Saturday, April 28, 2012

Meal Plan - April 30 - May 6

Where did April go?  I swear it just started yesterday!  Here I am looking at the craziest month of the school year - May - and slightly freaking out at all that is going on with our school year end calendar.  Without a meal plan, I could easily find myself stressing out over what to make for dinner.  A meal plan helps me know what I need to do and when I need to do it. 


You may see some repeat meals from earlier weeks.  That's because I still haven't gotten around to making them yet, but I still have all the ingredients on hand in my freezer and/or pantry.  During these busy days, it's imperative that I have a few back up plans in mind just in case the menu plan doesn't work out.  This past week, we had impromptu grilled cheese and tomato soup.  I had something unexpected come up in the afternoon (my husband bought a "new to me" car and we needed to go pick it up), and the kids were starving when we got home.  Grilled cheese and tomato soup came together in less than 15 minutes and hit the spot on that cold, rainy afternoon.  It may not be the most extravagant or creative meal, but none of us went to bed hungry that night!

So, hopefully this week will go a little more according to plan.  I need to get my act together this week, because next week's schedule is packed.   It's Teacher Appreciation Week/Library Week/Book Fair Week/Spring Fling Night with the Art Show and Musical and a fundraiser for SON Ministries in which I volunteered to make several desserts.  I'm co-chair of the Teacher Appreciation Week, so I need to get everything done this week for that.  One day at a time, one meal at a time, one project at a time. 

I have a stocked fruit and veggie drawer which we'll pull from to round out our meals.  I also picked up 3 ice creams (key lime pie yogurt, double dunker cookie blast, and peanut butter cup moosetracks) for desserts this week.

Here's what I hope we'll be having around our table this week:
MONDAY - Tacos, Rice, Beans
TUESDAY - Turkey Meatballs over Rotini, Italian Salad, Garlic Bread
WEDNESDAY - Chicken Pockets, Veggies and Dip
THURSDAY - Salmon Patties, Mac and Cheese, Broccoli Slaw
FRIDAY - Mediterranean Pork Pitas, Greek Salad
SATURDAY BREAKFAST - Choc Chip Pancakes, Bacon 
SATURDAY DINNER - Invited to a Derby Party for "southern fare"
SUNDAY - Ham/Egg/Cheese Biscuit Sandwiches, Fried Potatoes, Fruit Cups
SUNDAY DINNER - Grilled Chicken, Sweet Potato Souffle, Salad

Egg Casserole

Turkey Sandwiches
Sausage/Spinach/Cheese Roll Ups
Cheese pizza

Trail Mix/Snack Mix
Granola Bars
Fruit/Veggies with Dip
Crackers with peanut butter/cream cheese/cheese

What's on your menu this week?  What's your emergency back up plan?

I'm linking up my menu over at Menu Plan Monday.  Check out some of the other meal plans from bloggers across the country for inspiration.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing

Wednesday was Secretary's Day, so I took a salad plate lunch to the secretaries at my girls' school.  In my haste to get the lunch to school after the building OAA testing time and before lunch started, I forgot to take a picture.  Hopefully you'll be able to envision it with my descriptive writing skills!

Atop a bed of torn salad greens, I placed sliced cucumber, halved red grapes, chunks of Gala apple, pieces of rotisserie chicken breast, and roasted almonds.  I also included a small container of my lemon poppy seed dressing to pour over the salad.  On the side of the plate, I had 2 slices of my homemade artisan bread topped with a pat of real butter, and two large strawberries dipped in milk chocolate (I used a melted Hershey bar from our leftover Halloween candy).  A light lunch filled with some of my favorite things for two of my favorite people at my girls' school.

This lemon poppy seed dressing recipe is one of my favorite salad dressings in my recipe file.  I've had it a long time and adapted it from one of the recipes from a Pampered Chef party years and years ago.  I often serve it over salads that combine fruit and vegetables, and I love this light lemon dressing paired with chicken on top of the salad.  The poppy seeds give it a bit of flair, but I have also made the dressing without the poppy seeds and it still tastes very good.  You can use fresh squeezed or from concentrate lemon juice.  You can use fresh lemon zest or the dried kind, or none if you don't have any on hand.  You can whip up a small jar of this dressing and keep it in your frig for a couple of weeks.  It doesn't take much dressing on top of a salad to give your greens a delicate burst of flavor.

Here's the recipe:

Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp canola oil
1/2 tsp poppy seeds
few shakes of salt
1/2 tsp lemon zest

In a small jar, whisk together all the ingredients.  Store in frig up to 2 weeks.  Serve over favorite fruited mixed greens.

What are your favorite salad lunch toppings?

Spinach, Sausage, and Cheese Roll Ups

It's getting to be the end of the school year, and the kids are getting tired of the same old thing in their lunches.  Or maybe it's that I'm getting tired of packing the same old thing in their lunches!  Either way, it was time to try something new in my weekly batch cooking session. 

Typically I make breakfast or snack items during my batch cooking sessions, but this week I decided to whip up something new for the kids' lunches.  I had some browned sausage and a loaf of bread dough in the freezer, a few handfuls of fresh spinach, and about a half package of shredded cheese that I decided I could turn into something.  I made sort of a twist to my old standby stromboli.  Instead of rolling it all up and cooking it whole, I rolled it up and sliced it into wheels.  Kind of like a cinnamon roll, only with savory fillings instead of sweet ones.

The result was a winner!  The kids each ate one when they came home from school and both the big girls asked if they could have them in their lunch.  They were quite delicious warm from the oven, but I think they will taste good in their lunchboxes, too.  Both girls enjoy leftover pizza, so this is not too different.  The best part of this recipe, however, is that no one seemed to mind the spinach that was in the recipe!

Here's the recipe:

Spinach, Sausage and Cheese Roll Ups
1 loaf of frozen bread dough, thawed (or use a chunk of the artisan bread dough)
1-2 cups fresh spinach
1/2 -3/4 lb ground sausage, browned
1-1 1/2 cups of shredded cheese (I used a mexican blend, but any kind would be good)

1.  Roll the bread dough into a large rectangle on a generously floured surface.
2.  Layer the spinach, sausage, and cheese on top of the dough.

3.  Carefully roll the dough with the fillings inside to form a tight cylinder.  (Pinch/press the dough seem together with your fingers to keep the filling from exploding when you slice it)
4.  Using a serrated knife dipped in flour, carefully slice the tube of filled dough into 3/4 inch slices.
5.  Place each piece on a lightly greased cookie sheet.
6.  Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 until lightly brown.

Spinach, Sausage and Cheese Roll Ups
Perfect for lunch or snack, these savory rolls got a thumbs up
from my non-spinach eater, "You can't even taste the spinach!"

What kind of fillings would you put in a lunchbox roll up?

3 Pizzas, 1 Crust

I came across a recipe for a no-rise pizza crust recipe that makes 3 crusts over at Mom on a Mission.  I first made this recipe with my 3 girls when they were off from school a few weeks ago.  I loved the ease of the crust, and I loved that it made 3 full size pizzas.  Each girl got to be a pizza chef and make a big pizza.  They each thought that was great!  We had been watching episodes of Worst Cooks in America on Food Network, so they all pretended they were in the kitchen under the eye of Chefs Ann and Bobby.  Then we did a taste test just like they did on tv.  We decided that the crust had great taste, but we needed to do a little bit more work on the texture before it could become blog worthy.

I'm happy to report that I think I've tweaked the recipe enough to make it worthy of being on the blog as a budget friendly, easy to fix, family favorite recipe!   I made a batch of pizzas yesterday because we needed a dinner on the go.  I whipped up 3 pizzas during the littlest one's rest time, and we had a great dinner on the go with plenty of leftovers for lunch and to stash in the freezer for snacks in the days/weeks to come.  I had stocked up on shredded cheese last week when I found it for under $3/lb and added on some various toppings that I found in the frig so this was even cheaper than the $5 pizzas at Little Caesars and much better!

3 Pizzas, 1 Crust
Cheese, Pepperoni and Sausage, and Supreme
A pizza to please all the eaters around our table

The trick to making these pizzas really good is to bake the crust just a few minutes BEFORE you add the toppings.  It gives the pizza crust a crunchier texture, more like the pizza you buy from a pizzeria.  The crust has a hint of italian seasoning in it, so it tastes great with just cheese and sauce on top or loaded with any of your favorite toppings.  We sprinkled on some parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes like they do at pizzerias.  I chose to use a mix of all purpose and white whole wheat flour.  I'm sure that all purpose flour would work, too.  I just try to add in some extra fiber/goodness where I can.

I have recently started making my homemade pizza sauce using tomato paste instead of tomato sauce, and I like the thickness and depth of flavor that the paste provides.  If you like your sauce a little spicier or a little sweeter, add some pepper or sugar.  The sauce will also freeze well if you find a large can of tomato paste on sale.  The small size can makes just enough sauce for 3 pizzas.  I love that you can just mix the ingredients for the sauce without having to heat them first.

I also like how this cooked pizza freezes and reheats.  I like to have a stash of pizza in the freezer for days that we don't have anything else for the lunch box.  A couple pieces of cheese pizza thaw in time for the girls to enjoy at lunchtime, and the texture did not change dramatically from the way it tastes out of the frig.  I froze my leftovers in individual packages.  It also reheats in the microwave pretty well from either the freezer or frig.  It loses a little bit of its crispiness, but it's not as flimsy as other dough recipes I have tried.

Finally, I think that you could make the crusts in a batch cooking session, bake them partially, and then freeze them either with or without the toppings.  You could have a stash of frozen pizzas for a fraction of the cost of a store bought frozen pizza.  I plan to try this method the next time.  Frozen pizzas are very handy in the summer months when the kids have friends over, and we need a quick lunch or snack.

3 Pizzas, 1 Crust
Ready to bake or to freeze

Here's the recipe:

3 Pizzas - 1 Crust
3 cups all purpose white flour
2 cups white whole wheat flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp yeast
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
2 cups warm water
4 Tbsp oil (canola or olive)

1.  In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, sugar, yeast, and Italian seasonings.
2.  Add the water and oil.
3.  Mix well until dough forms into a ball. (I used my Kitchen Aid with the dough hook, but a wooden spoon would work too)
4.  Sprinkle top of dough with extra flour (dough will be VERY sticky) and divide dough into 3 portions.
5.  Pat dough onto 3 greased pizza pans (I used disposable ones because I don't own 3 pizza pans - yet!)
If the dough seems too sticky, just add a little more flour.  (I used my Pampered Chef Pizza Roller to help spread out the dough evenly.)
6.  Bake for 8-10 minutes in a preheated 450 degree oven until the crust looks dry.
7.  Top with your favorite pizza sauce and toppings.
8.  Bake an additional 8-12 minutes until pizza is bubbly and cheese starts to brown.
9.  Let cool 5 minutes before slicing. (we do ours in small pieces rather than pie shaped wedges)

Whip up a batch of homemade pizza sauce in just minutes
with these simple ingredients from your pantry.

Pantry Pizza Sauce
1 6 oz can tomato paste
6 oz water (use water to rinse can out)
3/4 tsp onion powder
3/4 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried parsley

1. Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl.
2. Spread on top of 3 pizza crusts.

Can also be used as a dip for cheesy bread sticks or stromboli.

What toppings would you choose to put on 3 pizzas for your family?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rotisserie Chicken Tostadas

Do you ever buy a rotisserie chicken in the deli at the grocery store or the warehouse clubs?  I make a lot of food at home from scratch, but I do buy the occasional deli rotisserie chicken for convenience. 

Today was one of those days that I needed the convenience of a deli rotisserie chicken to help get dinner on the table during a busy week of school and extra curricular activities.  (Plus I had a coupon, so that made it even better!)

The 3 year old enjoyed the chicken legs at lunchtime while I spent about 5 minutes taking the rest of the chicken off the bones when we came home from our morning errands.  I wanted to have the chicken ready at the dinner hour and needed a quick and easy meal to put on the table after picking up the oldest one from an afterschool activity and before heading out the door to our music lessons (in about a 20 minute time span).  I spotted these tostada shells a few weeks ago and thought that the rotisserie chicken would make a great topping.

Just $0.78 after sale price combined with coupon

This was our first family adventure in eating tostadas, and after eating them, the kids all thought that they should make a repeat occurrence in our regular meal schedule.  The 3 year old said, "These need to go on the blog, Mommy!"  The 8 year old said she liked the tostada better than regular crunchy taco shells because "you don't have to turn your head to the side to take a bite" and "less stuff fell out on the plate".  The 11 year old wanted me to remind you to have plenty of napkins on hand because when you add all the toppings, sometimes it can get a little messy when you take a bite!

So, there's really no recipe.  This is more like an idea post.  Instead of eating a deli rotisserie chicken the same old way, try it tostada style.  Just pile on the chicken, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, and sour cream on top of a tostada shell.  We also spread a thin layer of refried beans to kind of hold it all on there, but I'm sure they would be just as good without.  I wish we would have had a fresh avacado, but we didn't have one.  Maybe next time I'll try making my own shells.  We enjoyed a bowl of peaches (from the freezer) with our tostadas, and there's enough chicken leftover to make a nice salad for lunch in the next couple of days.

What's your favorite way to enjoy a deli rotisserie chicken?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Meal Plan - April 23-29

The countdown to the end of the school year has begun which means that our evenings are packed with lots of extra school related activities.  If ever there was a need for a menu plan, now is the time!

We had a few changes to the menu plan from last week with my parents stopping by, so you may see a few repeats from last week on this week's menu.  The beauty of having a menu plan, however, is that I can just plug that meal into a different day.  I already have all the ingredients I need (as long as I don't vary too far from the plan too many times in a given shopping period!).  I keep a monthly menu plan hanging on my frig written in pencil and just move things around as I need to.  I like having a monthly meal plan because I can pencil in meal ideas when I find new recipes I want to try or discover foods unexpectedly on manager special.

We enjoy fresh/frozen fruit with every meal although I don't always list what that fruit will be unless it's something I need to pull out of the freezer ahead of time.  We also have salad almost every night in addition to the vegetable listed.  We are a dessert family.  Our desserts are not always thrilling . . . sometimes just ice cream, a popsicle now that the weather is warming up, a piece of candy from the kids' treat bags, and the occasional homebaked goodie.  If it's something I need to make, I list it in the menu plan.

Here's what we'll be enjoying around our table this week:

MONDAY - Pork chops on the grill, potato packets, green beans
TUESDAY - Chicken tostadas, Peaches and raspberries (from freezer)
WEDNESDAY - Mediterranean Pork Pita Sandwiches, Greek Salad
THURSDAY - Crock Pot Chicken Stew, Cranberry Sauce, Salad, Oatmeal Scotchies
FRIDAY - Pizza Quesadillas, Salad
SATURDAY - Chicken Kabobs, Rice, Edemame, Salad with mandarin oranges
SUNDAY BRUNCH - Chocolate Chip Pancakes, Bacon, bananas
SUNDAY DINNER - Macaroni and Cheese, Veggies and Dip 

Sausage/Egg/Cheese Burritos

Trail Mix, Snack Mix
Granola Bars
Fruit/Veggies and Dip
Crackers with Cheese or peanut butter
Vanilla Wafers with yogurt dip

I'm linking up to Menu Plan Monday over at  Check out what's on the table of bloggers across the country!

What's on your menu this week?

Cinnamon Raisin Breakfast Bread Pudding With Vanilla Sauce

I found a loaf of Cinnamon Raisin Bread on a Manager Special at Kroger several weeks ago.  We ate half the loaf as toast, and I stuck the other half of the loaf in the freezer to be enjoyed at a later time.  I needed a brunch item today, and I remembered that Cinnamon Raisin Bread in the freezer.  We only had a few eggs in the frig, so I needed some kind of recipe that would provide us with a filling breakfast with only a few eggs, a half loaf of bread, and some sausage links on hand. 

I remember reading about breakfast bread puddings on others' weekly menu posts, so I decided to do a little recipe searching and see what I could come up with.  I came across this recipe from Taste of Home -, but I needed to make a few adjustments based upon what we had on hand.  I was intrigued by this recipe because the author said her kids all liked it.  Endorsements from kids rank high in my book.

Well, this tweaked recipe is going in our family favorite file!  It was the perfect Sunday brunch dish for this cold, wet, dreary day!  We had planned to do a hike in celebration for Earth Day, but it was just not good hiking weather.  Instead, we huddled indoors doing some of our favorite indoor activities and enjoyed this delightful brunch around the kitchen table.  The highlight of this dish was the simple vanilla sauce that I made to pour over the top.  Yummy!  This dish was very similar in texture to my french toast casserole, and the cinnamon and raising bread was a nice change.  We ate all but one small dish from the pan, so next time I find a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread on manager special, I'll probably make a double batch!

Here's the recipe:

Cinnamon Raisin Breakfast Bread Pudding with Vanilla Sauce
1/2 loaf of cinnamon raisin bread, cubed
2 Tbsp melted butter
3 eggs
1 1/4 cup milk
6 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon

1.  Place cubed bread in a greased 9x9 baking dish.
2.  Whisk together melted butter, eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon.
3.  Pour over cubed bread.
4.  Let stand 10-15 minutes to allow bread to soak up liquid (I think you could also make this ahead of time and then just bake it when you need it)
5.  Bake for 40-45 minutes at 350.

While bread pudding is baking, make vanilla sauce.

2/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp corn starch
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup water
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla

1.  In a small sauce pan, combine sugar, corn starch, salt, and water.
2.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens slightly.
3.  Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla.

Spoon vanilla sauce over cinnamon raisin bread pudding.

Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding
The simple vanilla sauce disguises manager special cinnamon raisin bread
and a limited number of eggs in the frig to make a scrumptious Sunday brunch!

What do you make for brunch when you only have 3 eggs on hand?

Friday, April 20, 2012

3 Ingredient No Bake Cheesecake

Need a super easy recipe for a delicious dessert that can be made from just 3 ingredients in less than 10 minutes? I love this easy cheesecake recipe. I made it for dinner tonight, and I can't believe it's been so long since I made it because it is super delicious and so easy.

I've had this recipe in my stash of go to favorites for more than 10 years. I think I originally found it in a magazine in an advertisement for Philadelphia Cream Cheese. I often make this dish in the summer because it's a no-bake recipe, but it would be tasty any time of the year.

Tonight we enjoyed this cheesecake as individual desserts served in my pink pedestal glasses, but I usually make it in a pie plate. I took dinner to the two priests at our church and brought them each an individual dessert cup. I made my own graham cracker crumb crust and just divided the crumbs among the individual serving glasses instead of using a ready-to-use graham cracker crust. You can also double the recipe and put it in a 9 x 13 pan. It makes a wonderful potluck dessert. We topped our cheesecake tonight with my homemade blueberry topping, but you could top it with any flavor pie filling, fresh fruit, or even a drizzle of chocolate or caramel. It's so light and fluffy, you could just eat it plain! My 11 year old asked if she could have the leftovers for breakfast!

Here's the recipe:

3 Ingredient No Bake Cheesecake
1 pkg low fat cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 tub low fat Cool Whip

1. Mix cream cheese and sugar with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended.
2. Gently stir in whipped topping.
3. Spoon into prepared graham cracker crust.
4. Refrigerate 3 hours or overnight.
5. Top with fresh fruit or canned pie filling.

You can also use the full fat versions, but I'm all for saving calories when
and where I can! You'll never notice the difference!

If you need an easy graham cracker crust recipe, here's what I use.

Graham Cracker Crust
1 pkg graham crackers, crushed (18 square crackers or 9 rectangle crackers)
1/2 stick melted butter
1/3 cup sugar

1. Mix together melted butter and sugar.
2. Stir in cracker crumbs until mixed.
3. Press in bottom of pie plate or divide between individual serving dishes.
4. Spoon pie filling over crust.

What's your favorite 3 ingredient recipe?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ham and Pineapple Fried Rice

Last week we had Grilled Ham and Pineapple Sandwiches.  This week we're having Ham and Pineapple Fried Rice.  It's always an adventure to take a recipe that you already enjoy (like grilled ham and cheese or fried rice) and throw in some new ingredient.  Last week's sandwich was a hit with all the eaters in our house, so I thought I'd give this Ham and Pineapple Fried Rice a try as regular fried rice is always a winner at our dinner table.  I first read about this recipe at Eat At Home on one of her weekly menu posts (her picture looks better than mine).  I've had it saved in my Recipes to Try file for several weeks.

One of the things I like about Fried Rice is that I can make it ahead of time on days when our dinner hour is hectic.  It's perfect for a busy night.  (It's Music Lesson and ISPTO Mtg night on our family calendar this week).  The 3 year old is napping for 45 minutes or so which is plenty of time for me to get dinner all ready to serve and have a few minutes to myself before the afternoon rush begins.  I can reheat the fried rice in just a few minutes after the girls are home from school and before we head out to our lessons.  Add a mixed greens salad and some zucchini bread (from the freezer) and we're all set for a homecooked meal together around the table for less than $6 in less than 30 minutes.

Here's the recipe:

Ham and Pineapple Fried Rice
3-4 cups cooked, cooled rice (I made a batch in my rice cooker this morning before school)
1/4 cup chopped onion
1-2 Tbsp oil
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
2 cups diced ham
4 Tbsp soy sauce, plus more to taste
1 lg can Pineapple tidbits, drained with juice reserved (you'll need 3+ Tbsp)
2 eggs beaten
1-2 cups frozen peas and carrots (or any other vegetables you might have leftover; kids said they prefer when I use shredded carrots instead of the frozen, cubed ones)
salt and pepper to taste (I used about 1/8+ tsp pepper, just a sprinkling of salt)

Pretend there's also minced garlic pictured here!

1.  Saute the onion in a little bit of oil until soft in a large skillet.
2.  Add the garlic and the ham, 2 Tbsp soy sauce and 2 Tbsp pineapple juice and heat until ham is hot.
3.  Pour the beaten eggs into the skillet and stir frequently.
4.  Add the peas and carrots and heat through.
5.  Add the cooked rice and 2 Tbsp soy sauce and 1-2 Tbsp of pineapple juice and gently stir with a large spatula until rice and meat and vegetables are evenly combined.
6.  Taste and season with salt and pepper or more soy sauce if needed.
7.  Serve immediately or reheat for dinner later on.

Ham and Pineapple Fried Rice
The sweet pineapple gives this quick fix skillet dish a fresh twist

What's your favorite meal to fix on a night with filled with the kids' activities right around the dinner hour?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Crock Pot Sesame Chicken

Do you own a 2 qt crock pot? I just bought one, and I'm loving it!  I use my larger 4 qt and 6 qt crock pots frequently, but I've noticed that sometimes the pots are just too big for the things I'm trying to make which results in overcooked food.  So, I found a 2 qt crock pot on sale at Target for $10 a couple weeks ago, and we've been enjoying some delicious meals that are just the right size for our family.

Here's one of our new favorites.  This is another Asian dish that just did not photograph very well with my limited photography skills.  Let's just say it looks a lot like a Chinese take out container filled with sesame chicken - brownish chunks of chicken in a light brown sauce topped with itty bitty light brown spots (sesame seeds).  Atop a bed of brown rice, this did not look dramatically appetizing, but the taste was superb, so I wanted to share it with you.  The sauce was a good combination of sweet and spicy with just the right amount of thickness, and the chicken was super tender and moist.  It also reheated well the next day for lunch.

I first read about this recipe at Mom on Mission.  She prepares a Sesame Chicken Freezer Meal Kit.  I basically followed her recipe without the freezer sauce step.  After buying chicken breasts on sale for $1.77/lb, I cut the chicken into cubes before I put it in the freezer. I then made the sauce on the day I prepared the meal.  She states that you can make the sauce and freeze it in a separate bag beside your chicken and then combine it on cooking day.  I will likely try that the next time because this dish will certainly be making a repeat performance on our menu.  The 2 qt crock pot makes a generous one night meal with enough leftover for 1-2 small lunches for our family of 5. 

Here's the recipe:
Sesame Chicken
1.5-2 lbs of boneless chicken breasts cut into large cubes (boneless thighs would also work)
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup rice vinegar
6 Tbsp brown sugar
6 Tbsp soy sauce
1 cup water
2 Tbsp corn starch
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (more or less to suit tastes)

1.  Place flour in a ziploc bag and add chicken chunks; shake to coat evenly.
2.  Place floured chicken pieces in 2 qt crock pot.
3.  Mix together all other ingredients in a small bowl.  Stir to combine.
4.  Pour sauce over chicken.
5.  Cook on low for 5 hours or high for 3 hours.

Serve over a bed or rice with favorite green steamed vegetable.  Sprinkle with additional toasted sesame seeds if you want.  Chop sticks optional.

What's your favorite Asian inspired crock pot meal?

Grab and Go Snacks - Chicky Chex Mix

My mom and dad stopped by overnight on their way home to MI from their winter in FL on Monday.  When I told the kids they were coming, they all asked, "Is Nanna bringing some of her mix?" 

Some may think homemade cookies when they think of visits with Grandma; my kids think of Nana Mix. "Nanna Mix" is nothing more than a large can of homemade Chex Mix, but it's one of my all time favorite munchies, so my mom always has a can for me when we go to visit or when they come to visit. 

Nanna did not bring a can of her famous mix for this quick overnight visit, but I'm proud to say that I've come up with an equally good mix that seems to satisfy all our salty snack cravings.   I've made several batches in the last few weeks.  I like to think it's a bit healthier than chips.  It takes under 30 minutes to put a batch together, and you'll have more than 15 servings.  I like to bag mine in individual snack bags so I can limit my portion size.  I keep a stash in our Grab and Go Snack Basket.  It will keep in an airtight container for a couple of weeks.  It also freezes well if you have ingredients to make a double batch. 

Chicky Chex Mix

The inspiration for this Chicky Chex Mix all started with the purchase of these 2 boxes of little snack crackers:

Have you seen these?  I got the mini Triscuits at Meijer several weeks ago when they had a great sale on snack crackers, and I had multiple copies of coupons.  I bought several different kinds of crackers for about $1.25/box.  I found these cute little Chickadees Crackers at Target.  They are normally $1.49/box, but I picked them up using a Target online coupon for Market Pantry Snacks making them under $1. 

The beauty of Chex Mix is that you can really use any combination of snack items that you like.  Nanna Mix usually contains garlic bagel chips, Bugles, and peanuts along with the traditional Chex cereals and pretzels.  My kids love to look through the can and pick out the Bugles and place them on their pinky fingers.   I didn't have any Bugles or Garlic Bagel Chips, but I spotted the Chickadees Crackers and the Mini Triscuits in our pantry and thought they might make a good substitution.  The results were delicious!  Just the right combination of textures, sizes, and flavors for a hard to stop at one handful snack mix.

Here's the recipe:

Chicky Chex Mix
3 cups Corn Chex
3 Cups Rice Chex
3 Cups Pretzels
1 Cup Chickadees Crackers
1 Cup Mini Triscuits
1 Cup Peanuts
6 Tbsp melted butter
2 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1 1/2 tsp seasoned salt
3/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder

Generic Chex cereals will work just fine if you don't have Chex coupons!

1.  In a glass 9 x 13 pan, mix together all the cereals, pretzels, crackers, and nuts and gently mix.
2.  In a measuring cup, combine the melted butter, Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt, garlic powder, and onion powder and stir well.
3.  Pour the seasoned butter mixture over the snack mix and toss gently until it's evenly coated.
4.  Microwave for 2 minutes on high.
5.  Stir.  (I use a spatula so I don't break the cereal pieces with a spoon)
6.  Microwave for 2 more minutes on high.
7.  Stir. 
8.  Microwave for another 1-2 minutes on high.
9.  Stir. 
10.  Taste.  It should be crispy now.
11.  Let cool (or enjoy several bites while warm!)
12.  Store in an airtight container or in individual snack bags.

Chicky Chex Mix

Feel free to play around with the combinations with whatever ingredients you might have in your pantry.  You just need 12 cups total of snack items to the 6 Tbsp of seasoned, melted butter.

What's your favorite Chex Mix combination?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Resurrection Rolls

Resurrection Rolls, a yummy way to share the Easter Story with Kids

Easter Sunday was last week, but I never got a chance to post this Resurrection Rolls recipe that we tried for the first time this year.  It's easy for kids to get Christmas and birth of our Savior story.  It's a bit more difficult for them to fully grasp his death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.  We often travel for Easter, but this year we stayed home, so I knew I wanted to give these Resurrection Rolls a try with my kids. 

I'm not sure where this recipe originated.  I've seen it referenced many times in several Christian family books/magazines.  I've heard other moms talk about making them with their kids or even having made them as kids.  Sometimes they are called "empty tomb rolls".  As you make them, you can explain the death and resurrection of Jesus in a way that kids may be better able to understand.

The recipe turned out perfect!  The kids loved making them with me in the kitchen, and they were amazed to see that their rolls were empty (hollow) when we ate them with our Easter breakfast.  They will definitely be one of our Easter morning traditions for as many years as the kids will want to help me make them!

Here's the recipe:
Resurrection Rolls:
1 can large and flaky crescent rolls (regular will work okay; just harder to work with)
8 large marshmallows
2 Tbsp melted butter
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp sugar

1.  Mix together cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl.
2.  Place melted butter in a separate small bowl.
3.  Unroll and separate the crescent rolls.
4.  Take a marshmallow (Jesus after he died on the cross) and roll it in butter and then roll it in the cinnamon sugar mixture (the oils and spices used in his burial)

5.  Place the coated marshmallow in the top third of the triangular shaped piece of dough. 
6.  Wrap the skinny part over the marshmallow and roll the marshmallow towards the wide bottom part of the dough piece.

7.  Fold up the wide bottom piece of dough (kind of like a diaper) so that the marshmallow is fully wrapped in the dough  (Jesus all wrapped up) and place on a cookie sheet.

8.  Bake for 15-18 minutes at 375 until light golden brown.

The most amazing thing happens while they bake!  The marshmallow disappears!  The rolls will be hollow on the inside when you break them open.  The kids LOVED seeing this!  They thought the rolls would be all gooey like a smore.  They did not expect them to be all hollow.  Their surprise made a great discussion around the table as to the surprise that Jesus' friends must have felt when they went to His tomb on Sunday morning.

Resurrection Rolls - The Tomb is Empty!
The cinnamony sweet rolls were an excellent addition to our Easter morning brunch of hard cooked eggs, sausage links, and fresh pineapple.

What's your favorite traditional Easter recipe?

No Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Rice Krispy Granola Bars

The two big girls are off at their activities this afternoon and the youngest and the dog are at the park with Daddy, so it was time for me to whip up a few snacks in the kitchen for this upcoming week while the house was quiet.  In the last few weeks I have been so busy that our snack basket has been filled with more convenience items than homemade, so I wanted to refill our grab and go snack basket with some of our favorite homemade items.

I got ready to put together a batch of No Bake Granola Bars when I realized we did not have any cheerios on hand except for the apple cinnamon flavored ones.  I had already poured the honey and brown sugar into the sauce pan, so I looked around in our cereal stash to see what might make a good substitute.  We had a half-eaten box of Cocoa Krispies in the cupboard, so I thought I'd give that a try.

I'm licking my lips as I write this post, because this combination of old fashioned oats, Cocoa Krispies, and the sweet peanut butter goo that holds them all together is delicious!  In fact, they might even be better than my other recipe.  I topped them with a few chocolate chips and those were still a little melty during my taste test.  I hope there are still enough left for the week's after school snacks by the end of the day!  These are going to be a big hit with the snackers in our house!

Here's the recipe:

No Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Rice Krispy Granola Bars
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 cups old fashioned oats
2 cups Cocoa Krispies
1/2 cup chocolate chips

1.  In a medium saucepan, bring the honey and brown sugar to a slight boil (just enough to dissolve all the sugar crystals) stirring constantly.
2.  Remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter.
3.  Add in the oats and rice krispies stirring gently until they are all coated in the peanut butter goo.
3.  Spread with a spatula in a greased 9x13 pan.
4.  Sprinkle with chocolate chips and press down slightly on them.
5.  Let cool and cut into bars.

(or eat them while they are still warm!)

No Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Rice Krispy Granola Bars

Cooled bars may be individually wrapped ready to be eaten by hungry snackers, frozen to be enjoyed later on, or stored in a large container for a few days.

What's your favorite homemade grab and go snack item?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Menu Plan - April 16-23

It's been a few weeks since I've posted our weekly menu plan.  It's been a little nuts around here.  Since this blog is just my hobby, it's near the bottom of the To Do List which has been pages long lately.  It's during weeks that are crazy, however, that a menu plan is essential.   We wouldn't have made it through the last several weeks without one!   While I have had to make some last minute substitutions and have also relied on some very easy meals (like grilled hot dogs for lunch today!), knowing what I need to make for dinner ahead of time makes our crazy evenings as sane as they can possibly be.  It also helps our budget because I plan meals based upon what I see on sale each week at the store. 

I'm trying to stay one step ahead of the craziness this week, so I'm posting my menu early while I have a few extra minutes of peace and quiet at the computer!

Here's what we'll be enjoying around our table this week:

MONDAY - Lasagna, Salad, Garlic Bread
TUESDAY - Ham and Pineapple Fried Rice, Salad, Chocolate Pudding
WEDNESDAY - Sloppy Joes, Corn Casserole
THURSDAY - Taco Stuffed Shells, Salad, Applesauce
FRIDAY - Pizza, Salad
SATURDAY - Salmon, Pesto Pasta, Salad, Strawberry Shortcake
SUNDAY BRUNCH - Raisin French Toast, Bacon
SUNDAY DINNER - Pork Chops, Scalloped Potatoes, Green Beans

Sausage  Balls/Scrambled Eggs
Ham/Egg/Cheese/Potato Burritos
Baked Oatmeal

Trail Mix/Snack Mix
Granola Bars
Fruit/Veggies with Dip
Crackers with Cheese/Peanut Butter/Cream Cheese

I'm linking up over at Menu Plan Monday.  Check out some of the other great menu plans in the blogosphere!

What's on your menu this week?

Baked Oatmeal

I tried out my favorite baked oatmeal recipe this week in a freezable version with great success, so I decided to pass along the recipe to you.  If you've never had baked oatmeal, it's really quite yummy.  It tastes more like a cake than a bowl of hot cereal, so if you have texture issues with regular oatmeal, you might like this recipe. 

We like our baked oatmeal topped with some fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, bananas, peaches, kiwi, etc) or canned peaches.  I like to add a splash of milk or cream; my girls and husband like to drizzle maple syrup over the top.  Any way you eat it, this is a sweet, hearty breakfast.  The fact that I figured out how to make it ahead and then freeze it so you can just pull out a square at a time makes it a keeper! 

Baked Oatmeal

Here's the recipe:

Baked Oatmeal
1 stick melted butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 beaten eggs
1 cup milk
3 cups rolled oats (the old fashioned, not quick)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

1.  Mix together all the ingredients in a large bowl.
2.  Spread into a greased 9 x 13 pan.
3.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350.

Serve warm topped with fruit and/or milk or cream and/or syrup.

To freeze: 
1.  Cut cooled oatmeal into large squares.
2.  Wrap in wax paper.
3.  Place in labeled ziploc freezer bag.

To reheat:
Microwave square 45 seconds on high in the microwave.  Top as desired.

What's your favorite way to eat oatmeal?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Crock Pot Italian Chicken

I love easy crock pot meals!  I created this version of an Italian chicken dish one winter when it was too snowy to go to the grocery, and I had to find something to make with the ingredients I had on hand.  I have made variations over the years, but the version I made this week is worth sharing because of its ease, cost, and reviews of "This is yummy, Mommy!" from the dinner table.

I have learned to use my crock pot more and more over the last couple of years.  In fact, I just bought my 3rd crock pot a couple of weeks ago because I needed a smaller size (2 qt) in addition to the larger ones (4 qt and 6 qt) that I have.  With these various sizes to fit our dinner needs, I'll be looking for new recipes to try.

The chicken in this recipe turns out tender enough that kids can cut it with a fork.  The longer the chicken cooks, the more the chicken falls apart.  It can turn out more like a shredded chicken in the sauce.  That works well over a larger noodle (like a rotini).  The sauce is thick and flavorful, and the aromas will lead to watering mouths if you come home right at dinner time.  The kids must have told me they needed a snack 10 times as we waited for the bread sticks to heat up in the oven!  For this night's dinner, my chicken remained in serving size pieces which we served over angel hair pasta with garlic bread sticks and a tossed Italian salad.

For today, here's the recipe:

Crock Pot Italian Chicken:
1-2 lbs boneless chicken pieces (I used breasts, cut into large serving size pieces)
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 lg can of crushed tomatoes (28 oz)
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning
1 tsp garlic powder + a little for sprinkling on top of chicken
1 tsp onion powder + a little more for sprinkling on top of chicken
1/2 tsp salt (or more to taste)
1/4 tsp pepper + a little more for sprinkling on top of chicken
hot cooked pasta
parmesan cheese

1.  Sprinkle 1 Tbsp olive oil in the bottom of your slow cooker. (I used my 4 qt)
2.  Add in your chicken pieces.
3.  Drizzle a little more olive oil over the top of the chicken.  Add a few shakes of garlic powder, onion powder, and pepper. (not too much; less than 1/8 tsp for the measurers out there)
4.  To the opened can of crushed tomatoes, stir in the remaining spices.
5.  Pour the seasoned crushed tomatoes over the chicken.
6.  Cook on high 3 hours or low for 5 hours.
7.  Serve over hot cooked pasta garnished with grated parmesan cheese.

Crock Pot Italian Chicken
What's your favorite Crock Pot Recipe?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What to do with leftover ham - Grilled Ham and Pineapple Sandwich

Happy Easter Friends!  I hope that you enjoyed a wonderful weekend celebration with your family/friends!  We enjoyed a wonderful weekend filled with lots of yummy food, fun family moments, and many photo opportunities.  I took Monday to organize some of those photos, so I'm a bit behind on some of the blog posts. 

We love ham at our house!  My mother in law always fixed a ham for Christmas and Easter, so we have sort of adopted that same tradition in our own home.  She taught me a very easy way to fix the perfect ham.  You cook it slowly in the oven overnight in a paper bag.  I've fixed my hams like this for years, and they always turn out perfectly.  It's so easy, it's embarrassing to even call it a recipe. 

But for those of you who may be intrigued to try cooking a ham a new way, here's what you do.  Buy a cheap ham (like a shank or butt portion, or even a whole bone in ham).  Remove the plastic wrapper and the little plastic thing that is over the bone.  Place the ham in a large brown paper grocery sack.  Fold up the bag so that it is tight to the ham.  Place the ham in a 9x13 pan.  Add a little water (maybe 1/2 cup or so) to the bottom of the pan.  Place in the oven at 220 overnight (about 6-8 hours).  Turn the oven off in the morning, and let the ham sit for about 4 hours before slicing it.  Remove the ham from the bag, and slice with an electric knife.  The ham will be super tender and juicy. 

I have served this ham at several of our Easter Egg Hunt parties and have turned even non-ham eaters into members of the Clean Plate Club.  Super easy. . . super yummy. . .lots of leftovers.  This slow cook method will not work on a presliced spiral yam; all the juices leak out and you'll be left with a dry ham.  This will also not work well on a boneless ham; it turns out tough.  I usually buy 2 or more hams when they go on sale at Christmas and Easter and we'll eat one on the holiday, and then I'll cut up the other to use in ham dishes. 

This past Sunday, I decided to shake things up a bit and try something new.  A mom of one of my 8 year old's gym teammates told me she likes to cook her ham in her slow cooker using a can of coke, some brown sugar, and a can of pineapple.  We decided to give this recipe a try on Sunday.  It was very sweet, and we all liked it.  I shared with that mom today that while the flavor was good, it had a different texture being cooked in the slow cooker.  I also think I should have let the ham sit for awhile longer before I sliced it.  Nonetheless, we enjoyed our Easter dinner, and we have some leftover ham that I decided to do something with tonight for dinner.

A few weeks ago, there was an Ingredient Spotlight on Pineapple over at Eat At Home.  I noticed a recipe there for a grilled ham and pineapple sandwich that I thought sounded interesting, so I gave it a try for our weekly sandwich night. 

Well, all I can say is that this sandwich is likely to be making a repeat appearance on our weekly menu for Sandwich Night.  We often eat grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, but this was the first time I've ever thrown on a slice of pineapple.  And instead of regular sliced cheese, I used spreadable cream cheese.  It was easy and very tasty.  Because I made it with leftovers, it was very budget friendly too.  We had to eat in shifts this evening due to our schedule, but the sandwiches were easy to assemble and grill in batches in just a few minutes.  I think what made these sandwiches the best was the bread.  Instead of regular sandwich bread, I used bakery fresh bread (like the $1 Italian loaf from Kroger).  This sandwich was similar to something you'd find at a locally owned restaurant.  Add some chips and some fruit or a light salad, and your meal is complete.  (Try to ignore the awful shadow in the photo; it was late and my photo set up was not ready!)

Here's the simple recipe:

Grilled Ham and Pineapple Sandwiches
1/2 loaf of sliced bakery bread (I used the Kroger Italian loaf)
spreadable cream cheese
ham slices
pineapple slices

1.  Spread cream cheese on the inside of 2 pieces of bread.
2.  Top one slice of bread with slices of ham and pineapple rings. (I cut the rings so they fit better; I need more pineapple next time so you get some pineapple in every bite)
3.  Top with the other piece of bread.
4.  Pan fry in melted butter over medium high heat until golden on each side.
(You can also spread the outside of the bread with spreadable butter and then cook on a griddle or in a pan over medium high heat but the melted butter in the pan gives it a nice crunch on all the edges like how it is at a restaurant when you order a grilled sandwich)

Grilled Ham and Pineapple Sandwich
Cream Cheese, Ham, Pineapple, Bakery Bread. . . . yummy!

What's your favorite way to use up leftover ham?

Taco Bar for the Teachers

Once a month, 3 other PTO moms and I prepare lunch for the staff at my girls' school.  Three Fridays ago was Taco Bar Day (I've been meaning to get this posted, just didn't get around to it!).  It was the Friday before Spring Break, and the staff greatly emjoyed being loved by our gift of food and fellowship.  We provided all the fixings for tacos including seasoned ground beef, shredded chicken, seasoned pinto and black beans, homemade salsa and pico de gallo, homemade guacamole, lettuce, cheese, sour cream, soft tortillas, and tortilla chips.  We also had a large tray of fresh fruit and a dessert buffet.

Joanne made all our desserts this time!  They were a hit!  We usually have a little left over at the end of lunch. . . . Not this time.  The serving dishes were scraped clean.  I asked Joanne if I could share the recipes, because they were all easy to fix, relatively inexpensive, and definitely pleased our crowd.  I hope they please yours too! 

It's hard for me to declare which of the following 4 desserts was my favorite, as I liked the taste I had of each one for different reasons.  We didn't get any photos as we were scrambling to just get everything set up in the library after the kids left and before the teachers came up to lunch.  I will try to add photos as I make the desserts in the weeks to come, as I will definitely be making all 4 before too long.

The strawberry margarita pie was actually one of my recipes I shared with Joanne.  It's cool, light, and very refreshing, especially on a hot summer night or after a spicy meal.  I got the recipe on the back of a Strawberry Cool Whip carton several years ago.  The pretzel crust gives it a salty, crunchy twist. 

The sopapilla cheescake squares were addictive.  It was hard to stop at just one little taste of these ones.  The creamy cheesecake filling with the cinnamon sugar topping would pair nicely with a cup of coffee any time of day or night. 

The apple enchiladas will actually be on our family menu next week.  I am perplexed how they can come out with a little crispness to them even though you pour liquid over the top before you bake them.  They will taste even better with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side! 

The dessert nachos were light and just the right amount of dessert if you want a little something sweet without eating too much.  Joanne offered chopped strawberries, melted chocolate, honey, and whipped cream.  I tried one each way; not sure which was the best.

Here are the recipes:

Strawberry Margarita Pie
1 ¼ cup crushed pretzels
¼ cup sugar
10 T. melted butter
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup strawberries, crushed or pureed
½ cup lime juice (fresh squeezed is best)
1 tub Strawberry Cool Whip (or regular if you can't find flavored)
1. Mix pretzels, sugar and butter in pie plate
2. Press mixture onto bottom and sides of pie plate
3. Refrigerate
4. Mix milk, strawberries, and lime juice until well blended
5. Gently stir in cool whip
6. Pour into crust
7. Freeze overnight
8. Let thaw 15 minutes before serving.

Sopapilla Cheesecake Bars
2 – 8 ounce packages of cream cheese, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 – 8 ounce cans crescent rolls
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup butter at room temperature
¼ cup honey
1. Preheat oven to 350
2. Spray 9x13 pan
3. Beat cream cheese with 1 cup sugar and vanilla until smooth
4. Unroll crescents and use a rolling pin to shape each piece into rectangles
5. Press one piece into 9x13 pan
6. Evenly spread cream cheese on top then cover with 2nd package of crescent rolls (also rolled out into rectangle)
7. Stir together ¾ cup sugar, cinnamon, and butter and dot mixture over cheese cake
8. Bake until crescent dough has puffed and is golden brown (about 30 minutes)
9. Remove and drizzle with honey
10. Cool
11. Cut into squares
Apple Enchiladas
1 can apple pie filling
5 flour tortillas (8 inch)
1/3 cup margarine
½ cup white sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup water
1. Preheat oven to 350
2. Spoon fruit evenly onto all tortillas
3. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon
4. Roll up tortillas and place seam side down in lightly greased 8x8 pan
5. Bring margarine, sugars, and water to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring for 3 minutes
6. Pour over tortillas
7. Sprinkle with a little more cinnamon
8. Bake for about 20 minutes
9. Sprinkle with a little powdered sugar
What's your favorite mexican themed dessert?