Real Food For Families

Heaven on a Baked Potato

This is not so much a recipe as an idea. As in, ohhh….yes….I forgot about that time long ago when I used to go out and I used to order baked potato skins. I don’t do that anymore. I still go out to eat on occasion, but why don’t I order baked potato skins? It feels like a college thing to me or at the very least an early 20’s, just out of college, kind of appetizer. Well, whatever it is, it’s delicious, and should not be relegated to my memories. So the next time you make bacon, save a couple of strips. Make baked potatoes the next night, shred some cheddar cheese on them, cut up your leftover bacon, sprinkle it on along with some dried chives, salt and pepper…and taste heaven…on a baked potato.

This is how we bake our potatoes. Wash and prick them a few times with a fork to let steam escape. Rub each one with a little olive oil. Place them directly on your oven rack and bake at 375 degrees F for about one hour.


Finally…Chicken That Both My Kids Will Eat!


I struggle with chicken for dinner. It is so versatile and easy to make, but I almost never am able to convince Katie to eat it and Chris’s chicken appetite is what I would call inconsistent. Of course, they will both eat chicken from the red and white bucket, as I have previously lamented…but chicken that I have so carefully prepared with real food ingredients…to be honest…is usually a failure. But this week, I hit the jackpot. I half heartedly made this version, not thinking that anyone under the age of 12 would actually eat it. I called it “Popcorn Chicken” but didn’t really think I was fooling anyone. I placed one lone, sad piece on each of their plates for them to try. And then, miracle of miracles, I heard “Yum! More chicken, please!” What the what?!! More chicken, please??! Okay! We have a winner! Popcorn Chicken! Into the rotation you go!

There are two versions pictured above. The piece on the left is seasoned with a Cajun spice mix and the one on the right is a very simple coating of Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, salt and pepper. I also made a maple Dijon dipping sauce that Katie and I loved. Next time, I will double this recipe and freeze some. This recipe was adapted from the Iowa Girl Eats website. Enjoy!

~Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about 3 lbs., cut into bite sized pieces
~1 1/2 cups whole wheat bread crumbs
~1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
~salt and pepper
~2 eggs
~2 Tbs water

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Whisk the water and eggs together in a medium bowl and add the chicken pieces, swirling them around so that they are evenly coated in the egg mixture.
3. Mix together the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add the egg coated chicken pieces and stir them in the bread crumbs until evenly coated.
4. Place the chicken in a single layer in a buttered 13×9 inch baking dish and spray lightly with cooking spray (I use olive oil in a mister). Bake for 10-15 minutes or until they reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.

~1/4 cup real maple syrup
~1/4 cup plain yogurt
~1 1/2 Tbs spicy brown mustard
Mix all the ingredients together and drizzle over the cooked chicken or serve it on the side for dipping.

If you make extra chicken to freeze, put it on a baking sheet after you’ve coated it in the breadcrumb mixture (before baking) and when frozen, transfer it to a freezer bag. When ready to use it, bake it at 425, directly from the freezer without thawing it first.

Soooo happy that summer is finally here!


Happy Belated Mother’s Day!


The last time I posted something here it was snowing…my apologies to anyone who checks in regularly! Spring has finally sprung and baseball, first communions, bike rides and trips to the local ice cream parlor have nudged blogging time aside. I’ll try to get back to posting here soon! In the meantime…check out #5 on the Mother’s Day card from my son…that makes me smile! And here is a spring pasta recipe from BBC Good Food to try out. Katie gave me a chive plant for Mother’s Day and I am planning on putting it to use in this recipe. (If you make this, note that many of the commenters said that they needed to double the amount of sauce.) I hope you are all enjoying the Spring season!

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"Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather." John Ruskin

So…we're having a "different kind of good weather" here this week. Enough about that. Let's talk about food. This yummy meal comes from The Six O' Clock Scramble cookbook. I did use bacon, as called for in the recipe, but I think this would be great without it too. We also sprinkled on some parmesan cheese. I doubled the recipe and am looking forward to eating this comfort food all week. Comfort food…in mid April…it's just not right!



~Bacon, about half of the package
~A few glugs of olive oil
~One red bell pepper, diced
~4 scallions, chopped
~2 cloves of garlic, minced
~1 teaspoon curry powder
~1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
~2 cups hot vegetable or chicken broth
~1 cup frozen peas
~1 cup uncooked couscous (we used Israeli pearl couscous)
~Parmesan cheese

1. Cook the bacon until crisp, drain on some paper towels and using scissors, cut it into small pieces. (We bake our bacon in the oven at 375 F for about 20 minutes)
2. Start heating up your broth if you are doing it on the stove. (I just used the microwave)
3.In a stock pot or Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the peppers, scallions, garlic and spices and sautée for 5 to 10 minutes until the peppers are softened.
4. Add the heated broth and bring to a low boil.
5. Add the peas and couscous, cover with the lid and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes until the broth has been absorbed. This step may be different, depending on what kind of couscous you are using…follow your package directions.
6. Mix in the bacon and sprinkle on some Parmesan just before serving.

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Herb-Almond Topping for Salmon or Chicken


Someone in our house got braces put on her teeth last week, so I should be doing a post about soup or smoothies today. It seems like that is all we have been eating around here lately. I was also feeling nostalgic for those toddler years as I lovingly cut up her tortellini into minuscule pieces…but that only lasted about 5 minutes…then I began to have flashbacks to a time when leaving the house meant packing a bag like I was going on a 3 week vacation and life was a never ending cycle of getting small, squirmy people cleaned and dressed and fed and changed. Ahhh…these days…how I love the 9 and 10 year old skill set…independently don boots and jackets. Not only feed themselves…but can even feed the dog! Not quite able to keep their bedrooms picked up, but at least I can shut their doors and contain the chaos. But, I digress…


This recipe is one that I tore out of a Country Home magazine back in 2008…I’ve made it so many times, I don’t really even follow the recipe any more. We love it on salmon, but you could also use it with chicken or pork.

~3 tablespoons chopped almonds
~2 tablespoons melted butter
~2 tablespoons bread crumbs
~1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
~handful of snipped fresh basil and/or Italian parsley (or a smaller amount of dried herbs)
~1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
~1 clove garlic, minced
~1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients and spoon on top of your fish or meat. Bake as directed. We usually bake salmon at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes and boneless, skinless chicken breasts at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes.

Now I’m off to make more soup!



Salmon Quesadillas


I can’t believe that I have not done a post on quesadillas until now. There are so many, many reasons why I love them. It started back when I played in a golf league, years ago when I was single. We used to go out to eat afterwards and I think that every single time, I ordered some form of quesadillas. In fact, during my 20’s and 30’s, I may have ordered quesadillas 98% of the time when eating out. They never, ever disappointed me. Oddly enough, though, I never tried to make them at home. After I got married, I came to realize that my husband liked salmon. He liked salmon a lot…almost as much as I liked quesadillas. So one day, while searching for new salmon recipes, I stumbled upon Salmon Quesadillas. “This is awesome!” I said to myself…well, not really, this was before people said “Awesome!” so much. I probably said something like, “Holy smokes, Batman! This is the perfect meal!” So I went and bought canned wild salmon and basil and mozzarella cheese and tortilla wraps…and made my very first quesadillas at home. And holy smokes, Batman, they were awesome!!

~4 soft tortilla wraps (100% whole wheat if possible)
~melted butter or olive oil
~1 can of wild pink salmon
~2 cloves of garlic, minced
~2 teaspoons of dried basil
~ground black pepper
~shredded mozzarella cheese, about 2 cups

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Drain the salmon and pick it apart to remove all of the bones (this is the most difficult part of this recipe…I hate doing this, tedious and kind of ick!)
3. Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil or butter in a skillet and sautée the garlic for a minute or so.
4. Add the salmon, basil and a few grinds of fresh black pepper. Cook over medium heat for about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool while you prepare the tortillas.
5. Lightly brush one side of each tortilla wrap with melted butter or olive oil.
6. Place the wraps, buttered side down, on a large rimmed baking sheet.
7. On one half of each wrap, layer shredded mozzarella cheese, then 1/4 of the salmon mixture, then more shredded cheese. Fold the other half of the wrap over and press them down slightly to flatten.
8. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 4 to 5 minutes, flip them over and continue to bake, 4 to 5 minutes on the second side.
9. Remove from oven and let cool slightly, then cut them in half with a pizza cutter or scissors.

Now, of course, my kids won’t touch these, so I make them a plain cheese version. And that is one of the great things about quesadillas…you can put whatever you want in them and it’s fairly easy to make a few different kinds at the same time to accommodate everyone’s tastes. Some combinations we have tried…sliced apples and cheddar cheese, diced cooked chicken and feta cheese, diced pepperoni and mozzarella cheese…the possibilities are endless.

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Balsamic Reduction Sauce

I have no photo of my beautiful and delicious Balsamic Reduction Sauce, for reasons I will explain later. So instead, I offer you, leftover cute Christmas photos. Santa visited my parents home on Christmas Eve and had a nice visit with Katie, Christopher and all of their cousins. Thank you to Aunt Tricia for making sure that he included us in his long list of stops that evening!


So, back to the Balsamic Reduction Sauce….I made this to serve over lamb chops, arugula and spinach greens and it was very good and very beautiful on the plate. But, as anyone who takes photos of food realizes, it is best to take these shots in natural light. A photo of my dinner plate at 6:30 PM, in the Northeast is…just…well…sad. Combine that with the fact that I really don’t have any photography skills to speak of and I take the majority of the pictures for this blog with my iPad…high quality, gorgeous photography is just not happening around these parts! I know that’s not why you’re here. You come, obviously, for the award winning writing…oh, that’s not why you are here? You are here because you are my mother and you want to see photos of your grand kids? Okay, fine…here you go, Mom. But on the off chance that someone out there may, inadvertently stumble across this food blog on their way to the Pioneer Woman (an actual award winning food blog) and wonder why the photos are a disaster from October through April…that is why.

Balsamic Reduction Sauce (4 servings)
~1 Tablespoon olive oil
~2 shallots, minced
~1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
~3/4 cup of chicken or vegetable broth
~1 Tablespoon butter

Note: Ideally, prepare this sauce in the pan that you cooked your meat in. This is what helps to flavor the sauce. Remove the meat to a covered plate to keep warm. You may not need to add the oil if there is still enough in the pan to cook the shallots.

1. Cook the shallots for a few minutes over medium heat in a bit of oil until just browned.
2. Stir in the vinegar and scrape the bottom of the pan to get any bits of meat into the sauce.
3. Stir in the broth and continue to cook and stir over medium to medium high heat for 5 to 10 minutes until the sauce reduces by about a half and thickens up a bit.
4. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter until it completely melts.
5. Pour the sauce over the cooked meat.

This sauce was great with the lamb chops, but would also be a nice addition to steak,chicken or pork. Here is the original recipe from Allrecipes.


What is Polenta?


Every member of my family asked this question when they saw “Polenta Chicken Lasagna” written on the weekly menu plan, so maybe you are wondering about this ingredient as well. I keep hearing about it, but had never tried it until this past week. Polenta is made from cornmeal. It is an inexpensive, gluten-free grain that can be substituted for bread or pasta. It’s mostly complex carbohydrates, which are high in dietary fiber and digest more slowly than simple carbohydrates. This makes polenta a good source of energy for the body. Fresh made polenta has the consistency of grits, but it can be made into cakes for grilling or frying. You can also purchase it in precooked logs, wrapped in plastic, that don’t need to be refrigerated until opened. You typically slice the logs into 1/4 inch thick rounds to be used in most recipes. Have you ever tried polenta? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

~1 tube of precooked polenta (16 oz.)
~pesto (about 2 ounces or 1/4 cup)
~cooked chicken, diced or shredded, about 1 cup
~Tomato sauce (homemade or your favorite jarred sauce), about 1 1/2 cups
~mozzarella cheese, shredded or sliced thinly, about 8 oz.

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Slice the polenta into 1/4 inch thick rounds. Arrange half of them in a single layer in the bottom of a buttered 8 inch square baking dish.
3. Spread half of the pesto over the polenta.
4. Arrange half of the chicken over the pesto layer.
5. Spread half of the tomato sauce over the chicken.
6. Sprinkle half of the mozzarella cheese evenly over the sauce layer.
7. Repeat the layers, except leave off the final layer of cheese.
8. Cover with foil and bake at 375 (F) for 25 minutes.
9. Remove the foil, sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese on and return to the oven, uncovered for about 5 more minutes.

I made this in an 8×8 inch dish because I wasn’t sure if we would like it, but the next time I plan on doubling the recipe and using a 13×9 inch dish. There is also a lot of flexibility when it comes to how much time you want to invest in this recipe. You could make everything from scratch (crazy talk!!) or you could use pesto and sauce from a jar and pick up a rotisserie chicken. It’s also a perfect meal for using up leftover chicken, which is what I did this week.

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‘Tis the Season


We tend to lean in the direction of chaos casual when it comes to our dinner table. Since the dining room table usually looks like this, we most often eat in the kitchen. Lots of stuff spills, we have to defend our plates from dog sneak attacks, there might occasionally be a tiny, tiny bit of bickering…all in all, pretty much your average dinner time routine. But, there are a few weeks every year, when a peaceful sense of calm drifts down over our banged up pine table. That time of year started this week…Sunday marked the beginning of Advent…and in our home we light Advent candles every night during dinner from now until Christmas Eve. Something about that soft, flickering light seems to lull my kids into a trance like state (trance like state=5 minutes to eat in peace). I’m tempted to use candles all year, but then it might not seem so magical as it always does during this time of year. On this night, we ate a simple meal of pasta, shrimp tossed with a spice mix (from Dinner, A Love Story) and corn. These few minutes together each evening, watching the candles glow, is our counterbalance to the craziness of the season. Whatever your faith is and wherever your traditions come from…take some time today to sit and eat with the people that you love.

As I was taking the photo for this post, my husband asked, “How come their faces aren’t in the picture?” This is why not…


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Homemade Taco Seasoning


We have tacos on the menu about once a month and for years I have been mixing up my own seasonings for them. This is real food bragging…”I can’t remember the last time I bought one of those little MSG laden taco seasoning packets!” Sorry. I’ll stop. But, seriously…try making it yourself. It’s sort of relaxing. Lining up all of those spice jars, carefully pouring out little teaspoons and tablespoons full of amazing aromas, making a pretty mosaic pattern in the bowl. Zen…that’s what it is…I don’t really care that you need snow pants for school tomorrow and no you can’t go on the iPad and no Santa will not bring you a sea turtle unless he has permission from us and what’s that, the dog is eating what? Noooo…I’m just ignoring all of that and going about my business, making my own taco seasoning…yes, I am!

(Makes enough for 1 lb. of meat)
~1 Tablespoon chili powder
~1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
~1/4 teaspoon onion powder
~1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
~1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
~1/2 teaspoon paprika
~1 teaspoon ground cumin
~1/2 teaspoon salt
~1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and store in an airtight container until ready to use.
Use about 2 Tablespoons of the seasoning for each pound of meat. Stir about 1/2 Tablespoon of flour into the seasoning just before adding it to the meat. Brown the ground beef, drain off the fat, then add the seasoning mix along with 2/3 cup of water. Heat over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated and it has thickened to the desired consistency.

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