Practical tips, reliable recipes, & family-friendly food ideas

Lemony Chia Breakfast Bread


Who doesn’t love to wake up to a citrusy, lemon breakfast bread on a bright and sunny morning? My first experience with this delicious recipe was when my mother-in-law brought it to our house as her contribution to a family celebration. She posted the original recipe on her blog as a French Lemon Yogurt Cake. I couldn’t get enough of it! However, as I typically do, I started to experiment with the original version to see if I could transform it into a hearty breakfast bread. You see, when it comes to breakfast, my family has a strong preference for cereal, muffins, bagels, scones, etc… In other words, we’re pretty carb-centric. And, my kids are scrawny, so I find myself adding (aka hiding) all sorts of wonderful plant-based proteins to my base recipes for muffins, breads, scones and the like.

chia-hemp-flax-dynamic-trio-breakfast-supplementsFor this lemon breakfast bread recipe, I added chia seeds, hemp hearts, and flax meal. It’s a reliable dynamic trio to turn a basic carb-loaded baked good into a healthy and satisfying breakfast. I doubled the lemon zest and added a drizzle of lemony glaze to amplify the lemon flavor. My kids LOVE lemon flavored anything. The extra boost of lemon made this a sure win with them. Finally, I increased the amount of baking powder in the recipe to ensure a light and airy texture.

Give this recipe a try! I hope you and your family enjoy it and you find yourself making it more than once! 🙂

Happy Baking!

Easy Vegetarian Chili & Cheesy Chile Cornbread

vegetarian chili recipe

Few things can warm you up on a blustery Winter day like good, old fashioned chili and cornbread. I remember eating my  mom’s chili growing up, which I would classify as more of a “Cincinnati-style” chili. It was a rich and spicy tomato-based chili with ground beef, kidney beans, and short spaghetti noodles. The noodles were my favorite part. I didn’t care much for the beans, so I would ask my mom to make a small pot of chili for me without beans. Being the loving person she is, she would oblige without complaint. If my kids asked me to do that, I’m not sure I would!

Like me, legumes are hit or miss with my own children, but they have grown on me over the years (let’s say I’m a fan). It’s a good thing, too, because this easy vegetarian chili recipe has 3 different types of beans! I first discovered this recipe in a Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook. For the life of me, I can’t remember how I came by this cookbook. I do know that it was one of my very first cookbooks, however.

This recipe is sooooo simple – you throw everything into one big pot and let it go. It’s almost hard to believe it’s worth trying, but I assure you, it is!  I’ve adapted the recipe over the years, playing with the spices and add-ins. Everyone I have served it to has asked me for the recipe (super flattering!).  I love to serve this chili with a side of savory cheddar cheese cornbread with a buttery, salty crust from being cooked in a skillet. YUM!

I added a note to the recipe below re: adding chorizo or shredded rotisserie chicken as a topping if you have meat lovers at your dinner table. When meat is served on the side, everyone (including vegetarians) wins!


Healthy Family Dinner Ideas for Fall

healthy summer dinners: enchiladas, zucchini galettes, sweet potato hash, pasta primaveraAs we transition into Autumn, I’m focusing on a mix of Healthy Family Dinner ideas, some of which include and others that exclude meat. I try to balance out our weekly dinners with a few meat-free meals.  Not all our vegetarian meals are light, but taking a break from meat in lieu of plant-based proteins definitely has us feeling like we’re eating a little healthier.

One dish I’m excited to share with you is a Sweet Potato & Corn Hash with Fresh Tomatoes and Bell Peppers. I am often surprised at the versatility of sweet potatoes and this dish was one of those that emerged, not from an existing recipe, but simply from what we had on hand at the end of the week.  And boy was this one a keeper! We enjoyed this as a side, but I would have been completely happy eating a giant bowl of it as my main course.  Honestly, as good as sweet potatoes are with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, my family enjoys them much more as a savory dish.  If you’re ready for a different take on sweet potatoes, give this savory sweet potato recipe a try.

Healthy Family Dinner Ideas for Fall:

  1. Creamy Chicken Enchiladas Verdes, Spanish Rice, Tomato/Avocado Salad
  2. Lemony Zucchini & Ricotta Galettes with an Arugula & Cherry Tomato Salad
  3. Grilled Chicken & Avocados (see idea below), Savory Sweet Potato & Corn Hash with Fresh Tomatoes & Bell Peppers.
  4. Pasta Primavera (I add broccoli and green beans to this!), Spring Salad, Garlic Bread

southwest chicken rubAlong with the sweet potato and corn hash, we enjoyed grilled chicken seasoned with a wet rub and avocado. For a super quick weeknight dinner, you can’t get more basic than grilled, seasoned chicken. I’m not going to publish this as a recipe, perse because it’s just too simple. It’s just 3 things: Chicken, Olive Oil, and Spice Rub.

To keep cooking time and portion size down, try trimming your chicken breasts down into smaller pieces.  I cut off the tenderloin first, and with the remaining meat, cut portions similar to the tenderloin.

Combine equal amounts of your favorite dry rub and olive oil in a gallon sized ziploc bag (example 2 tbsp. of rub with 2 tbsp. of oil).  I really like Char Crust’s Smoky, Spicy, Southwest Rub. Add the chicken to the bag, seal, and shake or turn the bag until the chicken is thoroughly coated with your spice mixture.  Cook on a pre-heated grill (medium high heat) for 4-5 minutes per side, for a total of approx. 10 minutes.

Char Crust has a variety of flavored rubs, so if you want to mix it up and avoid having the same grilled chicken week after week, it can be as easy as trying different flavors and pairing the chicken with different side dishes. They have a ginger teryaki rub that would probably be great on top of a ramen noodle dish or vegetable fried rice.

grilled avocadosCheck out this super healthy grilled avocado recipe   We grill ours in the half shell, remove from the skin, smash with a little lime juice and cilantro and place grilled chicken directly on top.

That’s it for this menu! Stay tuned for our next summer menu edition that will include a review of the popular dinner service, Blue Apron!

Photo Credits: Zucchini Galettes (Epicurious), Pasta Primavera (Food Network), Grilled Avocados (California Avocado). See links in recipes above.

Savory Sweet Potato Recipe: Corn and Sweet Potato Hash with fresh Tomatoes, Peppers and Basil

Corn & Sweet Potato Hash with fresh tomatoes, peppers and basilThis savory sweet potato recipe is one of those brilliant, yet rare, moments when you unearth a hodge podge of random produce without a plan and improvise those things into a tasty hash. The ingredients, part roasted and part raw, are comforting and fresh, smoky and sweet, earthy and vibrant. The first time this hash was made, it was served as a side to grilled chicken. The 2nd time, I incorporated it into a frittata for brunch. It’s as versatile as it is healthy!

Easy Rotisserie Chicken Enchiladas

chicken enchiladas verdesWe are one taco-lovin’, chips-&-salsa-eatin’, quesadilla-crazy family, but every once in a while I need to change up the format of our favorite mexican flavors. This easy rotisserie chicken enchilada recipe did not disappoint. On Sunday, our local grocery store sells rotisserie chickens for $4.99 so the recipe is as affordable as it is tasty.  You can enjoy the chicken as-is, or you can use it as a starting point for something far more exciting: chicken salad, chicken noodle soup (or ramen noodle bowl!), pizza or calzone toppings, quiche, pasta, casseroles, you name it, and you can probably work a rotisserie chicken into it. This time around, I had my sights set on creamy, tangy chicken enchiladas verdes.

For these enchiladas, the grownups in our house usually eat 2 and the kiddos eat 1.  I love to serve them with traditional rice and beans, but we equally enjoy a few unconventional accompaniments such as a mango-avocado salad or roasted corn on the cob (or both)!

I hope your family likes these easy rotisserie chicken enchiladas as much as we do!

Summer Family Dinner Ideas (No.3)

Hello friends! I’ve made it through a month of birthday and holiday celebrations.  Now it’s time to detox (just a little) and get back on track with good, clean eating. Fortunately, healthy options for summer family dinner ideas are as abundant as the fresh summer produce in North Carolina.  In my backyard, tomato plants, peppers and herbs are thriving.  Soon, these plants will provide us with the best tasting and most convenient ingredients possible – one of my favorite things about Summer.

Our 3rd weekly menu in the summer series includes FOUR tasty dinner ideas:

  1. Peruvian Roasted Chicken, Broccoli Salad & Cantaloupe
  2. BLT Sandwiches on Sourdough, Roasted Corn on the Cob, and Watermelon
  3. Crock pot Teriyaki Chicken, Basmati Rice + Summer Fruit Salad
  4. Spinach & Ricotta Ravioli w/Marinara, Kale Caesar Salad & Homemade Garlic Bread

I’ve provided a link to a highly-rated Peruvian Chicken recipe if you’d like to make it on your own. I’ll be trying this very soon.  Honestly though, we usually just buy a whole chicken via takeout from our local Peruvian Chicken restaurant here in Cary, NC. Our favorite is Mami Nora’s.  It’s extremely affordable, slightly addictive, and makes for a quick and easy weeknight meal.

crockpot teriyaki chicken recipe

The Crock pot Teriyaki Chicken recipe (and the photo) comes from my mother-in-law’s blog, Lake Lure Cottage Kitchen.  It’s one of her most popular recipes.  Once you make it, you’ll see why!  I’m pairing this up with the Summer Fruit Salad featured in our last menu.  It was so good, we had to have it again.  I do make my own poppy seed dressing, but instead of poppy seeds, I use chia seeds.  You’d never be able to tell the difference and chia seeds are incredibly nutritious! View the nutrition info on chia seeds for yourself!

The Ravioli dinner is simply storebought marinara and ravioli.  If you’re going to use storebought ingredients, I highly recommend trying out some of the “top shelf” sauces.  It’s easy to have sticker shock over the prices, I know, but keep this in mind: these are the closest you’ll get to homemade, and they usually don’t have preservatives or other junk in them.  If you were to make your sauce homemade (which is fabulous), it’ll likely cost as much or more than the top shelf sauce and take a whole lot more of your time.  My favorite top shelf sauce is Rao’s Vodka Sauce.  And if you don’t have Rao’s in your grocery store, you can buy their gourmet pasta sauces online.

Last, but not least, I’ve worked up a new printable menu option for you.  This free download features 3 menus on 1 sheet (3 weeks, essentially) and they are completely blank so you can pick and choose your favorite family dinner ideas from a variety of choices to build your very own menu each week.  Print multiple sheets and keep them handy in a drawer in/near your kitchen.  I’ll be working on a new printable grocery list next so stay tuned!

printable blank menu - free download

Healthy Family Meals for Summer (No. 2)

How is it the middle of July already?! We recently returned from a trip to visit my lovely and amazing in-laws at their beautiful home in Lake Lure, NC.  They are so gracious to host one of my family’s most beloved traditions: going to their Lake Lure home for the 4th of July.  The whole weekend is packed with delightful food, time on the water, naps on the “sleeping porch”, wine tastings (juice tastings for the kids), games after dinner, and lots of love and laughter.  My mother and father-in-law are true gems and would easily win an award for being the best hosts anyone could ever hope for.  I’m not sure if they realized when I married their son (and only child) 13+ years ago, that my entire family would soon be knocking at their door to spend time with them and each other.  That’s what happens when you live in a magical place and treat your guests to the warmest, tastiest hospitality the North Carolina mountains can offer. Oh – and if my in-laws don’t already sound cool enough, check out my Mother-in-law’s awesome food blog, Lake Lure Cottage Kitchen!

Now that we’re home, we are back on the cooking train, preparing healthy family meals for our family of 4. Here’s the dinner lineup for the week:hot dog, mac and cheese, baked beansverde chicken tacos

Dinner 1: Baked Alfredo Pasta Florentine with salad & garlic bread

This baked pasta dish would be a great for Winter, too.  However, the addition of basil in this dish makes it tasty and irresistible Summer meal!

Dinner 2: Seared Chicken with Mustard Cream, Rice & Summer Fruit Salad

I just sear thinly sliced chicken breasts, seasoned with salt and pepper, in a saute pan with olive oil. I double the mustard cream sauce in the recipe linked above and serve overtop the chicken on a bed of rice. I typically do not use the watercress in the recipe as good watercress is not readily available in our area.

Dinner 3: Hot Dogs, Homemade Mac & Cheese and Baked Beans

Nothing fancy here, just a nice weeknight staple. I add yellow mustard, ketchup, brown sugar and bacon to my baked beans.  They are tangy and sweet!

Dinner 4: Crock pot Tacos Verde, Spanish Rice + Guacamole Salad

Vegetarian option: try this crock pot recipe with a can of rinsed/drained black beans + 1 sliced onion + 1 sliced bell pepper in place of the chicken.  Cook the bean mixture for 2-3 hours in the salsa verde, and you’ll enjoy some delicious, healthy vegetarian tacos in the end!

Dinner 5: Chicken & Avocado Caprese Quesadillas and Roasted Broccoli


Printable Menu and Grocery List Update: I’m going to take some time to develop some additional options for the printable menus and grocery lists that I publish.  So… this week, please refer to the blank version of the printable menu and grocery list and try making your very own personal meal plan and shopping list for the week.

Have a great one!

Baked Pasta Recipe: Baked Alfredo Florentine

baked-pasta-recipe-baked-alfredo-florentineThis dish was inspired by a baked pasta recipe on Cooking Light that was promoted as one of it’s best or most popular dishes. After reading the reviews, I thought the “idea” sounded more promising than the recipe itself. Too many reviewers said the recipe lacked flavor and I agreed that it seemed to be missing something. Confident that, with a few tweaks here and there, this baked pasta recipe could be really amazing.  And boy, I was right!

Timing for any recipe is key. It helps everything flow better and makes your life (in the kitchen) just a little less stressful and the recipe less frustrating.  If you have any sides to go with this dish, I’d recommend putting them together while the baked pasta is finishing in the oven. The timing for prepping this recipe goes like this:

  • Make your filling + warm pot of salted water. By warming up your water while you’re working on something else, it will come to a boil quickly when you’re ready.
  • Make sauce + par boil (i.e. undercook) pasta
  • Assemble baked dish and finish in oven.

baked-pasta-recipe-alfredo-florentine2The creamy ricotta filling in this recipe is reminiscent of baked ziti, except it has loads of basil, spinach and garlic in it. I also used part-skim ricotta to lighten up this decadent baked pasta recipe.

Instead of store-bought alfredo sauce, I opted to make my own.  It was my first time and it was suprisingly simple and fast.  Alfredo sauce is essentially 3 ingredients: cream, butter and parmesan cheese.  I used light cream (instead of heavy), backed off on the butter a tad, and seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper. Super easy, super yummy.

While the sauce is coming together, cook your pasta. Whenever you make a baked pasta recipe, it’s important to make sure you undercook your pasta by a couple of minutes because your pasta will continue to cook in the oven in the sauce you bake it in.  If my box of ziti says it’s “al dente in 8-9” minutes, I cook it for 6 minutes in a baked pasta dish.

Please give this Baked Alfredo Florentine a try and let me know what you think!

Crock pot Chicken Recipes: Verde Chicken Tacos

crock pot chicken tacosI’m almost embarrassed to post this as a recipe. Why you ask? Because it’s so insanely simple and easy.  I’ve made it dozens of times.  We share this dinner with friends quite often and the recipe is one of my “most requested”. I do feel like the it’s more of a dirty little secret, though. Hopefully, you’ll agree it’s the best kind of secret to share!  I hope you add it to your repertoire of crock pot chicken recipes.

The type of tortillas you use (crunchy, soft or both) and the toppings you add to this crock pot chicken taco recipe are entirely up to you.  I’ll share what we like to put on our chicken tacos and you can take them or leave them.

The guys in our family… they like soft taco shells, but the ladies prefer crunchy.   Thankfully, Old El Paso sells a combo box of soft and crunchy shells. It’s perfect for our family.  I don’t bother buying the taco “kit” because we don’t need the seasoning or sauces.

The awesomeness in this recipe is achieved by 2 key factors:

  1. cooking the chicken low and slow in the crock pot (or your oven) and
  2. using a flavorful salsa verde as a braising liquid.

slow cooker chicken tacosI prefer chicken thighs any time I’m cooking chicken low and slow.  As you can see by the photos, I used chicken breasts here. My grocery store had a great sale on them and I couldn’t refuse!  Why do I prefer dark meat over white, you ask?  It is a personal choice, so don’t fret if you like white meat better.  Here are benefits and reasons I typically like to use dark meat for braising or slow cooking:

  • I think thighs are juicier, more tender, and more flavorful than chicken breasts.
  • Chicken thighs are typically less expensive.  If you’re going organic, this can help lessen the financial impact of purchasing more expensive organic meats.
  • There are also some lesser known nutritional benefits to dark poultry meat.

If you have leftover taco meat (white or dark), it makes a great quesadilla or can be worked into a casserole. We’ve also frozen it and used it at a later date without compromising the taste at all.

Please give this crock pot chicken recipe a try and let me know:

Did you use white meat or dark? -AND- What are your favorite taco toppings?