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!


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!

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?



Homemade Mac n Cheese Recipe

mac n cheese recipeA good deal of getting our kiddos to eat what we eat involves compromise.  If I’m going to introduce something new during dinner, I try to make sure it’s accompanied by something familiar, something I know my kids will enjoy.  Mac n cheese is one of our “go to” side dishes.  If my daughter could choose just one thing to eat for the rest of her life, macaroni and cheese would be it.  It’s a safe bet for almost every family I know.

Now, you can go with the brand-name or even generic boxed standbys and be just fine.  If you do go this route, please try doctoring up your boxed macaroni and cheese by following the last 2 steps in the recipe below.  This basically involves adding a handful of small cubes of cheddar cheese and a heaping spoonful or two of sour cream.  These 2 small steps take ordinary mac n cheese and elevate it into something flavorful that the grownups will enjoy as much as the kids.

If you’re like us and prefer the taste and peace of mind that comes from the wholesome, made-from-scratch variety, give this homemade mac n cheese recipe a try.  It’s not as hard (or as heavy) as you might think.

macaroni cheese recipeJust like I mentioned in the post on how to make the best grilled cheese sandwich, making delicious Macaroni and Cheese from scratch involves using more than just one kind of cheese.  The variety of cheese (in my opinion) can differ, so long as all the cheese you use is flavorful.  Think about it this way: the more flavor the cheese has, the less you have to use.  The less cheese you use, the healthier this dish becomes!  In this recipe, I used extra sharp cheddar, parmesan, and gruyere.  I almost always shred the cheese on a box grater just before using it.  I can’t help but feeling that pre-shredded cheese is dry and inferior.  If that’s all you have, by all means, give it a try. Please be adventurous and try a variety of cheeses to find the combination your family likes best.  I would love for you to share your favorites in the comments below!

Summer Vegetable Recipe: Simple Veggie Salad

summer vegetable recipe simple veggie saladDuring the hot summer months, the last thing I want to do is make my house even hotter by turning on the stove and oven.  When there’s a chance to serve a dish that involves no cooking at all, I jump on it! Thank God the Summer season is so bountiful with fresh produce, or these opportunities would be few and far between.  Lucky for us, no cook side dishes frequent our weekly dinner menus during this time of the year.

This simple veggie salad is such a simple and refreshing summer vegetable recipe.  I encourage you to try this basic dressing on a variety of summer vegetables.Even if all you have in the fridge is a cucumber, give it a shot with this light and healthy dressing and you’ll open up a whole new world of possibilities.

How to make the BEST Grilled Cheese Sandwich

how-to-make-the-best-grilled-cheese-sandwich-recipeIt’s no secret that my family enjoys cheese.  I’m not talking about the ooey gooey cheese that you find on restaurant nachos or pizza, although, those aren’t half bad.  I’m talking about hard cheese, soft cheese, fresh cheese, stinky cheese, aged cheese, never-pre-grated cheese.  You see, we’re kind of cheese snobs.  Even our kids can sniff out the difference between processed cheese and the real deal cheeses (proud mama moment).

What makes these grilled cheese sandwiches the best grilled cheese sandwiches isn’t just the cheese, though.  Here are the 3 key components to making the best grilled cheese:

1. delicious bread (I prefer sourdough)
2. multiple cheese types combined into the same sandwich
3. crispy, crunchy, salty exterior

The first component is pretty simple: start with good bread.  I like to buy the La Brea Sourdough loaf (sliced) from Harris Teeter’s bakery.  It’s got a great tang, full flavor, and toasts up beautifully.

The second component has some wiggle room.  By that, I mean it doesn’t have to be the same every time you make a sandwich.  I usually just combine 2 or 3 different types of cheese based on what is available in the fridge.  This is a great way to use up odds and ends of random cheeses you may have from special recipes.  Here are a few of my favorite cheese combos:

cheddar • gruyere
cheddar • mont. jack (or pepperjack) • parmesan
parmesan • gruyere
parmesan • gruyere • cheddar
cheddar • mozzarella
mozzarella • parmesan
and my new favorite…
cheddar • parmesan • goat cheese

And the third and final component is the crispy, crunchy, salty exterior.  A couple of years ago, I uncovered a recipe for an Heirloom Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Chunky Tomato Bacon Soup from the Food Network’s Rick Massa.  The tomato soup is to-die-for.  And, while I don’t make my sandwiches exactly the same, it was Rick’s recipe that taught me the secret to making the best grilled cheese sandwich: it’s in the crust. Rather than spreading one side of the bread with plain ol’ butter or dousing a hot pan with oil to grill up your sandwiches, this recipe called for making a flavored butter with which you spread onto the sides of the bread that will meet the pan.  And, one of the best parts is that the things you need to make this savory compound butter should be pantry staples, so there are no excuses to ever make grilled cheese sandwiches any other way!

Our family enjoys these grilled cheese sandwiches pretty much all year.  In the winter, we pair them with the tomato soup referenced above.  And in the warmer months, add a simple spring green or summer vegetable salad, and you can enjoy this (dare I say) ooey-gooey goodness all year round.