Dying Easter Eggs

Happy almost-Easter! Sis and I dyed eggs and got really into it! There were techniques and tools. Ohh my!

I cut painter’s tape to make a chevon egg.
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We did some rubber banded dyed eggs. They came out like tie-dye!
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We broke out some nail polish. That made the easiest dots. Crackle top coat polish made a white-wash looking on.
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I haven’t dyed eggs in years and it was really fun. I’m glad we tried our hands at some different techniques.

Don’t forget: cooled eggs will dye better; white vinegar will make the dye more vibrant. Have fun!

Smoky Sausage Pasta

I don’t always cook pasta, but when I do….I’m glad I did. Pasta tends to be my go-to option when I haven’t planned anything else. Dried pasta + kitchen ready tomatoes = fast dinner. I rarely start out with pasta as part of my meal planning. Seriously, the last one I blogged about was bolognese (which was really about the sauce) or mac & cheese. This one was awesome and I totally need to make it again.
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This is totally a one pot wonder. It is based off of America’s Test Kitchen’s: The Best Simple Recipes. I saw it on a few blogs, here was one of them. Several took a spicy approach with hot sauce, spicy rotel, and spiced sausage.  I added spinach to mine to increase the nutritional value but wheat pasta would be hidden really well here.

Ingredients:

1, 12-oz pkg turkey kielbasa or chicken sausage
1 pound box short pasta
1 cup milk
2 cups chicken broth
1, 16-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp liquid smoke
1 tsp smoked paprika
3-4 cups baby spinach
1 ½ cups shredded monterey jack cheese
2 stocks of green onion, chopped

Directions:

Saute kielbasa cut into coins, in a large hot skillet with 1 tsp olive oil. Stir until evenly (but lightly) browned over medium heat.
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Add tomatoes, broth, crushed tomatoes and milk. Bring to a gentle boil.
Add in dried pasta, garlic, liquid smoke, and paprika. Stir and cover to cook for about 8 minutes.
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After that, pasta will be mostly cooked, but still a bit firm. Cover the pasta with 1 cup of cheese and spinach. The sauce will have reduced and thickened.

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Reduce to medium low temperature, stir, and cover again for 3-5 more minutes.
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Serve topped with more cheese and green onions.
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I didn’t think it was especially smokey, but the flavors were great. The light tomato flavor is great in the cream.

I went with Kevin & Amanda’s choice of pasta shape: campanelle. They were great little cones to hold the sauce. Mr. J thought they reminded him of a krimpy pappardelle. I remember having campanelle regularly growing up.

It reheated perfectly the next day for lunch! It was suuuuper cheap. It is a great reminder of how easy and cost-effective it is to cook at home. This would be easy for lunch for the week or even halving the recipe.

There is also easy potential to add in other foods you have laying around. I think the base of pasta + protein + enough liquid = endless options. A slight Mexican twist uses hot sauce/rotel/salsa/pepper-jack cheese/jalepenos. An Italian twist could use chicken sausage/basil/Parmesan/artichokes. A BBQ twist could have bbq chicken/bbq sauce/liquid smoke/onions/peppers.

See what I mean? Endless possibilities.

Cost Breakdown:

turkey kielbasa $4.49
pasta: $1.00
chicken broth: $0.80
canned tomatoes: $1.49/2
spinach: $1.85
Monterey jack cheese: $2.50
green onions: $1.00/2
total: $11.89 (or $2.97 per person, 4 servings)

Creamsicle Smoothie

I say it a lot, but this is the best smoothie I’ve made to date…

I was thinking for alternative uses for a bag of mandarin oranges I’ve been eating forever. Literally for-ev-er. I usually eat 2 a day as snacks and it seems never ending. Then I figured they’d be a good smoothie addition!
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Ingredients:

2 mandarin oranges (or clementines, or oranges)
1 cup frozen peaches
vanilla greek yogurt
mango smoothie drink (or orange juice, or milk, etc)

Directions:

Assemble
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Blend & enjoy!

I loved the really orange AND cream flavors. I think the peaches added frostiness since the oranges weren’t frozen. I should probably peel and freeze the rest of my mandarin oranges for future smoothies.
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I hate peeling oranges but this was so good, that it makes me want to get my hands on some blood oranges! Maybe they’ll be next!

What I Ate: Easiest Banana Muffins

What I Ate is a series that might not necessarily require a recipe but these muffins are a prime example of a recipe to file away and whip it up when the time is right.

Pinterest introduced me to a shortcut banana muffin recipe just like the pumpkin muffin shortcut I loooove. Do you follow me on Pinterest? They’re so quick and really easy to make. I’m not a big baker but these came out perfectly!

I made these guys before I knew how badly I’d need warm banana goodness. Work has gone bananas…to put it mildly. Bananas I tell you. Thank goodness I had these for the week. I think my crisis is averted. I’ll be sure to shower my local co-workers with these soon to thank them for all their support. When the goings get tough, the tough get going. For sure.

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Ingredients:

1 box yellow cake mix
4 very ripe bananas (small or 3 large)
2 eggs

Directions:

Mash bananas or use a mixer, or food processor.
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Mix in eggs and cake mix.
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Add in cinnamon, nuts, dried fruit, chips, or anything you like! (I added cinnamon & cinnamon chips)
Fill muffin cups or a sprayed loaf pan.
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Bake 20 minutes, or until toothpick comes out cleanly.
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These are suuuuper easy and are such a good use for discount bananas. I love discount produce and these bananas were a steal. Forty-three cents for 6 bananas. Forty three cents. I froze some of the least ripe bananas in chunks for future smoothies.
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Cost Breakdown:
uber ripe bananas: $0.43
cake mix: $2.25
2 eggs: $0.30
cinnamon chips: $1.35 (1/2 bag)
total: $4.33, or $0.30 per muffin

Guy Fieri’s Chorizo and Polenta

I was thumbing through a Food Network magazine when I stumbled upon this. I actually love Guy Fieri’s way of cooking and recipes. For as many burgers he slams down on Diners, Drive-ins, & Dives, he cooks really interesting and quality food. He often grills, uses a lot of marinades, and fresh greens. I wasn’t at all surprised to see swiss chard in this recipe.

This as good, but not amazing. I liked it to as a different dinner, but it probably won’t be part of my regular rotation.
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Chorizo and Polenta Lasagna
by Guy Fieri

Ingredients:

1 cup quick-cooking polenta
2 cups water (or chicken stock)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tbs butter

Chorizo:
Olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 pound ground pork
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
2 tbs paprika
1 tbs granulated garlic
1 tbs onion powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
2 tbs red wine vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced
One 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 bunch Swiss chard
1 clove garlic, minced
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 cup grated mozzarella

Directions:

For the polenta: Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Add the polenta and whisk until fully incorporated, 3 to 4 minutes.
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Sprinkle with the salt and cook, covered, over medium heat for 5 to 6 minutes. Finish by folding in the butter. Keep warm while you prepare the chorizo.

For the chorizo: Coat a large saute pan with olive oil and set over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until almost translucent, and then add the ground pork. Brown 4 to 5 minutes while breaking the pork pieces up with the back of a wooden spoon.
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Add the paprika, granulated garlic, onion powder, chili powder and cumin, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook 1 minute longer to toast the spices, and then add the vinegar, garlic and tomatoes. Simmer until the sauce is thickened and reduced, 8 to 10 minutes. Taste and season once more with salt and pepper. Keep warm while cooking the chard.
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Wash, drain and finely slice the chard. (Cutting off the center stalk is optional). Heat the garlic and some olive oil in a large pan and saute, 3 to 4 minutes over low heat.
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Season with salt and pepper. Drain in a colander and squeeze out any excess moisture.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8-by-8-by-2-inch dish or a 9-inch pan. Pour half of the polenta in and spread out evenly. Top with half of the chorizo and half of the Swiss chard. Sprinkle with half of the cheese.
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Repeat with a layer of the remaining polenta, then the remaining chorizo, swiss chard, and finally the remaining cheese. Cover with foil, place the dish on a sheet tray and bake 30 minutes.
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Remove the foil and bake until the cheese is golden and bubbly, 15 minutes longer. Let sit 10 minutes to set up, then cut into portions and serve.
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I liked this, but didn’t looooove Fieri’s Chorizo and Polenta. I think it had some good flavors between the corny polenta and woody Swiss chard. The pork isn’t exactly what I think of as chorizo, but the spices were good.
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I cooked the polenta as the package directed, but now I know it would have had more flavor if I had used chicken stock. I don’t make much polenta but I suppose it is like rice or risotto which is considerably better when made with stock or wine. I also followed the package which thinks that 2 cups of dried polenta will be 5 servings. Let me tell you friends, that’s a good 8 hefty servings. Seriously. I used some leftovers in a different way, so stay tuned for that!

Citrus Smoothie & Smoothie Tips

This smoothie is another example of just how many different ones I’ve whipped up (literally). I have more to come too! I have a few tips with this fresh tasting smoothie. Smoothies are a great breakfast to get back on track. I didn’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (I was being a lazy leprechaun) but we’re having a green/St. Patty’s Potluck today at work so that’ll give me some spirit. I’ll share it with you soon, as in later this week? maybe next week? Did you celebrate?

Juice versus milk for the liquid:
In this smoothie, I used low-cal juice to keep it more juicy/clean-textured rather than creamy. Milk would hint toward the yogurt. I think it waters down the smoothie. That’s a personal preference or flavor combo. Juice hikes up the calorie count. If the fruit is fresh (and not frozen) ice cubes will add that frozen slushiness while the fruit will add the liquid. 
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Not-just-berry-smoothie:
The mix of berries and peaches is perfect. Pineapple could have made it too acidic for me. I think the peach reminds me of a frozen cocktail on the beach. Mixed berries are great, but the seeds of raspberries can get to me. I only want to crunch down so much when sipping away. Banana is a pretty typical choice to add good thickness. I also love blueberries and mangos. 
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Yogurt & Citrus:
I like the tart  to contrast with the smooth creamy yogurt. Orange juice would be good too. I only recently discovered that I like pink grapefruit juice. It is a different flavor I don’t have all the time. So for me, that’s what makes it special.

Other Add-Ins:
I love peanut butter in smoothies. Honey is a great touch to make it a bit sweeter. I want to try adding cocoa mix…I’ll be sure to report back on that. I loved nutella too. I’ve never added chocolate chips or nuts but that could be good. I want to try oatmeal.

What makes a good smoothie to you? What do you want when you’re sipping away at breakfast?

What I Ate: Avocado BLT

Happy Friday! Since we’ve successfully made it though the week together, I figure this Avocado BLT a perfect ‘What I Ate’ addition since obviously you do not need a recipe for a BLT. Bacon + Lettuce + Tomato = delicious. I’m going to add a few special touches to an already awesome sandwich. (Check out How Sweet It Is’ Avo BLT from this week too!)

The BLT is a perfect I-ate-some-pretty-bad-for-you-food-this-week option for the weekend,

or a breakfast-versus-lunch tie breaker,

or I-don’t-like-traditional-breakfast-food.  It has the perfect grease requirement for hangovers and the ideal fresh factor to make up for unhealthy indiscretions.
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I think BLTs are perfect for a quick dinner or even brunch. They’re great on whatever bread you have, rolls, wraps, biscuits, flatbread, bagels, pita pockets, anything!

I added some pesto aioli and some avocado. Perfection! Mix up some mayo and some pre-made pesto. Also, if you refer to it as aioli, even people who think they don’t like mayo will be alllll about it.
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I grilled the bacon in a criss-cross lattice pattern. Bacon in every bite! I like it suuuuper crispy but bacon in any form is perfect.
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Layer it up! I like it in the order of B then L then T. I added avocado to make it more special, filling, and creamy. avo_BLT_plate_590_390
I think there are tons of fun ways to keep a BLT interesting. I think a salad-y wrap would be good too. Maybe the lettuce and tomato in chunks mixed with ranch, avocado, and bacon! Ooo. Yum! A BLT grilled cheese would be delicious right about now. Or maybe a BLT with fried egg on ciabatta! I’ve made BLT pizza (which was to die for). Just goes to show you, BLTs are great inspiration.

What do you do to keep sandwiches interesting? Any BLT variations I should try next?

Cookbook: Breakfast for Dinner

Do you make breakfast for dinner? I love to throw that into the mix and it is such a helpful theme for keeping dinner budget friendly and for keeping dinner varied. I was psyched to see Breakfast for Dinner by Lindsay landis and Taylor Hackbarth. Lindsay writes Love & Olive Oil and wrote Cookie Dough Lover’s Cookbook.
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Besides the beautiful photos, I love that these are different recipes. This is no ‘scrambled-eggs-for-dinner’. These are real dinners, inspired by breakfast. I thought maple glazed meatballs was genius. Habanero-cheddar bread pudding? Yes please! Cornmeal pancakes with beer-braised short ribs also sounded amazing. The sunny side up burgers are a great idea (with a touch of crispy potatoes!) and will definitely be part of my menu planning sometime.
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Italian-Style Stuffed French Toast

adapted from Breakfast For Dinner

Ingredients:

2 garlic cloves
½ cup whole-milk ricotta
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
3 tbs chopped basil
1 tsp dried oregano
salt & pepper
4 slices french bread
2 eggs
¼ cup milk
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp garlic powder
1 cup marinara sauce, warmed

Directions:

Mix ricotta, Parmesan, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper.
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Cut a pocket into the bread horizontally with a small sharp knife. Cut into the bottom of the bread, starting small and cutting deeper while leaving a ¼ inch intact around the other edges.
Gently stuff ricotta mixture into the bread.
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Whisk eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a shallow dish/bowl.
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Heat a large skillet or grill pan over medium heat and spray with nonstick spray.
Gently dunk and coat stuffed bread pieces into the egg mix.
Pan fry on each side for about 3 minutes.
Top with marinara to serve.
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I loved the flavors. I thought this savory stuffed french toast was great. The original recipe called for sauteed spinach mixed with the ricotta. That would be right up my ally, but I was out of spinach and lots of fresh basil. I left out the spinach, and upped the basil.

Occasionally I crave pancakes, but normally, I’m not seeking sweet for breakfast. This cookbook is perfect for lots of savory options.
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I truly love this book and thought it would be a great gift after being a house-guest. Cooking breakfast just seems so do-able and I think anyone would feel comfortable picking out something and whipping it up. Breakfast for dinner is also super fast…like fast enough to help allow you to watch the entire 3-hour Bachelor finale. 3 hours…that’s like a movie! Nope, don’t know who would need to fit those 3 hours into their week. Surely not me ;)

Full 3 Bite Rule Disclosure: My copy of Breakfast For Dinner was completely complimentary but my thoughts, opinions, and words are entirely my own.

White Lasagna with Chicken and Spinach

I had a hankering for lasagna and figured I’d whip up a new one. White! Lasagna is actually one of my favorites to make at home. I don’t eat beef so I rarely can order it out. I love the pasta/meat/cheese/sauce combinations. It is so compact, almost efficient (though that’s a terrible way to describe food).

I’m cooking for 2 and we like leftovers for lunches, but this will make 1 very large (13×9) or 2 smaller (9×9) lasagnas. I always make 2. Note: no-cook lasagna noodles work best when using a square/rectangular pan. I learned that the hard way when I used an oval baking dish once. Result: jigsaw puzzle!

When I make two, we eat one now (with leftovers) and freeze one for a-“dinner’s ready!”-surprise some busy night. Lasagna seems like kind of a lot of work for only a few servings if you were to half the recipe.
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Ingredients:

1 pound lasagna noodles
1 pound ground chicken
¾ pound ground pork/sausage/ground beef/ground turkey
6 oz fresh baby spinach, chopped
12 oz ricotta
1 egg
3 tbs Parmesan, grated or shredded
2 tbs Italian seasoning
2 tbs garlic, chopped
8 oz shredded mozzarella
8 oz shredded white cheddar
16 oz light alfredo sauce
1 cup milk
salt & pepper

Directions:

Undercook lasagna noodles according to package (boil for 10 minutes if package says 12 minutes, or don’t cook if using bake-ready/no-cook pasta).
While water is boiling, cook pork and chicken until cooked through, draining any excess grease off. Cook separately to avoid over-cooking the chicken.
While meat is cooking, mix ricotta, Parmesan, egg, garlic, and Italian seasoning together.
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Mix alfredo, milk, salt, and pepper together.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and spray baking dish(es) with non-stick spray.
Set up an assembly line of the lasagna layers: cooked pasta; meats mixed together; ricotta; spinach; and shredded cheeses; with everything in reach.
Assemble lasagna(s). Tip: if making 2 make both at the same time to gauge quantities of each ingredient. Ladle a tiny amount of white sauce onto the bottom then layer with noodles.
Top with meat mixture. Ladle on about ⅓ cup of white sauce on top of the meat, before topping with about ⅓ cup of mixed cheeses.
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Layer on more noodles, then top with ricotta mixture.
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Layer on more noodles, then top with spinach, then top with about ⅓ cup of white sauce.
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Repeat until out of any of the layers.
Bake covered for 30 minutes.
If freezing one, remove that one from the oven, allow to cool, label & freeze.
If eating one immediately, uncover and bake another 20 minutes. Top with cheese for the last 5 minutes.
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Let stand 5 minutes before cutting.
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I loved this one. It feels really different, but actually isn’t much different at all. It would be easy enough to make 2 at once, and use white sauce on 1 and red sauce on the other. The white sauce vs. red sauce also might be a good way to differentiate meat versus vegetarian lasagna.

Lasagna is a somewhat labor intensive dish but it is super easy to serve and generally crowd pleasing. It is a great one to prep in advance and only have to bake when serving. You can also “cheat” by skipping the pasta & ricotta layers and using ravioli instead.

Want more lasagna themes? I wholeheartedly recommend butternut squash lasagna or traditional lasagna. What a fun taste-off for your next family gathering or potluck?!

Here are some of my lasagna tips and I thought of a new one: in addition to making 2 at once, I suggest using all the pasta. Sometimes I’m cutting it down to fit my pan and I’m left with scraps. Save ‘em! Getting to the last layer to discover you’re out of pasta is the worst. I save a few full length for the top and piece some of the under layers. What they can’t see, won’t hurt, right?

Each of mine ended with a different top layer. I’m not going into mass production, so it is totally fine! Use it up!
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Mocha Nut Smoothie

I made a really amazing Friday-worthy smoothie the other day that I hadddd to share. By Friday I mean like the good old days of TGIF, but also that I appreciate Fridays at this time of year more than ever before.

Are you ready for this? It is gonna rock. your. world.

Ingredients:

boston cream pie yogurt
1 frozen banana
3 tbs mocha cappuccino hazelnut spread
2 tsp creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup coffee
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Directions:

Slice & freeze the banana in advance, to make it blend thicker (optional)
Assemble
Blend & enjoy!

The Mocha Cappuccino spread was an impulse buy and is amazing. The yogurt is only 90-calories and is my favorite flavor of non-greek yogurt. This smoothie has more calories than some of my others, but  hazelnut cappuccino spread is delectable and delicious. I figure that if this is my entire breakfast then I can make up for throughout the day. Also, it is Friday, and you deserve it.

This tastes like an ice creamy frappe/milkshake.

Ahhhhmazing. It is everything I want, every Friday morning.