When You Are Stuck In A Dinner Rut (Cookbook Review and BONUS Recipe!)

Brohgan Dieker

Brohgan Dieker

Brohgan Dieker is dedicated to answering the "what's for dinner" question with healthy, quick recipes that can accommodate busy schedules. She is a devout Christian, a wife and mother, and a lover of words and books. She lives in the beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas and holds a degree in English from Kansas State University.
Brohgan Dieker

I have been stuck in a dinner rut recently.

It’s been bad.

Like, frozen pizza bad. (Which is soooo not my style.)


It didn’t help that the weather in Kansas went from warm pleasant spring to WINTER. Snow, ice, the whole tamale. Again. It was so hard to get motivated to cook new recipes when all I wanted was familiar comfort.

Then, when a warm, rainy spring day finally returned, I still reached for a familiar favorite: Summer Vegetable Ravioli Salad. I wanted to enjoy the lighter flavors that come with warmer weather but wasn’t willing to stretch far from my comfy regime.

I had just finished the recipe, but a TORNADO WARNING popped up unexpectedly.

If you’re not familiar, a tornado warning means go to your basement now because there’s literally a tornado swirling around in the sky and heading your direction. In this situation, if we have time, I head to my parent’s basement, about a mile away, because our current house is built on a slab foundation.

(If we don’t have time, two different neighbors with basements in our cul-de-sac have offered to shelter us. Or, we could get into an interior closet. We have lots of options.)

Anyway, to recap, I had just finished cooking a favorite recipe on a rainy spring day when I got word that a tornado had been spotted one town away and was heading my direction.

I grabbed the diaper bag, threw on shoes, and headed to the car while my husband strapped our son into his car seat. But then I had an idea. Why not bring dinner? I had made more than enough to share, and it was just sitting there completely ready in the pot getting cold.

So I hopped back inside toward the kitchen, but my feet were now wet. As soon as I touched the kitchen tile, whoop!

I fell.

Now, I’m lying on the floor. My first thought: oooouuuccch, I think I sprained my ankle. My second thought: thank God nobody saw me do that. My third thought: I am so glad I wasn’t holding dinner while I fell, because I’m still looking forward to eating that!

I grab dinner and hobble out the door as fast as I could (because remember, TORNADO!).

But, yeah, I totally sprained my ankle. A couple of days of ice followed by a doctor’s appointment, x-rays and the following instructions: rest, wear this little brace, and “no sports.”

So, aside from one memorable meal, the dinner rut continued.

THIS BOOK SAVED ME FROM MY DINNER RUT! (Affiliate link)

I had requested it at my local library weeks ago, and while I was laid up with hurt ankle and hurt pride. It was so inspiring! As soon as I was feeling up to going on a grocery run, I wrote out a meal plan, including three new-to-us recipes, and went shopping! 

And this recipe, Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash and Smoked Paprika, is an instant hit with my family. It’s going into my permanent rotation!

It reminded me of another favorite recipe of mine: Roasted Butternut Squash and Bacon Pasta from CookingLight. But, as much as I LOVE that recipe, I never have enough time to make it on a week night. Believe me, I’ve tried!

Ingredients

  • 3 c chopped butternut squash (use frozen to save time!)
  • 1/2 onion, chopped (again, use frozen to save time, if you want!)
  • 2 tsp dried thyme (or leaves from 4 or 5 fresh thyme springs)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 lb any pasta
  • 1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
  • fresh ricotta for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. in a baking dish lined with foil, toss together squash, onions, thyme, olive oil, salt and pepper, and paprika. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until the squash is tender and browning around the edges.
  3. While the squash is in the oven, prepare the pasta per package directions, reserving 1/4 c of pasta water before draining.
  4. Return the drained pasta to the pot and toss with the squash.
  5. Add the Parmesan with half of the reserved pasta water to thin and evenly distribute the cheese. (Note: I have to admit, I was a doubter on this step. A sauce made with starchy water and cheese? Noooope. BUT, I stuck with it, and it turns out just fine in the end!!)
  6. Serve immediately, topped with ricotta and more Parmesan.



Popcorn Trio

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Introducing the popcorn trio: Dark Chocolate; Parmesan and Olive Oil; and Smoked Paprika, Rosemary, and Olive Oil.  Air popped popcorn with a light sweet or savory coating is a snack that will let your junk food craving be satisfied without excess calories, fat, and sodium. It’s as fun to make as it is to eat!

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This post is the third in a series about a six course dinner served at the Iron Clad in Wamego, KS.

Click here to read the Non-Baker contribution to this series.

When planning this event, I immediately knew that I wanted to make a salad that incorporates acorn squash and make Fancy Weeknight Rigatoni. I was stuck on a third dish.

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I wanted my final course contribution to be low in calories after heavy pasta. More than that, I wanted this dish to be something fun to make and eat.
I went to a local restaurant recently, Bourbon and Baker, and was thrilled to find truffled popcorn on the menu! Popcorn is one of my all time favorite foods! Another fun way to have a taste of Christmas in August, a savory and sweet popcorn trio! Everyone can find a popcorn that they enjoy!

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Salted Dark Chocolate Popcorn

I always forget that chocolate is messy! I was finding chocolate everywhere after making it, including on the baby, oops. The good thing is that I made every mistake, so you don’t have to.

An air popper is the easiest way to control fat and sodium intake with this snack, but pan popped or microwave popped popcorn will work.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c unpopped popcorn (or 1 microwavable bag)
  • 1 standard candy bar of dark chocolate (or less, I had more than enough)
  • 2 gallon ziplock storage bags
  • Salt to taste

Instructions:

  1. Pop your popcorn.
  2. Put the popcorn into one or two storage bags depending on how much there is after it pops. You want each bag to be half full or less.
  3. Put your chocolate into a microwave safe bowl microwave on high for 30 second increments until the chocolate is just about melted, then stir until completely melted. Chocolate burns easily, and burned chocolate is just sad, so make sure to keep an eye on it.
  4. Turn on your favorite dancing music. Pour the chocolate in the bags and shake until distributed evenly. (A workout and a fun snack rolled into one!)
  5. Place bags of popcorn in the freezer until the chocolate hardens. It should be fine after 10 minutes or so. (This was the important step that I unfortunately wasn’t warned of.)
  6. Pour into a bowl and enjoy with friends!

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Parmesan an Olive Oil

The second in the trio. Finely grated parmesan would probably work better than what I used, but they’re equally tasty!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c unpopped popcorn
  • olive oil spray
  • 1/4 c fresh parmesan

Instructions:

  1. Pop your popcorn!
  2. Put popcorn into a gallon ziplock bag. Spray popcorn lightly with olive oil.
  3. Sprinkle with desired amount of cheese and enjoy!

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Smoked Paprika, Rosemary, and Olive Oil Popcorn 

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c unpopped popcorn
  • olive oil spray
  • 1-2 tsp smoked paprica
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • Salt to taste

Instructions:

  1. Pop your popcorn!
  2. Put popcorn into a gallon ziplock bag. Spray popcorn lightly with olive oil.
  3. Sprinkle with spices and shake bag until dispersed. Test and adjust to taste.

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Summer Vegetable Ravioli Salad

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A time saving weeknight dinner to save for the upcoming back to school nights! The simplest of recipes: frozen ravioli, steamed fresh summer vegetables, bottled pesto, and parmesan cheese. So yummy, nobody will believe that it only took minutes! Leftovers make great cold lunches too!

A time saving weeknight dinner to save for the upcoming back to school nights! The simplest of recipes: frozen ravioli, steamed fresh summer vegetables, bottled pesto, and parmesan cheese. So yummy, nobody will believe that it only took minutes! Leftovers make great cold lunches too!

 

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I have alluded to the fact that I often avoid the traditional grocery store when it comes to buying food, especially produce.  I did my time working at a grocery store after college, and as someone who has worked the back end of a produce department, I’m really not impressed.

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I started using a national produce co-op called Bountiful Baskets about five months ago.  The co-op is saving us money while encouraging us to eat more produce.  It is not local, but at least it is generally fresher and better quality than my local grocery store produce. My goal is to finish the co-op produce within the week to ensure that we’re getting enough fruits and vegetables in our diet. The co-op basket is often the inspiration for recipes that I come up with that week.

I’m not getting money for representing the co-op or anything. I just think their service is good and worth mentioning.  (Note to local readers: they normally deliver to Manhattan, but the local coordinators took a break for the summer, so I had to pick it up in Junction City the last couple of months.)

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The other night I just tossed a few of our co-op vegetables into the steamer basket and pulled some cheese ravioli out of the freezer. The entire dish only took about 3 minutes plus the amount of time it takes to boil water.  Way easy.

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So simple! So pretty!

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Sooooooo yummy!

Ingredients

  • 3 c summer vegetables, chopped. I used yellow squash, bok choy, and broccoli, but sweet potato, cauliflower, peppers, kale, spinach or other types of squash would also be yummy.
  • One bag of frozen cheese ravioli
  • 1/2 c Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp pesto
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Put a large pot of water on the stove on high and bring to a boil for the ravioli.
  2. Chop the vegetables.  Add an inch of water to the bottom of a medium pan with a steamer basket. Add vegetables to basket and bring to boil. Steam until desired texture is achieved.
  3. Add ravioli to boiling water and cook per package instructions or until all the ravioli begins to float.
  4. Drain ravioli and return to pan. Add steamed vegetables, cheese, pesto to pan and gently stir to combine. Salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve immediately. Serves 4

Optional tip: spoon leftovers into small containers to use as lunches throughout the week! Leftover ravioli salad is great cold too!

Have you ever tried a meat or produce co-op before?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!  The comments are open!