Enhancing Homemade Meals With A Little Help From Restaurants

Restaurants don’t just come in handy when you want to order a full meal. Often, you can purchase small items not listed on the menu to improve a dinner you are cooking yourself. A couple instances of utilizing a restaurant for an “assist” occurred this past week in Spokane, thus serving as my inspiration for this blog post. Let me give you five examples…

Ice from Sonic – It is no secret, Sonic is as famous for its ice as it is for its Sonic Blasts. A brand new Sonic just opened up a couple minutes from my parents’ house and my brother and Sid decided to stop by last week to pick up some lunch. Besides the grilled cheese sandwiches and mozzarella sticks they brought home, they also carried in a bag of Sonic ice. For just $0.99, they were given a bag filled with the famous “nugget” ice. We kept it out on our back porch and scooped our cups in it all week long when we went to fix a drink. My mom even commented that it made her soda taste better!

Taco Salad Shells from Taco Bell – When my mom would host her Bunco group, she would make homemade taco salad…well, almost homemade. Although she labored on the salad itself, she went to a famous fast food restaurant for the containers to serve it in. For $0.10 each, you can purchase taco shell bowls at Taco Bell. They are great for entertaining as you normally don’t see taco shell bowls outside of restaurants.

Fortune Cookies from any Asian Restaurants – Sure you can buy a box of fortune cookies at the grocery store but if you want the homemade or obscure variety, just walk inside any Asian restaurant and ask the hostess. Some places will charge a quarter per cookie while other places will happily give you a handful for free. Trust me, I have a lot of experience with this. Fortune cookies can provide the perfect surprise ending to any homemade Chinese feast.

You can walk inside any Asian restaurant and request fortune cookies.

Alfredo Sauce from Papa Murphy’s – Growing up, I always enjoyed it when my mom would let us kids make homemade pizza for dinner. She would set all the ingredients out on the table and let us have at it. While she provided the red pizza sauce herself, she called upon Papa Murphy’s to provide the white sauce. A couple hours before we prepared our pies, she would go inside the store and get several plastic condiment cups, usually $.50 each, of the delicious alfredo sauce served by my favorite pizza chain. Being able to choose an ingredient from an actual pizza place was always fun.

Salad Dressing from Tomato Street – There is a fabulous Italian restaurant in Spokane called Tomato Street. Besides its to-die-for pastas and savory garlic bread, it also has a reputation for an amazing creamy garlic salad dressing. For our Christmas dinner, my mom topped the salad with dressing she went and purchased at the busy restaurant the day before. No store bought dressing could ever compete with what Tomato Street serves and my mom took full advantage of it.


Do you use any side items from restaurants to enhance your homemade meals? If so, let me know. You can get pretty creative. Don’t Blink.

A Thursday Rundown in Your Future

Thank you for making the choice to read another Thursday Rundown blog post. Here we go with this evening’s five topics…

Appointed as a Judge – This Sunday I will do something I have always dreamed of doing by judging a macaroni and cheese contest. Last night I was selected to serve on the panel of judges for the Surf Dreams Foundation Mac-N-Cheese Cook Off. How did I manage to pull this off? The event’s Facebook page, which I had been stalking for three weeks with anticipation for Sunday, opened up a few judging spots to its social media users. In a post, the page presented this: Please tell us why you would be a great judge. Have some fun and be creative. I took the last sentence seriously and it paid off. I will tell you all about my mac and cheese judging experience in Monday’s blog post.

Besides writing a lengthy plea on why I would make a good judge, I also created this "cheesy" graphic to drive the point home.

Besides writing a lengthy plea on why I would make a good judge, I also created this “cheesy” graphic to drive the point home.

From the Archives – Exactly two years ago today, I wrote my first of two blog posts focused on fortune cookies. Doing all I could to investigate one of my curiosities, I eventually found myself traveling all around Missoula to different Chinese restaurants pleading for fortune cookies. Although mildly embarrassing, I learned a lot about the contents of the popular ethnic dessert. My fortune cookie investigation was so memorable and so popular that the second post I did on the subject made my Top Ten Blog Posts of 2014.

In 2014, I had a lot of fun with fortune cookies.

In 2014, I had a lot of fun with fortune cookies.

Pop-Tart Cheesecake Truffles – Just a couple days after I wrote about some of the best treats I ate growing up, I can honestly say I wish this idea was around 20 years ago so it could have made the list. My love for Pop-Tarts is well-documented but the Pop-Tart cheesecake truffle recipe takes it to the next level. In this video, several Pop-Tarts are put under the rolling pin and crushed to pieces. The Pop-Tart crumbles are then mixed with cream cheese. Next, this concoction is rolled into balls and dipped in chocolate. Oh my, doesn’t that sound wonderful? My only suggestion would be to crush up Cap’n Crunch or Cinnamon Toast Crunch and coat the outside with sugary cereal. Talk about an unbelievable breakfast combination.

This is what a Pop-Tart cheesecake truffle looks like.

This is what a Pop-Tart cheesecake truffle looks like.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – It was another “Sunday at the Movies” for Sidney and I this past weekend. We went and saw the war/comedy film “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.” I am not a Tina Fey fan by any stretch of the imagination but I actually enjoyed the film. The movie tells the story of a bored news copywriter who volunteers to work as a reporter in Afghanistan. I have an interest in both the media and war conflicts so “WTF” was right down my alley. I found it very interesting how the film portrayed Afghanistan, both from a visual and cultural standpoint. The authenticity I got from it reminded me of how I felt about the way Iran was portrayed in “Argo.” As is usually the case, Sidney and I didn’t come away with the same review. She thought the movie was boring.

I saw "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" on Sunday.

I saw “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” on Sunday.

Wedding Update #23 – Lots of fun things are happening! My dad mailed us back all the invites he addressed and they look beautiful. Additionally, Sidney, her mom, and I chose the type of stamp we will use (I never knew the Postal Service offered so many options!). With so much fun getting the invitations ready to go, Sidney was a little disappointed when her mom gently reminded her that we still have several weeks to go before we actually mail them out.

However, Sidney was feeling anything but disappointed when she was able to bring her wedding dress home this past Saturday! After her final fitting, the ensemble was released into her possession. Adding even more excitement to this loaded wedding update, Sidney and her mom also met with the florist we will use for that big Saturday in June. Just 92 days to go.


As is custom with my Thursday Rundown blog posts, I would like to thank all of you for reading. Have a terrific weekend and enjoy Selection Sunday. Don’t Blink.

My Fortune Cookie Experiment, Part II

After the disappointment I suffered on Monday I knew I didn’t want that bad taste to linger in my mouth. Last week I opened up 24 fortune cookies hoping to find priceless wisdom along with a good laugh or two. Instead I found generic clichés and duplicated messages. At fault in this big bust was me. I decided to take the easy way out and purchase a couple boxes of fortune cookies at Wal-Mart. My attempt at a shortcut laughed right in my face the second after I cracked open all the cookies and looked down at the less than inspiring fortunes. I needed to right my wrong.

Yesterday I visited four different Chinese restaurants and got fortune cookies from each one.

Yesterday I visited four different Chinese restaurants and got fortune cookies from each one.

Yesterday I spent the lunch hour visiting four different Chinese restaurants in Missoula. I swallowed my pride and went inside each one and told the employees that I didn’t want to eat at their establishments but I would sure appreciate it if I could have a few fortune cookies. Despite my embarrassment at my cheapskate question everyone treated me well and granted my request. Two of the restaurants shoved cookies at me free of charge and the other two nicely charged me the measly price of one dollar for the treats.

My loot from visiting the different Chinese restaurants.

My loot from visiting the different Chinese restaurants.

In the end this project cost me $2 for the cookies, some gas money, and a bit of humiliation but it was definitely worth it. The fortunes I received from these restaurants blew the fortunes from the Wal-Mart cookies out of the water. I visited China Garden, Hong Kong Chef, China Buffet, and China Bowl for my sample. The restaurant that provided the best fortune cookies? China Buffet! Individually wrapped with a child in front of a red heart on the wrapper the appearance alone made a great impression. However, the contents inside impressed me even more. The fortunes themselves were fun and exotic but the message also came with lucky numbers and a “Learn Chinese” section. I should also add that China Buffet was one of the two restaurants that gave me the cookies for free.

What it looked like after I opened up all the cookies.

What it looked like after I opened up all the cookies.

Favorite Fortune (from China Bowl):
Make those special talents you have work like a charm – I just really appreciate and understand this fortune. We all have our own talents that we need to utilize. I try my best to further the talents that I have (while also recognizing ones that I don’t) to make my life more enjoyable and profitable.

Time now to reveal each fortune that I cracked open. My favorite fortune from each individual restaurant is reflected in the image introducing that particular business and is also listed first.

China Garden

China Garden - 2100 Stephens Ave.

China Garden – 2100 Stephens Ave.

– Listen Attentively. You will come out ahead.
-Now is a good time to try something new.
-You are both ingenious and methodical.
-Now is a good time to explore.

Hong Kong Chef

Hong Kong Chef - 2009 Brooks St.

Hong Kong Chef – 2009 Brooks St.

-You will have good luck in your personal affairs this month.
-A zesty partner can help you in your efforts to get ahead.
-Your present plans are going to succeed if you stick to them.
-Good things come to those who wait. Be patient.

China Buffet:

China Buffet - 1900 Brooks St.

China Buffet – 1900 Brooks St.

-You will be invited to a small gathering with lots of spicy conversation (Lucky # 19, 45, 7, 11, 10, 2).
-A tub and rub will change your day (Lucky # 15, 16, 20, 18, 33, 49).
-You will be unusually successful in business (Lucky # 23, 34, 14, 45, 55, 29).
-Ancient sites beckon you to hit the road soon (Lucky # 37, 19, 22, 54, 16, 30).

China Bowl:

China Bowl - 3445 American Way

China Bowl – 3445 American Way

-Make those special talents you have work like a charm.
-It is time to help a friend in need.
-Trust your intuition today. You’re right on!
-Your personality can make quite an impression on people.


Okay, I promise you I will never write about fortune cookies again. I just wanted my shot at redemption. The fun and mystery of fortune cookies is still out there…you just have to go someplace other than Wal-Mart to enjoy it. Once again I will leave you with the best fortune ever…Don’t Blink.