Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Chicken Penne Casserole

It's a cold, windy and just plain nasty day here in Iowa. Makes me want to curl up on the couch with a plate of this casserole. I made this last week on day where we got about 5 inches of snow, it was the perfect comfort food to warm our bodies!

You'll love this dish, it's filled with tons of hearty Italian flavors. I like it with chicken but ground beef would be good as well. Serve this along side a salad and some garlic bread and you've got a nice homecooked meal that's sure to please everyone!

Chicken Penne Casserole

1 1/2 cups uncooked penne pasta
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup each chopped green and red pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. parsley
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-15 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
3/4 cup chicken broth
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese


Cook pasta according to package instructions. Meanwhile, in a large pan saute the chicken, peppers, garlic and seasonings in oil until chicken is no longer pink. In a food processor, puree tomatoes until no big chunks remain. Add to chicken mixture. Stir in broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until slightly thickened.
Drain pasta, toss with chicken mixture. Spoon half of the mixture into a greased 11x7-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half of mozzarella. Repeat layers. Cover and bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Uncover, bake 10-15 minutes longer or until heated through.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Kids in the Kitchen: Bite-sized Granola Cups

I love having the girls in the kitchen with me and make a point to include them in my baking or cooking as much as possible. I want them to be filled with memories of helping mix up cookie dough, chopping up veggies and even just sitting next to me while I frost cupcakes. I've been working with our oldest daughter who's 12 and letting her cook supper more often. I'm hoping to have her start preparing 1 meal at least every other week. It's such a good skill to have for later in life, it gives them a sort of independence and studies have proven that children will tend to eat healthier when they're given the chance to help prepare what's put in front of them.

I spotted these granola cups over on Mommie Cooks and knew they would be perfect for the girls to help me make. They're just the right size for them and are perfect to serve for breakfast or snack time. Kids will love putting their own yogurt and berries on as well!

Our youngest who will be 2 this coming Sunday, loved helping stir all the ingredients together in the bowl.

Our oldest had the job of scooping the granola into the muffin tin.

All ready to eat! The 4-year old was too busy playing to help with the preparation, but she sure was a good taste-tester! I hope you're encouraged to get your children in the kitchen with you more often. It doesn't have to be anything complicated, just simply letting them sit on the counter with you and have a turn at stirring the batter is enough to make a lasting impression on them! I hope to bring you more Kids in the Kitchen recipes, most likely once or twice a month. Enjoy!

Bite-sized Granola Cups

4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups old fashioned oats (not quick cook)
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup flax seed
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup dried cranberries

In a small sauce pan add butter, honey, molasses, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt. Heat until butter is melted and all ingredients are combined. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
In a large bowl combine oats, wheat germ, flax seed, almonds and cranberries. Pour liquid mixture over dry ingredients and stir until oats are completely coated. Place bowl in fridge for about 15 minutes to let cool a little bit.
When ready to bake, grease a muffin tin and fill each well about 2/3 full with granola. Using your fingers press into the center of each cup and then work you way around the edges to form a bowl. You may need to wet your finger a bit with water to prevent mixture from sticking.
Bake in a preheated oven at 325 for 15 minutes. Let cool completely before removing from tin. When ready to eat, fill bowls with yogurt of your choice and fresh berries. Store extras in an airtight container. Makes 12

Source: Mommie Cooks

Sunday, February 26, 2012

February Book Review: The Money Saving Mom's Budget

The Money Saving Mom's Budget: Slash Your Spending, Pay Down Your Debt, Streamline Your Life, and Save Thousands a Year

I pre-ordered this book way back last November and couldn't wait for it to be released in January. I have been following Crystal's blog for over 2 years now and have learned so much from her. I now understand the art of couponing, how to build a better stockpile for my pantry and she's taught me what freezer cooking is and how it can help save me time and money in the kitchen, and these are just to name a few.

Being an avid follower of Money Saving Mom, I can't say that I learned a whole lot of new information from the book but it was definitely hard to put down. Crystal shares her 7 Rules for Financial Success and covers a variety of topics in her book including: setting goals and breaking them down into bite-sized pieces, clearing out the clutter in both your home and life, setting up a workable budget and of course couponing.  She doesn't sugar coat anything and that's one of the things I like about her. I also enjoyed reading about other reader's stories on how they've adapted some of Crystal's tips and improved their finances or just the quality of their lives.

This is one book I think I'll definitely hang onto for awhile and refer back to it from time to time. I absolutely loved every part of it. While I'm already implementing some of her "rules", there are a few that I'd like to take a stab at. I really like her rule for taking the cash-only challenge, especially when it comes to grocery shopping. I'm pretty good at sticking to my budget but I think if I forced myself to bring the cash with me to the store and not use my debit card, I will really think about my purchases a little more. Of course one of my goals this year is to eliminate more clutter from our house and I really liked Crystal's advice on going through your home from top to bottom twice a year in order to clear out unnecessary items. She also encourages setting up a time budget for yourself. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say this, I spend way too much time on the computer some days! It's so easy to get absorbed in reading blogs, Facebook, Pinterest and what not. One thing I'm working hard on is setting a limit on how much I'm on the computer.

I encourage all of you to read Money Saving Mom's Budget, it's filled with all sorts of good advice that will force you to take a hard look at all areas of your life, not just your finances. You'll also find worksheets at the end of the book to help you develop your own time and finance budget, set goals, list your priorities and even make your own price book for grocery shopping. This truly is an inspiring read!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cheesy Corn and Bacon Dip

I made this dip a few weeks ago for the Super Bowl and it's become a new favorite. I spotted it on Pinterest and couldn't wait to try it out. It's the perfect dip for any sort of gathering, especially for tailgating season. You can't go wrong with lots of cheese, it surely is addicting!

I can't wait to try this again with fresh corn from the cob. Since it's not available during this time of year I used frozen corn. Don't use canned, frozen will taste so much me! It's got just enough heat from the chipotle peppers, you can certainly add more if you like it spicier. That day I had some bacon all made up so I thought why not, let's throw in a few slices. Yum, the bacon was the perfect addition to this dip! Of course the tomatoes and fresh cilantro on top were the perfect finishing touch.

Cheesy Corn and Bacon Dip

3 cups shredded cheese (I used a combo of cheddar and monterey jack)
2 tablespoons chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, diced
4 oz. can of green chiles, undrained
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 cups frozen corn, does not have to be thawed
3 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled
1 small tomato, diced
Handful of cilantro, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a bowl, mix cheese,chipotle peppers, green chiles, mayonnaise, garlic powder, corn and bacon all together.  Pour into a small-medium sized oven safe dish. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.  Top with diced tomatoes and cilantro. Serve warm with tortilla chips.

Adapted from: Gina Marie's Kitchen

Monday, February 20, 2012

Grilled BBQ Chicken and Pineapple Quesadillas

This has got to be one of the best meals I've made in a while. Unfortunately, my picture just doesn't capture how good these really were.....which only means: A) I will have to make them again real soon and show you a better pic or B) You need to make them for yourself!

I love pineapple, especially on pizza! I have no idea why it never occurred to me to add it on my quesadillas. It's really quite brilliant and I must say I love the addition of barbecue sauce. I'm thinking this would make a fantastic pizza as well (making a mental note of that!). There really is no exact recipe to follow, seriously add whatever ingredients to your tortilla shell and it's bound to taste wonderful. It makes for a quick dinner, lunch or even an appetizer. Here's my version, hope you enjoy!

Grilled BBQ Chicken and Pineapple Quesadillas

2 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Sliced pineapple to grill, fresh will taste better but feel free to used canned
Flour tortilla shells, use whatever size you'd like
1 red or green pepper, chopped
2 cups Monterey jack cheese, grated
1 jalapeno, sliced (optional)
Barbecue sauce
Salt and Pepper to taste

Place slices of pineapple on grill and cook over low heat for 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove from grill and set aside.
Sprinkle chicken breasts with a little salt and pepper and any other seasoning you wish such a cumin or a cajun seasoning.  Grill until both sides are done, brushing with some barbecue sauce. Remove onto a plate and slice into thin slices or just simply cut into small chunks.
To assemble take 2 flour tortillas, sprinkle grated cheese on one. Arrange chicken slices evenly over the cheese. Next, add the pineapple, jalapeno and red or green pepper. Sprinkle with cilantro. Drizzle some extra barbecue sauce over the mixture if desired. Then put the other tortilla on top.
Place on warm griddle over medium heat. Let each side brown for a few minutes until cheese is melted and tortillas are warmed.  Cut into wedges and serve with sour cream and salsa. This made about 4 good sized quesadillas.

Adapted from: Pioneer Woman

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Banana Bread Oatmeal

The kids have definitely been on an oatmeal kick lately and no, I'm not talking about those instant packets. I'm one happy momma because it's frugal, fills them up and just plain good for you!

I spotted this version on Pinterest and was excited to try something new. We loved the baked apple oatmeal that I made a while back and usually the girls are content with just some cinnamon and brown sugar in theirs, but I wanted to jazz it up a little. Insert this dish. I have to tell you, my house smelt like banana bread all morning long! It was amazing. What's even better is it tastes just like banana bread, but actually healthy for you.

I saved myself some time in the morning by preparing the oatmeal the night before. That way I can just pull it out of the fridge and pop in the oven while everyone's getting ready. Can't beat that!

Banana Bread Oatmeal
2 medium bananas, mashed
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk
1 1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional, I left this out)

Preheat oven to 350. Mash up bananas well in a medium sized bowl. Add in brown sugar, egg, salt, vanilla, baking powder and soda, cinnamon and nutmeg and whisk all together. Next whisk in milk. Stir in oats and chopped walnuts if desired.
Spray inside of a small baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Pour in oat mixture, cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and return to oven for another 7-8 minutes or until center is solid and edges are golden brown.  Serve warm with milk and enjoy! Makes enough for 4-5 servings.

Adapted from: Budget Bytes

Monday, February 13, 2012

Reese's Krispies

What a crazy weekend it was in our house! It all started on Thursday with our youngest coming down with a fever and not feeling too well. Of course not just one child can be sick, there has to be multiples. Our middle daughter came down with the same thing on Friday so we spent most of the weekend with them not feeling well. Then our faucet handle in the kitchen sink completely broke off Thursday night while rinsing dishes. Luckily my dad was able to spend most of his weekend helping the hubby install a new one. We decided we might as well just put in a new sink while we're at it, only to discover that the previous owners did a crappy job with the current sink and they had a great time trying to get it out. Our countertop was pretty scratched up so of course we had to put in new countertops as well....why not?! By Saturday afternoon I finally had a working sink again, I don't think I've ever been so happy to do dishes haha! Even though it was sort of an inconvenience to be without the kitchen sink for a couple days, I sure do love my new one! I'm also thankful to my parents for spending much of their weekend over here helping and of course my husband!

Isn't it pretty?

Okay, on to these delicious little treats! I made these last week in effort to use up some candy we had stashed in the drawer and thought they would be perfect if you're still searching for an easy treat to make for Valentine's Day. The kids can even help you make these, they're that simple! They sort of reminded me of scotcheroos but without the butterscotch......ooh that gives me an idea for next time!

Reese's Krispies

1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
4 1/4  cups Rice Krispie cereal
12 mini Reese's Peanut Butter cups or 4 regular size
1 handful chocolate chips


In a large saucepan over med heat, melt sugar, corn syrup and peanut butter until smooth and evenly combined. Remove from heat. Quickly add in cereal and stir to combine. Add in chocolate chips and stir again. Wait about 1 minute then add candy, gently folding the mixture together and trying not to smash up the candy.. Place parchment paper onto the counter or line a baking sheet and drop rounded tablespoons onto parchment. I used my medium sized cookie scoop. Let cool and enjoy!

Adapted from: Sweet Basil

Friday, February 10, 2012

Cinnamon Streusel Dessert Pizza

I made this awhile ago when I first discovered our favorite pizza crust and just haven't gotten around to posting. I'm proud to say that we have yet to order in pizza this year, we love making our own homemade pizza every Friday night. It saves us money and it's really so much better tasting!

One of my favorite treats is the dessert pizza from our local pizza restaurant so it was only natural that I try to make my own. This was seriously good stuff! Homemade dough with a cinnamon brown sugar crumble and drizzled with a warm vanilla glaze. Yum-o, what's not to love? I can't wait to make this again!

Cinnamon Streusal Dessert Pizza

Pizza Dough (you can use my favorite recipe or certainly buy refrigerated dough)
1 tablespoon butter, melted

2/3 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
2 tablespoons canola oil

1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Mix streusel ingredients together with fork and set aside. To make pizza, lightly grease a 12-inch pizza pan with nonstick cooking spray. Roll dough out onto pan. Brush with 1 tablespoon melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon. Top pizza with streusel mixture. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes, depending on thickness of your crust.  Let cool for a few minutes. Mix icing ingredients together and drizzle over pizza. If icing is too thick, thin with a little bit of milk. Cut into slices and dig in!

Inspired by: Little Birdie Secrets


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Bites

These were one of the appetizers I made for the Super Bowl last weekend. Everyone always loves bacon wrapped smokies so I was sure they would be good with chicken.  Do you think we can classify these as healthy since I used chicken this time? I know, nice thought though! Seriously, these were delicious! Plus we know that bacon always makes everything taste better....right?

Besides tasting great, they're a great make ahead appetizer. I always like to place mine in the crock pot and keep on warm, that way I can attend to the children or finish up any other tasks at hand. Make sure you book mark these for your next potluck, everyone is sure to go crazy for them!

Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Bites

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken tenders (you can use a whole chicken breast)
1 lb. bacon
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 tablespoon chili powder


Preheat oven to 350. Line a large baking pan with foil to make clean up much easier. Cut chicken tender pieces or breast into small chunks. Then cut bacon strips into thirds. Wrap bacon around chicken chunks and secure with a toothpick. Assemble on baking pan. Combine brown sugar and chili powder in a small bowl and sprinkle over chicken bites. Bake for 30 minutes or until bacon is done. Immediately transfer to a crock pot to keep warm or a serving platter.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Lemon Blossom Cupcakes and January Book Review

At the beginning of the year I set a goal to read at least 1 book each month. I chose The Cupcake Diaries by the sisters of Georgetown Cupcake for my January book. I received this for Christmas and was really excited to get started reading. It took me a little while to find some time to sit down, I read a little bit on one day but then one day the kids were napping really well and I was able to finish the whole thing in just over an hour! It was a really quick read and kept me interested. I loved reading about their childhood memories from growing up and the stories behind their cupcakes.

The book is broken down into seasons and they share some stories from that particular time frame along with recipes that are fitting. I also liked the end of the book where they went through each episode from their show and even had some stories about what went on behind the scenes. Overall, I really enjoyed their story and I'm excited to try out some more of their recipes.

I had a hard time choosing which cupcake I wanted to share with you, but in the end my love for all things lemon won! I admit I don't know if I'm completely sold on the cake but they're pretty darn good! The cupcakes were moist, I'm thinking if I worked with the recipe a little more I could get them a little more light and fluffy. I did make a few adaptations to the buttercream, I mainly cut back on the cream cheese since I'm not much of a cream cheese frosting lover. I shared these with my sister-in-law and she agreed they were good as well. It's a good basic lemon cupcake and makes me even more ready for springtime!

Lemon Blossom Cupcakes

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, room temp
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temp
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1;/4 cups milk, room temp (recipe calls for whole, I only had 1% on hand so that's what I used)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest from 2 lemons

Lemon-Cream Cheese frosting:
1 stick unsalted butter, room temp
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
5 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Zest from 1 lemon
1-2 tablespoons milk, to thin if needed

Preheat oven to 350, line standard cupcake pan with liners. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium sized bowl, set aside. In a large bowl or a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar for 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down sides after each addition. Add vanilla to the milk in a large liquid measuring cup. Add one third of dry ingredients to the creamed mixture, followed by one third of the milk and mix thoroughly. Repeat. Stop to scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Mix just until incorporated. Add in zest and lemon juice and mix at low speed.

Scoop batter into cupcake pan using a standard-size ice cream scoop until the cups are two-thirds full. Bake for 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the frosting:
Combine the butter and cream cheese in a mixer and cream together. Add in vanilla and mix well. Slowly add in confectioner's sugar, mix until well incorporated. Add in zest and milk and whip on high speed until light and airy. Frost cupcakes, I used a Wilton 2A tip for mine. Garnish with a lemon wedge, zest or sprinkles. Enjoy!

Makes about 24 cupcakes

Friday, February 3, 2012

Taco "Cupcakes"

Wouldn't these be a nice addition to your Super Bowl party this weekend? Adults will love them because they're so portable and easy to snack on. They're the perfect size for kids too!

These are a nice twist on your regular tacos. I loved how crunchy they were from the won ton wrappers, you could definitely substitute regular tortilla shells though. Just cut them down in size and shape them in your muffin tin. These would be great to serve at a party or potluck, make up a taco bar with lots of different toppings to choose from. Everyone is sure to love these!

Taco Cupcakes

1 lb. ground beef
1 packet taco seasoning
1/2 cup water
36 won ton wrappers
Shredded cheddar cheese

Assorted toppings:
Green Pepper
Sour Cream

Brown ground beef in a medium sized skillet until no longer pink, drain. Add in taco seasoning and water, let simmer about 5 minutes longer. Coat a muffin tin with non stick cooking spray. Place a won ton wrapper in each muffin well. Divide half of ground beef between the muffin wells, sprinkle on cheddar cheese. Layer another won ton wrapper over the beef mixture. Repeat with ground beef and cheese again. Bake at 350 for about 15-20 minutes or until wrappers have browned and cheese is bubbly. Top with salsa and desired toppings. Makes 18 cupcakes.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Almond Butter

My kids don't really care for peanut butter, I know shocking right? I can't get them to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the middle one won't even go near a Reese's peanut butter cup. Almond butter is a nice alternative and quite healthy too! I spent some time last week scanning the aisles of different stores and health food sections comparing prices, only to find that I would be shelling out $8 for a jar of this stuff. I don't know about you but I figured I could at least try making my own before I spend that much money, after all I wasn't sure if we would even like it.

I ended up purchasing some raw almonds from the bulk section at our local Hy-Vee, almonds are more expensive but I was able to get well over half a pound for around $3.00. I'm pleased to say we all loved the almond butter and I can't wait to experiment with different types of nut butter! I wish I would have toasted the almonds a little to add more flavor; I'll definitely make sure to do that next time. The food processor did all the work for me, it took all of 13 minutes and I was done. I added a little bit of cinnamon and vanilla for extra flavor and we've been enjoying our almond butter on cinnamon raisin bread with some homemade strawberry jam I had in the freezer. Yum! I hope you try this one out!

Almond Butter

2 cups almonds, raw or toasted for about 10-15 minutes
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cinnamon


Place almonds in food processor, cover and pulse until coarse.

Keep pulsing it and scraping down the sides. After about 13-15 minutes it will turn into this wonderful smooth and creamy almond butter!  Add in the vanilla and cinnamon and blend just a little more. Feel free to substitute different spices, or just add a little bit of salt and call it good.

This is what it looks like when you're all done. Just transfer to a storage container and stick in the fridge. It should keep for up to 3 months....if it lasts that long!
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