Use Your Noodle

We have a new commercial development being built near our house.  It’s very exciting because there are several new-to-Dayton restaurants being built AND an old favorite of mine, Noodles and Co.  I was first exposed to Noodles when it moved in at the Greene (a local mall) and more often than not I would eat there when I went shopping.  When I found out Noodles and Co was expanding to Austin Landing, I was pumped.  I love their Pad Thai and Curry Soup.

Since I follow Austin Landing’s Facebook page, I learn about all the “soft openings” and “sneak peaks” that happen at their various stores.  One such sneak peak was for Noodles.  Jeff, Jake, and I, along with a couple friends, were able to sample one free dish per person one night.

As we were eating, Jill, the manager, came over to see how our meal was and to ask us if we’d eaten at Noodles before.  I said I had and we got to talking a bit.  I explained I was a food blogger and she asked if I’d be interested in doing a tasting.  Duh.  That was easy.

I invited a few other bloggers and some friends to lunch on a snowy Thursday in March where we were able to sample several of Noodles’ dishes.

We started with a couple flatbreads.  The always available Margherita (classic tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella)

Margheritaand the limited time only Fig and Pig (described as “caramelized onions, naturally-raised, slow-braised pork, crumbled feta and Parmesan cheese on a toasted flatbread, drizzled with Balsamic Fig-infused oil and topped with more feta cheese and an Arcadian lettuce mix” on their website).  This was hands down the best thing I tried during the lunch.

FigPigPumpkin, one of my fellow blogger’s daughters, wasn’t too sure of the “pizza” but tried it anyway.

Pumpkin2Next up was the Penne Rosa, a penne pasta tossed in a spicy marinara, topped with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.  A delicious, classic choice, albeit a bit spicy.

RosaTo cool off our palettes, Jill brought out their Mac and Cheese with Parmesan Crusted Chicken.

Mac and CheeseAfter trying a bit, she asked us if we liked spicy.  “Try it with Sriracha,” she said.  Boy, lemme tell ya.  It gives a seriously good flavor to the already yummy dish!  I have been back since and ordered mac and cheese (instead of my Pad Thai staple, mind you) and doused it in Sriracha.  Stuff is good, man…

SrirachaTo bring in some of their Asian influenced, the Bangkok Curry was next.  This dish was a mixture of rice noodles, veggies, and sweet coconut curry sauce over a bed of cabbage.

CurryTo be honest, this wasn’t my favorite dish.  It wasn’t bad and I for sure ate my serving, but I probably won’t be ordering it for myself in the future.

Alongside the Curry, she served up the Med Salad, which is exactly what it sounds like.  It’s a Mediterranean influenced salad with tomatoes, onions, olives, feta, and vinaigrette.Med Salad

One cool thing about Noodles is they offer a “World Map” of choices you can make at their restaurants for under 500 calories!

choicesThis Bangkok Curry and Med Salad combo was one of those options.  If I had had those two complete dishes as my lunch, I would have been pleasantly full.Under 500

Steak Stroganoff was up next.  This dish was traditional egg noodles covered in a creamy stroganoff sauce topped with seasoned steak and Parmesan.  Because several of us were sharing one dish, I don’t think I got very much of the sauce so my bites were a little bland.  But the sauce I did taste was yummy!Stroganoff

The next Asian dish we had was the Japanese Pan Noodles, which I’d had before.  Veggies, udon noodles, and bits of steak were tossed in a deliciously sweet sauce.  I loved this one and kept going back for more little bites.  YUM!Udon

Next up was the Pad Thai.  We all know I love Pad Thai, so of course I loved this one.  I’ve gotten it more times than I can count and am definitely a fan.Pad Thai

Finally it was time for dessert!  In all the time I’ve been coming to Noodles, I only ever thought they had their jumbo rice krispy treats (they’re right there on the counter).  When Jill brought out the trio of treats, I was floored!

First, I tried the Chocolate Espresso Cake.  I love chocolate, but sometimes it’s a bit rich for me.  This was a very rich cake and I was satisfied with just a small bite of it.  Jeff would have gobbled that whole thing up though.Chocolate Cake

Next, I tried the Carrot Cake.  When I was in the hospital after I gave birth to Jake, I probably at a piece of carrot cake each day because the hospital’s cake was that good.  This was a close second.Carrot

Finally, I sampled the Tres Leche cake.  MMMMMM.  It was so yummy.  We each had a taste of the desserts and then one person would get the final bite.  I got the final bite of this one.  I savored every second of it too.  It was delicious!Tres Leche

I already knew I was a fan of Noodles and Co, but with this tasting I love it even more.  They have so many good options and are conscious of people’s desires to eat healthier.  All the nutritional values are on their website, so you can plan before you go too.  With that World Map, it really makes it easy!

They have something for everyone, even the pickiest eaters like my little guy.  Their associates are very friendly and go out of their way to help, coming around to check on your meal periodically.  They even bus the tables for you!

I want to thank Jill for bringing us in for a fabulous lunch on a dreary Thursday morning.  It was very nice and pleasant.  I think I speak for everyone when I say we all enjoyed it.

So if you’re in the area, stop in and grab a meal!  It’s a fabulous place.

Pumpkin

Brownie Buckeyes

I’ve lived in Ohio for 10 years this May.  One of the first things I learned when moving here was their state “treat”:  The Buckeye.  Buckeyes, for those of you who are not fortunate enough to know, are delicious balls of peanut butter and powdered sugar hugged by a thin layer of yummy chocolate.  They are quite possibly my favorite treat in the entire world next to brownies.

Buckeye Brownies 2

So imagine my lust when my coworker showed me a picture of what I can only describe as the love child of a brownie and a buckeye.  Buckeye Brownie Cookies.

“You or Barb should make these” was all the text read.  One look and I was hooked.  Since our store was having a carry in soon, I mentally penciled these cookies in as a surprise treat for my team.

If you like peanut butter, brownies, cookies, or anything in between, make these.  They are epic.

Buckeye Brownies 3

Brownie Buckeyes
(from this recipe)

1 family size package brownie mix
1 egg
1/4 stick butter, melted
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup peanut butter
4 oz candy chocolate (that stuff in the block near the chocolate chips)

Preheat the oven to 350*.  In a bowl, combine the brownie mix, egg, butter, and cream cheese until well mixed.  Using a medium scoop (approximately 1.5 tbsp), scoop the mixture onto a cookie sheet lined with a silpat AND sprayed lightly with cooking spray.  Yes, they are that sticky.  You should get almost exactly 24 cookies.  Bake for 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix up your “buckeye” layer.  Combine the peanut butter and powdered sugar until well mixed.  Using a small scoop (approximately 2 tsp), scoop the mixture into 24 balls and set aside.

When you take your cookies out of the oven, you’ll want to immediately top with your peanut butter mixture.  I flattened the PB balls out in my hand to make a disc, then placed that over the cookie.  Let these cool completely.

After your cookies are cooled, you can top with your chocolate later.  Melt 4 ounces of candy chocolate in the microwave on 30 second increments, stirring in between.  It should only take 1-1.5 minutes.  Spoon or pipe your chocolate on top of the peanut butter.  Let them sit until the chocolate layer is hardened.

Buckeye Brownies

Try not to eat them all in one sitting.  I dare you.

It’s About Thyme

entrance2Fresh Thyme is a combined spirit of a weekend farmer’s market and the convenience of a neighborhood store to create a new and health shopping experience.”

I’ve always been a grocery store junkie.  In college, my best friend and I would actually take “field trips” to the grocery store just to see what was new.  A little pathetic, maybe, but I don’t care.  #sorrynotsorry

After we moved away from each other, we would still take our little field trips.  One time when I was in Louisville visiting her, we went to Fresh Market.  I liked it so much I wrote a blog post about it!  Other times, before we had Trader Joe’s close to us, we met in Cincinnati to see what all the fuss was about.

When I was contacted to provide an honest review of a new grocery store in the Dayton area, I immediately signed up for it.  How exciting!  What’s funny is when I was contacted, the girl didn’t tell me what grocery store it was.  Just that it was a “new store in the Dayton area”.  I’d made plans to visit the store with a girlfriend even before the name was revealed.

My friend, Kristy, and I planned to go to Fresh Thyme Farmer’s Market last Sunday afternoon.  Looking back, it was probably the single most awful time to go to the grocery store we could have picked.  The fact that I (the person who would rather chew her own arm off than be in a big crowd of people) still enjoyed myself speaks volumes. First and foremost, it was a gorgeous day.  Chilly, but bright blue skies.

Outside I’m always in such a great mood when the sky is filled with light, wispy clouds, aren’t you? In we went, with no intention of buying anything.  Kristy suggested we get a cart, which we did.  She wanted to get a big cart but I assured her we wouldn’t even need the little mini cart.  Haha.  Yeah, I was wrong.

EntranceThe first area we came to was produce.  It was a farmer’s market, after all.  Now I know every store has their own lost leaders (products with super low prices that drive customers in the store), but $.89 for a pint of strawberries is crazy!  And what’s more?  They were delicious.  Seriously.

I kept looking for prices to be unreasonable as they are in most “trendy” grocery stores, but in all honesty Fresh Thyme had very comparable (if not cheaper) prices to big box retailers like Kroger.  In addition to their great prices, they have this cool thing where you can “double dip” on Wednesdays.  They call it Double Ad Wednesdays. See, every Wednesday their new ad breaks BUT their old ad still rings at the sale prices.  What does this mean?  On Wednesdays you get both the past week’s and the current week’s sale prices at the same time! Kristy and I meandered around, trying to take in everything the store had to offer.

BreadOne of my favorite little corners was the artisan bread display.  I was tempted to pick up a loaf of the sourdough, but I am trying to be good and avoid loaves of bread.  They can be a trouble food for me.

BakeryI was happy to learn that these artisan breads are made locally, be it in the store or utilizing local area bakeries.

SandwichesMoving right along, they have an assortment of sandwiches and other goodies you can purchase for lunch or a light dinner.  I used to work right down the road and it would have been awesome to be able to run in for a quick bite knowing I was getting quality, local ingredients in a delicious meal.

SushiTheir sushi selections were amazing too.  Wanna know something cool?  They fly in their seafood fresh daily.  Wanna know something else cool?  They do their research and make sure their fish is sustainable, proving they are not only looking for the best quality product but are also considerate of the environment.  I like that.

You know how that “other” grocery store has their infamous salad and prepared foods bar?

OlivesSalad2Sala1Check.

Meat1Next up was the meat counter.  Some of you know how much I love the meat counter at Dorothy Lane Market.  Fresh Thyme gave DLM a run for their money.  Such succulent cuts of beef!

Meat2Check out their carne asada.  Doesn’t that look yum?  I thought so.  A pound of it made it into my cart. Another thing I liked about Fresh Thyme was just how many things they made fresh in house.  One thing in particular was their sausages.  They have over a dozen different varieties of sausage they make daily.  I’m definitely picking up a couple of those next time!  I smell sizzling sausage with peppers and onions in my future…

OnionsTheir produce section seemed to be never ending.  I loved the gorgeous displays all over the place.  As opposed to the picked over selections at Kroger, this produce was piled in luscious, bountiful mounds. I found out they source their produce locally and buy direct from vendors in order to keep costs down.  I’ll bring up those strawberries again.  We were able to sample them in the store and they were so yummy I bought two pints.  I’m very seriously considering stopping by again to pick up more even though it’s out of my way.

OK, wait.  Let’s talk bulk bins for a minute.

CoffeeBulkJust look at these beauties!  Coffee, grains, flours, seeds, nuts, fruit.  You name it.  They had it.  It’s the perfect way to try something you’re curious about (read: coconut flour) without having to invest in a $10 bag of the stuff you may never use again.

That’s all.  Carry on.

To be perfectly honest, Kristy and I didn’t spend a whole ton of time in the dry grocery section of the store.  We were too fascinated with the fresh areas.  We were able to find several varieties of Vita Tops (one of Kristy’s favorites) and a great deal on Alexia frozen potatoes though.

Finally we wandered around the “fun” aisles.  That’s beer and wine to you.  They have a huge selection of both!

BeerThey had at least 8 cooler doors full of craft beer as well as domestic favorites.

Wine2Wine1In addition, they had an enormous amount of wine, especially for a relatively small grocery store.  Love it!

So let’s get down to the nitty gritty.  Did I like this store?  No. I loved it.  I was so impressed by the quality of ingredients, the layout and merchandising of the store (which is a lot coming from a retail manager), and most of all the affordable pricing.  I talked to several of the employees while I was there and you can really tell they love what they do.  They want to bring happiness and quality to their customers, a trait I find extremely rare in the retail environment. At Walgreens, we hold the customer experience in the highest regard, so when I find other retailers who do the same thing (read: Chick Fil A), I make it my mission to point it out.

Basically, everything you need to know is in their mission statement:  to improve the way our communities eat by offering fresh and healthy food at amazing values, in a fun and vibrant store with friendly faces. I felt every bit of their mission statement in the too-crowded-for-my-comfort-level visit on Sunday afternoon.   (Disclaimer: it was only too crowded for me.  Normal people would be perfectly fine in there.)

If you’re looking for a new grocery store to try where the quality is king and the prices are reasonable, check out Fresh Thyme.  I promise it’s worth a trip.

In all honesty, I was compensated by Fresh Thyme to review their grocery story, but all views and opinions of the store are 100% my own.

Double Chocolate Brownies

Double Chocolate Brownies 1

Last year, my husband was informed that he would need to start traveling for work.  His company’s parent is located in Amsterdam, so he boarded a plan and crossed the pond for the first time in his life.  I wasn’t jealous.  I swear.

Jake and I stayed behind and did our best to pass the time while Daddy was away.  To make the separation a little sweeter, Jeff brought me back a tin of Belgium cocoa that was the best, most delicious cocoa I have ever tasted in my life.  Within days of him being home, I was in the kitchen trying to decide what to use my new cocoa in.

I opted for my favorite dessert of all time:  brownies.  Double chocolate brownies to be exact.

I have made these brownies a few times over the past year and have informed Jeff that every time he goes to Amsterdam, he is to purchase at least one tin of cocoa.  If he wants to continue to have these brownies, that is.

Double Chocolate Brownies 3

For Valentine’s Day, my little cooking buddy and I whipped up a batch of these brownies as Daddy’s Valentine’s Day present.  We also shared some with Jeff’s parents as a thank you for watching Jake as we went to dinner at J. Alexander’s.  (Side note:  avoid that place on Valentine’s Day.  Unless you don’t mind waiting 3 hours for a table.  The sad part?  We even called ahead.)

Later on, Jeff’s mom told him the brownies we gave her were the best brownies she’d ever had.  That says a lot because we live right down the road from a grocery store who is famous for their Killer Brownies!

The next time you want to make something delicious for a loved one, try these brownies.  They’re simple, easy, and insanely good.  Just be warned you may not be able to get rid of that person after.

Double Chocolate Brownies 2

Double Chocolate Brownies
(from allrecipes.com)

1 cup butter, melted
3 cups sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350*.  Prepare a 13×9 pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix butter, sugar, and vanilla.  Add eggs one at a time until combined.  Add in the flour, cocoa, and salt until mixed well.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Spread evenly in the pan.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Double Chocolate Brownies 4

Strawberry Surprise Cupcakes

Up until I had a kiddo, I didn’t usually celebrate Valentine’s Day.  And here’s why.

My mom’s birthday is 2/14, so my siblings and I would celebrate at school with pink and red everything and little mailboxes full of funny little notes from our friends, but at home it was all about mama.

Jeff and I don’t tend to go overboard with Valentine’s Day stuff because we think of it as a Hallmark holiday.  And I’m not really into flowers.  Sure, they look and smell great.  For about a week.  Then comes the day when you walk in the house and you smell that sickly sweet smell of flower rot.  I paint quite the picture, don’t I?

So when Jake came along, I knew I’d have to step up my game.  The first couple years passed without TOO much changing, but this year, I’m trying to be better at the whole “I Love You” day.  Here’s what’s new this year:

Strawberry Surprise Cupcakes 3My little guy goes to daycare and for most holidays, they have a little party for the kiddos.  I wasn’t asked to bring anything this time, but I couldn’t resist.  Plus I had all the ingredients I needed on hand, so why not?

Oh and you may be wondering where the “surprise” in the Strawberry Surprise cupcakes are.

Strawberry Surprise Cupcakes1Boom.

Sweet, gooey strawberry jam tucked away inside.  It’s a wonderful thing.

Strawberry Surprise Cupcakes
(Makes 24 regular cupcakes or 48 minis)

For the cupcakes:
1 box white cake mix
1 1/4 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 egg whites
1 jar strawberry jam (I used Smuckers Natural Strawberry Fruit Spread)
Water for thinning

For the frosting:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup marshmallow fluff
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350*.  In a mixing bowl, add your cake mix, water, oil, and egg whites.  Beat on low for 30 seconds or so to combine, then bump up the speed to high for 2 minutes.  You want your batter to get a lot of air whipped into it.  This makes your cake light and fluffly.

Meanwhile, line your cupcake pans with liners.  I ended up doing 24 minis and 12 regulars.  My coworkers are mighty lucky Jake only has 22 kids in his class.  When your batter is fully whipped, dish it out amongst your pans.  I like using the little ice cream scoops.  You want the batter to come just under the lip of the liner.

Bake at 350* for 12 minutes for minis and 15 minutes for regulars.  Check the doneness with a toothpick.  It should come out clean.  Let the cupcakes cool completely before moving on to the next step.

For the filling, empty the contents of your jar of jam into a microwave safe dish.  Microwave on high for 30 seconds and stir.  Microwave for an additional 30 seconds and stir.  You want your filling to be thinned out a little so it will easily flow into the cupcakes.  You may need to add a little water if your jam is thick.

When the jam is somewhat liquidy, push it through a fine mesh strainer to get rid of all the seeds, lumps, and big pieces of fruit.  Once strained, put into a squeeze bottle with a spout.  You can find these in the baking section of any craft store.

After the cupcakes are cooled, squeeze a small amount of filling into each cupcake.  I put the tip of the squeeze bottle into the center nearly to the bottom of the cupcake, applied a little pressure to the bottle while simultaneously lifting the bottle a bit.  You know you’re cupcake is filled when the filling peeks out at you a bit.  Take care not to overfill them.

To make the frosting, add the two sticks of butter to a stand mixer.  Beat on high until the butter is soft and creamy.  Add your marshmallow cream, vanilla, and salt.  Beat until well mixed.  Add your powdered sugar a 1/2 cup at a time until the 2 cups are fully incorporated.  I continued to beat the frosting for another minute or two to increase the amount of air in the frosting, much like I did with the cake batter.

Move the frosting to a piping bag or a gallon plastic bag.  Frost your cupcakes by drawing a circle on the top of the cupcake and slowly working in.  I like to frost from the outside in but you can do whatever feels comfortable to you.  Or you can just spread the frosting on top of the cupcakes with a knife or offset spatula.

However your frost them, eating them will be the best part.  Enjoy!

Strawberry Surprise Cupcakes 4Happy Valentine’s Day!  And happy birthday, mama!

Bacon Ranch Mac & Cheese

Baked Mac & Cheese 3

My mouth is still watering thinking about that amazing sammich from Tuesday’s blog post.  I haven’t made it back to City BBQ to satisfy my craving yet.  Maybe this weekend…

Moving on.  What goes better with a BBQ sammich than mac and cheese?  Not much, in my opinion.  Well, friends, I have a fabulous recipe for you today just in time for all those Super Bowl parties.  It’s creamy, it’s delicious, it’s got bacon.  Yep, the perfect dish for a little football watchin’.  Just add some beer and you’ve got yourself a par-tay.

Baked Mac & Cheese 2

Bacon Ranch Mac & Cheese

8 oz cooked elbow macaroni
6 slices thick cut bacon (I’m partial to Dorothy Lane Market’s applewood smoked bacon)
1 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup cream of mushroom soup
3 ounces shredded Italian blend cheese (or mozzarella)
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp chopped fresh dill
1/2 tsp salt
2 ounces shredded Colby Jack cheese
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 450*.  In a large skillet over medium heat, cook your bacon until it is crispy.  Remove bacon and drain off all but 1 tbsp of oil.  Add the flour and whisk for 1-2 minutes or until you’ve cooked the “raw” flavor out of the flour.

Add your milk and soup, whisking to combine.  Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes or until thick.  Turn the heat off and add the Italian blend cheese, onion powder, garlic powder, dill, and salt, stirring to combine.  I switch to a rubber spatula at this point because the cheese tends to get stuck in the whisk.  Once the cheese is melted, stir in the cooked pasta and bacon.

Pour the macaroni into a greased 8×8 casserole dish.  Top with Colby Jack cheese.  Combine bread crumbs and olive oil and sprinkle on top.

Put dish in the oven until bread crumbs are golden brown (6-8 minutes).

Baked Mac & Cheese 1

Same City, New Tastes

I can be a creature of habit.  At certain restaurants, I find something I like and have a hard time branching out.  At Smashburger, it’s the BBQ Bacon Burger and Smash fries.  At Sammy’s El Pueblo, it’s the Bourbon Burger.  (Sensing a burger theme here aren’t you?)  At Piada, it’s the Balsamic Chicken Salad.

You see, if I find something I love, and especially if I don’t get to that restaurant very often, I want those meals over and over again.  I’ve been to Sammy’s about 20 times and I think I’ve only ordered something aside from the Bourbon burger maybe three times.

CIty BBQ 3

The same goes for City BBQ.  Every time I go, I get the beef brisket with mac and cheese and fries.  Every. Single. Time.  Though one time I did order hush puppies instead of the fries.  Wasn’t the same.

But when Samantha (a marketing manager for City BBQ) contacted me about meeting up and trying a few new items to their menu, I was all over it.  A free lunch to expose me to items I’ve never tried at one of my favorite restaurants in Dayton?  Uh, yeah.  That was a no brainer.

City BBQ 4

First, she brought out some sides and set them on the table while she gathered the rest of the meal.  It was all I could do to not shove the entire bowl of mac and cheese in my mouth while I waited for her to return.

I snapped a few pictures instead.

In addition to the mac and cheese, she ordered up some corn casserole.  I had had this before (Jeff ordered it) and it’s pretty tasty!

City BBQ 5

Also on the menu was their green beans.  I’m not a huge fan of green beans that aren’t oven roasted and slightly crispy, but these veggies were delicious.

City BBQ 6Finally, she pointed out one dish I’d never tried before.  The gumbo.  I confessed to her I didn’t even know it was on the menu.  She said she hears that a lot, but sure enough when I looked up at the sides board, it was listed plain as day.  I loved it!  Spicy with a little creole flair.

City BBQ 1

Next, she offered up their award winning roast turkey.  I was very familiar with this turkey breast.  I picked one up for my store’s Thanksgiving Day dinner last year AND convinced my friends and family to have one at each of our Thanksgiving Dinners as well!  They are so quick and easy, it really is a great solution if you’re looking for a time saver on Thanksgiving.

Finally, she brought out the big guns.City BBQ 2This, my friends, is the More Cowbell.  Oh. My. God.  I need to take a minute and remember this glorious, delectable morsel of food.  My entire mouth just filled with saliva.

This sandwich quickly replaced the brisket sandwich as my favorite item at City BBQ.  It’s like the beef brisket’s hot, sexy, leather wearing, motorcycle riding older brother.  It’s a brisket sandwich topped with sauteed peppers and onions, provolone cheese, crispy onion straws and horseradish sauce on Texas toast.  It is perfection.  Definitely check this sandwich out the next time you’re near a City BBQ.  You won’t be disappointed.

To entice you even further, Samantha generously donated some gift cards to me to giveaway to a few lucky readers!  To enter, all you have to do is comment on this post and let me know what your favorite thing is to eat at City BBQ.  Only one entry per person please.  Visit my Facebook page for an additional chance to win a gift card!

Entry to this drawing will close at midnight on Wednesday, February 4th.  Winners will be announced in my blog post on Friday, February 6th.  Good luck!

Mini Mexican Pizzas

Mini Mexican Pizzas 5 EditedI have a weakness for Mexican food.  The cheese, the spicy flavors, the deliciously seasoned meats.  What’s not to love?  I also have a weakness for meals I can prep ahead of time and keep in my fridge or freezer for those nights where I’m racing the clock to get dinner on the table.

Last month, during Retail Crunch Time 2014 (otherwise known as Christmas), I threw these little babies together really quick one night and popped them in the oven.  They were delicious!  Neither Jeff nor I could believe how yummy they were!

Plus everything is better in mini, right?

(Sorry it took me so long to get this one up, Mrs. Linda!)

Mini Mexican Pizzas Edited

Mini Mexican Pizzas
(adapted from this recipe)

5-6 large whole wheat tortillas
1 cup lean ground turkey or beef, browned and drained
1/2 cup salsa (I like Kroger’s version of Tostitos salsa)
1/2 packet dry taco seasoning
1/2 can whole kernel corn, drained
1/2 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 can refried beans
1/2 cup shredded cheddar or Mexican blend cheese
Optional:  black olives, chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, sour cream

Preheat oven to 425*.  Spray muffin tins with nonstick cooking spray.  I believe this recipe made 18, but I can’t be positive.

Lay out your tortillas on a flat surface and cut out rounds to fit your muffin tins.  I want to say I ended up going with a 3″ diameter round that fit in my muffin tins but as it was over a month ago and my brain isn’t quite as young as it used to be, I’m having a tough time remembering.  Some blogger I am…

Press each round into the muffin tins.  They don’t have to be perfect or even go all the way up each side.  They just have to cover a decent amount of the surface area of the muffin tins.

In a small bowl, combine your turkey or beef, salsa, taco seasoning, corn, black beans, and refried beans.  Stir to combine.  Scoop about 1/8th of a cup of the filling into each cup.  Top with cheese (divided equally) and bake in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes or until the cheese has melted and everything is warmed through.

Serve with toppings if you choose.

Mini Mexican Pizzas 4 Edited

My favorite part of this recipe was how the tortillas got a little crispy on the bottom.  Mmm…this are definitely going on next week’s cooking list!

Stuffed Shells

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One of my least favorite things in the world is leaving work at 5PM, getting in the car to drive the 35 minutes (or longer as I travel on the interstate…in rush hour…most of the way) home, and realizing I didn’t plan for dinner that night.  My boys like to eat at 6PM, so if I didn’t plan something earlier in the week, it’s pizza or take out for dinner.  Not that they complain about that mind you.

I like to do my meal planning, shopping, and meal prep on the weekends so when it’s crunch time, I already have a plan.  Plus things like sloppy joe, pre-cooked Dad’s Spaghetti sauce, or this little recipe are the perfect make ahead meals for Jeff to throw together at the last minute when I have to work late!

As you guys may know by now, Allrecipes.com is one of my favorite places to go for meal inspiration.  One day I was perusing and a little gem of a recipe popped out at me.  I thought it looked intriguing, so I added the ingredients to my grocery list, cooked it, and the rest is history.  Now we have Stuffed Shells at least once every few weeks.  It also freezes beautifully.  The recipe makes two 6×9 pans of shells or one 13×9 pan.  It’s also a great meal to take to someone who recently had a baby or moved into a new home!

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Stuffed Shells
(adapted from Allrecipes.com)

1 box large shells
4 cups ricotta cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 garlic clove, grated
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp parsley
**In place of the oregano and parsley, you could just use a couple teaspoonsful of Italian seasoning
1 jar pasta sauce

Preheat oven to 350º.  Cook your shells according to the package.  There should be a shorter time on the box specifically if you’re going to further cook the noodles in the oven.  I think mine is 9 minutes or something like that.

In a bowl, combine the ricotta, mozzarella, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, eggs, garlic, and seasonings.  **Hint:  if you want to sneak in some veggies, replace 1-1.5 cups of the ricotta with pureed cauliflower.  They’ll never know… 

Drain your pasta and rinse with cold water until the noodles are cool enough to handle.  Prep a 13×9 or two 6×9 pans with cooking spray and a little drizzle of the pasta sauce (just enough to barely coat the bottom).  Transfer your filling to a large Ziploc bag.  Cut one of the tips off the bottom of the bag to turn it into a piping bag.  Fill your shells with the filling and then place filling side up in the pan.  Top with the rest of the pasta sauce and the remaining Parmesan cheese.  Bake for 30 minutes or until everything is hot and gooey.

Make a double batch and freeze in some foil pans.  These shells make a terrific meal on a cold, snowy night with a large loaf of crusty Italian bread and some salad.