Crock pot lasagna

While hanging out on Pinterest the other day, I got a bit of inspiration. Everyone seems to be using their crock pots to make these amazing things – even lasagna.

Yeah, lasagna.

So I had to try it. I love lasagna and make it often. I like to mix up the ingredients to keep it fun, like using cubed and roasted chicken with a cream sauce or ground turkey with thin strips of butternut squash. I figured for my crock pot lasagna experiment I’d keep things pretty basic – you know, the good stuff. Italian sausage, a big jar of sauce, and lots and lots of cheese.

This is really easy, and you can’t mess it up.


All you need is a box of no-need-to-boil lasagna noodles, a large jar of your favorite pasta sauce, about 1/2 lbs of italian sausage browned, and 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese. Go ahead and gather whatever else you like in your lasagna. I always toss in some fresh spinach – and I happened to have some of my fresh homemade ricotta in the fridge.

Now get your crock pot cranking on high heat and coat the bottom with a good layer of sauce. I added about 1/4 cup of water to the crock pot, too. This way the bottom of your lasagna won’t get burnt. Cover that sauce with a few of your lasagna noodles. You can break them up to fit in the crock pot.

Sprinkle on a bit of the sausage, and any other ingredients you like, such as chopped mushrooms, olives, spinach, along with a sprinkling of shredded mozzarella. Pour on a bit more sauce and then repeat. Yup, that’s right. Repeat and then repeat, and repeat again. Leave about 1/2 cup of that shredded mozzarella for later.

It’s that simple.

I kept layering until my sauce and sausage were gone and then called it quits. I gave the top a final coating of sauce, along with 1/2 cup of water, and then put the lid on the crock pot and left it to do its thing for about 4 hours.

About a half hour before eating, I dotted the top of the lasagna with 1/2 cup of my fresh ricotta and that leftover 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella. I put the lid on tight and within minutes, my crock pot lasagna was ready to serve.

And it was good.

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Easy grilled pizza

grilled pizza

Summer entertaining shouldn’t be about spending hours in the kitchen tossing together elaborate meals when guests come over to play. Nope. Dinner should be effortless, preferably served on paper plates, and cooked on the grill creating hardly any cleanup. When kids are involved, finding a dish that keeps both adults and tots happy can be challenging, but not with this seriously easy dish.

Grilled pizza.

Sure, you can cornmeal your crust and slide your tasty pie directly on the grill, but I erased the worry that yours won’t with my cheap pizza-grilling secret – pizza pie tins from the grocery store, making this my no-fail way to make summer entertaining fun and easy. And you know how much I love pizza (herehere, and here…).

Make things even easier by using a store purchased pizza crust and you are good to go. This is so fun for the kiddies as well as the adults. Each child can create their own pie, and the adults can create gourmet pizzas to kick things up a notch.

So crank the grill and get cooking!


Heat your grill to medium high heat. You want things to be hot, but not too hot. I’ve got a gas grill, but you can also make your pizza over coals.

Lightly grease one of the aluminum pie pans. I picked up a set of three for about $2 at the grocery store and can usually gets two uses from each before it starts falling apart.

Press the pizza dough into a round on the greased pan into an even crust. You can make your own pizza dough or use store bought, either works just fine. You want the dough nice and thin, otherwise it won’t grill evenly.

Top your pie with whatever you like and then pop directly on the grill – aluminum pan and all!

Cover and let sizzle for 10 to 15-minutes, or until you see the edges just starting to brown and the top to bubble.

Serve with a big salad and you’ve got dinner!

Dying to toss that dough directly onto the grill? Try this suggestion from my friend.

Happy grilling!

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Drakes Bay Oysters

For the last couple of days we’ve had guests. Friends of ours, from while we lived outside of Philadelphia, made a trek to the great state of California to visit with people from south to north. We’ve had a wonderful few days packed with sharing our favorite things – and Drakes Bay Oysters are at the top of the list. Tucked in West Marin, Drakes Bay Oysters is just off winding Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Point Reyes National Seashore and offers fresh, sustainably farmed oysters to take home or fresh shuck and enjoy at one of their many picnic tables. There’s been a bit of drama over the last year with concerns the spot could be  shut down due to its location on national park land. Anyone who’s ever had one of these delectable goodies fully understands how this cannot be allowed to happen…

No, the tot didn’t toss one back – but we did catch her sucking down some yummy oyster juice…

Garlic rosemary buns

Garlic rosemary buns

We’re getting ready to go camping and I’m totally terrified. I love camping but am not so sure the tot will. Along with packing tons and tons of crafty goodies, I’m putting together food for us to eat – and share – while at the campsite. They’ll be other families around, which will hopefully make our first “family camping” outing successful.

So, what to make to feed a crowd? Ground turkey sloppy joes, of course! But, instead of bringing boring old store-bought buns, I decided to use some of the rosemary growing like crazy in our garden for something tasty.

Garlic rosemary buns.

All you need is a bit of patience to pull these off – and your friends and family will love them with hamburgers, grilled eggplant rounds, veggie burgers, or whatever! Memorial Day weekend is the official start of summer, which means picnics, parties, and cookouts. These garlic rosemary buns are a great way to make anything just a bit better.


2 1/2 teaspoon yeast (or one small packet)

1 teaspoon sugar

1 1/2 cup warm whole milk (around 110 F)

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg

3 1/2 to 4 cups flour

1 teaspoon olive oil (for drizzling)


Sprinkle the yeast and sugar in a bowl and then gently cover with the warm milk. Give things a stir and then let the yeast, sugar, and milk do its job. In no time, things will get a bit bubbly.

Add the chopped garlic and olive oil to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. This creates a really lovely garlic oil for creating the buns. The minute you see the edges of the garlic starting to brown, turn off the heat and let things cool. That garlic will continue to brown, so, really, take it off the heat the minute you see browning. Burnt garlic is nasty.

Sprinkle the salt and chopped rosemary over the foamy milk and also mix in the egg. Drizzle in your garlic oil and then start stirring in the flour. Once the dough comes together, knead for a few minutes on a flour-dusted work area. Pop your garlic rosemary bun dough in a bowl, drizzle with more olive oil, and cover with a clean towel. Let that dough rise for at least two hours.

Divide the dough into 12 small balls and then roll and pinch to create flat, round circles. Place on a greased sheet pan, drizzle each with a bit more olive oil, cover with that dish towel and let rest for at least another hour.

Yes, yes. This isn’t a quick process, but that’s how it goes.

Preheat your oven to 400 F and bake your buns for 18 to 20-minutes.


Now, while they’re baking, you can toss together a super simple Sloppy Joe mix!


1 onion chopped

1 red pepper chopped

1 carrot chopped

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 teaspoon oil

1 teaspoon water

2 pounds ground turkey

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon flour

1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce

1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes

1/2 cup water


Toss the chopped onion, pepper, and carrot into a large saucepan and then add the oil, 1 teaspoon water, salt, sugar, paprika, and Italian seasoning. Bring the veggies to a simmer and then continue stirring and cooking until they start browning.

Now add the ground turkey and cook until nice and browned.

Sprinkle the flour over the nicely browned turkey and veggies and give a stir. Now add the vinegars, barbecue sauce, canned tomatoes and water and let your yummy sloppy joe mix simmer for a minute or two.

You can leave your mix big and chunky, or add half to a blender and give it a quick whir. This creates that really smooth and happy sloppy joe filling….

Homemade Sloppy Joes

I bagged up my mix – and buns – and popped them into the freezer so everything would be frozen solid for our camping adventure!


Yogurt quick bread

Yogurt snack bread

The other day someone asked me if I was more of a baker or a cook. My first reaction was that I’m a cook – but I’m also a baker (kind of). I’m not a patient person, so waiting for something to bake drives me batty. I can’t open the oven and stir or baste or season. With baking, you’ve got to wait, wait, wait a bit more, and then wait. You can’t frost cake until it’s cool. Let the cookies rest before removing from the pan…

But, I do love making quick breads.

And I love yogurt.

Today the tot and I whipped up a simple yogurt quick bread. It’s nice and moist, lovely drizzled with glaze, and perfect for taking to any picnic or gathering. Use a good, thick plain yogurt for a delicious, tangy bread.


1 egg

1 cup plain yogurt

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup melted butter

1/4 cup sugar

1 packed tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/4 cup flour

1 tablespoon pain yogurt

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla


Preheat your oven to 375 F and get out a mixing bowl. Whip together the yogurt, egg, oil, salt, sugars, and melted butter. Sprinkle in the baking soda and baking powder and then slowly add the flour. Once the batter comes together, pour into your greased loaf pan and pop in the hot oven for 45-minutes.


It’s that easy.

Now the hard part. While the bread is baking your house is going to smell really good. Really, really, really good – and you have to relax and wait. You can whisk together the glaze by smoothing together the yogurt, powdered sugar and vanilla so it’s ready when the yogurt quick bread is. After 45-minutes, take out the bread and let cool for at least 20-minutes before drizzling with the glaze.


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Echelon Vineyards: All kinds of wonderful

This week was full of ups and downs. The tot and I had a few disagreements (but what’s new, right?), a couple of things changed with my work stuff, and the cats continued being cats and waking me up the minute they saw the sun. But, there was one wonderfully, shining moment early in the week – the moment an actually somewhat-hunky guy showed up on my doorstep bearing wine – and he wasn’t my husband.

Thanks to Echelon Vineyards and the Clever Girls Collective, I had the opportunity to sample a few bottles of Echelon wine. Let me tell you up front, I wasn’t paid to write this review – just offered a few bottles to taste test and then share my honest opinion. I mean, really, twist my arm and all that stuff.

(I couldn’t wait to start sampling!)

Honestly? I pretty much like all wine. But, I do have a bit of a wine-snob husband. He worked his way through college while waiting tables at the San Ysidro Ranch and part of his job was checking out wine – and we’re talking the good stuff. He’s a bit of a snoot and is brutally honest while tasting, so I enlisted him to assist. I decided what better way to really get a full understanding of the flavors than by cooking up a special dinner for each bottle.

Let me tell you.

All kinds of wonderful.

We started out with the 2010 Echelon Vineyards Chardonnay that I paired with grilled garlic and oregano marinated boneless skinless chicken thighs over rice and fresh spinach topped with homemade tzatziki sauce. We had a sip of the Chardonnay before eating and both commented on how light and smooth it was. Neither of us had read the label, but the husband noted instantly the hints of honey, pear, and apple. It went wonderfully with our dinner, and, I’ll be honest, there wasn’t any wine left once we were finished. Echelon’s Chardonnay is a complex but light wine that I would bring to any barbecue.


The next night we cracked open a bottle of the 2010 Echelon Vineyards Red Blend. We both had a bit of hesitation – the idea of a red blend had me concerned (headache in the morning), but we figured we’d have a glass and then (potentially) use the rest for cooking. While putting the finishing touches on our oven-baked vegetarian eggplant parmesan, we sampled a small glass and both couldn’t keep sipping. Once again, neither of us had read the label, but commented on the light, fruity flavor of the blend and called out the oaky-ness as well as the smoothness, which didn’t leave a dry feeling in the mouth. Once again, there wasn’t any wine left at the end of dinner….


A few nights later I made barbecue chicken breasts along with a hot lentil salad with roasted red pepper, radishes, and beets. We couldn’t wait to try the 2010 Echelon Vineyards Pinot Grigio because the other bottles had been so good. Let’s just say we’d both had a nice, big glass before we even sat down to dinner. It was so cold and fresh and the husband noted the light but super-crisp flavor with the slight fruit undertones.  I simply tasted all kinds of goodness. We both decided this was our favorite bottle of the three – by far. It also went wonderfully with our dinner. This is a perfect summer wine and lovely with anything from grilled meats to big salads


Echelon Vineyards has won its fair share of awards and I can see why. Their wines are easy to drink and not overly anything in any way. And, they are wonderfully priced ($10-$15 per bottle), making them taste even better.

Head on over to Echelon Vineyards for more information about their wines and where you can pick up a bottle. Do it – seriously, do it now. You’re entitled to a nice glass of wine!


*Once again, I wasn’t paid to write this post – just provided with some really amazingly good wine to sample. I also wasn’t asked to write a blog post about the wines, but I did because they were that good.

Skinny orange chicken

So says Sarah...

I love sweet, savory and spicy Asian food. Every once in a while we order from this awesome local place, but lately we’ve saved the cash for other things. Delivery can run upwards of $30 for an appetizer (got to have cream cheese wontons), two entrées, and don’t forget tip. Now that it’s spring, I’m also trying to lighten-up our dishes. Last night I needed a sticky rice fix something fierce and happened to have all ingredients needed for one of our all time favorites.

Orange chicken.

This is a nice and light version with lots of bright orange flavor that happily serves two – with leftovers for lunch the next day. If you love lots of sauce, you might want to double the ingredients. I like a nice, thick coating of sauce on my chicken, not a big pool of it leftover on our plates. Adding a touch of grated orange peel really kicks the orange flavor to a whole new level. But, if you’re not into that, just leave the grated orange peel out – it’s still tasty. So steam up some broccoli and fluff (or sticky-up) your rice – this orange chicken recipe is low in calories, easy on your wallet, and takes minutes to toss together.

What you need

(for the sauce)

3/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon ketchup

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Big dash of dried ginger

Pinch of grated orange zest (optional)

Dash of salt and fresh pepper

(for the chicken)

1 lb boneless chicken breast cut into chunks

2 tablespoons flour

Dash of salt and fresh pepper

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 scallion chopped

What you do

Oranges are in season right now so are super cheap and super sweet. Using fresh squeezed really gives this recipe that spring-fresh flavor. Squeeze the orange juice making sure to strain for seeds (no one wants to chomp down on a crunchy bit while enjoying tasty orange chicken!). Chop and add the garlic to the orange juice along with the rice wine vinegar, ketchup, sugar, soy sauce, dried ginger, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and orange zest (if you want). Give things a whisk and let sit while preparing the chicken.

Chunk up the chicken and then add to a zip-top plastic bag. Sprinkle the flour, salt, and pepper over the chicken, seal the top, and shake-a-shake.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and add the canola oil. Here’s the deal – you really need a non-stick pan or a wok to make this happen. I’ve tried using a regular skillet (and a really good one) and the chicken sears to the bottom, making a big mess.

Toss the chicken until it’s browned and happy all over, which takes about 5 to 7-minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and let rest on a few folded paper towels.

Now add that orange sauce to the hot pan and let bubble. After the sauce has simmered for about 2-minutes, add the chicken, stir to coat and continue to reduce for another minute.

Serve over a nice big pile of hot rice, a side of whatever veggies you love, and a sprinkling of chopped scallion.


*Here’s my guestimate calorie breakdown. I’m no expert, and not really great with math. This is just an idea of calorie count per serving based on my three-serving recipe:

  • 1 lb cooked chicken breast – 499 calories
  • 3/4 cup orange juice – 84 calories
  • Garlic – 4 calories
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar – 1 calorie
  • 1 tbsp ketchup – 15 calories
  • 1/2 t sugar – 8 calories
  • 2 t soy sauce – 5 calories
  • 2 tablespoons flour – 56
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil – 240

Comes in right around 300 calories per serving – add steamed white rice and you’ve got a 500 calorie dinner.

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Toddler lunch date: Grilled cheese and apple sandwiches

So says Sarah...

For the last couple of days the tot and I have enjoyed some time off from the preschool. It’s spring break, which means doing lots of messy projects at home, cuddling with an afternoon movie, and making tasty stuff.


I’m kind of in love with spring break right now.

Today I decided we would have a lunch date. Instead of feeding the tot her regular side of apple sauce with a plain cheese sandwich – and making something for myself later while she napped, I mixed it up a bit by making a sandwich both of us would love.

Grilled cheese and apple sandwiches.

Yeah, this is a kid-friendly sandwich, but it’s also a wonderfully tasty and fulfilling adult light-lunch option. Enjoy with a small cup of soup or side salad and you’ve got an awesome lunch. Just go a bit lighter on the mustard for the kiddies.

What you need to make one sandwich…

2 slices of whole-wheat bread

Room temperature butter

Dijon mustard

2 thick slices of Jarlsburg (Swiss) cheese

1/4 a Gala apple thinly sliced (you can leave the skin on)

What you do…

Start by giving one side of a piece of whole-wheat bread a light coating of butter. Place that slice, butter side down, in a pan over medium-to-low heat.

Cover that slice of bread with one of the slices of Jarlsburg. Good Jarlsburg cheese is nutty and ooey-gooey, which blends wonderfully with the sweet Gala apples, and tang of the mustard.

Thinly slice one-forth of the apple, avoiding the core, and layer six to eight slices on top of the cheese.

Top the apples with the second slice of cheese.

Give the second piece of whole-wheat bread a nice coating of good Dijon mustard, place on top of the sandwich, and lightly coat the outside of the slice of bread with butter.

By now the sandwich is probably ready for a flip – do so gently with a spatula to ensure the whole pile of goodness doesn’t fall apart.

Let the grilled cheese and apple sandwich toast until the cheese is gooey – about 3 to 4-minutes on each side.

You know that melty-cheesy-oh-so-good thing?


Grilled cheese and apple sandwich




Dinner every night – Chicken

We had chicken for dinner the entire week. It just worked out that way – we had chicken in the freezer, so chicken we ate. I’m also seriously feeling a bit of a pinch after getting our final tax bill. Let’s just say we’ll probably be eating cheep cuts of meats and lots and lots of beans and veggies for quite some time. And, with all the drama over pink slime this week, chicken every night was more than fine by me. While at our local market the other day picking up a few essentials (milk, eggs, chocolate…), I asked my meat guy about the dreaded pink slime. He waved his hand behind him showcasing several butchers grinding up choice bits of beef, packaging them up nice and neat, and then proudly handing the freshly ground goodness over to smiling customers.

I grabbed some and added it to my cart looking forward to breaking the string of chicken dinners…

But, it was a wonderful challenge finding a few fun new ways to make tasty chicken dinners. We had a winner with pineapple chicken, tried making foil-wrapped chicken (which was good but needed some tweaking), and simply roasted both dark and white meat  with fresh herbs and garlic. Chicken really is yummy – even with only a few ingredients.

Top row from left to right: Pounded chicken breasts dredged in flour and seared in canola oil over garlic mashed potatoes and fresh spinach, French green lentils stewed with carrots and onions topped with hot roasted chicken thighs, Pineapple simmered chicken over couscous and green beans. Second row from left to right: Ham and spinach stuffed chicken breasts with beets and garlic rosemary white beans, Foil-wrapped chicken thighs with steamed asparagus and sticky rice, Shredded steamed chicken tacos with lettuce and chopped scallion alongside carrot, celery spicy beans.



Dinner every night – With a little help

I like to make something homemade every night for dinner, but I do like to get some help from time to time. This week we even braved going out to dinner, which is something we never ever do.

Really. Ever.

But, things went really well, and I also had fun putting together something with the help of Chef Boyardee. This week was all about taking it easy. Our tot came down with a cold (which the husband now has), we were all super busy, and the weather was just wonderful. We enjoyed a weekend of soaking up some some sun – and hopefully getting rid of all that sick.

What’s your favorite go-to pre-made dinner item? Share your favorite recipe or awesome tip!

Top row from left to right: Trader Joe’s fish nugget tacos with big veggie black bean salsa, garlic, oregano, and olive oil marinated and roasted chicken legs with green onion rice and a cucumber yogurt sauce. Bottom row from left to right: Mushroom cap meatballs with spinach garlic pasta and a sprinkling of fresh Parmesan, cheesy chicken Florentine with Chef Boyardee, breadcrumb coated and fried yogurt honey mustard marinated chicken breasts with steamed green beans and rosemary garlic rice-a-roni with fresh Parmesan.