Monday Musings & Menu Plans

Happy Monday, everyone!img_1211

The weather is feeling rather fall-ish around here. It’s a gloomy day today, but the temperatures are really nice. I’ve pulled out my trusty fleece vests, happy to snuggle up in them again for a few months.

And that means hearty soups and stews for dinners – comfort food at it’s best. I am so happy.  Love cooking that stuff – love eating it even more!

Last week, the girls’ virus derailed my dinner plans for a few days. Pretty much all they wanted to eat those few days were bagels and ginger ale.  So, I have a few things that I’m carrying over from last week to this week.

I think I may have the virus myself, so haven’t really been feeling up to cooking much – so I’ll be focusing on simple things (read crock pot friendly) and comfort food favorites.



Monday Shredded Beef Burritos Leftover Baked ravioli from last week (recipe coming soon)
Tuesday Cheesy Chicken Pasta (requested by kids)
Wednesday Chicken Fried Rice (carried over from last week) leftover chicken pasta
Thursday Cheesy breadsticks w/ marinara sauce sub sandwiches
Friday Dinner out – Friday night Mexican cheesy breadsticks with a salad

I’m also craving some chicken tortilla soup but won’t be making that until my tummy feels a little better. Right now, the only thing that tastes good to me are saltine crackers and ginger ale. Ugh.

Hope you all have a great week!!

Around Here: Success and not quite success in the kitchen

I love trying new recipes.

This is new for me as I used to be very hesitant to do that. If I went to the trouble of cooking something (and I was hungry) I wanted guaranteed success. I wanted to know my time, effort and ingredients were going to reward me with yumminess to enjoy.

I don’t know when this changed – maybe when I started baking more (years ago) or when – but it has changed indeed.

Now, it is fun to start with a base recipe as an “inspiration” for me and get in the kitchen and try to come up with something totally new for us to try.

Sometimes that yields delicious results.  Sometimes disasters. And sometimes things are just “meh” – they’re edible, they’re not terrible, but they aren’t necessarily things I’d repeat without some major reworking.

Yesterday was one of those days. I had this craving for some cheese tortellini in a vegetable soup. I had no set recipe in mind, but I knew what I wanted taste-wise.


I ran out to the store in the morning after taking the girls to school because tortellini is not something I normally stock in my pantry.  After my dash to get supplies, I decided to try doing things in the slow cooker rather than on the stovetop.

So, in everything went… Chicken broth, some stewed tomatoes, a bag of frozen “Italian” veggies (which translates to zucchini, squash, bell peppers, onions, carrots, butter beans), some other random veggies that I had in the freezer (like some shredded spinach) a bouillon cube, some garlic, copious amounts of Italian seasoning, etc.

It simmered and bubbled all afternoon.  When it was close to time to eat I cooked the tortellini in a pot of simmering water. I wasn’t sure if the girls would like the soup or the tortellini so I figured I would not mix the two unless they chose to.

I also grilled some chicken strips I had marinated in balsamic vinaigrette to serve in the soup or alongside with a salad if the soup was a bust.

I have to say, I’m glad I did that.

The soup turned out to be one of those “meh” kind of meals. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, either.  Sadly, the best part of it were the tortellini (and they were store bought so they shouldn’t have been the tastiest part as far as I was concerned)

SuperMan and I ate it.  The Big Girl said “NO” and the Little One ate the tortellini out of the soup and nothing else.

Oh well.

These type of nights I’m grateful for Velveeta Mac & Cheese and instant pancakes (yes, I serve those things, just not very often!)  At least I know everyone had something to eat for dinner – even if it wasn’t what I had planned.

Big Girl said it was the “weirdest dinner ever” because she ate grilled chicken with pancakes.

We also tried a new dessert, which, if you follow me on Facebook you saw the link to yesterday. It was about the same in terms of our liking it.  It wasn’t bad, but I probably wouldn’t make it again.


It reminded me of the lava fields in Hawaii.

Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

And it was only one meal…

However, I didn’t satisfy my craving for the soup I had in mind.  I may try something again one day (maybe a minestrone base?) but I’ll have to wait until the kids forget about last night’s experimental dinner first. Smile

Cast Iron Skillet “Shepherd’s Pie”

My girls love “shepherd’s pie.”  Well, they love the shepherd’s pie that I make for them which has no vegetables in it.  Which, to me, is not really shepherd’s pie.  No matter what they say.

However, the “shepherd’s pie” that I make for them is an adaptation of one of my favorite things my mom would cook for us when we were growing up.  I’ve taken her base recipe and melded it with a shepherd’s pie recipe to create something of a hybrid of the two.


Mom’s was mostly ground beef and mashed potatoes – with a lot of seasonings, of course.  I took that, along with the shepherd’s pie recipe that I learned from an old work chum who was from Britain and made something that my girls would eat.

Personally, I love shepherd’s pie. I love the amalgamation of meat, veggies and a hearty broth topped with mashed potatoes.  Comfort food at the very best.  But the girls would turn their noses up at the veggies and I would never get my shepherd’s pie.  So, I compromise – make this hybrid that they love and everyone is happy.


This one I made in my cast iron skillet. It was genius – one less pot to wash – and I think it turned out really well.  You can certainly add some frozen mixed veggies to this to make it more of a true shepherd’s pie. If I was making it for grownups, I’d do that for sure.

Cast Iron Skillet “Shepherd’s Pie”

1 1/2 pounds ground beef
2-3 cups beef broth
1 cup finely diced carrots
1 cup finely diced onion
1-2 tsp minced garlic (about 1-2 cloves)
1 packet brown gravy mix
5-10 large potatoes
Worcestershire sauce
milk, butter, sour cream for mashed potatoes
salt & pepper
bay leaf

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Peel, cut, & boil potatoes
  3. In a large cast-iron skillet, add some oil (about 1 tsp) and sauté the carrots & onions until the onion is translucent.
  4. Add the ground beef, seasoning with salt & pepper and garlic.
  5. When the beef is browned, sprinkle about 1-2 tsp of Worchestershire sauce over the mixture.
  6. In a separate small bowl, mix beef broth, gravy packet, to make a gravy.
  7. Pour the gravy mixture in the beef.
  8. Put one bay leaf in the mixture (remember to pull it out when you’re serving or someone will get a surprise)
  9. Mash potatoes, using butter, sour cream and milk. Season with salt & pepper.
  10. Top beef mixture with mashed potato.
  11. If you want, layer some cheddar or American cheese slices on top.
  12. Bake at 350 degrees until cheese is melted & bubbly. (about 15-20 min)


A few notes: you want your mashed potatoes a little dry as they will absorb some of the gravy while cooking in the oven. If they are too most to begin with they get runny.

I snuck the carrots in on the girls (they had no clue) and would probably even try some other finely diced veggies if I thought I could get away with it in the future.

I hope you enjoy!!
Linking up here:

A little Pinning going on


I admit it – I’m a Pinterest addict. I love it.  I love the visual stimulation. I love the myriad ideas. I love the variety.


I thought I’d share some of my recent pins with you – some of the projects/recipes I’ve got on my “to do” list for the near future.

Recipes to try:


Fall things to do/try:

  • I love this fall wreath.
  • and these pumpkins are just beautiful. May have to steal SuperMan’s drill…
  • this table-topper is simple and beautiful.
  • and this fall trail mix looks really good. May make some of these for the kids to share with friends.

Do you Pinterest?  Have any projects you have pinned that you are planning to do (or have done)?  Share!!

Follow Me on Pinterest


Best-Ever Black Beans & Cuban Pork


Last Friday SuperMan and went to a Cuban restaurant for lunch.  I hate to say it, but the food was less than what we’d hoped for. As a matter of fact, it really just left me with a hankering for some good Cuban food. I was rather disappointed.

So, we decided to make our own!

I bought a pork butt and marinated it over the weekend and then decided Monday was the day to cook it. It was really good, but what was even better were the black beans I cooked with it.

They were surprisingly good. Like, really, really good.

Almost exactly like I’ve had from some of the best Cuban restaurants I’ve eaten at in the past and exactly like what I think of when I think of Cuban black beans.

After raving about it on Facebook last night, I received many requests for the recipes so I decided to share with you here.

It may not be “officially” Cuban, but it sure was good. We devoured it.


(sorry for the blurry phone picture – didn’t have my glasses on and didn’t know it wasn’t focused!)

Pork Butt in the Crock Pott  Smile

4-5 pound pork butt

1/4 cup fresh lemon or lime juice
1/4 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 bay leaf (or 2)
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp minced garlic (or more)
1 Tbsp minced onion
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp ground cumin (or more)

Houston House Seasoning

  1. In a large ziplock bag, add all of the marinade ingredients.  Add the pork and refrigerate. Let it marinate from 8-24 hours.
  2. Place marinade and pork butt in the crock pot and cook on high for the first hour and then on low for 6-7 hours.
  3. Shred meat, and serve with juices from the crock pot as “gravy.”

Best-ever cuban black beans

2 cans black beans (do not drain)
1 finely diced onion
1 finely diced green bell pepper
1 can petite diced tomatoes
1-2 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp minced onion

  1. Add all ingredients to a small crock pot (I use my “baby” one)
  2. Allow them to cook on low for 1-3 hours (no less than an hour)
  3. Serve with cooked rice.
  4. You can add some heat by adding some red pepper flakes if you desire.

eat and die of goodness. Smile


Friday Adventures & Menu Plan Monday ~ 27 Aug


Last Friday, SuperMan and I had a big adventure. It started out as a trip to the store where I buy my wheat berries & sucanat for baking. I mentioned I needed to stop by the grocery store and he suggested going to the international market. I was game, but then we realized that it was over an hour away from where we were and we decided that was just too far to go and try to make it back for carpool.

So, SuperMan said, “Leave it to me. I know where I’m going to take you.”

I sat back and enjoyed the ride…

and we ended up at a SuperH Mart. Have you ever been to one of these? It’s a Korean market and they had the coolest things. SuperMan was laughing at me as I snapped picture after picture with my phone.  He said, “You’re not going to buy anything, just take pictures of it?” IMG_1967[1]

I decided that pictures were safer than purchases – IMG_1968[1]

This picture is titled “Things I’ll never eat”

But it was so much fun. (well, except for the overwhelming fish smell. me no likey raw fish smell)


And then we went to lunch at a Cuban restaurant. (grin)

A great time together – almost like a “date” although we were being productive at the same time.

This week, we’re looking forward to an early release day at school and the long holiday weekend.  Seriously, we can’t wait.  SO ready for a little fun with the family.  It’s going to be busy, busy before we get to that holiday weekend. We have meetings and classes almost every night.  That long weekend will be well-earned, for sure.

In preparation for the week, here’s what I have planned on the menu:

  • Monday: Cuban Pork, black beans & rice
  • Tuesday: Taco salads
  • Wednesday: Pesto chicken with pasta & parmesan
  • Thursday: leftovers

So, what’s on your menu plan for the weekend?


Spinach Artichoke Pasta with Grilled Chicken

This was one of my recent recipe experiments thanks to Pinterest. I stumbled across the recipe and thought it was worth a try given that we all love Spinach Artichoke appetizer at restaurants.

I have to say, this one didn’t disappoint.  It was really, really good. So much so that Big Girl decided to have leftovers for dinner the next night instead of what we had already planned for dinner… and she ate two helpings. of leftovers.

Yeah, it’s that good.

This makes A LOT of food. So much so that I shared a healthy portion with our neighbors for their dinner the night I made it and we still had some leftovers.  So, save this for a meal when you’re having folks over or make it and give some away like we did. Your friends will love you if you do.

I don’t have a picture – it didn’t last long enough for me to get one – but here is the one on the Pinterest link:

I used ziti pasta instead of the bowtie you see here.  I don’t think it really matters. You could even use linguine if you wanted. Whatever you have on hand. It’s merely a vehicle to get the luscious sauce into your mouth. Smile

I also added some grilled chicken that wasn’t in the original recipe. I marinated it in some Italian dressing and then grilled it, cut it up and added the bite-sized pieces to the mixture as I added the pasta.

It was a hearty and filling dinner, a one-stop cornucopia of goodness for your mouth and your body.

Spinach Artichoke Pasta with Grilled Chicken


2-3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup Italian Dressing
Houston House Seasoning

1 12 ounce box of pasta

1 tsp butter
2 Tbs minced garlic (about 2-3 cloves)
1 8 oz package reduced fat cream cheese
1/2 cup milk (I used 2%)
1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream
1/2 lemon, juiced (I used about 1-2 tsp of lemon juice)
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 14 oz can artichoke hearts (packed in water) drained & chopped
10 oz chopped frozen spinach, thawed, with as much water squeezed out as possible
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
Additional parmesan for serving


  1. Marinate chicken breasts in Italian Seasoning & sprinkled with Houston House Seasoning for about 1 hour.
  2. Cook pasta.
  3. While pasta is cooking, grill chicken. (or sauté in a skillet)
  4. Cut cooked chicken into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
  5. In a large skillet, over medium heat, melt butter and add garlic. Cook for about 30-45 seconds, being careful not to scorch garlic.
  6. Add cream cheese, stir until melted and combined with garlic.
  7. Slowly add milk, whisking it gently into the cream cheese.
  8. Add sour cream, lemon juice, salt & pepper flakes. Combine, being careful not to boil the mixture as the sour cream can curdle.
  9. Add in the artichoke hearts, grilled chicken, parmesan cheese. Mix to combine – you can turn off the heat here.
  10. Drain pasta.
  11. Add the pasta (if your saucepan is big enough) and stir to combine.
  12. Season with additional salt & lemon juice as desired (I needed both)
  13. Serve topped with additional parmesan.