Chicken And Stuffing Stuffed Shells

With a new school year fast approaching in less than 3 weeks we’ve been gearing up for all the practices, homework, and after school activities that will be beating down our door. In anticipation of all that, and my candle burning at both ends until we reestablish a schedule, I’ve been stocking our deep freezer with some ready to heat and eat meals. I know there will be several nights, especially those first few weeks of September where I just won’t have the energy or the frame of mind left to cook in the evenings. However, the sons (and hubby too!) still need and deserve a hot and filling meal set on the table at dinner time. My freezer, my oven, and freezer-cooking in general will be my best friend and life-line that first month. Here’s to hoping I’m not being too ambitious in expecting us to be a well-oiled machine after only the first three weeks of school!

All that aside, if you’re just getting into freezer cooking or are an old pro at it, this meal is quick to prepare and tastes divine. Who wouldn’t want rich, comfort food after a busy day that had all the ‘work’ already done?! Pop these beauties in the oven, heat, and eat. These go great with a side salad, and a green veggie!

Chicken And Stuffing Stuffed Shells

4 Sons 'R' Us: Chicken & Stuffing Stuffed Shells

recipe adapted from Kraft Recipes

  • 2 boxes of chicken flavored stuffing, cooked
  • 2 cups cooked, shredded chicken breast
  • 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms, sauteed (optional)
  • 1 box of jumbo shells; cooked, drained, and cooled
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Cook stuffing following package directions.
  2. Add chicken breast, stirring to combine, and set aside.
  3. Spray a 9×13 baking dish with a non-stick cooking spray. Stuff shells with the stuffing mixture and place in prepared dish, open and facing down.
  4. Heat the soup, milk and water in a sauce pan, stirring until evenly combined. Pour over top of the stuffed shells.
  5. Bake 35 minutes.
  6. Take out of oven and sprinkle with Swiss cheese.
  7. Bake an additional 5-10 minutes until cheese is melted.
  8. Let sit 5 min before serving. Enjoy!

For Freezer Cooking:

Stop after step 3, except instead of putting the stuffed shells into a prepared baking sheet, place them on a wax paper lined baking sheet. Place sheet in freezer. When the shells are frozen, transfer them to a ziplocking bag. Store in your freezer. When ready to eat, thaw the shells and proceed from Step 3, this time placing them in the prepared dish.

Thai Chicken Coconut Soup

This is one of my new favorite summer soups! It has the perfect blend of light creaminess with the curry flavor I crave, without being too spicy. I am not a fan of coconut, but this is one of the rare instances where there’s an exception to that rule. The vague hint of coconut isn’t at all overpowering. This is my kind of ‘Thai’! While this may not appeal to an authentic Thai food enthusiast, it was everything I was looking for. This soup is perfect for someone who loves a good creamy chicken and rice soup and an Asian flair.

Thai Chicken Coconut Soup

4 Sons 'R' Us: Thai Chicken Coconut Soup

recipe adapted from Foodtastic Mom

  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp prepared Thai curry paste, green or red depending on preference
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 red pepper, seeded and diced
  • 8 oz button mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup basmati rice
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups chicken breast, cooked and shredded
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Directions

  1. In a large soup pot, or dutch oven, melt the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the curry paste, stirring to combine evenly.
  2. Add all the vegetables and salt and saute for 8-10 minutes.
  3. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute.
  4.  Add stock, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer, covered for 30 minutes to allow rice to fully cook.
  5. Add the cooked chicken, coconut milk, lime juice, sugar and cilantro. Stir well and allow to heat through.
  6. Remove soup from heat, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary with more salt or sugar.
  7. Serve soup sprinkled with more fresh cilantro and a drizzle of Sirarcha sauce, if desired.

Broccoli & Cheddar Twice Baked Potatoes

While I love all the flavors in a ‘loaded’ baked potato, I was craving something different. Any combination of broccoli and cheddar is always a hit here, especially when it’s accompanied by something extra crispy. In this case, the twice baked potato skin provided that perfect, accompanying crunch.

Did I mention that this is actually a relatively healthy side dish? I might have forgotten to share that with the boys. Accidentally, on purpose. Without that ‘it’s something good for you’ vegetable taint hanging over their heads, they dug in with relish and devoured every last bite.

As an added bonus, these lovely little potatoes can be frozen and pulled out as needed for meals or even for a light lunch. I just love freezer cooking. This potato recipe is definitely the whole kit and caboodle.

Broccoli & Cheddar Twice Baked Potatoes

4 Sons 'R' Us: Broccoli & Cheddar Twice Baked Potatoes

recipe adapted from SkinnyTaste

  • 4 medium russet potatoes, washed and dried
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups broccoli florets, chopped
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 1/2 cup greek yogurt
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Directions

  1. Pierce the cleaned potatoes several times with a fork.  Bake for 1 hour in oven at 425 degrees. Optionally, you could instead place them in the microwave and use your baked potato setting until the potatoes are cooked through, turning half way. However, in my opinion, cooking them in the oven the entire time give them more a crispier skin when finished.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, add broccoli to a little salted water and cook, covered for about 3 minutes. Remove the broccoli with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  3. Let the potatoes cool enough to comfortably handle them. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop the flesh out into a large bowl, leaving a ¼” shell. Place the potato shells on a baking sheet.
  4. Mash the flesh with a potato masher or puree with a hand blender. Add the milk, yogurt, and salt, mash until smooth. Fold in half of the shredded cheddar (and chives if desired).
  5. Spoon the potato mixture back into the shells. Top with the cooked broccoli and remaining cheese on top.
  6. Bake at 400 degrees for 5-10 minutes, or until heated through and the cheese is melted. (You can also microwave it for a few minutes if you prefer not to use the oven)

To Freeze: Follow directions above but do not bake a second time. Instead, wrap in saran wrap and place in a gallon freezer bag. To serve: Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or microwave for 2-3 minutes or until heated through.

30 Minute Homemade Soft Pretzels

My husband and Auntie Annie have always had a special bond. One I’d long ago accepted that I couldn’t come between. There’s something sacred in her delicious doughy confections that he finds… irresistible. This cheap and easy homemade pretzel recipe did something I had long-thought impossible. It put the kibosh on their long-time love affair. One taste that’s all it took, and it was love at first bite. Move on over, Annie. There’s a new pretzel in town.

If you thought, like I did for so long, that delicious, homemade pretzels were only for the over-achievers, think again. This recipe couldn’t be any easier or more simple. These cater to all ages, genders, occupations, and availability. For those of you with pretzel lovers of your own, I challenge them to try these. I assure you that even the most loyal brand supporter won’t want to buy or pay for their pretzels anymore.

30 Minute Homemade Soft Pretzels

4 Sons 'R' Us: 30 Minute Soft Pretzels

recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

  • 1 and 1/2 cups luke warm water
  • 1 packet active yeast (2 and 1/4 tsp)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 4-4.25 cups all purpose flour, and more for flouring the counter surface and hands (for whole wheat, use 2.5 cups wheat flour & 1.75 cups white)
  • 1 large egg
  • salt for sprinkling, optional
  • cinnamon & sugar for sprinkling, optional

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
  2. Dissolve yeast in water. Stir with a spoon to combine. Add salt and sugar, stirring to combine.
  3. Slowly add flour, one cup at a time. Stir with a wooden spoon until dough is thick. Continue to add flour, one cup at a time, until dough is no longer sticky.
  4. Poke dough with a finger. If it ‘bounces back’ it is ready to knead.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes and shape into a ball.
  6. With a sharp knife, cut the dough ball into 1/3 cup sections. This measurement doesn’t have to be exact.
  7. Roll the dough into a rope about 20 inches long.
  8. Once you have your long rope, take the ends and bring them together until your form a circle. Twist the ends then bring the down towards yourself and press them down into a pretzel shape.
  9. In a small bowl, beat the egg. Dip the shaped pretzel into the egg wash, evenly coating both sides.
  10. Place on baking sheet and sprinkle with salt or sugar depending on your personal preference.
  11. Bake for 10 minutes at 425. Turn the broiler on and bake for 5 more minutes to brown the tops. Watch carefully to prevent burning.
  12. Allow pretzels to cool, and serve.

DIY Tiki Torch

During the summer months, I love being able to sit out on my porch in the evenings and enjoy a good book, watch the kids play, and just take in the beautiful weather. I’ve always loved the look and feel of lit tiki torches on summer evenings. Something about it just totally sets the scene for me. There prices, however, horrified me.

I was so excited last summer, when I came across little globular tabletop torches in the store. For a great price!! I could totally envision the queenly atmosphere they would create. The part of my brain that logically rationed as Queen of my Castle I deserved to stoke my fairy-tale inspired fire, demanded their immediate purchase. I automatically saw my little piece of far, far away where I could decompress, and just lose myself for a few minutes each evening.

Naturally, I came home with a matching pair, assuming we’d live out the rest of our days creating beautiful, enchanted Summer memories together.  Unfortunately, my happily ever after just wasn’t meant to be.  Both pots (let’s face it, at this point their ambiance setting fairy God mother had abandoned them and, in my eyes, their clock had already struck twelve) leaked horribly. Despite my valiant husband’s best efforts, they just weren’t salvageable. For me, the whole affair was quite tragic. So much for my illusions of grandeur.

Ever my knight in shining armor, my husband came to my rescue! If I couldn’t buy the perfect table top torch, then he would make me one! This was his brain child.

This easy to make tiki torch was a roaring success. Using citronella infused torch fuel I’m able to keep the mosquitoes at bay, all while adding a little ‘enchantment’ to my evenings. My still full wallet was feeling pretty enchanted too!

DIY Tiki Torch

4 Sons 'R' Us: DIY Tiki Torch

  • old, sturdy glass bottle
  • 2 washers that fit the lip of your bottle
  • 1 spacer
  • rubber grommet (make sure it will fit tightly down into your bottle creating an airtight seal that prevents the wick from moving around)
  • tiki torch fuel (I used one with citronella to keep the mosquitoes away)
  • tiki torch wicks

Directions

  1. Add fuel to your bottle. Be careful not to over fill.
  2. Place a wick into the bottle. Leave about 2 inches exposed above the lip of the bottle.
  3. Thread the end of the wick through the grommet, pushing the grommet towards the bottle opening. Force grommet down into the neck of the bottle, leaving it flush on top with the lip. Make sure to hold onto the end of the wick so it doesn’t also get pushed down into the bottle.
  4. Take one washer and thread it onto the wick, pushing it down until it rests on the top of the bottle. Make sure there’s not gap between the bottle and washer # 1.
  5. Thread a spacer onto the wick and push it down until it’s resting flush against washer # 1.
  6. Thread washer # 2 onto the wick, pushing down until it is resting firmly against the spacer. The washers will keep the flame away from the glass preventing it from getting hot, at all.
  7. Push the exposed wick down into the bottle, leaving only about 3/4 of an inch of wick exposed and ready to light.
  8. Allow the wick time to completely saturate with tiki torch fuel before lighting.

Lazy Day Casserole

This week has just been plain crazy. The hubs got sick, was in and out of the ER for two days, and is now scheduled for a procedure tomorrow that will leave him incapacitated the rest of the week. In between all the traveling, arranging emergency babysitters, making appointments, filling prescriptions (you get the idea) I’ve still had work to do, and a household to run and feed.

While it does take some time to cook, this wonderful, one-dish recipe is perfect for nights like I’ve had this week. This hearty meal filled the sons up and, without a lot of prep or real work involved on my part, I was able to get laundry done, and everything in order that I had neglected earlier in the day while it cooked.

I don’t think before this week, I had ever really taken time to appreciate the beauty of throwing all of these ingredients into a pan, popping it in the oven, and basically having time to do whatever else I needed to get done, be it chores, read a book, return phone calls. Whatever. And have a healthy, piping hot dinner ready in a little over an hour later. It’s impossible to be in two places at once, and after the start to this week, I just wasn’t capable of any ‘exceeds expectations’ multi-tasking.

While I wasn’t able to have a ‘lazy day’ this week, this recipe was the perfect solution for my dinner-time dilemma. And on those days where I am just being lazy (Shhh! Don’t tell the hubs. He thinks I slave away perfecting gourmet meals all day, everyday) this meal gets my ‘meat & potato’ loving mens’ mouths watering!

So whether you’re trying to throw something together that doesn’t require constant vigilance and hours of actual preparation, or if you’re just trying to enjoy an evening without any extra ‘work’ for Mom, this recipe will make your day.

Lazy Day Casserole

4 Sons 'R' Us: Lazy Day Casserole

Recipe adapted from Kayotic Kitchen

  • 5 -6 Italian Sausages
  • 1 lb potatoes, washed, peeled, and cubed
  • 1/2 lb carrots, peeled and roughly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced (optional)
  •  1 large onion, cut into wedges
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 4 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Directions

  1. Put all the prepared vegetables into a large roasting pan, or a 9×13 baking dish.
  2. In a bowl combine the garlic, oil, herbs, broth, and vinegar.
  3. Pour the mixture evenly over the vegetables and season with salt and black pepper.
  4. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake at 450 degrees for 45 minutes.
  5. Lightly brown the sausages and cut them in half.
  6. After 45 minutes add the sausages to the dish and spoon some of the juices back over the vegetables and the sausage.
  7. Bake, uncovered, for an additional 25 minutes, flipping the sausages after 15 minutes and placing back in the oven for the final 10 minutes. 

4 Sons 'R' Us: Lazy Day Casserole

 

Oh, and please excuse my dirty burners! I’ve been putting their much needed scouring on the back-burner, pun intended. Now that you’re aware of their sad state, I will make sure I move them up on the to-do list!

White Pizza Grilled Cheese

I know I’ve mentioned my families’ love, er obsession, with cheese before. (By the way, is there a support group for that? ‘CA’. Cheese-aholics Anonymous, or something along those lines?)

I’ve also touched on our love of grilled cheese, a holdover from childhood on my part. Let me introduce you to this gem. White Pizza Grilled Cheese!

Cheese lovers, UNITE (behind this recipe)! This is the recipe for you. Don’t hesitate, don’t think, and don’t over-analyze this delicacy.

Find time. Make this. Your family, and especially your cheese-prone taste buds, will thank you profusely.

White Pizza Grilled Cheese

4 Sons 'R' Us: White Pizza Grilled Cheese

  • 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh basil (or 1 tsp dried)
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh oregano (or 1/2 tsp dried)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • fresh, ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 8 oz mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • 8 slices white (or wheat) bread
  • butter, softened

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, olive oil, garlic, basil, oregano, salt, and black pepper. Refrigerate for at least an hour (or up to 24 hours) to allow the flavors to develop.
  2. Lay down the bread slices and, using a butter knife, spread the ricotta mixture evenly on each piece. The ricotta mixture should coat the insides of both pieces of bread.
  3. Lay the mozzarella slices evenly on every other piece of bread (one side of each sandwich). Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and close the sandwiches by place both cheesy insides together.
  4. Butter both sides of the ‘outside’ of the sandwich generously.
  5. In a large frying pan over medium-low heat, cook the sandwiches, flipping often, until they’re golden-brown on the outside and the cheese is melted inside, about 10 minutes.
  6. Serve.

DIY Pinwheel Headbands

While watching my friend’s daughters one day, I decided we needed something crafty. It was my attempt to keep them from going stir crazy, in between our daily 30 minute reading time and a trip to the pool, while we waited for the littlest son to wake up from his afternoon nap. I had recently seen this idea, and knew I had most of the supplies on hand, and that it would take up just the amount of time I needed to fill. The actual headbands I found at the craft store in the jewelry making section. These simple headbands were an immediate hit with the girls. Even my boys wanted to get involved in making them and were surprised, and even impressed, at how something so simple could be turned into something so ‘professional’ looking. Next time you’re feeling ‘crafty’, create your own easy and trendy pinwheel headband. They’re so simple, you can even make a spare to share, or several, quickly.

DIY Pinwheel Headbands

4 Sons 'R' Us: DIY Pinwheel Headbands

  • 2 different colors of felt, preferably coordinating and 1 sheet of each
  • 3 buttons
  • headband
  • scissors
  • ruler
  • hot glue gun

Directions

  1. Cut out 2.5 x 2.5-inch squares of felt, 2 squares for each pinwheel.
  2. Starting at each corner, cut a slit toward the center of the square, measuring approximately 1.5-inches long. This should leave at least a half inch of the center of the square uncut.
  3. Now there are 4 “triangles” within each square.
  4. Place two of the coordinating squares together, one a top the other. Secure with a dot of glue in between each.
  5. Begin by folding over one corner of a triangle toward the center of the square. Place a small dot of hot glue in the center of the square to hold down the edge of the triangle. Continue around, gluing down every-other triangle corner to form a pinwheel shape. Continue for the second layer.

  6. Next, glue a button over the center of the pinwheel where all the triangle corners come together. Finally, put a little dab of glue on the headband and place the pinwheels!

Son # 2 ‘pouting’ that he didn’t get a headband too! I couldn’t help but laugh, I love my little comedians.

4 Sons 'R' Us

Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad

Sometimes, I think my kids must find me a real drag. I mean, they love carbohydrates sooooo much. Why should they be forced to suffer through a salad? If they were meant to eat leaves, they would have been born cows… right? No.

I’m kidding. Just a little. Maybe. Really they don’t complain. Much.

However, this mean, green Mama came equipped with a wonderful little sensor. I can feel the resistance building. When I feel an attack of the ‘anti-leaf’ campaign approaching, I immediately resort to subterfuge. I find a way to get those greens in. I get behind their defenses and hit them where it hurts. Right in the taste buds. This recipe is a beautiful pairing of pasta and salad that they can’t resist. The secret ingredient? Bacon! They see the greens, they know they’re good for them. They know they should at least try to resist, but their surrender is inevitable. This dish is just too tasty. Support your own troops with this delicious pasta salad. Pack a punch that they won’t soon forget. Who said your greens had to taste ‘green’ anyway?!

Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad

4 Sons 'R' Us: Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad

  •  1 cup dry pasta; cooked according to package directions
  • 8 pieces bacon; cooked crisp and crumbled
  • 1 tbsp bacon grease*
  • 1 cup cooked chicken, diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan
  • 1/2 head of lettuce (or whole if small), chopped**
  • 1 cup croutons (optional)
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup casesar dressing (or more to taste)

Directions

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
  2. Cook bacon, reserve 1-2 tbsp of the drippings/grease.
  3. Transfer cooled pasta to a bowl and toss with the bacon drippings* until evenly combined.
  4. Add in all other ingredients and stir thoroughly until evenly combined.
  5. Add in more dressing if necessary, to taste, and again toss everything to evenly coat.
  6. Serve immediately.**

*Don’t skip the bacon drippnigs! I know it might be tempting, but the flavor just isn’t nearly as robust without it. Also, it helps prevent the pasta from sticking together if you want to let it chill or transport.

**If not serving immediately, DO NOT add in the lettuce until you are ready to serve. If you add in the lettuce and don’t serve immediately the lettuce will be wilted and soggy.

Caprese Grilled Cheese

Cheese. Cheeeeeeeese. Glorious cheese. Let’s take a moment to reflect on that. A moment of silence for cheese.

Our family loves cheese. In all it’s types, colors, flavors. In all it’s cheesy glory. We might even have a mild case of cheese addiction. Ok, we do, and ‘mild’ is probably an understatement. But, can there really be such a thing as too much cheese? Definitely not.

That being said, we all love a good, crisp, slightly crunchy grilled cheese with an ooey, gooey melty center. You know that part where you cut it in two, or in quarters, and pull out strings of cheese that could stretch forever when you try to take that first bite? Yeah, that’s my favorite part. My kids’, too.

As I’ve grown, you know into a ‘responsible adult’, there are some things from my childhood I’ve never been able to let go of. Despite all the changes of adulthood & parenthood, my love for a grilled cheese has not abated or been diminished. Luckily for me, my kids have inherited that same affinity. However, in an effort to appear grown up when I devour one, I’ve tried very hard to create and make ‘grown up’ grilled cheese sandwiches. I couldn’t leave them behind, but I did have to make sure they, at least some of the time, appeared to evolve with me.

Caprese Grilled Cheese is one of my favorite ‘grown-up’ versions to date. Everything I love about the original, but heartier. The butter, parmesan crust creates the perfect ‘crunch’ when bitten into. This sandwich offers everything a grilled cheese purist would expect, but has the power to convert all new fans with it’s fancy, shmancy new style. What’s the fun in being grown-up if you can’t be childish sometimes too? Here’s the perfect cheesy compromise. Eat like an adult, enjoy it like a kid.

The recipe below is for 2 sandwiches, but it easily doubles, or even triples. So don’t let that hold you back!

Caprese Grilled Cheese

4 Sons 'R' Us: Caprese Grilled Cheese

  • 4 thick slices of french bread
  • 2-3 tomatoes, sliced
  • 6 oz. mozzarella, sliced or shredded
  • 8-10 fresh, large basil leaves
  • 2-3 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • balsamic vinegar, optional

Directions

  1. Heat a large skillet to medium heat.
  2. Spread butter on one side of all four slices of bread. Sprinkle the Parmesan evenly over the butter.
  3. Put all four pieces of bread, buttered side down into the skillet.
  4. Lay, or spread, mozzarella on all pieces of bread.
  5. Cover with a lid to keep the heat in and melt the cheese.
  6. Once the cheese is melted, lay the basil and sliced tomatoes on top of the cheese.
  7. If using vinegar, drizzle a tiny bit ( I use 1/2 tbsp) over top of the tomatoes now.
  8. Assemble the sandwiches by putting the tops on.
  9. Enjoy!

4 Sons 'R' Us: Caprese Grilled Cheese Sandwich