August 22, 2014

Healthy Lunchbox Inspiration and a Rock the Lunchbox Giveaway!

Get some healthy lunchbox inspiration with five fresh and creative lunchbox ideas featuring products from some of my favorite organic and natural food brands! Don't forget to enter my giveaway while you're here so that YOU can Rock the Lunchbox, too!  Keep reading for the details.

It's that time, folks.  Summer break has come to a close and the kids are heading back to school.  In my case, it's not back to school.  This week we had our very first ever full school day.  That's right, my oldest started kindergarten.  We did have VPK last year, but this year is the full monty...five days a week, all day long.

Lord help me.

While I try to refrain from breaking down in tears at the thought of it, I'm doing my best to make sure that my little lady is prepared for all of the new and fun experiences that await her when she walks through the school doors.  As much as my heart ached to be a fly on the wall during her very first big day at school, I had to trust that I have instilled in her the confidence, drive and heart to be the best that she can be in my absence.  I have no doubt that she'll do great and bring smiles to the faces of her teachers and new friends.

That's just the kind of girl she is.

August 13, 2014

Greek Yogurt Ranch Dressing

Greek Yogurt Ranch Dressing uses thick and rich Greek yogurt combined with a mixture of herbs and spices to make a healthy version of classic ranch dressing.

Greek Yogurt Ranch Dressing |

I am a sucker salad dressing.  What's funny about that is that when I was young I wouldn't touch it.  I ate dry salads for years.  Crazy, right?  But now I like them all.  I'm particularly fond of the creamy, thick, rich ones like caesar, ranch, and parmesan peppercorn.  Yum, yum and yum.  

It's a little disturbing when you actually start reading labels and realize that the dressing you are putting on your salad has more fat and calories than the actual salad itself.  No bueno.  Kind of defeats the purpose of trying to eat a healthy salad when you load it up with fattening dressing!

I've recently started making my own dressing at home, like simple vinaigrettes and this Avocado Cilantro Dressing.  I've tried a couple versions of homemade ranch mix and I'm thrilled to say that I finally found one that I LOVE.

I used a Greek Yogurt base and a mixture of herbs and spices to make this super simple, healthy and delicious version of ranch.  Of course it doesn't taste exactly like store-bought bottled, nothing ever tastes exactly the same when you aren't using chemicals and stabilizers that make them shelf safe.  I think it actually tastes better than store bought.  Will you love it, too?  Only one way to find out!

August 11, 2014

Pearl Onions, Peas and Bacon

Pearl Onions, Peas and Bacon are combined in this simple and delicious side dish that is seasoned with smoked paprika and brown sugar.

Pearl Onions, Peas and Bacon |

Many of the dinners in our house consist of a protein, a veggie and a salad.  If we're out of fresh vegetables for a side dish, I'll turn to the freezer where I try to keep a couple of bags of frozen veggies to use in a pinch.

The night that I made this recipe was one of the nights that my back-up freezer vegetables came in handy.  I was out of fresh, so I listed off the frozen options that I had on hand to my husband to see what he preferred.  He wasn't feeling any of them. To be honest, I wasn't really feeling plain old peas either.   I also had some frozen pearl onions that I had no plans for.

I decided to combine the pearl onions and peas and then dress them up with some bacon.  The smoky paprika and the sweet brown sugar transformed the ordinary veggies into something special.  The whole family scarfed them down!

August 5, 2014

Stuffed Pepper Soup

Stuffed Pepper Soup is an easy to make, hearty and family-friendly soup that features all of the flavors of classic oven baked stuffed peppers.

Stuffed Pepper Soup |

When I was thinking about what I should make for dinner the other night I knew that I had to come up with a recipe that would use up some of the bell peppers I had in the fridge.  We're growing them in our garden and we have tons of green, orange and red ones that are on their way out.

I thought about making stuffed peppers or fajitas, but I decided I'd try a recipe I'd never made before.  I remembered seeing Stuffed Pepper Soup on Pinterest, so I googled it and found the perfect recipe on Skinnytaste.

Yes, I made soup in the middle of summer.  I'm a year-round soup kind of gal.

I had all of the ingredients on hand (always a plus), it came together in no time, AND my husband and my kids scarfed it down.  Win!  I am happy to add this family-friendly soup to the meal planning rotation!  If you're looking for a stuffed pepper recipe that's not a soup, check out my Simple Stuffed Peppers, a family favorite!

July 30, 2014

Almond Cherry Granola

This post is sponsored by McCormick.  Almond Cherry Granola is a sweet toasted granola recipe made with almonds, cinnamon and dried cherries.  It is perfect for breakfast or snack time.

Almond Cherry Granola |

In our house, I'm the one who comes up with the meal plan.  I'll  usually ask my husband and kids if they have any recipe requests before I go shopping and then I fill in the blanks making sure that we have plenty of options lined up for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.

Although food is totally my thing and I'm one of those odd ducks that actually enjoys grocery shopping (I seriously can spend 3 hours in the store and it feels like 5 minutes), it's sometimes hard to come up with fresh meal ideas that my whole family will love.

Personally, I love almost anything.  That, however, is not the case when it comes to my husband.  Over the years he has become more open to trying new foods, but he's still pretty particular about proteins.  He's not a fan of most seafood, with the exception of lobster.  And although I would love it if it did, sadly my budget doesn't allow for daily lobster indulgences.  He also doesn't love it when I cook pork.  Pork!  Ugh, it pains me to say that, because I love pork.  

Then there's the kids.  Luckily, the 5-year old will try most anything, but I have to keep in mind the fact that 5-year olds and spicy foods don't usually mix.  Same goes for the little one who is 1 1/2.  Spicy anything is a no-go.  Otherwise, he's like most other toddlers out there...anything that ends up in his tummy and not on the floor is what I consider a success.

July 21, 2014

Oven-Roasted Tomatoes

Oven-Roasted Tomatoes are fresh tomatoes that are slow-roasted until the flavors are intensified and they are beautifully caramelized.

Oven Roasted Tomatoes |

My garden has been a little wacky this summer.  My first year growing was last year and, surprisingly, much more productive than this year.  I've already pulled 4 of my 8 plants and I've about to dig up the others, too.

I can honestly say that I think my success, or lack thereof, isn't completely my fault.  Well it kind of is, but I've come to realize gardening is all about trial and error.  See, last year I got tomatoes that were all the same variety.  And apparently the variety I chose was great for my tropical growing conditions.

This year I thought, I have obviously magically developed a green thumb because of last year's plentiful crop.  So this year I'll get all fancy and grow a bunch of different varieties.  Mix it up and get all exotic.  I do, after all, have a green thumb, like I said before.

So I planted yellow tomatoes, plum tomatoes, grape tomatoes, big boys, and one or two others.  I planted them...and they grew.  And I did get some tomatoes.  But this year I got nowhere near the amount that I harvested last year before they were struck with all kinds of sad tomato illnesses.  Out of the 8, only 2 plants really did well.  Sigh.  Live and learn.

So anyhoo, from what I did harvest, I was able to make some great fresh tomato sauce, top plenty of cream cheese bagels, and throw together several batches of fresh salsa.  I also made these oven-roasted tomatoes that have a deep intense tomato flavor.

They were absolutely irresistible right off the pan and didn't last a day in our house.  You won't believe how rich and full of flavor these little beauties are.  So, if you're lucky enough to still have tomatoes rolling in, make these!  You will not be disappointed!

July 18, 2014

Zucchini Chips

Zucchini Chips are thin, crispy, oven-baked slices of zucchini that make the perfect healthy snack.

Zucchini Chips |

My very favorite indulgent snack is chips.  Wavy, thin, kettle cooked, flavored...I love them all.  Of course I'm talking about potato chips.  Potatoes are my favorite food any way you cook them. I love them and, as I've said time and time again, I'm a salty snacker appetizer kind of girl.

So yeah, potato chips and me?  We're like peas and carrots.

I never, ever, ever thought that I would eat a chip made from a zucchini that would fulfill me like my beloved potato chips.  I mean really, a zucchini?  Baked into a chip? In my mind there was no way, no how, a zucchini chip would ever work out as a satisfying replacement for my potato chips.

Friends, I.WAS.WRONG.

July 15, 2014

Cantaloupe Popsicles

Cantaloupe Popsicles that are made with just three ingredients are the perfect way to use your fresh summer melon to make sweet and easy to prepare frozen treats.

Cantaloupe Popsicles made with just three ingredients are the perfect sweet summertime treat!

My daughter is big fan of fresh fruit.  Most days she has a side of fruit with her breakfast and lunch and she always finishes every bite.  Naturally, this thrills me.  My son, on the other hand, frequently exercises his right of refusal, as most toddlers often do.

He's a funny little bug.  Picky for the sake of being picky.  Like he won't eat strawberries if they're cut up, but loves them when they're whole.  The same with pears.  So silly.

Both of my kids love when I bust out the blender to use their favorite fruits to make frozen treats like smoothies and popsicles.  For my fruit-loving daughter, it transforms the fruit into an extra special treat.  For my son, it's a way to get him to eat a lot of fruit he otherwise turns his nose up to.  Cantaloupe is one of the fruits he won't eat when it's cut up, but he loves these popsicles!

We all loved the fresh taste of the melon and the little hint of lime in these sweet treats.  They're perfect for summertime when cantaloupe is in season.  Your kids (and you) will love them!

July 9, 2014

Greek Yogurt Cucumbers

Greek Yogurt Cucumbers are an easy to prepare, cool and fresh side dish featuring crisp cucumbers and creamy greek yogurt.

Greek Yogurt Cucumbers are an easy to prepare side dish made with garden fresh cucumbers, onions and creamy greek yogurt.

My summer garden always starts out so fabulous.  Everything is green and lush and just beautiful.  It's so full of life, you know?  There's nothing like harvesting vegetables and bringing them straight to the kitchen for preparation.  It's doesn't get fresher than that!

But sadly, the cucumber crop didn't last long this year.  I grow everything organically, which means no pesticides for me.  That also means more bugs.  Lots and lots more bugs.  Bugs that just so happen to love to munch on all of my precious veggies.

Boo.  I'm working on it though.  I'm looking into organic pest control options and next year I'm going to be ready for those little veggie-munching buggers.  They'd better watch out 'cause I'm coming for them.  

I did have a few weeks, though, where everything was growing smashingly.  I harvested plenty of cucumbers and enjoyed them in my garden salads, in my Tomato, Cucumber and Onion Salad with Feta, in my Greek Shrimp Panzanella Bread Salad, and in this recipe.

This is a great way to turn your cucs into a side dish by simply adding some sweet onions and dressing them in a cool greek yogurt mixture.  Super easy and perfect for your garden's bounty!

July 3, 2014

Herbed Ricotta and Roasted Cherry Tomato Bruschetta and an Honest Lemonade Giveaway!

Herbed Ricotta and Roasted Cherry Tomato Bruschetta is made by topping toasted baguette slices with a fresh herbed ricotta mixture and oven-roasted cherry tomatoes.

Herbed Ricotta and Roasted Cherry Tomato Bruschetta |

I've said it time and time again, I love appetizers.  I could eat just apps and skip dinner and dessert and I'd be totally okay with that.  This appetizer is so incredibly easy to make and full of flavor.  It's got it and creamy ricotta, fresh herbs, and sweet delicious garden fresh tomatoes all served on top of crusty bread slices drizzled with olive oil.  Can't beat it.

I love that I can use the cherry tomatoes and herbs from my garden to pull this recipe together.  I wait all year for my summer tomatoes and I get so excited to use them in recipes like this one.  I'm actually sad when summer comes to an end and I have to pay for tomatoes again.

Like seriously, legitimately sad.  If you've grown tomatoes before, I know you're with me on this one.

June 25, 2014

White Cheddar Orzo with Bacon

White Cheddar Orzo with Bacon is a rich, cheesy, garlicky pasta side dish with a creamy white cheddar cheese sauce and lots of crispy crumbled bacon.

White Cheddar Orzo with Bacon |

I bought a box of orzo a while back when pasta was on sale buy one, get one free. That's when I usually stock up and I try to mix it up with the variety I buy.  My husband is a regular spaghetti kind of guy and the kids like elbow mac.  I like it all, so I'm not picky.  I saw the orzo and though I could use it to mix things up a bit.

Well, that box of orzo sat on the shelf in my kitchen longer than any of the others I bought on that shopping trip.  I just couldn't decide how I wanted to dress up the cute little rice-shaped pasta.

Then, the 5th Challenge in the Young & Hungry Blogger Challenge was announced.  (Read more about the ABC Family Young & Hungry Blogger Challenge here.)  It was a "Cheesy Challenge", which I was thrilled about because cheese is totally my thing.  I scanned my pantry and fridge and (finally) was inspired to use that orzo!  My favorite cheesy meal is my Mom's Mac & Cheese, but I wanted to create an original dish for my submission.

June 23, 2014

Greek Shrimp Panzanella Bread Salad

This Greek Shrimp Panzanella Bread Salad features grilled marinated shrimp and tomatoes, crusty bread, feta cheese, and tons of garden fresh vegetables all tossed in a bold and flavorful homemade Greek vinaigrette.

Greek Shrimp Panzanella Bread Salad |

Have you ever heard of panzanella?  Panza-who-a?  Panzanella!  It's an amazing hearty salad that has Tuscan origins and is a fancy way of saying bread salad.

Wait, what?  Bread salad?

That was my first reaction and I wouldn't be surprised if you were thinking the same thing.  Yes, friends, bread salad.  I first had it years ago when my sister brought it to a family gathering and I was in awe of the fact that there was a salad out there where the main ingredient is bread instead of lettuce.  Genius idea, methinks.

Classically it has Italian flavors using basil, tomatoes, stale bread and olive oil, which is the way my sister made it.  I was inspired to twist the salad in a Greek direction, seeing as Greek salads are my very favorite kind of salad.  To make it a meal, I added grilled shrimp that I marinated in a homemade Greek dressing that was also used to dress the whole shebang.

Oh, was the dressing good.  It was bright and vinegary and zesty, just like I like my vinaigrettes.  You could easily substitute with a bottled dressing, but trust me, this dressing is way better than bottled stuff.  Learned that lesson from my Momma. She makes the best homemade dressings.
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