The Best Way to Spread Christmas Cheer

...is singing loud for all to hear!

I am so excited to be a part of Chicken Scratch n Sniff's Christmas Advent!  I get to share with you  one of my favorite parts of Christmas - music.  Every song has a different memory attached to it for me.  I remember sitting in front of our Christmas tree in the evenings, lights out, snow outside the window, and cranking up the stereo while it was playing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Silent Night.  My mom loved John Denver's "Aspenglow."  My grandparents always had Bing Crosby playing on the record player.

If you ever want to check out what I am listening to, it's easy.  Just click on this link to go to Pandora and listen to Cat Yates Christmas Favorites!  It's full of classics, contemporary, jazz, and all the greats.  It's perfect for listening to while you are decorating or baking or cruising around the neighborhood to see lights.

But I think my favorite Christmas music of all time has to be The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Christmas albums.  All of them.  They constantly remind me of the real reason for Christmas - the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  I feel the spirit so strongly whenever I listen to their music.  9 times out of 10 it brings me to tears.  It is so beautiful.

I have a friend that I went to college with who is so uberly talented.  Her name is Kamie Jacobs Bolen.  She was a music major and lived close to me so we spent a lot of time together studying.  This lady has recently produced her very first Christmas album.  And holy smokes you guys, it is so awesome.  It's called "Christmas In a Small Town."  It's the most recent addition to my music library.  And because Kamie rocks, she is offering each of my readers a 20% discount on her album!  Just click on the image below to go to her website and enter the code ADVENT14.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and sneak in some music to help you feel the spirit of the season.  And to finish, one more MoTab for the road:

Don't forget to swing by Chicken Scratch n Sniff to check out all the other advents!

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Stocking your kitchen for the holidays

Who's getting ready for some serious baking over the next two weeks? Me! You? I've started on my annual cookie baking as well as a few candies. Can't forget the sweet and yeast breads! Oh dear, I feel 20 pounds coming back on! Once again, I'm fortunate to be able to share a wonderful article with you on stocking your kitchen up for the holidays. Thank you to Amber Brubaker for sharing!

Key Ingredients for the Holidays

Just because Thanksgiving was last month doesn’t mean there won’t be any more baking days this year. The holidays are filled with the best foods to share with friends and family. You don’t want to be found without an essential ingredient in your kitchen when you need to make an impromptu side dish or dessert for a party or gathering. The secret is to stock up now on essential holiday ingredients.

Lucky for you, most of the essential items go on sale during the weeks following Thanksgiving, so you can rest assured that you are stocking up at the best prices. Use this comprehensive guide to help you complete your shopping list and store the ingredients properly.


You’ll want a selection of candies for both baking and serving. Chopped up candies are great in treats, and when friends come calling, you can offer them a candied treat from a pretty dish on your coffee table.


Butter is one of the most expensive baking essentials. Luckily, it stays good for awhile, especially if you freeze it. So when it’s on sale, stock up, freeze it, and simply thaw it when you need it. For your holiday preparations, you’ll want both salted and unsalted butter—salted for spreading and cooking and unsalted for baking.

Margarine and Shortening

Similar to butter, these can be frozen too. Certain recipes specifically call for margarine or shortening and you can’t use butter as a substitute. For example, using butter instead of shortening may ruin your pie crust.


If you see a great deal on meats—particularly ham and turkey—snatch up as much as you can. These meats have plenty of natural salt in them and will last in your freezer for up to six months if put in good quality, freezer-safe bags. You’ll have plenty of protein for the holidays and after.


You’ll need brown and white—and plenty of it—for baking, and confectioners sugar for frosting and sprinkling. Store all sugar in waterproof, airtight containers.

Store-Bought Crackers and Cookies

It’s always a good idea to have these on hand for a last-minute addition to a party. Cookies also make easy pie crusts or dessert toppings when crumbled.


Flour is a must, and you’ll want different kinds, including, whole wheat, all-purpose white, and cake flour. There’s also white wheat flour, which offers all the health benefits of wheat flour with a lighter, fluffier taste. Store your bulk flour in waterproof, airtight containers to avoid contamination.

Powdered Milk

Fresh milk is difficult to buy in bulk, since it quickly expires. To work around this, get a supply of powdered milk which you can mix up for baking or cooking at a moment’s notice when you’re out of milk.

Leavening Agents

Leaveners like baking soda, baking powder, and yeast, will last for years, but it’s still good to change them out every now and then. The holiday season is a perfect time to do just that. Store your fresh baking soda and powder in airtight containers in the cupboard, and store yeast in the fridge or freezer.

Extracts and Flavorings

If you’re going to bake anything at all, you will need a good supply of vanilla, but it’s also a good idea to stock up on other flavorings, especially if you love trying new recipes or want to make candies. For the holidays, don’t forget almond, peppermint, lemon, anise, rum, and any other flavorings you love.

Heavy Cream

You can store heavy cream in the freezer for up to two months, which is perfect for the holidays. Get as much as you can when it goes on sale, and then thaw it for all your whipped cream and topping needs.

Liquid Sweeteners

Molasses, light and dark corn syrup, sweetened condensed milk, and maple syrup are must-haves for any candy making you’ll do during the holidays. You’ll want to have agave nectar and liquid stevia on hand as well in case you’re baking for those with specific food needs.

Canned Goods

Canned goods are fabulous because they last. Stock up on corn, green beans, pumpkin, pie fillings, yams, beets, evaporated milk, and all the other delicious canned foods you love at holiday meals. Stack these carefully on your shelf to avoid injury.

Dried Fruit and Nuts

Dried fruits and nuts make great add-ins for cookies, candies, and pies, and they’re fantastic for snacking. Stock up on dried apricots, dates, raisins, cranberries, peanuts, walnuts, pecans, brazil nuts, and anything else you like.

Spices and Herbs

Contrary to popular belief, spices and herbs don’t last forever. In fact, they begin to lose their potency six months after opening. Use the holiday shopping as an excuse to replace some spices. If nothing else, you’ll want to replace cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, ginger, sage, rosemary, thyme, and your other favorite spices. Try using these classic spices to make something new. For example, did you know you can use cloves in a glaze for your meat? Click here for other ideas.   

Chocolate and Chips

A solid collection of chocolates and chips to add to your cookies and desserts will get you through the holidays. You’ll want unsweetened bakers chocolate, cocoa powder, and high-quality dipping chocolate. You’ll also want every kind of chip imaginable for the best cookies. Store these in cute cannisters along your kitchen counter to keep them fresh.

With these ingredients filling your kitchen, you won’t have any problems making the best holiday foods!  
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Getting More Out of Your Kitchen

We're heavy into the holiday season now, and food is something that surrounds all of the holidays.  Something I cannot stress enough is the importance of your kitchen - the safety, the cleanliness, and general tips to make the most of your kitchen.  Here's a great article written by Whitney Hollingshead on these issues.  Take 5 minutes out of your busy holiday schedule to make sure your kitchen is ready!

The kitchen is probably one of the busiest rooms in your home. Here are some great tips to help keep your kitchen running as a safe, clean, and more useful space.

A Safe Kitchen

Keeping your family safe in the kitchen is a top priority. Here are some important rules to make the room a safer place:

1. When returning from the grocery store, make sure all refrigerated and frozen food is in your refrigerator/freezer less than two hours from the time it was placed in your cart. If it’s hot outside, you will only have one hour.

2. Remove colorful kitchen magnets from your fridge if you have children in the home. The bright colors are enticing to children and present a choking hazard.

3. Remove any dangling jewelry before cooking.

4. Place a damp rag or towel on the counter under your cutting board to keep the cutting board from slipping while cutting.

5. If you have children at home, use the back burners on the stove as much as possible to keep cooking food out of their reach. Never leave cooking food unattended on the stovetop.

6. If a grease fire breaks out in your kitchen, immediately cover the fire with salt or baking soda. Cover the fire with a pan or pot lid if possible. Never use water on a grease fire.

7. Never use a wet or damp cloth, towel, or hot pad when touching anything hot. Always use dry hot pads or oven mitts to avoid getting burned.

A Clean Kitchen

When it comes to cleaning the kitchen, the best solutions are those that are quick and easy to use and focus on using items you most likely already have in your kitchen. Here are some tips to help with common kitchen messes:

Tile - if you have tile anywhere in your kitchen (tile flooring, tile countertops, tile backsplash, etc.) you should try this homemade cleaner:

Kitchen Tile Cleaner
2 gallons of warm water
½ cup of baking soda

1. Mix the baking soda with the water in a bucket. Apply to tile with a sponge and scrub until clean. 2. Gently wipe with a damp cloth to polish.

Microwave - keeping the microwave clean can be a pain. Try this simple cleaning solution that uses natural ingredients:

Microwave Cleaner
1 lemon, lime, or orange, cut into small pieces
1 cup water
8 tablespoons of vinegar

1. Place the ingredients in a microwave safe bowl and cook in the microwave on high for five minutes. Do not open the door for 15 more minutes. After 15 minutes, wipe out the inside with a damp rag or paper towel.

Disposal - while your disposal does help to keep your kitchen clean, at times the odors coming from the disposal can make your kitchen smell anything but clean. Try this simple cleaning tip:

Disposal Cleaner
3 tablespoons of baking soda
2 ice cubes

1. Drop the baking soda and ice cubes down into the disposal. Turn the disposal on. Run hot water while the disposal is running.

Toaster - since your bread products are often near your toaster, at some point some plastic packaging may melt and stick to your toaster. Here’s how you can get it off:

Melted Plastic on Toaster Fix
Unplug your toaster. Wait for the toaster to cool completely. Grab a bottle of nail polish remover. Rub the remover on the melted plastic until the area is clean again.

Stainless Steel Appliances - stainless steel finishes are common in the modern kitchen. Unfortunately, the surface often looks spotty or is covered in fingerprint smudges. Here’s a trick to help:

Stainless Steel Appliance Polish Tip
Pour a small amount of olive oil on a soft rag. Buff the surface of the stainless steel appliance until the surface shines.

A Useful Kitchen

In addition to having a safe and clean kitchen, you also want to make your kitchen as easy to use on a daily basis as possible. Check out these smart tips:

If you have more condiments than fit on your refrigerator door, consider placing a lazy susan turntable on one of the shelves to store the remaining condiments with easy access.

When you open any container that will be stored in the fridge, write the date on the container with a black marker. This will make it super easy for you to know when to toss the container.

Purchase coffee filters and use them to cover food heated in the microwave.

Never pour grease down the drain. For more helpful tips on dealing with your kitchen drains and plumbing concerns, check out this advice from the experts.

Keep a notepad on your fridge, or easily accessible nearby to make grocery shopping lists as you go.

Use kitchen scissors to cut herbs, green onions, cooked bacon, and even meat. Just make sure you clean the scissors thoroughly after use.

Always read a recipe start to finish before you start making anything. This way you won’t find any surprises at the end that may leave you in a lurch.

Follow these tips and common sense to make your kitchen a safer, cleaner, and more useful space.
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4 weeks, and the results are...

It's been 4 weeks.  And what are my results?  I've lost 10.5 pounds!  I'm so excited about that.  I've only had the opportunity to work out a handful of times during these 4 weeks (which I need to be MUCH better about).  It's mostly been about my diet.  I had set a goal for myself to lose 2 pounds a week.  I'm averaging 2.6!  What is the diet?  Slim Fast and Special K breakfast protein shakes.  I'm careful to track all my calories, especially for dinner.  And I have had splurge days.  But overall, I have to say I am loving the LoseIt!® app.  It has made tracking my calories so stinking simple.  Both for food and for exercise.

So I'm starting the next 4 weeks today, at 216.5 pounds.  Still a ways to go, but I am seeing results.  And that is all that matters to me!

I'm a little worried about the next two weeks.  Thanksgiving.  Sigh.  I so love the food traditions that we have as a family for that holiday.  I think I may need to hit the rower a few times before next Thursday.

So how am I feeling?  I am feeling good.  I had to go down a size in my pants.  I am loving how easy it is.  BUT, I miss eating.  I do not like being hangry most of the day.  That part is no fun.  I miss chewing all my meals.  While the shakes are simple and fast, I do miss chewing.  I don't know how long this will last, but I'll take it while it's working.  Because for the first time, I'm continuing to lose a consistent amount of weight each week.  And that's a good thing.
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Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches

Over the summer, I had a hankering for Buffalo Wings.  But I didn't want to make the full wing.  I didn't want to fire up the fryer or the oven.  But I wanted the flavor.  That spicy, tangy, crispy, drooling........oh, sorry.  I love buffalo wings.  Especially on game days.  The only thing I don't like about them is getting the buffalo sauce on my fingers and having it burn my skin.  So I usually opt for the boneless wings.  No fryer, no oven, boneless chicken.  This called for a slow cooker recipe!

So this is what I came up with.  A slow cooker version that you can pile high with tender chicken, saucy and spicy. I also wanted my carrots and blue cheese with it.  So I made a carrot slaw, tossed on some red cabbage, and topped it with chunky blue cheese dressing.  The result was so delicious, and tasted just like having wings at a restaurant.  Seriously one of my new favorite sandwiches.  One tip - get a good, crispy roll.  Not a soft bun like a hamburger bun.  We're talking bakery roll.  The soft buns will soak up the sauce too much and fall apart in your hands.  Okay, I think I need to make these again this week.

Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches


3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 cups chicken broth
1 bottle Frank's® Red Hot Buffalo Wings Sauce
1 bottle Lighthouse® Chunky Blue Cheese Salad Dressing
Shredded Cabbage
Sandwich rolls

Carrot Slaw:

3 carrots, peeled and shredded
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. vinegar
Salt and Pepper


1. Place chicken breasts and broth in slow cooker.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

2. Prepare carrot slaw.  Combine carrot shreds with olive oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Toss to coat.  Set aside.

3. Remove chicken from slow cooker.  Discard liquid.  Shred chicken with 2 forks and place in a large bowl.  Add 1/2 bottle or 1 cup of wing sauce to chicken and toss to coat.

4. Pour 1 Tbs. of blue cheese dressing onto bottom half of sandwich roll.  Top with buffalo chicken. Add shredded cabbage and carrot slaw.  Pour another 1 Tbs. of dressing on top of carrot slaw, adding more buffalo sauce if desired.  Top with remaining sandwich roll half.  Serve immediately.

Serves 6
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Okay, here's an update for you.  I am very excited to say that I'm down to 222!  I wasn't sure this whole meal replacement shake thing was going to work.  In fact, I have to be honest - I almost ALMOST threw in the towel this week.  The shakes get old.  Chocolate, Strawberry, and Vanilla.  Yeah.  It gets blah.  And honestly, I really start to miss chewing.

That being said, I cannot tell you how excited I am.  I am right on track (in fact, I'm a pound ahead!) to meet my goal.  This week's "weigh in" really got me excited.  It gave me an extra boost that I needed.  This past week has been full of a lot of what Tina Fey calls Hanger.  Yup, that anger that arises from being hungry.  I've never really experienced it.  Until bringing my caloric intake down to  below 1500 a day.  Youch. BUT!  If I keep this up through the holidays, I could actually be in the hundos right around New Years!

Last week and this week my exercise consists of only rowing 3 days a week.  Next week, I'll keep up the every other day rowing, but I plan on adding some core strength training with the AbMat and some wall push ups (plus whatever the Hubs decides to throw at me - insert terrified face here).  I'm really digging the LoseIt app and how simple it is to log all my calories plus my exercise to be able to get a really fast glimpse at my day and my progress.

So, this week, I'm still on the wagon.  Hoping to hang in there during the most wonderful time of the year and all the sugary goodness that comes with it.  Hm, I'm seeing more rowing in my future to earn more calories.  #fat2fitcat
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Lemon and Pesto Chicken Parmesan

Is this really a recipe?  You betcha!  This recipe gave me a little inspiration and motivation to get it up on the blog.  And I think you'll like it!  With the lemon zest in the chicken and the basil pesto sauce, it is such a light, refreshing switch up for regular Chicken Parm with marinara sauce.  But it still tastes like a traditional Italian dish with the oregano and basil.  My kids loved the fried aspect of it.  Using panko crumbs made it nice and crunchy while the asiago cheese in the mix totally just blew the flavor out of the water.

It might seem unnecessary to half the chicken breasts, but it's so important.  Not only will it ensure that it cooks evenly, but your portion will be perfect.  I don't know about you, but a full chicken breast is almost overwhelming when having it with anything else.  (Usually I end up cutting part of it off for one of the kiddos.)  And because I've started counting calories religiously, I've thrown the calories down at the end of the recipe for you.  And yes, it includes the pasta and pesto!

Lemon and Pesto Chicken Parmesan


2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 egg
1 Tbs. flour
1/2 cup panko crumbs
1/2 cup shredded asiago cheese
1/2 Tbs. dried oregano
1/2 Tbs. dried basil
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
8 oz. (1/2 package) angel hair pasta
1 cup basil pesto sauce


1. Using a sharp knife, cut the chicken breasts in half, horizontally, and pound with a meat mallet until even thickness.  Set aside.

2. Combine egg and flour in a bowl and whisk with a fork until flour is incorporated.  In a shallow bowl, combine panko crumbs, asiago cheese, oregano, basil, garlic powder, black pepper, and lemon zest.  Toss with a fork to mix well.  Combine mozzarella and parmesan cheeses in a separate bowl and set aside.

3. Preheat olive oil in a large skillet.  Dip chicken into egg mixture, coating well, and allow excess to drip off.  Place in panko mixture, using hands to thoroughly coat chicken.  Place into hot skillet and cook for about 5 minutes on each side, turning only once, or until cooked through.  Sprinkle mozzarella cheese mixture evenly on all 4 pieces of chicken.  Place a lid on the skillet and remove from heat.  Keep lid on until cheese has melted.

4. While chicken is cooking, prepare pasta by bringing a large saucepan of water to a boil, and cooking for 4 minutes for al dente.  Serve with chicken and pesto sauce.

Serves 4
789 Calories per serving
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I need to make changes in my life.  My lifestyle more specifically.  Weight seems to be a problem that is plaguing me.  Not just physically, but socially as well.  I have several friends and/or family members that have recently been diagnosed with Type II Diabetes.  When I say recently, I mean within the last 6 months.  I have others who have obesity issues and have had surgery to help them fix it - the surgery was out of necessity, not choice.  And personally, at my last physical, my doctor informed me that I'm on the verge of having a very serious problem.

So, it's time to get serious about my weight.  I've attempted to eat healthier, make more healthy meals, meals that are all the fad right now (paleo-ers, I'm not bagging on you, it's just the popular thing right now).  I've tried counting calories.  I've tried popular exercise programs.  I've tried weight watchers.  I've tried JUST.ABOUT.EVERYTHING.  The problem?  (head hanging in shame) I haven't stuck with it long enough to really make it work.

Why this time?  After watching my loved ones have major diet changes, health scares, and knowing that I'm not getting any younger, I'm simply scared.  That's part one.  Part two is that we're coming up on 10 years of marriage next year, and I kind of want to be a whole heck of a lot healthier than I am now so we can celebrate.

This time, I'm keeping it simple.  I'm counting calories.  I'm using an app called Lose It.  And I'm drinking Slim Fast and protein shakes.  Again, don't judge.  I'm a working mom, a very busy mom.  And rather than add one more complicated aspect to my life, the shakes are working for me.  I'm giving myself until August 1st, 2015.

Now, for the hard part.  The part where I vomit a little.  And then run away and hide from everyone in shame.  My starting weight.  Sigh.  As of yesterday, I'm at 227 lbs.  Barf.  Sigh.  I'll give you all an update on that next week.  Please, be gentle.  Don't judge.  We all are carrying around weight of some type, right?  Thanks.
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Is this for real?  Is this an ACTUAL blog entry from Cat?  Yup, sports fans, it is.  I am still here.  Just divided into several parts.  Life has been so insanely busy for me that, unfortunately, my little blog has fallen onto the back burner.  Well, I guess I shouldn't say that.  Cooking fell on the back burner, as in for 2 whole months, I think I cooked a meal maybe a handful of times.  I am so ashamed to admit that.  I still made some awesome meals, but they were just very few and very far between.  So awful.

I have been at odds with myself over whether or not I should continue to make you all think that I still have a life outside of my little home office where I run sales and accounting reports all day long.  Then school started and my afternoons were consumed with homework help and carpool and PTO and..... and..... and.... And when the hubs and I finally sit down at night, I've been on the computer for most of the day and I am just simply burned out.  It's been a nightmare.  I'm very grateful that we've been able to support ourselves for almost a year now  - holy crap, it's been almost a year of running our own business.  But I've learned quickly that it is not easy. Like AT ALL!  At least if you want to make it work for an extended amount of time.

Then there's the other awful, embarrassing part of my life that I have to admit.  I've debated about doing it on my blog and putting it out there for the world.  But I think I need to.  I think I need get my dirty laundry and secret stashes of cookies out there (I might mean that quite literally).  Over the last decade, between pregnancies, depression, stress, and just plain old bad eating habits and lack of desire to exercise, I've put on an enormous amount of weight.  At least for me.  Some people might say, "It's not THAT bad."  But it is to me.  And all the things that I love about this time of year, including Pietober and the Holiday Cookie Swap, are going to be put to the side for next year after I have control of my health.

And now it's fall (yes, we do have fall in Vegas), and all I want to do is knit cute little hats and scarves for my nieces, nephews, friends, and my family.  You might have caught some glimpses of those if you follow me on Instagram.  And my excuses just seem to keep piling up.  So me, myself, and my blog had a heart to heart talk.  And I think we came up with a happy medium.

Over the next little while, you're going to start seeing more posts about my journey to lose weight (and yes, I'll be sharing numbers with you.  Sigh.  I may vomit a little when I hit the "post" button.).  You'll also see posts about my love for loom knitting including patterns and links to some of my favorite loom knitters.  I may even share the occasional graphic design element that I've been working on (yup, I do that too!).  You'll still get recipes, but I will be sharing more of my life with you than just my life surrounding food.  Make sense?

So here's my official apology for leaving you hanging.  And my official thank you for hanging in there with me.
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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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