Monday, April 26, 2010

Stuffed Shells (High Tech Style)

Confession: After seven years, I finally figured out what some of the buttons on my oven are for! When we got the stove, I really liked all of the features that it had to offer. But somewhere along the way I got overwhelmed with other things and forgot all about them.

With my husband out of town and me left to my own devices, I've had to get creative in the evenings when it comes to fitting in baseball/swimming/guitar and dinner. Last night I left work at 5 pm and had to pick up both kids and be on the baseball field by 6 pm. What is a mom to do?

This mom packed some snacks for the kids to eat so that they weren't starving through baseball practice and then she came home to a meal that was ready to eat as she walked in the door. How did I do it? I prepped the meal the night before, stuck it in the oven as we left for practice, programmed my oven to start at a certain time (the "Start Time" button) and then programmed it to bake for 40 minutes ("Cook Time" button). It was so easy! Why hadn't I thought of this before?!?!?!?

I adapted this recipe from The Full Table. I loved the recipe because you do not have to cook the shells before you stuff them! They soak in the pasta sauce overnight and soften enough to be perfectly cooked after 40 minutes in the oven the next day. The recipe made 20 stuffed shells. I served 10 last night and then froze 10 for a later meal.

Make Ahead Stuffed Shells:


1 lb large shell pasta
2 8 ounce blocks of cream cheese
1 small package of chopped spinach (I bought the frozen kind, defrosted it in the microwave, and pressed it through a cheesecloth to get rid of the excess liquid)
1 or 2 cloves of chopped garlic (I added 2, but my daughter thought it was too much)
1 egg
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Pepper to taste
2 jars spaghetti sauce


1. Mix cream cheese, spinach, garlic, egg, mozzarella cheese and pepper thoroughly.
2. Spoon mixture into uncooked shells. Alternatively, you can place the mixture in a ziploc, cut off a corner of the bag, and pipe the mixture into the shells. I started this way, but it didn't work well with the shells that had only a small opening. I found that in those instances, a fork worked best.

If Cooking The Next Day:
Place stuffed shells in a baking dish (8x8 for half of the batch or 9 x 13 for the whole batch).
Pour spaghetti sauce over the top - be sure to cover all shells as this is how they will soften. (1 jar for half of the batch; 2 jars for the entire batch).
Cover baking dish and place in refrigerator overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350 and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. (I put the shells in the oven before we left for practice and set my start and bake times so that they were just finishing up as we arrived home).

If Freezing:
Place stuffed shells on a cookie sheet in the freezer until they are fully frozen. Then transfer to a freezer bag for storage.
When ready to eat shells, remove from freezer the night before.
Pour spaghetti sauce over the top - be sure to cover all shells as this is how they will soften. (1 jar for half of the batch; 2 jars for the entire batch).
Cover baking dish and place in refrigerator overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350 and bake for 35 to 40 minutes.

At first the proportion of sauce to noodles seemed wrong to me. I thought that there was way too much sauce. But after the shells soaked overnight, they absorbed quite a bit which gave them great flavor and made the sauce to shell ratio perfect. This is a dish that I will put on my go to list!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Menu Plan for Week of 03/28/10

Here's our menu for this week. We've added guitar and swimming lessons to three of the five week nights, so I try to either plan something fast or a crockpot meal on those nights.

Brunch of sausage patties, Belgian waffles with strawberry sauce (I simmer frozen strawberries with sugar to taste and a tablespoon of water), scrambled eggs, and fresh pineapple

Dinner of seafood etouffe (spicy cajun stew).

Monday: Crockpot Cheesy Chicken with broccoli and egg noodles

Tuesday: Open faced roast beef and provolone sandwiches, veggie dippers and ranch dressing

Wednesday: Fried Rice

Thursday: Mandarin Chicken Roll Ups and green salad

Friday: Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup (from a can - I'm tired by the time Friday rolls around!)

Saturday: No Clue!

Crockpot Cheesey Chicken

Winner winner chicken dinner! We really liked this recipe, which I found on allrecipes of course!

6 chicken breasts
2 cans condensed cheddar cheese soup
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon garlic powder
frozen broccoli

1. Add the chicken breasts to your crockpot.
2. Dump the soup, milk and garlic powder into crockpot over chicken.
3. Cook on low 6 to 8 hours.
4. 30 minutes before you're ready to serve, add the frozen broccoli to the crockpot.
5. Serve over rice or egg noodles and enjoy!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Weekly Menu Plan - Week of 3/21/10

I've been a longtime blog lurker. I lurked long before I ventured into composing any posts of my own. When I first saw women posting their weekly menus, I didn't get it. Do I really care what they're eating? My conclusion is - yes, I do care. Not because I want to make sure that they are following the food pyramid or getting their five a day, but because their meal plans help me to break out of my rut.

We all have those meals that are regulars on our menus. For us it would be: fried rice, Italian Wedding Soup, Steaks, and baked fish with a green salad. Sometimes I love those foods and other times I'm not sure if I can stand to eat them ever again. My husband feels the same way. His phrase is "What should we eat when we're sick of everything?". Other families menus help me answer that question.

Without further ado, here is our menu for this week:

Sunday: Cabbage Roll Casserole, applesauce (out of a jar - unsweetened of course), and bread with butter

Monday: Steaks (we make them under the broiler), Green Salad, Sauteed mushrooms and onions (just some sliced mushrooms and onions cooked in a bit of olive oil), Barrett's yummy horseradish spread (mayo mixed with horseradish to taste)

Tuesday: Ham Steaks, Au Gratin Potatoes (ala Betty Crocker - out of a box), Glazed Carrots (recipe to come later)

Wednesday: Pizza Night (sometimes I follow this recipe and sometimes we stop at Papa Murphy's and get a crust for $3.00); kiddos eat only cheese and parents eat turkey pepperoni, mushrooms, peppers

Thursday: Fettuccine Alfredo with shrimp and broccoli (using jarred Classico sauce and whole wheat noodles)

Friday: Leftover buffet or on your own (kiddos usually end up with either chicken nuggets or oatmeal while the parents eat the leftovers)

Saturday: Go out for dinner or over to mother in law's for game night

If you still need further menu inspiration, head on over to Menu Plan Monday at

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Turkey Meatballs in Garlic Sauce

We tried this recipe last night with steamed rice and veggies. As usual, the recipe is adapted from
Photo Courtesy of


  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 drops hot pepper sauce
  • 1/2 cup finely crushed butter-flavored crackers (I used Ritz)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 pound lean ground turkey
  • 1 cup V-8 juice
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced


  1. In a large bowl, combine the first seven ingredients. Crumble turkey over mixture and mix well. Shape into six meatballs. Place in a greased 9-in. pie plate. Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the V8 juice, broth and garlic. Turn meatballs; spoon sauce over top. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F. Bake 20 minutes longer, basting every 5 minutes. Serve over rice.

The verdict: We thought that the recipe was so/so. The sauce needed a little something extra - hot sauce maybe? I would definitely add more garlic to both the meatballs and the sauce. I'll try this again sometime, but it won't go into the regular rotation.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tuna Melts

Just when activities seemed to be winding down, I went and signed the kids up for more. Brady will be starting his second round of swimming lessons and Madeline will be starting guitar lessons. To top it off, Madeline's t-ball season starts soon with Barrett as her coach. This translates to fast dinners that can be made mostly ahead of time.

This recipe certainly fits the bill, plus it's perfect for lent. Of course the recipe is adapted from this one at

Photo courtesy of


  • 2 cans tuna , drained
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 3/4 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 slices bread
  • 8 slices ripe tomato
  • 8 slices Swiss cheese
  • paprika, for garnish


  1. Preheat the oven broiler.
  2. In a bowl, mix the tuna, mayonnaise, celery, onion, parsley, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Place the rye bread slices on a baking sheet, and broil 1 minute in the preheated oven, until lightly toasted. Turn bread over and toast other side for 1 minutes. Remove from heat, and spread with the tuna salad. Place 1 cheese slice over the tuna salad on each piece of bread, layer with a tomato slice, and top with remaining cheese slices.
  4. Return layered bread to the preheated oven, and broil 3 to 5 minutes, until cheese is melted.

These were really good and very versatile. We actually used shredded cheddar cheese on some of the melts and I thought they were even better than the slices of swiss. Some of us had rye bread while other had wheat. Use whatever you have. We also decided that this recipe was a good start for other kinds of open face melts. I think that I may have a new go to meal!

I made the tuna mixture the evening before, so for dinner all I had to do were steps 3 and 4 which took about 5 minutes. I topped off the dinner with pre-cut veggies and ranch dip.

I've linked this recipe to The Ultimate Recipe Swap at Life As Mom.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Favorite Healthy Snacks

So, I live in a household of snackers. My kids graze all day long. As long as the snacks are healthy and they cover all of the food groups, I'm happy to let them graze. What they love: popcorn (recipe below for make your own microwave popcorn), homemade chex mix, fruit/yogurt smoothies, string cheese.

I'm not going to give you the recipe for Chex Mix; you can find it right on any box of Chex cereal. I highly recommend following the instructions for microwave prep as it takes 6 minutes instead of the 1 hr 15 minute oven method. My daughter and I made a big batch this past weekend. We only had two of the three kinds of cereal called for in the recipe so we improvised and added some Cheerios as a substitution. It turned out great!

We love us some popcorn in our house! I am way too cheap (and health conscious) to buy microwave popcorn. I buy the popcorn seeds in bulk at Winco and store them in the fridge. I used to cook the popcorn the old fashioned way by standing over the stove and shaking the pan until I thought that my arms would fall off. The kids do like to watch the kernels pop, but I don't like putting forth the effort. Instead, I make it in the microwave and here's how:

Make Your Own Microwave Popcorn:

1/2 cup popcorn seeds
1 teaspoon vegetable oil or olive oil or butter
salt to taste

In a bowl mix the seeds, oil and salt until the seeds are well coated.
Pour into a small brown paper bag.
Place bag into microwave (right side up - do NOT place the bag on it's side).
Microwave popcorn for 2:30 to 3:00 minutes or until the popping sound is longer than two seconds apart.
Open the paper bag slowly as the steam will be hot.

If you want to be a bit naughty, check out A Thrifty Mom's recipe for microwave caramel corn! I could marry this caramel corn and live happily ever after - it's that good.

Smoothies: My son would love to have a smoothie every day for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I don't have a "recipe", but rather a method to my madness. Here are the key components: juice, yogurt, frozen fruit. In my blender I pour about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of whatever fruit juice I have on hand, I then add about 1 cup of whatever yogurt I have on hand, then add frozen fruit. The amount of fruit varies by how much I have on hand. I usually add 2 to 3 frozen bananas and half a bag of frozen strawberries. I've also added fruit from a can or jar. I just freeze the fruit on a cookie sheet the night before I'm going to make smoothies. It's a great way to use up odds and ends of fresh and canned fruit. Once you have everything in the blender, pulse it a few times to get the "juices" flowing and then blend on high until it is smooth. I'm getting pretty good at getting the right consistency so that they can be drank through a straw. If they turn out too thick, I just add some additional juice.

Do you have any favorite fast healthy snack recipes to share? Does anybody have a good one for granola or granola bars?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Newest Obsessions

Here's what I'm loving lately...

Olympics! My whole family has Olympic fever. For some members, we had to start with the basics - "Mom, what's a competition?". For others, they are getting a geography lesson in disguise. Last Friday night felt like a holiday. The anticipation of the opening ceremonies was akin to that of waiting to open our gifts on Christmas.
We got into our jammies, camped out on the living room floor with our blankets and pillows and armed ourselves with heaping bowls of popcorn. It turns out that we are not quite the party animals we thought ourselves to be. After all of that anticipation, we only made it to the "G"s in the parade of nations.

Tyler's journey at Please take a moment to visit his website if you aren't already familiar with it. He is such an inspiration!

Yummy Chocolate Peanut Butter Treats

I am a HUGE (big big big) fan of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I could seriously eat them until I make myself sick. While I don't have a recipe to duplicate that heaven on earth, I have a recipe that has similar tastes and is really easy.

This recipe is from my mom. Thanks, mom. I made these little babies for Christmas and they received rave reviews. You would never guess that they are so simple that my three year old has mastered this recipe.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Treats

Sleeve of Ritz Crackers
Peanut Butter
Milk Chocolate Chunks for melting (I generally use chocolate specifically made for melting. It can be found in the baking isle of your grocery store. Chocolate chips should work fine too.

1. Spread peanut butter on one Ritz cracker and top with another to make a sandwich. Use as much or as little peanut butter as you would like. I slather it on pretty thick since I personally believe that one can never have too much peanut butter. Prepare all of your sandwiches before going on to the next step.
2. Melt the chocolate by microwaving for a minute and then stirring. Repeat until the chocolate is fully melted.
3. Dip the cracker/peanut butter sandwiches in the chocolate. Shake off the excess chocolate and place on wax paper until chocolate is set.

I was planning a different post for tonight, but there is a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup sitting on my counter top and I've been fighting the urge to devour it for hours now.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Valentines Day

My sweetie and I had an awesome Valentines Day celebration. We actually celebrated a couple days early. Since babysitters are pretty hard to come by for us, we take advantage of the time when our kids are at school. Normally we are at work during the day while our kids are at school, but once in a while we coordinate vacation days and have a kid free date day.

It's so nice to have a leisurely day together. On this particular day we REALLY treated ourselves. We headed over to the Bonneville Hot Springs Resort and Spa in North Bonneville, Oregon. It's located in the Columbia River Gorge and the drive out was spectacular. The Gorge really is a MUST SEE. It will take your breath away. The Columbia River Gorge provides views of the Columbia River, rugged mountains of the cascade range, and gushing waterfalls.

Why did we head over to the Resort and Spa? To get pampered with spa treatments of course! You see my husband loves the pampering just as much as I do. We opted for the couples soak, wrap, and massage package. The couples rooms are nicely appointed with a large two person soaking tub, fireplace, large picture window with a view, and a massage area. First you soak together in the mineral bath while enjoying the fireplace and view. Next you are wrapped in warm linens on a heated cot. Lastly you finish off your treatment with an 80 minute massage. If you're up for more relaxation, you can head over to their hot springs tub and pool to soak again.

By the time we were finished with our spa treatments (2 1/2 hours later) we were STARVING! So, we headed over to a favorite restaurant and devoured our seafood and lobster lunch. How do you end such a great day? With a long nap before heading over to pick up the kiddos from school.

I hope you had a great Valentines Day to reconnect with your loved ones as well.

Another Breakfast Recipe For The Freezer - Single Portions

I have become a big fan of preparing foods in advance and storing them in my freezer in single size portions. We use these items as our convenience foods in order to avoid fast food drive thrus. This allows us to eat healthier and save money.

I have frozen meals that I've prepared in advance before and that works great. But what happens if you just want a lunch size portion or a snack? Do you thaw the entire dish and hope that it gets eaten before it goes to waste? I have found that we really enjoy the flexibility of single size portions.

Previously I showed you how to make and freeze Breakfast Burritos. The next most popular breakfast recipe at our house is:

Blueberry Pancakes: This recipe makes 12 pancakes. You can omit the blueberries and serve plain pancakes or substitute another fruit in it's place.
  • 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (if you don't have wheat flour or don't like it, just use 1 1/4 cups white flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter melted
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries thawed


  • In a large bowl mix dry ingredients.
  • In a small bowl beat together egg and milk.
  • Mix the egg/milk mixture, butter and blueberries into the dry ingredients and stir just until blended.
  • Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat.
  • Pour approximately 1/4 cup of batter onto the pan and brown on both sides.
  • To freeze, let the pancakes cool completely. Then wrap either one or two pancakes in plastic wrap (I'm totally addicted to Press & Seal!) and then into a ziploc bag. Be sure to remove as much air from the bag as possible. I like to use a straw to suck the air out.
  • To reheat frozen pancakes, remove from bag and plastic wrap. Set on a microwave safe plate in a single layer. Microwave for one minute to one minute and 30 seconds. You could probably reheat them in the oven, but I never have that much time.

My kids eat these pancakes for a quick meal or snack. Since we oftentimes eat breakfast in the car, this is a good grab and go item that doesn't make a big mess. When we eat them on the go, we don't top them with anything. They taste great on their own.

In the next installment of freezer meals, I'll show you some of our favorite muffin recipes. Muffins always freeze well and can be packed with fruits and even veggies to make them a healthy snack or breakfast.

This post is linked to Kitchen Tip Tuesday at Tammy's Recipes.

Monday, February 15, 2010

My Baby Boy is Four Today!

Today my baby boy turns four. Happy birthday to you, big guy. Here is how he chose to celebrate: He invited his preschool classmates and cousins to a swimming party, he had family over for dinner with a special menu of his choosing, and he played with all of his new legos for hours and hours and hours. That pretty much sums up a perfect day for him.

What does a four year old choose for his birthday menu? If you're Brady you choose sausage (which apparently looks like a giant weanie), macaroni and cheese, broccoli, and pink lemonade. For dessert we had chocolate cake with chocolate frosting (from a can).

He loved his new Spiderman bike. He said that it was "big and strong". He's so funny!

Happy birthday, my love.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My New Appreciation For My Freezer

I have these fantasies of being a stay at home mom and preparing perfectly balanced and delicious meals for my family every day. I can just see myself in the kitchen with my apron (channeling June Cleaver) humming as I prepare what is sure to be a meal that my family will savor and appreciate. Nobody would complain that they didn't like the dinner. Nobody would ask for chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese from a box. Nobody would cry that they want each speck of green food removed from their plate. I would serve these meals on matching china as we all sat together to discuss our days. We would linger at the table savoring the evening and the time we have together.

That is my fantasy; what is my reality? I get off of work at 4:30, rush to the gym for an hour, get home shortly before 6 pm, eat a quick meal (sometimes well planned and executed and sometimes pizza for the third night in a row), play with the kids for a short while, bathe the kids, get the kids to bed, get a bit of housework done, lament that it's now past my bedtime and I haven't sat down once, go to bed, and do it all over again.

I am slowly realizing that I can prepare delicious homemade food for my family to enjoy anytime. I just prepare it when I have time and then put it in single size portions in the FREEZER. I've already shared one recipe with you for make ahead lunch wraps. In the coming days, I'm going to share with you even more recipes for freezer eats.

I really love having these prepared items in single size servings. We use them for lunches and quick easy dinners. I REALLY hate packing my lunch for the next day each evening. It only takes a few minutes, but it is really a pain in the butt!! This has really helped me save money and calories by not eating out as often. The excuse that fast food is more convenient just went out the window!

I can still retain some of my June Cleaver fantasy, but I get to do it on my own schedule. My family is still savoring the fruit of my labor, just not exactly how I pictured us sitting down for a leisurely meal.

So let's start at the very beginning: Breakfast. Since I love to sleep every minute that I can, I have to eat breakfast on the go. Oftentimes it would consist of one or all of the following being eaten in the car: toast, yogurt, banana. Then one day while perusing my favorite recipe website ( I found a recipe for breakfast burritos. What's great about these babies is that you can make them to suit your preferences, freeze them, and then eat them for quick on the go meals.

Breakfast Burritos (adapted from allrecipes)

12 slices bacon, diced
12 eggs, lightly beaten salt and pepper to taste
10 (8 inch) flour tortillas
1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions

In a skillet, cook bacon until crisp; remove to paper towels. Drain, reserving 1-2 tablespoons drippings. Add eggs, salt and pepper to drippings; cook and stir over medium heat until the eggs are completely set.
Spoon about 1/4 cup of egg mixture down the center of each tortilla; sprinkle with cheese, onions and bacon. Fold bottom and sides of tortilla over filling. Wrap each in waxed paper and aluminum foil. Freeze for up to 1 month.
To use frozen burritos: Remove foil. Place waxed paper-wrapped burritos on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave at 60% power for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes or until heated through. Let stand for 20 seconds.

Don't like bacon? Are you crazy?!?!?!? You can substitute sausage instead. I typically use turkey breakfast sausage. In keeping with the original recipe, I cook the sausage, remove from pan, then cook eggs in drippings as directed. This recipe would also be a great way to use up leftover ham.

My kids don't like either bacon or sausage. For them I omit the meat and begin the recipe at step 2 making them egg and cheese burritos.

Often times I will add in extra sauteed veggies. I have added onions, peppers, chiles, and mushrooms.

Go crazy with the fillings and cheeses, add some yummy toppings (if you're not eating this in the car on the way to work) and enjoy!