the work-from-home hubs from starving, and also chili cheese dogs and chili baked potatoes! <3

Monday:

Breakfast – bagel with almond butter & apple. This has become one of my favorite to-go breakfasts, so fast and easy, yet healthy!

Lunch – stuffed poblano peppers from last week’s food swap

Dinner – eggplant parm & pasta. I have tried multiple times, I just cannot like eggplant! This saddens me, because it is so good for you, and people very often want to give it away. But I just cannot.

Snack – white bean rosemary hummus with raw veggies. Y’all, if you have not tried this yet you are missing out! Get out the blender, go read the recipe right now, and make it!

Tuesday:

Breakfast – 2 egg veggie omelet. Had some onions, peppers, and mushrooms so I stir fried them and wrapped them in eggs!

Lunch – tuna noodle casserole. This is giving it a bit more credit than I probably should. I just took some leftover cooked pasta salad that already had bits of peppers and onion and mayo, and added a can of tuna to it to give it protein. Then I called that lunch!

Dinner – baked blue cheese & spinach chicken rolls with oven-roasted potato wedges & garlic aioli. Sounds super fancy, I know, but honestly it is literally 3 ingredients! Just thin chicken breasts, a pinch of blue cheese and handful of spinach, roll up and secure with cooking twine or toothpicks and bake!

The garlic aioli is 1-2 garlic cloves diced small, 2 tbsp. lemon juice, and 1/2 cup mayonnaise, mixed well. This is an excellent dip for chicken and potato wedges. Feel free to pull out this recipe anytime you need to impress someone but have seriously 5 minutes to focus on making the food.

Oh, and I also got a little crafty this week! I had seen a YouTube video for a bathing suit wrap that’s almost no-sew, and just had to try it. Of course, I didn’t get to it in time for the beach last weekend, but that’s ok.

It really was so easy! Just cut it to the right width to wrap around you, cut arm holes, and braid 3 strips of fabric for the shoulder straps. The straps were the only sewing part, and it took like 10 minutes total! I can’t wait to go somewhere that I can use it!

Wednesday:

Breakfast – homemade pretzel PB choc chip granola bars using THIS RECIPE from Tiffany @ Don’t Waste the Crumbs

This recipe was so easy to follow, and I LOVE pretzels, so how could it possibly go wrong? Well, I think using JIF added more oil than it needed, what with the extra coconut oil, so it was pretty greasy… but the flavor was out of this world delish, so this recipe is a keeper! I will definitely tweak it and make these again.

Lunch – crock pot turkey chili, I brought in a big enough container that I could only finish half! Good thing we have work refrigerators

Dinner – slow cooker pulled beef sandwiches with steamed broccoli and pinto beans. I literally just stuck a pound of beef roast in the crock pot before work, came home and shredded it. Could not ask for a simpler, but seriously tasty, dinner!

Snack – white bean hummus with raw veggies

Thursday 

Breakfast – pepper & onion omelet for me, cherry vanilla smoothie for the man. I think we’ve found a new favorite! 1/2 cup frozen cherries, 1/2 cup cherry juice, 1/2 cup yogurt, 1 scoop vanilla protein powder. It is GOOD!

Lunch – the rest of the turkey chili & more white bean hummus! See how making big batches of things early in the week can mean less work the rest of the week?

Dinner – turkey burritos! Because burritos are the kings of food.

I also had a great batch-prep night because this is when I went grocery shopping for the weekend parties (see below). I cooked up like 6 pounds of ground turkey and beef and packed it in 1lb zip locks to freeze, got a great deal on marked-down overripe bananas that I froze to make smoothies and bread in the future, and washed and cut up and bagged grapes, cherries, and strawberries for snacks.

Friday

Breakfast – vanilla Greek yogurt with strawberries, chia seeds, & walnuts. I made a grave error at the store, and grabbed flavored Greek rather than plain. I do make my own yogurt, but haven’t mastered the making it thicker like Greek yogurt part. So I got some for the hubs to put on burritos… oops. Well, now we will have smoothies and yogurt for breakfasts.

Lunch – Beef & veggie leftover soup. I took my small crock pot to work, and used up the little bit of leftover pulled beef, beans, broccoli, and some kale. I added a bit of barley, and let it go on my desk all morning. The office smelled great, and I had a cheap hot lunch!

Dinner – One pan roasted chicken, potatoes, and cauliflower with a side salad. I know this dinner is so “white” i.e. not much color. And also, not stir fry. But the below mentioned cheap chickens were around, so I roasted one, and Kroger also had a 5lb bag of potatoes for 0.99, so…

Hence the side salad, for at least a little greenery in our diet.

Snack – granola bar nomnomnom

The Weekend

Saturday is a neighborhood potluck, for which I plan on making some potato salad and ham sandwiches. I also got whole chicken on sale this week for 0.79 / pound!! Can you even believe it! Yeah I stocked my freezer, as you’ll see below in the total…

And then Sunday we are hosting  a wine tasting by Unique Pairings! I’m super pumped because it means an excuse to eat all the cheese and sweets and try lots of wines! This also helped to inflate the food budget a little, but totally worth. I adore hosting parties.

Total: $177.86

My goal is to keep this number under $100 all the time, and eventually get down to $75/week for food.

Lessons Learned

Uh, yeah, so we overshot by $100. BUT. As noted above, we are going to 2 different parties this weekend, and most of the extra food was for appetizers/foods to share. Also, as hosts, we will frequently wind up with tons of leftover food, which will likely feature in a lot of next week’s meals.

Plus, SEVENTY NINE CENTS A POUND for chicken!! Come on. Tell me you wouldn’t buy like ten if you had the freezer space for that. A lot of this was stocking up on good sales, so that in future weeks we won’t have to spend as much on meats/etc.

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

Weekly Eating #4 – 7/10

 

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!

Monday:

Breakfast – yogurt parfait with frozen strawberries & cherries & a crushed up Nature Valley Oats & Honey bar

Lunch – leftover stirfry

Dinner – BBQ pork ribs & leftover mashed potatoes. I grab boneless ribs anytime I see them on clearance, and keep some in the freezer as a special treat, these are one of hubby’s absolute favorite things. I defrost them overnight, then boil in some chicken stock, then sear them in the pan. We then eat them slathered in BBQ sauce, and ended up so messy by the end that I didn’t get a photo.  🙂

Tuesday:

Breakfast – KIND bar

Lunch – leftover salmon summer salad from the weekend’s dinner party. This stuff is so darn good I swear I could eat it almost daily.

Dinner – Pork & White Bean Soup in the slow cooker using the broth from yesterday’s ribs. It was so simple, but so tasty! Served with biscuits from the freezer.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – chocolate PB oatmeal: funny story. This was actually a rescued “Frugal Fail” to borrow a term from Mrs. Picky Pincher. I meant to try a recipe for no-bake energy bites. It called for oats, and PB and honey. But I only had honey PB (twofer, awesome!) and steel cut oats (They’re the same thing, right? Wrong.)

So I happily measure and mix, convinced this is a perfect quick breakfast choice. Oh, by the way, this is at 7am, and I need to leave at 7:30… Well, first, it wouldn’t all stick together. I tried using more PB, and got it wet enough to stick. But it still won’t form a ball, it was like, wet sand. Steel cut oats are cut into teeny tiny pieces, and evidently, do not make no-bake balls well.

So I tried baking it. I know, that defeats the purpose of a “no-bake” recipe. But I figured, maybe I could at least turn them into bars and salvage this. Now it is 7:20… And I try to cut a bar… and it falls apart instantly. Okay, clearly, this is not working. Do I throw out a whole 8×8 pan of oats and peanut butter and flax?

No way!

I think… well… it’s still oatmeal. May as well throw it in a jar, and pour some milk over it. Still warm from the oven, the chocolate was melty and quickly turned it into chocolate milk, with a slight peanutty flavor. Turns out, this was pretty great! Hooray!

Frugal fail turned into something edible.

Ahhhh, the sweet taste of success.

Lunch – out with a work colleague, pesto chicken panini

Dinner – tortellini with pesto and frozen mixed veggies

Snacks – brown rice cakes

Thursday:

Breakfast – chocolate oatmeal creation

Lunch – black beans & rice with salsa

Snack –  These Amazing Date Cookies!

Picture courtesy of Hip Fit Foodie

Dinner – baked potato soup. I used some leftover mashed potatoes with frozen chicken stock and we stirred in a tbsp plain Greek yogurt to make it creamy, with bacon and cheddar cheese on top. We ate it on the front porch while watching a heck of a thunderstorm.

Friday:

Breakfast – 1 egg, colby jack cheese, Bagel Thin sandwich

Lunch – last of my salmon & couscous salad. I used a small salad container and a leftover ranch dipper to be all cute too!

Dinner – leftover buffet!

The Weekend:

My plans for the weekend include rooftop yoga followed by the Farmers Market, then a quick healthy lunch of some kind of salad, and figuring out what to make for dinner. I’m sure we will have loads of fresh produce by then, so I’m thinking a vegetable lasagna, summer veggie pasta, or kebabs are imminent.

Then I will start a new batch of homemade yogurt, and homemade kombucha. I also think I will try to make ahead some mason jar meals like yogurt parfaits, overnight oatmeal, and salads in a jar too. I’m going to the beach next week to celebrate my mom’s birthday (SO EXCITED!) so I want easy meals to give me more time to pack and plan, and then I need to plan ahead some freezer meals for the hubble bubble so he doesn’t starve.

Total:  $77.60

My goal is to keep this number under $100 all the time, and eventually get down to $75/week for food.

2 trips to the store (Kroger & Harris Teeter) plus the local farmers market. The weekend Farmer Market trip will be included in next week’s total.

Lessons Learned

I did a great job at the store this week! Nearly to my $75/week goal, and that included all our staples, plus a few last-second items I asked the mister to grab prior to our dinner party last week, plus the farmers market splurge on Wednesday. Aw yeah!

And I learned that sometimes, recipe experiments don’t turn out the best. But that’s okay, we all make mistakes sometimes. Luckily, it wasn’t so bad of a fail, I could still eat the oatmeal. It was just… less than pleasing in texture, shall we say?  😉

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

Venison Breakfast Hash

 

It is no secret that as a culture, we are now so far removed from where “food” comes from. Many millions of people, in America especially, but all over the world, grow up never seeing food grown or processed with their own eyes. The only way they ever interact with edibles is at the very end of a long chain. At a restaurant, or as packaged, refrigerated, cling-wrap, boxed up “food like product”.

Seven percent may not seem large, until you realize that is how many American adults think chocolate milk comes from brown cows. Yup, the Innovation Center of American Dairy did an actual survey on it. Let us just hope the vast majority of these people were kidding… after all, what about strawberry milk?

As the number of people who live on farms or identify as farmers shrinks, and the average size of a “farm” balloons with huge corporations, it is healthy to get back to the roots (literally) of food production. Google a local farm, and just go visit. I guarantee the farmer will be glad to tell you all about his chickens, corn crops, the weather, and government subsidies. Or try out a local farmers market or CSA, to support those in your community supplying you with fresh, local, healthful edibles.

I am lucky enough to have at least 2 friends now to whom I can turn for fresh venison whenever my stash runs low! Ideally some day I want to try hunting, so that I can see the whole process. I’ve gardened a lot in the past, and am still working on convincing hubby that chickens and/or goats are a good idea…

I’ve already tried a venison pot pie, which was amazing. This breakfast hash used the other 1/2 pound I had in the refrigerator. It was well-seasoned, the hubby couldn’t even tell it was venison. And he does not like gamey meats, so I consider that a success!

Makes enough for 2 servings, or 1 really hearty breakfast
Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound venison ground
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 sm-med sweet potato
  • 1 cup spinach or mixed greens

Step 1: Cook the venison in a frying pan with some cooking spray until no longer pink. Dice up the sweet potato. You can either microwave the pieces for 5-8 minutes to speed the cooking process, or cook them in a frying pan on medium heat with a lid for 15-17 minutes.

Step 2: Once the potatoes are soft when poked with a fork, add the spinach and a tbsp of water, cover to let it steam for a minute. Stir it around, add the venison, then add the eggs and cover again. Cook for 5-6 minutes.

And that’s it! Serve alone, or with toast for dipping. The longer you cook, the harder the yolk will become. I like just a little bit of runny yellow left, that takes about 4 minutes. You can also make this with scrambled eggs or poached eggs instead.

 

Tell me! Have you ever been hunting? Kept chickens? Gardened?

Chunky Monkey “Ice Cream”

 

We are always looking for ways to find balance. A healthy happy life should not be one of sacrifice and want. I cannot ever see myself being satisfied and happy on a diet of broiled chicken, raw vegetables, and salads alone. You need delicious things and things you love to keep life worth living.

But, you also know that if you enjoy 7-layer lasagna and gelato every day, this will lead to bad things. Sure, it’s tasty now, and totally fine once in a while. But when occasional indulgences become the everyday norm, it leads to weight gain, high cholesterol, hypertension, fatty liver disease, and diabetes.

What’s a health-conscious-delicious-food-lover to do?

Make this amazing, high protein, low fat treat to satisfy your cravings! A whole bowl has under 500 calories, yet more than 30 grams of protein. It has almost no fat, especially if you omit the walnuts (nuts are amazing protein sources, but they do pack a significant fat and caloric punch, so go easy on them). Yet it tastes just as thick and creamy as a decadent soft serve.

Whip up a double or triple batch to keep on hand for when the sugar monster hits hard!

Ingredients:

  • 1 banana, frozen
  • 1 banana, fresh
  • 1 scoop protein powder
  • 1 tbsp dark chocolate pieces
  • 1 tbsp walnuts
  • 2-3 tbsp milk

Step 1: In a strong blender, mix the frozen banana, fresh banana, and milk. You can also use water if you’re really watching calories, and use just one banana.

Step 2: Add the protein powder and a few of the chocolate pieces, to break them up. Pulse until well blended. Sprinkle nuts and chocolate on top, and enjoy!

If it’s too watery, pop it in the freezer for 15-20 minutes. If the frozen banana won’t blend, add a tbsp water or milk at a time until it does blend.

 

 

Chunky Monkey “Ice Cream”

Chunky Monkey “Ice Cream”

Ingredients

  • 1 banana, frozen
  • 1 banana, fresh
  • 1 scoop protein powder
  • 1 tbsp dark chocolate pieces
  • 1 tbsp walnuts
  • 2-3 tbsp milk

Instructions

  1. In a strong blender, mix the frozen banana, fresh banana, and milk. You can also use water if you're really watching calories, and use just one banana.
  2. Add the protein powder and a few of the chocolate pieces, to break them up. Pulse until well blended. Sprinkle nuts and chocolate on top, and enjoy!
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Venison pot pie

 

You guys want to know a little secret about the Budget Epicurean?

I can’t believe I lived over 2 decades in Ohio, and never tried venison. It’s true.

I’ve had elk, and bison, and goat, and pheasant, and a whole bunch of other more exotic meats. But still no venison.

Until now.

I’m lucky enough to have a friend who knows a guy who hunts regularly. Turns out, excess deer population is a problem shared in North Carolina too. This seems to be a problem just about everywhere, as they now have almost no native predators to worry about. Their only concern is a too-fast passing car.

why we should eat deer

Deer will eat just about anything when they are hungry, and a rough winter or over-population means more infiltration into neighborhoods. We live between two big patches of forest, and they are well known to stroll through around dusk. They have decimated my pansies more than once, and I’ve already seen evidence of browsing on my brand new ivy and hostas as well.

So really, I’m doing us all, and myself a favor by eating deer meat!

Do us all a favor too, and make this recipe soon. If you or someone in the household doesn’t think they’ll like deer because it is “gamey”, you need to find a new supplier. Deer, when ground and spiced right, is totally delicious and almost indistinguishable from ground beef. If your store doesn’t carry venison, try a specialty meat market, or ask around. You never know who you know that might know a guy…

venison pie with biscuits

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound venison (you could use any ground meat though)
  • 1 cup mixed frozen vegetables
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2-3 tbsp flour
  • 1 container biscuits (you could use mashed potatoes instead)
  • Garlic salt to taste

Venison pot pie

Step 1: Microwave the milk for 1 minute, whisk in the flour and let sit. Meanwhile brown the venison in a skillet. Add the frozen vegetables and let cook until just thawed.

venison pot pie with biscuits

Step 2: Spray the bottom of a round pie plate or 8×8 casserole dish. Pour in the meat mixture, and cover with the milk and flour mixture. Pop open the biscuits, and line the top with the dough.

baked biscuit venison pot pie

Step 3: Bake at 350 on the bottom rack of the oven for 8-10 minutes, until the biscuits are nice and browned on top. Let cool for a minute, and enjoy.

 

Venison pot pie

Venison pot pie

Ingredients

  • 1 pound venison (you could use any ground meat though)
  • 1 cup mixed frozen vegetables
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2-3 tbsp flour
  • 1 container biscuits (you could use mashed potatoes instead)
  • Garlic salt to taste

Instructions

  1. Microwave the milk for 1 minute, whisk in the flour and let sit. Meanwhile brown the venison in a skillet. Add the frozen vegetables and let cook until just thawed.
  2. Spray the bottom of a round pie plate or 8x8 casserole dish. Pour in the meat mixture, and cover with the milk and flour mixture. Pop open the biscuits, and line the top with the dough.
  3. Bake at 350 on the bottom rack of the oven for 8-10 minutes, until the biscuits are nice and browned on top. Let cool for a minute, and enjoy.
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Pan fried chillaquiles

 

You know how sometimes (always) you have a party, and at the end of the night, there’s like, 10 chips left in the bag? Or you clean out the pantry and realize there’s a who-knows-how-old quarter bag of tostitos still sitting on the top shelf, using up your favorite chip-clip?

Turns out, there’s a way to use up leftover or old tortilla chips to make them into something new and delicious!

Chillaquiles (chee-la-kee-lays) is a home-style Mexican recipe, with tons of flavor and stick to your ribs goodness. It is in no way a healthy recipe, which is a slight deviation from my normal attempts to healthify everything. But we all need a little indulgent comfort food now and then, and I’m always a big fan of not wasting food. Even the 8 chips left in the bottom of the bag.

pan fried tortilla chips and salsa

Makes one enormous pan full! Serves about 8.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups crushed tortilla chips
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 1 large can tomato sauce
  • 5-6 eggs, scrambled
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

eggs, whisked

Step 1: In a large frying pan, pour the chips, salsa, and tomato sauce. Cook over medium low heat, until the chips have begun to soften.

pouring the egg into the chillaquiles

Step 2: Scramble the eggs in a bowl. If you want extra fluffiness, add a splash of milk. Pour into the frying pan, add the cheddar, and mix well.

Step 3: Cook over medium-high heat, mixing occasionally, until the egg is cooked through. If you like, sprinkle with a little extra cheddar.

Optional add-ins include: diced peppers and onions, sour cream, black or pinto beans, chorizo, sausage, other types of cheese like pepper jack, jalapenos…

 

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Last Minute Apps & Snacks

 

So, rumor has it tonight is some big sportsball thing…

Just kidding, of course as an American I’m aware of what is basically a national holiday, the Super Bowl! This year we even get back Roman Numerals (remember those things from history class? dare you to remember what more than 3 letters stand for…)

SuperBowlLILogoThis is a little ironic for me this year, as I just moved from CT (New England) to NC (the South, like Atlanta). While I could root for either, I think I like the Falcons’ colors better TBH.

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Whether you’re hosting or attending a party, you may not have had time to fully prepare, or you may have realized you have way more guests than you have chicken wings. In that case, you could panic and spend this week’s paycheck at the deli or getting a pizza…

OR you could try any of these super-simple app and snack ideas, each guaranteed to cost <$10 and take minutes to put together! I know which one I’d go with.

*Twice baked potato skins: Rinse and poke holes in a dozen medium potatoes. Bake at 350 for 45 min – 1 hour, until soft. Cut in half, scoop out the insides into a bowl and mash with some cheese or milk. Load back into skins, top however you want, and bake open-faced for another 15- 20 minutes. You could even build a “pick-your-own-toppings” bar, or let them keep warm in the oven until needed.

*White bean dip: Open a can of white beans, drain. Puree in a blender, and add garlic salt and lemon juice to taste, slowly pour in olive oil until you get your desired consistency. Serve with pita chips and fresh veggies.

*Bruschetta: Slice Italian bread thinly, top with diced tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar. Bake at 350 for 15ish minutes, sprinkle with basil, parsley, and/or garlic salt.

*Mac-n-cheese bites: Make a box of mac n cheese, then scoop into a greased muffin tin. Sprinkle with bread crumbs or crushed crackers, bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes. Portion control!

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*Bacon-wrapped asparagus: Take slices of bacon and wrap around 2-3 bunched asparagus spears. Lay on a pan and bake in the oven at 350 for 20-30 minutes, until bacon is crispy but asparagus is soft.

*Football deviled eggs: Make deviled eggs as normal (hard-boil a dozen, cut in half, take out the yellows. Mash with some mayo and mustard, fill back into the white halves) but then make them cute with football “laces” made from chives, black olives, etc.

*Caprese salad: Super simple, just layer sliced fresh mozzarella and tomato with some basil leaves, drizzle with olive oil. Bonus points if you get baby mozarella and grape tomatoes and put them on a skewer!

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*Quesadillas! Who doesn’t love quesadillas, they are a perfect hand-held food. Just take 2 tortillas, fill as you like with beans, avocado, guac, hummus, any kind of cheese, and fry on both sides until golden. Slice into quarters and serve with dips and toppers.

*Crock Pot Meatballs! There are so many options, but the best ones are just toss-it-in-and-wait. Swedish Meatballs are a classic, of course you could do regular tomato sauce and serve with thick hoagie buns, or try sweet and sour for an Asian twist.

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*Loaded nacho bar: Open a bag of chips and dump into a big bowl. Line a table with smaller bowls of beans, salsa, guac, sour cream, sliced olives, shredded lettuce, cheese, etc and let your guests customize to their heart’s content.

*Black bean hummus: open and drain a can of black beans. In a blender, combine with a clove or 2 of garlic, 2 tbsp peanut butter (yup you read that right), and olive oil. Whir until smooth!

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*Spinach Artichoke Dip: there are so many variations, but I’d go for any crock pot version. This way you can toss all the ingredients in, turn it on high when you arrive, then by halftime that dip is ready to keep the party rockin when all the wings are gone

*Football pepperoni roll pinwheels: roll out a tortilla, cover with a thin layer of pizza sauce, mini pepperoni, and cheese. Roll tightly, press down to make an oval shape. Cut into slices, lay on the side, and draw football laces with mustard, sour cream or sliced pepperoni

*Football shaped fritter: these are the cutest darn things, and actually quite healthy! Don’t let the beer-chugging manic shushing everyone know there’s a serving of veggies in there

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*Classic cheese or veggie tray: if you have some carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, or radishes, just serve with some ranch dressing or any dip. And if you’ve a brick or chunks of random cheeses, now is a perfect excuse to lay them all out artfully and clean your fridge at the same time

Whatever you make or eat, make sure you enjoy the company. That’s what any party is really all about!

Slow Cooker Enchilada Casserole

 

Slow cookers are such a blessing to a busy cook! Whether you don’t like cooking, don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen, are feeding just one or an army, slow cookers can make healthy, quick meals a snap. With a small amount of planning, you can have dinner ready and cooking in 10 minutes or less before you run out the door, and come home to a hot, home-cooked meal at the end of the day.

Enchiladas are a favorite in my house, because they are customizable, economical, and delicious! Tortillas are cheap, and can even be made at home, corn or flour, for pennies. You can use chicken, beef, or keep it vegetarian with tofu or beans. And beans are great money savers! Especially if you buy dried, and cook them at home (another thing slow cookers are great at!).

Slow cooker enchiladas

In this recipe, I used burrito-sized flour tortillas, because they happen to be the exact size of my slow cooker. You can use smaller corn tortillas and layer them, or even roll individual enchiladas and pile them up in the sauce. Whatever makes you happy!

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Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground beef or turkey
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (or diced whole tomatoes)
  • 1 cup frozen corn (or canned)
  • 1 can black and/or pinto beans, drained
  • 3-4 tortillas
  • 1 jar enchilada sauce
  • Shredded cheese to taste

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Step 1: Brown your ground meat in a frying pan, and drain. Add the pepper and onion, saute until softened. You can add any spices you like here, such as cumin, taco seasoning, chili powder…

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Step 2: Spray the crock pot with cooking spray, if you like. Line the bottom with a tortilla.  Layer on the meat, tomatoes, corn, and beans. Top with sauce, cheese, and another tortilla.

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Step 3: Continue layering 2-3 times, until the crock is full. Top with some more cheese, and the enchilada sauce.

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Step 4: Set to low for 4-6 hours, or high for 1-2 hours. A programmable crock pot is best to ensure you don’t burn it. Cut yourself a nice slice, and enjoy!

 

Sidenote: If you don’t have a slow cooker, or just want to try something different, do the same thing but in a pie pan or 8×8 pan. Layer all the ingredients, cover with foil, and then bake at 350 for 1 – 1.5 hours. Still an enchilada casserole! You can also then freeze this for re-heating easily later.

Restaurant Review: The Saucy Crab

 

The Budget Epicurean has a new home base, y’all! We have up and moved across the country from the lovely shores of New Haven Connecticut, to the woodsy Research Triangle mecca of middle North Carolina.

Why would you do this crazy, exhausting thing you ask?

Oh so many reasons… cost of living is way lower, taxes are incredibly cheaper, the people are super nice, the traffic is less terrible, the weather is a vast improvement, the Research Triangle is nearby with oodles of tech and scientific career opportunities…   need I go on?

So yeah, we did this crazy, expensive, exhausting thing and drove 12 hours the weekend before Thanksgiving to a new house with no furniture, heat, or hot water, and promptly hosted 9 people for the holiday. Because we are crazy people and have a reputation to protect as such!

While North Carolina does have a long stretch of seafront property, one does not normally think of the interior of the state as having good seafood. At least, when I think delicious seafood, I don’t think of Duke University… So when we were out and about exploring our new home, and saw a place called “The Saucy Crab” we just had to stop in and check it out.

saucy crab map

Nestled just off of 501 next to the Rooms to Go and across from the South Square shopping center, it sits on a hill looking over the highway almost exactly halfway between Durham and Chapel Hill. Google Maps refers to it as a “quirky hangout with shellfish & beer” and that is indeed what we found.

The Saucy Crab outside

With a tan stone exterior and a dimly lit, beach themed interior, it seems to have the quirky hangout part nailed.  Since we just came from the New England area of the East Coast, it was fun to see their beach theme, complete with upside down beer buckets as lamps over the beachy picnic tables.

The Saucy Crab inside

There was a large canoe hanging from the ceiling, beer bottle lanterns and chandeliers, and more beach decor scattered throughout. There were oars, and life preservers, and wooden crabs all over the place.  The crab is obviously their chosen mascot, and they have repeated the motif throughout.

Drawings on the walls

The tables are covered with butcher paper, and there are buckets of crayons on each table to encourage creativity.  We of course took advantage of these as we waited. And if your drawing is good enough or the wait staff takes a liking to it, you might end up on the wall! There are tacked up pictures all over, mostly of various renditions of the crab but also many other talented drawings.

I wonder if mine was good enough to make it on the wall? Guess we will have to go back and find out!

Budget Epicurean crab drawing

We got lucky, and early on a Saturday we had the place to ourselves. The waiter promptly took us over to a booth towards the back, and we knew what we wanted pretty quickly.

I ordered the sturgeon basket lunch special, and my hubby got the “surf and turf” as he put it; a burger with shrimp on top, also known as the “Saucy Burger”. Their lunch specials a great, under $10 for your fried main dish of choice and it comes with slaw, hush puppies, and potato wedges (which is really what their “fries” are, just FYI.)

spicy popcorn

And guys… they bring you spicy popcorn while you wait! Instead of chips and salsa or bread sticks, this place brings you a lovely bamboo bowl of endless spicy popcorn! Beware, it does have a bit of a kick. But it is addictive for sure, and healthier than most other pre-dinner snacky options. Plus it gives your hands something to do if you aren’t feeling your creative side and don’t want to color. 🙂

The fried sturgeon lunch basket

The food came out hot and fresh in about ten minutes, super fast. Of course, like I said we were literally the only people in the place. But it was clear that it had all just been cooked to order, not pulled out of a freezer and flash fried again. The slaw was slightly sweet and just the right amount of crunch, though the cup was super itty bitty. I would have like more of it, it was so good.

The hush puppies don’t look like much, but they were delicious! The corn bread was also a little sweet, and fried perfectly. The honey butter was amazing with them too. And the breading on the sturgeon and potatoes was light and crispy, fried just right. Of course, this is not the place to go if you’re trying to eat light and healthy! But once in a while, boy what a treat! And that sweet tea, mmmmm mmmm God Bless the South!

the Saucy burger

Hubby’s burger was slightly too cooked for my liking, but he said it was awesome. The burger meat plus big juicy shrimp was a strange combination for my brain to handle, but it was tasty. He even left the lettuce on, bless his heart! And the shrimp were cooked to perfection. A big melty slice of cheddar on top brought it all together.

Their special sauce was super tasty too, it was like a thousand island dressing, but with tartar sauce added; thick and creamy and tangy. It was great for dipping the fries in honestly! He didn’t use the mustard at all, though I have a suspicion it was just knockoff regular jarred mustard so I don’t mind.

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More shots of the interior decorations, and below is a larger room in the back which seems like it can be rented out for bigger parties. They also had a stage area set up with huge speakers, so it seems like maybe they do live music sometimes? While we were there a mix of country songs was playing, which I loved but hubby wasn’t too pleased. So hopefully you enjoy country music with your seafood! I thought it was a nice blend of ocean and southern feel.

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The bathroom was red and black and yellow, which was a little arresting when you first walked in. One sink had the faucet missing too. But it was large and clean, and there was plenty of toilet paper and paper towels, which is the truly important part.

 

Overall, I’d rate The Saucy Crab:

  • Taste: 7
  • Atmosphere: 10
  • Value: 8

 

The food was good, but I’m not a huge fan of fried things. The menu is a little limited too, but that’s to be expected from a place that specializes. I’d like to go again and try their crab, since that seems to be their pride and joy.  The atmosphere is very chill and fun, this would be a great place for a big family, a group of friends, or just a place to hang out and relax.

It felt very comfortable, I’d definitely bring a big group of people here for a fun night out. And the seafood is fairly priced, with great lunch specials. I think we nailed it by being there right around opening time on a Saturday. I’m not sure how crowded it gets in the evenings, but at least it is large enough to accommodate a pretty decent crowd.

 

Have you ever been to the Saucy Crab?  What did you think?