Friday, September 2, 2016

Pepperoni Pizza Casserole

I did not have my act together at all last week when I returned to work. I also probably had too many other things going on at the same time, but dinner felt like a disaster during those several days. I cannot stress how much having a meal plan helps me cope during the work week. It's relaxing to know that when I get home, everything is ready to go for me to prepare my family dinner that night.

I made sure to take the time to plan out our meals all this week and it's made such a difference. I'm usually much better about planning and should know better than winging it. I also forget how really simple dishes like this one often go over well. I can't even believe I'm sharing such a simple meal with you, but I know it's one your whole family will enjoy. Because mine sure did!

Anytime you combine pasta with red sauce, it's a hit; but add pizza like toppings and you've got a real show stopper. I also love when I can get enough leftovers out of a meal for lunch the next day. It reheats nicely and tastes just as good as the night before. If you can get your family to eat olives and mushrooms, then by all means add those babies in. Mine, however, will most certainly turn their noses up at the sight.

If you're struggling a bit in the meal plan area, add this to your menu for the upcoming week. I'm positive it's one the whole family will love. It's also budget friendly and super easy to make. Round it out with a side salad and toasted garlic bread, everyone will leave the table feeling stuffed to the gills!

Pepperoni Pizza Casserole

1 lb. cavatappi pasta
24 oz. jar pasta sauce (I like Newman's Own tomato basil)
1/2 lb. cooked, crumbled ground beef
3 oz. pepperoni
2 cups mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut pepperoni slices in half, making sure to leave about 9-10 whole, for topping the casserole. Set the pepperoni aside.

Cook pasta al dente on stove top. Drain pasta and return to pan. Add in pasta sauce, ground beef and cut pepperoni slices. Stir to combine well, and then spoon into an 11x7-inch baking pan. Top with mozzarella cheese and whole pepperoni slices.

Bake in oven for about 20 minutes, just until cheese is melted and pasta is heated through. Remove from oven, let cool for a few minutes before dishing. Serve with your choice of salad and bread.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Low Sugar Baked Oatmeal

Baked oatmeal is one of my favorite things to have for breakfast, especially when the weather gets cooler. I have a favorite recipe I usually make, but it's not as healthy as it could be. It's really good! But probably not the best nutrition wise. I've never been one to exercise, honestly, I can't remember ever and I wasn't all that into sports while growing up. I'm learning as I get older, if I'm going to keep cooking and baking like I love to; something has to give. This summer I've started running, using the Couch to 5k program, and am finding that I really love it. I'm currently on week five of the program and plan to run my first ever 5k in October. For the past few years I've supported my family as they participate in this particular 5k event benefiting our local school system, but now it's my turn to join in and do something for myself. I'm excited to run along side with them!

So with all of that going on, I'm also focusing on my nutrition a little more now. I do strive to feed our family with healthy foods as much as possible, but I know there's always room for improvement. I've got a sweet tooth and trying to curb that is probably my number one focus right now.

As we're heading back into another school year, it's also time to get back to meal prepping more and stocking the freezer with meal components. This can help make my days go so much more smoothly than if I didn't. I made a small batch of these oatmeal cups last week, just in case they didn't turn out like I wanted. They freeze wonderfully and I can quickly thaw a couple in the morning for a quick breakfast.

They baked up just as well as my other recipe did, the texture was spot on and they remove easily from the muffin tins. As I've focused on cutting back on sugar, I'm finding it doesn't take much to satisfy me anymore. You will notice that these are not as sweet, but definitely sweet enough. Especially with your choice of seasonal fruit on top, these peaches in particular are like candy right now. So juicy and sweet, I don't want to take away from that lovely flavor. And they are filling, two for breakfast in the morning plus a little fruit on top, is plenty to keep me satisfied.  Feel free to add your desired toppings into the oatmeal cups before baking, I personally love being able to customize as we eat them. Sprinkled with a few almonds, walnuts or pecans before you eat and you've got yourself one heck of a breakfast bowl!

Low Sugar Baked Oatmeal

1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 tbsp honey or pure maple syrup (adjust according to your taste)
1-1/4 cups old fashioned oats
3/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 cup almond milk or regular milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a muffin tin and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine together applesauce, egg, vanilla and honey or maple syrup. Mix in oats, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Lastly, add in milk and stir well to combine.

Using a large spoon or cookie scoop, distribute batter into wells of muffin tin, filling 3/4 full. Bake in oven for 20 minutes, or until centers are set.

Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes before removing to eat. Enjoy with desired fruit or nut toppings.

*If freezing, let cups cool completely before placing into freezer bags or container. Make sure to label with contents and then store in freezer. When ready to enjoy, let thaw a little if possible before reheating. Microwave or warm in oven.

Makes 6-8 oatmeal cups

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Peach Angel Food Cake Jars

Summer vacation is just about over. I'm enjoying these last couple days off before I head back on Monday. The girls will be following behind and begin school on Thursday. It's been a good summer though, we were able to do some traveling, spent many afternoons in the pool and most of all, just relaxed. Last week I treated them one afternoon with these adorable little jars filled with angel food cake, freshly whipped cream and the sweetest peaches you've ever tasted! They were in heaven for those few minutes it took to inhale.

I mentioned last week how I was up to my eyeballs in peaches and spent much of the week preserving them. I made sure to keep plenty for us to enjoy eating with oatmeal, yogurt and just plain. And of course, for this dessert. Dessert hasn't been occurring often around here lately, and in fact, it's often fruit or maybe a slice of pie. So these jars were a much welcomed treat by the kids.

I often rely on much lighter desserts in the summer, making fresh seasonal fruit the shining star when possible. That's what I love about angel food cake. It's light and so versatile. You can create so many delicious creations, using any fruit you have on hand. And because berries and other fruit are so sweet during these summer months, you won't be needing any additional sweeteners.  If you're feeling ambitious, go ahead and even bake your own cake. But I won't judge if you purchase one from the bakery, in fact I did exactly that for this dessert. It's too hot to be turning on the oven more than absolutely needed!

We loved eating these out of small jam jars, but don't feel you have to use those. Any small bowls or glasses you have in the cupboard will work. If you're needing a dessert to feed a crowd, combine this into a trifle dish or a large glass bowl and I'm sure it will be the star of your meal.

Peach Angel Food Cake Jars

1 angel food cake, homemade or store bought
4-5 medium, ripe peaches, diced
1 pint heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp sugar

In a medium bowl, combine whipping cream and sugar. This is easiest to do using an electric mixer, but a whisk will also do. Whisk on high until cream reaches stiff peaks, about three minutes. Set aside.

Cut cake into large cubes. To assemble trifle: gather either one large bowl or several smaller ones for serving. Layer each one with cake, cream, peaches and repeat layers. End with the diced peaches on top.

Serve immediately.

Friday, August 12, 2016

BLT Cucumber Boats

It's been a busy week or so around here. We spent most of last week in Missouri visiting family and every day this week I've spent much of my time preserving peaches and making pickles. We brought home a box of Missouri peaches and Sunday when we got back into town, I made my way out to a local farm to pick up two more boxes of peaches I had ordered from Michigan. After sharing a little bit with my sister in-laws, I'm guessing I still had a good 70 pounds to put up for winter. I've canned peach slices, made jam, cobbler topping and even salsa. Today I finished up freezing slices and stuck a few mini pies in the freezer. Oh and it's been hot! I'm ready to relax a little bit this weekend and enjoy the much cooler temperatures.

My garden hasn't been as successful this year as I had hoped. We did end up with a decent harvest of lettuce and peas early on, the squirrels got to the strawberries, my broccoli never did produce, same with bell peppers (I have the darnedest time with those!). I'm still hoping I'll get some zucchini to grow since I had to replant. But my tomatoes have done great, especially the cherry. And my garden is currently being taken over by watermelon vines. It's our first year trying this fruit and we're excited to see how it turns out. I spotted three tiny little babies in there, the girls will be thrilled if they end up growing well.

Right now meals are simple, and based largely around what's coming out of the garden or what we're bringing home from the farmers' market. I find myself trying to add tomatoes to just about every single meal. It also happens to be prime BLT season and we tried a little twist on this classic sandwich recently. I mixed up a light bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo topping and stuffed it right into a cucumber that I simply scooped the middle out of. It was simply delicious and a nice lightened way to enjoy this favorite summer meal. You can try substituting a Greek yogurt if you'd like, but I figured if I was already skipping the bread, the mayonnaise wasn't such a big deal.

You really don't need a recipe per say to follow for a dish like this, but for those of you that feel more comfortable following one I've given precise measurements. Feel free to adjust as necessary. Enjoy this light summer meal while you've got tons of fresh produce around!

BLT Cucumber Boats

2 medium cucumbers
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped lettuce
1/4 cup mayonnaise
salt and pepper, to taste

Slice cucumber in half length wise, taking a spoon, scoop out the middle and discard. Set cucumber halves aside.

In a small bowl, mix together cooked and crumbled bacon, tomatoes, lettuce, mayo, salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings if needed, add additional mayonnaise if desired.

Top each cucumber half with bacon mixture. Serve immediately.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Zucchini "Pasta" Salad

We eat a lot of zucchini in our house, especially during the summer. Most of the time it's sliced up, seasoned and grilled with an assortment of other vegetables. And of course, shredded and added into the occasional dessert. It's not a vegetable I've always been fond of, until I was well into my twenties, I had always assumed that squash was something I didn't like even though I'd never tried it.

My new favorite way to enjoy this seasonal veggie, is by making noodles out of it. We don't own any sort of spiralizer like gadget, but my serrated peeler works just fine. It makes the most perfect noodle shape out of many vegetables. Spaghetti squash is always welcomed on my plate, but I've been loving the ease of shredding one zucchini and tossing it with a bit of warm pasta sauce for an effortless and healthy meal. Let that heat up for a few minutes on the stove top and you've got yourself one heck of a meal. I promise you won't miss the real pasta and it's just as delicious! Seriously, just give it a try yet this season.

Taking that same enthusiasm, I decided to give these noodles a try with a salad. Pasta salads are always gracing the menu during summer barbecues, but if you're aiming to eat a bit healthier, lighter and watching those carbs like I am; then they can quickly pile up on the plate. 

In this I used some of our favorite veggies we had on hand, but I love the versatility. You can add just about anything. And I didn't even feel like I was eating a plate full of healthy veggies, it was just as good as any of my other picnic favorites. Even family members I fully expected to pass right along grabbed a small scoop and genuinely said it was good. 

We've still got a good month and a half of summer left, and a ton of fresh, seasonal produce to take advantage of.  Add this simple salad to your menu! You've still got plenty of time.

Zucchini "Pasta" Salad

2 medium zucchini
1 cup chopped broccoli florets
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper, to taste
few basil leaves, chopped

Using a spiralizer or a serrated peeler, shred both zucchini into noodle like shapes. Once you get to the middle of the zucchini, it gets soft so you can just toss them at this point. Toss the noodles into a medium sized bowl, along with the other veggies. 

In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper. Toss with the vegetables. Add in chopped basil leaves. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if needed. Let chill in fridge before serving. Serves 5-6

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Steakhouse Burger

Summer is meant for grilling, we have multiple dinners prepared outside each week. And that means burgers and brats will find their way onto our menu quite often as well. Hamburgers aren't always my most favorite, but especially in the summer they generally sound good.

I prefer the usual toppings on mine: lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, ketchup and mustard. I'm also not much of a cheeseburger fan, I like cheese but just not on my burgers. The meat should be well seasoned and my bun toasted. And well done, not much pink for me, I'm getting better, as the hubby absolutely prefers rare meat. That's the perfect burger in my opinion.

We made these for dinner this past week, as it had been awhile and they represent a good typical burger for me. I think my onion and tomato are hiding under my bun there, but it was good. My big tomatoes have yet to ripen so we grabbed a couple from the farmers' market earlier that day. Oh and that bright colorful salad looking thing on my plate? That's a little creativity and using up of old veggies in the fridge. We enjoyed it as both a salad and a salsa sort of dip with tortilla chips. I love simple summer meals like this one. And that color, I absolutely love all the bright, beautiful colors on our dinner plates this time of year!

Steakhouse Burger

2 pounds ground beef
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
black pepper
Lawry's seasoning salt
Buns, toasted on grill

Preheat grill.

In a large bowl, combine together meat and all the seasonings. I don't usually measure the pepper and salt, just a good sprinkle in of both will work. Form meat into patties, you should get six or so depending on size.

Grill burgers until nicely browned on the first side, about 7-8 minutes. Then flip using a spatula and let cook on the other side until meat has reached desired doneness. If desired, toast buns on grill before serving. Remove burgers and buns from grill, serve warm with favorite toppings.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Buckwheat Pancakes

Breakfast around here hasn't been too exciting this summer. Lots of toast, eggs and smoothies. As much as I love to cook, mom gets tired of preparing a full on meal three times a day plus all of those dishes that go along with it. I've only made muffins once and pancakes maybe a few times. With the weather cooling down just a tad this week, I thought I'd treat the kiddos to pancakes.

They're not your typical hot cake. I like experimenting with new ingredients, and flour being one of them. Unlike some, buckwheat flour is one that can easily be adaptable to most recipes that call for regular flour. It definitely has a unique flavor, offering a bit of a nutty taste to your baked goods. Buckwheat is actually a fruit that is similar to wild rhubarb,so although it's treated as a grain, it's actually gluten free. As far as baking entirely gluten free with it, I'm not familiar with it at all. I do however, love how it amps up the nutritional value in our foods, so for that I will keep a small supply on hand at all times.

When I first started making these for the girls, they were a little unsure of the dark color, which I honestly expected. I like keeping the recipe with half all-purpose flour, mainly to not turn them away. Maybe someday we'll try whole wheat and see what we think. The cinnamon adds a wonderful flavor, they smell like a gingersnap or molasses cookie almost. After the first bite, each girl said they taste just like our "normal" pancakes. Sometimes I'll sprinkle in a few mini chocolate chips while I'm cooking them over the stove top. I prefer mine with a bit of homemade jam smeared over top.

It won't be long and I'll be in back to school mode again, only one more month to be exact. I anticipate filling the freezer with a couple batches of these to help ease back into our morning routine. I know these, along with some fresh fruit will be what my girls need to keep their bellies full until lunch.

Buckwheat Pancakes

1 cup buckwheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
2 eggs
1-1/2 cups milk

In a bowl, whisk together both flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add in oil, eggs and milk and whisk until well combined.

Heat a skillet on the stove over medium heat. Spoon batter onto skillet and let cook until small bubbles form around the edges, flip pancake and let cook until browned. Remove from skillet and repeat with remaining batter.

Serve pancakes warm with maple syrup or jam. Makes 8 big pancakes
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