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!

National Breakfast Month!

I found out yesterday that September is National Breakfast Month!  Since I love anything that has to do with food, I jumped on board and started to think more about how important breakfast really is…

1 – A healthy breakfast is a great start to the day — not just for our kids, but for the whole family!  Make sure to take the time to first, eat something and second, eat a meal that supplies you with the energy to tackle the day…we are big fans of fresh fruit and oatmeal (among other things!).

2 – Breakfast is an opportunity to set the tone for the day. It’s not just about food (though the food is super important!); breakfast is also a time to connect as a family and to encourage your kids about any challenges or issues they may be preparing for in the day ahead…Be a sounding board for them; be a positive voice that they can carry around with them throughout the day!

3 -Breakfast is a time for some occasional surprises. There are a few days when I am up early and on top of things (though they are rare right now!). On those days, it is fun to surprise the kids with a special breakfast — like pancakes or waffles — or even a family trip to a breakfast restaurant. Make breakfast a fun time and give the rest of the day a chance to follow suit!

I want to encourage you today to really make a breakfast a meaningful time for your family!

Question for you: What are some of your favorite breakfast traditions?

Toast Talks

So I’m not sure if I’ll actually refer to them as “Toast Talks” with my kiddos, but I love alliteration, so that’s how I’ll think of them in my head!

Every afternoon, when I pick the kids up from school, they are STARVING — they just want to eat and eat and eat. They also just want to run off and do their own thing — without giving me a good rundown of the day.  So, I’ve thought of a solution:  I will use their desire for food to get the details that I desire from their day!

A couple of weeks ago, I quickly made a batch of cinnamon toast, just the way my mom did…a little butter on the bread with a sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon. Warm it in the oven for about four or five minutes, and then perfection!

I also have been known to quickly pop some bread in the toaster and cover it with grape jelly — a fast and easy snack!

After a couple of days of these toasty treats, I started looking up all kinds of different toasts I could make — cheese toast, peanut butter and banana toast — french toast!!!  The recipes ranged from super easy (my favorite!) to a little challenging (best saved for the weekend!). But I’ve made a list of the various toast discoveries, and here’s my plan:

When we get home from school each day, before the kids escape to their rooms or the den, I will woo them into the kitchen with sweet promises of a toast of their choosing!  All I will ask for in exchange is a few minutes to talk about how their day went, what they learned, and how they’re feeling about it all.

I’m excited to give it a try!  I’m all about trial and error, so we will see!  I’m curious, what do you think?

School lunches: a labor of love!

This year, only one of my kiddos will need to have a daily lunch prepared for him at home — but I am already anticipating a challenge!  He is definitely my pickiest eater, and the mornings are already so crazy that I have been trying to think of ways to minimize the stress of packing his lunch!  Here are a few ideas I’ve had:

1 – Sit down and make a list of all the (somewhat healthy) things that he likes: he will eat apple slices, cheese sticks, pretzels, oranges, etc… The list is not that long!

2 – Based on that list, figure out a daily schedule: day one will have apple slices, cubed cheese, pretzels, a small bag of cookies, and possibly a ham sandwich. I’ll alternate different fruit, cheeses, chips/pretzels, and sandwiches each day so that he doesn’t get bored — but I will have a set “menu” that I go by each day so that there’s nothing to figure out in the morning!

3 – Prep as much as I can ahead of time: I’ll prepare bags of pretzels, oranges, cheeses, apple slices, etc… on Sunday afternoon so that it’s simply grab and go in the morning!  If necessary (with the fruit especially), I may have to have a mid-week update to make sure everything is fresh, but as much as possible, I will get prepared at the beginning of the week!

4 – Include a couple of fun things in his lunch (like special napkins and a handwritten note/drawing): my dad did this for me when I was a kid, and it was one of my favorite memories!  I think it’s neat to brighten their day whenever possible! (please pardon my alligator drawing — it’s just about the only thing I kind of know how to draw!)

Essentially, I want to have a clear plan, be as prepared as possible, and add in a little fun along the way.

That’s pretty much my goal for motherhood as well!

Do you have any tips for packing school lunches?

 

My version of portion control!

Okay, I have many weaknesses, but one of the hardest to conquer is my love of food!  And of course, I don’t crave vegetables or other healthy things (though I did really want some pineapple on top of my ice cream last night) — instead, I have an out of this world sweet tooth that only chocolate and sugar can satisfy!

So, what’s a girl to do?  Well, there are of course many more healthy and prudent choices, but the first step I’ve taken is not removing those fatty foods from my diet — I’ve simply reduced my portion size.  Here’s an example (try not to laugh at me)!  On certain Sunday mornings, we will wake up early and treat the family to donuts.  (Yummy!!!) Well, not only do I like donuts, but I like all different kinds of donuts.  In fact, I have three favorites — lemon-filled, white iced, and devil’s food chocolate.

What I had been doing was allowing myself to have one donut…I would scarf that down and then I would fight with myself for about 20 minutes before I gave in and had a second donut.  Finally, so stuffed I could barely breathe, I knew I would never go for that last donut.  Yet, an hour later, I found myself sneaking back to the box and getting out one more.  So there I was — I ended up eating three very rich donuts for breakfast.  And I felt awful the rest of the day!

So, a couple of weeks ago, I came up with an idea.  I would take my three favorite donuts and cut off a third of each one…then, I would sit and slowly eat them — savoring each bite. Low and behold, that worked!  I felt full — I felt happy — the world was a happy place!

Maybe you can apply this theory somewhere in your life!  Perhaps you LOVE having dessert after dinner, but those extra calories are just making you feel awful at the end of the day.  Well, instead of completely cutting out desserts, you could try allowing yourself a small portion.  Then, eat it SLOWLY!  What do you think? This technique seems to be doing the impossible: satisfying my insatiable sweet tooth!

 

Thanks for reading!

–Alana

 

Summer recipes: Custom Brownies

Here’s a fun dessert idea we’ve been experimenting with…custom brownies!

I take a plain brownie mix and then add in fun extras like pecans, coconut, caramel bits, chocolate chips, toffee pieces, etc…

I get input from the family on their favorites and then we try out a new combination each week!

It’s a simple but fun way to put a new spin on an old favorite!

Question for you: What would you add to your brownies?

Makeover your dinnertime!

Dinnertime is more like “stress-time” for me.  Have I mentioned that I can’t cook?  Have I mentioned that my kids (and me AND my husband) are super picky?

It seems like the hours from 3-5pm are a blur with carpool and crankiness galore – and then all of a sudden, my husband is home, and dinner should be on the table!

So, I have been trying to think of ways to make dinnertime more healthy, relaxing, and meaningful! Some thoughts:

1: Pre-plan your meals – every week or every month, plan out your meals in advance. This will eliminate the guesswork each night and help with the shopping list!

2: Have each person share – pick a routine (maybe it’s “best/worst” where each person talks about the best and worst parts of their day) and make sure everyone is included. Encourage and support each other!

3: Aim for a well-balanced meal each night – I’m taking a look at the “Choose My Plate” website for more tips on how to do that!

4: Have some basic rules – say a prayer together before we eat; no rude comments; every stays seated until they are dismissed (this is REALLY hard for my 3 year old!); everyone clears their plate when they are done…

5: Have fun – maybe once a week, we’ll mix it up (picnic in the living room, breakfast for dinner, dessert first!) — something fun and unexpected to keep dinnertime exciting!

Question for you: what are your favorite ways to make dinnertime work?

Make dinnertime a family celebration!

Thanks for reading!

–Alana

Makeover your breakfast!

Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day, yet many of us are in such a hurry that we never eat it — or we eat something unhealthy because it’s more convenient.

Instead of skipping breakfast or grabbing the quickest value meal, try preparing your breakfast the night before and taking it to work with you.

When I worked full time, my breakfast was dry cereal, and then usually a piece of fruit. Eating the cereal dry was not only more portable for me, but also made me drink more water.

My breakfast of choice!

Question for you: What are your healthy breakfast tricks?

Thanks for reading!

Alisha

Makeover your recipe book!

I’m not sure if I can emphasize this enough: I can’t cook! I’m not sure why I struggle with it so much — my mom was amazing at cooking a meal for us each and every night, and my sister is equally as awesome with preparing dinner for her own family. But for some reason, making dinner is just a thorn in my side…which is why I love this new site I recently came across!

I am IN LOVE with the recipes I have tried at www.pillsbury.com!

They are the perfect combination of store-bought ingredients and a little homemade love — plus, many of them are super quick and of course, yummy!

You can join their community for free right here to get access to newsletters and coupons!

I have tried several recipes so far, and our favorites are:

GRANDS Mini Pizzas

Easy Chicken Enchilada Crescent Bake

Pizza Dough-Nuts

For me, the best part is knowing that I can quickly put together a delicious dinner with the basic ingredients I already have at home!

Here’s a picture of the mini pizzas before we put them in the oven!

Let me know if you try any of the recipes or if you find any that you can’t wait to try!

Also, what fun sites have you found to update your recipe book?

Thanks for reading!
Alana