A Note to My Readers (and looking for guest writers)

Oh you guys.  I feel like I need to take a moment and express some things to you.

Over the last 9 months, posts have been a little hit and miss here.  As some already know, my husband was suddenly and unexpectedly laid off of work last November.  It was a huge blow to our family.  With the economy sagging here in Las Vegas, work is very difficult to find.  Good work.  So when he was laid off, we had a decision to make - go it on our own/start our own business, or look for another job with another employer.  After a lot of weighing options, exploring, and prayers, we decided to start our own business.  And Brand Up, LLC, was born.

Both of us have been running the business since we're trying to keep overhead costs minimal.  It's been 9 months of 18 hour work days, sleepless nights, more gray hairs and wrinkles.  And Dr. Pepper.  LOTS of Dr. Pepper.  In the middle of all of this, I've had some health issues.  It has sometimes seemed like we were drowning in the middle of everything.  But 9 months later, we are still afloat.  We still have our home.  We still have our business.  And it seems as though events from last year may have been a blessing in disguise.

So, first, I'd like to express gratitude to all of you guys - my readers.  Thanks for hanging in there with me.  Even though recipes have been here and there (and everywhere), you have stuck in there with me.

Second, this is not goodbye at all.  I'm still planning on posting recipes, it just may not be every day or even every other day.  So don't think that if I'm not posting all the time that I've given up.  I haven't.  I'm still cooking new and fun things, recreating traditional dishes, and will be looking for healthy ways to feed my family.  So stick with me.

And third, starting this fall, I'm going to be hosting some themed posts that I'd like to invite some guest writers to participate in!  Last year, I had a whole series on school lunches in September.  October was Pietober.  I'm going to host those again as well as a new series in November on holiday foods and a series in December for a cookie swap!  I'm so excited for the next few months.  If you'd like to be a guest writer, please fill out the following form:

Thanks again you guys!  I love all my readers and I'm so appreciative of your support.
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Mexican Stuffed Shells

More pantry clearing out for me!  My little family of 4 isn't quite big enough to use an entire box of pasta
shells.  So I usually end up with half a box leftover, sitting in my pantry, forever.  Along with the half eaten box of pop tarts.  I also have a good stockpile of salsa.  One of our favorite snacks is good old salsa and chips.  So rather than try to make a typical pasta recipe with marinara sauce, I thought I'd try my hand at a southwestern twist.

I've seen plenty of these recipes floating around, with most of them being a simple meat and cheese recipe.  But I wanted something with a little more substance.  Grab a can of black beans and corn out of the pantry.  And I had to add my favorite garden herb - cilantro.  When I added all these to a basic taco meat, it was perfect.  Another great recipe as a result of wanting what was in my pantry instead of wasting it.

Mexican Stuffed Shells


1/2 box pasta shells
1 lb. ground turkey
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup water
1 packet reduced sodium taco seasoning
8 oz. cream cheese, cubed
1/2 can (1 cup) black beans, rinsed
1/2 can (1 cup) corn, drained
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 cup salsa
2 cups taco sauce
2 cups shredded Mexican cheese
1 avocado, seeded and cubed


1. Cook pasta shells according to package instructions.  After draining, place shells on parchment paper to prevent them from sticking to each other.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9x13 pan with cooking spray.

3. In a large skillet, brown ground turkey over medium heat.  Once browned, add olive oil and toss with ground turkey.  Add chopped onion and cook until translucent.  Add water and taco seasoning.  Cook for approximately 5 minutes to thicken sauce.

4. Add cream cheese to skillet and stir constantly with meat until cheese melts.  Remove from heat.  Add beans, corn, and cilantro.  Stir until combined.

5. Pour salsa into bottom of pan.  Using a spoon, fill shells with meat mixture and place into pan.  Pour taco sauce over the shells, making sure to cover all the exposed pasta.  Sprinkle with shredded cheese and cubed avocado.

6.  Cook for 20-30 minutes or until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbly.  Remove from oven and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.  Serve with more sliced avocado and sour cream.

Serves 8
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Grilled Salmon Sushi Kabobs with Eel Sauce

For today's Fit Friday, I'm using up my last Alaskan salmon filet.  I absolutely love the color of this salmon.  Such a deep, rich red.  They are starting to carry Pacific salmon more and more in the grocery stores, I know even right now Costco has Copper River salmon in stock.  To me, it smells less fishy, it's more dense, and THAT COLOR!  Bright foods just make me happy.

I've really been craving some sushi lately, but this is not sushi grade fish.  So I had to improvise.  I knew I had to cook it.  And one of my favorite sushi rolls has a small slice of lemon on top of it.  Yes, you eat the lemon!  It is so refreshing.  So I cut up the salmon into nice big chunks, placed a small, thin wedge of lemon in between each piece of fish.  But, it was missing something - a vegi.  Asparagus!  Bright colors!  I took half a bunch, chopped it up into 1 inch pieces and blanched them, then threw them in between each section of fish and lemon.  Oh holy smokes.

To finish off the kabobs, Eel Sauce.  And sushi rice!  Sushi rice is really simple to make.  I just cooked it in my rice cooker, then threw a few tablespoons of rice vinegar in with it and tossed it.  One thing, make sure you add an extra 1/4-1/2 cup of water to the rice to make sure it's sticky.  And the Eel Sauce was the finishing touch.  While I was cooking it, K1 came running down the stairs yelling, "Sushi! Sushi!"

Grilled Salmon Sushi Kabobs
with Eel Sauce



1 large salmon filet, about 2 pounds, cut into 1" cubes
2 lemons
1/2 bunch asparagus spears, cut into 1 inch pieces
Rice Vinegar

Eel Sauce:

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
1/2 cup sugar


1. Soak 8-10 kabob skewers in cold water for 1 hour to prevent skewers from burning.

2. Make the eel sauce.  Combine the soy sauce, mirin, and sugar in a small saucepan.  Whisk to combine and dissolve the sugar.  Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, whisking frequently, then remove from heat.  Set aside to cool off.

3. Make rice according to package instructions, adding another 1/2 cup of water.  When all water has cooked off, remove rice from heat and add 1-2 Tbs. of rice vinegar.  Fluff with a fork to incorporate vinegar.
4. Blanch asparagus - bring a pot of water to a boil, add asparagus to water and leave for 1-2 minutes, then immediately place in ice water to stop cooking.

5. Cut one of the lemons into quarters and thinly slice each quarter.  Thread kabobs - salmon, lemon slice, asparagus piece, and repeat.  Repeat with remaining skewers until all ingredients are used.

6. Preheat grill over medium high heat.  Sprinkle salt and squeeze juice from remaining lemon onto kabobs and place onto greased, hot grill.  Cook for 5 minutes, then turn kabobs and cook for another 5 minutes.  Rotate again if needed in order to cook salmon through.

7. Serve kabobs with rice and drizzled with eel sauce.

Serves 4
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Grilled Salmon with Vermicelli in Lemon Cream Sauce

While I love to eat seafood, especially grilled seafood, in the summer, a plain filet can get boring.  And frankly, I start to miss comfort foods a little.  So sometimes, I'll sneak a pasta dish or two into our meals each month.  Having said that, I do choose to pair that pasta and seafood with a lighter sauce.  Usually it's Alfredo Sauce.  This time around though, I was craving some lemon (maybe I'm getting scurvy, or listening to too much Sponge Bob Square Pants and Pink singing about scurvy.  Dang you, Sponge Bob!).  So lemon needed to be incorporated into my sauce.

I had seen a recipe using flaked salmon in a pasta sauce, and that idea really stuck with me.  So using a basic cream sauce (I usually choose half and half for my white sauces because it makes it a little creamier than when using milk), I added a little lemon zest, a little cream cheese, and a whole lot of salmon.  The end result was something that reminded me of McGrath's Fish House.  The vermicelli was an awesome choice for pasta because it's thin enough to balance out the flaked salmon.  Any thicker and I think you'd lose the fish.  And the lemon is very light in the sauce so it still tastes like a pasta dish.  Big hit with the fam!

Grilled Salmon with Vermicelli in Lemon Cream Sauce


1 lb. salmon filet
1 lemon, zested and cut into quarters
1 package Vermicelli
4 Tbs. butter
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. chicken bouillon powder (2 cubes)
6 oz. cream cheese, cubed
2 cups half and half
1 tsp. salt
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 roma tomato, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 bunch asparagus


1. Prepare salmon.  Preheat grill over medium heat.  Lightly grease grill grate and place salmon filet, skin down, onto grill.  Cook salmon for about 15 minutes or until salmon is cooked through and begins to separate.  During cooking, each 5 minutes, squeeze 1 lemon quarter over salmon.  Remove to a plate and allow to rest while preparing sauce.

2. Prepare pasta according to package directions.

3. Prepare sauce.  Preheat large skillet over medium high heat.  Melt butter.  Add onion and cook until translucent.  Add garlic and cook for 3 minutes.  Add bouillon powder.  Stir to incorporate.  Add cream cheese and stir constantly until melted.  Slowly add half and half, constantly stirring.  Add salt, to taste.    Add Parmesan cheese and lemon zest, stirring constantly until cheese is melted.  Remove from heat.

4. Remove salmon from skin and flake.  Add to sauce along with roma tomatoes and parsley.  Gently stir to incorporate.  Serve warm with cooked vermicelli and steamed asparagus.

Serves 6
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Fruit and French Toast Roll-ups

Brinner's back!  And so is the fruit.  It's still summer, so don't be surprised by another recipe with fruit in it.  But things got a little fancier tonight.  I've seen French Toast Rollups around Pinterest, but I wanted something that was filled with various kinds of fruit and more of a traditional french toast.

These ended up being like a simple version of crepes.  Because you roll the bread out, they are easy to fill and roll up like a crepe.  They are flatter like crepes.  But when you dip them in a french toast like egg mixture, the bread expands a little again.  The cream cheese gets all warm and melty, and the fruit is just YUM!  Our favorite combination  ended up being bananas and peaches with Philadelphia® Honey and Pecan Cream Cheese.  And instead of pouring syrup on them, we just dipped them into syrup like french toast sticks.  It was amazing and really fun for our family to have a little something different for Brinner.

Fruit and French Toast Roll-ups


16 slices (1 loaf minus end pieces) potato bread
1/2 cup sliced strawberries
1/2 cup blueberries
1/2 cup sliced peaches (canned is fine)
1 banana, sliced
4 Tbs. plain cream cheese
4 Tbs. Philadelphia® Honey and Pecan Cream Cheese
3 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
Powdered Sugar for dusting


1. Preheat griddle to 375 degreess or a skillet over medium high heat.

2. In a shallow bowl, combine eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Whisk to combine.  Set aside.

3. Cut crusts off of each piece of bread.  Using a rolling pin, roll each piece of bread flat.  You will use 4 slices of bread per fruit (unless you want to come up with your own creation!).

4. For peaches and bananas, spread 1/2 Tbs. of Honey Pecan Cream Cheese on 1/3 of each slice of bread.  Lay fruit over the top of cream cheese.  Begin rolling bread, starting with the fruit and cream cheese end.  Gently press down to seal.

5. For blueberries and strawberries, spread 1/2 Tbs. of the plain cream cheese on 1/3 of each slice of bread.  Lay fruit over the top of the cream cheese.  Roll bread, again starting with the fruit and cream cheese end.   Gently press down to seal.

6. Spray hot griddle with cooking spray.  Dip each roll in egg mixture and place, seam down, onto hot griddle.  Cook until browned and then turn.  Continue to cook on each side until browned and remove to a serving plate.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve with syrup.

Serves 4
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Chicken Alfredo Gnocchi Bake

How about another comfort food recipe, one that again used items that needed to be cleaned out of my
pantry and freezer.  Not only do I like to stock up my pantry with staples that our family loves, but I also will grab more of an item that is usually kind of pricey when it goes on sale.  I will do that as well with cheese because it tends to be cheaper per ounce when you buy more.  So I'll buy double what the recipe calls for, the wrap it up really good and freeze the remainder.  I love having a big freezer to be able to do those things.  But food in both the pantry and the freezer have an expiration date.

This is what happened with the Italian Style Gnocchi that I made.  I had leftover gnocchi.  I had a jar of Alfredo sauce.  Check in the freezer and I have leftover cheeses and half a package of bacon.  I ALWAYS have chicken breast on hand.  So, throw it all together with some fresh veggies and BAM!  Pantry Purge Perfection!  See, it's amazing what you can create by just cleaning out your kitchen.

Chicken Alfredo Gnocchi Bake


1 (17 oz.) package gnocchi
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, boiled and shredded
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1/3 cup sliced green onions
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles
1 cup mozzarella cheese
1 jar Alfredo Sauce
1/2 cup chopped bacon


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease bottom of 9x13" pan.

2. Prepare gnocchi according to package instructions.  Drain and spread in bottom of pan.  Add shredded chicken.  Add mushrooms.

3. In a large bowl, combine onions, Parmesan cheese, blue cheese, and 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese.  Stir in Alfredo sauce.  Pour sauce over the top of gnocchi and chicken.  Sprinkle bacon and remaining mozzarella cheese over the top.

4. Bake for 30 minutes or until cheese starts to brown on top.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 6-8
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Apricot Chicken

You all have been so patient with me over the last couple of weeks.  I have finally made it through the flood of apricot jam that engulfed my kitchen.  I grew up having relatives who owned an orchard in Northern Utah.  They grew peaches and pears that we helped them harvest and in turn we were able to keep some.  My mother would bring them home and can some of them whole, and some of them she would turn into freezer jam.

So when my father in law called up and said he had 3 trees full of ripe apricots that had to be picked THAT weekend, we took advantage.  I don't have the tools to can fruit, so they all had to be made into jam.  Lots and lots of jam.  To be exact, I ended up with almost 60 cups of apricot jam.  And I still had fruit left over.  I didn't want them to go to waste.  Making a main dish with chicken and the remaining apricots only seemed appropriate.

My mom also made an apricot chicken when I was growing up, but it was always a little dry for my liking.  I chose to use chicken tenders instead of full breasts in order to shorten the cooking time and keep the chicken from drying out.  Also, I wanted a little tang to my sauce.  Just the jam makes it too sweet.  I had a bottle of catalina taking up space in my fridge.  I knew that would give it some tang.

The whole dish takes just a few simple ingredients, but it produced something awesome.  I has a bit of an Asian flair to it, especially when you serve it with rice.  And it was a HUGE hit with the kids.  They loved that I used apricots in it.  It just made the whole meal even more fun to enjoy.

Apricot Chicken


2 lb. chicken tenders
10 apricots, washed, pitted, and cut into quarters
1 cup catalina dressing
1 cup apricot jam
1 packet onion soup mix
White rice, cooked according to package instructions


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9x13" pan with cooking spray.  Lay chicken tenders in pan and sprinkle apricot pieces over the top.

2. Combine catalina dressing, jam, and onion soup mix in a medium bowl.  Pour over chicken and apricots.

3. Cook for 30-40 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink in center.  Serve over rice.

Serves 4

P.S. If you want to know how I made apricot freezer jam, you just need to pick up a bottle of Ball RealFruit Classic Pectin.  This is the recipe I used.  It's actually very easy to make your own freezer jam.
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