School time means new shoes and an unspoiled 64-pak of crayons. It also means getting back to a morning routine. This year, make breakfast a required subject in your house. All you need is fifteen minutes and tips, tricks and hurry-up secrets.

healthy breakfast: banana smoothie

FRUIT SHAKES. Start with the basic recipe and then customize with what’s in the refrigerator: Pour 1 cup juice, 1 cup water, 1 egg (optional), 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 cup crushed ice in the blender and blend until smooth. Customize your smoothies by adding fresh fruit, yogurt, protein powder, leftover pudding, applesauce—even left-over Jell-O.

FROZEN BANANA SLICES. Keep peeled banana slices in plastic bags in the freezer. Add them to any fruit shake or just plain milk. Read more

In the modern day supermarket, an apple is something that never disappears. No matter what time of year it is there will be apples. But does that mean there is still a season for apples? You bet there is and that would be from about August until the start of spring.

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Apple season isn’t that difficult to spot. I mean have you been to the market lately? Apples happen to be a great bargain right now. And variety? For snacking you’ve got your Gala, Fuji and Pink Lady, your Red and Green Delicious to name a few. And don’t forget the more tart Rome and Granny Smith, which are ideal for baking.

When you load up on apples starting now but especially come October, which is National Apple Month, you are going to save some dough, and you’re going to save something else, too. Calories! Researchers have compelling proof that three apples a day will get rid of fat. It’s so simple, they say: Three apples, one 30-minutes before each meal. That’s it. Sound too good to be true? There is a medical explanation for why the most common of all fruits can make such a big impact.

For starters, three apples will add 15 grams of dietary fiber to your diet. Researchers at Tufts University say that alone will reduce your calorie consumption by ten percent. But wait! There’s more.  Read more

I was shocked out of my mind when I learned the origin of two of my all-time favorite comfort foods—rice pudding and bread pudding. Can you believe it, both were born out of, well—let’s just be straight up about it—poverty.

It was during the Great Depression that clever cooks who preferred to feed their families than let them starve, came up with the idea of making a special treat from the lowliest of ingredients—leftover rice and dry, stale bread. How clever.

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But even more amazing to me, both have become respectable—even gourmet—food items. Take the White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Orange Cognac Sauce at Ruth’s Chris Steak House or Rice Pudding with Caramel Sauce at L’Ami Jean in Paris. Oh my, both are to die for. Certainly not offerings that comes from anything close to poverty but inspiration to make gourmet versions of both—at home!

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That’s right. Watermelon is a vegetable, not fruit. But don’t tell the kids. Watermelon contains many important vitamins and minerals also lycopene, an important antioxidant. Healthy and delicious, watermelon is at the peak of its season now and that means it is also cheap.

45766907 - fresh watermelon juice in the glass on wooden table

Here’s a reliable way to pick out the best melon: Choose a firm, symmetrical watermelon that is free of bruises, cuts and dents. Lift it up. The watermelon should be heavy for its size. Turn it over. On the underside there should be a creamy yellow spot from where it sat on the ground and ripened in the sun. A spot that is white or pale green signals an unripe melon.

Once you get the perfect melon home, you could simply carve it into wedges and serve. But that may get boring after a few melons. Keep these recipes handy and you’ll enjoy watermelon right through summer … and all through winter, too, if you decide to make Watermelon Pickles. Come on, you can do it!

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On those super busy days when you just don’t have time to cook at home but it’s just too expensive to eat out, “semi fast food”―combining quick-service food with home cooking—is a great way to combine the best of those two worlds.

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PIZZA

The take-out pizza store in my neighborhood sells ready-to-roll pizza dough. I can buy a large ball of dough for $2.50, which makes a sixteen-inch pizza. That’s more than it costs to make dough from scratch. But when time is of the essence, this is a fast, cheap, reliable alternative.

Using my own sauce and toppings, I can have really great pizza on the table in no time at all. I do rely on this option quite often, particularly when we have last-minute guests. It is impressive to turn out a high-quality delicious pizza so quickly. It’s my little secret.

Not all pizza stores sell their dough (the national chains in my area look at me as if I have three eyes when I inquire), but independents are typically more than happy for the business—any business. In fact, one store near me even lists this on their menu board. Hint: You can freeze the dough and use it to make breadsticks and calzones, too.  Read more

If you live such a busy life you and your family end up eating out more than you eat home cooked meals at home, I hear you. And I understand that daily dilemma of “What’s for dinner?” I also have a solution for your consideration that’s going to save you time and money. I call it Express-Lane Dinners.

This easy meal plan is going to take the mystery out of next week’s dinner—a week’s worth of dinner entrees for 4 to 6 people, complete with quick and easy recipes. And I’ll throw in a shopping list for all the all five meals that requires so few items, you can go through the 20-Items-or-Less Express check-out lane.

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Menu

Monday: Salsa Meatloaf

Tuesday: Saucy Chicken

Wednesday: Taco Salad

Thursday:  Spaghetti and Meatballs

Friday: Spaghetti Frittata Read more

A few weeks ago I told you that I would be testing and then reviewing the 3.5-Quart Crockpot Casserole Slow Cooker. What’s different about this slow cooker from the typical slow cooker is its shape. The stoneware insert is a 9” x 13” rectangular baking dish that is the perfect size and shape to cook and serve casseroles, lasagnas and other great dishes.

Crockpot with casserole inside

Crockpot Casserole Slow Cooker

The casserole Crockpot is available in several colors as well as two models: Manual with settings of Low, High and Keep Warm (about $40) and a Programmable version with digital controls that offer cook temps of Low, High and Keep Warm and times ranging from 30 minutes to 20 hours. (About $60). I have the manual version. For my needs and lifestyle it’s perfect. If necessary I can plug it into an ordinary appliance timer to set the end time.

The Crockpot Casserole Slow Cooker has an awesome feature in its secure-fit locking lid. For me, this makes it portable. And serving straight from this slow cooker is more than ideal. It’s charming because the 9” x 13” dish is white and very attractive. I can place the entire appliance on the mea table to keep its contents warm, or simply lift the pan from the slow cooker and place it on the table.

I’ve made dessert, several casseroles and lasagna so far and I could not be happier. While this won’t replace my traditional 7-quart slow cooker, it is going to be a well-used option for recipes that are more casserole-like.  Read more

I suppose that for many readers, the idea of making your own mixes and pantry items from scratch might seem a bit archaic. Why not just buy salad dressings, taco seasonings, baking mixes and little boxes of pudding mix that are available just about anywhere and so convenient? Three reasons: Health, time and money.

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HEALTH: Reading the list of ingredients on the typical convenience packet of seasoning mix or other prepared food product can be confusing if not shocking. Many of these convenience products contain MSG, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, dioxides and any number of un-pronounceable items. When you make it yourself, you know what’s in it.

TIME: Having mixes already made and ready to go, could mean the difference between having time to get dinner on the table or hitting the pricey Drive Thru one more time this week. And you’ll cut out last minute trips to the store because you will have what you need.

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