Spinach and Tomato Chicken

Amongst the craziness that is my Sunday morning before church, my five year old and two year old were playing "songs" together on the piano.  It was loud, but they were getting along so I didn't care. They were having so much fun and I loved hearing the two of them giggle and laugh with each other. The best sound to ever fall on your ears is the honest, heartfelt laughter of your children.

Then I heard what they were singing and laughing about.  They had made up a new song and here are the lyrics....

♬ ♪ Mom, please don't yell at me ♪ ♫
 ♪ ♬ Mom, please don't yell at me ♬ ♪ 
♬ ♪ Mom, please don't yell at me ♪ ♫
 ♫ ♩ Because it makes me really sad ♩ ♫ 

I went up to them at the piano and said that I really didn't like the song they were singing.  They both burst into laughter and started singing even louder.  Well, here it is 4 days later, and now all of my children are walking around singing it too.  Joy!

Not to say I never yell, because I do, but gosh darn it, I have always thought one of my strengths as a Mom was keeping a fairly even temper and tone.  Apparently, it isn't as even of a tone to them as it sounds to me.  I guess I'll keep working on it.
I made this recipe to punish my children for their mean song.  I'm kidding.... mostly.  How can something so beautiful and healthy be a punishment?  Well, for kids, because it has spinach and tomatoes, right?

I created this recipe in hopes of something a little more light yet still very flavorful.  I was absolutely thrilled with the end result.  It does create a grand-slam pan juice, so don't let it go to waste!  Scoop it over the chicken when you serve it, or you can even serve the whole dish over some pasta or rice with the pan juice on top.

Spinach and Tomato Chicken
recipe by Carole Jones
10 ounce bag of baby spinach
3 Tb chicken broth
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
garlic powder
onion powder
italian seasoning
1 large tomato, cut into large chunks
5 green onions, chopped
1/3 C fresh parmesan cheese, grated

1.  Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Place the spinach in the bottom of a 9 x 13 glass baking pan.  Drizzle over the chicken broth and sprinkle the top with salt and pepper.  Arrange the chicken over the spinach and season very well with the salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and italian seasoning.  Add the tomato and green onion then sprinkle on the parmesan cheese over the whole dish.
2.  Take a piece of foil and loosely tent it over the top of the pan.  Do not seal the edges of the foil to the pan.  Bake for 15 minutes, remove the foil and continue to bake for another 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.  Serve immediately, drizzling the pan juices over the top of each serving.

Healthy Holiday Snack Activity

I was "blessed" with the privilege of being the Room Mom for my 5 year olds' Kindergarten class this year.  Really, it isn't too much responsibility except for the holiday parties and today was our Fall/Halloween party.

We had fun with crafts, games and activities, but I was lost when it came to the snack.  I had many different ideas, but they all involved too much sugar and processed food.  Then, late last night, inspiration struck!
I cut out some monster head shapes from construction paper and provided a variety of healthy snacks to decorate them.  There were apple slices, carrot rounds, craisins, string cheese, pretzels, popcorn and peanuts.  Each kid got a monster face and a plate with their "decorations."
All 23 kids had a BALL with this activity.  In fact, we had to keep reminding them that they needed to eat as well as decorate their monster faces!  They were really creative on how to use their ingredients and they had some hilarious comments to go along with it :)
It was a perfect activity and snack all rolled together in one!  They got to be creative, use their imaginations, work on their fine motor skills, and best of all......they ate the "boring, healthy snack food" because it was fun!
This can easily be adjusted for all kinds of holidays, so don't fret if it is too late for your Halloween needs!  Just cut out the appropriate shape, then add all kinds of fun healthy foods as decorations.

  • Halloween:  monster, witch or pumpkin
  • Thanksgiving: turkey or pumpkin 
  • Christmas:  snowman, Santa or elf
  • Valentines:  Cupid
  • St Patricks:  leprechaun 
  • Easter:  bunny

Baked Lemon Garlic Chicken

Just in case the whole world didn't hear me excitedly scream the amazing news last week, I have to share  that my gorgeous, super intelligent daughter got accepted to Brigham Young University!!!!  WOOOOO to the HOOOOO!!!!  
Well, maybe you'll just have to take my word that she is gorgeous and super intelligent.....(yes, she will kill me for posting this picture so I better include this link as well so you can see a more "appropriate" picture.)

She has worked hard to graduate early and begins in January at our alma mater.  We couldn't be more proud!  BYU is not an easy school to get into.
So what does this super flavorful and moist chicken have to do with my oldest getting into BYU?  Absolutely nothing!!!  But have I mentioned....SHE GOT IN!!!!!

Baked Lemon Garlic Chicken
6-8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (6 if large, 8 if small)
4 large cloves of garlic
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 2 lemons
1 Tb salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1.  In a large Ziplock bag, combine all the ingredients until the chicken is well coated.  Allow to marinade in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours.
2.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly spray a 9 x13 glass pan with nonstick spray.  Lay the breasts, cut side down, in the pan and bake uncovered for 40-45 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.  If you would like it a bit more brown, stick the pan under the broiler for a few minutes.

Vanilla No-Bake Cookies

My kids have been out of school since noon on Wednesday due to the annual Minnesota Education Association conference.  But who are we kidding....is this conference so overwhelmingly attended that they have to shut down the whole state education system for two and a half days?  If I were a teacher (and I used to be me before my kids came along), I would be enjoying the extended weekend with my family.  

My plan was to spend our extended weekend as the perfect mix of outdoor chores and outdoor fun.  However, mother nature decided to send us two days straight of rain.  It hasn't rained in months, so we are grateful for the precipitation, but did it have to be this weekend?  When we are all stuck together.  Inside.  With no escape?
These cookies were my salvation this afternoon when I couldn't take another second of "together-ness."  No-bakes are the perfect cookie to get your kids involved in making because they are near impossible to mess up.  My little ones helped in measuring and mixing, while my 8 year old helped me at the stove.

The only downfall of this choice of cookie is that you have to wait about 45 minutes for them to cool down enough to eat them.  Hands down, the longest 45 minutes of my extended weekend.

Vanilla No-Bake Cookies
(makes about 22 cookies)
2 C sugar
3/4 C butter
2/3 C milk
3.4 ounce box instant vanilla pudding
3 3/4 C quick oats
1/2 tsp vanilla

1.  In a medium saucepan, mix together the sugar, butter and milk.  Bring it to a boil and boil for 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the pudding, oats and vanilla.  Mix together very well and allow to sit for 5 minutes.  Drop by heaping tablespoon onto wax paper and let cool before serving.

Applesauce Oat Bran Muffins

I'm still going strong on getting back to our nice Sunday evening dinners.  Even though there were only 5 of us in town this weekend, I still went all out including the linens and china.  However, I should have cut back the amount of food I prepared.  It didn't even cross my mind.   When we all sat down, we burst out laughing at the proportion of food to people. 

That was when I had a "flash-forward" moment.  I had the sobering realization that the number of people at my dinner table is only going to shrink in the years to come.  I began to cry and my children just rolled their eyes at their insane mother.
Sunday dinners have to include some form of homemade bread,  but I was short on time so I needed something quick.  These muffins are dense, moist and not too sweet.  They were perfect for our dinner and we slathered them with a bit of butter while they were warm.  The next morning, my kids ate them for breakfast and were sad when there wasn't enough for seconds.  So, in short, they were a keeper!

Applesauce Oat Bran Muffins
(makes 12 muffins)
recipe from Hodgson Mill
1/2 C brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 C oat bran
1 1/2 C flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 C applesauce
1/4 C oil

1.  Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Line your muffin pans with paper liners or you can also use nonstick spray.  Mix together the dry ingredients.  Add all the wet ingredients and mix well until completely blended.
2.  Evenly scoop the batter between the 12 papers.  A large ice cream scoop works well.  Let the batter stand for 10 minutes, and then bake them for  15-18 minutes, until golden brown.  Remove from the pan and cool on a rack.

Chorizo Chicken Bake

When I was in Dallas last month, I made a pig of myself ate at Pappasitos.  That restaurant is reason enough alone to move to Texas.  

Well, that was 35 days ago and I have been on a rampage for some good Tex-Mex ever since.  We had a new Mexican restaurant open last week here in Marshall so I got all excited.  My excitement was quickly replaced with disdain.  Bleh.....

I became a woman on a mission.  I needed to come up with something to fill this Tex-Mex/Pappsitos craving or I was going to die.  Yes, die.
Inspiration finally struck in the aisle of Wal-Mart as I stood in front of the Latin refrigerated section.  I am not one to brag, but HOLY COW!!!  I am a genius!  Really, give this a try and you will want nominate me to the Nobel committee.  Genius, I tell you!

My creation took boring old chicken breasts and turned them into flavor packed perfection.  It creates the most amazing pan sauce which is heaven over some rice.  Then if you are lucky enough to have leftovers, take it to the next level and slap the chicken inside a tortilla topped with some guacamole, fresh salsa, lettuce and a squeeze of lime juice.  Really....you are going to want to have that Nobel committees' phone number handy.

Chorizo Chicken Bake
recipe by Carole Jones

6-8 boneless skinless chicken breasts (6 if large, 8 if small)
10 ounce package pork chorizo
4 ounces light cream cheese or Mexican crema
1/2 C light sour cream
10 ounce can chopped tomatoes with green chiles, drained
1/4 C freshly grated parmesan cheese

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Spray a 9x13 glass pan with nonstick spray.  Lay down the chicken evenly in the pan.
2.  In a large skillet, brown the chorizo over medium high heat for about 7-8 minutes.  Add the drained tomatoes, cream cheese and sour cream and mix until it is all blended.  Spread the mixture over the chicken breasts, sprinkle on the parmesan cheese and bake, uncovered for about 45 minutes depending on the size of your chicken breasts.  There will be enough pan juices to serve over some rice if desired.  Or slice the chicken and serve it inside a tortilla topped with your favorite toppings.

Bacon Fried Cabbage

For the past 20 years, I've cooked 99.9% of all the dinners served in this family.  I have tried countless recipes in those 20 years.  However, there is only one dish I have been banned from ever serving again.  Cabbage stew.  I made it once over 15 years ago, but it haunts me to this day.

Like it was my fault the recipe was horrible!  I hated it as much as everyone else, but we were so dirt poor at the time that we didn't dare throw it away.  Instead, we suffered through it for about 5 days until we couldn't take it any longer.
Ever since the "Cabbage Stew" incident, cabbage as an ingredient in any dish has always been a risky thing.  I will usually just sneak it into a stir fry or soup and no one ever notices.  However, there is no hiding the cabbage in this dish.  It is cabbage in all it's delicious glory.

Before you turn up your nose and tell me you don't like cooked cabbage, I will ask you, have you ever fried it up in bacon drippings?  No....?  Then don't tell me you don't like cooked cabbage.  It is awesome!

Bacon Fried Cabbage
(recipe adapted from allrecipes.com)
6-7 slices of bacon, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large head cabbage, cored and sliced 1/4" slices
1 Tb + 1tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp paprika

1.  In a large pot with a lid, cook the bacon on medium high until well done and crisp, about 6-7 minutes.  Remove the cooked bacon from the pan and set aside.  In the bacon drippings, add the onion and garlic.  Saute for 5-6 minutes until they are beginning to brown.
2.  Add all of the cabbage and cook for 6 minutes.  As it cooks, use your wooden spoon to scrape off the brown bits off the bottom of your pan so you get all that flavor into your cabbage.  Add all of the seasonings and mix well into the cabbage.  Set the heat to low, cover and cook for 15-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Cooking time will depend on how you like your cooked cabbage.  If you like it a soft, then use the whole 25 minutes.  If not, start checking it at 15 minutes.  Serve with the cooked bacon sprinkled on top.

Caramel Apple Dip

I love entertaining people in my home.  The bigger the crowd, the better.  I guess that could also explain why I have six kids instead of two....
A caramel apple dip buffet is a fun excuse to have a crowd over this fall.   The caramel is super easy to bring together, then just get out all your favorite toppings.  My favorite?  I double dip into both the M&M's and the peanuts.  Heaven!
I'm going request that you are quite picky with your apple selection with this fun treat.  These are the famous Minnesota Honeycrisp apples.  If you have never had one, you are missing out on apple nirvana.
If you don't have any Honeycrisp available in your area, I have also used Granny Smith and Fuji.  Because the caramel and toppings are so sweet, you should have an apple that has some tartness to it.  Makes a perfect balance when you do.
So if you've been looking for the perfect excuse to have people over this fall weekend, you've found it. Be warned though.  Word will quickly spread about how awesome you are and perfect strangers will come knocking on your door in search of this delicatable fall tradition :)
Caramel Apple Dip
(makes about 4 C)
1 C light corn syrup
1 lb light brown sugar (about 2 1/4 C)
1/2 C butter
2 tsp vanilla
1 can sweetened condensed milk

1.  In a medium saucepan, stir together the corn syrup and brown sugar.  Over medium-high heat, bring it to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Once it comes to a full boil, allow to boil for 3 minutes.
2.  Add the butter, vanilla and sweetened condensed milk.  Stir well and continue to stir until it comes back to a boil.  Once it does, remove from the heat.  Serve with your favorite toppings to dip into:  peanuts, pecans, walnuts, mini M&M's, marshmallows, candy corn, coconut, toffee pieces.
3.  To reheat the caramel, just microwave it until it thins out some.  The time depends on the amount of caramel you are reheating.  Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

Melt-in-Your-Mouth Sandwich Cookies

I absolutely adore the fall.  Hands down, my favorite time of year.  The temperature, the sounds, the colors, the events.  It all comes together to achieve perfection.

Then I walk into my local Wal-Mart and it is completely ruined.  Christmas decorations!  Just seeing that stuff makes my anxiety level rise ten notches.  So much for my calm, relaxed, sit-back-and-listen-to-the-leaves fall.

Since the retail industry has forced us into the "holidays" already, I wanted to help relieve a bit of that initial holiday tension.  Here is my favorite holiday cookie.  If you add it to your holiday cookie repertoire, your friends and family will fall at your feet to worship your cookie awesomeness.


These are perfect for the holidays because of their long shelf life, plus they are so elegant and decadent.  The cookie part is light, flaky and melts in your mouth.  The filling is completely to your liking.  You can make your favorite frosting, or go the easy way like I do, and buy a tub at the store.  The best part of these cookies?  They are small, so you can eat 10 of them and not feel guilty :)

Melt-in-Your-Mouth Sandwich Cookies
(makes about 30 sandwich cookies)
1 C butter, room temperature
1/3 C whipping cream
2 C flour
your favorite frosting *I usually buy stuff from a can :)

1.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  In the bowl of your electric mixer fitted with the whisk, beat the butter and cream for about 5 minutes.  Slowly add the flour until completely mixed.
2.  Heavily sugar your work surface and place the dough on it.  Roll to 1/8" thick, being sure that your dough is not sticking to your counter.  If it does stick, just add additional sugar to your base.  If your rolling pin sticks, lightly flour the top of the dough.  Once it is rolled out, sprinkle on additional sugar over the top of your dough.
3.  Use a cookie cutter about the size of a milk cap and place the cut cookies on a ungreased cookie sheet.  Prick the top of each cookie four times to keep them from getting bubbles.  Bake for 9-10 minutes, and do not let them brown.  Remove from the pan and allow to cool completely.  Once they are cool, spread or pipe a dollop of frosting into the center bottom of one cookie and top it with another.  Squeeze gently to bring the frosting out to the edges.  Cookies last 2 weeks in an airtight container.