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Broccoli Bacon Mac and Cheese

19 Jan

Anyone who has a preschooler can tell you that mac and cheese is one of the main food groups. I am lucky that Olivia is a really good eater, but if she’s ever given the choice of what to eat for dinner (or lunch, or breakfast for that matter), the answer will always be mac and cheese.

So I am always looking for ways to sneak in the healthy stuff. For this Cooking Light recipe, I used veggie pasta and mixed in steamed broccoli. The smoky bacon and creamy cheese make this dish seem decadent while satisfying both a picky palate and a nutrition-minded mama.

Mac and Cheese

Broccoli Bacon Mac and Cheese

8 oz uncooked vegetable elbow macaroni
1 bag frozen chopped broccoli florets (I prefer the steam-in-the-bag variety for convenience)
1 ½ cups 1% low-fat milk
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/8 tsp salt
3 pieces precooked bacon, chopped (like Hormel’s Fully Cooked Bacon)
1 ½ tsp unsalted butter
4.5 oz reduced-fat cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)


1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain. Meanwhile, steam broccoli according to the directions on the bag.

2. Combine milk and next 5 ingredients (through salt) in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk until smooth.

3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add bacon; cook 1-2 minutes or until crisp. Add butter to pan; swirl until butter melts. Add milk mixture to pan; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Stir in cheese. Add pasta and broccoli to pan, stirring to coat.

Mac and Cheese


Chicken, Mushroom, and Pea Pasta

5 Jan

One of my new favorite frozen shortcuts is the Woodstock Mixed Mushrooms. This organic mixture of shiitake, shimeiji, field, and abalone mushrooms makes any dish seem gourmet when it’s really just as simple as opening up a can or package of regular old button mushrooms.


I love the earthy flavor that these mushrooms give this pasta, and the peas add a nice contract of fresh brightness. The best part is that this meal is straight out of the freezer and kid-friendly, which makes it perfect and doable for a busy weeknight dinner.

Chicken Pasta

Chicken, Mushroom, and Pea Pasta

Frozen grilled chicken strips (like the Tyson Grilled & Ready Chicken Breast Strips)
1 bag of frozen peas
1 bag of frozen mushrooms (like the Woodstock Mixed Mushrooms mentioned above, though you could use fresh mushrooms as well if you have them)
1 package spaghetti
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp minced garlic

1. Cook spaghetti according to the directions on the package. Drain and set aside.

2. In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the chicken and mushrooms and cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes.

3. Stir in the frozen peas and sauté for one minute. Add the spaghetti and remaining olive oil and mix well to combine.

4. Sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese, add salt and pepper, and toss pasta.

The Best Pumpkin Bread. Ever.

30 Oct

I love, love, love pumpkin bread! Nothing says “fall” more than those warm, spicy flavors. Luckily, my husband and daughter share my love. In fact, after I make this bread for the first time each fall, Olivia asks for it at least once a week. The best part is, the recipe makes three full-sized loaves or, in my case, one full-sized loaf and 4 mini loaves. We usually eat one of the mini loaves right away and then tightly wrap the rest and freeze them. I take out a loaf the day before we plan to eat it and let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight.

This is the best pumpkin bread I’ve tried—moist, cakey, dense (but not too dense), with a nice crust. Simply put, it’s delicious!

Pumpkin Bread

Pumpkin Bread

1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
3 cups white sugar
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 ¼ tsp ground nutmeg

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour three 7×3-inch loaf pans or one 7×3-inch loaf pan and 4 mini loaf pans.

2. In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pans.

3. Bake for about 50 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Adapted slightly from Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread

2013 Taste Test Awards

30 Sep

The October issue of Cooking Light featured the 2013 Taste Test Awards, comprised of 41 different foods in 20 categories. The focus was on fast, convenient foods, which is perfect for my busy family. Some of the categories were really specific (like Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil and Boxed Chardonnay), but I was happy to see that some of my favorites made the cut.

I especially appreciated the fact that not every category winner was some obscure, expensive brand. I noticed that several of the winners were the Walmart Great Value and Target Market Pantry brands- both accessible and affordable.

Reading through Cooking Light’s categories and winners made me realize that there are a few categories/items that would be sure to make any list I might come up with. So, for what it’s worth, here are my additions:

1. Best Dry Spaghetti: De Cecco 

2. Best Sweet Pantry Snack: Quaker Popped Snacks in Apple Cinnamon

3. Best Greek Yogurt: (Tie) Chobani and Dannon Oikos

4. Best Low-Fat Ice Cream: Edy’s Slow Churned

5. Best Hummus/Baba Ganoush: Sabra

6. Best Fat-Free Sour Cream: Breakstone

7. Best Chewy Granola Bars: Fiber One Oats & Chocolate

8. Best Boxed Mac & Cheese: Annie’s Deluxe Whole Wheat Shells & Extra Cheesy Cheddar

9. Best Jarred Salsa: Santa Barbara Mango with Peach from Costco

10. Best Barbecue Sauce: Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Barbecue Sauce


What items would make your taste test list?


Shrimp Tacos with Corn Salsa

13 Sep

I’m a sucker for shrimp tacos, but I’m not going to lie—this shrimp taco recipe from the August 2013 issue of Cooking Light left me a little disappointed. I followed the recipe (other than adding tomato to the salsa) and found the shrimp bland, and the tortillas completely fell apart. I do think, however, with a few small adjustments, I could love this recipe. So that’s how I’ve written the recipe below—with my suggested changes. Grilling the corn and shrimp would definitely improve the flavor, and using flour tortillas instead of corn would solve the fall-apart issue.

Shrimp Tacos

Shrimp Tacos with Corn Salsa

2 ears fresh corn
1 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped green onions
1 medium tomato, seeded and diced
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
3 tbsp fresh lime juice, divided
1 tsp fresh minced garlic
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 diced peeled avocado
1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tsp honey
¼ cup light sour cream
8 (6-inch) flour tortillas

1. Husk corn, and wrap each ear in aluminum foil. Grill over medium heat for about 20 minutes, turning 4 times to ensure even cooking. Allow the corn to cool and then slice off kernels.

2. Combine corn, onions, tomato, cilantro, olive oil, garlic, 1 tablespoon juice, salt, pepper, and avocado in a medium bowl; toss gently.

3. Combine shrimp, 1 tablespoon juice, and honey in a medium bowl; toss to coat. Skewer shrimp and grill over medium heat for a couple of minutes per side or until they turn completely pink.

4. Combine sour cream and remaining 1 tablespoon juice in a small bowl.

5. Warm tortillas according to package directions. Place 2 tortillas on each of 4 plates. Top each tortilla with about ¼ cup corn mixture, about 4 shrimp, and 1 ½ tsp sour cream mixture.

Shrimp Tacos

Carolina Barbecue

9 Sep

Barbecue is a polarizing type of food. Kansas City, Memphis, Texas, Carolina … they’re all different, and they all have their die-hard fans who will swear that THEIR type of barbecue is the best. Me, well I was raised near the border of Virginia and North Carolina. When I was little, my Papa would drive to Hertford, NC each week for breakfast with his buddies and would always bring back large Styrofoam containers packed with the most delicious, juicy Carolina barbecue.

I think that’s where my love affair began. And the love only grew stronger each time my mom made this recipe at home. The only barbecue I ever make is my mom’s Crock-Pot Carolina barbecue recipe. The spicy, sharp vinegar flavor topped with sweet, creamy coleslaw … it’s just the perfect combination.

Carolina Barbecue

Carolina Barbecue

4 lb pork roast (I usually get a shoulder)
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar
Hot sauce
Crushed red pepper

1. Put pork roast in Crock-Pot on high.

2. Bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil and simmer for 7-8 minutes. Pour the sauce over the pork roast.

3. Turn the Crock-Pot to low and cook for 12 hours.

4. Chop up the pork roast and pour the liquid from the Crock-Pot over it. Mix well.

Lamb and Hummus Pitas

29 Aug

I love Greek food. Back in my hometown, there’s a Greek festival every year and I go just for the food. I eat my way through enough loukoumades to last the entire year. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

So it’s no surprise that, when I saw this recipe for Ground Lamb and Hummus Pita “Pizzas” in Cooking Light, I immediately wanted to try it. And I wasn’t disappointed. You guys, these are seriously delicious. We ate ours as pita sandwiches instead of pizzas, and I served them with couscous on the side. My daughter couldn’t really eat the pitas because they were so big, so we just mixed everything into her couscous and she loved it.

Lamb and Hummus Pita

Other than what I just mentioned, the only other change I made to the recipe was adding reduced fat feta cheese. Word to the wise though: this recipe only calls for 6 oz of ground lamb. Most stores sell ground lamb pre-packaged by the pound, so just be sure to portion out the right amount of meat or increase the other ingredients based on how much you use. If you don’t want to use ground lamb (it’s pricey- I lucked out and found mine on a killer sale for $5.99 a lb!!), I think ground sirloin or ground beef would be equally tasty.

Lamb and Hummus Pita

Lamb and Hummus Pitas

6 oz ground lamb
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ cups chopped yellow onion
1 tbsp minced fresh garlic
1 ½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp dried oregano
3/8 tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ cup water
½ cup chopped seeded tomato
1 ½ tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 (6-inch) pitas or naan
½ cup plain hummus
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
2 tbsp reduced fat feta cheese crumbles


1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add lamb to pan; cook 3 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble lamb. Remove lamb from pan and drain.

2. Wipe out pan and add oil; swirl to coat. Add onion to pan; sauté 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and next 4 ingredients (through cinnamon); sauté 1 minute. Stir in ½ cup water and tomato; bring to a simmer. Cook 4 minutes or until tomatoes begin to soften.

3. Stir in cooked lamb. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 4 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice.

4. Spread 2 tablespoons hummus on each pita or naan. Top each with about 1/3 cup lamb mixture. Sprinkle evenly with cilantro, pine nuts, and feta cheese.

Healthy Lunch Ideas for Back to School

22 Aug

It’s time for back to school. For most moms, that means shopping, meal planning, and (in many cases) relief! It’s also the time we all start brainstorming fun and healthy lunch ideas so that we don’t get stuck in the sandwich rut.

Ham and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner via

Fortunately, the September issue of Cooking Light has some easy and kid-friendly lunchbox recipes you can add to your rotation. There are lunchtime staples like PB&J made healthier, but there’s also a couscous salad, a Pizzadilla (pizza+quesadilla=genius!), and a creamy chicken salad pita.

The CL folks have also come to the rescue with 17 different grab-and-go breakfast ideas. The Ham and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich with Mango Chutney (pictured here) looks absolutely amazing- it’s definitely going on our list!

In our house, we’re big fans of making a ton of extra breakfast sandwiches on a Sunday morning, wrapping each one up individually, and then popping them in the microwave for 30 seconds before heading out the door. It’s a quick, easy, and filling breakfast on the go.

Good luck to all the mamas who are gearing up for the back to school rush, and be sure to check back on the blog for quick and easy dinner ideas!

Chinese Chicken Salad

15 Aug

My friend Jessie made this Chinese cabbage salad for girls’ night years ago, and it instantly became one of my favorites. Since then, I’ve added roast chicken to make it a full meal rather than just a side. The flavor reminds me of the Chinese Chicken Salad from California Pizza Kitchen, which I love. This salad is also great with shelled edamame tossed in.

Chinese Chicken Salad

1 pkg chicken ramen noodles
½ cup sesame seeds
¼ cup butter
½ cup slivered almonds
1 bag coleslaw mix
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/8 cup sugar
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil
6 chopped green onions
2 cups pulled rotisserie chicken
1. Crush ramen noodles and brown in a skillet over medium heat with butter, sesame seeds, and almonds. Stir frequently to prevent burning.

2. Add the seasoning mix from the ramen noodles to the mixture; set aside and allow to cool.

3. To prepare dressing, whisk together vegetable oil, soy sauce, sugar, rice wine vinegar, and sesame oil.

4. In a large bowl, combine noodle mixture, coleslaw mix, onions, and chicken. Toss with dressing and serve.

Banana Nut Bread

13 Aug

There are few things as comforting and delicious as warm banana bread fresh out of the oven. This recipe bakes for a long time, but the result is super moist on the inside with a yummy caramelized crust on the outside—just perfect! Banana bread is a great way to use up bananas that are about to turn. I usually put overripe bananas in the freezer until I am ready to bake with them. Just take them out and let them thaw on a plate for about 30-45 minutes before peeling.

Banana Nut Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ cup butter, room temperature
¾ cup brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
2 1/3 cup mashed overripe banana
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup chopped walnuts


1. Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly grease a 9×5 loaf pan.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

3. In a separate bowl,  cream together the butter and brown sugar. Add the mashed bananas, eggs, vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Stir until well-blended.

4. Add the banana mixture to the dry ingredients and combine until just moistened. Stir in the walnuts.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 60-65 minutes or until you can insert a toothpick in the center and it comes out clean.