Adding Veggies to Lasagna

One of the hardest things for us to do for dinner in our house is to add green to any food.  We regularly have to hear complaints about not liking “green stuff”.  It’s actually kind of funny since they will gladly eat raw broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, etc. dipped in ranch dressing.  We know they like veggies.  Put them into the dishes, though, and, apparently, it’s just not acceptable.

Still, I’m not one to run from challenges or to “sneak” veggies into a dish without the kids knowing about it.  Thankfully, I know that the kids love everything about lasagna.  It’s an easy way to introduce some of that stuff that they complain about into something that I know they’ll eat.  I took a jarred sauce and added some cooked beef and mushrooms to it.  Nothing to jump out of your socks about there.  I took the typical ricotta cheese mixture and added about 8 oz. of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed of all of the extra water.  Again, not really any extra work here.

Adding Veggies to Lasagna

Did the kids fuss about the green?  Of course they did!!  I had them try one bite, though.  When they couldn’t even taste that there was spinach in there, they proceeded to gobble up the rest of it.  I’m trying hard to get them to understand that liking the taste of each individual ingredient is far less important than liking the taste of the final product.  I’m not a big fan of cooked carrots, but to give a stew, tomato sauce, or any number of other dishes great flavor, I might have to cook down some carrots as part of it.  What matters most is how it tastes in the end.

As a bonus tip:  if you want that beautifully perfect, clean cut serving of lasagna, all you have to do is have a little patience.  Wait about 15-20 minutes after the lasagna comes out of the oven.  It’ll still be plenty warm to eat, but the sauce will have cooled down just enough to let it set and not run all over.  Take the time to finish your bread, make a quick side salad, set the table, or even finish up the dishes from prepping the lasagna.  If all else fails, have a glass of wine and admire your handiwork!  Enjoy!

What are your favorite tips for adding more veggies into your kids diets?  Do you sneak them in or hide them in plain sight?

5 Tips for Holiday Baking With Kids

NOTE: Sam Peters backed and provided information for this post.

It’s fall. Fall means wearing Halloween costumes and trick or treating. It means Thanksgiving and Christmas meal prep, present buying, pumpkin spice everything and weekly baking projects.

In other words, it’s the best time of the year. Giving baked goods as holiday gifts is a great way to show you care and save money at the same time. You can even get the kids in on the action—baking cookies, fudge and chocolate bars for your children’s friends.

Some of our favorite recipes include:

Peach Upside Down Mini Cakes

Frosted Zucchini Brownies

Football Snickers Brownies

Frosted Cookie BitesFrosted Cookie Bites

You will undoubtedly have some family favorites of your own (feel free to share them in the comments!) that get made every year. Gather together everything that stands a remote chance of being baked. Now is the best time to start putting together your winter/holiday baking plans because, as you know there is no such thing as too much prep when it comes to baking with kids.

Here are some of the other things that you can do to make your holiday baking sessions go smoother.

1. Stain-proof your kitchen

Make sure you have the materials on hand to cover any surface that doesn’t lend itself to being coated in baking materials. Somehow, no matter how careful everybody is, ingredients get everywhere when you’re baking with children.

PRO TIP: Make sure your kitchen blinds are made from laminate or similar material so they’re easy to clean. You’ll protect your windows and be stylish at the same time!

2. Give Everybody Their Own Apron

Get cheap aprons from Michael’s or JoAnn’s and have your kids go decoration-nuts with fabric paints and markers. This way everybody will have their own very special apron that can be reused every baking session and you won’t waste valuable time refereeing arguments over who gets to wear what.

3. Hands in the Pockets Rule

Your kids will get a thrill out of your allowing them to use your mixers and beaters. Teaching them how to use these machines at an early age is definitely a good idea (and makes them far less tempting than if you were to tell them they were completely off limits). To keep little fingers out of the way, have a rule stating while the mixer is running, your kids can watch the dough being mixed but they need to keep their hands in their pockets and their hair pulled back. This way you won’t have to worry about fingers or hair getting caught into the beaters or blades.

4. Decorate First

The lovely ladies at The Kitchn encourage the use of egg wash tempera paint for the decorating of cookies before they get baked in the oven. This way you only have to run the cookies through the oven once and they are ready to eat (or give) as soon as they are taken out and cooled! And, of course, let your kids do their own decorating!

5. Read the Recipe Together

Reading through the recipe together is a great way to keep the youngest kids involved (and helps improve reading skills). You might even appoint someone the “Official Recipe Keeper” so that nobody feels left out of the preparations.

Have fun!

 

Oatmeal Cranberry Pistachio Cookies

It’s getting close to the holiday season and that means it’s time to get baking and I can hardly wait for all of the yummy sweet treats.  Thankfully, I have an excuse to get started!  Dixie Crystals and Imperial Sugar are hosting a Cookie Contest for a chance to win a free ticket to Mixed and a grand prize of $500!!  In response, I am offering up my Oatmeal Cranberry Pistachio Cookies.  YUM!!

Oatmeal Cranberry Pistachio Cookies

Mixed is a cool little conference for food bloggers.  It’s very small, meaning that you actually get a chance to know some of the bloggers and presenters.  It’s also located at the lovely Mountain Lake Resort in Southwest Virginia.

It’s pretty close to where we live now, but it is even closer to Virginia Tech, where Beth and I met, fell in love, and where I eventually proposed to her.  As it happens, my grandmother also lives just a few miles away.  All in all, it’s a great trip with some gorgeous views and some great connections to my life.  I went last year and had a blast.

This year, I’m looking forward to taking Beth down to participate in all of the fun.  To help with that, I made up a batch of Oatmeal Cranberry Pistachio Cookies.

The typical oatmeal cookies use darker sugars (brown sugar, molasses, etc) and cinnamon to achieve a deep, rich flavor.  I decided to clean it up a little bit, opting for white sugar and light corn syrup so that the tartness of the cranberries and the saltiness of the roasted pistachios really shines through.  Boy did it work!  The cookies have that sugary crunch, coupled with the chewiness that we all love from an oatmeal cookie.  Then you get the sweet, the tart, and the salty…all in one bite.  These are cookies that I am proud to share with you all.  Enjoy!!

Cranberry Pistachio Oatmeal Cookies-1

Oatmeal Cranberry Pistachio Cookies

Ingredients

6 oz (about 1 1/2 cups) dried cranberries
1 cup dark rum
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups Dixie Crystals or Imperial Sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 large eggs
2 1/2 cups rolled (or old-fashioned) oats
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup roasted, salted, and shelled pistachios, chopped

Directions

Combine cranberries and rum.  Set aside to soak for 10-20 minutes.

In a large bowl or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until fluffy, about five minutes.  Add corn syrup and beat another 2-3 minutes.  Add the egg and beat another 2 minutes or until the mixture is smooth.

Combine oats, flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.  Reduce mixer speed to low and add the oat mixture in two stages, until fully combined.  Drain the cranberries, reserving the rum, and stir in the cranberries and pistachios by hand.  Cover and set in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

To cook:  Preheat oven to 350.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Form the dough into balls of 1-2 Tbs each and arrange on the baking sheets leaving approximately 3 inches between each cookie.  Flatten slightly with the back of a spoon or fork.  Bake 10-12 minutes or until cookies are just set.  Allow to cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets before transferring to racks to cool completely.

Bonus Recipe!  Take about 2 Tbs of that reserved rum and combine with 8 oz of ginger ale for a great little treat to go with your cookies.  Enjoy!!

 

Are you itching to get baking for the holidays?  What is your favorite go to treat this time of year?

 

This post serves as my entry in the Mixed Pre-Conference Cookie Contest sponsored by Dixie Crystals.

Ben’s Beginners Contest – Lend a Vote

Ben's Beginners graphic

As you have figured out Brian loves to be in the kitchen. I am in the kitchen when Brian isn’t around  … or I can make a sweet treat. The kids though just being in the kitchen so we were excited to see the Uncle Ben’s Rice “Ben’s Beginners Contest”. Grace and Sophie both wanted to do videos. They collaborated with Brian to make recipes that are favorite dishes.

Part of the prize is $30,000 for the winner’s cafeteria. This would be a wonderful gift for their cafeteria. Grace’s suggestion is new tables because “some of the seats spin around”. That is a pretty good need in the school and she would know seeing this her third year there!

The best part of this contest is that you can vote for BOTH girls each day! You can vote every 24 hours (best we can tell it goes by the clock not the day). So please vote daily … the winner isn’t chosen by the votes but it is 20% of the score the judges are using.

Sophie’s Video …

Sophie's chicken broccoli stir fry

 

VOTE for Sophie HERE!

Don’t you love how she just keeps looking at the camera?! I do LOVE her Yummies!

Grace’s Video …

Grace's chicken enchilada bake

 

VOTE for Grace HERE!

Grace was all about doing this by herself but she wants to let you know she has daddy wrapped around her finger. All she has to do ask for his help! :)

By the way … THANK YOU!!

Taking a Minute to Give Back with Minute Rice

Thanks to Minute Rice for making this post possible.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.

We are so blessed!  We have a great blog (ok, I’m biased!) and we get to review and give away amazing products all of the time.  We also work with some really wonderful companies who are willing to help us give back to our local community.

Recently, we partnered with Minute Rice to feature a recipe on the blog here.  While we were not offered any monetary compensation, we did negotiate for them to provide some product for our local food pantry in addition to the two boxes that we received for review.  We were overwhelmed when we received 18 boxes of Minute Rice’s new Multi-Grain Medley.  That’s enough to provide a family of four a starch for dinner for over a month!!

One of the best parts of these opportunities is the chance to share the experience with our kids.  On the day that I was to deliver the rice, Sophie just happened to be sick.  As such, she got to help me out!  Just take a look at some pictures of this operation.

We live in a pretty small community, but we still have plenty of people in need.  This food pantry is only open two days each week, so people make it a point to be here as soon as the doors open up.

Minute Rice Food Pantry-3

This is a pretty small organization, but they surely have their acts together!  Look at how well organized they are.  Still, every little bit helps and the Minute Rice Multi-Grain Medley was pretty well received.

Minute Rice Food Pantry-2

This gentleman was working his tail off, accepting my donation, organizing this and other donations, and putting together bags for the people who need it.

Minute Rice Food Pantry-4

My little Sophie was so happy to help out her daddy.  The gentleman above made sure to take a few extra seconds to offer her a small bag of fruit snacks.  What a giving individual!

Minute Rice Food Pantry-5

The local food pantry takes donations from local individuals, but also from local stores.  Day old bread might not be great for sales, but it’s fine for eating.  (Plus it makes great French toast!!)

Minute Rice Food Pantry-6

Fresh produce is one of the more expensive items to purchase at the grocery store.  I’m so happy to see that they have plenty to offer up to the individuals seeking assistance.

Minute Rice Food Pantry-1

The volunteers at this food pantry work so hard.  I hope that everyone appreciates how much they give of themselves.  Hopefully they have their own Minute Rice at home to help them make a quick, easy dinner!  Maybe they can try out this recipe.

Cilantro-Lime Success Rice

Minute Rice Food Pantry-7

This rice dish was fluffy and had the great tartness from the lime and freshness from the cilantro.  The flavors were clean and no one ingredient overpowered the others.  It served as an incredible side for some scrumptious coconut shrimp.  Keep an eye out for that recipe!

Ingredients

2 bags Success Boil-in-Bag Jasmine White Rice
1 lime
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Prepare the Success Rice according to package directions.  Grate the zest and juice of the lime into the prepared rice.  Add the cilantro, salt, and pepper.  Enjoy!

 Broccoli and Success Multi-Grain Melody Rice

broccoli-multi-grain-success-rice

Ingredients

1 bag Success Boil-in-Bag Multi-Grain Rice

1 head of broccoli

1/4 cup of Olive Oil

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Prepare the Success Rice according to the package directions. Saute the broccoli in the Olive Oil. Add the rice to the broccoli in the saute pan. Stir often while combining flavors and giving the rice a bit of a crisp. Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

How do you give back to your local community?  Share your story with us!  Thanks!

Tomato Salad: A Fresh Taste of Summer

When we are doing our backyard summer barbecues, we usually think of the meat item first.  However, whether trying to eat healthier or just living a meatless lifestyle, more people are skipping the meat altogether.  It can be hard to put out a side dish that can not only stand on its own, but that tastes like summertime.  This simple tomato salad may be just the ticket.

Tomato Salad

It’s tough to think of a more iconic taste of summer than that of a perfectly ripe tomato.  They are juicy, acidic, and they just plain taste incredible.  I can remember buying fresh tomatoes from a roadside stand and coming home to just cut them and eat them.  I can’t even get a ripe cherry tomato at home.  The kids pull them all off and gobble them up before I can get to them.

That’s why this salad is so great!  Some salt, pepper, olive oil, and a little balsamic vinegar compliments the different flavors of these beautiful tomatoes.  The different colors, shapes,and types of tomatoes add a great variety of flavors and textures and make the dish as beautiful to look at as it is incredible to eat.  On top of that, we bought all of our tomatoes at a local farmer’s market so I know that these tomatoes are fresh, ripe, and safe for my family to eat.  Enjoy!

 

Summer Tomato Salad

Make sure that you pick up some different types and colors of tomatoes.  The beautiful, almost black, cherry tomatoes, the pear shaped ones, yellows, reds, oranges, plus any number of heirloom tomatoes.  You want to have chunks and slices of the bigger ones and just cut the cherry tomatoes in half.

Ingredients

1 pound cherry tomatoes
1-2 pounds heirloom tomatoes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Slice, halve, and chunk the tomatoes into various sizes.  Top with oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper and gently fold to combine.  Allow to sit for 30 minutes to an hour for flavors to fully combine.

 

What is your perfect summer side dish?  Could you make a meal out of sides?

Dish Washing Mommy

NOTE: I participated in a campaign on behalf of Mom Central Consulting for Cascade. I received a product sample to facilitate my review and a promotional item as a thank you for participating.

This Cookin’ Dad (a.k.a., Brian) makes a lot of dirty dishes when he cooks up his yummy dinners. Our generally agreement is that he cooks and I clean up. Here is where I should I mention that I HATE DOING DISHES. I hate scrubbing dishes and drying pots and putting everything away. My general tactic is to lightly rinse of the dishes and toss them into the dishwasher. We have a dishwasher so it should clean, right? ummm, yeah. It doesn’t always clean the best. Don’t get me wrong. It is a great dishwasher and it is newer but if lunch dishes sit until after dinner I am doomed. Brian thinks we should scrub every plate, cup, fork, spoon, bowl perfect CLEAN before it goes into the dishwasher. Why bother putting it in the dishwasher?! I still don’t understand his way of thinking. Most nights I do dishes on my own so I power through the dishes with my light rinse method.

Help! Sink Full of Dirty Dishes

Ready for my second confession? If whatever it is doesn’t come off the dishes the first time through the dishwasher, I just put it back in there. I didn’t have the time to scrub it the first time around so why do I have time the second time around?

Here is where I hope that I am not alone in those confessions. I also hope that Cascade Platinum is going to help me with my dishes chore! Check out more details here and find Cascade on Facebook!

How it works: Cascade© Platinum Pacs feature an advanced triple action recipe that is specially designed to leave dishware virtually spot-free.

Since we are Cascade Platinum Ambassadors, you will keep hearing about how Cascade Platinum is helping this Dish Washing Mommy! Plus we be sharing information on the “My Platinum” Instagram contest and Cascade’s partnership with Top Chef Judge, Gail Simmons!

What is your dish washing routine? Do you think that Cascade Platinum would help you out? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Strip Steak with Hazelnut Cream Sauce #whatsyourid

I cook…a lot!  For quite some time, I have been able to make just about anything that I feel like making.  As such, it has long been pretty hard for me to say what my favorite foods or flavors are.  I actually wrote a paper about that very subject when I was in college!  Maybe that’s why I am always experimenting with different kinds of foods and flavors.  I’m looking for my newest favorite!  So my preferences tend to ebb and flow.  Lately, I have been kind of entranced with hazelnuts.  I don’t know what it is, but they just have this particular flavor that has my attention lately.  I have even taken to adding International Delight’s Hazelnut cream to my coffee with outstanding results!

As I am ever the experimenter, though, I figured, why stop there?  If coffee creamer is mostly cream, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that a flavored creamer would make an amazing cream sauce?  Well, I thought it would!  So here’s what I did:

Strip Steak with International Delight Hazelnut Cream Sauce

International Delight Hazelnut Cream Sauce over Strip Steak

This really couldn’t be simpler!  Take two strip steaks and season them with salt and pepper.  Take a heavy pan (like cast iron) and place it over medium-high heat.  Add a little butter or oil and let it heat up.  put the steaks in for 2-5 minutes per side depending on how well done you like them.  Take them off of the heat and set them aside to rest.  Add about 2 cups of creamer to the pan and toss in some peppercorns.  Let it reduce by about half.  Slice up the steak and spoon the sauce on top.  Serve with your choice of sides.  Easy, right?

Stripe Steak with Hazelnut Cream Sauce

So, obviously, my ID is Hazelnut cream.  I shared it with the world at http://whatsyourid.com.  I’m hoping to win some pretty cool prizes for that! Maybe a VISA gift card, a new mixer, or even a Magical Trip! Plus I might have an opportunity to be featured as an ID Fan of the Week.

International-Delight-Map

What’s Your ID? International Delight is looking for their most passionate flavor fans. Put your ID on the map to enter to win a Magical Trip, play games and discover more unexpected delight. Share your ID flavor at http://whatsyourid.com

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of International Delight. The opinions and text are all mine.

What’s Your ID? International Delight is looking for their most passionate flavor fans. Put your ID on the map to enter to win a Magical Trip, play games and discover more unexpected delight. Share your ID flavor at http://whatsyourid.com

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of International Delight. The opinions and text are all mine.

GIANT Meal Planner #cbias

During our weekly meal planning, as part of a sponsored post for Collective Bias®, we used the GIANT meal planner to help inspire us and prepare our shopping list for a trip to our local MARTIN’S Food Store.

Meal Planning with GIANT Meal Planner

If you are a regular reader of our blog, you know that we are big meal planners.  For quite a while, we even published monthly meal plans!  Planning our meals a week or more in advance is just one of the ways that we keep our family eating healthy dinners on a budget.  Seriously, if we weren’t planning ahead, who knows what these kids would be eating.

Still, it can be pretty easy to get bored with the whole process.  At some point, it just feels like you keep on going back to the same basic set of meals.  Oh sure, you changed things up by using ground turkey instead of ground beef, but we both know that that hardly counts!

That’s why I am constantly on the lookout for new inspiration for planning out our menus.  I was so happy to be informed about the GIANT meal planner from GIANT Food Stores.  It actually lays out an entire week’s worth of meals for you.  I’m not one to just copy and paste meals, but if you were, you absolutely could here.  Not only do you get the daily dinner menu and recipes, but in each recipe, you can check off the items that you need and add them to a shopping list!  How easy is that?

For me, though, life cannot be that simple.  I’m looking to be inspired by recipes and ideas and then turn them around and make them my own.  My challenge was to take beautiful, fresh ingredients from our local MARTIN’S, cook once, and make dinners for two nights!

Fresh vegetables ready to be chopped

First, I was inspired by the Steak Tacos with Guacamole and Jambalaya recipes on the GIANT Meal Planner.  I pretty much followed the Jambalaya recipe, with a couple of little tweaks, but nothing to get up in arms over.

Shrimp, Sausage, and Chicken Jambalaya

Since I was getting shrimp for the Jambalaya anyhow, I figured that it would be silly to get steak, too.  I just got some extra shrimp and peppers and made Shrimp Fajitas with the same Guacamole recipe (no hot peppers, though…kids, you know?).  This made even more sense once I found out that the shrimp was on special this week.

Shrimp Fajitas with Homemade Guacamole

Every good dinner needs a great ending, right?  The GIANT Meal Planner does include dessert with every menu.  That definitely inspired me!  Since strawberries are in season, Strawberry Shortcake seemed almost too obvious!  Big bonus…strawberries were BOGO this week!  Woo hoo!

Strawberry Shortcake

With it warming up, I decided that a simple frozen dessert would be nice.  Some store-bought juice and simple syrup later and we had this lovely berry sorbet!

Simply Berry Sorbet

Since we keep onions, garlic, chicken, rice, tortillas, etc. around the house as staples and I had some sausage left over from earlier in the week, my shopping list was actually pretty small.  You can follow along with my shopping trip in my Google+ Album.

GIANT Meal Planner shopping at MARTIN'S

Are you inspired to meal plan for even two nights? What is holding you back from meal planning? Leave us a comment and let us know how you can strive to meal plan for your family.

 

The Real Kettle Brand Chips! #TheRealKettleChips

Kettle Brand Chips

Did you know? …

  • Kettle Brand uses only real, all-natural ingredients!
  • Kettle Brand is the first potato chip to be verified by the NonGMO Project!  They started selling the market’s first Non-GMO Project Verified potato chip earlier this year, and will soon have 16 verified products with the Non-GMO label featured on front of their packages in the marketplace. They are working diligently to achieve verification on all of their products.
  • Kettly Brand has 24 delicious all-natural chip flavors!
  • What exactly does “kettle-style” mean?All we really know is we’ve been cooking up real chips made with real ingredients
    by real people in Oregon’s Willamette Valley for over 30 years.
    Kettle isn’t just a style. It’s our name.”

Check out the Kettle Brand website for more details! You can also find Kettle Brand on Twitter @KettleChips! #TheRealKettleChips

I want to share a few pairing ideas to help inspire you to add Kettle Brand Chips to your recipes this Spring and Summer.

Kettle Brand Chips - Salt & Pepper

Chicken + Kettle Brand Salt & Pepper Chips

Crush up the Kettle Brand Salt & Pepper Chips as your breading for chicken. But don’t stop there … chop up the chicken for a chicken salad based on what your family loves in chicken salad and enjoy the extra crunch!

Fish + Chips 

Chips that are paired with Fish for Fish and Chips are generally french fries. Make sure your “chips” are all natural by pairing Kettle Brand Sea Salt & Vinegar Chips with your fresh Fish this Summer!

Movie and … Chips

Forget the popcorn as you host family movie night or an at home date night but keep the salt snack with Kettle Brand Sea Salt Chips. Your all natural snack choice will still give you the sanctification of snacking during the movie and maybe even make you feel a little less guilty about that late night snacking!

Guess you can tell that the favorite flavors around here involve salt, huh? Kettle Brand Sea Salt & Vinegar Chips, Kettle Brand Sea Salt Chips, and Kettle Brand Salt & Pepper Chips … mmmm. (I will add that we had the Kettle Brand Backyard Barbeque® Chips too but they were gone before we could even snap a picture. oops!)

Remember to answer the question about why REAL ingredients matter to you and your family to be entered to win $250!

Why are real ingredients important in your recipes?

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Kettle Brand. The opinions and text are all mine.