Spruce up ye ol’ Grilled Cheese

Who doesn’t love grilled cheese? It’s almost it’s own food group among kids of our generation. The best grilled cheeses have a buttery, crispy (but not too crunchy or hard!) toast, and warm, melty cheese.

As an adult I still loved grilled cheeses, but after awhile I felt I needed to make it more ‘grown up’. So I started adding ham. Grilled Ham and Cheese. Those are good too.

But today I was remembering a particular grilled cheese I made after I had A. We were living at my parents’, kind of renting their basement, and prior to this I had never really made much at our own home. My skills were limited at best – partly due to budget, partly due to having a TEENY (carpeted) kitchen, and partly due to lack of skill and practice. But at my parents’… well they had a huge kitchen full of ingredients at my disposal!

So one day for lunch, I made myself this amazing sandwich… Grilled ham, cheese, and pear. Yes, PEAR. I toasted the bread, buttered the outside of the bread, spread the inside lightly with cream cheese, sliced the pear thinly, and placed it on the cheesy bread. Then I added a slice or two of cheese and a few slices of ham, and grilled it up in a frying pan until the cheese was melty, the ham was warm, and the bread was golden. DELICIOUS!

Last night the hubs asked me to make him a ham and cheese… just on regular bread, using leftover ham steak slices, with slices of provolone… put in the microwave until the cheese was melted. Not bad, but it reminded me of the one I had made so long ago at my parents’.

So today for lunch, I made a grilled ham, cheese, and APPLE. (Sadly I had no pears.) Because a crunchy piece of sweet fruit just adds a little something special to the world of grilled cheeses!

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One side was a teensy bit overcooked (but still good!)

Here’s a step-by-step guide to making this delicious sandwich:
1. Toast 2 pieces of whole wheat bread just until firm, but not burnt.
2. Meanwhile, slice an apple thinly – Cut vertically just past the core, and cut that half into thin, about 1/4-inch slices. (The slices should still look like a circle.)
3. Butter said pieces of bread immediately after removing from toaster – just on one side. Place butter-side-down on a paper plate.
4. Heat a small skillet over medium heat.
5. Place a piece of provolone cheese on each piece of bread.
6. Place a slice of leftover ham steak (or a few slices of deli ham) on one piece of bread.
7. Place the slices of apple on the other piece of bread.
8. Put the two slices together and place in the skillet. VERY CAREFULLY and WITHOUT WALKING AWAY!, place the paper plate over the skillet to trap the heat and melt the cheese. Let cook for 1-2 minutes on this side. ****WARNING!!! If you have a gas oven I do not recommend this as it is a FIRE HAZARD! I have an electric oven and watch very closely the minute or two the plate is atop the skillet. Also, if you have a skillet with a lid, there’s no need for the plate in the first place.****
9. Remove plate and flip sandwich to the other side, leaving the skillet uncovered. Cook for another minute or two.
10. Remove from pan, slice, and serve!

It’s especially good with water, or herbal tea! (I like Sweet Apple Chamomile, Lemon Zinger, or Cherry Blossom green tea.)

Have you made a unique grilled cheese?? Share in the comments! I love new ideas. 🙂

Nana’s Guilt-Free Chicken Salad

This is Meal #2 in this week’s meal plan using America’s favorite: chicken breast. (Well, maybe it’s not your favorite, because you’re tired of it. Hopefully after this week I’ll change your mind!)

If you’re blessed to have an Oma, Nana, Grammy, or Grandma like mine, going to her house always meant a special treat that you could only get from her.  (No matter that your mom would make it at home. It was just never the same.) At my Nana’s when I was young, it was always cinnamon toast and hot chocolate. She must have had some secret recipe for her cinnamon/sugar recipe, because I could never quite replicate how it tasted. And I’m pretty sure her hot chocolate was microwaved milk with store- bought packets. But it was always SO good.
When I got a little older, less picky, and more adventurous, it became this chicken salad. I had never had anything like it. Creamy, crunchy, a little sweet, on toasted bread; it was just the perfect combination of, well, everything.

After I got married, she lovingly shared the recipe with me. I made it a few times exactly to the recipe, but then I started realizing that I had a lot of leftover chicken from dinners, and it was silly to buy canned chicken when I could easily chop up the leftovers instead. Then I started cooking healthier. I have never been a mayonnaise fan, but I’ve conceded that it’s a ‘necessary evil’  – until I learned that Greek yogurt pretty much does the exact same job mayonnaise does, but in a much healthier way.

What makes this recipe special? The apples, grapes, and pecans. I love the apples and pecans for extra crunch – normally celery serves this purpose alone, but it again is one of those things I use semi-reluctantly and that I can’t eat by itself. The grapes add a surprising sweetness. Everything together is just the perfect combination for lunch or dinner. So, here is the recipe for Nana’s chicken salad – adjusted to be a little healthier and a little thriftier!

What We’re Re-Purposing:
Leftovers from Baked Chicken: about 2 cups, chopped

Additional Ingredients:
1 Apple of your favorite variety, finely chopped
1 cup Seedless Red Grapes, cut in half (or in quarters if you prefer)
3/4 cup Chopped (or Diced) Pecans
1 cup Celery, chopped (about one stalk, halved and/or sliced)
1 tsp. Celery Salt
3/4 – 1 cup Greek Yogurt
1/4 cup Fat-Free or Low-Fat Mayonnaise
*Optional: We are using our seasoned baked chicken for this Second Meal, so it will add extra flavor. If your chicken salad tastes bland, add salt, paprika, or pepper to taste.
*You can also add a teaspoon or two of chia seeds for a hidden boost of nutrition!

There is really no secret to preparing this; the secret is in the ingredients. Combine all of them, and toss to coat. I like to use a fork, because it breaks up the chicken a little and makes it easier to eat. Then simply adjust to taste. Instead of making it in a mixing bowl, I make it directly in a tupperware container for easy storage and less dishes. 😉 Many of these ingredients we keep in our house anyway, so it’s easy to add more of anything as you like. Here’s what mine looks like, completed:

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Another reason this is one if my favorites is because of its versatility: You can eat it straight up with a fork.
You can eat it on toasted bread, like my Nana used to make:

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On Toasted Whole Wheat Bread – also great on Whole Grain!

You can serve it on a tortilla, as a wrap:

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It’s also great as a lettuce wrap if you want to skip the carbs altogether.

For our meal plan purposes, serve this for dinner with a side of cooked baby carrots. This same night, plan to make your overnight stock using more of the celery from this recipe. When you cook your carrots, simmer them in water with a little salt until they reach a desired done-ness. But DON’T DRAIN THAT WATER! I’ve always been conflicted about pouring that water down the drain; with carrots and spinach, cooking in water is healthy, but many of the nutrients leach out into that cooking water, and some of the nutrients go down the drain with it. So this time, drain your water directly into the crock pot, and that will give us a little extra boost for our overnight stock!

Don't throw away this nutrient-rich cooking water. Drain into crock pot for our overnight stock instead.

Don’t throw away this nutrient-rich cooking water. Drain into crock pot for our overnight stock instead.

To save time, I had the crock pot ready to go while I was preparing the chicken salad. While I had the cutting board out, I prepped some of the veggies for the stock and tossed them into the crock pot. Most of them are root veggies and won’t be negatively effected if they sit for an hour while you eat dinner. The stock can cook for 10+ hours. Mine cooked for about 12 this last time and turned out great. I’ll post the full details tomorrow!

Hope you’re enjoying the meal plan so far, and especially this chicken salad, which has such a special place in my heart. ❤

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