Friday, April 17, 2015

Cheesy Rotini Skillet

First off, thank you so much for the thoughts and kind words. I am feeling pretty good this week so hopefully the worst is over and I won't ever have to deal with kidney stones again.

During those couple weeks I obviously didn't feel like doing much, let alone cook for my family. Our meals were very simple and probably even a little pitiful at times. It made me wish my freezer would have been better stocked.

At the end of last week though I was feeling good and ready to get back in the kitchen. This was our first meal, something pretty easy and comforting. Pasta is always a nice go-to meal and this certainly did not disappoint!

Not only was this dish delicious but it made for some pretty good leftovers. My lunches mainly consist of those so I always appreciate when a meal reheats nicely.  Add this one to your menu for a speedy weeknight meal!

Cheesy Rotini Skillet

8 oz. rotini pasta
3/4 lb. ground beef
2 garlic cloves, minced
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Prepare pasta according to package directions, cooked al dente.

Meanwhile,  brown ground beef in a large skillet with garlic until meat is no longer pink. Drain grease and return meat back to skillet.  Add in tomatoes, water and seasonings. Mix well to combine.

Once pasta is done, drain and add to the skillet.  Let cook on low for about 10 minutes, just to heat through. Remove from heat and stir in mozzarella cheese. Let dish set for a few minutes and then serve. Serve with salad and a good piece of crusty bread.

* Note: Since the majority of our ground beef comes in 1.5 pound packages, I typically divide them in two for recipes like this. You can certainly use 1 lb. of meat in this dish and maybe increase the amount of pasta and water as well.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Life Lately

Ever have those weeks where everything seems to be working against you? That's how life in general has felt these past few weeks. Nothing too terrible,  just minor annoyances.

It started with a virus being passed around the family after spring break. Mainly fevers in the kids so nothing too severe. Then I was so lucky (insert sarcasm) to have gotten kidney stones. I've been dealing with these for the past two weeks. Something I hope to never experience again for sure!

I spent most of my day on Monday between appointments and prepping for surgery. After waiting four hours in the hospital to be taken back for the operation, they decided to do another CT scan. It was determined the stone had dropped and likely could pass on its own but another bigger stone is on the right side. Doctor thought it might be dangerous to operate and I gladly opted to just go home at that point, simply because the pain had really eased up.

So here we are, still waiting for those darn stones to pass but thankfully not in much pain. I've spent much of my time outside of work resting as much as possible and therefore, not in the kitchen. I hope to get a couple new posts out to you next week, so I thank you for your patience. I enjoy writing just as much as I hope you enjoy reading them!

But we certainly have had a few happy moments, Easter was definitely a nice day. The weather was perfect and we enjoyed the day surrounded by loved ones.

I also received a new cookbook just in time for Easter. These always put me in a better mood ha! I haven't gotten a chance to read it yet, but hopefully this weekend.

Last, but not least. Before my appointments on Monday, I was feeling pretty good so I drove to pick up our yearly purchase of pork. We have half of a steer coming shortly and then our freezer will be well stocked again. I have a post in the works on the benefits of purchasing meat in bulk like this. I hope it's one you'll enjoy.

For now I am going to be taking it easy but I plan to be back to regular posting next week. Enjoy the rest of your week friends!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Baby Shower Fun

Over the weekend my mom and I, along with a couple other family members hosted a baby shower for my cousin. It's her first baby and this was a lot of fun to plan. Today I am going to share with you some of those details,  maybe you'll find some new inspiration if you're planning a shower.

We went with a book theme for this shower, we knew how important reading is to my cousin and how she was looking forward to starting her baby's library. My mom purchased some books to include in each table's centerpiece. We also asked each guest to bring along a book instead of purchasing a card.

Along with the books, each table had these adorable candy pacifiers we made. My mom also made these little booties out of cups. They turned out so cute!

When our guests first arrived, they had a chance to "sign in" at the Late Night Diapers basket. We encouraged everyone to write the mom and dad-to-be a note of encouragement on the diapers.  We're hoping these will help them to smile a little during those late night diaper changes.

Each place setting also had a little something fun for the guests to fill out for the parents-to-be.

My mom did a fantastic job with the food. We were expecting quite the crowd and everything was delicious. We all enjoyed barbecue pulled pork, potato salad, broccoli salad, chips and a relish tray.

I was in charge of the cake as that's sort of my specialty. Keeping with our book theme, I decided on a very hungry caterpillar cupcake cake. Plus I made plenty of mini cupcakes for everyone to munch on. I loved how this turned out, it was quite easy and so fun to make!

Overall we couldn't have been more pleased with our turnout. The shower was a complete success and my cousin received so many wonderful items for her baby boy!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Chocolate Coconut Candies

What a doozy of a week! I thought we might have avoided any sort of illnesses but man our family got hit hard in the last several days. Nothing too severe, just annoying colds and fevers. Things are looking up though, we're on the mend and hopefully everyone stays healthy the remainder of spring.

It's hard to believe Easter is already next week. I swear it snuck up on us. For our family, it means much for than just the Easter bunny and candy. But you have to admit, it's also fun to partake in those things.

Last year I made a couple homemade versions of popular candy bars,Reese's peanut butter eggs and Twix bars. Both absolutely delicious and fun to make. This time around it's my version of a Mounds bar.

Chocolate and coconut pair very well together in this bite size candy. I had a good time trying different shapes; balls, simple squares and even the ol' Easter egg. Plus they were so simple to make. Surprise the family next week by adding these chocolates to their baskets!

Chocolate Coconut Candies

7-1/2 cups sweetened coconut flakes
2 cups powdered sugar
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 lb. chocolate almond bark

In a large bowl, combine coconut and powdered sugar. Drizzle in condensed milk and mix well. Press mixture into a 9x13 inch pan. Chill in freezer for one hour or until set.

Before removing from freezer, start melting almond bark. In a microwave safe bowl, melt chocolate in 30 second intervals until melted and smooth.

Remove coconut from freezer. Cut into small squares or make any shape you'd like. Dip into chocolate, shaking off any excess before placing onto parchment paper to set. Repeat process until all candies are covered. Store candies in an airtight container. I have mine in the freezer, but you can certainly leave them at room temp or in the fridge.

Makes about 40

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mexi-Chicken Stuffed Shells

I love a good challenge, especially when it involves food. Recently I came across Healthy Solutions Spice Blends'  blogger recipe challenge. I was able to choose from their many blends to create a dish. I went with their authentic chili/taco seasoning,

And I am sure glad I did. Who doesn't need a good taco or chili seasoning? I really appreciated the fact that it's not made with any salt or sugar. We've enjoyed this blend with traditional tacos of course, layered taco dip, my chicken tortilla chili and even in these fabulous stuffed shells.

We love a good pasta dish in our house and I love how the recipe makes plenty. I can feed a crowd or just toss an extra pan in our freezer for another day. I incorporated some of my homemade refried beans into the filling, but feel free to use your favorite store bought version. I won't judge,  I promise.

Go ahead and give these pasta shells a try, maybe even surprise a friend or neighbor with a small pan? You'll be a new favorite, that's for sure!

Mexi-Chicken Stuffed Shells

2 cups cooked, shredded chicken
15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 green pepper, diced
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
10 oz. diced tomatoes w/green chiles, undrained
1/2 cup refried beans
3 tsp healthy solutions taco/chili spice blend
8 oz. grated or shredded cheese
12 oz. pkg jumbo pasta shells, cooked al dente

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set aside two 8x8 inch baking dishes or one large 9x13 pan.

Combine shredded chicken,  beans and green pepper in a large bowl and set aside. In a small bowl, combine cream cheese, tomatoes and beans to form a sauce. Pour into the chicken mixture and stir well. Add in seasoning.

Spread a small amount of salsa over bottom of each pan. Scoop chicken mixture into each prepared pasta shell and place into pan. Repeat until all shells are filled. Drizzle a little extra salsa over shells if desired. Then sprinkle with cheese.

Cover and bake in oven for about 25-30 minutes, just until cheese is melted and shells are warmed. Remove from oven. Serve warm with a nice salad. Makes about 30 pasta shells.

* If freezing, prepare all steps up to baking. Then simply cover pan well with foil. Label and date, store in freezer until ready to bake. When ready to prepare, thaw pan and heat in oven for 30 minutes or so.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Grab some Almonds!

Any almond lovers out there? I always try to keep a small stash on hand, whether it be for homemade granola, adding into cookie dough, topping on salads or a quick snack. They are so good for you and pretty darn tasty too!

Today I thought it would be nice to revisit some of my recipes including almonds and share some of their amazing benefits with you.

I've always known nuts are good to include in your diet but I definitely found some interesting facts. Here are just a few:

*Almonds are among the lowest calorie nut. One ounce contains: 160 calories, 7 grams of protein,  3.5 grams of fiber and 9 grams of heart healthy fat.

*They are an excellent source of many nutrients that help in the development and health of the brain.

*You can store unshelled almonds in a cool, dry place for several months.

*Including almonds in your diet can help with the following: maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, strengthening the immune system, reducing your risk for Alzheimer's disease,  improving skin complexion and regulating blood pressure.

See, lots of good stuff there! Tell me below, what are some ways you work to include almonds in your own diet? I've never baked with almond flour, but that would definitely be one way I'd love to experiment more with almonds.

I've rounded up several of my own recipes featuring this heart healthy nut. We especially like making our own almond butter, it's very easy! Take a peek:

Slow cooker granola
DIY almond butter
Homemade cinnamon/pecan/almond granola
Bite-sized granola cups
Immune boosting cookies
Chicken and broccoli slaw
Apple spiced granola
Chocolate-PB Banana Breakfast Smoothie

I've also recently come across a wonderful company, based out of New Jersey that specializes in all varieties of nuts. I am a big believer in buying local, but I also love supporting close knit family companies like this one. Just a couple items in particular that I love: they roast all nuts and pop corn the same day as they ship your order. They also use recycled cardboard boxes and biodegradable packing peanuts on all packages. And lastly, at the moment they currently offer 250 organic products.

I encourage you to visit their page, learn more about their company and take a peek around at all the almond products they have to offer. I'm especially interested in their almond flour and of course anything chocolate covered looks pretty tempting!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Scotcheroo Roll-ups

It seriously cannot be Thursday already? Spring break is going so fast! The girls and I have been enjoying our time off. I've tried to plan something little for us to do each day. Monday the weather was beautiful and warm so we went to the park, for a walk, got an ice cream cone and just soaked up as much sunshine as we could. We've gone to the library and also a couple local museums. I suppose nothing as exciting as going out of town for vacation but we're having fun so that's all that matters.

One afternoon we also made these yummy bars. They're just a fun spin on a traditional scotcheroo. I am positive everyone has had one before, but just in case, they are a crispy cereal treat mixed with peanut butter and then topped with a chocolate butterscotch mixture.

They are definitely not good for you in terms of nutrition but such a fun treat to enjoy on occasion.  I honestly had never thought to roll up the bars like this, but after talking with a co-worker around the holidays she convinced me to give it a try. It took me awhile, but we finally got them made. The kids loved them! And I love how the chocolate mess on top is eliminated, makes for less clean up for this mom.

Scotcheroo Roll-ups

10 oz bag large marshmallows
4 tbsp butter
1 cup peanut butter
6 cups crispy rice cereal
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips

In a large saucepan, melt marshmallows and butter over medium heat. Stir until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter until combined. Add in cereal and mix well. Dump mixture into a lightly greased jelly roll pan or large cookie sheet. Press cereal mixture into pan. Set aside.

In a small saucepan,  melt both chips over medium-low heat. Stir constantly until mixture is melted and smooth. Remove from heat and spread over cereal bars. Then roll up starting with the long end. Once rolled into a log shape, set pan in fridge for 1 hour to chill. Once chilled, remove from fridge and cut into 1/2 inch slices. Makes 20.
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