Last-minute Valentine’s Day meal ideas

 

 

So, you want to have a romantic dinner but don’t want to shell out $20 and up? Me too!

With Valentine’s Day only 2 days away, you may be thinking about having a special meal with a special someone. It doesn’t matter if you’re cooking for yourself, some of your girlfriends or bros, your significant other, your parents, your dog, whatever, cooking a meal is always an act of love. An act of survival too, sure, but also you’re taking the trouble to turn raw ingredients into something edible.

Even if it’s a box of easy mac, or as fancy as a seven course meal, the person enjoying the finished product knows a little dash of love went into it.

And while a romantic dinner out on the town is nice every now and then, there are several advantages to cooking at home. One, you get to control the ingredients that go into your food. Restaurants use all kinds of ingredients you might not want to know about: stabilizers, emulsifiers, preservatives, MSG, salt and sugar by the tablespoon. At home, you know what is going into your food, and thus into your body.

Two, you can control portion sizes. There is a ton of research out there, not to mention if you’ve been around 2-3 decades or more you can see it for yourself, pointing fingers at ballooning portion sizes as a contributor to the obesity epidemic. When you eat out, you want to “get your money’s worth”, and restaurants know that giving you more food but with cheaper, less healthy ingredients, is good for their bottom lines. Terrible for your bottom, however, which will expand along with the size of the plate.

And finally, it is far cheaper per meal to cook at home. If you go out to a moderately priced chain, you are hard-pressed to find a full meal for less than $15 for dinner. Then add in tip, time, and gas money to get there. If you go out to a nicer restaurant or a place with a prixe-fixe menu, you are probably looking more into the $50 per person range. Restaurants know people want a special experience for Valentine’s Day, and take advantage by making fancy looking and sounding menus and tripling the prices.

Why not have just as special a meal, in a quiet place where you can actually hear each other talk, with no rush because the place wants to turn over your table? That’s right, I’m talking about your home!

Oh, and yes, you do have to do your dishes unlike at a restaurant. But you know what? That can be part of the experience if you know your dining partner well. Make it into an assembly line as you wash and dry together, laughing and maybe splashing each other throughout. Or tag-team dishwasher loading, then curl up on the couch with a good movie while it runs. You can make even chores fun if you try!

 

And now for the potential menu!

Below are a wide range of recipes, each will take you less than an hour, and I specialize in recipes that are affordable and simple. You won’t find more than 10 ingredients, and most of them you likely already have on hand.

Choose a few things that you know how to make, or know you will enjoy eating, and make some magic happen.

 

Appetizers – having multiple courses helps spread the meal out, giving you time to talk to your dining partner and bond. Appetizers don’t have to be complicated, give one of these a try.

Main course – even if you think you can’t cook, you should give it a try! Start with something very simple, and give it a test run today. Then you may find some ways to tweak it or make it better or easier. Or just jump in with both feet, what’s the worst that can happen, you order a pizza later?

Dessert – everyone loves dessert! You could even make your entire meal just a dessert buffet! But I’d recommend choosing just one thing you feel you can make, then sprinkle in an extra cup or two of love, and enjoy it.

Drinks – for adults and under-agers alike, a special drink makes a memorable addition to a special meal. You don’t have to get crazy with dozens of ingredients and multiple steps. Even something as simple as adding thinly sliced citrus to a glass of water can elevate the everyday to the special day.

 

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!

The best cold remedy: A Hot Toddy

 

We all know the feeling, the scratchy throat, the headaches, the general malaise and fatigue. Oh no, here comes a cold! Even if you get a flu shot, exercise regularly, eat well, always wash your hands, and avoid human contact, sometimes you’re going to get sick.

There are oodles of home recipes and remedies, some of which do help (boiling water and tea tree oil, breathing in that steam is the best!) and some that are totally bogus (I don’t know if chewing garlic actually works but it tastes awful). If you are able to make chicken soup, there really is something about it that’s magic.

But when you can hardly leave bed, and DayQuil just isn’t working, this may help you out: A Hot Toddy. As old fashioned as it sounds, it’s a classic for a reason. Honey is soothing to a sore throat, and may be an effective cough suppressant. Lemon juice is antibacterial and antiviral, which may help reduce the time you’re sick by weakening the bug that’s weakening you.

Cold & Flu Fix: Hot Toddy

And as for whiskey, alcohol helps dilate blood vessels, making your membranes better able to deal with the mucus. Of course, alcohol is also a diuretic, meaning it pulls water from your body, so be sure to limit yourself to ONE per day, and also keep drinking plenty of other hydrating fluids (see: soup.) like water, tea, or sports drinks with electrolytes.

Hot Toddies: The Best Cold & Flu Remedy

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 oz whiskey
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 4 oz hot water

Hot Toddy Ingredients

Step 1: Put the lemon juice and honey in a glass. Heat the water to not quite boiling, and pour over. Mix until honey dissolves. Add whiskey and enjoy warm*.

*Obviously, please drink responsibly. Of course, if you have a serious cold or the flu, you likely aren’t leaving the house, let alone driving heavy machinery. Hope this helps you feel better soon!

 

Spicy Green Beans

 

Ever try to get a child, or significant other, or friend, or yourself, to eat a new vegetable?  Sometimes, it is just fine. But most of the time, it does not go over well. You’re greeted with scrunched up noses, tongues sticking out, and a chorus of “ewwww!”.

Well, I have good news for you. I know of several tricks to get new vegetables to at the least be considered, if not openly adored. One involves trying it in a new texture. I’ve found that pan-frying or baking until crispy can render some normally off-putting veg nearly irresistible.

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The second trick is spice. Usually the hot kind, but also all kinds of spices. Familiarize yourself with different spices, fresh and dried, ground and whole. Peppers are a whole world of their own, from as innocuous as bells and jalapenos up through cherry peppers, poblanos, and serranos.

While they are in season, pick them up cheap at the store or farmer’s market (or better yet, grow your own, peppers are very forgiving and easy growing!) and they freeze or dehydrate beautifully for salsas and recipes all year long.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh green beans (or any pole bean)
  • 1/2 cup fresh cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tsp ground or fresh diced hot pepper
  • 1 tsp dried or fresh diced garlic
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp olive oil

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Step 1: Put the olive oil and green beans in a frying pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 6-8 minutes, until beans start to brown.

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Step 2: Add the garlic, tomatoes, soy sauce, and hot pepper. You can use any kind of tomatoes, or forget about them and just cook the beans too. I happened to have a yellow pear tomato plant that just exploded with fruit so I used those. It adds a nice juicy, fresh taste.

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Cook until tomatoes burst, and most of the liquid is evaporated. Serve hot!

These come out crunchy yet easy to chew, with a very fun texture. If you let them cool slightly, they can be great finger foods. Obviously you can adjust the level of heat to the comfort level of whoever is eating them. Add extra hot peppers to convince a doubtful male to try it (Seriously, spice works to conceal a lot of “vegetal” tastes most dudes don’t love), or dial it back for those who are new to spices.

You can even omit the hot pepper at all for children, or people who are allergic or just don’t like hot pepper. But I’d suggest giving it a try, you’ll never go back to canned beans once you’ve tried this delish dish!

 

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.

Easy homemade corn tortillas

 

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2017, and all the adventures that await! I hope you will take some chances, try new things, and enjoy this year even more than the last one. To start off, let’s try something that sounds more intimidating that it really is, making your own homemade corn tortillas.

So, remember how I said that I had bought this thing called Maseca to make my Chorizo Tamale Pie? I read on the bag that it can make hundreds of tortillas, and of course I had to try it! The recipe is so crazy simple, I almost didn’t believe it would work. Just the flour, water, and oil? No way!

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Maseca is a kind of dehydrated corn flour, so that all you do is add water. That must be how you need a very tiny amount of it to make a very large amount of tortillas!

I would recommend trying this with a small batch at first, until you get the hang of how much water or oil you need to create the tortilla texture you want. You can make your tortillas larger, to make big ol burritos, or tiny to make hand tacos. That is the beauty of making your own.

Well, that and eating every other one hot off the griddle cause they’re so darn tasty!

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Ingredients (makes about a dozen small tortillas, or 4-5 large):

  • 1 cup maseca
  • ~1 cup warm water
  • 1 big tablespoon shortening

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Step 1: In a large bowl, mix the maseca and half the water. Mix well, using your hands is the best way. Add the shortening and mix it throughout. Add water until it reaches a doughy consistency, where it is not crumbly nor sticky.

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Step 2: Pinch off a ball about the size of a golf ball, and roll it flat using your hands or a rolling pin. Spray a pan with cooking oil, and fry over medium heat until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.

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Step 3: Flip to make sure both sides are cooked, and remove to a plate to keep warm. You can use a wet paper towel or cloth over the tortillas to keep them soft.

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These are delicious as is, right off the hot pan. Or you can store them up to a week in the refrigerator, for use as delicious tacos or tostadas! I made some chicken tacos, and ate the rest plain right off the stove. You can add a sprinkle of salt to the dough if it is too plain for your liking.

 

 

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To a Healthy New Year!

 

 

Hello readers!  As we begin a brand-new year, 2017, we tend to look back on the previous year to learn from it.  We make lists of “bests” and “worsts”, and reflect on all we have or have not done.  While many people feel that 2016 was a terrible year, and are worried about what 2017 will bring, there is so much to be thankful for instead.

2016 was the year in which I got married to the world’s best man and my best friend during a wonderful family and love filled week in the Smoky Mountains, traveled to Europe for the first time for an amazing once in a lifetime Mediterranean cruise, and moved across the country to my dream location and bought our very first home together! What a year!

Think back on all the memories with your friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, random strangers. Cherish all the growth you have done as a person, and accomplishments big and small. And whether you make resolutions or not, there is much to learn about how we can continue to improve, individually and as a nation.

Be curious, be kind, to others and yourself. Do small acts of kindness, without expecting recognition or reward. Make the world a better place than when you found it, and the universe will pay it back to you in happiness.

Oh, and check out the Top 10 Posts of 2016!

10. Simple sauteed power greens — this is one of my favorite simple side dishes that packs a healthy punch. I make this all the time with whatever greens I have, currently I’m obsessed with collard greens (does it have to do with moving to the south? maybe) and jalapenos.

9. Salsa Chicken Soup – a total classic, this soup is warming and filling, and when you use all canned ingredients plus a slow cooker it is a total breeze! People will think you spent hours simmering this, when in reality it takes less than 10 minutes to whip up. MMMmmm.

8. Twice the wine for half the calories! — A sneaky trick for making your vino last longer, and letting you indulge more without the guilt. Yes please!

7. Homemade energy drink mix – while excess caffeine is not something I endorse, sometimes you just need a little kick in the pants and aren’t in the mood for coffee. Customizable to whatever flavor you prefer.

6. Frugal Last-Minute Gift Ideas — I’ve a suspicion that Christmas time always nudges this post up just enough to make the top 10! But there are also great ideas on there for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Birthdays too.

5. What are Vitamins? – Good knowledge to have in hand, I tried to clarify some common questions.

4. Ginger-Peach Slow Cooker Chicken — Slow cooker recipes are always popular, for good reason! Slow cookers are amazing, and so is this sweet, tender chicken recipe.

3. Breastfeeding: All about it – I’m honestly a bit surprised this one made the top 3, but sure. I’m glad people are at least interested in learning more! Breastfeeding is a great step for a healthy, happy baby.

2. Grapefruitcello — Popular from the start, making your own infused alcohols is a fun hobby to take up. It is way easier than you may think, don’t be scared! Try any flavor infusion you want and see what happens.

1. One-Pan Buffalo Chicken Potato Bake – This recipe definitely deserves its #1 status! It is supremely simple, surprisingly healthy, and a total crowd pleaser. I may make this again one night this week…

 

And there you have it, ten highlights of the blog from 2016. If you have another post that was your favorite, or one you would like to see in 2017, please post here or email me anytime! Here’s to a happy healthy epicurious New Year!

 

Merry Christmas and enjoy the rest of 2016!

 

Good morning dear readers! If you are here, I am so thankful for you! But, by all means, please get back to friends, family, food, or general holiday merry making.

Enjoy Christmas however you celebrate it, whether at church or a friends house, doing volunteer work or meditating at home. I hope you had a joy-filled 2016, and may you have much to look forward to in 2017. Set yourself some goals, make some new friends, and be thankful for this crazy adventure we’re all on.

Merry Christmas and happy new year!

Freezer Smoothie Packs

 

We all know mom always said breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  But we all know that sometimes it is the hardest meal of the day. It’s too early, we don’t have time, we can’t think of anything that sounds good, you don’t want to cook… the list of excuses goes on and on.

It’s hard to come up with something that is tasty, healthy, and also can be made in the 5 minutes you have before you rush out the door for the day.

Don’t worry dear reader, I’ve got your back.

Smoothie packs ready for the freezer

Enter: the freezer smoothie pack.

Just a few minutes of prep ahead of time on a weekend and you can have a whole week’s worth of healthy, on-the-go breakfasts ready and waiting in your freezer. These little bags are such a simple yet brilliant answer to the morning breakfast rush. And boy, are they customizable! All you really need is a good handful of greens, a fruit or two or three, and some baggies.

In the morning, just grab one bag, toss it in the blender with enough liquid (milk, almond milk, coconut water, tea, juice, whatever you like), blend and go. And if you have the kind of blender that makes single servings and you drink right out of it, your morning could not BE any simpler!

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For each smoothie pack, you will need:

  • 1 medium zip-top baggie
  • 1/2 – 1 cup greens (spinach, beet greens, kale, collards, etc)
  • 1/2 – 1 banana
  • 1/2 – 1 cup chopped other fruits

You can try just about anything in these freezer bags. It makes a great answer to almost-mushy fruits in the fridge, halves of things left over, and whatever fruits are in season and on sale. I used peaches, pears, bananas, local blueberries, and avocado. I also had half a pineapple and some beet greens from my garden, so I tossed those into a few bags as well.

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Step 1: Wash, peel, and cut up your fruits as needed. You can also slice your greens into smaller pieces to make blending easier.

Smoothie pack and blender

Step 2: Toss your baggies into the freezer. That’s it! When you are ready for a super quick healthy breakfast (or lunch, or snack, or dessert…) pour the contents of the bag into a blender, and add your liquid of choice. I like green tea for a gentle caffeine kick, or almond milk for some creamy smoothness.

Enjoy!

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Easy 10 minute minestrone

 

This recipe is a super simple one!  If all you want is a hot, fresh bowl of soup that tastes great and is also quite healthy, you have come to the right place. You can easily make this in a slow cooker on low all day, or boil it on the stove to have dinner in 10 minutes, your choice.

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Ingredients (for 4 servings):

  • 1 can pinto beans
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound small pasta
  • 1 potato, chopped small
  • 1 carrot, chopped small

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Step 1: Place all ingredients in a large pot, bring to a boil. Boil for 8-10 minutes, and serve! It is essentially ready when the potato and carrots and pasta are soft enough to eat.

 

The fusion of food, fun, frugality, and curiosity.