Back to School Power Breakfasts

I know it’s easy to sleepwalk through breakfast, especially for busy moms or teenagers.  But c’mon, people.  With a little planning, and very little effort, you can have a power packed breakfast, full of “good brain food.”  My friend, Natalie, of Life Success For Teens and I combined on this effort, to help teenagers get out the door well-prepared for a productive day.

Cinnamon Cocoa Overnight Oats

My inspiration here are those “tall mocha, extra whip” type drinks with TONS of sugar and too much caffeine.  This recipe will fuel you just the same, and scratches that itch, without all the unnecessary sugar. SUPER FOOD: almonds

Cinnamon Cocoa Overnight Oats

1/2 c. rolled oats, 1 c. almond milk, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1 T. cocoa mix, 1 T. chopped almonds.  Combine all ingredients in a mason jar, stir.  Refrigerate overnight.

Power Pancakes:  

It’s hard to believe there is cottage cheese in this recipe, packing these pancakes with protein.  And you don’t miss syrup if you want to just grab them and go. SUPER FOOD: blueberries.

power pancakes

I use the Blender pancake recipe from Katie Lee and add blueberries.  Combine 1 cup cottage cheese, 1 cup rolled oats, and 2 eggs in a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Heat skillet (or griddle), and add butter.  Pour batter onto skillet (about 1/2 cup) and drop a hand full of blueberries onto the pancakes.  Cook until you see bubbles forming on the sides.  Flip and cook another minute or so.  Top with syrup, or powdered sugar.  (But it might be sweet enough for you with the blueberries alone) You can also sub smashed bananas for the cottage cheese (and add peanut butter). 

Go Bites:

These are portable and popable, perfect for the bus ride to school or the carpool.  Don’t make them too big, or they’ll melt in your hands. For an afternoon snack instead of breakfast, use trail mix instead of cereal. SUPER FOODS: cranberries and almonds.

go bites

1/2 c. peanut butter. 1 T. honey, granola,  raisins, craisins, and leftover cereal.

Mix the peanut butter and honey, then freeze for about 20 minutes.  Remove from freezer and roll into balls (a small spoonful each) Pop them back in the freezer for a few more minutes, as they’ll get warm from your hands.  While those firm up, combine granola, raisins, craisins and any leftover cereal you’ve got in the house, like Cheerios, Rice Krispies, etc.  Roll the peanut butter balls in the mixture to coat completely.  Refrigerate until you’re ready to eat.  

Avocado English Muffin:

I will eat just about anything if it has avocado in it.  But they’re not cheap.  So adding cream cheese will make them stretch, and feed a couple teens, or you.  And adding spinach will sneak in a vegetable serving before the bell rings. SUPER FOODS: avocado and spinach.

Avocado English Muffin

1 Whole Wheat English Muffin, 1 avocado, 1/2 c. fresh spinach leaves (finely chopped), 1-2 T. cream cheese, kosher salt to taste.

Toast the English muffin.  Slice the avocado and remove the fruit.  Combine the avocado with the cream cheese, a pinch of salt and spinach.  Spread over the muffin.  

If you really want your teen to be well-prepared this fall, check out Life Success for Teens.  Natalie has an upcoming workshop, boot camp style, that will help optimize a teenager’s performance at school.  Click here for information.

 

 

 

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Food is love.  And love is food. 

If you’re like me, you like to show love with food. As Valentine’s Day draws near, I teamed up with someone I love, my friend Rachel from Roaring Acres, to create three lovely events aimed at showing those close to us just how much we care. Cozy up with your girlfriends for PJ Potluck, entertain your kiddos with a Valentine’s themed play date, or romance your honey with an enticing sweetheart’s brunch in bed.

lovely events pj potluck setup

Week nights can be exhausting. The idea of cooking for a crowd probably doesn’t appeal to many. Make a few easy things (some ahead of time) and ask your gal pals to contribute the rest, potluck style. Throw what you need in a silverware caddy and dish out sweets in small, portable portions. Trade work clothes for yoga pants, pop in a movie (or three) and indulge in some serious comfort food.  

Take movie night to the next level with tomato and truffle popcorn soup shooters. Saw this recipe in Food Network Magazine and had to give it a shot. I actually used half the recommended amount of truffle oil and found it to be just enough. Make the soup a day or two in advance, then just heat and serve. Garnish with popcorn and share the rest of the bag with easy-to-pass-around tins.

lovely event chocolate penne

I wanted to give local entrepreneurs some LOVE in this post by making an indulgent and (appropriately flavored) pasta dish using chocolate penne from the Little Lakewood Pasta Company.  Recipe follows. 

And I also LOVE friend and fellow TV news veteran, Tiffani Tucker’s, new Bundt cake business. Have a Slice mini heart-shaped cakes were the perfect complement for our Valentine’s Day dessert. She prepares five different flavors that could also double as favors.


Over the weekend, create a no-frills craft and healthy lunch. Served in the middle of the action, the kiddos can help themselves while they decorate cards for the local nursing home, or a children’s hospital. Dig up that heart-shaped cookie cutter and make sandwiches with strawberry jam and almond butter.
Since my little sweeties like to dip things, I roasted some red peppers and added it to homemade hummus, and provided a pile of sweet and crunchy sliced red and yellow peppers. Recipe follows.

For something to sip on that’s also good for the heart, I made smoothies in my daughters’ favorite color–purple. Toss in frozen berries, a banana, almond milk, and a generous splash of this vibrant fresh pressed juice from Restore Cold Pressed, made with raw and organic apples, beets, carrots and lemons. Use a fun glass so they can slurp them up happily.

Dessert doubles as a holiday-themed activity with decorate-your-own mini cupcakes.  More sprinkles ended up on the floor than on the cupcake display…but kids love to be involved in the fun.

lovely events brunch set up

And don’t forget to to treat your honey.  Create a beautiful brunch or breakfast in bed. If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then deviled eggs are the fast lane.


Hard boil eggs and make the deviled filling the night before. (I add mayo, yellow and Dijon mustard, a splash of Worcestershire sauce and salt/pepper) Fill and top them on Valentine’s Day. I painted hearts with Sriracha, sprinkled capers on a second set, then used the remainder of my pancetta from my pot luck pasta recipe for a third variety.

lovely events breakfast stack

To satisfy meat eaters, make this impressive Breakfast Stack with sausage, cheese, sautéed veggies and potatoes. Recipe follows.  This can also be prepped ahead of time to allow for less labor and more snuggle time on this romantic day.

And for a decadent dessert, my go-to is a Chocolate Strawberry Panini, a recipe from my culinary crush, Giada De Laurentiis. I used my Panini press, but if you’ve got a Foreman Grill or a grill pan, those will do the trick too.


Skip the heart-themed setting and create a Valentine pink bubbly by dropping in a few Red Hots for color and just a hint of cinnamon flavor. Or brew up your love’s favorite blend, and finish it with the care and attention of a seasoned barista.

lovely event coffee

A trio of Valentine’s Day menus, delivered. My love to you all!!

Chocolate Penne: 1 lb. dried chocolate penne pasta, 1 jar prepared Alfredo sauce, or about 2 cups homemade, ½-1 c. asparagus, cut into bite sized pieces and blanched, 2-3 T. pancetta or bacon cut into 1 inch pieces, 1 Roma tomato, halved and sliced, pinch of nutmeg and cardamom (optional)

Cook pasta according to package directions, 7-10 min. In a sauté pan, fry up pancetta, then set aside. To the same pan, warm sauce and add nutmeg and cardamom. Toss the pasta in the sauce, and then add asparagus. Top with sliced fresh tomatoes and crispy pancetta.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus: 1 red pepper, olive oil and salt, 1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained, I lemon, juiced, 1 clove garlic, chopped, 1 T. parsley, chopped, ¼ t. sesame oil, ¼ c. water, ½ c. olive oil, salt/pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425* Coat the red pepper generously with olive oil and salt. Roast in the oven until skin is slightly charred. Set aside to cool then peel the skin and remove seeds and stem. In a food processor, combine beans, garlic, lemon juice, parsley, sesame oil, water, salt/pepper and the red pepper (cut into strips).  Blend until smooth, gradually pouring in the olive oil.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Chill and serve.  

Breakfast Stack: ½ lb. breakfast sausage, ½ c. shredded cheddar cheese, 2 T. each, red and yellow bell peppers, 1 T. white onion, chopped, 1 small potato, shredded, 1 egg, beaten.

Preheat the oven to 350.* Brown the breakfast sausage and set aside. Shred the potato like hash browns and then wring out as much moisture as you can, with a cheese cloth or clean dish towel.  Season and pan fry until golden brown.  Set aside.  Combine chopped veggies, season and sauté until softened.  Generously coat a medium ramekin (about 10 oz. size) with cooking spray.  Sprinkle cheese on the bottom for the bottom layer.  Add a layer of sausage, then veggies, then potato.  Pour  in the beaten egg, making sure it filters through the layers. Finish with a final layer of cheese.  Bake 20-25 min.  Cover with a plate and flip to remove from ramekin and serve. 

Pumpkin Pie Pancakes

I can’t believe I’m going to say this…but I’m almost “pumpkin pie-d out.”  It is my favorite dessert, period.  I gobble up anything pumpkin pie or pumpkin spice flavored beginning October 1st, and usually don’t stop until the end of Thanksgiving weekend.   So by now, I’m usually ready to move on.

After Thankgiving I still had so much excess pumpkin pie filling from a double recipe, combined with apparently small pie plates, that I cranked one more out over the weekend.   But this morning there was still about a third of that pie left, staring at me.  I don’t like throwing food away ever, but I certainly don’t like throwing away my favorite dessert.  It seems sacrilegious.

pumpkin pie leftover

I usually get my “Cheftovers” ideas in the morning, when I crack open the refridgerator for the first time that day.  And today was no different.  That pie was lingering, and I was hungry for breakfast.  Why not pumpkin pie pancakes?  Sure sounds tasty, and I think it just might work.  I read a quote from radio and TV critic Harriet van Horne recently that inspired me:

“Cooking is like love-it should be entered into with abandon, or not at all.” 

So I ran with the idea.  What’s the worst that could happen?  I waste some pie that I really didn’t want anyway?

pumpkin pie pancake batter

The rest is pretty simple.  I grabbed the pancake mix I keep in the pantry and prepared that as usual, according to the directions. (2 cups of mix, and a cup and a half of water)  Then I cut a generous piece of pie and scooped out the filling.  I added it to the pancake batter and blended it until it was smooth again.  Once that was added, the batter was pretty thick, as you might imagine.  So I added about a half a cup more water and the consistency was back to where it should be.

pumpkin pie pancake on the griddle

Then I fired up the griddle pan, and cranked out my pumpkin pie pancakes just like I would a standard stack of ’em.  My preschooler still wanted butter and syrup like normal, and she practically licked her plate clean.  I am not a big fan of maple syrup in general, so I topped mine with a bit of butter and some whipped cream.

Duuuuuude, these were tasty!  They didn’t have the same consistency as regular pancakes, which was fine with me.  I find regular pancakes kinda bland and dry anyway.  These were far more moist and flavorful.  I will do this again…might even scoop out the rest of the leftover filling and freeze it for future breakfasts this month.

What do you still have lingering in your fridge that you’re trying to find a creative way to use?

Too Much Take-Out

We’ve started a new routine in our household that we’re trying to stick to.  I’ve asked my husband to take care of dinner on Friday nights.  It’s a pretty rare occasional when he actually cooks.  Doesn’t matter.   Most of the time, it’s take-out.  And that’s just fine with me, as long as the task is taken off my plate.  And with take-out…whether it’s Chinese, pizza, or your favorite neighborhood wing joint….there’s usually leftovers. 

When my husband orders take-out, his eyes are generally bigger than both of our stomachs.  He recently came home with a box…not a bag, a box…full of food from a locally owned and family-run Italian restaurant we’ve become quite fond of.  He placed and picked up our dinner order rather late, and I noticed they threw in an entire to-go box full of bread sticks (probably end of dinner service and they didn’t figure they’d be good after that night, and/or hostess who took the phone order thought they were feeding a family of 8, given the size of said order).   I couldn’t find room for even one….between the wedding soup, salad, chicken piccata and homemade spaghetti and meatballs.  But these were bakery-quality bread sticks and I hated to toss them.

breadsticks

I try to make something for breakfast on the weekends that’s different than the usual scrambled eggs or soggy cereal.   The breadsticks were just what I needed to whip up some quick French toast sticks.   A few easy steps and my children were gathered around the table gobbling them up.  Crack a couple of eggs, add a generous splash of milk, about teaspoon of cinnamon (or more if you prefer) and a teaspoon or more of vanilla.  Then whisk everything together.  Dunk each piece of bread in the egg mixture so that it’s totally coated.  Warm some butter on a flat top, frying pan or griddle pan.  Cook the French toast sticks until each side has a nice golden crust.  Most would butter then and serve with maple syrup.  But I’m not too fond of maple flavored anything, so I like to sprinkle a little sugar on top instead.  The best part?  These could also freeze and be on stand-by for a quick go-to weekday breakfast.

What do you often find yourself left with after take-out night?  What have you done with it?

Black Friday Breakfast- Overnight French Toast

Since I work with leftovers, Thanksgiving is pretty much my Super Bowl.  (see previous posts on The Pilgrim Pocket, and 5 Better Things to do with Thanksgiving leftovers) And I know, I know….the last thing you want to do on the day after Thanksgiving is cook.  But as I’ve mentioned before, I hate wasting food…especially food that I, or someone from my family, have put so much time and love into.

I also have the unfortunate luck of working on Black Friday (no, I’m not in retail!) So I whipped together an overnight French Toast with some of the Thanksgiving Day remnants to help me get out the door quicker, fuller and help out my husband who has a special “daddy day” planned with his daughters.

My inspiration was a Ziploc bag full of leftover “Monkey Bread” we were sent home with after stop one on Thanksgiving.  If you’re not familiar, it’s a bundt pan of guilty pleasure made with biscuit dough, butter and sugar.  A friend of mine challenged me to make French Toast with it.  I recalled an overnight recipe I’d made before from the The Yummy Mummy Kitchen by Marina Delio.  Of course she uses fresh French bread, but I didn’t see why this couldn’t be adjusted.

I pulled apart the “monkey balls” and placed them in a single layer in a greased baking dish.  Then, I took some blackberries from my produce drawer and the remainder of the homemade cranberry sauce from the day’s feast and filled in the gaps.

making black friday breakfast

I whisked together a couple of eggs, some vanilla and added whole milk.  But here is where you could use some of the massive amount of half and half you bought for the coffee you served with pumpkin pie, or the rest of the heavy cream you purchased for your potato recipe.  Use what you’ve got!  (I also left out the syrup that the original recipe calls for, as there’s already so much sugar on the monkey bread) I poured the mixture over the bread/berries then covered it with plastic wrap and left it in the fridge overnight.  (if you’re in a hurry, try doing it without the “overnight” element…and let me know how it turns out! I’m curious myself)

Black Friday morning, I melted some butter, added brown sugar and some crushed walnuts and sprinkled that mixture on top.  Here’s another good place to use leftovers, like pecans you have from the pecan pie you made.  I placed in a 375 oven for about 40 minutes.  Top it with syrup, and enjoy!

What do you have leftover from Thanksgiving? I am looking for inspiration and another challenge!!

Cheftovers Pantry Must-Haves

You can’t make Cheftovers magic without some must-haves.  I’m not suggesting you take this list, and go out and buy everything up.  However, these are the things I like to keep in my fridge, freezer and pantry, that allow me to successfully cobble together dinner or reinvent last night’s meal.

pantry must haves-pasta

Pasta.  Like any good Italian girl, I always have several pounds of pasta on hand.  Short and long, frozen and stuffed.  To me, pasta is the perfect canvas for a lot of things.  Think you only have enough chicken for one serving?  Not so, if you chop it up and toss it with a bowl of pasta and add a savory cream sauce or pesto.  Have leftover Chinese food?  Use some linguini to whip up a cold noodle salad/side for lunch the next day and toss in that excess beef and broccoli.

Tortillas.   Another great blank slate.  I love making a quick quesadilla for my kids.  They also take the edge off when I get home from work and don’t plan on eating dinner for a while.  So I always keep a variety of shredded cheese on hand to make ‘em melty, and marry the bits and pieces I have around from previous dishes.  These Mexican staples can also serve as a vessel for MYOP, or make your own pizza pockets…again, using things like veggies you’ve got around.

I made a risotto to celebrate our  anniversary using arborio rice and wine from Santorini.  (we honeymooned in Italy and Greece)

I made a risotto to celebrate our wedding anniversary using arborio rice and wine from Santorini. (we honeymooned in Italy and Greece)

Rice.  White, brown, long grain and Arborio.  I love making a risotto with the rest of the expensive asparagus or artichokes I purchased for a dish earlier that week.  Sometimes I’ll stuff a green pepper when I’ve got a few extra in the produce drawer.  Stuff a chicken breast with long grain or brown rice, onion, garlic and spinach.  It’s tasty and filling.

Bacon.  Wrap almost anything in bacon and it makes it instantly and infinitely better.

Produce.  Not a day goes by when I don’t use several of the following: onions, celery, garlic, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, lemon, lime, tomatoes, corn, peppers.  Frozen: corn, peas, spinach, kale.

egg bake2

Dairy.  Sour cream, cream cheese, and butter/margarine are “duh” items.  I like to keep a lot of half and half in my fridge, not only because I like it in my coffee, but also because I can use it where you might want heavy cream in a recipe.  Most of the time there is skim milk and whole milk in there too.  Having a dozen eggs around opens up the possibility for a lot of delicious dishes.  I like to concoct egg bakes using what I’ve got around…a little leftover ricotta from lasagna, sun dried tomatoes from a pasta dish, spinach from a stuffed chicken recipe.  You get the idea.

Spices.  Building a good spice cabinet takes some time.  If a recipe calls for a spice I don’t have in stock, I’ll search for a substitute or I usually move on.  Things like garlic salt, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, basil, oregano, cumin, chili powder, paprika, herbs de Provence, ginger, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, thyme, and parsley I always keep in my cabinet.  It’s rare I find use for things like turmeric or saffron.  But it depends on your taste.

Dressings/Condiments: mayo, mustard, dijon mustard, soy sauce, Worcestershire, hot sauce, peanut butter, salsa, and BBQ sauce.  These items find their way into many sauces, marinades or dressings that change yesterday meal into today’s “original” offering.

Almonds.  I use these as a nice substitute for most expensive and harder to come by pine nuts.  They also serve as a delicious stand-in for bread crumbs when breading chicken or fish.  But bread crumbs also make my list.  Turn leftover salmon from a cook-out into salmon cakes you can freeze (with some of the above mentioned veggies like corn and peppers, plus some cayenne or Cajun seasoning)

Stock or broth.  I go through this like water, literally.

Oils and vinegars.  Make a one-time investment in some of these and you’ll open yourself up to different dishes that you wouldn’t normally make.  I buy olive oil by the gallon sometimes.  Canola or vegetable oil is a must.  Sesame oil can is useful in many Asian sauces and marinades, plus you can make your own hummus with it.  Balsamic, red wine and white wine vinegar are pantry staples.  But cider vinegar makes its way into a lot of my recipes too.

I combined a can of diced tomatoes with some fresh tomatoes that weren't going to last much longer for the base of a fresh marinara.

I combined a can of diced tomatoes with some fresh tomatoes that weren’t going to last much longer for the base of a fresh marinara.

Canned goods.  Black beans can “pinch hit” for a protein in one of my quesadillas, or be added to white rice, leftover fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime for a side dish, a la Chipolte. Various canned tomato products are enormously useful.  I try to stock the cupboard with tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes and tomato paste.  And because I’m part Mediterranean, I always like to have olives within reach.  They’re like a great culinary accessory.

I’m always interested in an ingredient or tool to make things tastier, or easier?  What are your pantry #musthaves?