Freezer-Friendly Sausage & Vegetable Lasagna Roll-Ups

A close family member of mine has to have back surgery in a couple of weeks so I wanted to make some easy-to-reheat food for her to have around during her recovery.  When I’m not feeling well I want comfort food so I decided lasagna would be a good fit!  I had some veggies to use-up from a different recipe (posting soon) so I created these sausage and vegetable lasagna roll-ups.  They turned-out to be a great mix of flavors and pretty easy to make (just a bit messy).

I froze them (I love freezer meals!) but you can assemble and cook same-day as well.  Feel free to play around with your favorite vegetables or sub-out the meat for ground beef or ground turkey as well.

Enjoy!

Megan

Vegetable and Sausage Lasagna Roll-Ups

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb ground sausage
  • 12 lasagna noodles
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1tsp minced garlic
  • 1-2 cups spinach
  • 3-4 mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 Jar of your favorite marinara/pasta sauce
  • 1 15oz. container ricotta cheese (I used low fat)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp parsley flakes
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions:

  • Bring one quart pot of water to a boil and add lasagna noodles.  Cook until al dente (10-12 minutes).  Drain, then set aside
  • Head a skillet with 1/2 Tbl olive oil on medium heat then add diced onion and  minced garlic.  Cook until translucent, around 3 minutes
  • Add the mushrooms and spinach, heat until the spinach is wilted and mushrooms are soft, around 3 minutes, set aside
  • In the same pan, cook the sausage on medium heat until cooked thoroughly, roughly 7 minutes then drain
  • Combine the sausage with 1/2 of the marinara sauce and onion mixture in a medium bowl
  • Combine the ricotta, garlic powder, parsley, basil, and oregano until mixed together
  • Now you are ready to assemble (good time for a wine-refill break)!
  • Cover the bottom of your pan with half of the remaining marinara sauce
  • Lay the cooked lasagna noodles on a flat surface then spread the ricotta mixture over the noodle leaving 1-2 inches uncovered on the end (1-2 spoon fulls – you don’t want to cover the whole noodle because it will fall out when you roll it)
  • Next add a layer of the meat/veggie mixture on top of the ricotta (2-3 spoon fulls over the same covered portion of the noodle)
  • Roll the noodle length-wise starting on the covered side and place in the pan (seam-side down).  Repeat until you have used all of the lasagna noodles
  • Top the roll-ups with the remaining marinara and sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese
  • Assembly done!  Bake at 350 degrees until heated-through and cheese is melted, 10-15 minutes.  To freeze: cover tightly with a layer of plastic wrap, then a layer of tinfoil, thaw and heat!

Stella & Dot Fundraiser

Anyone who knows me knows the way to my heart is through dogs.  So when my husband’s fantastic and generous cousin Sandi offered to throw a Stella and Dot fundraiser for Secondhand Hounds, I was in.  What is better than wine, food, friends, and jewelry all for a good cause?!

Outside of loving this get together’s theme, I was excited to try some fun and cute but healthy(ish) recipes on the crowd (unfortunately summer is coming, it is time to shed the winter coat and get back in shape).  The party was on a Thursday night so I needed to make things that could be prepared in advance and quick to prep day-of since I work full-time.  The start-time was also 6:30pm so I wanted some hearty options as well since this was likely dinner for the ladies.

Here is the menu I chose:

These were colorful and very healthy/easy to make!  I made these in advance and froze which worked just fine.

My aunt introduced me to this dip – I love it because it is light but also very flavorful, and a good change of scenery from the typical cheese dips.

Admittedly I didn’t have all of the ingredients for these (lemongrass, turmeric, white pepper) but they still turned out great (despite having fish sauce in them, I HATE cooking with fish sauce, the smell is awful).  I served them with store-bought peanut sauce as well since I was afraid I had sacrificed some flavor (they actually turned out good!).  I prepped and skewered these in advance and froze as well.

These were actually easier to make than I had anticipated.  Some of the Parmesan crust fell-off when I removed them from the pan but they were still tasty.  These were actually the crowd favorite!  I made these the night before and heated them up in the oven with the rest of the food for about 10 minutes.

  • Buffalo Chicken Bites kind of made-up by me

I have made various versions of these before, but this time my goal was to use-up what was in my refrigerator.  I cut crescent rolls into about 2″ squares and placed them in a mini muffin pan, so they made little cups.  Bake for about 10 minutes, until golden brown then add the buffalo chicken:  1-2 cups of shredded chicken with frank’s red hot sauce and ranch dressing mix.  I started with 1/4 cup hot sauce and 1 tablespoon of the seasoning then adjusted based on flavor.  Place back in the oven until warm, about 10-15 minutes then top with blue cheese and green onion.  These were also made ahead of time and frozen!

  • Veggies and my mom’s famous Dill Dip

Carrots, broccoli, and snow peas served with my favorite dill dip (recipe in this blog post)

  • Fruit Skewers with Peanut Butter Dip

Layered strawberries, pineapple, and cantelope onto wood skewers (that I cut in half) and served with a super easy but yummy peanut butter dip (also known as crack dip in my book club) – just two parts vanilla greek yogurt to one part creamy peanut butter.  I have been known to shamelessly eat this with a spoon by itself 🙂

These little buggers another new favorite dessert party trick of mine.  They are SO CUTE and different than anything I have ever made.  The base is Kodiak Cake Mix which is higher in protein and lower in fat/sugar than a lot of other cake mixes.  My great neighbor Brie introduced me to these and gave the tip to add a tsp of almond extract to the recipe for added flavor.  I used a mini donut pan so the only time consuming part is waiting for the multiple batches to bake.  You place the batter into zip lock baggie and pipe into the donut pan.  For the mini donuts I baked at 350 degrees for 6 and a half minutes – it doesn’t take long so be sure to watch the first time and see what works best for your oven!  Also per Brie’s recommendation I went with a powdered sugar glaze.  I just dipped the little guys into the frosting and they were SO CUTE.  TIP: I made these the night before and stored them in the fridge, when I took them out for the party all of the frosting had soaked into the donut.  They were still very tasty and a big hit, but not up to my visual standards so I would recommend frosting them the day-of.

Outside of food, here are some other fun things I did for the party:

  • Paw Print Wine Glasses: My mother-in-law Roxie helped me pull this detail off last minute!  She cut circles out of black paper and hot-glued them to the plastic glasses as little paw prints for people to write their initials and keep track of their cups!

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  • Dog Treat Party Favors: As a thank-you to my friends for coming, I filled clear/gold cellophane bags from target with dog treats and tied with pink tulle with the note “Thank you for Coming, Love Reuger.” Full disclosure I was going to hand-make the dog treats but ran out of time.  My friends still thought it was cute and it got the point across!
  • Shout out to Total WineSo this isn’t something special, but in preparation for this party i took my first trip to Total Wine.  MIND BLOWN.  This place is a drinker’s heaven!  I walked-in in total awe, then immediately got overwhelmed.  Have no fear their CRAZY FRIENDLY staff is there to point you to their favorite wines of each type all which were under $10!  As you can tell I’m obsessed and wondering why I never checked this place out before.

Reuger (our current foster pup) got dolled-up for the occasion with a bath and “adopt me” bandanna.  He was definitely a hit with the ladies and made some new friends, which is encouraging for when he is ready to be adopted!

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It was so fun getting my girlfriends from different groups together to chit chat and support a good cause!  Thank you again to Sandi for supporting Secondhand Hounds and to all of those who joined.  I have an amazing group of women in my life 🙂

If you are interested in Stella and Dot, a portion of your purchases via this link will go to Secondhand Hounds through the 23rd of March 2017!

 

Happy Hour Couples Shower

This weekend we had the pleasure of celebrating the upcoming wedding of our friends Lindsay and Lee!

Lindsay actually went to college with my husband, and through various visits to St. Cloud State and I’m sure some college shenanigans we hit it off and have been friends since!  Lindsay met this fantastic guy at work (insert Lee) and they are getting married in Mexico the end of March (yup can’t wait to escape this tundra for a bit to celebrate them and get my tan on!)

To kick-off the celebrations, my lovely co-hostesses and I opted for a brightly colored Happy Hour-themed couples get together.  We wanted it to be cute, but still boy friendly so a drinking theme seemed fitting.

Lindsay is that always-there-for-you, ever-so-thoughtful friend so we wanted this party to be extra special for her and Lee!  Here are some of the details:

The Invitations: I usually am a Shutterfly gal, but found these cute invitations on etsy and had them sent to Target for printing.  We were able to host the party at an apartment party room which was the perfect set-up!

presentation1The Decorations:

  • Tissue Paper Pomanders handmade by Kayla (directions on how to make here)
  • Marquee “Cheers to the Hermans” Sign using pre-cut paper from Michael’s makes it way easier!
  • His and Her Favorites – a list of the bride/groom’s favorite things about each other written on a chalkboard sign
  • Helium balloons with photos of the bride/groom at different stages of their lives

The Activities:

  • Photo Booth using a  black/gold and a Hawaiian themed back-drop to pull-in the destination wedding!
  • Guess the Memory Game: Guests wrote a favorite memory of the bride or groom, and they had to guess who said it.  This was an AWESOME game for couples, and got more fun as the drinks were flowing 🙂
  • Guess how many kisses in the jar

The Favors:

  • Blow-up floating flamingo coasters because who doesn’t need one of those for Mexico?!
  • Scratch-off tickets that said “Lindsay and Lee got lucky in love, hopefully you get lucky too”

The Menu: I tell you, with 5 fantastic ladies planning this shindig we did NOT go hungry, lots of good food (I’m probably missing something below :)!

It was so fun celebrating the future Hermans and getting the old gang back together.  A HUGE congrats to Lindsay and Lee, and we can’t wait until Mexico!

 

 

6 Healthy Freezer Meals

It was a productive Sunday at the Fox household – 6 double-batch healthy freezer meals, 3 Strombolis, and a couple super bowl apps done before 5:00.  Boom.  It is Super Bowl Sunday, and I feel like I’ve earned the drinks I’m about to consume!

My motivation for making healthier freezer meals this week was two-fold.  1.) my best friend is about to have a baby and her husband eats clean, and 2.) I’m competing in a “transformation challenge” (aka workout more, eat better, and track results – operation Mexico bod) with my gym Orange Theory Fitness.

I’m never quite sure what to get my friends post-baby, but have found food is always welcome.  I wanted to be ready when Jen and Bryan had their new little girl (remember they adopted Bauer!) but wanted to respect Bryan’s clean eating (he is doing awesome with his diet!).  And for me, as I’ve said before, I do best eating healthy when I prepare in advance, so having 6 meals ready (each serving 4) is great for both of us.

Below are 6 fairly healthy freezer meals that are easy and tasty:

1.) Black Bean, Quinoa, and Sweet Potato Soup from Oh She Glows

I was craving chicken tortilla soup but wanted something a little different, and had this recipe saved to Pinterest.  It has simple ingredients with a lot of flavor!

2.) Crockpot Chicken Gnocchi Soup from Pinch of Yum

This is one of my favorite soups – I mean what is not to love about gnocchi, chicken, bacon, and spinach?!  I subbed the evaporated milk for almond milk to make it dairy-free and the consistency was still great.  Plus it is a crockpot meal, so you dump the ingredients and can move-on!

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3.) Skinny Eggplant Rollatini with Vegan Ricotta and Ground Turkey (adapted from Skinny Taste and Vegan Insanity)

I’ve made these Eggplant Rollatinis before, but this time made a vegan ricotta to make them dairy-free, plus added ground turkey to the quick marinara sauce to add a bit more protein.

4.) Maple Pork Enchiladas with Butternut Squash from Sweat Peas and Safron with Skinny Tex Mex Quinoa Casserole from ifoodreal

I’ve made these before, and they are a great fall/winter comfort food!  The Maple Pork is a crockpot recipe and can be used for many different things – My husband loved it so much we decided to make a chicken version for the Super Bowl to serve with Hawaiian buns!

To make the prep easier I used frozen butternut squash, and added some garlic powder to it along with the chili powder to add more flavor

I made the Tex Mex Quinoa casserole to go with it but only used about 1/2 cup total of cheese to make it a bit more lactose intolerant friendly 🙂

5.) Ground Turkey Sloppy Joe stuffed Peppers

I kind of made this one up – I have been stuffing sweet potatoes with ground turkey sloppy joes and decided to change it up!

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You can use any sloppy joe recipe, but here is what I did:

Ground Turkey Sloppy Joes

Ingredients:

1 lb ground turkey
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can kidney beans
1 can tomato sauce
1 cup chili sauce
1 Tbl Italian seasoning
salt/pepper to taste

Directions:

Heat the onion with some olive oil over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, then add the ground turkey and cook until cooked through.  Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 more minutes, then add the seasonings.  Stir  to combine then simmer for 10-15 minutes until thickened.

6.) Slow Cooker Balsamic Chicken from Jam Kat’s Paleo

I have made this before for Luke and I, and it was super tasty!  We serve it with brown rice.  Of all of the meals, this was the easiest to prep!  Just combine into a bag and stick in the freezer crockpot-ready! (sorry for the lack of pictures, this was one of my last meals and I was just ready to be done!)

Plus I also made a Stromboli, which is not so healthy, but an awesome freezer meal to serve with the soup and for a crowd!  I’m sure there are a ton of recipes out there, but this is my Aunt Honey’s which means it is full of love and cooking wisdom 🙂

Here is the base recipe:

Seasoning:

1 egg yolk (save white)
1 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 Tb olive oil
1 Tbl parmesan cheese
1 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp pepper

Mix together and spread over rolled frozen bread dough or refrigerated pizza dough then layer with your favorite meat/cheese

Spread egg white over stromboli then Cook 30 minutes at 325 degrees, seam side down

I made two different kinds:

1.) “Classic” Stromboli with ham, turkey, and salami

2.) “Philly” Stromboli with peppers, onion, and roast beef (my sister’s idea!)

After a busy day of cooking I am now enjoying some pepper nachos (mini peppers topped with buffalo chicken), buffalo cauliflower, cheese dip (yeah, yeah not so healthy), and wine!

Cheers, and go Falcons!

Book-Themed Engagement Party

This weekend I had the pleasure of hosting an engagement party for my college friend Kristen and her fiance Beau!  It was so much fun getting to know Beau’s friends/family and celebrating a couple and friend who has been so supportive of me throughout the years.

They are getting married at the historic (and gorgeous) James J. Hill library in Downtown St. Paul, so I thought a book theme would be fitting and fun!  I had some old books I had purchased from Goodwill left over from book crafts for my sister’s wedding (she got married at the same place!) that I used to create accents throughout the room.

We decorated the bar with a marquee sign using book paper letters and book paper pomanders (directions here)!  I also wrapped mason jars with book paper and ribbon to add a little more to the flowers!

To spice-up the plastic cups, i hot glued hearts to them as a place for people to write their names (by people i mean me, I always set my glass down and lose it!).  The outlines for the hearts then made great accents for the food labels!

I wanted to have some sort of activity, but with 25+ people I thought it would be tough to do an organized game.  Instead I decorated a mason jar and set-out popsicle sticks for people to write date ideas (not going to lie, the date ideas got more interesting as the drinks were flowing!).

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Kristen’s mom bought flowers from Trader Joes and set-out votive candle holders throughout the room which created a romantic atmosphere fitting for the occasion!

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Flowers and votive candle holders always add a romantic feel.

You guys know my thing is making food in advance and freezing it, but since I wasn’t hosting the party at my house (it was at the party room of my friend’s mom’s condo) I had time the day-of to prep.  Plus the menu this time was much simpler with shared ingredients.

I got the My Favorite Murder podcast going (shout out fellow Murderinos) on the speaker and zoned out! (my husband found it ironic that while making food for a love-filled engagement party I was thinking about murderers).

I asked the couple what their favorite foods were to help plan the menu and Kristen came back with pizza and salad (girl, lucky you your favorite food is salad!).  So after consulting with my super-cook sister I decide to go with various types of flatbreads and mini salads as the main course.

The flatbreads were really fun to do, I got to get creative and overall they were very easy to execute!  I just used pre-made flatbread from Target, prepped them all in advance, and baked them at the party (400 degrees for 8-10 minutes).  I made five different kinds:

  • Margherita – top the flatbread with olive oil and garlic powder, then layer thinly sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, and mozzarella

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  • Sausage & Pepperoni – top the flatbread with your preferred marinara sauce (i used Kirkland) and layer ground italian sausage, pepperoni, and mozzarella cheese

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  • Apricot brie with carmelized onions – top the flatbread with apricot jam and layer sauteed onions and brie cheese

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  • Buffalo Chicken – I had pre-made buffalo chicken by cooking a package of chicken breasts with 1/2 cup frank’s hot sauce and a package of italian dressinng mix in the crockpot (cook on low for 6-8 hours then shred, great for lettuce wraps!).  I topped the flatbread with olive oil then the buffalo chicken, green onions, bleu cheese, and additional frank’s hot sauce

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  • Cheddar Apple Prosciutto with Arugula – top the flatbread with olive oil and layer white cheddar cheese chunks and diced prosciutto.  Top with thinly sliced apples and drizzle with honey.  Add arugula after you bake it!

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For the salads, you guys know I want my food to be cute, so serving a giant salad bowl was out of the question.  I found these parmesan cheese cups  on Pinterest and they are my new fave.  SUPER easy to make and seem really fancy.  You essentially spread 1-2 Tbl parmesan cheese (I mixed with some garlic powder and rosemary) on parchement paper and bake for 350 degrees for 5 minutes, then carefully transfer to a shot glass so it forms a cup!

I used the same balsamic dijon salad dressing from New Years  and filled the cups with pre-mixed salad.  I loved the color and look, and can’t wait to fill these bad boys with dips, etc. – so much room for activities.

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To compliment the pizza and salad I made this Roasted Red Pepper and Artichoke Tapenade with crakers and Antipasto Kabobs (cooked tortellini marinated in italian dressing skewered with a mozzarella ball, salami slice, cherry tomato, and an olive).

For dessert, I made cream cheese miniatures and brownie bites.

Here is the full menu:

  • Antipasto Kabobs
  • Roasted Red Pepper and Artichoke Tapenade
  • Balsamic salad in Parmesan cups
  • 5 Different Flatbreads (Margherita, sausage/pepperoni, apricot brie with carmelized onions, buffalo chicken, and cheddar apple prosciutto with arugala)
  • Cream Cheese Miniatures
  • Brownie Bites

The food was a hit, but most importantly the couple had fun!  We had several cheers to the happy couple and enjoyed getting to know one another.  Can’t wait for the rest of the wedding festivities!

Congrats Beau and Kristen!!

 

Mini Cheesecakes

I am not sure where this recipe came from, but it has been my birthday dessert request since I was a kid.  I love these cheesecakes because they have minimal ingredients and aren’t too rich.

You can make these in muffin-size tins, or for a larger crowd you can make mini ones as well, which is what I did for the engagement party I hosted (who knew they make mini vanilla wafers?)

I topped half of the cheesecakes with raspberry pie filling, and half with melted chocolate and sea salt (Actually i got rid of some old candy in our cupboard and melted some rolos, it worked great!).

Cream Cheese Miniatures

Makes: 25-30 muffin size, 50-60 mini

Ingredients:

  • 3 8 oz. packages cream cheese
  • 3 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 5-6 drops lemon juice
  • vanilla wafer cookies (regular for muffin-size, mini wafers for mini size)
  • cupcake liners
  • pie filling or topping of choice

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and soften cream cheese
  2. Combine softened cream cheese with eggs, sugar, vanilla, and lemon juice
  3. Beat until smooth and creamy
  4. Insert cupcake liners in pan and place a vanilla wafer in the bottom of each liner (flat-side down)
  5. Fill liners about 3/4 full with cream cheese batter
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes (tops will crack when they are complete)
  7. Cool and top with topping of choice (pie filling, melted chocolate, caramel, etc)

Enjoy!

They are visually appealing, cute (as you know my favorite), and easy – enjoy!

 

Easy Food for a Crowd – New Years 2017

First off Happy official New Year!

Luke and I got to ring in 2017 AND celebrate a friend’s birthday at a gorgeous cabin “up north” (aka Northern Minnesota).

We spent our weekend eating, drinking, exploring, and overall celebrating all while in comfy clothes next to a fire.  It was perfect!

I agreed to make a couple of meals, and knowing that refrigerator space would be at a premium (got to have room for beer right?!) and that we would likely be either hungover or consuming adult beverages, I wanted to keep the prep work to a minimum.

For breakfast I decided to make these yummy ham, cheese, and spinach puffs from eatwell101.com.  I made these little suckers in advance the week before and froze them.  Then to add a little more protein, I also cracked an egg over half of them.  I thawed them overnight, so all I had to do that morning was heat them up at 350 degrees and bake for roughly 20 minutes.  They were a great use of leftover Christmas ham and went over well!  Without the egg they would also make a good appetizer 🙂

Tip: layer tinfoil on the pan if you crack the egg and spray well as it can get quite sticky).

I completed the spread with a run to Costco – fruit, bagels, and muffins.  Easy to grab and low maintenance!

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For Dinner I decided to make Roxie’s famous lasagna (my mother-in-law).  We needed something hearty to prepare for New Years Eve and I wanted to feed 14 people without breaking the bank so lasagna worked-out perfect.  Plus per my advance prep theme I could make it in advance and freeze it.  The nice thing also about Minnesota is that we could keep the lasagna outside then set it out the morning-of to defrost….there are some perks to this tundra!

I made two different kinds – Traditional beef marinara and Turkey Pesto.  I served it with two loaves of Costco asiago bread and a salad bar (Arugala mixture, goat cheese, bleu cheese, cheery tomatoes, diced peppers, green onion, etc.).

I will say the salad bar was raised-up a notch thanks to my sister’s AMAZING balsamic dressing recipe.  People who don’t even like salad were eating it thanks to this dressing.  For those who don’t know, my sister is a true chef – she just combines things and it works, whereas I need recipes.  I texted her for this recipe and she was like oh just combine a few ingredients and voilà…needless to say I made her breakdown portion sizes for me 😉

Lasagna

Credit: Roxie Fox

For the meat sauce:

– 1 1/2 lb lean hamburger
– 1/2 lb italian sausage
– 1 large onion, chopped
– 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 1/2 to 2 tsp salt
– 1 tsp ground pepper
– 1 tsp oregano
– 1 tsp parsley
– 1 Tbl basil
– 2 cans (14 1/2 oz) whole tomatoes (do not drain)
– 2 cans (6 oz) tomato paste

For the cheese layer:

– 2 eggs, beaten
– 1/2 tsp pepper
– 2 Tbl parsley
– 1/2 Cup parmesan cheese
– 1 lb (divided in half) mozzarella cheese
– 24 oz ricotta or cottage cheese
– 12-14 lasagna noodles

Directions:

– Cook hamburger, onion, sausage & garlic until meat is browned over medium heat, drain
– add salt, pepper, oregano, basil, tomatoes, & tomato paste – stir until mixed well, cover & simmer for 1 hour
– cook lasagna noodles, drain, & set aside
– spray 9×13 inch pan and preheat oven to 375 degrees
– combine cottage cheese/ricotta cheese, eggs, pepper,  parmesan cheese, & 1/2 lb. of mozzarella cheese
– in a pan layer noodles, meat sauce, & cheese mixture.  Repeat layer.
– top with 1 layer of noodles and sprinkle evenly with remaining mozzarella
– cover and bake at 375 degrees for 40-60 minutes

Modification options:

– I rolled the lasagna noodles so each noodle made one roll-up – this makes the lasagna easier to serve.  To make two batches (24 pieces of lasagna) it took a double recipe of the meat sauce and a triple recipe of the filling.

– I ran out of ricotta cheese, so I used greek yogurt in one batch to keep it creamy.  It still tasted fine!

– To make a ground turkey pesto version, I subbed the meat with ground turkey, and replaced the tomato paste and one can of the tomatoes with Kirkland (Costco) pesto.  It was SUPER flavorful!  I also added a bit of pesto to the cheese mixture for added flavor as well.

Balsamic Dressing

Ingredients:

– balsamic vinegar
– olive oil
– dijon mustard
– garlic, oregano, basil to taste

Combine 1 part balsamic vinegar to 1 part olive oil (slightly more olive oil) and add Dijon mustard to taste.

I used 1/4 cup balsamic to 1/3 cup olive oil with 1 Tbl Dijon mustard and tweaked from there.

Add garlic, pepper, oregano, etc. per your preference

As a side note – we ate those champagne jello shots I posted and they were awful (I mean strong, but tasted terrible!).  I am going to make it my mission to find a better recipe for you guys!

But overall it was a great weekend – I loved catching-up with my friend from growing-up, Greta, and enjoying the Minnesota winter for a change.

Cheers to 2017!

Megan

 

 

Champagne Jello Shots

Happy (almost) New Year!

As mentioned a million times, I love cute, fun food (and let’s be honest, adult beverages).  I’ve seen these Champagne Jello Shots floating around online and decided to give them a go for New Years Eve!

They were super easy to make and based on the ingredients have a little kick to them.  Hopefully we make it until midnight after trying these suckers!

I chose this recipe from Delish.com:

Champagne Jello Shots

Credit: delish.com

Ingredients:

– 1 1/2 C. champagne (divided)
– 1 Tbl lemon juice
– 1 Tbl sugar
– 3 envelopes unflavored gelatin (I used Knox, note 4 envelopes come in one box)
– 1/4 C vodka
– sprinkles of choice

Combine 1 1/4 cups of the champagne, lemon juice, and sugar in a saucepan.  Sprinkle gelatin on top.  Let the gelatin soften / sit for two minutes then heat mixture over low heat.  Stir until gelatin has completely dissolved and remove from heat.  Stir in remaining champagne and vodka

Grease a loaf pan (I doubled the recipe so used an 8×8 pan) and pour mixture into mold.  Chill for 2 hours, or until firm.

Top with sprinkles and enjoy!

A complete and somewhat unrelated sidebar – I love puzzles.  So when I took these out of their pan to take the photo, naturally I had to put them back exactly how they were in the pan.  There is something so satisfying about placing that last piece in a puzzle am I right?  Anyone?  (OK I need a life…but that may have been my favorite part of the process).

Happy New Year!!

Megan

 

7 Make-Ahead Holiday Appetizers

This is how it started.  I had a whole weekend where I had nothing to do – A WHOLE WEEKEND.  Bored and “needing a project” I decided that my festively decorated home was a waste since only my husband and I would see it.  So I (after consulting with my husband) decided we should have a party!

Well then when I had a second WHOLE WEEKEND with no specific activities, I decided we should paint all of the trim in our home in preparation for said party….super aggressive and unnecessary move.

Three days before our party we were doorless, knee deep in white paint (even Stella got paint on her), and had a growing guest list of 25+ people.

It was at this moment that I was SUPER pumped I had pre-made over half of my planned menu.  As mentioned, I hate having to rush the week of a party.  You already have to worry about cleaning, decorating, buying ice, (and in this case finishing your home project).  Being able to pull appetizers out of the freezer is a huge time win!

So if you are looking to get ahead of the holidays, here are some great make-in-advance appetizers (in order of fan favorites)

1.) Buffalo Chicken Bites: I used mini muffin tins to make them more cute (aka bited-sized 😉 and to maximize the recipe).TIP: Spray your pan REALLY well!

2.) Spinach Dip & Fillo Cups: I love that this was the second favorite because it is all store bought. While you have to prep this the day-of (max 10 min.), you can buy the ingredients in advance and its super quick.  You literally buy your favorite spinach dip from the store (for me it’s the stuff from Costco) and put it into the Athens Mini Fillo Cups and pop in the oven on about 300 degrees for 10 minutes or so.  You can find the Fillo Cups in the frozen food section by pie crusts and desserts at most grocery stores.

3/4.) Southwest Turkey Meatballs with Creamy Cilantro Dipping Sauce and Asian Turkey Meatballs With Lime Sesame Dipping Sauce: Someone had made these for a bridal shower I attended and I liked that they were a somewhat healthy and hearty option! (they also worked slick in the new triple crockpot my HUSBAND bought on BLACK FRIDAY all on his own.  He knows the way to my heart…)

5/6.) Sweet & Salty Family Chex Recipes: I’m not sure where the salty chex recipe came from, but it is a staple in my family.  My dad has been making it for years, in the same giant yellow plastic bowl.  It is the right blend of spice and salt and I love that the recipe is written on a crusty, over-used post-it.  Luke’s mom, Roxie, also makes the most amazing sweet Chex at all holidays and it is a HUGE hit as well! I guess we have Chex connoisseurs in our families?! (recipes below)

7.) Sausage Stuffing Balls with Cranberry Dipping Sauce: I liked this appetizer because it seemed festive and was a bit heartier.  It was also still cute (again I like my food bite-sized) and a great use of leftover Thanksgiving stuffing!

Outside of the treats above, we also had:

  • Caprese Skewers
  • Veggies and Dip (Remember my mom’s dill dip recipe?)
  • Bacon-Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Goat Cheese:  This is my party trick and Luke’s favorite
  • Shrimp Cocktail Dip (also a Tucker family holiday staple)
  • Bruschetta Bar (aka French bread, pesto, olive tapenade, and this bruschetta recipe)
  • Cranberry Pecan Mini Goat Cheese Balls (from this site)
  • Mini Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecakes (from this site – I made these in advance and froze them along with the truffles below!)
  • Peppermint Oreo Truffles (from this site)
  • a Hot Cocoa Bar (using this super unhealthy-but-tasty recipe from Pinterest) with optional Rumchata or Peppermint Schnapps 🙂
  • Christmas Charades that I printed from this site
  • And a lot of beverage options!

Needless to say we all had plenty to eat/drink and were very merry – It was a successful party and 100% worth the chaos leading-up to it!

Happy Holidays!

Here are the rest of the recipes:

Salty Chex

Combine:
– 1 Cup mixed nuts
– 2 Cups pretzels
– 3 Cups each chex (rice, corn, wheat)
– 2 Cups cheese crackers (cheese-its, etc)

For the Sauce:
– 1 Tbl salt
– 3/4 tsp onion powder
– 8 Tbl butter, melted
– 1 tsp garlic powder
– 1 Tbl lemon pepper
– 4 Tbl worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Combine dry ingredient and set aside.  Melt butter then combine with spices.  Pour over chex mixture and mix to combine.  Bake for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Sweet Chex

In a large roaster pan lined with aluminum foil, combine:
– 3/4 box of Crispex cereal
– 2 cups pretzels
– 1 small can mixed nuts
– 3/4 cup M&Ms

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a small sauce pan, bring to a boil:
– 2 sticks butter (not margarine)
– 2 cups brown sugar
– 1/2 cup light karo syrup

Pour sauce over layered mixture but do not stir.  Place in oven for 7 minutes – remove and stir well

Return to oven for another 7 minutes – remove and stir, then spread to cool.

Break it up and store in a tight container or bags – can be frozen for 2-3 weeks

Caprese Skewers

– Cherry Tomatoes
– Basil
– Mozzarella pearls
– Balsamic Glaze
– Toothpicks

Layer tomato, basil, mozzarella ball on a toothpick then drizzle with balsamic glaze!

Bacon Wrapped Dates

– Pitted Dates
– Package of Bacon
– Goat Cheese
– Brown Sugar
– Chili Powder
– toothpicks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil then place a cooling rack on-top, heavily sprayed with cooking oil. (this allows the bacon grease to drip to the aluminum vs. cooking the dates in a pool of grease)

Slice a slit in the dates and stuff with goat cheese.  Wrap in 1/3 slice of bacon and insert a toothpick through the whole date.

Place the dates on the sprayed cooling rack and sprinkle with brown sugar and chili powder.  Bake approximately 20 minutes, flipping once.

Shrimp Cocktail Dip

– 8 oz. cream cheese (I subbed dairy free)
– 1/2 to 3/4 cup chili sauce
– 1/2 green pepper, chopped
– 1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped shrimp (I buy frozen salad shrimp)
– 1/2 to 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
– 1 small can chopped black olives (optional)
– tortilla chips

On a serving tray, spread cream cheese then cover with chili sauce.  Spread green pepper, shrimp, cheese, and olives until evenly covered.

Serve chilled with tortilla chips

My attempt at Macarons

For those who know me, when I get an idea in my head I become obsessed and need to accomplish it, like, yesterday.  Typically this happens with decorating, home projects, or cleaning but the other day I decided I was going to not only just make, but successfully make, enough macarons to give them as gifts to my extended family.

This all started back when I went to France for work and ate Macarons while sipping champagne with some local customers.  In general I like “cute” food (bite-sized, colorful) and I also like things that are a bit unique.  I got to thinking, hmm, what is a macaron made of which sparked an aggressive Google search.  In case you don’t know, they are basically just eggs, powdered sugar, patience, almond flour, and more patience.

My interest in trying to make them only grew when every blog post I read explained that they are VERY finicky.  “They can’t be that hard” I said.  “It will be fun” I said.

OK so once I got the hang of them, they weren’t terrible.  But “fun” isn’t the word I would use.  There truly is a science to these little buggers and some prep-time needed.

I decided to go with French Macarons (apparently there are multiple kinds?) and pulled the recipe from this site as I found it easiest to read.  I also had this AWESOME troubleshooting guide pulled-up to reference what I did wrong each batch and how to fix it (Shinee knows what’s up, and is a true macaron expert).

My first couple of batches I was cocky – you just have to mix it together and bake it, right?  I was also multi-tasking (remember that sauce?).  A bad move, they require your full focus and some serious attention to detail.  I basically spent all day making them, and only 2 of the 5 batches turned out.  I had to fill 8 round tins and literally only had 24 “good” cookies before I was 100% over it.

Being a stubborn individual I couldn’t leave my project incomplete, so I went back and tackled the macarons again (like a week later, I needed a break).  Round two went MUCH better, and here were some key findings for me:

  1. Set your eggs out in advance: I didn’t age my egg whites like some sites recommend, but they do HAVE to be room temperature which can take some time.  I determined how many batches I was going to make in advance and set ALL of the eggs out that I needed.  That way when I was ready to make another batch, I could just go.
  2. You have to actually wait for stiff peaks: I was very worried about over-mixing and a big part of my problem was that I wasn’t setting the meringue correctly.  It takes awhile for the soft peaks to form and you HAVE to wait to add the color/flavoring until you have soft peaks, and also HAVE to wait to combine with the almond mixture until hard peaks form.
  3. Oven temperature varies: Different sites show different temperatures, but for my oven 275 degrees worked the best (they were too crispy at 300).
  4. Sift and prep ingredients while the macarons set: Sifting the almond flour / sugar and letting the unbaked batter set to form a “skin” (super gross word, but fitting once you see it) are also two key steps.  I found it worked best when making multiple batches to sift and set-out pre-measured ingredients while the macarons set.  This way I gave the macarons adequate time to set, but also was ready to mix while they baked and avoided a bunch of down time.
  5. Get a back-log of your favorite podcast and drink some wine: It is a process, so some vino and My Favorite Murder (yes, I’m a murderino) helped to keep me entertained.

I ended-up making a few different kinds (from this site) and had enough to fill the 8 containers.  The fam loved them but more important for my pride I proved I could actually successfully make them (even if I never make them again)!

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