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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Recipe: Chicken and Spinach Stuffed Shells

***Update 2016: This recipe is still one of our favorites. It's been awhile since I made them but my inlaws came up for dinner the other night and wanted pasta. I decided this was the perfect meal. Enjoy the posts from past years. It's a keeper. The original post was back in 2010. 

**NOTE** I made this originally last March and posted it then, but yesterday I made it again and then happened upon Tasty Tuesday and decided to Re-post it, since it is such a yummy meal and everyone raves about it! So...from the original post a year ago... Yesterday we had company for lunch. I get immense pleasure from cooking for not only my family, but others as well. I decided on a dish that we have had twice before and it was such a huge hit that even the pickiest people like it. My youngest wasn't sure about it because she's not a fan of spinach, and one of our guests (whom we'd invited last minute) even said they were pretty good....and he's pretty finicky. I've linked to this before (I got the recipe from Paula Deen's site) but thought I'd include the full recipe here.

Chicken and Spinach Stuffed Shells (Paula Deen)

  1. 1 (12-ounce) box uncooked jumbo pasta shells
  2. 2 cups chopped cooked chicken
  3. 2 cups fresh chopped spinach
  4. 1 onion, chopped
  5. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  6. 1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
  7. 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  8. 1 (5-ounce) package shredded Parmesan cheese
  9. 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  10. 1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
  11. 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  12. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  13. 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  14. 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  15. 1 (26-ounce) jar prepared spaghetti sauce (any variety)
  1. Cook shells according to package directions; drain and set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two 13x9-inch baking dishes.
  3. In a large bowl, combine chicken and next 11 ingredients. Stir in 1 cup shredded mozzarella. Spoon into shells.
  4. Spread half of spaghetti sauce into prepared baking dishes. Arrange shells over sauce; top with remaining sauce. Cover tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil.
  5. Bake, covered, for 40 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Bake for 5 to 10 more minutes.
I have found that it's easiest to fill the shells with my medium scoop. I also made the filling the night before and stuffed them in the morning.
Stuffing these shells is so easy with the scoop...one good size scoop perfectly fills one shell. Can I tell you that this smelled so good I could have just eaten it raw!!
Filled shells ready for their last layer of sauce!
Ready to pop in the oven. I also only used one pan and layered the shells. One recipe made about 34 shells.

I also served garlic bread. Sometimes when I'm in a jam I'll just buy already prepared garlic bread from the store and it's good. But there's really nothing better than doing it yourself. I know there are so many recipes out there, but I usually just keep it pretty basic. Salad tied it all together....and for dessert: Angel Food Cake with blueberries, strawberries and homemade whipped topping. Of course, I just realized I didn't take pictures of the dessert. I think my husband thinks I'm weird to take pictures of food....oh well.
Buy a plain loaf of italian bread (or french)...on second thought, buy two!!! You can never have too much.
topping ingredients: butter, parsley flakes and fresh garlic
I used two cloves per stick of butter and two loaves took me two sticks...oh, the smell of garlic permeated my kitchen!!!
Add all the ingredients to the softened butter
Spread on both sides of sliced bread and bake at 400 till browned on both sides. I flipped them over once. I could have broiled them, but I was using my pampered chef stone ware and it wasn't recommended.

We had a wonderful meal, great conversation and then played the wii. It was a fun day with friends. Tomorrow I'm going to share a great way for reheating leftover garlic bread!!
With Joy UNquenchable,

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Spring Break Trip 2016: Family trips and organization Tips

We discovered years ago that when we travel as a family we prefer to stay in rental homes rather than hotels. We love the privacy, the spaciousness and often, the price per night is about the same as a nice hotel. We also like that we can make our own meals, be as loud as we want, etc. We stay in our fair share of hotels when we travel for soccer tournaments or when rental houses aren't an option, but especially for longer trips, a house, in our minds, is the way to go. Oftentimes we opt for using VRBO or another site that is managed by owners directly rather than a management company. The nice thing about this option is that if you visit an area often enough and rent the same home, you develop a relationship with the owners and that can be a great thing, not to mention that these houses are usually much better equipped. For years when we visited one of our favorite places, Sunriver, Oregon, we would stay in the same home. The owners were wonderful and we thoroughly enjoyed their home...one year she told us where the Christmas decor was and invited us to feel free to decorate. It's been awhile since we've stayed there (due to not taking a long vacation) and two years since we've visited Sunriver....we are feeling it and can't wait to visit again. When my husband changed jobs two years ago, there went all flexibility and vacation time so we are back to square one. Sunriver, Oregon is a 4 hour drive from our home and to us, it just doesn't make sense to drive that far for just a couple of days. We like to make the most use of our time and so going somewhere a little closer makes more sense to us at this point in time. 

(our hike to Short Sands Beach...so many large trees with exposed roots)
 Because of his change of jobs, the last few years we've opted to go to the coast for long weekends and we've found some great houses. In our youngest daughter's mind, "what's the point of going to the beach if you're not going to stay ON the beach", I agree with her. We searched high and low for houses in our budget, ON the beach and we finally went through Vacasa for this last spring trip in Rockaway Beach and found a great house. Last fall we used Beachfront Rentals and found a darling house in Lincoln City. One thing I forgot to take into account was the fact that it was during spring breaks for colleges and Oregon high schools (which are a week off from our Washington HS spring breaks). So, many homes were taken and prices were going up. Thankfully we finally found a home, and by staying during two weeknights (which is cheaper), it balanced out the more expensive weekend prices. We are all about a budget and not going into debt for vacations or trips. 
(The Oregon Coast is beautiful...)
Tip #1   If possible, travel during off seasons, or on days when prices are lower. Don't be afraid to ask for a deal.  

The other thing we did on this trip was to do our research and find things we might want to do and places we might want to see. We did more exploring and hiking this trip and in the evenings chilled and watched movies. We also hit up the Tillamook Cheese Factory for ice cream and cheese samples and visited an old air museum. We only ate out a few times, opting instead to have meals at the house.

Tip #2 Plan ahead, especially for items that might cost money. This is obviously flexible, but knowing what to expect, helps. 

I planned ahead what we would have for meals. What days we would eat out, what days we would eat in. This time I didn't over-buy when I bought groceries. I went with the mentality that if I ran out of something, I could go to the store. We typically eat out one meal a day (sometimes). We packed lunches/snacks when we went out for the day in case we got hungry while we were out and about. Obviously it's flexible, but at least there's a plan. 

(Chilling in the town of Manzanita)

Tip #3 Unless you budget for it, don't eat out every meal, this adds up. Do your shopping ahead of time (most vacation locales are more expensive to buy groceries) and eat simple meals at your home. 

When our trips are budgeted and organized we usually find we actually have extra spending money because we thought it all through, and we know when we come home, we haven't wracked up the credit card bill. We have loved using Dave Ramsey's tips. His daughter Rachel also has great stuff, especially for young people. When we first got married we followed Larry Burkett's advice and while it hasn't always been easy, I believe we've been able to do the things we've done because of how we've managed our finances. Maybe that's for another post. 

I spent a lot of time on Trip Advisor and other sites, as well as asking friends, researching places to hike and eat. We visited the towns of Manzanita, Cannon Beach and Tillamook. I would say this was one of our best trips because it was a little more planned out as far as doing extra things. 

(Munson Creek Falls, just south of Tillamook...beautiful scenery, easy hike)

Our daughters are older now so everyone is pretty much in charge of their own packing. Plastic tubs often come in handy for food and other items because it makes packing easier (rather than a bunch of grocery sacks). We've learned over the years to not over pack. You probably aren't going to wear as many clothes as you think, and if you rent a home, there's always a washer and dryer. 
 Beautiful view from our home...the downside...the sun got pretty bright in there through those top windows.

 So much beauty here. We love the Oregon Coast.

 The sunsets were amazing. Which was what my daughter was so excited for.

 Pit stop on the way to check out this beautiful river. 
 The kitchen was small but oh, so cute!!!

I truly loved this trip. Relaxing, enjoying beautiful scenery and being with family. We were blessed with amazing weather, which for the Upper NW coast is definitely a blessing. That made for great adventures. I can't wait for the next one!

With Joy UNquenchable,

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Tube Pan Planter

I follow a lot of pages and some blogs that highlight the greatness of re-using, up-cycling and all that jazz. I love the ideas I see out there and it inspires me to think twice before I just throw something in the garbage. A few months ago I made a cake but made the mistake of running a knife around it and literally destroyed it. I was ready to toss it in the garbage when the thought came to me that I could find a way to re-use it.  But what exactly could I do with it? I decided on a planter. It would be cute on my back porch table. 
Off to the store I went and purchased some simple plant starts. I had recently purchased some Miracle-Gro Organic potting mix from Costco. Best deal! $9.99 for a 55qt. bag! That is a great deal. I ended up going back for two more bags. 

You know the drill on planting. I'm so happy with how it turned out. Don't be afraid to use what you have for something different than what it was created for. The picture below and at the top is how it looks now..it's begun filling out.

With Joy UNquenchable,

Monday, May 16, 2016

SRC Reveal: Homemade Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts

I know that I say it every month, but I really do enjoy being a part of the Secret Recipe Club. My two favorite things are browsing my assigned blog's posts and then trying to figure out on reveal day which recipe was mine that someone made, simply by looking at the pictures and captions. Maybe I'm a bit of a nerd. 

This month I was assigned the blog Pumpkins and Peonies. I love that title. I love Pumpkins and I love Peonies. Jess, the author, is all about her hubby, her family, their puppies, and so much more. I actually had her blog last May...how funny is that. As I was reading her About Me Page, I saw a quote and thought "I've seen that quote before", so I searched my blog and sure enough, last May I made her Deep Dish Chicago Pizza! This May, I made her Homemade Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Pop Tarts. 
One of my favorite foods growing up were Chocolate Pop Tarts. Then I grew up and realized how bad they are for you. Sometimes when the Organic version is on sale I'll buy them, but I've always thought it would be fun to try making them from scratch. So when I saw her recipe, it was a no brainer. I was a bit nervous because I wanted them to turn out and did not want to have an SRC assignment go bad. No worries, they turned out great. My pics aren't near as pretty as hers...My plan was to make them on my day off...that didn't happen...so I made them Friday in a kitchen of noisy little boys (a 2 year old and a 5 year old) and an equally noisy 17 year old girl...lol. It was fun though. 

I think I will try them again with a chocolate filling. I delivered two of them to my oldest daughter and her hubby, leaving the glaze off so they could warm them up and then put glaze on afterwards. I wasn't quite sure how to go about warming them up...oven? Toaster? I tried a bite of a warm one (the 5 year old wanted to try one so when it was cool enough to add glaze but still slightly warm I gave him a small one) but ended up eating mine cold, which was still awesome.
Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts


Pastry Crust:
2 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 c. cold butter cubed
1/4 c. cold water

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Filling:
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 tsp. all purpose flour
1 egg, beaten

Cinnamon Glaze:
1/4 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
heavy whipping cream or whole milk


1. Combine flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor (or mixer). Pulse quickly to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. With the processor on, add cold water in a steady stream just until dough holds together (don't process longer than 30 seconds). Turn dough out onto a work surface and divide in half. Shape each half into a slightly flattened disc, wrap in saran wrap and place in refrigerator for an hour.
2. Remove dough from fridge and allow to soften (about 15 minutes). Place one half of dough on a lightly floured surface and roll to 1/8" thick. Trim edges (you want to make a rectangle). Cut dough into thirds to form 9 triangles. (For some reason mine didn't make 9, maybe I needed to make the dough thinner). Place rectangles onto lightly greased pans. Repeat with remaining dough (these will be the tops).
3. For the filling, stir together brown sugar, cinnamon and flour. In a small bowl whisk egg. Brush onto bottoms of Pop Tart. Place a heaping tablespoon of the filling onto each of the rectangles and spread evenly, leaving a slight edge around the dough. Top with a second rectangle. Press edges to seal and then press with tines of a fork to seal further. Repeat with remaining Pop Tarts. 
4.  Prick the tops of each Pop Tart so steam can escape. Brush tops with remaining egg mixture. Place back in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
5. Heat oven to 350. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for a couple of minutes before moving to wire racks to cool completely.

6. While Pop-Tarts cool, combine glaze ingredients. Add milk or cream until it reaches your desired consistency. When tarts have cooled to lukewarm, brush glaze over tops. 

Note: I felt like my glaze was too thin so I ended up using more powdered sugar. Once the first layer of glaze set, I added another layer. I did this a few times till it looked right. 

Note: I'm not sure how you would warm these up, possibly in the oven or even toaster, but not with the glaze on. At least I don't think it would work with the glaze on. Doesn't matter, they're great cold. 

With Joy UNquenchable,

Monday, May 2, 2016

Recipe: Tender Lamb Chops

I mentioned in this post that I made lamb chops for Easter lunch for my hubby, youngest daughter and I. I also mentioned that I kind of, sort of panicked because the cut I bought said it needed a longer cooking time than what I had available. HOWEVER, my little tweaks caused them to turn out amazing!  I took tips from one post and the recipe I originally wanted to make and threw caution to the wind. The results were tender chops bursting with flavor...no joke! I cannot wait to make some again, though at $13.00 for 4 I may have to wait a few weeks or months. 

The original recipe I found was on the Food and Wine website. Find that recipe here. All they had to do was put garlic in the recipe title and I was hooked. I followed it pretty much to the "T" but let my lamb simmer in the pan for an hour total on Medium low and frequently basted it with the liquid in the pan. So moist, tender, and popping with flavor. It was a sure hit.

Lamb chops
Salt and pepper
pinch of dried thyme
3 Tbs. olive oil
10 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
3 Tbs. water
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbs. minced parsley, or chop some fresh
pinch crushed red pepper


1. Season lamb chops with salt, pepper and thyme.

2. In a large skillet, heat oil. Add chops and garlic and cook over moderately high heat until chops are browned on the bottom. Flip and do the same for the other side. 

3. Transfer chops to plate temporarily (depending on the type of chops you have, remember mine needed a longer cooking time). Add remaining ingredients to the pan and allow sauce to heat up, scraping any scraps off bottom. At this point, if you want or need to, add the chops back into liquid, and lower heat to a simmer, allowing chops to cook for another 45 minutes to an hour depending on thickness. Baste periodically with liquid in the pan. 

4. Remove from pan and pour sauce over chops before serving.

I knew mine were done when they began to easily pull apart from the bone.

We enjoyed ours with potatoes and veggies.

With Joy UNquenchable,


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