I was searching for a new crockpot meal the other day on Pinterest. I love the idea of dinner cooking while I am doing something else, but most of the crockpot meals I find don’t look appetizing. The food is usually way over cooked and casserole-like, of which I am not a big fan. My crockpot meals are limited to soups, goulash, chili and I have even adapted my pasta sauce to cook in the crockpot. Then I came across Stephanie O’Dea’s website* and saw that she layered her crockpot. This recipe is adapted from one of hers.

Pesto Chicken and Baked Potatoes
4 boneless chicken breasts
1 jar of pesto sauce
Sliced mozzarella cheese
Garlic to taste

I used a 6 qt. crockpot and sprayed Pam on the bottom and sides. I placed four chicken breasts on the bottom and then covered them with jarred pesto sauce. (When my garden matures, I can make my own pesto!) Next, I placed slices of mozzarella cheese on top of the pesto. I sprinkled a little chopped (jarred) garlic on top of the cheese because we love garlic. I think it would have been better with whole garlic cloves, but I didn’t have any. To separate the potatoes from the chicken, I placed a Pam-sprayed piece of foil over the chicken. I washed potatoes and pierced them with a fork. I was worried about lack of liquid so I poured a ¼ cup of chicken broth down the sides to get to the bottom. I covered it with the lid and went to do something else.

I cooked the meal on high for 4 hours. I probably could have gone about 3 ½ hours for the chicken as it was falling apart. The potatoes needed a little while longer, so I finished them off in the microwave on 80 power for 2 minutes. Next time, I think I will throw in the potatoes for the first hour by themselves before adding the chicken. We had a salad on the side, but since I had some room on top of the potatoes, next time I will probably add a foil packet of cut veggies.

My husband, who is brutally honest about my new recipes, said he really liked it and I should make it again. My oldest daughter ate hers smothered in ketchup. My son complained so much about the “green meat” that after trying it, we let him eat leftover pizza. My middle child and best eater wasn’t home for dinner so we didn’t get her vote.

Now that I discovered layering and foiling in the crockpot, I plan to make a lot more meals that way! Stay tuned!

*Technical difficulties this morning – Here is Stephanie’s Website :


Last night I made Cocido Madrileño or Madrilenian Stew. It is a hearty Spanish stew that I saw online. There are so many versions of this stew so I just took a little from each one. My husband and I loved it, but as I expected, the kids wouldn’t touch it. I was a picky eater as a kid, too so I get it. More for us! My son had Chorizo and eggs, my middle daughter made herself a salad, fresh fruit and pierogies and my oldest daughter ate out.

There is a lot of time spent cutting the vegetables for this recipe. You can either do ahead and refrigerate or ask someone to help you. It’s a great time to catch up with the family or your husband over a glass of wine. (By the way, we had Montepulciano with the stew. I didn’t have Spanish wine!) Let me know if you make it and if you liked it.

1 package of beef back ribs (there were 3 in my package)
1 package (about a pound) of beef stew meat
32oz. chicken or beef broth
6 minced garlic cloves
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons oregano
28oz can of petite diced tomatoes
3 large carrots chopped in bite sized pieces
2 green peppers chopped
2 sweet onions chopped
2 Chayote squash (picture below) peeled and chopped
3 medium potatoes peeled and chopped
1 can garbanzo beans (chick peas)
2 Chorizo sausages

Garnish with avocado slides and ciltrano leaves

Brown ribs and stew meat in a pan with a little olive oil. It does not have to be cooked through.

Place in large pot with 32oz. broth. Add garlic, cumin, oregano and tomatoes and bring to a boil.

Cut up peppers and onions and sauté in a little olive oil until al dente. Pour into pot with meat.

Cut up carrots, squash and potatoes and place in pot with can of drained garbanzo beans.

In a separate pan, cook up the sausages (casing removed) for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain off fat and pour into pot.

Continue cooking until potatoes are ready – about 30 minutes.

Serve with hearty bread or corn tortilla on the side.


Chayote Squash - unpeeled. Tastes like a cross between a cumcumber and a zucchini

My husband travels almost every week. Sometimes it is just overnight. Sometimes it is for the whole week. Although he hates when I say it, it is like being a part-time single parent. When he is home, we split the responsibility of cooking dinner. We both work during the day and one of us, or sometimes both, need to shuttle kids to and from their activities. When it is just me, I am in charge of it all.

When I cook dinner and my husband is home, I have a larger menu to choose from because he is not as picky as the kids. I make stews and soups and spicier food that the kids do not like, although I usually make a variation of the meal to suit their tastes. I also like to experiment with dinner and try new recipes. My kids are not very open-minded about that.

Honestly, I am starting to run out of ideas for dinners. I am sharing my list of meals we rotate through when my husband is gone. This list includes easy-to-make meals that everyone in the family will eat.

Breakfast for dinner – this is one of my kids favorite meals to eat when my husband is gone. He thinks it is ridiculous, which is why we eat it when he is gone. Some breakfasts are just pancakes; others include bacon, eggs and oven potatoes. Depends on our mood and how long I have to cook.

Italian beef sandwiches – super easy meal. I get the meat and au jus from the deli and buy fresh buns. I cut up fresh veggies or fruit and we have frozen fries to go with it.

Pulled pork sandwiches – I make this myself in a crockpot while I am working and plan for it to be ready when we get home from activities. For an even faster meal, they have those ready-to-eat pulled pork dishes in the meat section. Sides are similar to those served with Italian Beef.

Ham Steak – this dinner was put together quickly as I browsed in the meat department. I bake it in the oven as I would a regular ham. It takes 15-20 minutes. I made pierogies on the side and picked up a premade veggie tray. I also found some yummy rolls to eat on my way through the store.

Carpet picnic – my husband and I came up with this years ago. It is a meal that is meant to be eaten at the coffee table in front of your favorite show. It includes cheese, sausages, frozen shrimp or clams and fresh bread and fresh fruit, usually berries. The bread is broken off by hand and the meat and sausage is sliced at the table.

Tacos– This is another meal that can be made yourself or purchased in the ready to eat section. Cut up your favorite taco veggies, add cheese and/or sour cream and a packaged rice dish on the side. Dinner is served! Variations to tacos (and great for leftover meat) are nachos, taco salad and tacos in a bag. Buy a single serving bag of Doritios and smash them up. Open bag and pour in your meat, veggies, cheese, etc. Mix up and eat with a fork.

Every Man for Himself – This is a mom’s favorite meal, although my kids hate it. I think it is because they have to make their own dinner. I keep plenty of things on hand to make their own meal. They have come up with pizza bread made on English muffins, quesadillas, noodles with butter, cereal, frozen chicken nuggets or chicken patties for sandwiches, leftovers, waffles with ice cream (my mother fed it to us, although usually for lunch in the summer), etc. The whole point is that mom is not cooking and dad is out of town. You are on your own. We always have fresh fruit and veggies in the house so I encourage them to include it in their meal.

Pasta – I make my own sauce and meatballs for the five of us and whatever is leftover is frozen for nights when my husband travels. It is very easy to take it out of the freezer and warm it up while the noodles are cooking. If you don’t make your own sauce, Ragu is just as fast.

Make your own pizza – I thought this was going to be a fun thing, but it turned into a lot of work. We bought pizza dough, sauce, cheese and veggies and made our own pizzas. Turns out that ordering dinner would have been less work. Maybe I will try Boboli next time and make Mexican pizza!

Hamburgers and Hot Dogs – normally my husband makes these on the grill. However, the last time I grilled, I almost burned down the house so I stay away from it now. I cook them on the stove which is admittedly not as good, but better than cold cut sandwiches for dinner! Sides vary on our mood, but include rice or potatoes and fruit and/or veggies.

This is it – outside of carry out meals. If you have any quick and easy and most of all, kid-friendly meals, please share them!

Over the weekend, we were invited to dinner at our friend’s house. Naturally, I asked what I could bring. My friend wanted me to make an appetizer and I decided I would try something new. We have eaten dozens of meals with this group of friends and we have all gotten into a rut; asking everyone to bring the same appetizers, side dishes and desserts.

I started out looking in my cookbooks and clippings that I save from magazines, but I couldn’t find anything appealing. I found a couple ideas online and then improvised from there. It is one of those recipes that you can add whatever suits your taste or whatever you have on hand. My appetizer is listed below. Everyone liked them and I will add them to my appetizer rotation.

2 sheets of refrigerated pie crusts
8 slices of bacon
2 small tomatoes, chopped with seeds removed
6 oz. shredded cheese (I used cheddar)
1 ½ jalapeno pepper – seeds removed.
Preheat oven according to directions on pie crust box. Mine was 450 degrees.

Line mini muffin tins with pie crust. I measured size of cups with a regular muffin cup liner, cut it to size and found a cup that had the same circumference. I used the cup to cut out the pie crusts. Mix all other ingredients in a bowl. Scoop into crust lined muffin cups. My crust was a little higher than the top of the muffin tray so you could fit more into it.

Bake according to pie crust directions – mine was for 10 minutes.

If you want to substitute the pie crust, you could use refrigerated biscuit dough cut into thirds and line the cups. Wonton wrappers work well, too, if you are looking for a thinner crust. Use the phyllo frozen cups if you don’t have a mini muffin tin. They stand up by themselves.


This morning I made myself a glass full of cornbread and milk.

The cornbread my family makes is made with white cornmeal and is rather dry. It tastes great when hot with a generous amount of butter and goes wonderfully with chile. The bread has no sugar in it so it is unlike most cornbread that you would find in restaurants. My mom and sister don’t like it and I have not convinced my husband of how good it is. He and my mom always have a polite piece when we make it. That’s fine – more leftover to have with milk.

As far back as I can remember, my dad crumbled the leftover cornbread into a glass and poured milk over it. It was never put in a bowl, even though it is eaten with a spoon like cereal. I often wondered who started this tradition, so I called my dad this morning to ask about it.

He told me that his mother used to make it and his grandmother did, too. Dad said that his grandmother made a large meal at noon (dinner) that usually included cornbread. Bread is filling and helped to stretch out the meal to feed her nine children. My dad called it depression era food. When supper came in the evening, more cornbread was served. If a hungry child came back after supper, she offered him cornbread with milk over it. It helped fill him up and made up for the lack of meat when they ran out. Dad told me that the funny thing was that even though his grandmother made cornbread regularly, his grandfather wouldn’t touch the stuff.

My mom always frowned at the idea of cornbread and milk. However, her family has an even stranger tradition. They crumble up cake, put it in a bowl and pour milk over that. They usually used the leftover birthday cake, although my Uncle Mike didn’t wait for it to be “leftover”. When he was offered a piece at a party, he got out a bowl and poured on the milk. My dad told me that my mom and my Uncle Tom used to take Hostess Cupcakes, smash them up and eat them with milk. The thought leaves me shaking my head. I guess it’s like dipping cookies in milk, which I don’t do either.

Below you will find the recipe we use for cornbread. If you have a cast iron skillet that is seasoned, that is your best choice. However, I usually make mine in cake pans. The family always used lard, but my dad uses Crisco. I use vegetable oil. Dad melts his Crisco in the cake pan on the stove until it is smoking. He says that heating up the pan keeps the bread from sticking. I just use Pam. I have to admit that his tastes better.

What crazy food traditions does your family have?

2 cups white corn meal
3 tbsp vegetable oil (or Crisco or lard*)
3 tbsp all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 3/4 cup of milk
1 egg

Mix all together and place in greased pan. Cook 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees.
*If you are brave enough to use the Crisco or lard, place in the pan you are going to cook the cornbread in. Heat up on stove until it melts and roll it around the pan to coat. Pour hot melted Crisco into mixture instead of oil. Keep baking soda nearby in case of fire! 🙂

My garden is doing surprisingly well this year. I guess that pep talk I gave it on Memorial Day weekend really worked. I simply said that if I had another bad season this year, I was sodding the garden over. (I can be pretty intimidating when I want to!)

When we came home from our trip, I had several large cucumbers, tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. I made a couple side dishes for dinner one night and this one turned out the best. I liked it so much that I ate it for lunch for the next two days. See what you think:

Chick Pea, Cucumber and Tomato Salad
2 cans chick peas (garbanzo beans), rinsed
1 large cucumber, peeled and cut into chunks
About a pint of cherry tomatoes, cut in two
2 green onions, chopped (also from my garden)
2 tsp ground cumin
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp lime juice
1 oz feta cheese

Toss everything together and fold in the cheese right before serving. Enjoy!

I also made a slightly different version later in the week (I have a lot of cucumbers and tomatoes!)

1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 oz feta cheese
Balsamic Vinaigrette

Let me know which one you liked better!

For the past several weeks, I have been keeping the same pace as when the kids were in school. In the mornings, I spend my time running back and forth to camps, I work in the afternoons, and in the evenings we have softball games. This pace is not dinner friendly.

For weeks we have been eating less desirable meals then we are used to. We order in pizza, make quick burgers and dogs on the grill, make sandwiches or have the “every man for himself” dinner. This menu includes frozen food, cereal, leftovers or whatever you want to make for yourself in the limited time before we head out the door.

I am really tired of the crappy meals. Last week, I finished work at 4:30 and my husband and daughter had to be out of the house at 5:00. What could I make for dinner in 15 minutes? I searched the fridge and pantry and pulled out some staples. That’s when I came up with Anything Stew.

I always have canned diced tomatoes and chicken broth on hand. To that I added garlic, salt and pepper, garbanzo beans (chick peas), a bag of spinach and smoked sausage. I cooked up the sausage, deglazed the pan with a little wine and poured everything into a large pot. While it was cooking, I quickly got ready for the game. It was ready in 15 minutes and was very tasty.

The reason I call it Anything Stew is because you can switch out the ingredients to suit your tastes or based on what you have at home. You can replace the smoked sausage with any meat you have on hand or skip the meat completely. Change the spinach to zucchini or corn or green beans. Switch the garbanzo beans to pasta. I plan to make it a more Mexican flair next time by using black beans, corn and chicken and flavoring it with cumin or cilantro or jalapenos.

If you make enough of the stew, you can have leftovers the next night! If you try your own Anything Stew, let me know what you used. I am always looking for new ideas!

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