Paleo Cookie Dough Truffles

Last year, I had a coworker and friend who needed a pick-me-up following a stressful exam. She wanted something sweet, but was making changes to lose weight and stay healthy. She told me she loved cookie dough more than anything, so I found a recipe for Paleo Cookie Dough Truffles. They’re made without any raw egg, so they’re safer to eat! (I shouldn’t really talk because the “danger” of salmonella has never stopped me from eating raw cookie dough).

These are no-bake, easy treats. You can barely taste the change in ingredients. Whether your New Year’s Resolutions have started early or you have dietary restrictions, these treats are delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups almond flour
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cup chocolate, melted

A note about the ingredients: For people who stick to the paleo diet hard-core, you’ll need a dairy-free dark chocolate. This is also true for anyone with allergies. I highly recommend the Enjoy Life brand. It’s made allergen-free and doesn’t taste any different from regular chocolate. I used dark chocolate Ghirardelli chips.

Instructions:

1) Mix together the almond flour and sea salt.

2) Whisk the melted coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla together.

3) Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

Honestly I usually skip Step 2 and just directly mixed in the wet ingredients.

4) Roll into 1″ balls. Place on a lined baking sheet.

5) Place in the freezer for 15 minutes to set.

6) Melt 1 1/4 cup chocolate. Dip the truffles into the chocolate and place back on the baking sheet. Freeze again.

For melting chocolate, you can use a double-boiler method. I just got a microwave-proof bowl, poured the chocolate in, and melted it in the microwave in 30 second intervals. Mix after each 30 second interval in the microwave.

Final Thoughts: I think the key to enjoying these is keeping them frozen. Almond flour has a very different texture, so freezing them kept the truffles held together enough to avoid a dramatic difference between a normal truffle and these paleo substitutes.

Easter “Garden” Cups

Easter is a time for brunches and family dinners, but it’s also a time for candy and sweets straight from the Easter bunny! When you’re going to see your friends or family for a party or dinner, you should always bring something with you. Here’s a sweet treat you can bring for dessert without too much frantic effort. Plus they’re adorable! Happy Easter! Enjoy these cute Easter dirt cups.

Ingredients:

“CARROTS”

  • Fresh strawberries, rinsed and patted dry
  • Bag of orange candy melts (from Michael’s or Jo-Ann Fabrics)

PUDDING CUPS

  • Crushed Oreos
  • 1 large box chocolate pudding
  • 3 cups milk

Instructions:

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

2. Melt the bag of candy melts, except for about 15 discs.

I used the microwave to melt the chocolate discs. I put it in a small glass bowl for 1 minute. Then repeat in 30 second intervals, stirring each time.

3. Grab the strawberries by the stem. Dip both sides in chocolate, then place on the parchment paper. Repeat with all the strawberries.

4. Put the strawberries in the fridge until the chocolate hardens.

5. Take a sandwich bag and cut the tip of it off. Melt the rest of the discs. Pour the melted chocolate into the sandwich bag. Close the bag and twist it. Drizzle over the strawberries. Let sit.

6. Make the chocolate pudding according to the instructions on the box.

I made the pudding first so it could sit in the fridge while I worked on everything else.

7. Put some crushed Oreos on the bottom of some clear cups. Pour pudding over top of them.

8. Top with more crushed Oreos. Press a strawberry into the center.

9. Refrigerate until you’re ready to serve/bring them to the party!

Final Thoughts: Mine turned out a little differently. I didn’t drizzle the strawberries with more chocolate, and I didn’t put Oreos on the bottom of the cup. These were a hit at the Easter party at work! And they are so incredibly adorable. A big group of them together is like a little garden!

Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies

Stuffed cookies are the ultimate indulgence. You can take a cookie to the next level by stuffing it with more chocolate, marshmallows, caramel, peanut butter, and other gooey sweets. I was first introduced to Nutella in high school French class. I’ve been addicted ever since. My fellow addicts won’t be able to stop eating these decadent nutella stuffed chocolate chip cookies. Just be aware that I’ve changed the recipe around to suit my own personal preferences.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated, white sugar
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 12 heaping tsp Nutella

INSTRUCTIONS

1) Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Spoon 12 heaping teaspoons of Nutella separately onto the parchment paper. Place the baking sheet in the freezer.

2) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

3) In a large bowl or mixing bowl, cream softened butter, brown sugar, and white sugar.

4) Add the vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time for 10-15 seconds.
5) Mix the flour, baking soda, salt, and cornstarch in a separate bowl. Slowly add to the wet ingredients.
6) Fold in the chocolate chips.
7) Remove the baking sheet with Nutella from the freezer.
8) Divide the cookie dough into balls. Form the dough balls around the Nutella.

You’ll need to work quickly, because the Nutella will melt. You may need to put some of the Nutella discs back into the freezer until they are firm enough.
9) Place the cookie dough balls onto a lined baking sheet. Freeze for at least 1 hour.
You can refigerate if you like. It will likely take less time for the cookies to bake if they are refrigerated instead of frozen.
10) Bake for 9-13 minutes, until the cookies are spread and puffy.

The original recipe says 9-11 minutes, but I felt my cookies were finished after 13 minutes. This was based on the “spread” of the cookies, literally how spread out the cookies looked. 

 

Final Thoughts: This recipe made my coworkers beg for me to make them again. The only issue is that the number of cookies are never consistent. Sometimes I may get 7 cookies, other times I may get 10. It really depends on the size of the Nutella discs and how much dough I use around the Nutella. Nevertheless the cookies are always a crowd favorite. My coworkers have begged me for them. In the future I’ll see if I can adjust the size to serve to more people at once.

Chocolate Chip Scones

I have a feeling that many of my blog posts are going to start with talking about Boyfriend. I love feeding him, my friends, and my family. That’s how I take care of the people I love. When Boyfriend and I first started dating, I took him to Wildflower Bread Company, where we shared my favorite treat – a chocolate chip scone. He had never had a scone before, but now we get it every time.

I try to save money by making my favorite foods at home. One Sunday morning I decided to try my hand at homemade scones. I used a recipe from Truffles & Trends.  She always posts amazing pictures of her scones on her Instagram. I’ve been dying to try making my own! (And she even commented on my Instagram picture because she’s a sweetheart.)

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Ingredients:

  • 3 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups chocolate chips
  • 2 cups cold heavy (whipping) cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 egg, for brushing
  • Raw sugar for sprinkling

Instructions:

1) Preheat oven to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a “silipat”.

2) Stir together the dry ingredients (flour, sugars, baking powder, and salt). Mix in the chocolate chips.

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3) Make a well in the center of the mixed ingredients. Pour in the heavy cream and vanilla extract. Stir everything together.

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Scones need to rise when baked. If you mix or knead too much, then the scones won’t rise properly. You want to mix or knead until just incorporated.

4) Spread flour over a counter or other flat surface. Dump the dough onto the work surface. Knead until the ingredients are just incorporated.

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5) Shape the dough into a flattened round disc and divide into equally portioned triangles.

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The original instructions say to make two separate discs, but I like the way my scones turned out this way.

6) Place the triangles onto baking sheets. Brush the tops with the beaten egg, then sprinkle the sugar on top.

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7) Bake for 20 minutes.

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These are without the sugar glaze.

Final Thoughts: I’ve actually made these a few times now. They taste best with the sugared glaze on top. I’ve been using plain granulated white sugar, but I think it might be a good idea to try turbinado sugar. I found this recipe fairly forgiving even with slightly overworking the dough. Try out the recipe and let me know how they turned out!

Study Snack: Chickpea Cookie Dough

I listen to several of Dr. Ryan Gray’s podcasts. While driving down from Flagstaff the other day, I used the 2 hour trip to catch up on some episodes. For one episode, he brought on a guest #carolinecooksclean. Caroline is MSY2; her Instagram focuses on maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle while she works in the medical field.

This is a struggle for me. My diet habits are often the first to take a hit when I’m tired or stressed. It falls lower on my priorities (and then of course I stress about gaining weight or getting unhealthy). The anxiety from a poor diet likely stems from my weight loss journey. I have lost between 40 to 50 lbs. For the most part I maintain this weight, but the idea of ballooning up to my previous weight can still frighten me.

Naturally, the answer is not to work out to the point of exhaustion or illness. I don’t starve myself. I don’t ignore my hunger or my body’s needs. I make adjustments to my diet. I make the time to grocery shop and prepare my meals.

One of my problems starts when I get home. Even after dinner I have a tendency to crave sweet snacks, whether I’m studying or watching Netflix. So far I’ve found plain yogurt and granola with chocolate chips helps satisfy the urge to stuff my face with Ben & Jerry’s. Lately I’ve been looking for other sweet snacks.

I stumbled upon chickpea “cookie dough” on Lauren Conrad’s website. The idea is that instead of eating cookie dough, blended chickpeas serve as a faux-dough. I figured I’d give it a try! I used this recipe from Buzzfeed’s Tasty. I wanted a recipe that included similar ingredients to regular cookie dough.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can chickpeas, drained (liquid reserved) and rinsed
  • ¼ cup (60 g) peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) chickpea water
  • ½ cup (85 g) chocolate chips

Instructions:

1) Drain the chickpeas without getting rid of all the liquid from the can.

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2) Spread the drained chickpeas onto a towel and pat dry.

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3) Remove the outer shells from the chickpeas.

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This part was tedious, but I felt it was worth it for the proper consistency.

4) Place the chickpeas, peanut butter, vanilla, honey, and salt into a food processor.

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5) Mix halfway. Add the chickpea water. Process until smooth.

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By “process” I mean use the food processor to mix the ingredients.

6) Add chocolate chips to the mixed dough. Stir but not with the food processor!

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Final Thoughts: Adding salt may not have been the best idea with canned chickpeas. The consistency was surprisingly close to the real thing, but I missed the mark on flavor. I do like the idea of this treat so I think I’ll play with other recipes in the future. Anyone have any good recommendations?

 

 

Pistachio Crusted Camembert

Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely idolize Jacques Pepin. For those of you who don’t know, Jacques Pepin was a dear friend of the famous James Beard and Julia Child. He is still alive and cooking at a ripe old age. I try to catch his shows on Sundays. He is an excellent chef, but welcomes newcomers and those of us with average kitchen skills to make a delicious meal.

I also love soft cheeses like brie, so when I found his recipe for Camembert, I rushed to the French Grocery to grab some of the stinky French cheese. This is a classy appetizer that takes very little effort. It’s no-bake!

  • 1/2 cup pistachio nuts
  • 1 Camembert cheese round (about 9 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • Crackers, for serving
Note on the Ingredients: I buy my Camembert from French Grocery in downtown Phoenix (one of my favorite restaurants).  I’ve also seen it in grocery stores. Keep in mind it is highly unlikely any of these cheese will be made with raw, unpasteurized milk.

Instructions:

1) Process the nuts in a food processor until pulverized but not ground into a powder. I’d recommend pulsing, instead of just running the food processor.

2) Unwrap the cheese. Brush the top and sides of the cheese with the honey.

You can scrape off the outer crust, but I leave it on. It’s such a shame to remove the rind.

3)  Sprinkle a layer of nuts on top of the Camembert. Pat more nuts around the sides with the other hand, pressing lightly on the nuts so they stick.

4) Put the remaining nuts in the center of a serving platter and place the cheese on top.

5) Sprinkle the cranberries around the cheese and serve at room temperature, with crackers.

Final Thoughts: For some reason my soft cheeses never get very soft. Does anyone have any tricks for softening Brie or Camembert? In the US, these cheeses in their pure form (unpasteurized) are illegal. I’m sure Jacques Pepin manages to get his hands on the “real” stuff. Maybe I’m not leaving the cheese at room temperature for long enough.

I’d also like some recommendations on crackers if you guys have any! I tried butter crackers, Ritz crackers, and some sesame crackers. Ritz crackers seemed to work the best (probably due to the higher fat content), but they don’t quite seem classy enough to match this treat. Any suggestions?

Cacio E Pepe

Cacio e pepe sounds fancy, but is actually a simple pasta dish. It literally means “cheese and pepper.” If you love black pepper and noodles, this is the recipe for you. I love the strong flavor of the pepper, almost like eating spicy noodles with an earthy aftertaste. It’s a cheap and easy meal to put together. Keep in mind if you’re vegetarian that Parmesan cheese is not considered a vegetarian cheese option.

Recipes for this tend to vary a little, but both Epicurius and Bon Apetit have the same recipe. You can find it here.

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Ingredients:

  • Kosher salt
  • 6 oz. pasta (such as egg tagliolini, bucatini, or spaghetti)
  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed, divided
  • 1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
  • 3/4 cup finely grated Grana Padano or Parmesan
  • 1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino

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Some notes on the ingredients. I didn’t use two different types of cheese because I didn’t have any pecorino on hand. The different cheeses make for a better flavor, but not having fancy cheese on hand doesn’t make the dish impossible. Kosher salt adds a more robust flavor to balance the pepper, but sea salt or other salt works too. I used fettucine, but I usually prefer a thinner pasta.

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Instructions:

1) Boil a pot of water. Sprinkle in some salt. Add the pasta and cook al dente as directed on the box.

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2) Drain the pasta, but do not drain all of the water. Reserve 3/4 cup of water.

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I find it easier to ladle the water into a measuring cup first before straining pasta. Also, I’ve been told it’s a cardinal sin to rinse your pasta.

3) Melt 2 Tbsp butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the pepper and cook, swirling the pan, until toasted, for about 1 minute.

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I used the same empty pot. Saves on clean up.

4) Add 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water to the pan. Bring to a simmer. Add the pasta and other Tbsp of butter.

5) Reduce heat to low and add Grana Padano, stirring and tossing with tongs until melted. Remove pan from heat; add Pecorino, stirring and tossing until cheese melts, sauce coats the pasta.

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6) Add more pasta water if sauce seems dry. Transfer pasta to warm bowls and serve.

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It seemed dry with just the 1/2 cup. The sauce should seem loose.

The pepper in this dish really packs a punch. I know I may not have the best tolerance for spice, but I’d even say this gets close to spicy. I think this would be better with a thinner noodle, but I enjoy the idea of making pasta different than the usual preparation. A jar of pasta sauce and plain noodles don’t compare to this Italian comfort food.

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The Next Step: Mise en Place

A dear friend of mine (who says I am no longer allowed to us him as an example in my blog) told me he felt inspired by my journey to learn to cook and become healthy. To get started, he invited me to dinner. He wanted to make Chicken Parmesan, but that’s a breaded dish (not as healthy). We opted for chicken picatta, which is dredged but not breaded. He surprised me by adding asparagus to the menu. I don’t usually recommend starting with double-tasking, but I figured he had a plan.
 
I love my friend dearly, but I haven’t seen such a disaster in the kitchen since my first attempt at spaghetti carbonara. He had bought chicken thighs instead of breasts, swapped stock for wine, and didn’t consult his recipe at all! Many people encourage experimentation, but beginners should start with instructions. There is a difference between simple substitutions and fundamentally changing a recipe. The chicken thighs looked cooked on the outside, but were completely raw on the inside. He put the chicken back in twice and it was still raw! Somehow he managed to cook the asparagus, so we essentially had wine and asparagus for dinner. It didn’t matter. I was happy to cook with my friend and enjoy some food, wine, and good company.

He had a simple problem – his mise en place was very poor. What the heck is mise en place? It’s a French phrase meaning “everything in it’s place.” Once you’ve got your recipe, you need to organize your kitchen and ingredients before you start cooking. This will keep your kitchen clean and prevent any panicking or obvious blunders. You’ve probably read my first lesson in cooking: How to Read a Recipe. The next step is your mise en place!

As an example, I’ll be using pictures from my post Chicken with Lemon Cream Sauce.

1. Select and read your recipe.

2. Make sure you have all of the tools, dishes, and equipment you will need.

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Remember when I forgot my zester? That’s bad mise en place!

In some cases, you might be able to get away with substitutions. You may not necessarily need a stand mixer even if the recipe calls for one. The size of dishes and cookware can be important to all for proper cooking.

There’s no point making a dish when you don’t have everything you need. It makes it harder for you and more often than not, it won’t work out. Save the less obvious substitutions and sleight-of-hands for when you’re more experienced.

3. Do an inventory of your kitchen for the ingredients you already have. Shop for the ones you don’t.

I am adamant; it is important to stick to your recipe until you have more experience cooking. You might be able to get away with using sea salt instead of kosher salt, but the recipe was written that way for a reason. Make sure you don’t go shopping for things you already have. Then buy what you need as instructed in your recipe.

4. Defrost your meat!

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Save yourself the trouble of warming meat in the microwave or cooking half-frozen meat.

I usually put my portioned meat into a container and let it sit in the fridge over night. If it’s still frozen, I let it sit at room temperature for an hour or two.

5. Before setting up, make sure your kitchen is relatively clean.

Remove things from your counter tops and stove area. I store pans in my oven so I need to pull them out before I pre-heat my oven. You’ll want to work in a clean, uncluttered space.

6. Take out everything you need.

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All the ingredients are out. I won’t forget anything if it’s right in front of me.

Read your recipe. Take out all of the ingredients and equipment you’ll need. This always helps me figure out if I’ve missed anything. For example, the other day when I was making cupcakes, I realized I’d bought frosting, but forgotten cupcake liners!

7. Wash your vegetables.

This is a step I often forget. Produce should be thoroughly washed before being used. You can pay them dry with paper towels if you want.

8. Open cans and packages.

This is so that you can measure your ingredients. You don’t want to be measuring and prepping as you go. If you need a whole can of an ingredient, you won’t be fighting with the can opener when you should be mixing it into your food.

9. Chop, slice, and dice.

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Your veggies have been washed, so now they need to be cut accordingly. Mince garlic, slice onions, cut tomatoes. I like to separate them into bowls so they’re easy to pour into my food.

10. Measure out what you can.

I have little glass bowls that I like to put ingredients in for easy access. Eggs and yolks or whites, salt and other spices, vanilla, etc.

11. Double check. Is everything in it’s place?

Are your pans on the stove? Do you have all your ingredients? Are they all properly prepped?

12. GET COOKING!

It sounds a lot more complicated when you write it out step-by-step like this, but the key points are to follow your recipe and set yourself up for success. If you stay organized and prepare everything in advance, you’ll be less likely to forget things or make big mistakes.

Turkey Sweet Potato Skillet

What a flashback! Right when I started this blog, I picked a healthy recipe off of Pinterest and gave it a try. I consider this to be the first delicious meal I ever made. Yes, I forgot an important ingredient, but I cooked this all on my own. My first triumph: this Ground Turkey Sweet Potato Skillet.

I forgot to buy peppers at the grocery store. I scrambled to defrost the meat. I remember struggling to chop vegetables. My very first attempt was a complete mess, disorganized from the start. Remaking this dish really gave me the chance to measure my progress.

Ingredients:
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lbs. extra lean ground turkey
  • 1 tsp garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup onions, diced
  • 1/2 cup yellow pepper, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups sweet potato, diced
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • a pinch of red chili flakes (I left this out because I’m a wimp)
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • parsley for garnish

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Something to note about the ingredients. Be sure to defrost your meat before you get started. If it’s been in the freezer for a while, place the whole package in a bowl or bag and let sit in the refrigerator overnight. It should be thawed by dinner time.

Instructions:

1) In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.

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2) Add the ground turkey and garlic. Use a spatula to break up the turkey while it cooks. Stir occasionally, cooking for about 5 minutes.

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3) Add the onions and yellow peppers. Cook until the onions are soft.

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Both vegetables will look translucent (see-through) as they soften.

4) Add the sweet potato, chili pepper, salt, and pepper.

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5) Cover the skillet and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.

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At this point I drained much of the fat off. I used more meat than the recipe required, so there was quite a bit of leftover fat. I didn’t drain it before hand to let the fat flavor the dish as it cooked.

Here the recipe offers 2 options. Either:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the cheese to the skillet and place the pan in the oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese. OR

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Add the cheese to the hot skillet. Place the lid back on the pan for 5 minutes.

Personally, I am terrified of the broiler so I sprinkled cheese on top and covered the pan.

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I was actually disappointed by this. The food was plain despite multiple attempts to season. I think it would have packed a better punch if I hadn’t accidentally minced my onions. I still love the sweet potatoes, but the turkey seemed like it would be better if it had been marinaded prior to being cooked, or if it was served with a sauce. Still, this is a healthier dish and, provided there isn’t extra salt in your turkey, a low sodium option as well.

 

 

 

Gooey Grilled Cheese

Most American kids grew up on grilled cheese. It may not be a part of the most balanced diet, but it is easy (and cheap) to make. Though the concept is simple, it can very easily be customized and dressed up with different breads, cheeses, or even adding extra ingredients. For now we’ll be starting with a very basic plain grilled cheese. Once you’ve mastered the art of grilled cheese, try mixing it up!

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices of sandwich bread
  • 2-3 slices of cheese, room tempera
  • Butter or margarine, softened

You can use virtually any kind of bread. I’d recommend starting with large pieces of sandwich bread. You can also choose any kind of cheese. For this blog post, I chose Havarti, and my boyfriend chose smoked Cheddar. Most often, I use gouda.

Instructions:

1) Spread the butter or margarine onto your bread. I only did one side (because there’s less mess), but many people I’ve met prefer to butter both sides. You’ll want to thoroughly coat the bread.

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2) Heat up a skillet over medium to medium-high heat.

3) Place one piece of bread butter side down in the skillet. Place your cheese on top of the bread. Add the second piece of bread, butter-side up.

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Some people like to add extra butter to the pan, but I find that makes my grilled cheese soggy and greasy.

4) Let the one side cook for a bit (depending on how dark you like the bread). I usually wait until the cheese droops and I can smell the butter. Using a spatula, quickly slide it under the bread and flip the sandwich to the other side.

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Don’t worry! You can flip it over as many times as you need to get the right done-ness.

5) Make more and serve!

Optional: Get creative with your grilled cheese! Add a condiment like mayo or mustard on the inside of the sandwich. Use mulitple kinds of cheese. Add bacon! Or even try different kinds of bread. We bought some garlic bread and made smaller grilled cheese packed with buttery, garlic, cheesey flavor!

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Now I realize that grilled cheese is not a full meal. I’ll be making tomato soup from scratch soon, but for now open up your favorite can or carton of soup and heat it up on the stove. Or even go buy some from the local deli, grocery, or restaurant (like Panera).

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Got any favorite unique additions to your grilled cheese? Comment your suggestions below!