mrs.b and her boys

embrace the chaos

PASTA PRIMAVERA

It is of no surprise to my Midwest folks that all I can think about lately is spring! It has been so stinking cold, we have had so much snow this winter {it is as high as my garden gate!}, the boys and I even got stranded in Rochester because they closed the roads due to snow and winds. We are done! It is time for spring!

So when I was thinking about what I wanted for dinner the other day, all I could think about was this delicious springtime pasta recipe I have. It is light but creamy, it is fresh but hearty. This Pasta Primavera will bring you back to life before nature decides to. Let’s face it…it is not happening anytime soon {enter giant eye roll}.

Now, full disclosure, my recipe calls for asparagus, but my photos do not show it. Why? I am so sorry! Our stupid grocery stores have been out of it for a long time now or when they do have it, it looks like shriveled up twigs. You must put it in there. It makes it so fresh. It is what truly brings spring to this pasta dish. I know I should have waited to make it with asparagus and then post it. But I know that a lot of you are feeling the same way I am and I want you to have this recipe {NOW!}.

You must pay close attention to add the tomatoes at the very end of cooking the chicken and zucchini; and then add the broth and cream cheese right away. Otherwise your tomatoes will get mushy and start to shrivel up into the sauce. It will still taste scrumptious, it will just look funny.

My vegetarian friends, or if you are doing a Meatless Monday: This recipe is {SO STINKIN’} easy to adjust. Just don’t add the chicken! Maybe add a mushroom if you wish. Or a sautéed tofu would go really great with it as well.

 

I hope you are all surviving this cruel winter and I hope that spring comes soon for us all! We need to open our windows and plant our gardens and feel that spring sun on our faces.

 

PASTA PRIMAVERA

 

1 lb. rotini pasta

2 large chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/3 cup + 2 Tb. Italian dressing, separated

1 medium zucchini, cut into bite-size chunks

2 cups asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces

½ pint cherry tomatoes, halved

2 cups chicken broth

8 oz. cream cheese, cubed

½ cup fresh Parmesan, grated

 

Cook pasta according to package directions.

 

Meanwhile, heat 1/3 cup dressing in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 8 minutes. Add zucchini; cook additional 5-7 minutes until chicken is cooked through and zucchini is softened a bit (not mushy!). Add tomatoes; stir in gently to coat. Add broth and cream cheese; stir 1-2 minutes until cheese is melted. Add Parmesan; mix in gently.

 

Drain pasta; do not rinse. Add pasta to chicken and vegetable mixture; toss gently. Stir in last 2 Tb. of dressing. Let simmer over medium-low heat 2 minutes.

 

Serve immediately otherwise the tomatoes get mushy.

It Takes Time

It takes time. This speaks loudly of my life right now. It has been a {long} while since I have felt like I was headed in the right direction in life to fulfill my soul {aside from being a mama}. It has also been a while since I have worked on my cookbook, written recipes and posted here on my blog. The last year has been filled with big revelations and changes here in our house.

 

I have not felt like myself not writing recipes and sharing them with you for the last year, but a lot has been filling my mind and my days since then. Last year this time I was working a job that was by far the best job I have ever had. I was a Literary Tutor at a local elementary school. I loved being in a school setting, I adored my co-workers and most of all, I fed off the satisfaction that I was working with kiddos, helping them become stronger readers. Unfortunately, although it was a 25-hour workweek, it was considered a volunteer position. I was only paid a small {and I mean SMALL} living stipend. Around this time my husband and I had been talking {A LOT} about what my next step was going to be because we could not afford for me to do this job any longer. It was heart breaking for me, I shed lots of tears, but it forced me into a soul-searching mission that was unexpected.

 

Let me take you back to about seven years ago. I was a stay-at-home mom and loving every minute of it {well, let’s be real…ALMOST every minute of it}. It was all I had ever wanted to be, a mama. We made a lot of adjustments for us to be able to afford for me to stay home, we did it and it worked. One Saturday, I had taken my children to a friend’s birthday party where I did not know anyone else there. All of the other moms were working moms. I, for the first time in my life, suddenly felt the most insecure I have ever felt. I had this panic feeling of “Holy crap! I am not enough!” What I found once I was out of that situation and able to figure out what that was that I had been feeling, was that I needed something more. I needed a purpose in life in addition to being a mom.

 

In conversation with one of my best girlfriends after that incident we had an epiphany together. We had each other and other wonderful girlfriends that we got together with to play, we went to music class and ECFE together, plus we had plenty of ladies nights out. But {a big fat BUT}, staying at home was also lonely and isolating. Would I change it, NEVER! I was choosing to do it. I wanted to be there. The reality is though, that a lot of times being a stay-at-home parent is incredibly lonely. When they are fresh babes, you have to do everything around naps and feedings. As they grow a bit you have only the mornings to do something, then rush home so that they get a good afternoon nap in so that you do not have to pay for it all night. You may go days without talking to anyone’s face except your children and spouse. When they are sick, you are stuck inside your dungeon with no hopes of getting out. Your whole life becomes about boogers and poop and sippy cups and nap times and a messy ass house and Elmo and cheesy, gaggy kids music and making healthy food {that they never eat after 2 years old!} and potty training {I sucked at potty training!} and Goldfish stuck to every inch of the interior of your car and doubting your decisions and questioning if you are good enough. Gah! You loose part of who you were before you were blessed with children.

 

My ultimate dream has always been to write and publish a cookbook. It is so important to me but somehow it is the one thing in my life that I make the least amount of time for. I am also of the reality that if it does happen, it is not a full-time gig and not quite everything to fulfill me. There was something more. What was it? So, in my soul-searching last spring, I heard this voice say, “Go back to school to finish your teaching degree.” I shuttered and shook it off. I never had any desire to go back to school to finish what I started all too long ago. Then, a few days later, that voice would creep back in. Shutter! Shake! This happened many times over about a month before I said to my husband, “I know this is going to shock you, but I think I am supposed to go back to school. I am supposed to be a teacher.” He instantly said, “Okay, let’s do it! A classroom is where you belong. It is so who you are.” Just typing it now brings me to tears. It was such a freeing, life altering moment. I felt relief that I finally had my answer that I searched for all those years. I felt nervous about going back to college at my old age. I instantly panicked that my boys were not ready for me to be gone that much and that I would not fully be the mom that they had always had. {Again with the tears!} I knew that our house would go haywire with me consumed with this. I’ll keep it real, I am not the greatest housekeeper {as I sit here looking at dirty dishes and a broken kitchen drawer} but I did not want things to get worse.

 

So here I am in the midst of it! Taking classes. Working towards my dream of being a teacher. It has been hard. Like I said, my house is a mess. I do not have time to write recipes, post on my blog or work on my cookbook. My kids have had to become a bit more independent and are doing really well with it. My husband has been my biggest cheerleader – especially on test days. {And more tears!} There are times when I am in the depths of school and life that I think, “What am I doing? What the hell was I thinking?” But it is easily and quickly shook off with knowing what I am working towards and it fills my soul.

 

If you are one of those parents feeling the way I felt seven years ago, lost, overwhelmed, in need of something more, I promise you your time will come. It will come when you least expect it. Or in an answer you never thought it would be. Hang in there. Stay-at-home parenthood is hard. It is lonely. It is unglamorous. Most of all, it is worth it. And the day they start kindergarten, in your eyes will be tears, part of your heart will be gone, but you will also revel in the freedom! Hallelujah! Enjoy it! Take some time for yourself. Do some soul searching. Maybe you want to get right into something more. Maybe you want a few more years. Do what is right for you. Know that you are amazing. Know that you are good enough doing what you do. Not just anyone can raise a stubborn, squirrely child that poops their pants to be a sweet, yet still stubborn child that can finally use the bathroom on their own and go out to take on the world. It just takes time.

SWEDISH MEATBALLS OVER EGG NOODLES

We all need a meal that we can get on the dinner table quickly and that we feel is hearty enough and at least semi-homemade. It is also a bonus if all the {picky} humans in the house like it. I think I have a solution for you. This recipe got a thumbs-up from everyone in my house {Let’s be honest, that’s hard to come by!}

There are elements of this recipe that you can easily adapt to your liking. The cream of mushroom soup for instance, if you are one that shies away from the canned variety, please use your homemade version. Also, some people prefer homemade meatballs over the frozen ones. Which is totally groovy. I just wanted to write a recipe that was a quick Weeknight Favorite and we could get on the table in little time. And of course, this recipe would be equally delicious with your vegetarian version of meatballs. Easy to adapt, simple to prepare.

Another great thing about this meal is that if you wanted to, you could prep the sauce and meatballs earlier in the day and put it in a slow cooker on low. Once, you get home all you have to do is boil the pasta.

 

SWEDISH MEATBALLS OVER EGG NOODLES

2 – 10 ½ oz. cans cream of mushroom soup

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

2 Tb. Worcestershire sauce

1 Tb. dry mustard

1 cup milk

22 oz. bag of frozen meatballs, thawed in fridge

1 lb. wide egg noodles

salt & pepper, to taste

 

In a large saucepan, whisk soup, yogurt, Worcestershire, dry mustard and milk over medium heat; simmer 5 – 8 minutes until heated through.

 

Add meatballs; cover and simmer 15 – 20 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally. You may need to add water {¼ cup at a time} if it gets too thick for your liking.

 

Meanwhile, get a large pot of water boiling for the egg noodles. Cook according to package directions. Drain, but do not rinse.

 

Taste the meatball sauce and season with salt and pepper if needed. {I find it doesn’t need much salt due to the other ingredients in the sauce}

 

Serve the meatball mix over the egg noodles.

CHARCUTERIE BOARD

Are you at a loss as to what appetizer to put out this holiday season? Are you worried what you make will not please certain people? Are you to a point where you are just going to throw a bag of chips on the counter and call it good? I have THE solution for you and – it is simple!

 

A Charcuterie Board, which is just hipster now for what most of us call a Meat and Cheese Board, is so easy and you can adjust it accordingly without worrying about measurements or substitutes. You have meat for the “I Must Have My Meat” folks, cheese and fruit for the “I Do Not Eat Grains” folks, you have crackers for the “Picky Eater Kids” folks, then you can throw any fun, random thing in there for the “I Eat Anything” folks. Oh, and don’t forget, you don’t have to measure or follow a recipe for this! Everyone is happy! {Well, almost everyone} Plus, you will impress the pants off of all of them because it is so pretty.

You do not have to make it “fancy” if that is not your thing. Create the level of presentation that works for you. You do not have to do just as I did on my board. Pick and choose what you and your crowd will like. Use the list below as a guide.

2-3 Meats: Salami (there are so many varieties), Prosciutto, Capicola, Chorizo

2-3 Cheeses (One mild, one sharper in flavor, one soft): Cheddar, Smoked Gouda, Brie, Gorgonzola, Herbed Cream Cheese, Goat Cheese, Parmesan, Marinated Mozzarella

2-3 Crackers/Bread: Something buttery, something grainy, something for the gluten-free or grain-free, something kid-friendly, baguette bread, crunchy breadsticks

1-2 Fresh Fruits: Grapes, Apple Slices, Small Oranges, Pear Slices, Berries

1 Sweet Spread: Tomato Jam, Fig Jam, Jalepeno Jam

1-3 Extra: Nuts, Olives, Pickles, Cornichons, Dried Fruits, Hummus, Tapenade, Roasted Peppers

1-3 Edible Garnish: Rosemary, Pomegranate, Persimmon, Pears, Apples

Your board or platter can be any size that works for your crowd. Just because I say “board” and you don’t have a board, don’t fret. Any nice platter will do.

First, remember to check if your board or platter is food safe. If it is not, you have to line it with lettuce leaves; say a red lettuce or raw collard greens.

From there, you just arrange as you wish. Pair cheese slicers with any cheese you choose to keep whole, pair small serving knives and spoons with anything spreadable, you can even mix in plates and bowls for different levels of presentation. With the fruit garnishes, like the pomegranate, I like to slice it open for a pop of color and texture. Have fun with it!

Happy Holidays and may the New Year bless you with an abundance of laughter and delicious homemade foods around the table with your most favorite people!

GIFT GUIDE 2017

I hope you are all heading into the holiday season feeling healthy & blessed! I also hope that you have some sort of giving project planned. Our family was talking about putting together lunch bags & delivering them to the homeless. We do not have a lot of money to give big, but we know sandwiches, chips, fruit, a homemade cookie & a personal note will not cost much. The joy it will bring our hearts will be priceless!

After that, I hope you are very thoughtful with your gift giving to your loved ones. Think about them & what they love. That being said, I know there are some people on our list that are hard to buy for. Or we think, ‘Our kids don’t need anything.’

 

This list will spark some ideas for your gift giving this year!

 

HOST/ESS: Your favorite hand soap & a beautiful hand towel {I actually give this hostess gift year round. So simple, yet perfect}

BABIES: Wooden toys. www.landofnod.com has some great pieces

 

LADIES & GIRLS: An overnight bag, a toiletries bag & make-up bag. If you feel like throwing in some travel size toiletries, bonus!

GUYS: A hoodie & cap of their favorite college or pro team

BOYS: A fleece hat & neck cover, wool socks, hand warmers, beef jerky, sunflower seeds & gum {Perfect for any skier, snow boarder, hunter or fisherman in your life}

 

FAMILY: Ice Cream Sundae Kit. Include: Fun sundae cups or cones, hot fudge, caramel sauce, sprinkles, nuts, praline topping, cookie crumbles, mini M&M’s, an ice cream scoop

TEACHERS: A gift card. It doesn’t have to be much. As much as they appreciate any gift & the thoughtfulness behind it…they do not need another cute mug or tree ornament!!! They just got nine last year {Ha!} $5 to a coffee shop is perfect. Or a cupcake shop, or a book store, or Thai take-out, or a specialty grocery store. The options are endless. If you feel you must give them something, how about fuzzy warm socks/wool socks? Or donate snacks & items to the classroom so they don’t have to buy out of their pockets?

THE SCIENCE KID IN YOUR LIFE: A science experiment kit or book to have your own science fun at home

THE COOK IN YOUR LIFE: Set of soup bowls, ladle & pot holder

THE MUSIC BUFF IN YOUR LIFE: A pair of nice headphones & an iTunes gift card

BOOKS:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio – If you or your children have not read it yet, you have got to! A beautiful story of a boy with a facial difference, sharing how it effects his & his loved ones lives & how being kind is most important

 

Lasso the Moon by Trish Holland – This sweet Little Golden Book is a goodnight story of cowgirls & cowboys

Flotsam by David Wiesner – A book with no words but full of beautiful illustrations allows you & your child to use your imaginations & tell a new story everytime

The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak – As it states in the title, this book has no pictures. It does not need any. The words of this brilliant author leave children {& yourself} in stitches!

 

A BOOK & THE MOVIE:

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

These are two of my favorites with strong, beautiful messages.

For more ideas for gift giving, check out last years Gift Guide 2016 below! It has a load of more great options.

GIFT GUIDE 2016

HAM & SWISS ROLLS

The holidays are upon us. As is football season. Every weekend is filled with a gathering of family and friends. I have my staple appetizer go-to’s that I generally do not stray far from. But I have got a new one to add to that list.

These Ham & Swiss Rolls are simple and come together in no time at all. When they come out of the oven, it looks like you have fussed over them for hours. {No need to tell them you haven’t}

Bring this to your next gathering and everyone will be pleased. You set a dish of grainy mustard, honey mustard or a simple yellow mustard {Or all three! Let them pick!} beside these and they will fly off the platter.

They are so simple and tasty that I have put my thinking cap on to think of other flavor combos I could throw in this “roll” idea. Pizza sauce & mozzarella? Roast beef & bleu cheese dressing? Salsa cream cheese & refried beans? The options are endless.

 

HAM & SWISS ROLLS

 

2 – 8 oz. rolls crescent sheet dough

1 ½ cups deli ham, diced

2 cups Swiss cheese, shredded

2 Tb. green onions, sliced thin

Grainy mustard or honey mustard, for dipping

 

Preheat oven to 375˚.

 

Lay each sheet of crescent dough out on parchment paper. Press out to shape as even as possible. Sprinkle half of diced ham evenly over each sheet of dough. Follow with cheese, then green onions. Starting at one short end, roll up the dough tightly; pulling end up to seal the roll; lay seam side down. Slice each roll with about ¾ inch slices; laying each one on a large ungreased cookie sheet.

 

Bake for 18-20 minutes or until dough is golden brown. Serve immediately with your choice of mustard.

 

Makes 18-20 rolls.

SPINACH & FETA STUFFED CHICKEN

Full disclosure: This dish is so scrumptious that I did a happy dance when I took my first bite! There are so many layers of flavor to it. You’ve got the fresh earthiness of the spinach and parsley, the pungency of the feta, the acidity of the tomato sauce and the sweetness of the mango. So many different flavor levels that meld together beautifully.

I don’t want to call it healthy, because then I feel some of you will turn and run. But I am telling you whether you are watching what you are eating or not, this is a great dish either way. And shockingly, the children ate it. They were not in love with it, but they did not complain one bit either. They said they liked it. {That’s a win to me!}

 

We all look for dishes that we can pull off as decadent, but it’s really quite a simple and healthy dish. You could serve this as a holiday meal or at your next dinner party. When you cut each piece in half, it is so beautiful. Then you top it with the sauce and all the colors pop on the plate! You will impress the pants off all your guests.

 

If you have a bit of extra time, you can pull it off on a weeknight. But, I am going to leave it as a “Sunday Dinner” seeing as the bake time is 40 minutes.

 

I served it with Lemon-Oregano Basmati Rice and steamed broccoli. It would also be lovely with an orzo or quinoa side dish or a big fat lettuce salad. For kids that are not fans of salad yet, just throw raw carrot sticks on their plate. It’s a legit vegetable option for kids that refuse most veggies. I waited until my kids were in grade school to make them choose another veggie to add to their picky eater palates. And now, they each have a handful of veggie options I can put on their plates. {Hallelujah!}

 

SPINACH & FETA STUFFED CHICKEN

 

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded flat

 

Stuffing:

10 oz. pkg. frozen spinach, thawed & wrung out

6 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

2 Tb. fresh parsley, chopped

2 cloves garlic, grated

1 tsp. ground black pepper

2 tsp. olive oil

 

Sauce:

15 oz. can tomato sauce

2 mangos, peeled and diced (I use frozen)

Salt & pepper, to taste

 

Preheat oven to 375˚.

 

In a medium mixing bowl, combine all stuffing ingredients together. Spoon ¼ of the mixture onto each chicken breast. Wrap the chicken, being sure get it around all the stuffing. Place seam side down on sprayed baking dish. Bake for 40 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

 

While the chicken is baking, combine sauce ingredients in small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn down to low simmer, stirring occasionally.

 

To serve, spoon sauce over each stuffed chicken piece.

POWER POPPERS

Now that we have been back to school for a couple weeks now and in the new groove, we can start thinking of throwing new recipes into the mix. I have been trying new dinner recipes and school snack recipes lately. I love my core recipes, but I always feel like I want to throw something new in to keep things fun and interesting.

This is another idea for school snacks or after-school snacks. They will give kids a burst of energy but are packed full of healthy ingredients: oats, honey, flaxseed. They are all the rage right now and I can understand why. They are just so enjoyable!

Honestly, in our house we think they taste like dessert! So, go ahead, play these off as dessert if you wish to. {I won’t tell}

In the recipe, I note an option to add in mini M&M’s. I do this only on special occasions. Normally, I make them without. Times I would add them in would be a camping trip, the holidays when you have company, a road trip, etc.

I was all excited to throw these in my boys’ backpacks for snacks. Then, find out the new middle-schooler doesn’t have snack time anymore and the third grader has a severe nut allergy in his class. So, I will have to save them for the lunchbox or after school snack. But, I have given Power Poppers to them for breakfast before too. Alongside a banana and bowl of yogurt.

 

POWER POPPERS

 

4 cups quick oats

2 cups peanut butter or almond butter

1 ¼ cup honey

1 cup ground flaxseed

2 cups mini chocolate chips

OR 1 cup mini chocolate chips & 1 cup mini M&M’s

 

In large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients until well blended. Roll into 1-inch balls until you have used all the mixture; placing on parchment paper lined cookie sheet.

 

Freeze flat for 2 hours. Transfer to container with airtight lid. Store in freezer up to two weeks. {But trust me, they will never last that long}

SNACK MIX

Whether you are celebrating or sobbing, it is back-to-school time, friends. It is time for piles of school supplies to start taking over the family room floor, for that dreaded homework we all know is coming and for packing cold lunches. {Enter cry of agony here} Every year I look for ways to change up the same ‘ol lunches and snacks I pack the kids. But…without getting all fancy bento box crazy over here! {Who has time for that?}

I have come up with a few ideas and I cannot wait to share them with you. This first one is my Auntie CoCo’s Snack Mix recipe. It is da bomb! Other snack mixes people make are okay, but this one tops them all. I don’t know how she perfected it, but she did. It is simple to make and you can have it for the whole week for school snacks or even after school snacks. Pair it with an apple or a banana and it is a perfect snack for the kiddos. Or you.

I change up the snack ingredients a bit from my auntie’s recipe but keep the sauce exactly as is. We like more cereal and crackers in ours, and my uncle likes more cashews in his. I say balance your preferences of cereal, crackers, nuts and pretzels as you wish as long as the cup measurements stay about the same.

You don’t have to keep this recipe for just school time either. It is also great for family gatherings to put out with the appetizers or for Sundays sitting around watching football or to throw in the car for those long road trips.

Here we go…the next nine months of bliss and chaos all in one! We can do it. We will do it. Let’s embrace it!

 

SNACK MIX

 

6 cups Crispix cereal

1 box Cheez-Its crackers

1 cup cashews

1 cup pretzels

1 cup butter

3 Tb. Worcestershire sauce

2 tsp. garlic salt

1 tsp. celery salt

 

Preheat oven to 250˚.

 

In a large mixing bowl, gently mix cereal, crackers, cashews and pretzels together; set aside.

 

In a small microwavable bowl, melt butter in 30 second increments until fully melted; stirring each time. Add Worcestershire, garlic salt and celery salt; whisk to combine.

 

Pour half of butter mixture over the cereal mixture and stir gently until well coated. Pour rest of butter mixture in; again stirring gently until well coated.

 

Spread out on a large cookie sheet. Bake in oven for total of about 1 hour. Stirring every 20 minutes. You want the Cheez-Its to be slightly golden brown on edges and the butter mixture to have mostly dried. It will be slightly wet yet, but that will soak in as it cools. Let cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

You have been asked to bring a dessert to your next get-together. You are looking for a healthy, but tasty dessert for the BBQ you are hosting for Labor Day weekend. You just want something sweet in the house, but do not want to turn on the oven to bake on these hot summer days. I have the answer for you for all of these situations. Chocolate Covered Strawberries! These sweet gems almost seem fancy, but they are so simple to make.

I had brought these over to a friends house for a get-together and everyone devoured them. They satisfied the little kids and the teenagers, the ones watching what they ate and the ones that didn’t care, the meat eaters and the gluten-free/dairy-free eaters.

 

What if you have the ingredients but not the time to make them in time to set up? Just melt your chocolate without the wax and let every one dig in with their strawberries! They do not need to “set” to be delicious. It would almost be like a fondue. {I almost like them better this way!} You just won’t have the presentation portion of it.

 

You don’t even really need a recipe for this one, but here it is.

 

CHOCOLATE COVERED STRAWBERRIES

 

1 lb. clamshell strawberries, rinsed & dried

10-12 oz. bakers semi-sweet dark chocolate

Paraffin Wax, chunk about the size of the tip of your thumb

 

Melt the chocolate and wax together. In microwave, melt in 45 second intervals; stirring each time. Or in double boiler, melt over low simmer; stirring occasionally to combine into a smooth consistency.

Let chocolate cool for about 5 minutes. Take a strawberry by the green top, and dip in chocolate; covering most of red part. Set on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Repeat for all berries. Refrigerate until chocolate is set.

Refrigerate any leftovers. If there are any {Just keeping it real!}

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