Easy Bacon-Cheeseburger Egg Rolls for Game Day!

It’s the first Saints’ game of the season, so like a lunatic, I let everyone have a pick for snacks/appetizers. Both of the boys came home this weekend, and since I’m still on the struggle-bus after sending Bear off to college, I went a little over-the-top by committing to this endeavor. Luckily, the drinks were strong and the “Who Dat” energy electric.

The Husband requested these Bacon-Cheeseburger Egg Rolls, and I made so many, the boys’ roommates will certainly be happy when they get back to campus. These egg rolls are bacon-y, cheesy, beefy delicious bombs, with a hint of dill pickle to cut through all that richness. Serve them up with your favorite burger condiments and enjoy game day. I sure did. Now I’m going to drink cocktails in the bathtub and decide how soon is too soon to decorate for Halloween. Spoiler alert: you already know the answer.

Easy Bacon-Cheeseburger Egg Rolls

Meaty, Cheesy, Bacon Deliciousness Fried to Perfection.
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 5 mins
Course Appetizer
Servings 12 rolls

Ingredients
  

  • 6 slices bacon chopped
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 8 ounces Velveeta cubed
  • 3 tbsp dill pickle relish
  • 12-14 egg roll wrappers
  • vegetable, canola, or peanut oil for frying
  • ketchup, mustard, fry sauce, or favorite burger sauce condiments for serving

Instructions
 

  • Cook chopped bacon in a large skillet over medium-low heat until crispy. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate and set aside. Remove all but one tablespoon of the bacon grease from the skillet, saving it for another use.
  • Add ground beef to the skillet with the bacon grease, break it up with a spoon, and cook until browned. Drain any excess fat. Season beef with salt and pepper.
  • Add Velveeta to the skillet and stir until melted and evenly incorporated. Remove skillet from heat and stir in the cooked bacon and dill relish. Let beef mixture cool to room temperature.
  • Meanwhile, heat a couple of inches of oil in a cast-iron skillet or pot to 325 degrees. Place an egg roll wrapper on a clean work surface so a point faces toward you like a diamond and set a cup of water next to your work area. Place 2-3 heaping tablespoons in the center of the wrapper, and using your finger, wet the top edges of your diamond with water. Fold the bottom section over the filling, fold in the sides, then roll it up toward the top (the wet edges will seal it up). There's plenty of tutorials online that are WAY better than these rolling instructions, FYI.
  • Fry the egg rolls in batches (about 5 at a time will fit in a 12-inch cast iron skillet with room to cook evenly), turning every 30 seconds or so until golden brown to your liking, roughly 4-5 minutes in total. Remove to a rack or a paper towel-lined sheet pan to cool.
  • Serve with your favorite burger sauces, like ketchup, fry sauce, mustard, etc. NOTE: these are like molten cheese volcanos fresh out of the frying. Let them cool off for a couple of minutes before consuming, unless you live for burnt taste buds and misery. You do you, Boo.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

 

Yearning for Italian Food and My Favorite Pasta Books Right Now

Well, in fairness, I was warned. When we started planning our trip to Italy, our friends explained to us that, once we had really good food there, it would haunt us (and possibly ruin us on the US versions). Ever since we got back, I have been dreaming of those meals. It doesn’t help matters that we are knee-deep in hell, otherwise known as August in Louisiana. Cooler weather will not hit until late October if we are lucky, but many a Thanksgiving have passed with shorts worn at the table as well. Yep, clutch those pearls. Anyway…

I had this truffle and mushroom pasta at Cafe Gilli in Florence, which showcased an obscenely decadent amount of truffle.

While it appears deceptively simple, this Sacchettini pasta was in the top three of my favorite dishes. It was stuffed with pears and covered in a gorgonzola cream sauce, and I cannot wait to replicate it at home. We found this at La Martinicca in Florence.

Here are some of the other amazing dishes we ate:

I loved learning more about each region we visited and their culinary histories and traditions. I seriously cannot wait to go back and discover more, because we barely scratched the surface of all we wanted to see and try.

So, naturally, as I’m pining for the many pastas that got away, I decided to get back in the kitchen and dust off my limited pasta cookbooks. Now, I have made fresh pasta in the past, but never really got too into it because, well, I’m incredibly lazy. But after leaving no carb behind in Italy, I realized it’s time to dive back into it, because I am yearning to recreate some of the dishes that captured my heart. I love cooking, and now that both boys are about to be off to college, I’m not juggling quite so many preferences/palates, schedules, and nuisances. And honestly, it really is worth doing, especially on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

So, I can’t remember if I blogged about it before, but a staple in my kitchen is The Ultimate Pasta and Noodle Cookbook by Serena Cosmo. She includes incredibly detailed instructions, for both by-hand and using the KitchenAid, and I think it’s a comprehensive resource for beginners and advanced cooks alike. I highlighted so much of this book, and it was perfect for my initial foray into handmade pasta. I also love her pierogi dough, and overall, the book is a nearly encyclopedic. Two thumbs up.

Lately, I’ve also been cooking with Pasta: The Spirit and Craft of Italy’s Greatest Food, With Recipes by Missy Robbins. I made her egg pasta and Bolognese this weekend. The unbelievable amount of egg yolks for her basic dough (24 for one batch!) was a head-scratcher, but it worked up beautifully (after some struggles during the kneading). Despite my initial learning curve, the flavor and texture of the cooked pasta won everyone over. I also appreciated the combination of regional classic recipes and modern spins in this book. While I will probably stick to the basic pasta recipe from UPNC for everyday use (and reserve the 24-egg dough for special occasions), I’m eager to work my way through this one and experiment with new-to-us dishes.

Overall, I think what I’m missing most about Italy is just the quality of ingredients, and how that quality elevated the simplest of dishes into an entirely new experience for us. It’s really got me thinking about how we, as a family, shop/source and cook. That’s going to be a post for another day, but it’s sparked some small steps that are yielding delicious results.

So, that’s a snapshot of some good grub, and the cookbooks I’m using for inspiration. I’m thinking pasta for dinner, tonight?

**Usual disclaimer: This blog is not monetized in any way. The links I provide ARE NOT affiliate links, they are just for your convenience. All reviews are of products I pay for with my own money, and I have no problem telling you the truth about them. If you see an ad on my site, that comes from WordPress, my site host, as the toll of free blogging. I have no control over the targeted ads they display to you**

Our Easter Menu 2022 and a Carrot Soufflé Recipe

I finally planned out the Easter menu, because procrastination is apparently my thing this Spring. The days are flying by this year, for sure.

While I know that ham is traditional on many a southern Easter table, we usually opt for lamb. My family goes bananas for my grilled lamb chops, and with such easy prep and a fast cook time, I’m not juggling cook times and oven space as I often am on other holidays. I also aim for dishes that I can prep ahead, then just toss in the oven or on the grill come lunch time. I’d rather be hanging out and visiting with everyone than stuck in the kitchen on a holiday.

So, here’s the rundown of the big meal:

Maple Mustard Grilled Lamb Chops

Cheesy Hash Brown Potato Casserole

Roasted asparagus (olive oil, salt and pepper, roast at 375 for 10-15 minutes)

This fruit salad

Garlic breadsticks (shaped and baked into rolls instead of sticks)

and Carrot Soufflé (see recipe below).

However, if you are hell-bent on ham, I love this Maple Orange Bourbon Ham, and this Jalapeno Honey Glazed Ham. Both of these would go well with this menu, though I’d switch out the rolls for biscuits.

As for dessert, I will probably whip up a carrot cake, assuming my lost motivation shows up sometime soon. Or maybe break with tradition and do a chocolate fondue-type spread. Now, here’s hoping that I can actually get my hands on everything I need, as the grocery store has been looking a little on the lean side lately.

Carrot Souffle

Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 1 hr

Ingredients
  

  • 3 pounds carrots peeled and sliced
  • salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 eggs large
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup butter room temperature

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9x13 casserole dish.
  • Cook carrots in boiling salted water until tender. Drain and set aside.
  • In a food processor or blender, pulse the sugar and eggs until well combined. Add the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, carrots and butter, and pulse to combine. Pour mixture into prepared dish.
  • Bake casserole until set, about 45 minutes to an hour. Serve immediately.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Cookbook Review: “Save-It-Forward Suppers” by Cyndi Kane

Save-It-Forward Suppers : A Simple Strategy to Save Time, Money, and Sanity (Hardcover)

Ok, I have a confession to make. With the exception of post-Thanksgiving, my family will rarely eat leftovers. I don’t know what it is about this clown car of a household, but these peeps act like a “leftover night” is more of a punishment than a valid meal option. As such, I’ve gotten pretty adept at meal planning and portioning, but when I heard about the premise of this book, I was intrigued.

Cyndi Kane, otherwise known as Ree Drummond’s best friend, has long been featured on Ree’s blog and TV show, so I was familiar with her in that capacity. However, I don’t follow her on social media, so I didn’t realize she was venturing into her own cookbook publishing.

This book aims to provide a weekly meal plan where components of certain dishes are reimagined or repurposed into different meals later in the week.  For example, Sunday’s Ham shows up in Jambalaya and Ranch Beans later in the week. I will say that, to that effect, this book holds very true the premise. The weekly meal plans are diverse enough so that the “leftover” components appear as entirely newly imagined dishes. It reminds me very much of how I aim to transform Thanksgiving leftovers beyond the turkey sandwich. However, rather than rambling, I’m going to break down my review into neutral notes, pros, and who this book is or isn’t for.

Neutral Notes

  • This book has ZERO photographs. Instead, there are lovely watercolor illustrations throughout, but if you judge a cookbook on the photo situation, be aware that it’s 100% artwork. I know people can be damn picky on this front, so the disclaimer is important.
  • Cindi is self-described mother, wife, homeschooler and home cook. She focuses on family-friendly meals that are somewhat healthy and budget-friendly. As such, she includes an occasional supermarket shortcut like a commercial seasoning packet, jarred sauces, Bisquick, and jarred garlic. The recipes are very much aimed at a home cook. If you are averse to a few processed ingredients or are on a special diet, look this over to see if it goes against your current approach to food.
  • The author admittedly grew up in the low-fat, diet/crazed/weight watchers’ culture of the 80’s. Occasionally, this shows in some of the choices and language in her recipes.

Pros

  • This book really is accessible for home cooks. The recipes are all straightforward and approachable, with no complicated techniques or hard-to-find ingredients in the average US supermarket.
  • The meal-plan menu approach is budget friendly, reduces waste, and does lean toward a good mix of home cooking with a healthy-ish direction here and there. If you want to open a cookbook and have a week’s worth of meals planned out, this IS for you.
  • The author includes timelines, lunch ideas, and “getting ahead” tips that I appreciated.
  • Even if the meal plan approach isn’t for me some weeks, there are still some solid recipes I will be trying on my selectively picky eaters.
  • The writing is conversational and aimed toward home cooks, and the layout is visually appealing and easy to use. I especially chuckled at the way she talks about “biohazard” chicken.

This book is for:

  • Home cooks who want family-tested recipes that are approachable/accessible.
  • People starting out in their next chapter of life (newlyweds, college students/graduates, anyone jumping into the deep end of home cooking/planning with no or rusty experience).
  • Budget-conscious cooks who value using up ingredients to their fullest.
  • People interested in streamlining meal planning and prep.
  • Busy homemakers short on time and interested in a ready-made weekly game plan.
  • Really, this reminds me of the old-school Junior League/church cookbooks from my childhood. Uncomplicated recipes that are designed for busy families with supermarket ingredients.

Pass on this one if:

  • If you are into “chefy” or “authentic” or coffee-table cookbooks.
  • If no photos in a cookbook is a dealbreaker.
  • If you are a hyper-foodie and get a thrill from test-driving complicated techniques or bold flavors.
  • If you are on a specialized diet or a food philosophy, including paleo, whole 30, are a vegan, or keto. (I’d still look it over, though)
  • If you have such severely picky eaters to the point that you can only see using one or two recipes out of it.

Overall, I’m glad I bought the book, and I have earmarked several recipes to try on weeknights. Knowing that dinner will be a little easier after escaping the fifth circle of hell (otherwise known as school carpool line), made it well worth my twenty bucks.

 

Creamy Garlic-Herb Tomato Tartelettes

It’s no secret I was on the struggle bus this holiday season. By the time I hit New Year’s Day, I was so dang tired of cooking, while also trying to balance menus for various events. When I was planning on what to bring to the family Christmas party, I knew I was sick of the usual dishes and wanted something different. However, when I bring food to large parties, I have to follow the basic rules of etiquette: nothing that requires reheating, an electric outlet, or assembly in the host’s kitchen. They already have their hands full, so commandeering counter space or a stovetop burner is a big no-no.

So, in my abject laziness and apathy, I dove deep into my fridge and came up with a super-simple, yet tasty and beautiful appetizer. These Garlic-Herb Tomato Tartelettes combine ready-made garlic-herb cheese spread with a touch of cream, which is scooped into frozen phyllo tart shells. The mixture is then topped with sliced cherry tomatoes and parmesan and baked until nice and hot. A drizzle of balsamic glaze finishes them off. These can be served warm or at room temperature. If you need a quick, easy appetizer, this fits the bill.

Creamy Garlic-Herb Tomato Tartelettes

Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Course Appetizer

Ingredients
  

  • 2 1.9 ounce boxes of frozen phyllo tart shells (approx. 15 shells per box)
  • 1 6.5 ounce container garlic & herb soft spreadable cheese (such as Alouette brand) room temperature
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3/4 to 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese grated
  • 1/4 cup botted balsamic glaze
  • chopped basic for garnish, if desired

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place tart shells on a baking sheet.
  • In a medium bowl, combine cheese spread and whipping cream until smooth. Spoon about a heaping teaspoon of cheese mixture into tart shell and top with two of the tomato halves. Sprinkle tarts with parmesan cheese.
  • Bake tarts for 12-15 minutes, until hot, being careful not to burn the tart shells. Remove tarts from oven and let cool for 2-3 minutes. Lightly drizzle tarts with balsamic glaze and garnish with chopped basil if desired. Enjoy!

Notes

This may make more or less tarts depending on how heavy-handed you are when distributing the filling. 
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Community Cookbook Throwback Thursday: “Tamale and Chili Pie”

I’m deep into my summer cooking rut. So, to break out of it, I’m dusting off the Community Cookbook Throwback Thursday inspiration. I wanted something quick and easy, so I turned to my collection of old-school Junior League Louisiana cookbooks.

If you are familiar with community/church/Junior League cookbooks from the 50’s through the 80’s, you know that measurements were questionable, the contributors assumed brand-names would last forever, and that they expected you possess an intuitive knowledge of whatever the hell they were talking about with their minimal instructions. So, with that disclaimer, let’s dive into the experiment of the Tamale and Chili Pie.

This recipe was submitted by Mrs. Alan Thigpen (Catherine Lagrange) in the Pirate’s Pantry Cookbook, which was published by the Junior League of Lake Charles in 1976. This book, along with The Revel and Cotton Country, are staples in our house. Yes, they are dated, but they are also amazing.

Now, here’s how it went. First, ingredients:

Check. Obviously, the brands have changed, but I think I got pretty close. I misread the size of the casserole, so I probably set myself up for failure in terms of the intended tamale-to-chili ratio.  However, I think my alterations and notes may land this one as a win for a fast family meal or for hangry teens. Here’s what I did:

First, I bought the 28oz can of tamales, hoping to stretch the recipe for the five of us. Despite being slightly alarmed by the reality of canned tamales (do you seeee that????), I recovered and realized that, after cutting them up, I really needed two of the 28oz cans to cover the bottom of my 9×13 casserole. My cutting hack was a failure, and I think the original chili to tamale ratio was not optimal al all. So, moral of the story? If you want to make a 9×13 casserole, just get 2 28-oz cans of tamales to line the bottom of it.

I made the “chili” as directed, using canned chili beans, ground beef, and a packet of chili seasoning. My other deviation from the recipe was to sauté the onion with the beef, as these clowns need their onions cooked into submission.

Finally, I spread the chili on the tamales, added a wee bit (your discretion) more Fritos than the recipe called for, and sprinkled cotija cheese on top in addition to the cheddar. Baked as directed.

The verdict? I hacked this recipe a bit for our tastes, but dang if it’s not an easy, cheap, teenage guy friendly dish. It’s a Frito pie on steroids. I think the original had a much heavier chili-to-tamale ratio situation, but by adding more (really inexpensive) canned tamales, you can stretch that fresh ground beef to feed a ton. However, if you like chili, double that part for the 9×13 casserole. I paired this with a southwest chopped salad, but grilled corn would also be awesome with it.

No, this is not gourmet food, nor is it something I would serve to company. But you know what it is? Meaty, cheesy, crunchy, spicy food that was quick, easy, and satisfying for kid/teen tastes. Perfect for a movie night, horrid Tuesday, or a pantry-pull situation. Now, I’m going to go back to dreaming of cooler weather and Halloween season.

Things I Loved in 2020

**Remember, my blog is not sponsored or monetized in any way. No link in my posts is an affiliate link, and these ideas are all my own. None of these companies know who I am, and all of this is crap I buy with my own dang money. I’m just not that cool, y’all**

The husband has recovered (mostly) from the ‘Rona, and through careful quarantining, the kids and I did not contract the virus. He has pretty sick there for a while, and is dealing with a lingering cough and fatigue, but we got lucky. Thanks for the well wishes.

So, as I have been shopping for the holidays and planning for the new year, I thought I pass along some of the things that I really enjoyed this year (other than the endless warmth of the 2020 dumpster fire).

I really love Knife Aid. It’s like the Netflix of knife sharpening. You pick how many you want sharpened and they send you the materials to pack up your knives and mail them in. Then, they send them back to you perfectly sharpened. It’s only about a week in turnaround time and very convenient. I have used them twice, including last month.

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I love OXO containers. My pantry is out of control, and these are helping me tame the chaos. I still want more.

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A bluetooth meat thermometer was game changer. Yes, I use it when smoking meat, but I also use it for so much more. For example. I used this on Thanksgiving for the turkey, which meant I could watch the temp in real time, and also not lose heat from constantly opening and closing the oven to check on the bird. I also use it for cooking roasts, prime rib, chicken and more. You can go about your day without worrying that you are going to overcook an expensive piece of meat or undercook the poultry.

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I am totally OBSESSED with this one. So, it’s basically a murder-mystery subscription box you get each month, but think of it like a limited tv series with episodes. One “season” lasts a few months, or you can purchase past “seasons”/mysteries in their entirety. You get all kinds of clues and documents to investigate, but they also have cool online components to enrich the experience. We are currently working our way though the Blair Witch season and the Cadence Theater season. If you are stuck in quarantine, pouring over clues in order to catch a killer is a great way to pass the time.

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I am in love with Hue-It Hand Dyed Fibers. This local-to-me Louisiana artist specializes in small-batch dying, and has an incredible portfolio of colorways. Most of her stuff sells out fast but she takes preorders if you missed out on a colorway. I recently snatched up a couple of skeins that are just waiting for the right pattern to come along.

The New Pie by Chris Taylor and Paul Arguin

My neighbors gifted me this book after we had a mini-Thanksgiving this summer (they are in our “pod/quarantine bubble”). This book is LEGIT cool. These recipes are not for those looking for basic pies. These guys compete around the country and their ideas are complete bananas. Favorites so far are the Strawberry Margarita Pie and the Caramel Popcorn Pie.

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This cookbook was written by the founder of the Mosquito Supper Club restaurant in New Orleans. It’s beautifully shot and showcases Louisiana food traditions that are slowing being lost. If you have any interest an authentic Louisiana cuisine, this needs to be in your library.

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So, my go-to recipe software, Living Cookbook quietly went out of business and has basically ghosted it’s customers. So, I spent part of the year test-driving Cook’n, MasterCook, and Paprika, which came out the clear winner. I think it was the easiest to learn/use out of the three, and with a more intuitive interface. I was able to import my Living Cookbook files, though I will say that some things did get lost in translation. I had to go back and check each recipe to correct some things that got garbled in the transfer, but the same thing happened with the other two as well. Otherwise, I’m happy using it, and very grateful for the cloud sharing ability.

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This herb stripper was featured on Food Network’s The Kitchen, and host Sunny Anderson loved it so much she immediately said she was taking it home with her. I LOVE this. It strips those pesky thyme and rosemary leaves off of their stems in two seconds flat.

Other Favorites

Knitting Podcasts

Knitmore Girls, Down Cellar Studio, Yarniacs, Two Ewes

Food Podcasts

The Sporkful (hands down one of the best), The Splendid Table, Gravy, Milk Street, Good Food.

Food Websites/Blogs

Damn Delicious, Half-Baked Harvest, Foodie with Family

Shows I’ve Binge-watched

Lucifer, Virgin River, The Chef Show, Castle Rock, The Umbrella Academy, Westworld, Anne with an E, Sabrina the Teenage Witch (Netflix), His Dark Materials, The Outsider, Perry Mason.

So those are a few things that I really loved this year, and made this insanity a little bit better. We’ve been through a lot of changes, but we also had a lot of fun.

Here’s to 2021 not being a trainwreck.

Maple Orange Bourbon Glazed Ham & What We are Cooking for a Quarantined Easter

With Easter coming up this weekend, social distancing means that the usual celebrations will be very, very different this year. No hanging out with the family and no Easter baskets for the kids. I figure that the grocery pick-up/delivery services are busy enough with real needs, and that shopping for chocolate bunnies and trinkets is a waste of their time and resources. We have candy and plastic eggs in the house already, but will forgo dying real eggs because I just feel like it’s wasteful in a time of scarcity (before you get offended, no one in this house will eat hardboiled eggs, so it really would be wasteful for us).

But, I’m still planning a good meal that will make us at least feel like it’s a special day, even if we can’t watch my sister and kids throw plastic eggs at each other.

I don’t usually cook ham at home, because HoneyBaked Ham is totally my jam, but I’m not in the mood to spend that kind of money for just the five of us. I saw this recipe on Food Network last summer, and decided to make it when we went on a family vacation. It got rave reviews, so I decided that I will bake one up this weekend, along with my Cheesy Hash Brown Casserole, roasted asparagus, biscuits, carrot soufflé and a carrot cake (or maybe red velvet). Also, the bone and scraps will be repurposed for Cajun 15 Bean Soup in the Instant Pot, and if we have an leftover casserole, I may try to transform it into something new.

So, we will cook, eat, celebrate, and be grateful this weekend.

Maple Orange Bourbon Glazed Ham

Notes

Ingredients
  • one spiral-cut bone-in ham (about 7-8 pounds)
  • 1 cup orange marmalade
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (the real stuff, not the pancake syrup from the dollar store)
  • 2 TBS butter
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
Procedure
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. In a roasting pan with a rack, place ham on rack, fat side up. Using a small knife, lightly score the fat in a crosshatch pattern. Add a 1-1/2 cups water to the bottom of the ham, place ham in oven and bake for 45 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, make the glaze. Combine remaining ingredients in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until thick and syrupy.
  4. Brush the ham with half of the glaze, then continue baking, while glazing ham every 15 minutes until it's reached an internal temp of 130 F (about 45 minutes to an hour).
  5. IMPORTANT: The ham should get very brown, but the amount of sugar in this can start to burn. If you think your ham is geting there, cover it with foil that has been sprayed with non-stick spray (lest you rip off all that glaze). Once the ham is done, let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Chicken Alfredo Pizza with Caramelized Onions and Sundried Tomatoes

So, I mentioned on the blog yesterday that I was going to start posting some recipes and ideas just in case they may help people navigate the ways quarantine is limiting our abilities and pantrys. Chicken Alfredo Pizza was something I made frequently when the boys were young. It’s fast, easy, cheap, customizable, and can stretch two smaller chicken breasts to feed a family of 5. This week, I made two versions: one with caramelized onions and sundried tomatoes added, and one with just the chicken, garlic, sauce, and cheese for the picky peeps. Before I list the recipe, here are some ideas to customize it or hack it if the grocery store is still a wasteland:

  • You can use any cooked chicken or turkey, or even brown up ground chicken and crumble it. When all the meat was gone this week at Kroger, there was a whole wall of smoked turkey legs. In a pinch, you can remove the meat from those and use it.
  • Who says it has to be chicken? Our store still had plenty of frozen shrimp in stock. Just sauté some until just under done, because they will finish cooking on the pizza.
  • Pizza dough: Making your own is easier than you think, and as long as you have flour and yeast on hand, you can do it. Alternatively, buy the tubes from the refrigerator case, which is what I did up until the Heathens were no longer tazmanian devils 24/7. My Kroger also sells fresh balls of pizza dough in baggies, which is in the deli section where they store the pre-made soups, salads, and take-home entrees.
  • While this recipe calls for the caramelized onions and sundried tomatoes, you could add bacon bits, sliced peppers, red pepper flakes for spice, toasted bread crumbs for texture, spinach to sneak in some veggies,  or finish with a drizzle of balsamic glaze.

Just remember, until life settles down and our grocery stores can catch up, not every meal is going to be a Pinterest moment, nor is every recipe going to be a favorite of everyone in your household. I will say, though, that I think both experienced and less-confident cooks are going to come out on the other side of this having learned something new about the ways we shop and eat.

**Note–I doubled this recipe to make two the two pizzas seen above**

Chicken Alfredo Pizza

Notes

Ingredients
  • 1 ball or tube of pizza dough (basically enough so you can roll it out to the size of a half-sheet pan or a large pizza pan.
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 2 TBS olive oil (or butter)
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup jarred sundried tomato Alfredo sauce (regular jarred Alfredo works too)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (or a couple of teaspoons of the jarred stuff)
  • 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped (the kind packed in oil preferably)
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella (or pizza blend cheese).
  • 3 TBS grated parmesan
Procedure
  1. Start the onions first: Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat and add the onions and a small sprinkle of salt, stirring well. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally until they reach your desired level of caramelization.
  2. While the onions cook, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a sheet pan or pizza pan with non-stick spray.
  3. Dust your counter and a rolling pin with flour and roll out your pizza dough to fit your pan, then transfer it to the pan. Bake the pizza  dough for 11 minutes, then remove from oven.
  4. Spread the Alfredo sauce evenly over the pizza dough, starting with 1/4 cup at first and adding more as needed. The amount of sauce you will need will depend on the size of your pizza and your preferences. You want a nice even layer of sauce, but try not to drown it.
  5. Distribute the chicken, onions, garlic, and sundried tomatoes over the pizza. Top with mozzarella and parmesan and return it to the oven.
  6. Bake an additional 7-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and starts to brown a little in spots.
  7. Let pizza rest about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

The Dirty Secrets–Pantry Meals, Cheap Meals, Canned Meals, and More for Tips for Your Quarantine Kitchen

Ok, I think we can all agree that food media and culture as a whole has changed in the past 20 years. We now have easy access to blogs, recipes, information, and research. Meanwhile, Michael Pollan and other researched-based advocates opened our eyes to the less-than-desirable aspects of processed foods and ingredients. We get to be seasoned foodies without ever having attended culinary school.

But the reality is that many people do not have the luxury to be selective about ingredients and methods, pandemic or not. They may live in food deserts with no access to fresh products (what would you do if the only store you could reach was Dollar General?), they may have inadequate funds, limited equipment, and lack the basics we take for granted, like reliable internet access for help.

When I first got married, I had recently birthed the Demon-Baby. My husband worked endless hours of overtime to keep us afloat, and I stretched our meager budget as far as it would go. And you know how I did that? Lots of processed products, canned products, protein stretching, and shortcuts. No shame in my game.

Those meals represented my efforts to provide us some semblance of “homecooked” meals, even if it was just a medley of frozen and canned ingredients hastily tossed together. Even before we got married, our college garage apartment produced many memorable bargain meals that we still recall with fondness: Bisquick cinnamon rolls and casseroles, sautéed chicken with Rice-a-Roni pasta, cheese omelets, and that time my husband and one of his best friends learned that splattering hot oil next to boiling liquid was a very, very, very bad idea.

As we all face uncertain weeks ahead, I thought I would dust off some of those meals and ideas. They are not really recipes per se, but ideas based on how I stretched our budget, made the most of processed foods, fresh food, and managed not to kill any of us.

  • Easy and Cheap Chicken Pot Pie: Stir together 2 cups cooked chicken (I often only used one chicken breast), 1 can cream of celery soup, 1 cup milk or half-and-half, 1 tsp. seasoned salt, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, 1 can drained peas, and 1 can drained corn. Using a box of refrigerated pie curst, line the bottom of pie plate with 1 roll of the crust. Pour in chicken mixture, top with the other roll of crust, crimping edges. Cut a hole or two in the top to vent. Bake at 400 F 35-40 minutes until top begins to brown. Rest 5-10 minutes before serving. (Or use any combo of canned veg you have).
  • Under $5 Corn Chowder: Stir together 1-1/2 cups milk or half-and-half with one can of cream-style corn into a saucepan over low heat. (The regular size can of corn, not the 7-oz baby size). Add 4 slices chopped ham from the deli (or 1/2 cup chopped diced and browned smoked sausage, or some cooked bacon), 1 can of sliced or diced potatoes, drained, 1 can whole kernel corn, drained, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat about 10-15 minutes, and stir in 1 cup grated cheddar until melted. Serve with bread or rolls if you can.
  • Chicken Squares: Combine 6-oz of room temperature cream cheese with 6-oz of room temperature margarine, 4 TBS milk, 2 chopped green onions and add 3/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. black pepper. Add 3 cups shredded cooked chicken, mixing well. Separate two tubes of crescent roll dough into eight squares (which is two of triangles still together for each). Press the perforated seam of each square together firmly to create a solid square of dough. Place a spoonful of the chicken mixture into the center of each square. Bring the dough corners to the center, pinching all the edges to seal. Bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
  • Pantry Spicy Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches: For the soup, combine 3 cups Spicy V-8 juice, 1 can condensed tomato soup, 1 can condensed cheddar cheese soup, and 1 tsp. dried basil in a saucepan. Heat on medium, whisking occasionally until hot and combined. For the sandwiches: Combine one can of condensed nacho cheese soup with 1-1/2 cups fiesta blend shredded cheese. Spread a couple of TBS of cheese mix between two slices of bread, and brush outside of sandwiches with melted margarine or butter. Cook the sandwiches grilled cheese-style until golden. Slice on the diagonal and serve with the soup. *If you can get your hands on a baguette or sausage buns, make mini sandwiches for optimal dipping, which makes picky eaters happier. They like to dip stuff*
  • My Spaghetti Casserole was a staple and continues to be a go-to. I would serve it with frozen or canned green beans that I seasoned with what I had on hand. You can make garlic bread using the ends of a bread loaf or sandwish bread you need to use up. Brush bread with a couple of TBS of butter mixed with a 1/4 tsp. garlic powder and 1/2 tsp. dried parsley. Toast in the oven.
  • Chicken Fajita Chowder relies on mostly pantry-ready ingredients and you can reduce the chicken to stretch it further (the beans add plenty of protein). If you don’t have chips, cornbread is a good side, or even crackers.
  • You don’t get any more affordable than Salmon Croquettes. We would serve this with boxed mac and cheese and canned peas.
  • When I Was in a Bind: I often would throw together a couple of diced, cooked chicken breasts with sautéed diced onion and minced garlic, add a can of cream of celery soup, 2 TBS. lemon juice, 1 TBS Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 cup of milk, 1 tsp. seasoned salt and one 1 tsp. paprika. If I had any dried parsley or thyme, I added some. I’d simmer it for a bit and serve over wedges of cornbread.
  • Top Some Potatoes: Potatoes are affordable, and last if you store them properly. If you can bake potatoes, you can top them endlessly, like with shredded chicken or beef, BBQ sauce, and cheese (maybe chopped onion or even slaw for the adults). How about cooked chicken, broccoli, and cheese sauce (maybe with some bacon bits)? Cook frozen breaded chicken strips, dice them, toss with ranch dressing, top potatoes, and drizzle with hot sauce (and sprinkle of blue cheese if you can find it). Try potato tacos, with all the usual ground beef and taco fixings on top. Potatoes are the ultimate affordable canvas to stretch protein.

Other tips:

  • Bisquick and other pre-made mixes are often very cheap, and versatile for pantry cooking, especially if you are short on time. I’ve made many a casserole from on-hand cans and a mix.
  • Combo meals that combine proteins with starches and/or veggies allow you to stretch ingredients further. Think pot pies, Shephards Pie, casseroles, breakfast scrambles, hashes, stews, soups, etc. Eggs are the often least expensive per-serving protein there is.
  • Nearly anything can be transformed into hand pies/meat pies. If you need to clean out the fridge of leftovers, use refrigerated pie dough or frozen bread dough to create a “sweep the kitchen” hand pie night. Use leftover protein, starches, and vegetables, and convince your kids it’s like personal pizza night, but better. Same goes for grilled sandwiches/panini.
  • Ask yourself if what a recipe calls for is TRULY necessary. It may call for three cups of shredded chicken, but you could probably fake it with two. Out of fresh ginger? You could probably scrape by with a fraction of that amount of ginger powder. Will it be just like the recipe? No, obviously, but it could help you try and hit closer to the flavor profile than nothing at all. I frequently substitute fresh herbs with dried (decreasing the amount by half). Some skipping and substitutions can get you by, but remember, don’t be that butthole who goes onto a website and gives terrible recipe reviews after you do so. While being a pantry MacGyver can keep your family well-fed, it’s not fair to compare a hacked recipe to what the writer intended.
  • The good-looking chicken breasts in the refridgerated case are going to be the most expensive. For now, I’d go for the frozen bags (which are often smaller and less-than-neatly cut), or if you have the time, grab the cheap cuts like legs or leg quarters and cook and shred the meat for later.
  • When in doubt, trust dishes like Red Beans and Rice, Jambalaya, Stewed Chicken and Rice, Beef Tips, Meatloaf, etc. They are classics for a reason.

So, these are just some basics from the early days extreme budget eating that I hope inspire anyone struggling under quarantine frustration or scarcity. If you have questions about this post or how to stretch what you have, leave a comment, or if you prefer to ask a question privately, drop me an email (check my profile for the address).

Keep calm and drink on, my friends.