This recipe contains almost all of my family’s favorite meal items into one dish, and was super easy to make, and can also be easily adapted to suit certain tastes and levels of pickiness. (I like the Hunt’s with Basil, Garlic and Oregano, but accidentally opened the plain kind for this recipe, it’s good either way)

Spinach Stuffed Chicken Breast

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You Will Need:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, lightly tenderized
1 large handful of baby spinach leaves, makes 1-1/4 cups chopped
1 cup of finely grated cheddar cheese (1/4 of it set aside)
1 can diced tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Pam cooking spray
8X8 Glass baking dish
Cutting board
Sharp knife

Preheat your oven to 375*F and spray the bottom of your baking dish with a very light coat of Pam, (it helps to remove the baked on bits of cheese when you wash later!) Rinse the baby spinach under fresh clean water and I like to remove the stems, but you don’t have to. Arrange your spinach leaves into a small pile and chop them until they are in uniform thumb-nail size pieces. In a large mixing bowl add your can of diced tomatoes, the chopped spinach, 3/4 of your cheese, and a half teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Stir until everything is throughly mixed, then cover with plastic wrap and set it in the fridge until your chicken is prepared.

To prepare your chicken, wash your hands with warm soapy water, get a clean dry cutting board, and lightly tenderize both chicken breasts with a meat mallet or your fist. Slice gently into the longest side of the breast, making a neat cut right into the center of the meat, but not too close to the top or the bottom , essentially making a pocket out of the center of the chicken. After handling the raw meat, wash your hands again.

With clean dry hands, scoop spoonfuls of the tomato cheese and chopped spinach mixture into the chicken pocket, and press down gently on the top of the chicken to squeeze out any air bubbles. Place the chicken in your glass baking dish and then top it with any extra mixture you have and finally sprinkle the last 1/4 cup of grated Cheddar on top. Finish the prep with a dash of salt and pepper on top, then put the whole thing in the oven, uncovered, for 35 minutes. I served it with some leftover fried rice from another meal, but it’s pretty filling and delicious just by itself, or perhaps with some garlic bread or a small Caesar salad. If the taste of fresh chopped spinach is too much for your sensitive tastebuds, feel free to steam the handful of leaves for 10-15 seconds until slightly wilted, but I love the texture that the freshly chopped stuff gives the meal, compared to the slightly squishy tomatoes and the juicy chicken breast.

In my research for this post, I signed up to receive a newsletter from Hunts Tomato Products, it’s chock full of special offers, tips, promotions, the occasional coupon, and recipes, all related to your local area, and you also can receive a great Mama-friendly meal idea guide called ReadySetEat, which can help you with those last minute dinner decisions. For more information you can click here. Don’t worry, in the week since I signed up, I have not received a single bit of evil Stuff Posing As Mail.

Happy Cooking!

Late spring and early summer usually remind people of warmer days, trips to the pool, the beach, and vacations to Disney World, but for some people, the sweetest summer memory is a trip to their local farm, or farmer’s market, to get a taste of some of the freshest produce around, grown locally and healthfully.

You can’t beat slicing up a freshly picked cucumber or a juicy watermelon for a cool and refreshing salad, or a handful of plump blackberries to add to a smoothie or top off a cup of Greek yogurt. Here’s a list of when and where you can expect some of your favorite summer veggies to become available.

Avocados:
Known in health markets as a superfood, avocados offer a large number of nutrients and vitamins in a flavorful green package, with the good kind of fats that help your heart and your blood work as effectively as possible. They are an extremely fickle fruit, growing whenever they please, in warm climates, particularly in Florida, where many people have them in their backyards. Farmer’s markets all over the south will usually start to have them available toward the middle of the summer, but the earliest crops are likely to be hard. Let them ripen on the counter or in a paper bag until soft, peel them, slice them, and mash them into guacamole for your kids favorite Friday night Mexican dish, or chill the slices, sprinkle them with salt and pepper for a nutty flavored snack right and an energy boost right before your 3PM crash at work.

Berries: Another healthy favorite, the blue and the black berries offer antioxidants and a sweet burst of flavor, especially when picked right at the height of the season and allowed to sweeten in the warm summer sun. They grow wild all over the US, from New York to Florida, and farmers markets nationwide could feature these delicious fruits, or offer signs saying “Pick Your Own”. Use the berries to spice up a boring green leaf salad, or freeze them for pancakes during the fall and winter months. Canning is also a great way to preserve sweet fruits, blackberry and blueberry jam were perennial favorites in my Mom’s pantry as a kid. Try not to handle your berries too much before you eat them, the riper they are, the easier they bruise and become mushy, and their high water content makes them very susceptible to mold in the fridge, so be sure to use them or freeze them as soon as possible.

Cherries: Spring marks the arrival of the cherry blossoms in our nation’s capital, and those bright fragrant pink flowers offer up sweet red fruit as the summer arrives. Cherries are another great source of energy, and nutrients, and many varieties, be they sour or sweet, are available between the months of May and August.

Corn: There’s a anecdote that helped farmer’s gauge their corn as it grew in the early days of our history, “knee high by the 4th of July.” Summer picnics and barbecues often herald giant ears of sweet white, yellow and multi-hued corn with juicy kernels and bright green husks. This is the time of year where it is most often found down to $0.10 cents an ear or even less at your local grocery, but visit the farmers market for the best corn, I’ve found it to be particularly tasty in the areas of Iowa, Central Florida, and Virginia. Its available through most of the summer, but the best crop usually comes after the Independence Day holiday. Look for fresh green husks, plump ripe (not hard) kernels, and a sweet smell, with soft white floss. It was BBQ tradition in my house growing up that the kids would drag big boxes of corn out to the yard and strip every last strand of corn floss from the ears, while the adults had a chance to mingle and prepare the rest of the meal without us underfoot. It worked like a charm. We would inspect our individual ears like quality control officials, critiquing each other’s techniques and racing to see who could get the most corn shucked in the smallest amount of time.

Garlic: Globally, China is the world’s largest producer of garlic, growing more than 3/4’s of the world’s garlic (23 billion pounds) every year, but the United States has just the right climate for garlic as well, it is grown in every state except Alaska, and can grow often throughout the year depending on the climate, but the sweetest and most flavorful garlic comes during the summer months, particularly in Gilroy, California, which is the biggest garlic growing city in the US. If you are substituting fresh garlic for your normal garlic powder, 1/8 of a teaspoon of powdered garlic usually equals a single clove of the fresh stuff.

Limes:
Limes are the only citrus fruit that are in full ripened flavor in the summer, and grow best in tropical weather in the state of Florida. The tangy fruit makes a great topping for fish on the grill or addition to marinades for your favorite chicken dish. Before peeling a lime to use it for its juice, roll it around on your counter-top under the palm of your hand with heavy pressure, breaking up the membranes inside the fruit and releasing the flesh from the rind.

Peaches: I love anything and everything peaches, (really….anything, perfume, the color peach, peach scented fabric softener sheets) but my SO and I experienced the best peaches ever during a drive through Georgia, (after staying at a great friends house!). When I hear peaches, I think Georgia, and for good reason. The best, most plump, sweetest fruit come from from trees that have full sun and WARM weather. Avoid peaches that are not just a little soft to the squeeze, or have yellow or green near the stem. Buy a bushel or two, or even a laundry basket full and make a months worth of peach cobbler! I’ll be sure to drop by for a taste.

Strawberries: Another of my favorite fruits, since I live just a few hours from Plant City, Florida where the land is dominated by strawberry farms. I am willing to walk, bend and lift, for HOURS just to pick my own perfect strawberries, and the ones sold in the grocery stores, while good, I find are often moldy, mushy, or still too GREENish, which leads to sour berries in my experience. Greenish strawberries never taste right, they only ripen to the best flavor while still attached to the plant and enjoying that sweet Florida sunshine. Pick your own, or be very scrutinizing when selecting “strawbs” at the farmer’s market.

Tomatoes: My grandfather had a green thumb for tomatoes. He grew them every summer, and I am still drawn back to those childhood memories at his house on Long Island New York when I crush a tomato leaf between my fingers and smell the spicy sweet scent. The delicate yellow flowers turn into hard green balls which deepen in color and flavor until a sweet, juicy and tender tomato is born. Make sure and see if you can try a tomato at the market before you buy it, even the prettiest tomato might be a little on the sour side, which isn’t always bad, since different meals and different flavors require different ages of tomato.

Watermelons: Available in 44 of the 50 United States, watermelons are a staple of summer fun. Their pink sweet flesh and sharply contrasted black seeds bring on memories of 4th of July fireworks and summer carnivals. Look for a fruit that has a solid “thunk” when you knock on it, with no serious dents or bruises to the rind, but they are the only melon type fruit that does not smell “melony”, even when at it’s ripest. The sweetest fruit comes from regions that have a good amount of difference in temperature between days and nights. Most melons planted in May are ready to harvest by the end of June.

Remember that most farmer’s markets, especially larger ones, follow some regulation, but most are considered “Mom and Pop” organizations, particularly roadside stands, so be aware of things like worms, fungus, and imperfections that you may not be used to seeing while in your local supermarket.And just like you would at the regular supermarket, be sure to wash and fully inspect any produce that finds it’s way into your home, before adding it to your recipes.

Click here for a link to help you find Farmer’s Markets all over the US, and check with your local school district or your local newspaper for information about co-op growing areas, or community gardens that will have produce available, sometimes as an even exchange program, or for work done at the farm!

For Mom’s these days it’s hard to figure out what is truly fact, and what is fantasy when it comes to age old wives tales and myths regarding your health and your body over the summer. Here are 5 myths that have been fully debunked, that should make planning your vacations, meals, and playtime much easier.

1: Don’t Swim After You Eat?
This myth has officially been BUSTED. While it is true that swimming after eating can cause minor cramping in your lower extremities as blood rushes up to your tummy to help with digestion, it is not nearly severe enough to cause anyone to drown. You don’t have to wait an hour after you eat that delicious grilled chicken to join your friends at the beach anymore, and you don’t have to lock your kids in the car just to keep them out of the water once you get there! Always keep a close eye on your family while near any source of water, and protect them with the necessary applications and reapplications of sunscreen.

2: Any SPF Sunscreen Works Just Fine…
WRONG! You don’t get adequate protection from a sunscreen or sunblock unless it is at least SPF 30 . And remember that the fairer your skin, the less protection you get naturally. I am a huge fan of Neutrogena Sport lotions, particularly their Face block, because I don’t have to reapply as often as I do with other brands. I did some serious damage to my skin as an uprotected beach rat wild child, and didn’t know I was putting my self in danger of melanoma, and a wide variety of other skin issues, like redness that still bothers me to this day.

For Mamas with babies, they also have a great “Pure and Free” baby sunblock line as well. Remember that reapplication is key, no matter how high you go on the SPF scale, and that a costly 95SPF sunscreen blocks the same number of UV rays as a 30SPF.

3: Jellyfish Stings Hurt FOREVER
Also not true. While they do hurt, especially the Portuguese Man of War jellies that we get when the eastern winds start to blow in our area, jelly stings can be remedied with a simple spritz of vinegar on the affected area. I have a small spritzer bottle that I’ve filled with vinegar in my beach bag, and it helps take away the sting, and deactivates the little stingers that make the burn. After you’ve let the vinegar soak in, rinse with fresh cool water and apply ice. If there’s any evidence of a serious allergic reaction, (difficulty breathing, hives, unnatural amounts of swelling) seek medical attention immediately.

4: Browned Meat is Cooked Meat
When you’ve got a pack of hungry children gathered around the grill, salivating over the burgers that you “think” might be done, it’s hard to discern whether or not those juices from the meat are really “running clear” or if you’re just hallucinating from hunger. I am a huge fan of meat thermometers. Williams-Sonoma offers a nifty little 4 pack of “mini grilling thermometers” you can plug right into those tasty little burgers, and know for sure whether or not they are finally cooked enough to eat, by reading the internal temperature, which for beef should be no less than 160* F, as recommended by the USDA.

5: Poison Ivy Is Contagious From Person to Person
Nope! You can only get poison ivy from contact directly with the oils on the plant, and the amount of redness and affliction you get from the plant depends on how much of an allergy you have to it. Rubbing calamine lotion on a friends red itchy welts will only earn you the “Bestest Friend Ever” award, instead of poison ivy yourself. It’s my only allergy, but I consider poison ivy to be my arch-nemesis, and take very good precautions to make sure any one involved in our family’s hiking/camping trips are fully aware of what it looks like, and what to do when you encounter it on the trail. Remember also, that if you are clearing large amounts of land over the summer, that burning poison ivy turns the oils into an aerosol in the smoke, and those particularly sensitive to it can breathe it in. I spent three weeks in bed as a child, resembling strongly the Michelin Man, because of a week of burning brush from our property that contained scraps of poison ivy cuts. Like the picture at right, the leaves are yellowish-green and shiny/waxy looking, the stems are reddish, and look for groups of 3 leaves. Even doggies can get poison ivy, particularly short haired breeds!

Happy Cooking!

Nothing quite like the summer, and moving meals out of the house. After a long hard day of work, or play, it’s nice to enjoy the cooler hours of the day with a family meal out on the patio, or porch, and Cajun Fried Chicken evokes all those memories, with just a few simple ingredients and almost no time at all.

Cajun Fried Chicken

What You’ll Need:
4 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, thawed
i cup of Unseasoned Bread Crumbs
1 Tbsp of Kosher Salt
I Tbsp Cajun Blackened Seasoning
1 cup Canola Oil
2 Eggs
Paper Towels

Trim any excess fat off of the chicken breasts and set them aside. Mix the bread crumbs, the kosher salt, and the blackened seasoning in a shallow dish, and set that aside. Heat the oil in a frying pan on med-high, so that when you drop a splash of water in the pan it sizzles for just a second and then evaporates.

Crack the two eggs into another shallow dish, and scramble them together, making sure the consistency is even, you don’t want to much egg white, it should all be one color. When your frying pan is hot, dip a chicken breast into the egg, coat it well, then quickly drop it into the bread crumbs, piling more on top. Flip the breast over in the bread crumbs than quickly transfer it to the pan, and be aware that the oil is going to jump around a little bit on you when that chicken hits it. Sizzling oil hurts, so I wouldn’t let kids help with this part.

Let your four pieces of chicken cook on the one side for between 5-8 minutes, until a golden reddish brown, then flip and cook on the other side. When the chicken is cooked through, remove the breast pieces from the pan and set them on some paper towels to drain the excess oil off and get nice and crispy.

Serve the Cajun Fried Chicken with some okra, green beans, or mashed potatoes. It’s sure to be a classic for your family in no time, and it’s pretty comparable to Popeye’s Chicken, without the hassle of going to the fast food place to get it.

Happy Cooking!

Summer is finally here! These few short weeks are filled with beach trips, playground exploring, poolside adventures, and plenty of get-togethers with family and friends. Now the infamous question, “What can I bring???” This recipe will have you saying, “I’ll bring a dessert.”

You can’t go into any grocery store without seeing the strawberries front in center. (At least near me it is like that.) You could also one-up me and pick your own fresh strawberries. (Just the thought of it…..YUM). This easy recipe is great and it does include fresh strawberries, so that may be a serving of fruit too :o) I guess it depends on how strict you are and how much you want to eat it.

Strawberry Cake with Strawberry Icing

1 (3oz.) package of strawberry gelatin

½ cup cold water

1 (18.25 oz.) white cake mix

4 eggs

1 cup vegetable oil

3 Tablespoons flour

10 ounces of strawberries

6 Tablespoons of butter

2 cups of confectioners sugar

 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Dissolve gelatin in big bowl with cold water.  Stir in cake mix, eggs, vegetable oil, flour and half of the pureed strawberries.  Beat for 5 minutes and divide into two 9 inch cake pans.  Bake for 35 minutes.

 

Frosting:

Cream butter, confectioners sugar and remaining pureed strawberries.  Add more sugar until desired consistency.

 

I also made chocolate covered strawberries for presentation. This cake was a real show stopper :o)

This one little packet can ensure a happy family on taco night. Inexpensive. Easy. Healthy. What more can I say???

It’s been a long time since I have posted, so I have a lot of stuff to share with you.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t invent the taco, so I won’t claim to have, but I did bring taco night home. Put one pound of chicken in your crock pot (with seasoning mix and 2/3 cup water). Let it cook on low for 4 hours (2 on high). Take the chicken out of the crock pot and place on a plate. Use two forks and shred the chicken. Put it back in the crock pot and keep warm.

Get your toppings ready. We use: salsa, shredded cheese, sour cream, lettuce, and tomatoes. (Guacamole if I made it!!)

The best part of taco night is that it is easy to clean up. You can even serve your toppings in tupperware. Just put a lid on them and throw them in the fridge.  Ok, I said the best part of taco night was the easy clean up, but the REAL best part of taco night is that you can easily make fajitas the next night and use the same toppings. You could also make nachos, taco salad or an omelet!!!! In our house, we try to not let anything go to waste.

Enjoy taco night. It stimulates conversation- even if it is just “please pass the lettuce.”

I know what you were expecting. You thought I was going to tell you to go out and buy a dehydrator and make your own fruit roll ups. That is an excellent idea, but not what this is about.

Sometimes fruit on the go just isn’t an option. Maybe you need to keep clothes neat….or your car. I am not even going to research what exactly is in fruit roll ups. I’m always looking for healthy alternatives for foods that your kids will love. There’s no need to deprive your kids of such things like Fruit by the Foot, but you can get a serving of fruit into your kids and eliminate some of the dyes that these foods have in them.

Stretch Island Fruit Co. has fruit strips that offer 1/2 a serving of fruit in each strip. There are seven different flavors, all made with real fruit puree and no artificial additives. FruitaBu, another product offered by Stretch Island Fruit offers a portable fruit roll that contains a full serving of fruit from real fruit puree. There is no added sugar in either of these products.  Even their packaging is BPA free. These products are a easy and portable, without the extra hassle of making and packaging it yourself. These snacks are not just for kids either. I love them and it is a great way to get in some servings of fruit into my on the go diet. If they are not in your local grocery store or Natural Food Store, you can buy them right online from  http://www.stretchislandfruit.com. Enjoy.

I haven’t been on the computer much this weekend. There has been beautiful weather, so I spent the majority of my weekend outside with my kids.  We got home a little later then we had planned last night, so I had to quickly whip up some turkey burgers. Since there was not much thought involved with this meal, I looked in my freezer and pulled out some frozen edamame. My kids love it and this finger food is packed in protein and other nutrients,  such as; dietary fiber, Omega 3 Fatty acids, folic acid, manganese, vitamin K, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, iron, calcium and potassium.

Edamame are green soy beans. I purchased a frozen bag of edamame from my local grocery store for 1.39 a package. You steam the pods  for 4-5 minutes (in salt water or salt pods after.) Let them cool before serving. My oldest can handle taking the beans out of the pods herself, but I shell them for my youngest still. Edamame is addicting!

There are plenty of great recipes that use these soybeans. After I get some more at the grocery store, I will make some of them and post them for you with pictures.  Remember, these tasty little beans are SOYbeans, so those with soy allergies should not eat edamame.

There are so many different reasons why you should involve your kids in the kitchen. My number 1 reason is because I like to spend time with my kids while I am cooking and they enjoy helping. It does make more of a mess and typically takes longer, but in the end we have something we are all proud of and can’t wait to sink our teeth into.

  • Cooking helps create healthy habits that last a lifetime
  • Create memories. Some of my best memories of my Grandmother were of us cooking at her house
  • Teach kids math skills. Even young kids can learn what a cup of milk or flour looks like
  • Kids learn to follow directions
  • Cultivate organization/planning skills
  • Increase self esteem: Kids are proud of what they make

These are just a few of the many reasons why it is important to teach your children this important skill. By cooking things together, you are also cutting out some of the processed foods out of their diet. Just remember, start small. One of my daughter’s favorite thing to make with me is Jello pudding. All you have to do is add two cups of milk to the mix and stir it.  She loves that she made it and it gives us a chance to clean up while it is setting. Instant gratification.

Enjoy. You will be amazed all the different things you can teach your kids while you are cooking together. Texture, color, taste, etc. Make learning fun!

I would never steal someone’s recipe and not give credit to the person who gave me the recipe.  Awhile ago my cousin gave me this recipe and I AM HOOKED. This banana bread is so easy to make and is a perfect recipe for the kid’s to help with. Basically you put everything in the bowl/mixer, mix it up and bake it.

2/3 cups of sugar

1/3 cup of softened butter

2 eggs

1 cup mashed bananas

1-1/3 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt1 cup finely diced walnuts (optional)

*Kim also suggested using Craisins

 

1. Add all ingredients to mixing bowl

2. Mix until smooth

3. Pour batter into a greased 9X5 inch pan

4. Cook at 350 degrees for 40-55 minutes

5. Cool then enjoy!