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Chicken & Barley Stuffed Peppers: Your Kids’ New Favorite Dinner

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I just had to share this recipe with you. Consider it a gift to kick off your summer! I made this recipe a few weeks ago, and it was an instant success. My husband loved it, my kids loved it, and I loved that everyone cleaned their plates. But for some odd reason, I forgot to add it to my weekly menu again, until tonight! We have been grilling like crazy lately, and my kids needed a little variety, so I decided to make these stuffed peppers again. WOW! Another raving success! My husband even ate seconds. I just love a meal where everyone leaves the table well-fed and satisfied!

Now, before you think it may not work for your family, try it. I do not like traditional stuffed peppers. In fact, I don’t really loved cooked peppers, but this recipe is a winner; I promise!

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Ingredients:

  • 4 red, orange, or yellow bell peppers (we love red)
  • 1 lb. of ground chicken
  • 1 cup of diced zucchini
  • 1 cup of barley
  • 2 cans of mild red enchilada sauce
  • 1 tbsp. of ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp. of paprika
  • 1 tbsp. of chili powder
  • 1 tbsp. of garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. of salt
  • 1 tsp. of pepper
  • Drizzle of Sriracha (optional)

Preparation:

  1. Brown chicken in a large skillet
  2. Meanwhile, cut peppers in half and remove stems and seeds.
  3. Place 6 halves onto parchment lined baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes at 450 until tender and charred at the edges. Flip after 10 minutes.
  4. Chop the other 2 halves of peppers and the zucchini into small chunks.
  5. Add the vegetables and barley to the browning meat, mixing well.
  6. Reduce to a simmer and add the enchilada sauce and spices.
  7. Mix well and cover. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until the barley is tender.
  8. Remove the peppers from the oven and transfer to individual plates. Spoon a heaping portion of the filling into each pepper and serve immediately.

Variations: You can top with taco cheese or cilantro. Feel free to change-up or add additional veggies, such as frozen corn, diced tomatoes, or onions.

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Pulling off Easter Dinner– A few tips to keep it simple.

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Hosting a large family dinner can be a daunting task, especially at a holiday. There are a few things you can do to ensure that the day goes smoothly and guarantee that you enjoy the day too. No one signs up to host a family meal saying, “Sure, I’d love to have you come over to a enjoy a stress-filled, resentful, exhausting nightmare together.” But, this is what these days are for some frazzled hosts.

This post was inspired by a hopeful co-worker who popped into my classroom this week to ask for help. She is hosting Easter dinner for her entire family for the first time ever. She was feeling intimidated, but hopeful that with a few suggestions, she could pull it off. I gave her some tips and a sold menu, and she left work on Friday feeling determined and optimistic. After seeing her relief, I thought it would be a good idea to share them with all of you.

1. The Menu

My co-worker had the challenge of incorporating traditional favorites, but accommodating a family member who is vegetarian and a family member who is vegan. Here is what we came up with:

Honey Glazed Spiral Ham— Don’t be afraid to go with a store-bought ham. They are very tasty and easy to make.

Oven Baked Risotto— This is a crowd favorite, and if made with vegetable stock & a butter alternative, it will please both the vegetarian and vegan. Additionally, it’s a sophisticated alternative to potatoes.

Quiche– A quiche is a nice option for vegetarians, and it works for meals throughout the day. Go plain, or add variety with different vegetables.

Clementine Balsamic Glazed Carrots— Roasted whole carrots are a beautiful symbol of the spring season. Not to mention, the flavor is the perfect complement to the sweet ham.

Garlicky Green Beans— Toss some skinny fresh green beans with olive oil, sea salt, and fresh minced garlic. Saute until bright green and slightly tender. Remove from heat, and transfer to a serving bowl quickly so they don’t over cook.

Spinach and Strawberry Quinoa Salad— Adding cooked & cooled quinoa is a great way to add texture and update this classic salad.

2. Appetizers

My advice is to limit appetizers when hosting a large sit-down dinner. The first reason is practical. Since you are spending so much time, energy, and money on this meal, you don’t want your guests to fill up on snacks before dinner. The second reason is procedural. You will be far less stressed as a cook if you are not trying to prepare appetizers when you really need to be devoting your time and energy to the main course. I would suggest a simple cheese and cracker plate and some fresh fruit. Fruit is a great option because if hungry kids ruin their appetites with fruit, is that really such a bad thing?

3. Working Ahead 

The key to sanity and effective kitchen management is to do as much as you can ahead of time.

A few days before:

  • Set the table
  • Clean the house
  • Shop for groceries
  • Make the quiche and freeze
  • Lay out serving pieces and cookware needed
  • Clean the fridge, creating space for prepped ingredients and leftovers

The day before:

  • Wash the fruits & vegetables
  • Do all dishes and run the dishwasher. Be sure to unload it too!
  • Make quinoa and store in the fridge.
  • Pre-slice the cheese.
  • Defrost the quiche in the fridge.

The day of:

** Keep up with dishes and cleaning in the kitchen as you are cooking. Staying on top of things and keeping the kitchen clean as you cook will reduce your stress later.

  • Before guests arrive–
    • Prepare the salad (do not put the dressing on until you are ready to serve it)
    • Make the ham, slice it off the bone, and arrange on a platter.
    • Warm the quiche.
    • Assemble to fruit plate.
    • Measure and prep all ingredients for the green beans, carrots, and risotto.
    • Arrange the drink table. Add ice and cold beverages just prior to guests’ arrival time.
  • About an hour before dinner–
    • Make risotto & carrots.
    • Let guests know that you will be eating in an hour.
  • Fifteen Minutes before dinner–
    • Warm ham and quiche in the oven.
    • Toast rolls or bread.
    • Dress the salad.
    • Make green beans
  • Five minutes before dinner–
    • Put the food on the table.
    • Encourage guests to get a fresh drink
    • Start the dishwasher with any random dishes left over from the prep.
  • Dinner time–
    • LET IT ALL GO!!
    • This is what you have been planning for. Be sure to sit, enjoy dinner, and take time to have good conversation with those you love!
  • After dinner–
    • Let guests help to clear the table.
    • Put away clean prep dishes from the dishwasher.
    • Load the dishwasher with dinner dishes.
    • Sit and enjoy family and your dinner success!
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Balsamic & Clementine Roasted Carrots

Looking for a new way to cook carrots? This is a simple way to update this Easter staple, giving it a complex flavor. While the finished dish looks sophisticated and gourmet, the recipe is really very easy and mess free!

Ingredients:

  • 8-10 whole carrots, cleaned and sliced in half, lengthwise
  • 4Tbsp. of balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 clementine

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 425°, & line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or spray with cooking spray.
  2. Combine oil, vinegar, and the zest of 1 clementine in a glass bowl, & whisk together. Save the clementine.
  3. Coat the carrots with the vinegar blend.
  4. Roast for 30-40 minutes until tender, but not mushy. (Insert a fork to assess the firmness)
  5. Remove from the oven and squeeze the juice of the clementine over the carrots.
  6. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve warm.
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Mimosa Bar

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‘Tis the season of brunches, showers, and gatherings. As we all emerge from our winter hibernation, we seek time with friends and family. We also are juggling entertaining opportunities to celebrate holidays, sacraments, showers, and time with friends and family. One way to make these get togethers feel a bit more fancy is with a mimosa bar!

This is an easy entertaining trick that is a real crowd pleaser.

What you need:

  • Glass carafe- one for each type of juice or nectar (I got mine from Wal-Mart for a few dollars)
  • Wine glasses (many places sell the stemless variety for $1)
  • Champagne, prosecco, or any other variety of sparking wine.
  • Nectar- I prefer mango & pear
  • Juice- Orange, pineapple, & pomegranate are good choices
  • Fresh fruit- I chose raspberries & star fruit, but you can add any variety.

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How it works:

  • Set up the mimosa station where guests can easily access it.
  • Pour nectar and juice into the carafe
  • Slice fruit and place in pretty bowls
  • Arrange glasses
  • Open chilled Champagne bottles
  • Encourage guests to mix and match flavors.
  • Pour a few ounces of champagne into the glass, then add nectar and/or juice, and garnish with fruit.

Enjoy!

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My Very Best Pulled Pork

  

When it comes to pulled pork, I’m a full blown snob! I love it so much, that my bucket list includes a trip through the small towns of the south, sampling pulled pork and ribs from the well kept secret spots and smoky hole-in-the-wall kinds of joints, where the craft of bar-b-que is practiced from ancient family recipes.

Now, while I’d love to slow cook my own pork over a sampling of hardwoods, and allow the natural flavors to develop over hours of heat, the reality is that I’m a mom of three busy kids, who works full time. Carpools, laundry, bickering daughters, and work would not wait for me to monitor a roasting hunk of meat and the demands of an open flame in my small, suburban back yard.

So, I do what any other sensible cook would do, I pull out my slow cooker. I know it is not comparable to an open flame, but, oh well!

Here is my recipe. It is an awesome blend of a Carolina style vinegar pulled pork, and its bar-b-que based counterpart. I think of it as the best of both worlds. Smoky and savory, tangy and sweet all collide in this recipe that will leave you craving more!

Ingredients:

  • 1 large (8-10 lb.) pork shoulder/picnic or Boston Butt roast
  • 1 head of garlic peeled
  • 1 med. Yellow onion
  • 1 of each—Red pepper, yellow pepper, & orange pepper
  • ½ to 1 cup of ketchup
  • 4 cups of apple cider vinegar
  • 3-4 tbsp. of  brown sugar
  • Bar-b-Que seasoning
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation:

  1. Sprinkle roast with seasoning.
  2. Chop peppers and onions into large chunks
  3. Place roast, peppers, onions, and garlic into a slow cooker.
  4. Pour in vinegar
  5. Cook 8-10 hours on medium to high until the meat is tender and falls apart easily.
  6. Remove meat and set aside to cool.
  7. Strain juice from the slow cooker into a medium sauce pan on the stove.
  8. Boil liquid until reduced to half
  9. Add ½ cup of ketchup and 3 tbsp of brown sugar and continue to boil until you have a thin sauce. You may need to add small amounts of brown sugar or ketchup to adjust taste.
  10. Use two forks or your stand mixer to shred meat and add it to the sauce.

Serve on a roll of your choice, or open faced on a slab of Texas Toast garlic bread!

Tips:

  • The longer the meat sits in the sauce, the better it tastes
  • This can be frozen in smaller amounts and used as needed.
  • Make it at least one day in advance to allow the meat to soak up the sauce.
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Sexy Wine, Lazy Sangria, or Delusions of “Healthy Drinking”

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Sometimes we just want to feel special and fancy.

Sometimes we just want to spice things up.

Or

Sometimes we are just too lazy to make sangria

Well, I was thrilled and inspired by my friend, Carly, the other night. She had a few girls over to catch up and see her new house. When we arrived, we were all intrigued with a beautiful plate of fruit and adornments that she had placed next to the open bottles of wine. All of us were excited to dress up our simple glasses of reds and whites, to resemble something more sophisticated and sexy.

What really caught my eye was the sugared rosemary. I was totally enamored with the idea of such conflicting flavors, not to mention that it looked like a little frozen branch of evergreen to compliment a winter drink. This concept was so simple yet sophisticated.

I also preferred to think that I was totally making my wine more healthy, therefore part of my diet. I will continue to believe this every time I slip out of compliance, for that is what makes me happy!

Whether you are hosting a girls night out, Valentine’s Day dinner, or a cozy night in by the fire, I highly encourage you to sexify your wine. It just makes you feel more special!

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Ingredients: (You can be more creative, feel free to add or change)

  • Pomegranate Seeds from 1 pomegranate
  • 1 starfruit, sliced
  • 2 oranges, sliced (I used Cara Cara oranges)
  • 1 pint of raspberries
  • 1 pint of blueberries
  • 1 pint of strawberries, sliced
  • 8-10 small sprigs of rosemary
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • spray bottle of water
  • Wine of your choice, red or white (I used Prosecco & Pinot Noir)

Preparation:

  • Wash & dry all fruit.
  • Remove the seeds from the pomegranate.
  • Slice the oranges, starfruit, and strawberries.
  • Spritz the rosemary with water.
  • Dredge each sprig through the sugar, shaking off the excess.
  • Arrange on a platter and open wine.

Mixing the Drink:

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  • Place desired fruit in the bottom of the wine glass.
  • Pour selected wine over the fruit.
  • Enjoy!

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  • Repeat with each refill. You can keep the same fruit in your glass, or snack on the fruit and add more with each serving of wine.

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Buffalo Chicken & Potato Casserole

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“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

We all know this phrase, and I usually can agree with this philosophy, but it can’t always be true, right? Well, at least it’s not true for me when I get a good idea to “fix” something, like say a casserole.

I found a casserole recipe on Pinterest. It’s pretty popular, and there are a bunch of knock-off versions, so I made it this summer to mixed reviews. My mom and my husband liked it, my kids, not so much. I also have a neighbor who tried it based on my Facebook post, but her feedback was so-so as well. Technically, this recipe was not “broken”, but I had an idea of just how to “fix” it.

For me the issue was a flavor thing. It needed a bit more depth. I absolutely loved the technique, but I felt it needed a little more complexity beyond plain hot sauce. I “fixed” it. You’re welcome 🙂

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 medium potatoes, cubed with skins on
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed
  • ¼ cup of olive oil
  • ½ packet of Good Seasons Italian Salad Dressing Mix
  • 1 cup of Buffalo wing sauce
  • 2 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • ¾ cup of chopped, cooked bacon
  • ¼ cup of chopped green onions

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 500°.
  • Chop potatoes and transfer to a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and salad dressing mix, then toss until coated.
  • Line the bottom of a casserole dish with the potatoes and bake for 45 minutes. Check the potatoes around 30 minutes, and stir.
  • Meanwhile, chop the chicken and coat with the wing sauce.
  • Once the potatoes are cooked, remove from the oven, top with the chicken, then sprinkle cheese, bacon, and onions.
  • Reduce the oven temperature to 475° and bake for approximately 15 minutes until the chicken is cooked and the cheese is nicely melted.

**Because ovens can vary, ensure that the chicken is fully cooked prior to consuming.

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Buffalo Pierogies

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Well the big game is here, and my family is expecting a buffalo smorgasbord! We have buffalo wings, buffalo chicken chili, and this year, we are adding buffalo pierogies. Now, my infatuation is a new one. I had two boxes left over from my last recipe, so I decided to try a new spin. Let me tell you, THIS IS SO FREAKIN’ EASY!! In fact, it was a no mess, one dish preparation!

Ingredients:

  • 1 box of mini cheddar pierogies (I used Mrs. T’s brand)
  • 1 cup of buffalo wing sauce
  • 3 Tbsp of ranch or blue cheese dressing
  • 1 resealable sandwich bag

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 400° & line a baking sheet with parchment paper
  • Spray parchment paper with cooking spray to prevent sticking.
  • In a medium bowl, coat pierogies in wing sauce.

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  • Line up pierogies on the baking sheet and bake according to the package directions (16-18 minutes)

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  • Remove from the oven.
  • Pour dressing into the corner of a resealable sandwich bag and snip off a very small portion of the corner. creating a thin opening to dispense the dressing onto the pierogies.

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  • Drizzle each hot pierogie with a zig-zag of dressing & let sit for 2 minutes.

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  • Transfer to a plate & serve immediately.

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The best part of this recipe is that there are no dishes to wash, other than the mixing bowl!. Roll up the parchment paper, gather up the sandwich bag & toss! That’s it!

Enjoy the big game & the tasty treats that go along with Sunday Funday!

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Crawfish Garlic Toast with Cajun Pierogies

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Yesterday, I gifted a friend with lunch from my favorite Cajun restaurant, to help her get labor started on her third, overdue baby. While I know this is an unproven, old wives tale, the voodoo crawfish worked to bring about many local babies!

Well, after ordering and coordinating delivery, I was left sitting at my desk craving Cajun food. I called my husband to whine about wanting to go out to dinner, but got no sympathy, so I took matters into my own hands! I shopped Pinterest for a Cajun pierogi recipe because I wanted to emulate the ones from High Street Caffe, but the recipes I found did not match the dish I desired. This is when the creative juices started to boil in my brain. By the time I left work, I was on a mission to go to Wegman’s  and secure some super tasty crawfish!!!!!

After an inspired trip to the store, I got home and started to cook! No pizza in my house on this given Friday! Once it was ready, I called my husband and urged him to rush home, because I couldn’t wait to dig in. It was HEAVENLY! Paired with a nice bottle of wine, it felt like a date at home! This recipe has now earned a spot in my top 3 greatest of all time!!!

Crawfish Garlic Toast

Ingredients:

The toast–

  • 1 baguette, sliced diagonally
  • 3 Tbsp of butter
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic

The Crawfish—

  • 2 Tbsp of butter
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • ½ cup of finely chopped mirepoix (carrots, onion, & celery)
  • 12 oz. of crawfish tails
  • 1 tsp of oregano
  • 1 Tbsp of paprika
  • 1 tsp of Cajun seasoning
  • 1 tsp of fresh thyme
  • A few dashes of cayenne pepper (you can adjust to your liking)
  • Salt & black pepper, to taste
  • 1 pint of heavy cream
  • 1 palmful of chopped fresh parsley

Preparation:

The toast—

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  1. Slice the baguette diagonally to create large oval slices.
  2. Melt the butter in a skillet and add the minced garlic. Sautee for 1-2 minutes to infuse the garlic flavor.
  3. Place each slice on a baking sheet, the brush with the garlic butter.
  4. Bake at 450° for about 3 minutes, then flip to toast the other side.
  5. Remove from the oven, and set aside.

The Crawfish—

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  1. In the same skillet used above, saute the garlic, mirepoix, and butter until softened.
  2. Add the crawfish tails and cook on high heat until firm.
  3. Mix in the spices, and saute for another minute.
  4. Add cream, mix well, and simmer uncovered for about 5 -10 minutes until thickened.
  5. Stir in the fresh parsley.

Final Preparation—

Place a slice of toast on a plate & spoon a generous serving of the crawfish onto the toast. Serve immediately.  If you would like to serve this as a small appetizer, use smaller, coin sized slices of baguette and smaller portions of crawfish.

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This pairs to well with Cajun pierogies! This is a total cheater recipe, so anyone can easily whip these suckers up. They also make a great stand-alone appetizer!

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Get the recipe here!

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Cajun Pierogi

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I love Cajun food, and I have a favorite local Cajun restaurant that serves the tastiest Cajun pierogies. Well, the other day, I found myself craving this awesomeness, and dinner out was not in the plans, so I embarked on a mission to recreate them at home. Warning, this is kind of a slacker/cheater recipe. I did not go as far as making my own pierogies. I’m an Irish girl, and really have no experience with them other than what I have ordered out. I purchased Wegmans brand roasted garlic pierogies, but you can also use a classic cheddar variety. This is a simple recipe that can be whipped up quickly, without many ingredients, so you may want to keep a  box of pierogies in your freezer, so you can whip these suckers up in an appetizer or dinner emergency!

Ingredients:

  • 1 box of frozen pierogies (I used Wegmans brand roasted garlic flavor)
  • 3 Tbsp of butter
  • 1 large shallot
  • 3-4 Tbsp of Cajun Seasoning

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Preparation:

  1. Thaw pierogies according to the package instructions.
  2. In a medium skillet, melt butter and add sliced shallots.
  3. Add pierogies, sprinkle generously with Cajun seasoning, and brown each side for about 3-4 minutes. Be sure to season each side.
  4. Remove from skillet and serve immediately, topped with the sautéed shallots.

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Serving Suggestion: These pair very well with Crawfish Garlic Toast for a Cajun themed dinner!