Culinary Confessions: What I Ate in a Week

Culinary Confessions

“Culinary Confessions” is a series that opens the books on our eating habits and shares our shopping, cooking, dining and diet strategies with you.

Taking care of our bodies is an inexact science. While we can guesstimate the nutritional data of our food and exercise, we can’t possibly track the numbers flawlessly unless we own extensive medical equipment.

We can, however, keep a pretty good diary of what we’re eating and how much we’re exercising to get a better grasp on our health status and needs. That’s a practice I’ve adopted in the past year as I’ve targeted better overall health, and it’s a disciplined process that’s helped me lose more than 75 pounds and more than a few inches off my once-concerning waistline.

This diary tracks and reveals to you everything—and I mean everything—I ate during one whole week, Monday to Sunday in late January and early February. While the exact meals I consume vary widely from week to week sometimes, this is a pretty standard summary of how I eat in a week at this time in my life.

Before we get to business, here are a just a couple of things to understand about what you read below.

MAKE THE MOST OF IT: You’ll notice what might seem to you like some random meal choices at points, such as homemade meatloaf sliders, and you should know that this reflects my creative approach to cooking. We do not waste food in our house. I repeat: We do not waste food in our house. Period. If something does go bad, we throw it out. Otherwise, we eat all leftover homemade food, and we take to-go boxes for our restaurant leftovers and then consume them later. You waste a lot of money if you leave food on the table, and you’re squandering valuable opportunities to cut down on having to come up with new meals from scratch, either from a restaurant or your own kitchen. The leftover meatloaf became easy sandwiches nearly a week after the first meal was made.

THE HOME-COOKED ADVANTAGE: You’ll note that some meals, snacks and desserts are simple foods that have easily countable/quantifiable calories, while others do not. This reflects the importance of eating whole foods and making food at home. Dining out often leads to a tremendous increase in calories and other nutritional data such as sodium. When I eat out, many restaurants don’t provide me with calorie, fat, sugar and other numbers to report them exactly. Sure, My Fitness Pal and other tracking apps can estimate, but a cheeseburger at one restaurant and a cheeseburger at another will differ in nutrition facts. Of course fast food restaurants and some others do provide certain data you can plug into your diet diary.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: You’ll see that I only eat out a couple times—at most—in a week. Normally, I eat one meal from a restaurant in a given week. That gives me better control over what I’m putting into my body because I’m making most things from scratch at home. However, in addition to a couple of restaurant meals on this particular week, two things impacted my diet diary. I ate one additional meal and dessert on Friday evening at my parents’ house that was outside my normal simple eating plan, and the Sunday on this week happened to be Super Bowl Sunday. On that day, I allowed a little more #FoodieScore freedom and snacking than on a normal day.

THE RIGHT FORMULA: Finally, please understand that I do not subscribe to any kind of belief or plan that counting calories or eating only certain foods will by itself help you improve your health. I do not endorse Weight Watchers or any fad diet. Instead, I believe awareness of what we eat is our greatest ally, because it allows us to balance our eating with our exercise in order to be healthier than we would be if we just ate what we want every time we want. I do have a short list of nutrient-friendly foods I highly recommend as the basis for a better diet if you’ve struggled with choices and portions as I have for many years. These foods are low in calories and sugars, while high in other beneficial nutrients.

In the end, doing the best you can to make more good food choices while also exercising consistently is the best equation for healthier living, and I’ve seen proof of that in the past year as I’ve dropped 25 percent of my body weight with that approach.

 

 

* I have included calorie information below where possible. If you’re interested in more specifics about calories for certain items, comment below or email me. I’d be glad to share what I know!

 

Day 1—Monday

EXERCISE: Walked 3 miles

Breakfast – ½ cup oatmeal cooked in water with 1 teaspoon honey, 1 banana and water (261 calories total)

Lunch – 2 pieces 12-grain dry toast, 2 steamed egg whites, 1 raw chopped carrot and water (284 calories total)

Snack – ½ cup dark chocolate hummus, 7 butter crackers (222 calories total)

Dinner – 1 grilled chicken breast, cooked spinach, brown rice, dinner roll and water (450 calories total)

Dessert – homemade chocolate pudding with vanilla wafers (300 calories total)

 

 

Day 2—Tuesday

EXERCISE: Walked 3 miles

Breakfast – ½ cup oatmeal cooked in water with 1 teaspoon honey and 1 teaspoon flax seed, 1 banana, 1 cup Greek yogurt and water (381 calories total)

Lunch – 1 piece 12-grain dry toast, 2 steamed egg whites, veggie straw chips and water (284 calories total)

Snack – ¼ cup pecan halves (200 calories)

Dinner – 1 grilled chicken breast on 1 sandwich bun with 1 tablespoon barbecue sauce, ¼ cup sautéed mushrooms, sautéed onions, 1 serving of mac and cheese, 1 serving of baked beans and water (950 calories total)

Dessert – 1 slice Atlantic Beach (lemon) pie with ¼ cup 2 percent milk

 

Day 3—Wednesday

EXERCISE: Walked 3 miles

Breakfast – ½ cup oatmeal cooked in water with 1 teaspoon honey and ¼ cup pecan halves, and water (371 calories total)

Snack – 1 cup black coffee with 1 cup 2 percent milk and 1 1/3 tablespoons instant mocha mix for iced coffee (192 calories total)

Lunch – ½ cup cooked, seasoned beef with sautéed onions in 1 hot dog bun with 1 raw chopped carrot and water (350 calories total)

Snack – 5 saltine crackers with 2 tablespoons peanut butter (230 calories total)

Dinner – 1 seasoned grilled chicken breast and sautéed onions with ½ cup shredded cheese and black beans on two flour tortillas, and water (690 calories total)

Dessert – ½ cup Oreo mint chip ice cream (400 calories)

 

Day 4—Thursday

EXERCISE: Walked 3 miles

Breakfast – ¼ cup plain oatmeal made with water and 1 small banana, Belgian waffle with ½ tablespoon butter and a honey syrup drizzle, with a no-sugar iced coffee of black coffee with ¼ cup milk (580 calories total)

Lunch – 1 can tuna with no extra seasoning and 5 butter crackers, 1 serving unsalted peanuts and water (380 calories total)

Dinner – 2 fried eggs, 2 dinner rolls with 2 tablespoons apple butter, 2 slices low-sodium bacon, 1 cup grits cooked with milk and butter, unsweet tea (702 calories total)

Dessert – 2 small Nutella pecan cupcakes (350 calories total)

 

 

Day 5—Friday

EXERCISE: Walked 4 miles

Breakfast – 1 cup blackberry Greek yogurt with 1 teaspoon flax seed and 2 cups coffee with light cream (150 calories total)

Lunch – Kim’s Kitchen cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato and mayo, and fried squash with ranch dip, and water

Dessert – 1 cup homemade peach cobbler

Dinner – mixed salad with cheese and light ranch dressing, 1 toasted croissant with honey butter, and water

Dessert – homemade banana pudding

 

Day 6—Saturday

EXERCISE: Walked 1 mile

Breakfast – 1 square homemade Belgian waffle with 1 teaspoon honey syrup and 1 strip low-sodium bacon and black coffee (110 calories total)

Snack – Downtown Deli & Donuts peanut butter and jelly doughnut with ½ cup coffee with light cream and 1 sugar

Lunch – Willy Taco blue corn tortilla chips and salsa, 1 crispy avocado taco and 1 Carolina BBQ taco, and water

Dinner – 1 mug tomato soup made with milk, toasted cheese sandwich made with 1 piece cheddar in toaster oven, and unsweet tea (425 calories total)

 

 

Day 7—Sunday

EXERCISE: Walked 2 miles

Breakfast – latte made with black coffee and three tablespoons cream, ½ cup plain oatmeal made with water (300 calories total)

Lunch – leftover meatloaf sliders with mozzarella cheese on browned rolls, 1 hot dog on 1 bun with mustard, French fries and unsweet tea

Dessert – 2 small homemade rice cereal treats

Snack – homemade party mix

Dinner – 3 slices homemade pizza with bacon, and unsweet tea

Dessert – homemade peach cobbler with one scoop vanilla ice cream

 

Do you track what you eat and how you exercise? We’d love to learn about your approach to healthy eating. Share your story with us in the comments on this post, on our Facebook page, or by emailing us here. Thanks so much for reading and eating with us!

Crispy Down-Home Fried Chicken

When Matthew said he wanted to make fried chicken inspired by Winston-Salem restaurant Sweet Potatoes‘ original recipe, my head starting filling with my own visions of what fried chicken means for a southern kitchen. My mom never made fried chicken, at least not the kind that actually comes with a bone inside it. So my frame of reference for fried chicken was limited to fast-food experiences (Bojangles, KFC, Popeye’s) and what I read in books. Yes, books. In my imagination, fried chicken is the kind Minny Jackson teaches Celia Foote how to make in “The Help” – the kind soaked overnight in buttermilk, seasoned with simple ingredients, then fried in a huge vat full of Crisco, which, as Minny points out, is just as vital for a southern cook as our mayonnaise.

Sweet Potatoes’ recipe follows much the same pattern. We used chicken legs and soaked them for at least 6 hours in the buttermilk mixture. Then, we “dredged” the chicken in a flour mixture and popped it in the pan, which was full of hot oil. When our chicken was finally done frying (we used a meat thermometer to be sure), we sure did enjoy it with our homemade biscuits, seasoned green beans, and a sweet potato hash Matthew came up with on the spur of the moment. It was a feast worthy of any southern kitchen, and it certainly lived up to the best of my imagination.

Here’s the recipe we used, which we tweaked for our own tastes. Feel free to change as needed, add your own sides, and enjoy!

Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs. chicken

Oil for frying

(Buttermilk mixture)

1/2 quart buttermilk

1 tbsp. salt

1/2 tsp. garlic salt

1/2 tsp. thyme

1/2 tbsp. pepper

 

(Flour mixture)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch

Directions:

1. Combine buttermilk, salt, garlic, thyme and pepper. Add the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

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2. Heat the oil (about 1 inch deep) on medium-high in a large cast-iron pan.

3. Combine flour and cornstarch in a bowl. (The original recipe called for adding a tablespoon of chicken or seafood seasoning to the flour mixture. We didn’t, so it’s optional.)

4. Dredge the chicken in the flour+cornstarch mixture and coat it thoroughly.

5. Add the chicken to the pan and brown on one side for 10 minutes.

6. Turn the chicken over and keep frying until it is done, turning when necessary. Chicken is done when a thermometer (in the thickest part) reads 165 degrees.

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7. Remove from the pan and place the chicken on a plate covered with paper towels or another material for removing some of the grease. Serve and enjoy!

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Matthew’s take: Just watch chef Stephanie Tyson fry chicken and talk about her method. I believe your mouth will be watering afterward, just like mine was (unless you don’t like chicken altogether). This fried chicken was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside when we enjoyed it fresh from the pan. When I took a couple of pieces to work for lunch a couple of days later, I was amazed that it was even more flavorful and even better. The buttermilk soak makes all the difference in the flavor. The time you fry and the rotation of the chicken as it cooks inside and fries outside is the key to getting a combination of a nice, golden brown colorful appearance and the delicious taste of meaty chicken on the inside. I would recommend this recipe against any fried chicken prescription out there. Knowing the story of the chef who passed down the recipe certainly makes a difference as well. (And so does the memory of eating in her delightfully Southern, North Carolina restaurant.)

Molly’s take: This chicken, as I said, lived up to my expectations. Soaking it in the buttermilk really makes the meat tender and flavorful. It is perfect when prepared and cooked this way. The frying took longer than I imagined, but I didn’t have enough oil in the pan and my burner was on too low. So that’s why I suggest turning it up to medium-high heat and frying in at least an inch of oil. Once it was done, it was delicious! Crispy outer covering with a tender, juicy inside. We can’t wait to try it again!

 

Cheeseburger with Homemade Cherry Cola BBQ Sauce

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My favorite cheeseburger hands down is a basic burger: maybe something with cheese, lettuce, tomato, a little mayo. That’s usually what I seek out the first time I’m visiting a spot known for its cheeseburgers. Next on the list after the “classic” version is some version of barbecue cheeseburger. I love the combination of meat, bun, cheese and barbecue sauce.

My taste for barbecue sauce on cheeseburgers is why the “Bronco Burger” was an attractive option when we recently planned a cookout at our house.  The Bronco includes, among other delicious features, a homemade cherry cola barbecue sauce that offers a bit of a kick. The accompanying mozzarella cheese provides a cool down effect that pairs nicely with the sauce.

This burger recipe was a fun one to make alongside Molly. As I grilled the burgers in the backyard, she made the barbecue sauce in the kitchen. Let’s dive right into what you’ll need to make your own Bronco Burgers, along with the process for putting the burgers and sauce together.

Burger Ingredients

1.5 pounds ground beef of your choice

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon prepared chili powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Sandwich Ingredients

mozzarella cheese of your choice

hamburger buns

sweet onion slices

dill pickle chips

Barbecue Sauce Ingredients

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1.5 cups ketchup

1.25 cups cherry Coke (or your preferred cola)

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup cherry preserves

1/8 cup red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

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Sauce Directions

1. Melt butter in pan

2. Add onion and garlic and saute.

3. Whisk in remaining ingredients.

4. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Cook until mixture thickens.

The sauce will take you about 45 minutes. It takes a while to thicken in some cases.

Serve warm.

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Putting your burgers in the fridge or freezer to get them nice and cool before putting them on the grill will help them hold together better as they cook. This is especially important if you’re cooking with fresh ground beef.

Burger Directions

1. Mix your cumin, chili powder, onion powder, salt and pepper into your meat.

2. Patty out into the size of burgers you’d like to eat.

3. Use your fingers to make an indentation in the centers of both sides of the burger patties to prevent them from forming a dome as they cook.

4. Refrigerate your burgers until you’re ready to grill them.

5. Grill until burgers are done as you desire.

6. Arrange burgers with cheese, pickles and onion on your buns and then top with preferred amount of barbecue sauce.

 

Molly’s Take: One step is left out of this phenomenal burger recipe: Enjoy! The sauce is killer and, despite the time it takes to cook, surprisingly easy to make. Drizzled on top of a perfectly-seasoned burger bursting with flavor and combined with the smoky taste and the texture of mozzarella, all sandwiched between a solid, fresh bun — this sauce is the microphone that makes that burger sing. Add in some pickles and onions and you’ve got a flavor explosion the likes of which I’ve never had at home in a homemade burger. In other words, if you’ve got a minute and a hot grill, try this and tell us what you thought.

Matthew’s Take: These Bronco Burgers are as tasty as any barbecue-sauced cheeseburgers I’ve had, and it’s all because of the barbecue sauce. The spice mixture that goes into the patties has its own role in this #FoodieScore experience, and the mozzarella cheese, pickles and onions create a nice mixture of textures and flavors, but it’s the homemade sauce that provides the lasting impression. And the best part? You can refrigerate the sauce and continue to use it on pork, chicken and other foods for a few weeks after making it. This is a winner if you like barbecue cheeseburgers. I give this one an A for taste, an A- for cost (you may have to buy some spices and items you won’t have on hand), and I give it a B for ease. The sauce took Molly some time and attention to cook. But hey, that’s the point. It wouldn’t be the same with a bottled barbecue sauce.

Pasta Mama: Creative, Flavorful, Simple

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If I tell you I’m going to make you pasta and scrambled eggs for dinner, what’s your reaction? Does it sound more appetizing if I tell you I’m going to mix the eggs into the pasta? Maybe it further helps if I tell you several Asian pasta dishes include eggs that are scrambled in somehow?

Yeah, I didn’t think so. When I first heard about Pasta Mama seven or eight years ago on one of my favorite Food Network Shows “Best Thing I Ever Ate,” I turned up my nose, too. It didn’t exactly sound like a delicious meal. But I’ve always enjoyed trying new things that involve ingredients I enjoy, so I gave it a whirl, as Kevin McAllister said of a frozen macaroni and cheese dinner while grocery shopping in the 1990 movie Home Alone. And the Pasta Mama blew me away with its simplicity and flavor.

Some people aren’t big fans of marinara sauce, so they prefer an alfredo or other topping for their pasta. This offers another cheap, flavorful option with the eggs and spices, and if you already have spices and dry pasta in your kitchen or pantry, it won’t cost you much at all to make (also considering eggs are pretty cheap). And if you cook the eggs and pasta just right, it’s not too dry or too wet.

Pasta Mama at its best is a very simple and light dish, so don’t plan on feeling extremely full afterward. In fact, it’s a dish you might have as a small meal as part of a plan to eat more than three meals a day, or you might even try it for a simple and quick breakfast. You can use that leftover cooked, plain pasta to get a head start, but even if you have to cook your pasta first, this dish won’t take you more than a half hour to prepare.

The following recipe is a modified take on a suggestion from Food.com.

Ingredients

10 ounces dry pasta

3 eggs, beaten

2 minced garlic cloves

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon fresh grated parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon seasoning salt

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

 

Directions

1. Cook your pasta in a pot until it has the softness/firmness you prefer. (If you already have leftover cooked pasta, just heat it enough to knock the chill off before you take the next step in the recipe.)

2. In a skillet on medium heat, saute all of your spices with the butter or oil.

3. After your spices have sauteed, add the pasta and water and stir together.

4. Pour in your already-beaten eggs and combine until the eggs fully cook and mix with the pasta.

5. While your dish is still in the skillet, sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top. You can, of course, add as much cheese as you want.

6. Plate and serve. As with anything, your yield depends on how much pasta you actually use, how much each diner eats and the age of your diners. If you feed this to kids, it will probably go farther with each individual eater.

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Molly’s Take: I wasn’t terribly afraid of the egg and pasta combo here, since I love Asian rice and noodles and those often include eggs of some kind. I also am a person who really can’t stand marinara sauce in most settings, so I was excited about the prospect of an alfredo alternative. The Pasta Mama delivered. Its simple flavor, perfectly seasoned with herbs and spices, was light and tasty. As Matthew said, it isn’t incredibly filling or heavy, but I could easily see adding some type of fish like salmon or shrimp to the dish. However, the Pasta Mama stands alone in its simplicity and flavorful taste. Definitely give it a try.

Matthew’s Take: Of course, I really love this dish, or I wouldn’t be sharing it with you. My favorite way to eat pasta has always been with some kind of tomato-based sauce and beef meatballs or a cheese-based sauce with chicken. This is a completely different dish and one I’ve never had in a restaurant. I’ve never seen it on a menu in a restaurant, despite seeing it recommended on a food show by a professional chef who ate it at a restaurant. Maybe it has a low profile because it would take most people by surprise. I know it did me. Other than not being heavy enough to fill me for a long period of time, Pasta Mama is surprisingly satisfying. The garlic butter and cheese help provide their own deal of flavor, but it’s the eggs that offer the most boost to the texture and taste. You may be skeptical, but I encourage you to give it a try. Creative cooking can be exciting because it can break our normal routine in the kitchen and at the table. And this is a way to be creative and make an economical meal in a half hour or less. I give it an A for taste and an A+ for both cost and ease.

Easy Slow Cooker Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches

Philly Cheesesteak

How often do we find ourselves ordering a meal at a restaurant, but we don’t know how it’s made?
For Matthew, that doesn’t happen often, because he loves experimenting in the kitchen, learning how to make favorite dishes and exploring unconventional combinations.
Since we got married in January, we’ve tried a variety of new homemade foods in the kitchen.
Mozzarella cheese sticks was the first venture, and it flopped the first time because the recipe we followed left out a step. We learned just how important an egg mixture can be for holding together a recipe.
More recently, we attempted our first Slow Cooker Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches. Molly’s dad enjoys Philly Cheesesteak (and anything with meat, cheese and bread), and Molly experienced the glorious concoction of an authentic cheesesteak during a visit to Philadelphia several years ago.
Our first conundrum with the cheesesteak: what kind of steak?
Obviously not New York Strip.
Not T-bone either.
Apparently, there are several different options, including ribeye.
But how expensive do you want your sandwich to be? Especially when you’re planning to make dinner for five people?
And how do you slice a steak thin enough to get that authentic Philly style?
Must you visit an old-time meat market for such an ingredient?
With more questions than answers, we visited a place that appears to have all the answers: Walmart.
Matthew’s dad doesn’t like to set foot in the place, but we don’t mind it as a one-stop-shop for most everything you need.
We first needed to decide if we could find the meat needed for the cheesesteak, and we did. From several options, we chose a thin top sirloin. Despite Matthew’s concern of not having enough steak, two pounds made a full seven sandwiches.
With the big-ticket item (in price as well at $13, so don’t expect to make a cheap true Philly cheesesteak) out of the way, we easily progressed through the rest of our shopping list. Check out the ingredients list below for more.
You’ll also find out how we cooked our steak with ease, and we’ll offer a tip for what you might do to make a better Philly than we did.

Ingredients
1 package of meat (for us, 2 pounds of top sirloin yielded seven sandwiches)
Salt, pepper and seasoning to taste
1 package of cheese, our choice was provolone
1 green pepper
1/2 sweet onion
1 package of sandwich buns of your choice, with preference of sub style

Peppers and onions
Steps
1. Slice your steak, peppers and onions into thin strips. You’ll need a fairly sharp knife for the meat.
2. Season the steak with salt and pepper as desired. We included a few bouillon cubes and 2 cups of water in our slow cooker for an extra boost.
3. Our family was coming over for dinner on Friday night, just minutes after we planned to get home from a full day of work. So we wanted to make Philly cheesesteaks without having to do a lot of cooking in a short period of time. Enter the slow cooker. We cooked our meat the night before and all day that Friday in a low heat in the slow cooker. The meat was incredibly tender by the next evening, but it had also fallen apart a bit more than Matthew desired. You might slice your ingredients the night before and put them into storage containers in the fridge, then put them in the slow cooker before you head out to work for the day. You might get a tender-cooked meat without the pieces being so small. The recipe we found on Pinterest suggested cooking your meat six to seven hours.
4. Once your steak has cooked, divide it up evenly (or unevenly depending on appetites and diner preferences) onto your sandwich buns.
5. Cover your steak with the desired amount of cheese.
6. Stick your cheesesteaks on a pan and heat the buns and melt the cheese in the oven. We didn’t use the oven because we’re partial to our toaster oven. If you have a toaster oven, you might want to try the same method.
7. Serve up your cheesesteaks with any side you choose. We went with French fries.

Matthew’s Take: These sandwiches were much better than I expected, and they were honestly much easier than I expected. You won’t get out light on the cost, and you’ll notice that if you’re a cheapo like me. But you won’t have to do much cooking by using the slow-cooker method. After the meat and vegetables are sliced, you’re home free as long as you have the time to cook the meat. My sandwich was as good as any steak sandwich I’ve had at a restaurant. I usually find steak sandwiches to be tough and this was anything but tough, probably because the meat cooked for about nine hours. I give this recipe an A+ for taste, an A+ for ease of preparation and a B for cost. If you’re making it for a group of more than five, you’ll have to pay quite a bit to get enough true steak for a Philly.

Molly’s Take: I really liked these Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches. I think it would be interesting to try another type of steak to see how different it would be. I can say that no Philly Cheesesteak has compared to the one I actually got in Philly. But this one was pretty darn good and super easy. Putting it all in the crockpot and letting it cook and stay warm meant we didn’t have to worry about dinner that night. And my whole family loved them. All in all, it was a great choice. If you try them, let us know what you do differently! And how you like them! We hope you enjoy.