Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Barbecue Chicken Flatbread

Most days of the week I pack a lunch for not only my children, but myself to take to work. It's generally leftovers, but I also try to prepare one of my own favorite dishes on Sunday to divide out into small containers and last me a couple days or so. There are plenty of dishes that I really enjoy but maybe the family doesn't, so it's a great way for me to get those worked into my menu plans.

Some days though, it might be me just trying to get creative with leftovers so they don't go to waste. That's what this sandwich was. And I'm really not much of a sandwich person, but this one was pretty darn good. I especially love it with the bread and chicken warmed, but when you're at work that's not always possible and it still tastes good.

I love using these divided containers for my kids' lunches and they're even convenient for myself. I don't want to bring a ton of little containers to work, so this is perfect. Since you won't want a soggy sandwich, I recommend keeping all the components separate until you're ready to eat.

Barbecue Chicken Flatbread

1 cup cooked, shredded chicken
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
handful fresh spinach
1 tbsp onion salad toppers
2 slices pepper jack cheese
1 whole wheat flatbread

In a small bowl, mix together shredded chicken and barbecue sauce. Top flatbread with chicken, spinach, onion toppers and cheese. Fold in half and enjoy!

You can also warm the chicken and flatbread in microwave or oven before serving.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Guacamole for the Freezer

Is it really already October? The days are going by all too quickly and it's been a long time since I've sat down to write. I think for us moms, it's sometimes hard to balance everything that needs done in our day and so things get pushed aside. I've been taking time to focus a little more on myself as a person and not just someone's mom or wife; I've discovered a new found love for running and have been devoting much of my spare time to training for my first 5k which is coming up next weekend. As I turned 33 yesterday, it feels good to give myself grace to do something just for myself. No one else. It doesn't mean I don't love being a mom or a wife, but I'm giving myself permission to take care of myself and do things I enjoy. In the end, it's only going to make me that much better of a person.

So now that it's football season, you'll almost always find a game on my TV during the weekend. It's like a ritual with the husband. I don't mind sitting down to watch a little bit, but with the guys, I guess it's like their religion. We're not big snackers during these times, but occasionally you'll find myself mixing up a little something to munch on. Or if we get invited to hang out with friends, it's nice to have a dish on hand to bring along.

Guacamole is a favorite in our family, even my kids love it. Generally I like to mix in big chunks of tomato and maybe even a little green pepper if I have it. The chunkier, the better. Last month when avocados were on sale, I got to wondering if I could freeze guacamole?

In the freezer went a batch, spooned into a freezer bag and flattened for easy storage. A total experiment. Three weeks later and I pulled the batch out to thaw. I was impressed, it wasn't watery, it didn't turn a yucky brown color and it tasted just a fresh as when I first mixed it up. I added in my tomatoes and we served it up. So now when I stock up during an avocado sale, I know I can stash a batch in my freezer for another day.

Guacamole for the Freezer

3 ripe avocados, halved, pitted and peeled
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup diced red onion
1 lime
salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium bowl, mash avocados using a fork. Add in garlic, onion and juice of one lime. Mix in chopped cilantro, use a much or as little as you'd like. Season with salt and pepper and adjust seasonings if needed.

Scoop guacamole into a quart sized freezer bag and seal shut, flattening and getting out as much air as possible. Make sure to label bag and store in freezer for up to 4 weeks. When ready to enjoy, just remove from freezer and let thaw. Snip one edge of the bag and squeeze the contents into a serving bowl. Mix in chopped tomatoes or peppers if desired. Serve with tortilla chips or veggies. Store any extras in fridge.

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

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