Every Busy Cook Needs This Go-To Recipe

I may be the only person in the world for whom this has happened, but I doubt it. On a whim, I invite a bunch of friends over for Sunday Dinner. Or the phone rings and just like that I need to get a meal on the table in a big hurry because company is on their way

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Those are the occasions that I run to an amazing recipe that is easy to prepare, delicious to eat and quite impressive, too. Think: Italian restaurant in a pan. While it’s in the oven I make a big salad and we’re good to go.

This is a recipe that kids love as well as adults. It’s just amazing and I bless the day that the folks at Pillsbury came up with the idea. I, of course, have tweaked the recipe bit, but I give credit where credit is due.

Because life is uncertain, you will always find a bag of Italian meatballs from Costco and several loaves of Italian bread in my freezer, a big jar of marinara sauce in my grocery stockpile and cheese in the fridge.

No Lunch Left Behind

I’ve made my share of school lunches over the years. And just when I got really good at it (which means the lunches were deviously nutritious prompting the kids to actually eat everything I packed) my boys grew up and left home. How could they?!

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Actually, that’s pretty much what parenting is all about: You work really hard to get good at it, and then your job up and leaves home without you.

Back to school lunches. How can you pack healthy lunches the kiddos will actually eat, without getting sucked into buying pricey junk food masquerading as nutritious fare? You have to refuse to be tricked by labels that promise health benefits, or fun, colorful packaging that gets the kids’ attention. 

Got 20 Minutes? Make Soup

To me there’s something magical about the way homemade soup can warm the soul on a blustery autumn day. But what if you don’t have all day to make soup? Don’t sweat it. If all you have is 20 minutes, that’s all the time you need to make any of these three from-scratch soups. They’re so easy and so delicious (and cheap, but let that be our little secret), you’re going to want to make it “soup night” at least once a week until spring. 

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Homemade Chicken Soup

  • 2 14.5-ounce cans chicken broth
  • 2 cups baby carrots
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon celery salt
  • 2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro or fresh dill (optional)

Cucumbers Galore? Enjoy Salad and Pickles

Today we celebrate cucumbers which will soon be in the peak of their season and dirt cheap!  Cucumbers are not only delicious when prepared well, they are packed with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Home gardeners would do well to anticipate and plan for a big harvest because cucumbers, like zucchini, have a way to multiplying beyond expectations, and then producing even more. Farmers’ markets are always evident of this truth, where recently I saw a full box for just $5.

Personally, I love cucumbers so much, I would be happy eating them in salad, as pickles, in a sandwich or just straight up with a sprinkle of salt and I mean every day of my life.

One thing to know about cucumbers: When grown in extremely hot temperatures, the cucumber skin can get bitter. You can deal with this by either removing the skin prior to slicing, or soaking the cukes in salt water to remove the bitterness. 

Today I have a recipe for you that may take you back to your childhood. It does for me because this is the way my grandmother made cucumber salad. 

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Microwave Popcorn May be Trouble in a Bag

When I first read about the possible dangers of microwave popcorn, I assumed I would read about issues having to do with sodium and trans fats. What I’ve learned is that the real problem may be with the bag.

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The bag almost all microwave popcorn varieties come in is lined with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). This chemical, when heated, has been linked to infertility, cancer and other diseases in lab animals. No long term studies have been conducted on humans, but the EPA now lists this substance as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”  Holy moly! Likely to be? That’s enough for me to shun the stuff, but that’s not the only reason. Microwave popcorn is relatively expensive!

I’ll show you a cost comparison, but first, let me show you how to make popcorn in the microwave with no PFOA-laden bag, and no tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), annatto extract or propyl gallate added for flavor, color or longevity (ingredients copied from a bag of the stuff). I’m talking fresh, pristine, fabulous popcorn from start to finish in about 3 minutes.

More Ways to Slash Your Food Bill

Could you use an extra $50 or $100 next week? If you get motivated there’s a big chance you can slash your family’s food bill by $50 a week without sacrificing health and nutrition. And that will be tax-free cash you have in your hand … not money that requires more overtime or a garage sale before you can get your hands on it. 

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Notice I said “food” bill, not grocery tab. Unless you’re keeping careful track of your spending, you might not know just how much is being sucked out for restaurants, fast food, school and business lunches, coffee shops and on and on. 

There’s not one single way to reduce food costs significantly and consistently. It has to be a combination of strategies: buy right, eat out less and cook at home more. 

Coupons. These days shopping with coupons requires more than clipping them from the Sunday paper. You can still do that but you need to know how to grab digital coupons, too. Even with the explosion of ways to add coupons to your grocery dollars, lots of people don’t do it because it’s just not their thing. Or they don’t have the right information or know-how. Two great resources to get you up to speed: 5DollarDinners.com  and TheGroceryGame.com

Back-to-School Breakfasts Kids Love

I haven’t thought much about “back to school” for quite a few years. But this year will be different. 

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For the past five years, I have taken care of our sweet grandson, Eli, every Friday since he was 6 weeks old. That was a gift I gave to myself and my kids when he was born. To say that Eli and I have grown on one another would be a huge understatement. We live for Fridays and have a secret between us that Friday is our favorite day of the week! 

In just a few weeks, Eli will start Kindergarten, and my Fridays will change forever. Back-to-school will be bittersweet. Of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way than for him to be going to school and moving into that season of his life. What’s difficult is that I cannot believe five years have gone by so quickly. 

I’ve decided to embrace the whole idea of back-to-school by getting together a collection of kid-friendly breakfasts. What fun! Here’s a small sampling, from our friends at eMeals. They’re celebrating back-to-school at eMeals.com and you really should check that out, too (hint: use coupon code SCHOOL for 20% off an eMeals membership and their Back to School Survival Guide free with purchase).

Muffins: The Perfect Solution

Mom was right. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You cannot afford to miss it for many reasons, but here are three which come from recent medical research:

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1. People who are successful at losing weight and keeping it off are faithful members of the “breakfast club.” 

2. People who eat breakfast may be better equipped to fight off colds and flu. An impressive study found that those who developed more than one illness over the 10-week study were less likely to be breakfasters. The reasons why breakfast might be a protective factor are not entirely clear.