Meal Planning Monday ~ Lenten Suppers

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

We’re in the middle of Lenten season, which means either fish or meatless meals on Fridays until after Easter.  As awesome as the Friday Fish Fries are at local Catholic churches, they’re usually not great for your waistline.  To give you some healthy options and a little variety this Lenten season, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite seafood recipes and meatless dishes.

Cilantro Lime Shrimp ~ I love this recipe because it’s ready in minutes and tastes delicious.  The original recipe calls to pairing it with green beans, which – although healthy – isn’t very filling.  I serve black bean and corn salad with it, which is packed with fiber.  It’s also easy to make: In a bowl, combine a can of black beans (drained and rinsed) with a can of corn (drained).  Stir in 1 to 1 ½ cups of your salsa of choice.  And a few tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro (optional), and refrigerate for at least an hour to chill.  Stir before serving.

Salmon with Parmesan Mayo Topping and Garlic Roasted Asparagus ~ This salmon looks and tastes gourmet, but is shockingly simple to make.  The original recipe includes instructions for making your own mayo for the topping, but I just use a lower-fat olive oil based mayo from the store.  Just mix mayo and parmesan, spread it on the salmon, and sprinkle with paprika.  In 20 minutes, you’ve got a healthy, mouth-water fish dinner.  I’ll take fresh asparagus, toss it with minced garlic and a bit of olive oil, and roast it in a Pyrex baking dish in the oven with the salmon.

Tilapia or Swai Fillets ~ I like Swai fillets myself, but both are inexpensive, tasty, and easy to prepare.  I heat up a little bit of olive oil in a pan, season both sides of the fish with Mrs. Dash’s Lemon Pepper or Fiesta Lime seasoning, and pan fry it.  I’ll serve it with either rice or potatoes and a veggie in the steamer.

Easy, Cheesy Casserole ~ Meal Planning Monday guest blogger, Casey Lindberg-Coghill, did an entire post with meatless meals you’ll want to revisit!  One of my favorites is her Easy, Cheesy Casserole.  It’s filling and delicious, so you won’t even miss the meat.  I typically serve this with a side salad.

Ginger Glazed Mahi Mahi ~ This oriental style fish recipe is great with some jasmine rice and stir fried veggies.  If you don’t have fresh ginger on hand, feel free to substitute ground ginger from your spice rack.

What are your favorite meatless meals for Lent?

Meal Planning Monday ~ A Romantic Valentine’s Dinner

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

Valentine’s Day is this Friday!  Do you and sweetheart have plans for a romantic dinner?  Nick and I try to avoid the crowds, so we usually have a nice Valentine’s dinner at home.  Maybe your family is trying to get out of debt and you don’t have money in the budget for a fancy dinner out.  Either way, read on for tips for creating a romantic dinner for two without breaking the bank!

Set the Mood & the Table ~ If you’ve got children, pack them up and send over to grandma’s house or make other babysitting arrangements.  Make sure your dining area is clean and clutter-free (don’t worry too much about the rest of the house!)  Dress up your table with nice cloth napkins and a tablecloth.  (Don’t have them?  Pick up pretty ones at cheap prices at stores like Home Goods.) Bring out the good dishes, silverware, wine glasses and some unscented candles.  Cue up a romantic playlist on your iPod and you’re ready for dinner!

Dinner ~ An impressive dinner doesn’t have to mean hours in the kitchen!  I’ll be making Cornish Game Hens with Garlic & Rosemary, wild rice, and roasted asparagus.  Not a fan of chicken?  Try Oven Roasted Salmon with Parmesan-Mayo Crust or Mushroom Stuffed London Broil.  Keep your side dishes simple.  And don’t forget the wine!


Wine ~ Wine is a nice touch to your romantic Valentine’s dinner.   If you’re a red wine fan, try Ecco Domani Merlot.  It’s a balanced red that would be a great accompaniment to the salmon or London broil.  For a white wine that’s neither too oaky nor sweet, pick up a bottle of Robert Mondavi’s Lightly Oaked Chardonnay.  Both wines are very reasonably priced, which makes it even better.  Cheers!

Dessert ~ In my opinion, Valentine’s dessert has to be something chocolate!  Chocolate dipped strawberries are an easy and delicious option.  If you’re feeling more ambitious, whip up this Chocolate Rum Cake the day before.  You won’t be sorry!  It’s absolutely decadent – and goes surprisingly well with a glass of red wine.  If you’re pressed for time, just pick up a bag of dark chocolates wrapped in red and pink foil and place them in a pretty dish.

If you are going out for your Valentine’s Day dinner, here are some money-saving tips to keep in mind:

  • If you’ve got a coupon or a Groupon, it’s likely that the restaurant won’t accept it on Valentine’s Day (or other holidays), so consider celebrating a day early or a day late to take advantage of those discounts.  The restaurant will probably be less crowded which means better service for you!
  • Skip the soda and stick to water.  If you’re going to order wine or beer, try the house specials which are always less expensive.  If you plan on drinking several glasses of wine between the two of you, it will be most cost effective to spring for a bottle versus buying by the glass.
  • Split an appetizer, order two salads and split an entrée.  Same goes for dessert!  Restaurant portions are huge, so it’s easy to feed two people for the price of one.  If you have leftovers, take them home!  Last night’s fillet can be steak and eggs in the morning.

What are your Valentine’s Day plans?  Are you eating in or eating out?

Meal Planning Monday ~ Keeping It Cool in the Kitchen

This week’s blog post is by Christine Luken.


We’ve been blessed with a nice cool spell here in the Ohio River Valley, which has been a welcome relief to the sweltering heat.  As the saying goes, nothing good lasts forever!  August is bound to have some red-hot days, which makes me NOT want to turn on the oven to make dinner.  The good news is that there are plenty of ways to get a tasty meal on the table without adding too much extra heat in the kitchen.  Besides the obvious choice of grilling, here are some of my favorites.

  • Stovetop – If there’s any way I can make something on the stovetop versus the oven in the summer, I’ll do it.  Using the stovetop does put off some heat, but not nearly as much as using the oven.  Rather than baking fish or chicken, I’ll pan-fry it with a little bit of olive oil or Smart Balance cooking spray.  Stir-frying meat and veggies makes a great summer dinner, too.


  • Toaster Oven – I use my toaster oven all the time!  Since it’s just my husband and I, it’s the perfect size to roast some cauliflower, bake some sweet potato fries, or cook up a piece or two of salmon.  Because of its small size, it doesn’t put off much heat at all.  However, if you have a large family, this may not be a good option for you.


  • Crock Pot – Some people tend to think of the crock pot as a winter appliance, which always puzzles me.  We love bone-in chicken in the crock pot!  Whenever our local Kroger store has chicken on sale, I stock up the freezer.  Because I’ve got so many great recipes, we could have chicken in the crock pot once a week and not get tired of it.  Last week I threw in some carrots, potatoes, chicken broth, and a little parsley and basil with the chicken and it was fantastic!  Some of my other favorite recipes are Maple Dijon Chicken Thighs, Beer Chicken, Crock Pot Buffalo Chicken, Pesto Ranch Chicken, and Chicken with Artichoke Hearts.  You can even make dessert in the crock pot!

    • Steamer – Several of my friends and my husband are convinced that the microwave is not good for us, so we’re trying to use it less.  I picked up this steamer (pictured above with my homegrown Swiss chard) at Wal-Mart for $20, and I must say that I love it!  There’s a second basket that can be stacked on top, so that you can steam two different things at once.  Veggies taste so delicious in the steamer; they almost don’t even need butter!  We also like to steam ears of corn, but they have to be broken in half to fit in the basket.  The base is less than 12 inches across, so it doesn’t take up much room in the cabinet or on the counter, which is another big plus.

  • “Baking” with the Grill – The obvious choice for summer cooking is the grill.  Think outside of the box for firing up the grill!  Many recipes that are baked in the oven can also be made on the grill.  We purchased a new grill this summer and I love that it has a temperature gauge.  I can now “bake” my roasted salmon or my Portobello mushroom pizzas without worrying about  vercooking (or burning) our dinner!


  •  Zero Heat Cooking – Sometimes we will take leftover grilled chicken, steak, or shrimp, or taco meat and make some huge dinner salads.  A satisfying dinner with zero heat required!

What is your favorite summer recipe to make that doesn’t require slaving over a hot stove?

Meal Planning Monday ~ I Love Cheeses!


Fill in the blank: “The one food I could NEVER live without is ________.”  For me, the answer is easy – Cheese!  Yes, I would give up eating desserts, fried food, chocolate… and even red wine before cheese.  I’m so glad that I have a Diet Free Life mentality, so I never have to give up any of the foods that I love, including cheese!

I love most any kind of cheese, with very few exceptions (Swiss being one of them).   At our house, we always have feta, Parmesan, sharp white cheddar, string cheese, and a variety of shredded cheeses on hand.  Sharp white cheddar is far and above my favorite.  My co-op sells Amish cheeses and their sharp white cheddar is to die for!  I use it on grilled cheese and egg sandwiches, with crackers, or just plain with a good glass of wine.

Since I’ve been Carb Stepping, I’ve been snacking on string cheese on a regular basis.  It’s a great snack because two of them have only 160 calories, no carbs, and 12 grams of hunger-curbing protein.  The only problem with string cheese is that we can never have enough in house!  My husband loves it, and so does my cat, Peanut.  When she hears the plastic peel back on one of those, she comes running to beg for a piece!

I love Parmesan cheese because it adds so much great flavor with a small amount of fat and calories.  Just this week, I tried a great roasted salmon recipe with a Parmesan-mayo topping that Leah posted in our recipe group on Facebook.  Oh my word, it was hands-down the best salmon recipe I’ve ever made at home!  (See below for recipe.)  If you don’t like fish, the Mmm… Chicken recipe I shared a few posts back is similar and equally delicious.  I also make Parmesan-crusted grilled cheese sandwiches.  All you do is sprinkle a bit of parm on top of the buttered bread before you cook it.  I’ll also shake some on top of roasted veggies for extra flavor.

Some people – like Leah – are crazy about goat cheese, but I’m definitely a feta girl.  It’s my cheese of choice for salads.  I love making a huge Greek chicken salad for lunch – salad greens, chicken, garbanzo beans, olives, cukes, pine nuts and feta.  Sometimes I’ll mix it up and do salad greens with turkey, walnuts, Crainsins, and feta.  When it’s warm enough to fire up the grill, my hubby and I love to make Chicken Bruschetta with fresh tomatoes, feta, and basil.

What are you favorite cheeses?


Oven Roasted Salmon with Parmesan-Mayo Crust



  • 16-20 ounces salmon fillet(s), skin on
  • Kosher salt/ freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • additional Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • a few dashes of sweet paprika

Preheat oven to 425F.  Line a shallow roasting pan with foil.  Rinse the salmon with cold water and dry thoroughly with paper towels, and place in roasting pan.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Mix the mayonnaise and Parmesan cheese in a small bowl.  Spread completely over the salmon.  Sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese on top, and add a few dashes of sweet paprika.

Roast for 12-14 minutes (depending on thickness of salmon).  Remove from oven; carefully slide a wide spatula between the skin and meat to separate from the skin, and serve!

Meal Planning Monday ~ Gone Fishin’

Tuna Salmon Fish fry

            Lent is here, and you know what that means!  Some of the best fish fries in town will be going on every Friday at a Catholic church near you.  Whether you’re Catholic or not, I encourage you to support your local churches and enjoy a few fish fries this Lenten season.  For some people, a weekly fish fry may not be in the budget – either wallet-wise or calorie-wise.  So I thought now would be the perfect time to share some great fish and seafood recipes that you can enjoy during Lent and beyond.

Oven Fried Fish ~ Oven fried fish is so easy to make.  Lightly bread the fish of your choice, spray it with butter flavored cooking spray, and bake it in the oven instead of deep frying it.  It has that nice crispy coating without all the fat.  Serve it with some oven fries and you’ve got a “fake” fish fry at home.  This variation looks really tasty, too.

Honey Lime Tilapia ~ I’ve raved about this recipe before because it’s SO easy and delicious!  Let the fish marinade for at least an hour in a combination of lime juice, honey, olive oil, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.  Remove the fish from the marinade, lightly flour it, and fry in a pan with cooking spray.  There’s a reason this recipe appears on my meal planning calendar once or twice a month!

Salmon ~ There are so many delicious salmon recipes out there.  Sometimes it’s best kept simple – baked in the oven in a foil packet with a few lemon slices on top!  These Asian-style Salmon Parcels look really tasty.  I think I’ll be trying them very soon.

Cilantro Lime Shrimp ~ These tasty shrimp are on my meal calendar for this week, since we didn’t have them last week as planned.  Nick and I tried this recipe two weeks ago and both loved it.  Just heat up some olive oil in a pan and cook shrimp for 2-3 minutes.  Turn the shrimp over, adding 4-6 cloves of minced garlic.  Cook another 2-3 minutes until shrimp are cooked through.  Remove from heat.  Squeeze a lime over the shrimp and add a small handful of chopped cilantro, and stir to combine.  I may use these to make shrimp tacos this time, or serve over some spicy rice.

Fish Tacos ~ I make these tacos slightly different every time I cook them.  I always start with tilapia.  I coat it in either Mrs. Dash’s Fiesta Lime seasoning or taco seasoning.  I cook it in a frying pan coated with cooking spray.  When the fish is cooked through, I break it up into chunks and put in in soft tortillas.  Sometimes, I put lettuce, salsa, guacamole, and cheese on them.  Other times, I mix broccoli slaw with Philly’s Southwestern Style cooking crème.  I always add fresh cilantro!