Friday, April 18, 2014

Million Dollar Casserole

It's Friday, the girls are out of school today and the sun is shining. You can't ask for much more. They helped clean up the house today so fingers crossed, I won't have to do much cleaning this weekend. Ha, I can wish right?

We did make something new for lunch today. Have you heard of this casserole? I've seen tons of different variations across the Internet but have never made such a thing. I'm typically not fond of the whole cottage cheese/ricotta mixture in my lasagnas, etc. I don't know what it is, maybe the texture or the extra creaminess or just the fact that's it white. I think it's really just all in my head. I blame it on my mom, that lady will not eat anything with cheese in it.

But I wanted to try something new, but with my own twist on it of course. I've still got a few containers in my freezer of my favorite spaghetti sauce so I knew we had to incorporate that into the dish.

I think it's safe to say everyone liked it. It's almost like a lasagna, especially the way everything's sort of layered together. You can use any type of pasta you have on hand. I didn't have any spaghetti so we substituted cellentani or corkscrew pasta. The kids enjoy the different shapes.

The casserole itself is really easy to assemble. We made it right before lunch and popped it into the oven. You could also prepare it the night before or right before work in the morning and then let it chill in the fridge during the day. Just remove when you get home and then bake. If you choose to use ricotta instead of cottage cheese, I think this would also make for an excellent freezer meal. Double the batch and divide into two small 8x8-inch pans and you've got two meals. Or possibly one to share, I'm sure you know of a new mom, neighbor or friend that could use a nice, homecooked meal!

Million Dollar Casserole

8 oz. cellentani pasta {or any shape you prefer}
1/2 lb. cooked ground beef
3 cups spaghetti sauce {or one jar of store-bought}
2 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 oz. whole milk ricotta cheese
2 tbsp sour cream
1/3 cup grated or shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 tbsp garlic powder
pinch of salt and pepper
1 cup mozzarella cheese

Over stove top, prepare pasta according to package instructions, cook until al dente. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, if baking right away.

In a medium bowl, beat together cream cheese, ricotta and sour cream. Season with the parmesan cheese, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Combine well and set aside.

When pasta is done, lightly grease the bottom of an 8x8-inch baking dish. Spread half of pasta in the bottom of the pan. Drop dollops of ricotta mixture over the pasta. Sprinkle a little bit of the meat over the ricotta. Then add the remaining pasta, top with the remaining meat. Pour spaghetti sauce all over the casserole. Top with the mozzarella cheese.

Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes. If not baking right away, cover with foil and place in fridge until ready to heat. If you'd like to freeze; cover tightly with foil, label and place in freezer when completely cooled.

Makes one 8x8-inch pan

Thursday, April 17, 2014

5 Things I'm Loving Right Now

I am enjoying this short work week; I ended up not having any kiddos for daycare today so the little miss and I enjoyed some time at the Youth Pavilion here in town. Every third Thursday they offer admission for only $1. You can't beat that! We stayed for an hour and a half and then will go back for a little while after the others get out of school this afternoon. I love when we are able to take advantage of fun entertainment and especially at such great prices.

Here are just a few things I've come across lately that I thought you might enjoy as well!

Orange-Glazed Bunny Rolls Recipe

I'm not sure if I'll have time to make these before Easter this weekend, but these orange-glazed bunny rolls look absolutely adorable! Don't you agree?

An Honest Look at Frugality.  Pinching pennies is not always fun.  One woman's honest look at the downside of being thrifty.

I read this post yesterday and I can't tell you how much I can relate to the author's feelings. For much of my married life we've lived pretty frugally. It almost seems like second nature, I don't think much about it and part of it was just how I was raised. But there are days, weeks, when I too; would love nothing more than to skip my meal planning and just go out to eat as often as I would like. If we feel like heading out of town for the weekend and taking a mini vacation, let's go, no planning ahead and saving, just go.  I also realize that if we continue on this path, some day these things will happen. Sort of like Dave Ramsey says " If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else".

I won a Visa gift card from a giveaway in recent months and have been saving that to purchase this new cookbook. I just got it today and can't wait to sit down this weekend and read through it. I thoroughly enjoyed Beth's first book and love following her story of living in the American Gothic House here in Iowa.

Freezer cooking, one of my favorite topics! This freezer spaghetti sauce is one of my favorite things to make during the summer when tomatoes and peppers are coming fresh out of the garden. We have some big changes coming for our family this summer. At the end of May I am closing my daycare after eight years, I'm excited to spend the entire summer with my girls and then in August I will be planning to start working outside the home.

With that said, I know I will need to carve out some time this summer for some major freezer cooking to ease us all into our new schedules. I'm thinking about a freezer cooking series, maybe 31 days of freezer cooking? Sharing new recipes each day, what I'm making for our own stash and hoping some of you will be following along. What do you think?

50 BEST Kids Lunch and Snack Ideas 26

I'm always on the look-out for new snack ideas for the kids. It's easy to get stuck in a rut and prepare the same things over and over again. Check out some of these really fun ideas!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Italian Pasta Salad

I was a little quiet on the blog and Facebook over the weekend, it was refreshing to have a little break and to just spend time with family. Both Friday and Saturday were gorgeous outside, so we spent lots of time soaking up those rays. Sunday, it rained all. day. long! It didn't make running errands very fun.

Of course this morning those of us in the Midwest woke up to snow on the ground. Yuck! But we have been enjoying the opportunity to break out those grills more often, especially last week.

Friday that's exactly what we did for supper. We had just picked up our hog from the locker and were anxious to try out some of our brats and hot dogs. Now, I rarely, as in maybe a couple times each year will serve my family hot dogs. Simply put, they just gross me out. But these, I wanted to try. I feel much better knowing where exactly the meat came from and knowing that the animal was raised in a humane way. They honestly put any type of hot dog to shame. I couldn't get over how good they were, and the brats too. We only asked for a few packages of the hot dogs, but they sure hooked us up with the brats. I told the hubby, we'll have to be eating those at least once a week all summer long!

I love a good pasta salad, especially for grilling season. It's also a great way to use up some of the fresh veggies from the garden, the market or our CSA box. This one here is pretty simple, it's one that we've made for years. Of course, we don't have any veggies in season yet around our parts so tomatoes and peppers from the grocery store had to do.

The dressing is key. Skip the store-bought bottled crap and make your own. I wish I could tell you it's cheaper, but really it's not. But it really does taste so much better, and I think you'll feel better too, knowing you can actually pronounce all of the ingredients.

Italian Pasta Salad

12 oz. tri-color pasta, cooked al dente
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
4 oz. cheddar cheese, cubed
1/2 bell pepper, diced (any color)
few slices ham or pepperoni, diced

for the dressing:
1 cup white wine vinegar
1-1/3 cup olive oil
3 tbsp water
1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tbsp garlic powder
1/2 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp oregano
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tbsp basil

Start by making the dressing, combine all spices together in a bowl and stir well. Add in vinegar, olive oil and water and whisk together.  If you happen to have one of these handy little gadgets, you can mix your dressing all together in there. Set dressing aside.

In a large bowl, combine cooked pasta, tomatoes, cheese, peppers and meat, mix together well. Drizzle prepared dressing into bowl and gently toss together. You will not need to use up all of the dressing.

Chill pasta in the fridge until ready to serve. Pasta will dry out just a bit, feel free to add in a little bit more dressing. Store remaining dressing in the fridge.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Chocolate Mug Cake

In recent months I've stumbled upon the idea of baking individualized desserts in the microwave. They've certainly been around for years, anything from a single chocolate chip cookie, to brownies, to cake. Seriously brilliant!

How many times do you crave just a tiny bit of dessert, but don't want to mess with making a whole pan? I make myself give them all away so I'm not tempted by it in the house. Or the girls want to make something on their own, but I really just don't feel like dealing with a big mess at the moment.  Enter in this cake...

A single serving of decadent chocolate cake, but wait. Not just any chocolate cake, one with a filling in the middle. A filling you can decide on, all on your own. Maybe it's a chocolate hazelnut spread, peanut butter or my personal favorite, biscoff cookie spread.

Yup, that's what I stuffed into mine. The middle is warm and gooey. It's not too sweet, just enough to satisfy any craving. And the kids can make these all on their own, of course with adult supervision. They loved measuring and stirring in the ingredients, and of course pushing the buttons on the microwave. These are a definitely a new favorite in our house!

Chocolate Mug Cake

2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp cocoa powder
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp milk
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp biscoff cookie spread {peanut butter or Nutella}

In a regular sized coffee mug, stir together all dry ingredients well. Add in milk and oil and stir together to combine. Drop choice of filling right in the center of batter.

Microwave for 1 minute. Remove from microwave and enjoy!

Adapted from: Made from Scratch

Monday, April 7, 2014

Zesty Italian Melts

We've been enjoying the fruits of our labor from my most recent freezer swap. Weekend lunches are something I always seem to struggle with. Anyone else have this problem? It's easy if we have some leftovers to reheat, but other than the quick sandwiches and what not, I don't always have a great plan. Maybe I try to make things too complicated, I don't usually make the same meal more than once unless it's an absolute favorite.

So it was really nice to pull out these sandwiches, along with some twice baked potatoes and have them ready for lunch after bowling league and our errands on Saturday. Not much thought involved at all, which is really nice! That's what I love most about freezer cooking, at times like this when I don't want to stress about the next meal, I can simply pull something out of the freezer and be done. It's truly a life saver. Now I just need to keep on top of it and make sure I'm doubling meals here and there so we always have a little stash to fall back on.

I spotted these sandwiches in a favorite cookbook of mine, it's one that's devoted entirely to make ahead meals for your freezer. All using wholesome ingredients too. I wanted to try these out for our freezer swap and I hope everyone's enjoying them. I know our family sure did!

I really liked the herbed butter spread on the inside of the buns, the hubby on the other hand didn't so much. But that's no biggie, next time I'll leave it off some. You can really use just about any type of meat you like on these. I stuffed ours with shaved ham and some salami and then added a slice of mozzarella cheese on top.

I wrapped each sandwich in foil and then placed them in a large Ziploc freezer bag. Then we can help ourselves to individual sandwiches as needed. We reheated ours in the oven for a bit, but the microwave would work just fine. In fact I like that idea for easy lunch packing or for when the kids want to help themselves to a quick meal.

Sandwiches aren't something we eat a whole lot of, but with warmer weather coming and nights out at the softball complexes, they will probably start making an appearance on my menus more often. I like this idea of making up different kinds of subs and sandwiches, wrapping them individually and then stashing away in the freezer. I'm looking forward to trying some different variations soon.

Zesty Italian Melts

4 tbsp softened butter
1/4 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp dried oregano
8 sandwich buns
1/2 lb. shaved ham
16 slices of salami
8 slices of mozzarella cheese

In a small bowl, cream together butter and spices, until well mixed. Spread a layer onto each bun. I only did the bottom layer but you can do both top and bottom, if you wish.

Add two to three slices of ham to each bun, along with two slices of salami, alternating. Top with a slice of cheese.

Wrap each sandwich in foil. Place them into a gallon sized freezer bag. Make sure to label the bag with the contents and date.

When ready to enjoy: remove from freezer and let thaw in the fridge. Heat sandwiches in the oven at 300 degrees, for about 15 minutes. Just until cheese is melted and warmed through.

You may also heat in the microwave for a few minutes.

Makes 8 sandwiches

Friday, April 4, 2014

Skillet Lasagna

Life is good. It's been an extremely good week, mainly because I've put extra effort to simplify my own personal schedule. We still had our usual two nights of dance lessons for the girls but other than that we were able to enjoy more time at home, even watch a couple movies this week we rented from the library.

I'm finding myself trying to simplify all areas of my life lately and it's really just for the better. I need to remember to take these breaks from the daily busyness and slow down. Heaven forbid it's okay if I say "no" once in awhile.

Okay, enough with the serious talk. Let's dive into this new dish; a delicious, uncomplicated meal for the family. Lasagna is good, really good in fact. But let's be straight, it's not something we always have time for during the week. So why not create the flavors in a simple pasta skillet dish?

That's exactly what I did this week. I didn't time myself but I'm pretty confident it was done within thirty minutes. Using many ingredients I'm sure we all have in our pantry and fridges, this was by far one of the simplest meals we've had in a long time. We added some salad greens alongside and fresh strawberries. The kids ate really well, everyone had full bellies and mom was happy. Not much else you can ask for, right?

Skillet Lasagna

1/2 lb. mild pork sausage
1/2 lb. ground beef
1 garlic clove, minced
28 oz. diced tomatoes
1 tbsp dry basil or Italian seasoning
salt and pepper, to taste
8 oz. wide egg noodles, cooked al dente
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese


In a large skillet, brown sausage and ground beef until no longer pink. Drain off any grease and return meat back to skillet. Add in minced garlic clove and let cook for one minute. Pour in diced tomatoes, sprinkle in basil and season well with salt and pepper. Mix together well. Add in cooked pasta and stir all ingredients together. Sprinkle in Parmesan cheese and stir to combine. Add mozzarella cheese on top and let cook just until melted. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

DIY Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs

It's almost Easter time, and while I try to monitor how much candy comes into our house; I have to admit, those Reese's peanut butter eggs are one of my favorites. I particularly like the thick peanut butter filling in the middle.

I've always wanted to try making my own, but haven't ever taken the time to do so. So you can imagine my excitement a couple weekends ago during our freezer swap, when one of my friends, Kara, brought along these peanut butter balls. They tasted just like the real deal!

Kara has graciously shared her family's recipe with me and I couldn't get over how easy these are to make. She calls them Lincoln Logs, maybe you've heard of them as well? I thought it would be fun and festive to shape them into egg shaped treats. You can certainly make them into balls like Kara did or logs like the name implies.

Our batch sure didn't last long, between sending some to school for teachers and sharing with family, I will definitely need to be making another batch come Easter day.

DIY Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs {Lincoln Logs}

1 stick butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup crushed graham crackers {I used four whole crackers}
2 cups powdered sugar
2 cups chocolate chips {I used a combo of semi-sweet and white chocolate, almond bark works well too.}

In a large bowl, cream together butter and peanut butter until smooth. Add in graham cracker crumbs. Mix in powdered sugar well.

Line a cookie sheet with wax or parchment paper. Taking peanut butter mixture, form small egg shapes and place onto cookie sheet. Place sheet in fridge and let chill for at least 1 hour.

When ready to coat, melt chocolate chips or almond bark in a microwave safe bowl. Remove candies from fridge and dip into melted chocolate. Let excess chocolate drip off and then place back onto cookie sheet. For quickest results, let chocolates set while in the fridge. Once completely set, you may then remove from cookie sheet and transfer to an airtight storage container. Store extras in fridge. Makes 2 dozen.
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