I try my hand in a lot of online giveaways. So far, I’ve won a couple of books but no cash prizes. But I keep going at it. As the NJ lottery motto goes, “you can’t win, if you don’t play!” With that in mind, I’d like to tell everyone about a Pinterest giveaway called Pin It to Win It.
Through Sverve (side note, if you endorse me on Sverve, I’ll be eligible to share more great stuff with you), I’ve partnered up with Cozi for the Pin It to Win It Pinterest giveaway. All you need to do to is go to re-pin one of Cozi’s 25+ no-fail dinner ideas from their board (http://www.pinterest.com/cozi/no-fail-dinners/) or share your own with the hashtag #NoFailDinnerIdeas and then tell them about it with this form. Yeah, that easy.
The giveaway ends in 21 days, on February 10 (coincidentally, that is also the date that the February Valentine’s Day recipes Food Blog Swap Meet goes live. If interested in participating, see the rules here and signup on this spreadsheet). Six winners will be declared, each receiving a $25 Amazon gift card. Last year, I bought a Kindle Fire with gift card money I had saved up from Swagbucks and surveys. This year, I’m shooting for an Asus Transformer 2-in-1 Tablet
About the sponsor of this Pinterest giveaway
So what is Cozi? Cozi is an app for busy families. It is a calendar, shopping list, and to-do list all rolled into one. My current tools suit my needs; if yours don’t, it might be worth checking out.
Other Pinterest giveaways
Valentine’s Day DIY Sweepstake – 6 $25 Amazon gift cards being given away.
Disclosure: I am being paid through Sverve to promote these giveaways. I also entered myself.
This July will be my 5th wedding anniversary. Of course, July is one of the months where I work the overtime to get me through the winter when I’m not working. So taking a vacation in July is a bad idea. Instead, we are going in January. Where are we going? We are doing a 3 day cruise to the Bahamas! I’m pretty excited because the largest boat I’ve ever been on was a ferry. The reason I bring this up now is that my wife and I have decided that we want to lose weight and get in shape for the trip. For me, that means losing the 30 lbs I’ve put on since getting married. As such, something that is taking an increasing portion of our diet is salads. To keep from burning out on this nutrient and (typically) low-calorie foot, I’ve been experimenting with different kinds of salads. This weekend, I tried making a spinach walnut salad.
I can distinctly remember the first time I tried eating spinach. I was maybe 5 years old. My mother bought the box of frozen spinach. Taking one look at it, I said that I didn’t like it. Of course, she used the favorite retort of parents everywhere: how do you know you don’t like it until you’ve tried it? So I took one bite and promptly spit it out. I didn’t try spinach again for over 2 decades. Completely by accident, I had spinach again. This time it was raw spinach. I’d only ever seen it in that stupid frozen box or the cans like Popeye ate; I didn’t even know it came any other way. I know that’s pretty bad considering I grew up in farm country! What can I say, I’m more of a fruits and legumes kind of guy then leafy greens.
So now I eat spinach but only if it is raw, not cooked. But I still have trouble using up those giant bags that spinach come in in the grocery store. On our most recent shopping trip, we found on sale a 1 lb tub of organic spinach. Do you have any idea how much spinach is in a pound!?! I’ve got spinach coming out of my ears. It was time to switch things up and use spinach as a main ingredient instead of leaving it as a supporting role.
I had a spinach walnut salad similar to this at a restaurant a while back. I seem to recall it also having apples, but I didn’t have on hand. You could try dicing up a peeled apple and adding it to thing, but I can’t say that I really missed it. Another idea that you could try is dried cranberries. Again, I didn’t have any on hand, but it sounds like a nice addition with the sweet and tangy taste of the cranberries complimenting the crunch of the walnuts and the sharp taste of the feta cheese.
I also added some shredded Colby Jack cheese. Why? Because I like Colby Jack cheese! That said, it wasn’t the greatest addition to this salad. I think I’ll forgo it next time.
Macaroni & cheese is one of my favorite dishes of all time. I would consider it to be my mother’s signature dish. It certainly ruined me for simple boxed macaroni & cheese, like the ubiquitous blue boxes of Kraft that was in everybody’s dorm rooms. Of course, the problem with my favorite baked macaroni & cheese meal is that it takes over an hour and a half to prepare from shredding the cheese and boiling the macaroni, to creating the cheese sauce from just 5 ingredients, to baking the entire thing to create a golden brown crust. Fortunately, it’s pretty simple to turn simple boxed meals like Kraft Macaroni & Cheese into gourmet dishes. Chances are, you’ve already done this without really realizing it. Have you ever had hot dogs in mac & cheese? I have a friend who, in high school, knew how to prepare just one meal: microwaved hot dogs that were then cut up and mixed into some Kraft macaroni & cheese. Over the weekend, I discovered that both of my roommates have done this as well. It seems that hot-dog mac & cheese is a time-honored student culinary tradition. Now hot dogs are all well and good, but they aren’t exactly my favorite protein source on the planet. Especially when they are cooked any other way than grilled. As such, I’m more likely to use lunch-meat. But if you want to go fancier, the sky is the limit. This past weekend, I fried up some bacon and crumbled it up to mix it in with the mac & cheese. As Kristin from Dizzy, Busy, and Hungry recently mentioned, us guys tend to like adding bacon to stuff. Witness the existence of bacon milk-shakes and bacon ice cream! And that is the secret right there for turning boxed meals into a gourmet dish. Simply take something that doesn’t come with the box and mix it in. Use your creativity and think of what flavors you like that would pair well with cheese. Pasta itself has a rather neutral flavor, so you really don’t need to worry about conflicting with that. Just pair stuff with the cheese. Here are some ideas of foods that pair well with cheese and can be used as an addition to boxed meals such as macaroni & cheese:
Meat – Can be beef, pork, or poultry. I’m not sure how well fish would go with cheese.
Salsa – Give your mac & cheese a south of the border flair by adding a quarter cup of your favorite red salsa. Salsa verde would work too, but a tomato salsa will give it that extra *POP*
Veggies – Who doesn’t love vegetables slathered in cheese sauce? Steam or microwave your favorite veg and mix it in.
Taco Seasoning – Here’s a bit of a preview of a recipe I’ll be sharing in the future. Cook up some meat with your favorite taco seasoning (your favorite is mine, right?) and mix it in, or stir some of that Tex-Mex flavor right into the gooey goodness of your mac & cheese.
Breadcrumbs – This one isn’t so much of a stir-in, but an topping. Top with breadcrumbs or even crushed-up bits of crackers and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes before eating.
Goldfish cracker-crusted Bacon Macaroni & Cheese
I got the idea to use Pepperidge Farms Goldfish crackers as a crust from some other food blog. If I had realized that I was going to be stealing the idea, I would have bookmarked it for attribution. Attention food bloggers: if I got this idea from you, let me know and I will link back to you! After deciding to use Goldfish, I figured I should mix in some sort of meat as well. Bacon was a good choice due to the smoky flavor which provided a nice counterpoint to the cheese. Besides, bacon is big and I wanted to get in on the bacon-bandwagon!
To reduce the sodium, you could try using a low-sodium bacon or turkey bacon. For calories and fat, my best recommendation is to use low-fat or skim milk. But at the end of the day, it’s important to remember that this isn’t a health food and no amount of trying is going to make it good for you. This reminder is similar to a rant on BlogHer about ridiculous food trends. If a food isn’t healthy at a fundamental level, then there is only so much lipstick you can put on a pig.
What are your favorite boxed meals? What do you like to mix into simple boxed meals to give them a gourmet flair?
Have a recipe you'd like to share? Go to my guest post policy for more details and a form. All you need is your recipe and a photo of it. If I pick it for my upcoming cookbook, you will receive a free copy.