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So, what do you do when you and/or your family has spent the last several years buying every meal in a box that sounded like a good investment when you saw it in the store - and you just discovered that even the ones you bought recently are expired...? Oh, and you're trying to lose weight, but are too busy and/or lazy to totally change your lifestyle over night. So, yeah... You could throw them all away, of course. But, if you just can't bring yourself to get rid of all those boxed dinners that you paid good money for, then the following recipes are for you! =)
We'll start with the oldest boxed dinner, and work our way up to the one that expired only 2 days ago...
'Enhanced' Meal-in-a-box Beef Stroganoff
Over 2 years out of date, but still tasty when all is said and done, is Mrs. Leepers Gluten-Free Beef Stroganoff... Just like Hamburger Helper, but without the wheat - and without the MSG. Almost every Helper boxed dinner (& likewise the store-brand knock-offs) have Monosodium Glutamate in the seasoning packets. In addition to the fact that some people have severe allergic reactions to it, MSG is also an excitotoxin which can cause your brain cells to explode, not to mention that it can cause any kidney or other issues to be much worse... So, I try to avoid that crap these days. Anyway, mostly you follow the directions on the box... When you're browning the hamburger meat, add a package of frozen diced onions, a clove of diced garlic and a package of fresh sliced mushrooms. These added veggies make the meal go farther and lower the calorie count on each serving. Plus, of course, you're getting way more nutrition in your meal. When choosing what to add, make sure your choices are appropriate to the meal.
'Enhanced/Embelished' Mac & Cheese
Next up, also 2 years out of date, is Mrs Leepers Gluten-Free Mac & Cheese... This one isn't a meal in a box, it's only mac & cheese, so we have to add a bit more to make it a meal... The easiest conversion is to a tuna dish... So, cook the macaroni in a sauce pan according to the directions... Meanwhile, start cooking a package of frozen diced onions and a package of mixed peas & carrots in a 10" stainless steel skillet. (You could also use a diced red bell pepper, if you have one handy.) Add a tablespoon of coconut oil to prevent sticking. Once the ice is all melted and things are starting to sizzile, add two 5oz cans of tuna. Also, there's no seasoning packet, but you can use salt-free all-purpose Greek seasoning & crushed red pepper. After the pasta is done, drain and add it to the skillet mixture along with the cheese powder, the milk and butter... The box calls for margarine, but butter is healthier - or, better still, use coconut oil! There won't be anywhere near enough cheese, so add several onces of velvetta.
'Enhanced' Spicy Citrus Glazed Shrimp
Our third meal-in-a-box, also 2 years out of date, is Good Earth Restaurant Favorites Spicy Citrus Glazed Shrimp with Angel Hair Pasta... Now, the directions call for 1 lb of uncooked shrimp (26-32 medium). I didn't want to dick with peeling and what not, plus if you use pre-cooked then you don't have to worry about under cooking them... At the grocery store, all the medium shrimp come in 2 lb bags, so I bought a 1 lb bag of those tiny salad shrimp - which had the added advantage of not needing to have the tails removed! The box also calls for both vegetable oil & butter - I substituted coconut oil. So, basically follow the direction on the box for step 1, cooking the pasta... Step 2 is coating the shrimp with the included whole wheat flour and then frying them... If you buy a fresh box, you can use the flour that comes with it. My 2 year old flour had discolored its packet, so I decided to use fresh white flour... Here's where we add something extra! After you've started frying the shrimp add a spoonful of diced garlic and a couple handfuls of diced onions (thawed if frozen)... After you're nearly done with the frying process, add a few ounces of pineapple chunks & mandarin orange slices (either fresh or packed in juice, you don't want it too sweet) and a couple spoonfuls of diced red peppers (I used pimentos, as I didn't have anything else on hand)... Once you've finished the embelished Step 2, follow Step 3 - adding the glaze. Then follow Step 4... The box says to add butter & the seasoning packet to the pasta - you might find that butter fits better with the intended flavor, but I used coconut oil. Two important notes: 1) with all the added veggies & fruit, you may need to add more oil during the frying process; & 2) you may need to add salt to taste - I found that it needed salt, but maybe that's just me.
'Enhanced/Embelished' Fettuccine Alfredo (version 1)
Next up, a 2 years out of date Romano's Macaroni Grill Fettuccine Alfredo Pasta Dinner... This is a twin pack, so we'll actually get two chances to make something out of this. In addition to the basic directions for the pasta, the back of the box has a recipe for Chicken and Broccoli Fettuccine, as well as offering several ideas for ingredients you could add to it... But what's the fun in just following the directions? =) So, here's what I did... Follow Step 1 on the box, for cooking the pasta - though I substituted coconut oil for the butter/margarine. While the pasta is cooking, get out a sauce pan and start thawing/cooking a bag of frozen diced onions... Once the onions are fully thawed, add two 5 oz cans of turkey or chicken and one small can/jar of olives (whole or sliced)... Follow Step 2 on the box, adding milk & seasoning to the pasta... Now, add a spoonful of diced garlic & the onion mixture(drained) to the pasta... And finally, add a small jar of artichoke hearts(also drained)... At this point, you may need to simmer longer than the directions call for in order for the sauce to thicken... Follow Step 3 on the box; add 'creamy sauce' pouch, simmer, let stand, sprinkle cheese. That's it! =) Simple, easy, with added bulk & nutrients...
'Pan-Steamed' Hamburger Steak & Fried Squash...
Okay, taking a break from boxed dinners... This 'recipe' kinda happened by mistake... So, here's how things went... Squash was on sale at the grocery store, so I felt compelled to buy some... It's been several years since I've had fried squash, so I decided I'd make some... So, I bought like 5 yellow squash... I sliced them, rather thickly... My grandmother used to slice her's nearly paper thin, and though my mother made her's thicker than that, mine are still by far the thickest... I don't mind - you get less grease & breading and more healthy veggie with each bite! =) Not having a fryer handy, I filled a medium sauce pan with about an inch to an inch and a half of olive oil. Now, for breading, you can use flour or corn meal or a combination - I used corn meal only. Placing the corn meal in a small bowl, I coated only a few slices at a time... I find it most comfortable to use a slotted spoon to both shake off the excess corn meal and keep my fingers far from the boiling oil... Anyways, it takes a long time to cook the squash. At least, it takes me a long time... I don't like frying too many slices at once, more than 5 or 6 floating in the pan at one time and I fear I wouldn't notice that I was over cooking some of them. Which, by the way, thicker slices also help by giving you extra time to play with before accidentally burning your squash to a crisp. So, being preoccupied with the squash as I was, I needed a main course that would pretty much tend to itself... So this is what I did - I took a 10 inch skillet, added a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil, then a bag of frozen diced onions... I would have added a spoonful of garlic, but I forgot! I then added a whole container of sliced mushrooms... Then, on top of this bed of most veggies, I placed 4 pre-formed beef patties (they were on sale, too!). I placed the lid on the skillet and left the burner about half way between medium & medium-high. So, it all cooked slowly while I was taking my time making the squash... I eventually did turn the hamburger patties over, but other than that I just left it to cook. As they were on top, the beef didn't brown - but it also didn't burn, it was simply steamed by the moisture from the onions and mushrooms. And, boy, if you like mushrooms, this is the way to do it! The steam escaping around the edge of the lid had the most intense, mouth-watering smell! And, of course, you'll want brown gravy. I used a mix - McCormick's, as it was the only mix I found without MSG in it! So, it all turned out pretty good, I think... The onions were cooked almost to nothing... Next time I try this, I might cut my own onion and have bigger pieces... I suppose it's the same way you do liver & onions, though I've never cooked liver... I realize the format on this page kinda sucks, but at least I'm adding things to it!
'Enhanced/Embelished' Fettuccine Alfredo (version 2)
Returning to our twin pack of Romano's Macaroni Grill Fettuccine Alfredo Pasta Dinner, I decided to do something a bit different... This time, I didn't combine everything until the end... So, once again, we follow Step 1 - still using coconut oil instead of butter... Follow Step 2, adding milk & seasoning mix... At this point, I also add a spoon of garlic like last time - but unlike last time, I also add a spoonful of lemon zest & a 187ml bottle of moscato wine(the size that comes in 4pks)... I probably should have added more milk or maybe heavy cream or something, but I didn't... Anyways, follow Step 3, and the sauce part is done... At the same time as you're doing the sauce, you can cook 5 links of mild/medium Italian susage in a skillet. A word of caution - don't put the lid on and then forget to check them! Yes, I burned the fuckers! =( Another word of caution: beware family members offering to help you cook - they have this habit of leaving just when you really do need an extra pair of hands! Grrr... After the sausages are cooked, slice them into bite-size pieces... When buying the sausages, be aware that most such products contain MSG! The only Italian sausages I could find nearby were Johnsonville, which contain MSG - to find MSG-free, I had to go further afield. In addition to the sausages, I also added a veggie mixture... In a medium sauce pan, thaw a bag of frozen diced onions... When they start to heat up, add a container of sliced mushrooms and one large bell pepper(color of your choice, cut into strips)... After the sausage is cooked & sliced and the veggies are as done as you want them, add both to the pasta & sauce. That's it. Enjoy! =)
'Mock' Zuppa Toscana Soup
So, I had plenty of Italian sausges left... And I love eating at Olive Garden... So, here's a sort of recipe... It really didn't turn out like the real thing, but it wasn't too bad. First, brown 1 lb of Italian sausage - I actually had 1 1/2 lbs, so I used 'em all. Slice 2 large (or 3-4 medium) russet potatoes in half, then cut into thin slices... Chop 1 large onion... Cut sausages into thin slices, before or after they're cooked - it's up to you. Add 1 pint of chicken broth & 1 quart of water to a medium or large pot and stir... Add onions, potatoes and 2 spoonfuls of minced garlic to pot... Cook on medium heat until onions & potatoes are done... Optionally, add salt & pepper to taste. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Turn heat to low, add 2 cups of chopped kale & 1 cup heavy cream. I find the easiest way to deal with the kale is to use scissors and just cut it into pieces while holding it over the soup. Heat through and serve!
Quick & Easy Taco Soup
It's cold weather, you're gonna be snowed in for the next couple of days... So, soup anyone? =) Brown 2 lbs of hamburger meat in a 10 inch skillet, then follow the directs on the back of a low sodium taco seasoning packet. (But don't drain the fat off the meat, we'll need that to help flavor the soup!) It will say to use 1 lb of hamburger, but we're using 2 lbs. I might even say to use 3 lbs, but it wouldn't fit in the skillet. Now, either use two fairly big pots, or else one very large pot... We start with 1 quart of low sodium beef stock, and a couple quarts of water... Add the hamburger meat, 2 chopped onions, 2 cans pinto beans, 4 cans all natural whole peeled tomatoes (these aren't low sodium, but they are lower than most other canned tomatoes), 1 bag frozen diced green bell pepper, 1 bag frozen corn... I also used 1 bag frozen green peas - not really 'taco' like, but it works. Also, optionally, add as many jalapeno peppers as you wish. I used 3 peppers. To reduce the heat, remove some of the seeds - rub the peppers between your hands until you can hear the seeds rattling inside, then cut the ends with the stems off & shake the loose seeds out ... cut peppers in half lengthwise, and slice as thinly as you wish... Bring to a boil, and stir in a second low sodium taco seasoning packet. Cook until veggies are done. And, if you're anything like me when it comes to soups & stews - make several pans of cornbread! Optional - garnish each serving with Mexican shredded 4 cheese mix.
Enhanced Tuna Melt
After being derailed by cold weather, I'm headed back to the pantry for another meal-in-a-box adventure! This time, it's a two years out of date box of Pasta Roni Shells & White Cheddar... The back of the box suggests 'make it a meal' by adding two cans of tuna. That sounded fine to me, but let's kick it up a notch! As usual, I substituted coconut oil for the butter, but other than that I followed the recipe till the end... While you're doing what the box says to do in a sauce pan, stir-fry about a third of a bag of frozen peas & carrots and one large sliced red bell pepper in a skillet with about a tablespoon of coconut oil... While frying, season with salt, black pepper and oregano. When veggies are done, let them sit until the pasta is done. After you've added the tuna to the pasta, also add some salt, black pepper, oregano and lemon zest. Once totally finished with cooking the pasta, stir in the cooked veggies. Enjoy! =)
A Real Ultimate Cheeseburger Mac
Okay, so this wasn't in my out of date stuff, but I wanted to try it out - so I went and bought a brand new box of Velveeta Cheesy Skillets Ultimate Cheeseburger Mac. Like it says on the box, start by browning the hamburger meat... I use a 10 inch stainless steel skillet. Before putting in the meat, I first use a tablespoon or so of coconut oil to coat the bottom of the pan. With coconut oil in there, you don't have to worry nearly as much about anything sticking to the bottom. Then add the meat and while it's cooking, chop an onion. I used a large sweet yellow onion. Leave it in fairly big pieces kind of like you would on an actual hamburger, but not complete rings, because it needs to fit on your fork. Now add some salt, black pepper, mustard powder, paprika... Then a couple tablespoons or so of Worcestershire sauce. Don't drain the fat from the meat - that's where the flavor is! That's pretty much it for the cooking - just follow the box's directions. Serve with slices of tomato & pickle as optional toppings. I like bread & butter chips, but dill works too. If you really wanted to, you could serve it in lettuce wraps to get you all the classic burger veggies. Enjoy! =)
Green Bean Casserole with a Twist
So, just about everybody likes green bean casserole... So, for Christmas this year, I started with this recipe. It calls for Campbell's Condensed Cream of Mushroom soup... I substituted Amy's Organic Semi-Condensed Cream of Mushroom. It also calls for 8 cups green beans, to save time I planned to use canned french cut... But, 8 cups is like 4 cans - after three cans, I decided the 3 quart dish looked too full & a little too liquid... So, instead of a fourth can of beans, I added about a cup and a half of fresh sliced mushrooms(no liquid). It turned out pretty good, maybe could have used a bit more salt... A friend who doesn't like regular green bean casserole said she liked this one.
Moist Cornbread Dressing
This a very simple recipe, my grandmother used to make it every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas... It is meant to be a very moist dish, so if you like dry cornbread dressing, you probably won't like this... Anyways, step one; make 1 package worth of biscuit mix & 2 of cornbread... Once cooked, crumble the bread by hand in a very large bowl. Finely chop 1 large onion and add to bread. Boil and chop 6 eggs and add to bread. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of sage & about 2-3 teaspoons of salt. Boil the neck and giblets (or the wings) of your turkey for 2-4 hours over medium-low heat, with some onions and carrots, salt & pepper to taste. Your goal is to have 2 quarts of nice hot broth. When the broth is done cooking, strain it, and pour the hot liquid over your bread mixture. Let it soak for about an hour, then bake at 400 F for 20-30 minutes. Nothing needs to cook except the onions, so mostly you're just browning it. As I said, it should still be very moist when it's done.
My Mexican Cornbread
My mom got this recipe from a friend before I was born... She altered it to suit herself, and cooked it many times as I was growing up... Now, I finally decided to try my hand at it, and I've customized it for my tastes... It's really very simple. Brown about a pound of hamburger meat, when the meat is close to done, add 1/2 a large onion, chopped ... 1/2 a large red bell pepper, chopped ... 2 small to medium jalapenos, seeded & chopped... Mix up 1 package of cornbread mix, and add 1 can of cream style corn... Grease a casserole dish, and place just enough of the cornbread mixture to cover the bottom of the dish. When both the meat & the veggies are done, place them in the dish on top of the 1st layer of cornbread mix. Place a layer of cubed cheddar cheese on top of the layer of meat & veggies(optional: sprinkle some Mexican shredded cheese around the cubes). Pour the rest of the cornbread mix on top of the layer of cheese. Optionally, sprinkle some more shredded cheese on top - though this will make it harder to tell when the cornbread it brown. Bake for around 25 minutes at 400 F. A bit of a confession, my oven doesn't maintain the proper temperature like it should, so all the temps/times may be off... Sadly, according to America's Test Kitchen, most ranges have this problem... I think they said 'quartz' elements are best.
'Altered' Cashew Chicken
This time, our dinner in a box is a two year old Wanchai Ferry Cashew Chicken... My alterations were fairly simple... Follow step 1 for the rice, follow step 2 for the chicken - though I used a stainless steel skillet and substitited coconut oil... For step 3, they say you can add veggies and I did - I added one large green bell pepper, half a bag of petite mini carrots(saves on having to cut them), and one can of baby corn spears -just cut each spear in half. They do make pre-cut canned baby corn, but I couldn't find any at the store... You could also add a couple of red chiles, if you have them - I didn't... Follow step 4, but I suggest adding more cashews than they give you... Optionally, slice up a small orange for a pretty but tasty garnish. =)
My Saucy Chicken
This is another recipe my mom cooked from time to time when I was younger... I'm not sure where it came from, possibly off the back of a can of tomato sauce ... but, wherever it came from, it's damn tasty! =) As usual, after finally troubling her for the recipe, I changed it a bit to suit myself. So, here's my version... First, take about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breast tenderloins, and cut them into about 1 inch pieces... In a bowl, mix together about a cup of all purpose flour, about 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper and around 1 teaspoon of garlic salt... In a large skillet, heat about 1/4 cup olive oil... Lightly coat chicken in flour mixture, and fry in oil... You may have to do it in two batches... When fully cooked, remove chicken to a plate or bowl lined with paper towels... Peal one large white onion, cut in 1/4 to 1/2 inch rings, then cut rings in half - or vice versa... Fry onions until they turn clear, then remove to drain... In a large deep pot -to avoid splatter- pour about 32 ounces of tomato sauce, you can use 'no salt added', but the taste balance will be off... Add the chicken & onions to the sauce... Add 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and 1/3 cup sugar to sauce, stir to combine... Cook over low or medium-low heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently to insure you aren't burning the sauce... When heated through and flavors have had a chance to marry, you're all done. Serve & Enjoy!
My First (Quick) Attempt at a No Grain Meal...
So, I've read a lot lately about just how bad grains are for you... I had heard this before, but now I'm hearing it from an increasing number of sources. Therefore, I decided to throw together a grain-free meal at the last minute. Hamburger meat was on sale, so I had been going to go with a meal in a box - but the 'helper' in these is mostly grain. It wasn't too bad, basically it went like this; a big spoonful of coconut oil to grease the skillet, brown the hamburger, add a cup of diced onion & another of diced bell pepper... Add lots of Italian Blend seasoning(make sure it only contains natural herbs). Then, after the veggies are mostly cooked, add a can of stewed tomatoes. Heat through and serve. Optionally, you may add salt while cooking or leave it up to each person to add their own. I also added some Kerrygold Dubliner cheese to my helping.