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Creamy Garlic Shells (No Packet Required!)

I’m just going to go ahead and apologize right now before I go any further. I’m sort of on a comfort food (you know, high calorie, delicious, and unhealthy food) kick right now, (maybe because the weather is getting cooler?) and there is absolutely nothing healthy about this dish. Actually, you could make it significantly healthier depending on what type of ingredients you choose to use (skim milk instead of cream, less cheese, and not over-indulging), but I’m not going to lie and tell you I made any of those choices. This is pure, delicious, evil.

There was a long (-ish) period where the hubs and I should have bought some stock in Lipton. We were investing that much money. When I was first married those little side-dish pasta packets were an automatic go-to of mine for dinner. Except in our little world, while we were figuring everything out, including learning to cook and figure out a monthly food budget, they weren’t really sides so much as a meal and, man, did we love em. Sure, one package allowed us to reach our sodium limit for a month, but I’m sure that’s what made them so tasty. After a few years went by, we had learned a few things. Those pasta sides got kicked to the curb in favor of more and more homemade versions, that we came to find tasted better and were loads cheaper, especially for a large, expanding family.

So here’s all that delicious (and still very convenient) taste, without the copious amounts of sodium, and without requiring you to purchase a pasta packet.

Creamy Garlic Shells

(no packet required!)

Creamy Garlic Shells

recipe adapted from Iowa Girl Eats

8 oz small shells pasta
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tablespoons flour
3/4 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup heavy cream, or milk if going for a lighter version
salt & pepper
1/4- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons parsley flakes

Directions

1. Cook pasta in a pot of salted, boiling water until al dente. Drain, then set aside. Let pot cool off the heat for several minutes.
2. Return pot to stove over medium heat then melt butter in olive oil. Add garlic then saute until golden brown, about 30 seconds, being very careful not to burn. Sprinkle in flour then whisk and cook for 1 minute. Slowly pour in chicken broth and milk while whisking until mixture is smooth. Season with salt & pepper then switch to a spoon and stir constantly until mixture is thick and bubbly, about 4-5 minutes.
3. Take pot off the heat then stir in parmesan cheese, garlic powder, and parsley flakes until smooth then add cooked pasta and stir to combine.

Baby Ruth Cupcakes

I remember these candy bars being everywhere when I was a kid, at the grocery store, the gas station, even vending machines. They were always my Mom’s favorite. In recent years, when I’ve got a craving, or in this case, a recipe calling their name, it’s always hit or miss if I can find them in the candy aisle. I’m happy to report that with the approach of Halloween that Baby is back! In full force, smack dab in the middle of all that Halloween candy action. I immediately snagged a few bags, went home, and turned on my oven. There was no delaying me, no denying me. These. were. happening. And then they happened. And they were everything I’d hoped they’d be and so much more.

Baby Ruth Cupcakes

Feast your eyes upon those beauties!

I never thought that I’d see the day when I could get the great taste of a Baby Ruth candy bar in a cup cake. Candy bar. Cup cake. They just don’t sound compatible. Well the hubs, the sons, and I are here to tell you guys that that day is today. And Ohhhhhhh Baby is it ever great! Using your choice of a yellow or chocolate cupcake mix,with a Baby Ruth center, these are then topped with vanilla, or almond, butter cream icing. They’re capped off with a drizzle of caramel sauce and topped with a bit of a baby ruth candy bar. For that extra touch you can even garnish them with a few roasted peanuts.

Baby Ruth Cupcakes

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recipe adapted from A NY Melrose Family

Chocolate or Yellow cake mix of your preference, I always use a butter cake batter
water, butter, eggs, and/or oil according to the package directions
Bag of Fun Size Baby Ruth Candies
Vanilla or Almond Buttercream Frosting
caramel syrup
roasted peanuts, optional

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to the 350. Line your cupcake pan(s) with 24 cupcake liners.
2. Combine your cake mix with eggs, butter (or oil), and water and beat together.
3. Place 2 tablespoons of cake batter into the cupcake liners.
4. Place half a Fun Size Baby Ruth candy into each cupcake.
5. Cover the candy with about a tablespoon of cake batter.
6. Cook for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cupcake.
7. While the cupcakes bake prepare your frosting, if making from scratch.
8. Frost the cupcakes once they are cool.
9. Drizzle the caramel sauce over the frosting and top with ½ of a Fun Size Baby Ruth candy.

The ‘Popeye’ Sandwich

Let me introduce you to our ‘popeye’ sandwiches. They’re packed full of protein with chicken, bacon, and spinach, stacked on a crusty ciabatta, or torta, roll, and (for the pies de resistance)  topped with a rich, creamy Alfredo sauce drizzle.

It may be green and leafy, but spinach—a renowned muscle builder—is also one of the ultimate power-house foods. It’s also heart-healthy, chock full of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals. Popeye was definitely on to something, which is probably why, now in the food-osphere, spinach is often referred to by the classic cartoon moniker. Hence the name of our sandwich. I’m lucky the sons are down for all this healthy green in just one sandwich, and can pile it on. Maybe it’s just the bacon. Bacon makes everything better. Am I right or what? We lightly bread and fry our chicken breasts, but I’ve used grilled chicken before and this sandwich is just as delicious, albeit a whole lot healthier.

The hubs and the sons like their popeye’s as is with the fixin’s pictured, but I love mine with a few thinly sliced red onions and a slice or two of fresh tomato. Doesn’t that just sound like it’d do a body good?!

Popeye Sandwiches

 Popeye Sandwich

chicken breasts (crispy or grilled) we filet ours so that they’re not super thick and more patty-like
bacon, cooked crisp
fresh spinach, washed and dried
Alfredo sauce
ciabatta or torta rolls, or some other crusty bread

Directions

Again there’s no real ‘recipe’ here per se.

1. Cut your roll in half. Add a piece of prepared chicken to the bottom bun. Top with bacon. Load it up with that fresh spinach.
2. Drizzle some tasty Alfredo sauce over top the spinach and top the sandwich with the other half of the bun.
3. Repeat for as many sandwiches as needed and then dig in.

Sous Chef Sunday: Candy Corn Fruit Parfaits

I know, I know, there’s nothing at all healthy about the typical little candy corns I love to over indulge int, but here I can offset all the sugar — a little bit, anyway — with this inspired parfait. The sons have been asking for this all week, for dessert! And any day I can pass off fruit as a delicious dessert, that they actually RE-request, is a great day. And I know there’s those crazies (kidding!) out there who don’t particularly care for candy or sugary sweets. Well, this is a perfect sweet treat for them while still being able to be festive. In all honesty though, candy corn just might be our favorite Halloween treat (well, aside from those fun-size Butterfinger bars) so it makes sense that we’d be all about a candy corn-inspired confection. I mean it’s a fruit parfait that’s every bit as sweet and colorful as the real thing. The best part: they’re super easy to scare up!

Note to self: Monitor the sons when there’s a ratio involved between the fruit portion and the sugary one! They went a little cool-whip happy ;)

Candy Corn Fruit Parfaits

Candy Corn Fruit Parfait

1 cup pineapple chunks in 100% juice (I used 1 Dole fruit cup)
1 cup Mandarin oranges in 100% juice (I used 1 Dole fruit cup)
1 small container of non-fat Cool Whip
2 small bowls or cups to assemble parfaits

Directions

1. Strain the pineapples and Mandarin oranges. Spoon half of the pineapple chunks into the bottom of the dish, creating a solid layer.
2. Spoon half of the Mandarin oranges on top of the pineapples.
3. Top with a dollop (obviously the sons and I need to re-visit that definition), or two, of Cool Whip

Mexican Rice

I meant to have this recipe up yesterday, for Taco Tuesday of course, but it just wasn’t in the cards. So instead, it’s going up today for ‘Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda’ Wednesday. (Yep, it’s now Thursday. Oops!)

If you’ve ever attempted your favorite Mexican restaurant’s rice at home and failed, raise your hand. Well you can put it down now, because this is my go-to favorite and after one bite, I think it will be yours too. Since first making it, I’ve actually found I like it so much better than the rice usually served when I dine out. No more dumping sour cream, queso, or salsa on my rice trying to give it a flavor boost. Mexican rice always tasted like it had so much potential, but was always just a hair to bland. Not anymore. This recipe is for a pilaf style rice with a characteristic reddish/orange color, flavored with onion, garlic, and spices.

This dish, often known as  ‘Spanish’ rice, makes an easy addition and perfect compliment to any Mexican style entree. Tacos for dinner? No? Maybe some fajitas instead? Nope? What about enchiladas? Either way, this here’s your side dish. You can’t go wrong. Did you make a big batch (as is it serves about 4 people) and now you’ve got leftovers? You’re in luck! Not only does this rice still taste just as flavorful the next day, it goes great in a burrito. Is it steak night and you’re out of ideas for sides to serve? Voila! Problem solved. Same goes for chicken :) Feel free to tweak the recipe and play around a bit to make it your own.

Notice I don’t claim this recipe is ‘authentic’? It probably isn’t, but it is damn good.

Mexican Rice

 Mexican Rice

recipe originally from Favorite Family Recipes

3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup long grain rice, uncooked
1 tsp fresh minced garlic
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 3/4 cup chicken broth
3 tbsp finely chopped, fresh cilantro

Directions

1. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. When hot, add the rice and gently stir until rice begins to lightly brown and crisp.
2. Add the garlic, salt, and cumin, stirring until fully incorporated and everything’s a nice golden color .
3. Add the tomato sauce, chicken broth, and cilantro and turn the heat up to medium high.
4. Bring the mix to a boil then turn the heat to low and cover.
5. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork, and enjoy!

Sous Chef Sunday: Waffle Iron Pepperoni Pizza Pockets

Do you have a waffle iron? Doesn’t it make delicious, fluffy, just perfect waffles? Did you know you can use your waffle iron to make some other, more surprising, dishes? For years I assumed (see that’s what I get bc we all know what they say when you assume something) that mine was only for making waffles. DOH! In my defense, the box wasn’t really helpful either since it only had pictures of gourmet waffles and no helpful hints or recipe tips for anything else. And I was a newly out-in-the-world newly wed anyway, what did I know? Well fast forward to now, and our waffle iron gets it’s own prime-time counter-top space. We use it to make cookies, we use it to make cinnamon roll waffles, and we’ve even used it to make cornbread waffles to serve with our chili (recipe coming soon). But this, THIS is the sons’ favorite waffle iron recipe. Golden brown biscuit outside, melted mozzarella inside. It’s waffle pizza perfection. They make a great lunch, an easy afternoon snack, and they make an even better quick, no fuss dinner on fend -for-yourself nights, aka Fridays. Sorry, but come the end of the week this Momma needs a break and I’m not ashamed to admit it, or to take it. #sorrynotsorry The sons WILL survive, even though they don’t believe me.

So, we’ve got an easy, 5 minute meal, but that’s not all. Like so many of our other favorite recipes, these are easily customizable. Don’t like pepperoni or have other favorite toppings too? Throw some crumbled bacon or cooked sausage in the middle. Is a supreme your thing? Throw some veggies in there and enjoy. You can even spice em up a little by adding a dash of Italian seasoning. You get the idea.

Waffle Iron Pepperoni Pizza Pockets

Pizza Pocket Waffles

(HELLO, crispy savory waffles fortified with pepperoni and mozzarella. I see that warm marinara topping. Look at you, you saucy little thang!)

1 can (16.3 oz) Flaky Layers refrigerated biscuits
8 slices (1 oz each) mozzarella cheese
1/3 pepperoni slices
2 cups pizza or marinara

Directions

1. Spray waffle maker with cooking spray; heat waffle maker.
2. Separate dough into 8 biscuits. Cut slit on 1 side of each biscuit, forming a deep pocket. Place 1 slice of cheese into each pocket. Top cheese with 2-3 pepperoni slices. Press dough around edge to seal each biscuit.
3. Place 1 biscuit on center of waffle maker. Close lid; cook 3 minutes or until waffle is golden brown. Repeat with remaining filled biscuits. Serve with pizza sauce.

Healthy Dole Pineapple Whips

Disney World is home to many magical things. I mean come on, it’s got The Magic Kingdom after all. In just a handful of select spots will you find one of it’s many treasures though. What is this treasure hidden in plain sight? The Dole Pineapple Whip.  Many a guest have gone on epic adventures, and endured untold hardships to track one down. Haven’t managed to get your hands on on yet? No worries, the hunt is over.

The Dole Whip is a pineapple-flavored soft-serve frozen dessert sold only at Disneyland. The creamy, soft-serve confection is so good, it even enjoys it’s own cult-like following. Like, for real. As I mentioned, it’s only served at a handful of locations in Disney World, creating large lines, and long waits for the dreamy dessert. There’s even an app that let’s park guests know how long you can expect to wait for one swirled, frosty pineapple-y bite. But, with four hungry sons and a strict budget, I can’t just hop on down to Florida or across the ocean to the Dole Plantation in Hawaii to get my fix. Luckily for me, and for all of you, recreating this dairy-free soft serve at home couldn’t be any easier. Seriously 3-5 ingredients depending on your preference. If you’re going for the healthier version, omit the cool-whip or use fat free. Want one of Disney’s to-die-for Dole Whip Floats instead? Pour some chilled Pineapple juice into a glass and pipe (or dollop depending on how patient you can be) your pineapple whip mixture on top. See, super simple! And amazingly delicious.

Healthy Dole Pineapple Whips

 Dole Pineapple Whips

recipe adapted from Heather Likes Food

2, 20 oz cans crushed pineapple
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp sugar
1, 8 oz container non-dairy whipped topping, thawed.

Directions

1. Strain the pineapple and reserve the juice. Freeze the pineapple chunks.
2. Puree the frozen crushed pineapple and the reserved juice with the lemon and lime juices and sugar until very smooth in a blender. A high-powered blender works best.
3. Add in the whipped topping and blend again, until everything’s smooth.
4. Spoon, or pipe, into glasses filled with pineapple juice for Dole Whip floats or enjoy it as-is.

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