10.29.2017

3 Easy Tips to Help You Get Dinner on the Table Quickly on Weeknights

If you are like me then the late afternoon to early evening hours are the most hectic hours in a day, especially if you've not been home all day. We've now thrown in a foster dog so I am budgeting in his walks, too.  Let's face it.  Busy weeknights are tough and figuring out a quick dinner is a must to keep your sanity.

As kids age, extra-curricular activities start becoming during the dinner hour. What if you have more than one child and one activity is at 5 p.m and one is at 7 p.m. If you are not careful, you'll be eating out way too much during the week and blowing your family meal budget very quickly. When you are my age, too many restaurant meals cause extra pounds and bloating.

I thought I would share with you what I do in my home. I'm not perfect, and I make timing mistakes all the time, but I've been relying on the 3 tips that help me get dinner on the table more quickly for my family.

easy-tips-to-get-dinner-ready-on-weeknights


Tip OneSearch for Easy, Simple Recipes
I love a good recipe just like anybody else. But, honestly, if there are a lot of ingredients or a lot of preparatory work which translates into several pots or lots of chopping,  I toss that recipe aside.  I no longer have the luxury to plan my meals around recipes that require a lot of ingredients or steps. Times for different when I had younger kids who napped and watched TV late in the late.  I now save those types of meals for weekends.  Our family meals usually consist of a meat (protein), a vegetable, and either brown rice or orzo pasta with feta cheese. It's quite simple. The kids will eat most of it and there is very little waste.  Look on Pinterest for recipe ideas that you cook ahead, freeze and pull out on a weeknight, too.  Use your crockpot and some people use an Instant Pot for busy nights. It cooks crockpot meals very quickly. I've yet to see one in person, but I'm seeing a lot of recipes for them.

Tip Two:  Utilize Delivery Services
I use a produce delivery service, and I order my produce and/or meats on Monday, and it gets delivered on Wednesday. I find that having an abundance of different seasonal produce has really helped me go to more basic cooking like sauteing fresh vegetables or roasting them than serving the vegetable as a side.  I don't rely on recipes as much on weeknights. PapaSpuds, which is the produce delivery service that I use also offers fresh pasta and organic meats. I tend to order the chicken thighs and chicken legs the most often just because it is a better bang for your buck. My kids love my roasted chicken and kale recipeIt's simple and easy for a busy weeknight meal. 


Hello_Fresh_Pork_Chili_Meal


I also rely on the meal kit delivery service of  HelloFresh. I like it because I have a ready to go meal kit waiting on me in my fridge. I place my meal selections by Thursday and the meals are delivered to my doorstep the following Tuesday.  It helps supplement two meals a week for my family.  The service is flexible so sometimes I skip a week, depending on what we have going on that week. HelloFresh meals are typically quick to prepare and really help working moms out a lot.  As part of the service, you keep all recipe cards so I can cook our family "HelloFresh" favorites anytime I want.

Another thing that I like about the service is that when you regularly for the type of meals that HelloFresh offers families, the grocery bills add up for the ingredients you need to prepare this type of food.  Your meal kit has everything you need in it to make the recipe except for salt, pepper, and olive oil. Those are three items that every cook needs to have in stock at all times. If you have those in stock then you can make any HelloFresh sent to you. I sometimes freeze my meats and wait on the meals. Obviously, you cannot do that on every recipe, but I've done it if I have things going on and I don't even have time to make a HelloFresh meal or we have school events where food is served. This one-pan hearty pork chili is a dish I made recently from my menu choices. We loved it, especially my kids.


Tip Three: Change your Grocery Shopping Mindset
Think like a European. In America, we tend to load up when we go to a grocery store.It's like we feel there is a food shortage or a snow storm coming any minute.  It's a mindset thing here, I think.  Maybe we do it because we think it helps us on time management, but when I do it I sometimes spend more monthly and end up wasting food. For example, I would buy another box of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish because I was at the store and did not know when I would go to the store again.  Later, I would open the pantry and those pesky kids of mine opened the new bag of goldfish instead of finishing the older one first.  and didn't finish the one that still had a half a bag. Now, I had two bags open and one would get stale.


Shop at local farmer's Markets. Buy what you need

Now that I do a lot Tip 2 consistently, it has cut back all that I need at a grocery store and I have more of a European mindset, I stop in little markets and pick up just a few things.  When you do not have to shop a long list, you will be surprised at how easy it is to pop into a market and pick up just a few items.

My kids love seafood so these little quick trips to a market the beginning of a week, it enables me to add it to your menu more often for a quick meal with a side. For working moms, if you have time to go home at lunch or stop by right after work then it will make it easier for you. You can get quality seafood then cook it that night or the next night and serve with starches and vegetables already in my kitchen. It's a very quick trip to the market.

Europeans do this all the time in their little neighborhood villages. People in larger cities are the same way. They may only have flowers, wine, chicken, bread, and asparagus in their carts. For years when I saw someone with only three items at checkout and my cart looked liked I shopped just once a year  I was like, "who are these people that only buy a few things at the store?"

Well, I'm now one of them.  I pop into The Fresh Market in Cameron Village in Raleigh because they have good specials on Tuesday. We all have a little go-to place near our neighborhood and that one is mine. The minute I step in that place I relax. It's small, and I always grab a little coffee sample. It used to be more high-end seventeen years ago when I first moved to Raleigh and at times, frustrating because I could not be able to get some staples that I may have needed. For example, if they even carried Heinz ketchup then it would be small and overpriced, but they revamped their selections and now, you really could shop there for most everything, including Heinz ketchup. My husband grew up on Heinz ketchup and he is not happy if I bring home another brand. We joke, "After all, our name is Hines." Utilize those small markets and even Farmer's Markets more often, it will cause you to buy just what you need at the time and nothing more.


Disclosure: Referral links for the services I use are in this post. 

10.21.2017

Quick and Easy Appetizer: Dates Stuffed with Manchego Cheese

I had no idea I loved dates so much until I attended an event at Whisk gourmet cooking store in Cary's Waverly Place.



Whisk is a locally-owned store that makes foodies squeal with delight. Not only does it have items that every home chef needs, but it also offers cooking courses.  The courses offered are quite extensive.

#OutaboutNC Local Find: Cute Kitchen Store in Cary, North Carolina with cooking lessons and demostrations.


While Whisk chefs prepared a meal for us that showcased the art of entertaining, I kept popping dates stuffed with manchego cheese in my mouth as if it was candy corn.  Yeah, they were that good. Manchego Cheese is from the La Mancha Region of Spain. It's made from the Manchega breed of Sheep.  It's a semi-soft cheese with a mild, nutty, fruity, sweet and tangy flavor. For me, that just translates into delicious.  Medjool dates are soft dates that also known to have health benefits.  You normally find them in the produce section of your grocery store, and they are very easy to find in fall and the winter months.

I loved the recipe so much that I wanted to share it with you as well.  It's a little sticky, but so worth it.

Enjoy!

Dates Stuffed with Manchego and Topped with Pistachios and Honey


Dates stuffed with Manchego Cheese and Topped with Pistachios and Honey.


Ingredients:
1 pound of Medjool Dates (approximately 30 dates)
6 ounces of Manchego cheese, cut into  1" X  1/2" strips
3-4 ounces of pistachios, salted and roasted
Drizzle of honey

Instructions:

Toast pistachios for 10-15 minutes in the oven at 325 degrees. Pull them out when they smell "toasty".

Use a paring knife, and make a slit down the center of one date.

Tuck a cheese strip inside the date, and repeat the same process for all 30 dates. Increase temp to 350 degrees.

Place in a baking dish and warm in 350-degree oven.

Remove from oven after cheese melts. Approximately 10 minutes.

Let cool for 5 minutes, then drizzle with honey and pistachios.

Easy and Quick Appetizer that is perfect for fall with Dates and Manchego Cheesetopped with Pistachios and Honey. #Entertaining #Appetizers #ManchegoCheese

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#OutaboutNC Local Find
Whisk 
Waverly Place Shopping Center
316 Colonades Way - Suite 214
Cary, NC 27518

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disclosure: press event with affiliate links.

10.15.2017

Create an Elegant, but Easy Cheese and Meat Board in Minutes

My neighbor loves Halloween so the other day, she wanted to coordinate a progressive fall-inspired dinner party for our street. I volunteered to host appetizers. My entertaining goal was to keep it simple and look to Italy and Spain for inspiration on an elegant, but easy cheese and meat board that could be put together in minutes. 

Three years ago this month, I was on a press trip to a winery in the Marche region of Italy. The event set-up was simple, elegant and perfect for tapas before a meal. I decided to do something similar with my own spin for this neighborhood get-together. 

Italian appetizer spread at Marche Winery


Liza loves Disney's Descendants movies.  Last year, she knew she wanted to be the character, Mal, for Halloween. In my house, the song, "Ways to Be Wicked" is played constantly.  I decided to have a little fun with a "Ways to be Wicked" song. The lyrics say, 
                                  

"Apple, apple dip, dip
Wanna try it?

Tick, tick
Take a bite, c'mon, be bold
Change the way the story's told"


Descendants. Apples. Villians. Evil Queen. It all fell into place.


Evil Queen Costume with apples as the star of the party.


I used fresh apples for my centerpiece decorations, and the fall fruit is in season right now. An apple, from tart to sweet, goes wonderfully with an Italian-inspired meat and cheese board.

Put together meat and cheese boards within minutes



I ordered my apples from my Papa Spud's produce box delivery. They were in abundance and cost-effective. I purchased everything else from Trader Joe's in less than an hour. 

Here's what I bought at Trader Joe's for my "Ways to Be Wicked" Inspired Party
Sparkling Apple Cider (non-alcoholic)
Draft Apple Cider
White wine
Bread Sticks
Several types of crackers
Goat Cheese with Herbs
A Spanish Cheese sampler with Manchego, Iberico, and Cabra Al Vino
Sliced Aged Cheddar Cheese
Two varieties of pears (One sweet and one normal pear)
Several cartons of the store's seasonal Greek Yogurt called, "Trader Joe's Apple-Caramel Whole Milk Greek Yogurt." 
Dried Apricots
Organic Trek Mix with Cashews, Almonds and dried Cranberries
Italian Hard Salami 
Two appetizer snack packs with Genoa salami cut like apple shapes and provolone slices 
Red Grapes

I have two cheeseboards that are simple and look like cutting boards. I also used three small glass dishes to hold olives, nuts in trek mix, and dried apricots. 

Add sweet and salty to your cheese boards


I placed the four kinds of cheese on the cheese first. I used the goat cheese on another platter separately with crackers, pears, and apples. For my hard cheese platter, I placed my nut bowl and my dried apricot bowl on the board. I put a few sliced apples on the tray, crackers, and red grapes for garnish. Presto. The cheese board was filled in no-time. 

On a round cheese board, I placed olives in a bowl in the middle. I then surrounded the olives with crackers, cheese, genoa salami, and hard salami slices. 

For my third platter, I took the olive oil appetizer breadsticks and wrapped Prosciutto around each one. I used apples and grapes for garnish. 

Italian prosciutto wrapped around breadsticks can be put together within minutes for party


I was amazed at how quickly I was able to create these elegant, but easy cheese and meat trays for this party in minutes. I think the total time may have been 15 minutes for all the three trays. 

I used the Apple-Caramel Grek yogurt dip with and apple slices. 

I really thought this was a no-fuss party idea and I will do it again. It did not take a lot of work, but yet, it looked like it did.  The hit of the night was the yogurt dip and the soft goat cheese. It all worked well because I had meat-eaters and vegetarians in attendance. 

Another neighbor served lasagna after my get-together and my other neighbor served a homemade limoncello cake. It was a great night.



Quick and Easy Meat and Cheese appetizer trays that can be put together within minutes. #Appetizers #Easy #Cheese #Antipasti

Pin for a future Halloween Party Idea 

Ways to be Wicked Inspired Halloween Party with apples as the star. Evil Queen is the host. #Halloween #apples #Easy #Appetizers

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