Why My Skillet Lasagna Didn’t Get 5 Stars

Last week, I started off pretty easy with cheese biscuits, but this week I decided to take it to the next level with the Skillet Lasagna from the Pioneer Woman’s great new dinnertime cookbook.

From the beginning, this recipe was a bit more challenging. I did not have all of the ingredients on hand, but since we find ourselves at Target more times a week than I would like to admit, this was not too much of a problem…

Then, one of the steps called for freshly grated mozzarella cheese, and it wasn’t the grating part that intimidated me (because that would be silly, right?) — it was actually finding our cheese grater that turned out to be a problem.

I know we had registered for one for our wedding — and I could recall using it at some point over the past 14 or so years. But where did I put it? Luckily, Nana was around at this crucial moment and she has this knack for finding everything (even a lost contact on a basketball court, during a basketball game!) — but I digress. Good news, the grater was found, and I got to work!


If this is not proper grating technique, I apologize! I’m trying here… 

So, with Nana’s help, this dish came together pretty quickly…and before long, we had some yummy Skillet Lasagna to test out for dinner…

You may be thinking: what is that strange bread-looking object next to the skillet lasagna? Well, I wanted to serve breadsticks with our meal and all I could find was a roll of crescent dough — so I attempted to twist them around a bit, trying to get that breadstick look. Oh well, they tasted pretty good despite their interesting shape…

Overall, the skillet lasagna got four stars from our family (because my husband, daughter, mom, and I really loved it). However, my three boys would only take one bite and then smiled and said it was great but would not take another. In fact, my little guy actually only put it up to his mouth and made a chewing motion without really tasting anything…

Confession time: I can safely assume their hesitancy was partly my fault because they found out I was planning to offer them a backup pasta dish which they will never refuse…

Not as appetizing as the skillet lasagna, but apparently my boys can’t get enough of plain ol’ penne pasta with butter! (I had to scramble to get the picture above because they were devouring it all so fast…)

Hmmm…next time, if I don’t plan a back up, will they be more inclined to give the new dish a chance?

My First Attempt at the New Pioneer Woman Dinnertime Cookbook

So figuring out what we’re going to eat for dinner is one of my biggest struggles in the kitchen (it ranks right up there with, you know, figuring out breakfast and lunch) — so when I saw that my cooking inspiration (The Pioneer Woman) released a new cookbook all about that final meal of the day, I had to check it out!

Do I look just a little bit excited?

As I scanned through the cookbook, I was thrilled to see sections like “Breakfast for Dinner” (that’s where I can actually shine) and “16 Minute Meals” (even I can find 16 minutes to put together a meal). But, I wanted to start out small for my first recipe attempt (to build confidence and all), so I chose the cheese biscuits (which I knew everyone would appreciate). Sure, they are not technically a complete dinner option, but they serve well as a side for many meals and can also work as breakfast or a snack! Mastering a multi-purpose recipe is always a win-win!

I actually had all of the ingredients on hand (which was a shocker), so gathering them was relatively simple — but as I started going through the directions, I hit a couple of roadblocks.

The first was realizing I only have two percent milk (instead of whole) and two cups of shredded cheese (instead of two and a half). I consulted my resident expert (Nana!) and we decided to just go for it!

Next, I was supposed to use a fine mesh strainer or sifter (we went with a pasta strainer) and then later, the instructions referenced a pastry cutter (we went with a knife and fork).

Despite our little variations, it all came together!

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Please note, in the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that the lovely hands stirring my authentic Pioneer Woman mixing bowl are Nana’s and not my own — but I was cheering her on the whole time!

About twenty minutes later, we pulled out these beauties…

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Now, the true test: how would the family respond? I’m going with a new five star system to rank my recipe attempts — each kid gets a star plus one for the husband. I’m happy to report, that these were a big hit — a record-setting five stars! Of course, they are mostly made of cheese, so how can one go wrong? But still, with my family, you never know…

Up next, I’m going to attempt the Skillet Lasagna…will keep you posted!

Mom’s Night Out – Book Club Style!

So I had the best time last night attending a “Richardson Reads One Book” event as my first meeting with a new book club! (Thanks again, Lindsay, for inviting me!) I had such a fun time — from hearing the author speak, to meeting some new mom friends, to talking about reading and writing — two of my favorite things in the whole world. I’m so glad I went — because it almost didn’t happen…

I had marked the date on my calendar for weeks. All of my children’s practices and games were announced, and by pure luck (or, as I like to believe, because it was a sign), that night remained open. We only had one practice for my daughter, and my husband assured me he could handle carpool and the bedtime routine. But, of course, things didn’t go as planned. Another practice got added at the same time as my daughter’s — but a kind friend offered to bring my son home from that. Then, my husband’s car unexpectedly broke down. Luckily, Lindsay graciously offered to take me to and from our meeting.

I’ll admit — it seemed like having a night to myself wasn’t in the cards. External forces kept coming at me — but my friends and my family worked together and encouraged me to make it happen! One friend said if we waited for the perfect night to do anything for ourselves, we’d be waiting forever. So, I went for it — and I’m so thankful that I did! It was just the right dose of adult conversation, sprinkled with life stories and inquisitive questions, that I needed!

One other note: one of my favorite passages in the book described a young girl (about my little guy’s age) who ate her first ice cream treat while perched on her father’s shoulders…she made a colossal mess, but the parents just enjoyed the sweet moment — which ended up being such a wise choice in light of a tragedy that strikes their family soon thereafter. It was with that in the back of my mind that I decided to let my little guy have an ice cream cone on the way home yesterday evening. He was sad that we didn’t have time to play at the park that evening, and when I mentioned ice cream cone — his eyes lit up. I can’t help smiling whenever I see his excited ice cream experience:

Baking with Inspiration!

I was incredibly excited to see that one of my heroes, the Pioneer Woman, has recently launched her own line of cookware and bakeware (and more!) through Walmart. How neat is that? She inspires me because she has become such a tremendous success doing the things that moms do – cook, write, take pictures, and celebrate life! (Though she has this special knack for doing all those things really well!) I am always amazed at the products she comes out with, so I had to run into Walmart today to check it out myself!

Near the front of the bakeware section, she has a whole row of goodies to explore…cookware sets that are not only functional but beautiful as well, several sets of dinnerware that would all look great on my table, and my favorite piece: a mixing bowl that is made up of the Overwhelmed Mom shades of red and blue! I snagged that (because I just couldn’t leave empty-handed) and hope to be back soon for more!

So excited for her – what an inspiration to moms (and women!) everywhere!

Overwhelmed Mom’s Guide to Banana Bread

As I’ve mentioned before, the kitchen is not my area of strength, but I still want to provide delicious and memorable meals for my family! A recipe for me must meet a few criteria: it needs to involve simple and easy to manage ingredients, it needs to have a short prep time, and the clean up needs to be minimal. I don’t ask for much, do I? 🙂

Here’s one of my food critics…he likes to eat all things with a fork…

One of my favorite childhood snacks was banana bread. My mom made it “magically” on occasion, and one day — after I recognized my family’s propensity to always have a few leftover bananas that ripen before we have a chance to eat them, I knew I needed to find a go-to recipe for banana bread.

I did a quick internet search (as all good mom chefs do these days), and I found one from “Simply Recipes” that seemed to fit the bill! It only calls for a handful of simple ingredients (ripe bananas, butter, sugar, one egg, vanilla extract, baking soda, salt, flour, and that’s it!) — which I happen to have on hand! The prep time is minimal (ten minutes or less), and there’s just a bowl and a fork to clean up at the end. And the best part…the recipe comes out pretty awesome every time!

I didn’t even get a chance to take a pic before everyone dug in!

Since I’m feeling pretty confident with the basic recipe, I’m going to “get crazy” and try adding some chocolate chips or maybe some pecans — or maybe both! One other way that I veer off the beaten path — instead of a 4×8 pan, I use a 8×8 pan and only bake for half the time. This came out great the last time (which was a relief because I couldn’t locate a 4×8 pan). Look at me — not afraid to try! Next thing you know, I’ll be whipping up a banana souffle with my extra bananas.  Well, maybe not 🙂

For all the details on the recipe, check out the Simple Recipes website:
http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/banana_bread/

Bringing the Beach Home…

Ever since we took a memory-filled RV trip to Destin beach in Florida a few years ago, I have been in love with the ocean. Nothing seems to bother me when I’m there…not the ever-present sand that seems to permeate everything, not the grimy saltwater that burns your eyes and your throat when you get taken down by a wave, and not the rowdiness of my kids – because (lucky for us) it’s pretty hard to be too loud on the beach. Our summer escapes are the one time I can truly relax.

But that week passes by too quickly, and soon it’s back to school time – and then fall starts to slowly blow in (which I am very thankful for, by the way) – but before I know it, I am longing for a time at the beach that is months and months away.

Well, this year, when summer ended, I decided my beach mindset didn’t have to. I’ve brought a little bit of the beach home with me in a few fun ways:

1 – A sound machine: this was originally used by my babies, to help soothe them to sleep and block out the loud sounds of the older children! We always left it on the soothing “brook” setting, but one day towards the end of summer (after we had returned from our last little trip to Galveston), my mom happened to switch it to the “ocean” setting. And I was hooked! At night, before I go to bed, I can close my eyes and pretend like I’m back at the beach. I am slowly lulled to sleep by the rolling waves (at least until one or more of my children finds a reason to wake me!).

2 – A little décor: this doesn’t have to be expensive or extensive, but I have added a couple of little décor items to my desk that remind me of the beach. So when I need a break, I can just glance over at the seascape reminding me to “relax” (thanks, Mom!) and think back to that time when I could sit in the sand and stare out at the beautiful ocean. You might also bring home a small souvenir from your trip to place in a prominent spot to remind you of the joy of your vacation.

3 – A bottle of body wash: this may seem silly, but when I saw this coconut-themed body wash at the store, I had to get this tropical reminder. It is a fun energy boost, right before our family bedtime routine (which definitely demands a lot of energy!) – or a great start to the morning (it all depends on when I’m lucky enough to get a chance to shower!).

Perhaps you love the snow-capped mountains or a lush English garden or the vineyards of Italy. Take a few minutes to think of some smalls ways you could bring a little bit of what you love home with you!

Relax Like It’s 1989 – Adult Coloring Books!

So if you’ve been in a bookstore lately or skimmed through the bestsellers list on Amazon.com, you may have noticed an interesting new trend. I must admit, I was a little nervous when I first heard the phrase “adult coloring book” and my husband did a double-take when I mentioned I wanted to buy one. But much to his relief, an adult coloring book is simply comprised of beautiful, detailed illustrations and provides a fun and relaxing way to unwind (at least the ones I’ve come across!). I love the first one that I’ve tried…

The other day, my mom, daughter, and I spent part of an afternoon coloring…

I was a bit skeptical at first – how relaxing could this actually be? But the intricate design does force you to slow down and be purposeful with your strokes. And it does actually cause you to relax…it worked great for me until a group of loud, messy boys stormed into the kitchen and shattered our little bubble of tranquility – they wanted us to play and how can you resist this face?

Though we didn’t get too much time together, I did really enjoy the coloring book — it not only had beautiful pictures but it also had neat extras like bookmarks, cards, and gift tags. My daughter even colored one of the pages and we framed it for her to give to her grandma for her birthday. It was a hit!

Details:
“Today Is Going To Be A Great Day” Inspirational Adult Coloring Book
I found this one on Amazon, but I’ve noticed a variety at Barnes and Noble as well!

 

The Solution for Magazine Lovers Like Me…

Just wanted to share one of my “Favorite Finds” with you…

I have always, always loved to read, and one of my biggest “guilty pleasures” is enjoying a good magazine whenever I have the chance. In fact, one of the sweetest gifts I ever received was a subscription to People magazine that my husband surprised me with soon after we married. Not long after that, I started receiving these amazing deals in the mail that promised me subscriptions for $10/year or $12/year to all those publications I had always dreamed about. How could I pass that up? Before I knew it, I was overwhelmed with magazines that I never had a chance to read. The piles of issues that I wanted to read “someday” continued to grow until the thing that had once brought me such joy began to be a cause of stress!

 

Finally, a year or so ago, I came across a wonderful solution called Next Issue, which provides you with a digital copy of almost any magazine imaginable (include the current issue and many back issues of Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, InStyle, Martha Stewart Living, and many many more). The “premium” package currently costs $14.99 a month (which is about $180 per year). Now, I know that sounds like a lot, but when you add up the cost of just a handful of the offerings, it makes perfect financial sense – you’re actually getting quite a bargain (at least that’s what I told my husband!). This is especially true if you include the price of many of the weekly magazines that are provided like my favorite People, Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated – in fact, definitely bring up Sports Illustrated to your husband! There are even some magazines for your children, like National Geographic for Kids and Sports Illustrated for Kids. It’s a win-win-win!

One of my favorite new features is the ability to save articles into customized collections so that you can refer to them later (or even print them!). I have sections like Recipes, Exercise, Fashion (you know, all those areas where I need a lot of advice!). One other cool feature: Next Issue is compatible with many iOS devices (like the iPhone and the iPad), Android devices, and Windows devices. If you’d like to check out the full details, head over to their website: https://www.nextissue.com/  — and don’t forget to mention Sports Illustrated to your hubby!

(P.S. The website listed above is not an affiliate link — I just wanted to let you all know about this app that has saved me so much time, money, and space – and puts a smile on my face whenever a new issue becomes available!)

Waffle-Making Rock Star

In our family, I’m pretty much infamous for my lack of prowess in the kitchen. My mom is an excellent cook and so is my sister, but me — meh, not so much! It’s so sad that, not too long ago, I made some brownies from a box mix. My dad took a bite and looked at me (and he may or may not have had a little tear in his eye) and said, “Wow! These are really good!” I could tell from the surprise in his voice that he was actually a little shocked that I had been able to gather the three necessary ingredients and follow the handful of steps listed on the back of the box!

No matter how lackluster my cooking abilities are, as a mom, I have to figure out breakfast and dinner every day of the week. And even though the takeout numbers for the local restaurants are displayed prominently in our kitchen and some of the delivery drivers will make it onto our Christmas list this year, I still feel like it’s necessary to try and bring forth a home-cooked meal as often as I can.

With all the craziness of the fall schedule (practices, games, homework, etc), sometimes that home-cooked meal has to be breakfast. Now, once again, I’m no expert in the kitchen, but I have finally found that one appliance that makes me feel like a rock star mom: the waffle maker!

Now, our waffle maker is likely the most basic you can buy (when I mentioned to my husband that I wanted to try out a waffle maker, he kindly suggested that we start with a basic model, just in case this new “breakfast making” fad didn’t take) — but I love it! I just plug it in, and we are good to go!

I usually use the most basic recipe, but sometimes I get a little crazy and add chocolate chips to the mix…

I don’t mean to brag, but look at him shovel that bite in…and this is the child that gives me the stink eye when I try and serve him anything but pizza and pasta (and maybe chicken)…

But the purpose of this post is not to encourage you to get a waffle maker, though I will say it has been a big hit at our house (and pleasing all six of us is no small feat)…my real goal today is to encourage you — if there is an area of your life where you are struggling, where you just can’t get it right, there is hope for you yet! Here are a few quick tips that I’ve learned from waffle making:

1 – Start small! As I mentioned, we purchased the basic waffle maker (less than $20) and I just read the recipe from the back of the box. It’s amazing how much confidence I got from just doing the small stuff right (I even tried a s’mores waffle the other day that received two thumbs up from my toughest critics).

2 – Don’t be afraid if you make mistakes. I wish I could find the picture of my first attempt at waffle making (half were too burnt, the other half not crispy enough). That was quite a disaster! But everyone had a good laugh, and I didn’t give up — and I learned how to know when my waffles are not too burnt and not too soft, but just right!

3 – Even if you’re not great at something, being good (or in my case, fairly average) is still good enough. You don’t have to be the best to do great things for your family! They will appreciate your efforts (though there may be some teasing involved as well).

Today, whatever you are struggling in, if it is something that matters to you — don’t give up! Take a small step forward and build your confidence. I believe in you 🙂

 

7 minutes at a time…

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The roar of the waves, the warmth of the sunshine…as I look out my window and see snow, the thought of swimsuit season seems so far away. But as I glance at my calendar and realize it is MARCH already (despite what the weather seems to think!), I know that the not-so-fun task of trying on a bathing suit will be here sooner than I think…which means I need to get with it on the “health and exercise” goals I began at the first of the year.

Starting to get in shape again can be such a daunting task. Whether you’re trying to shed post-pregnancy pounds or the result of some holiday indulgence, trying to get back on track can be so overwhelming.

I have had periods in my life where working out was almost fun — something I looked forward to. But lately, I haven’t had the motivation or the energy to take that first step.

So when I discovered the app “7” (by Perigee) in the Apple App Store, I was immediately intrigued. The premise is refreshingly simple: work out for 7 minutes a day for 7 months (that is their challenge).

Even with 4 kids and a dog and a husband (can I count him as my fifth kid?), I can fit 7 minutes into my schedule. And I’ll admit it — I still feel pretty proud of myself after a workout, even if it’s only 7 minutes long. And (even better!), I look forward to doing it again the next day! I’ve found it’s a great reminder that you can reclaim a healthy lifestyle, a few minutes at a time.

The cool part is that you can customize it for your specific needs: you can workout in multiple sets of 7 minutes for a longer workout, you can target specific problem areas (core, upper body, lower body, etc.) or do an overall workout for those of us who are just one big problem area!

This app tracks your workout and rewards you by unlocking new workouts every second month you stick with the program.

In a time when I just needed to begin but didn’t have the motivation to go big quite yet, I was thrilled to find this app as a perfect first step in getting back into shape!

Another bonus: it’s available on multiple platforms and the basic app is free!