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Chicken Parm Paninis - total time 45 minutes

If you live in Ohio, you have probably heard of Melt Bar & Grilled.  Even if you don't live in Ohio, you may have heard about these huge gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches on shows like Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.  The first one opened in Columbus last winter (original is based in Cleveland) and I had a Parma, Italy which is chicken parmesan between two slices of Texas toast with a side of fries.  While it was really, really good... I kind of feel like I might have a heart attack afterward!  So I have been wanting to make a healthier version ever since.

So when Food Network teamed up with Sargento to do the Chopped at Home challenge, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to recreate this sandwich.  I buy a lot of local cheeses, but I also love Sargento and their artisanal cheese wedges.  I also like their commercials about how they are "real cheese people"... that cheese slices shouldn't come wrapped in plastic and I couldn't agree more!

Shredded cheese for a grilled cheese sandwich can get a little messy, but it's the best way to get all of those Italian flavors without tons and tons of cheese.  Some other big differences between my sandwich and Melt's is that the chicken just has a light breading instead of being fried and the sauce is for dipping (kind of like tomato soup) because I hate, hate, hate soggy bread (can't have condiments of any sort actually touching the bread, ew).  With the garlic butter, the bread ends up becoming garlic bread, so this really is a complete Italian meal without the pasta.  Buon Appetito!

Saint Lucia Getaway

saint lucia vacay

 No meal planning post this week, because we just got back from vacationing in Saint Lucia!  ... and now I don't want to cook... haha.  Actually, I have been so busy catching up on things, I haven't had a chance to meal plan yet, so it is great that I had put together several meals in the freezer earlier this month that just needed to be heated in the oven!  I'll post about that soon.  :)

Back to Saint Lucia... chances are you are tired of winter and cold weather.  I'm definitely in that boat with ya!  Odd thing is, we always plan our beach vacations during the summer when it is warm in Columbus...  If you have kids, it makes sense because they are out of school, but they are out for Spring Break too.  So my husband and I are convinced that beach vacations are now mandatory every February to get away from the cold and break our cabin fever!  

Maybe it is time for you to go on a little vacay of your own!

We stayed at Sandals Grand Saint Lucian, which, as you probably know, is an all-inclusive couples-only resort.  The photo at the top of the post is of the resort after we hiked up a little mountain.  That's the Atlantic Ocean to the left and Caribbean Sea to the right.  After looking at several all-inclusives throughout the Caribbean, Sandals has the most included and is always running sales so you can get some good deals.  We have stayed at three Sandals resorts now and have loved all three!

saint lucia vacay
saint lucia vacay
saint lucia vacay saint lucia vacay
Saint Lucia is about 85 degrees year round.  The southern part of the island is mostly rainforest and the northern part is much drier (aka sunnier).  Rainy season is also hurricane season which can start in May and last through October, so the "tourism season" is November to April. The international airport is on the southeast side of the island and most of the resorts are on the northwest side, making for an interesting ride across the 27 mile long island.  The British and French fought hard over this little island 14 times, so there are influences of both cultures like driving on the left side of the road and their secondary language is a version of French.

Tourism is Saint Lucia's main source of income followed by bananas (tons of plantations), cocoa, and rum.  Their most famous landmark are the Pitons, two inactive volcanoes at the southeast end of the island.  We hiked up one of them (my legs are still tired) and at 3000 feet above sea level you can see for miles.

saint lucia vacay saint lucia vacay
saint lucia vacay saint lucia vacaysaint lucia vacay sain lucia vacay
Since we have been inside most of this winter, we wanted to break our cabin fever and did as many excursions and water sports as possible!  We went horseback riding on the beach and in the ocean, which ended up being a little scary because my horse was a little out of control in the water (both the horse and I had a little freak out moment).  And then Sandals offers a number of included water sports including snorkeling, paddleboarding, kayaking, wind surfing, hobby cats, and water skiing all on the calm Caribbean Sea side.  You can also get certified to scuba while you're at the resort!

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Of course the food is included with Sandals and you typically have three courses.  Most of the serving sizes are on the small side (afterall, you're pretty much living in your swimsuit the whole time you're there), which gives you opportunity to try new foods.  All Sandals resorts have have a Caribbean themed restaurant so you can try their take on local foods.  Also included is usually an Italian place, French, and seafood along with a quick lunch place (like pizza) and a breakfast/dessert place that you can stop at any time to get a latte and a sweet bite.

sandals grande saint lucian sandals grande saint lucian sandals grande saint lucian sandals grande saint lucian sandals grande saint lucian sandals grande saint luciansandals grande saint lucian sandals grande saint lucian sandals grande saint lucian sandals grande saint lucian
We had so much fun in Saint Lucia that I just had to share some pictures!  It was a great break from winter, which let us stretch our legs and remember what it feels like to be outside and warm again.  I'll leave you with some sunset photos... it was so beautiful every night!

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saint lucia vacay
saint lucia vacay

Try the World Review

I don't know if Try the World has been blowing up your Facebook newsfeed with their sponsored posts, but they sure have been on mine!  The posts keep featuring Paris, which brings back lovely memories of buttery croissants and decadent french cooking.  So after reading some reviews, I decided to give in and try a three box package which came with a free sampler box too!

It took a couple weeks to get the first box and the free sampler box came within a few days of the Paris box... so back-to-back surprises.  :)  The box is in my favorite color... but it is what's inside that is important.  The sampler box came with a thank you note and a sampling of several future cuisines we'll get to try including French, Belgian, Japanese, and English.

#trytheworld #trytheworld

The second box was the Paris box which had a card with descriptions of the contents, a little book about Paris (including some music, movies, and poetry to really get you in the French mindset), and several more items than the sampler box.  It included caramels, dark chocolate, whole grain mustard, fruit jellies, fig jam, cookies, and this thing called chestnut spread.  Oh man, this chestnut spread was delicious!  Coincidentally, we had some croissants from Pistacia Vera, so I put some of the chestnut spread on the croissant (with my homemade espresso) and it was just like being in Paris!  It reminded me of the almond pastry filling and a little bit of Nutella without the cocoa.  Mmm!  I remembered seeing horse chestnut trees (which look like buckeye trees) all over Paris, so I can totally see how this is a French favorite.  :)

#trytheworld #trytheworld
chestnut spread

We have to wait two months for the next box, which is probably either Italy, Turkey, or Japan based on the previews and reviews I've read.  At $35 a box which includes the shipping, it's a little expensive, but so far, definitely worth it!  :)

(This is not a sponsored post.  All opinions are both honest and my own.)

Weekly Menu

Hope you have an extended weekend with President's Day tomorrow!  I know I am taking the day off (as well as the rest of the week).  Depending on how frigid it is tomorrow, may go to the Columbus Zoo because it is free admission (half price admission the rest of February in celebration of 2014 attendance records).

This weekend we celebrated both my birthday and Valentine's Day (of course), but the real celebration comes later this week with a tropical getaway!  :)  We made delicious Ohio lamb kabobs, which made the whole house smell like grilling season.  Then finishing off my birthday with a birthday cake cookie from the Cravory!  When a baker says these are the best cookies ever, you should probably order a box!  ;)

We kept the whole weekend kind of chill (because it was way below freezing outside) and stayed in for Valentine's dinner with crab cakes and steamed broccoli... nothing like a $9 meal for two on Valentine's!  Even a reservation at White Castle would have cost more!

lamb kabobs birthday cake cravory cookie
kroger roses valentines lunch
 snoop dog
Isn't the Snoopster so cute?!?  He was being good sitting in the back of the Jeep on his way to grandma and grandpa's house where he is getting spoiled all week long.

So this week's menu is short because of vacation, so you can also check out some other meal plans here...

spaghetti and meatballs
chicken and potato waffles
vegetarian crunchwraps

What are you planning on making this week?

Valentine's Day Goodies

Valentine's Day is quickly approaching (this Saturday!).  If you're making sweets for your sweetie, bringing something into the office, or sending treats to school with your kids... here are a couple recipes that everyone will LOVE!  ;)

 Rose Cupcakes for your sweetheart

Peppermint Patty Brownies - mint and chocolate your thing? add a little pink to the mint filling and a few sprinkles to these fudgy brownies coated in dark chocolate
Rose Cupcakes - this take a bouquet of cupcakes to the next level!  not only is it easy to make this rose design, but they are actually flavored with rose extract.  you'll get a lot of surprised looks and then requests for the recipe  :)
Red Velvet Cookies - get your chocolate fix with these with this classic cookie
Cake Batter Cookies - add in some red and pink sprinkles and you have a melt in your mouth, festive cookie!

Weekly Menu (#100!)

This is my 100th meal plan post!  I started this blog to keep track of recipes I was trying and hold myself accountable for meal planning.  It's been about three years, 100 meal plans, and 400 posts... while that doesn't exactly equal a meal plan per week, it's pretty darn good!  :)

Before we get to this week's plan... I wanted to share some photos from this weekend.  I've been doing some reading on the history of Columbus lately.  It's so interesting!  I can't believe how much history happened here and the things that started here before anywhere else in the country... all in the little city I grew up in (and I used to think there was nothing to do in Columbus).  So this weekend we went exploring some of those areas.

Franklinton was actually the first settlement in central Ohio.  Because it was flood prone, the smaller settlement of Columbus quickly surpassed Franklinton.  There are still several older buildings in Franklinton and the current rehabilitation efforts are trying to keep the history of the original central Ohio town.  German Village also has so much history where the poorer German folk put down roots with shotgun houses and small markets.  Back in the 1980s there was an effort to preserve and restore this rundown neighborhood to what we see and love today.

german village columbus ohio german village columbus ohio 
franklinton ohio franklinton ohio
franklinton ohio
franklinton ohio columbus ohio
You may notice a lot of train tracks going through the downtown area.  That is because Columbus was the perfect stop on the way out west with the National Road, some of the first rail tracks going right through, and one of the first commercial airports.  As people traveled west, many ended up liking Columbus and staying here!  At one time, Union Station was one of the busiest train stations with all kinds of cargo and passenger trains passing through.  Union Station had a beautiful arched arcade and the main arch is now located across from Nationwide Arena (the only part that was saved from overnight demolition) and was the inspiration behind the arched facades on restaurants including Hyde Park in the Short North.

LeVeque Tower (formerly know as AIU Citadel) was Columbus' first skyscraper and at the time was the second tallest in the country... the tallest... the Empire State building! 

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elevator columbus ohio nationwide arena district
Elevator brewing may have only been around since 1999, but the location has been used as a brewery for over a century.  During Prohibition, it was used as a billiards hall, which you can tell from the mosaic tiles on the front of the restaurant.

Okay... I could go on forever about some neat facts and history about Columbus... but I'll stop here for now.  So on to the 100th meal plan!  Trying to make this one a little lighter than usual because we have a beach vacay quickly approaching.  It's bad enough I'm as pale as a ghost.  I don't need to add quite as much comfort food right before being in a swimsuit for several days!  :)  Can't wait... counting down the days!

lamb kabobs and salad
veggie stuffed peppers
asian meatballs and rice

So, what are you making this week?


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