Smokin' Filled Chicken Breasts

Okay, this has been my absolute FAVORITE one this week. You wouldn't believe the flavor in the cream cheese mixture! The Adobo seasoning plus the scallions give it such a rich taste. I like it even more than Chicken Cordon Bleu! I served it with asparagus, making it one of my favorite meals yet. The original recipe called for "1 tablespoon of minched chipotle pepper in Adobo sauce" but I replaced it with the Adobo seasoning and some pepper since I didn't have any. They also called for "1 cup panko - Japanese bread crumbs" but I simply used regular seasoned bread crumbs. Lastly, it called for cooked ham, but I just used 5 slices of deli ham that I chopped into little squares. Delicious! (Taken from the Taste of Home magazine, August/September 2010, page 24.)

Smokin’-Philled Chicken Breasts

1-8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
½ c. smoked ham, cooked and finely chopped
2 green onions, chopped
1 T. Adobo seasoning
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. paprika
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (6 oz. each)
1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
1 c. seasoned bread crumbs
¼ c. canola oil

In a small bowl, combine the first six ingredients; set aside. Cut a pocket in the thickest part of each chicken breast; fill with cream cheese mixture. Secure with toothpicks. Place the flour, egg and bread crumbs in three separate shallow bowls. Coat chicken with flour, the dip in egg mixture and coat with crumbs. In a large skillet, brown chicken in oil; transfer to an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 400˚ for 20-25 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 170˚. Discard toothpicks before serving.

Fire Island Ziti

Another great one from the Taste of Home (August/September 2010 issue, page 46.) The secret is in those roasted tomatoes... absolutely delicious! You'll notice that I used penne pasta rather than ziti, just because that's my husband's favorite and that's what I had in my cupboard :) I thought my husband would get a speeding ticket on the way home when I heard I was making this! Don't worry. He didn't.

Fire Island Ziti

2 lbs. plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
3 T. olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. salt
1# ziti
2 c. fresh broccoli florets
1# Italian sausage links, cut into ½” slices
½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/3 c. grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

Toss the tomatoes with 2 T. oil, garlic and salt. Place cut side down in a 15x10” baking pan. Bake at 450˚ for 20-25 minutes or until tender. Chop when cool enough to handle (keep the skins.) Cook ziti according to package directions, adding broccoli during the last 4 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, cook sausage in remaining oil until no longer pink. Add pepper flakes; cook 1 minute longer. Stir in tomatoes and heat through. Drain ziti mixture and add a little salt; toss with sausage mixture. Sprinkle with cheese.

Louisiana Red Beans and Rice

This was another new recipe I tried this week and with success! I did make some minor adjustments to the original recipe, though. The original called for FOUR cans of kidney beans, which just proved to be too much; they also called for just one package of turkey sausage but next time, I'll be adding two. It's a lot like jambalaya. A great fast and delicious meal! I just cut it all up and throw it in the CrockPot. That's it! (Taken from the Taste of Home magazine, August/September 2010, page 59.)

Louisiana Red Beans and Rice

2-16 oz. cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1-14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
2-14 oz. pkgs. smoked turkey sausage, sliced
1 c. chicken broth
3 celery ribs, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 small sweet red pepper, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 green onions, chopped
Hot cooked brown rice (about 4 cups)

In a 4-qt. slow cooker, combine the first 11 ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or until heated through. Stir before serving. Discard bay leaf. Sprinkle each serving with onions. Serve with rice.


An Unexpected Reunion

It was November 6, 2008. Andy and I had just shared the news of our pregnancy with our families three weeks before and were anxious for the sonogram to be sure everything was alright to announce it to everyone! We arrived for our appointment early with the hopes that we would be able to get in and out within a good amount of time. We both took a half-day at work and were planning on returning by 12pm.

And I am sooo grateful Andy was with me.

My OB told me to drink a lot of water and not to empty my bladder before they my appointment, to ensure as much movement as possible. Sounds easy enough. Except when you're pregnant, you've got to empty your bladder every 15 minutes anyway... plug into that all of that extra water and you've got ONE FULL BLADDER! We sat in the chairs and I could have sworn that I was seeing stars. I really had to go to the bathroom.

There was another couple waiting in the seats next to us. It was their first pregnancy as well. We chatted for a few minutes (or as much as I could even concentrate, thinking only of holding it in!) and became excited about their parenting journey as well. The other couple went inside for their ultrasound and we waited outside. A few minutes later, we heard some very excitable screams coming from the other room. A few moments later, they called my OB in and there were more "Oh my gosh"es and "I can't believe it"s. They were having twins.

We congratulated the happy couple on their way out, still in complete shock. They had absolutely NO idea. "Maybe YOU'RE having twins, too!" the secretary teased. "Haha," we laughed, "wouldn't that be funny? No, we only heard one heartbeat three weeks ago. It's just one." Still, we all laughed in the excitement of their news and wondered if not just for a moment what it would have been like if we were to have two babies.

Thankfully, I forgot about my bladder in all of the confusion and I gratefully stepped up on the table for my sonogram. We were soooo excited! We knew it would have been too early to tell the sex at 12 weeks, but we secretly hoped that it miiiight have been even the tiniest bit possible. The girl took the cold jelly and rubbed it over my abdomen with her little wand. Not too hard, I thought, or I'm not gonna be able to hold it! I braced myself for my first look at this little one growing inside of me. I blinked at the screen above me and saw a tiny white peanut against the black background. Then all of a sudden, the sonographer pulled back the wand in a panic.

Oh, no. What's wrong? This is NOT something you want to see when you're the one on the table.

I looked at my husband, who seemed to have frozen. Andy's eyes opened wide. He looked at her, at the screen and then me. Oh, gosh. What are they seeing that I'm not? "Is everything okay?" I asked, very scared and nervous for the reply.

"Did you see that?" she asked.

I didn't know who she was talking to, but I definitely had no idea what she was talking about! "What?" I asked. And then remembering the little episode earlier, I joked, "What, are there two?" The sarcasm in my voice was pretty thick, but my smile quickly faded as I saw her blank look stare at me in disbelief and shake her head. Yes.

What? TWINS?

She brought the wand back to my belly and began scanning back and forth. "At first I thought it was stuck on the images from the mom before you!" she laughed. We were all in shock. I don't think I said anything for the first few seconds. I just froze in time, my jaw had fallen to the ground and I think I lost a little control of my bladder. Andy, of course, was jumping up and down. Never had he felt so masculine :)

Benjamin David (L) and Jonathan Andrew (R) in utero, 12 weeks gestation, 11/6/08

What followed then was a whirlwind of activity. I cried, I laughed, I pictured myself huge and pregnant. Thank God, I didn't faint. My OB came running in, the receptionists congratulated us, wanting to see the images for themselves and then we heard words like "high risk" and "not working after 20 weeks." My mind was spinning.

Wait. We're having TWO?

The sonographer joked that, in retrospect, she thought my belly looked a little big for 12 weeks when I first came in. Gosh, how was I supposed to know? I had never been pregnant before! :)

As we left the office, I made a wooooonderful trip to the bathroom and we laughed with the other nurses. We wanted them to be sure to tell that other couple and letting them know that we, in fact, WERE having twins as well! (I do feel a little sorry for the couple that came in after us. I think everyone scared them into believing they were having two too!)

It's been almost two years and we never tire of telling that story. Such a great story, with so much drama and excitement. I wish I would have gotten my parent's reaction on camera when we told them we were having twins. I still get the chills, just thinking about it, allowing them to read the labels "Baby A" and "Baby B" in utter confusion... and then sheer JOY when they got it. A day I'll never forget.

My OB said he told that other couple our story, but I always wondered how she made out. I didn't know her name, her due date or anything about them. I never thought I ever would.

Fast forward almost two years. October 24, 2010. My boys are almost 18 months old.

I joined the Mothers of Twins Club of Buffalo this spring and went to my first gettogether this past weekend. It was a Halloween party at Sue O's house about 15 minutes from ours. I dressed the boys up in costumes (they were monkeys - Jack is "Monkey See" and Ben is "Monkey Do" ;) and Andy came with me to help manage all of the food and fun.

Andy with Ben (and his notorious 'cheesy face')

Me and Jack, my pensive and thoughtful toddler. He really was having a good time! Perhaps I should have waited a few more minutes for them to get situated before snapping the photo :)

We visited with the other parents for a while before Andy said, "Min, I remember why that couple looks so familiar. They're the couple that found out they were having twins the same day as us!"

Oh, my gosh. Sue looked familiar to me when I had first met her a few weeks ago, but I would have NEVER put it together if Andy hadn't remembered it himself! I called Sue over and we laughed about the story, retelling it to anyone that would listen, and then compared notes. Her twin girls were born May 12th, exactly one week after Jack and Ben. No. Way.

I had to take a picture of the family to commemorate the day. It seriously was the highlight of my weekend.

Sue and Danny with their little penguins :)

What a small world.

Who would have ever thought? We serve a good, good God. Praise the Lord!

Hamburger Noodle Bake

Here's another good one! I got it from my Taste of Home magazine, August/September 2010 issue, page 43. I'm making some minor adjustments to the recipe, but it's still essentially the same thing. I doubled it to suit our needs and thought it would be better with more green peppers. I also forgot to take a picture, but I'm sure I'll be making it again in the near future! If you get super curious, I could scan the photo from my magazine; I'm just feeling a little too tired at the moment ;)

Hamburger Noodle Bake

1 bag egg noodles
1# lean ground beef (90% lean)
1 medium onion, chopped
1-8 oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/2 c. cream-style cottage cheese
4 oz. (1/2 package) cream cheese, softened
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1/2 c. sour cream
1/4 c. cheddar cheese, shredded

Cook the noodles according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook beef, onion and green pepper until meat is no longer pink; drain. Remove from the heat; stir in the tomato sauce, sugar, salt, garlic salt and pepper. In a small bowl, combine the cottage cheese, green onion and sour cream. Drain noodles; place half of the noodles in a greased baking pan. Spoon half of beef mixture over the top. Layer with cottage cheese mixture and remaining noodles. Top with remaining beef mixture; sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese. Cover and bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes or until heated through.
I'm making a few other new recipes this week from that same issue, so I'll be sure to keep you posted. My husband is LOVING this!


Mexican Lasagna

It's been more than a week that Andy and I have foregone fast food. And do you know what? We're doing great!

This has forced me to be more intentional about meals. I have to pack my husband's lunch the night before. I have to set out our breakfast. I have to bring a sandwich with me when I'm on the road. I have to know what I'm making for dinner the night before. And I have to start our dinner during the boys' nap. That's a lot of have tos, I know. But I cannot even begin to explain how much easier it is when it's all planned out!

Now that we're not snacking as much as before, we're HUNGRY when it's time for supper! So I like to have it (mostly) ready when Andy comes home. Doing it while the boys nap is the easiest solution for me. My toddlers love to watch me cook, but it's not always realistic to have four little arms grabbing at the stove or the large butcher knife when you're trying to put it all together. Don't get me wrong, I'd much rather relax, blog, or do crafts during their nap. But we've decided that eating well is a priority for our family, so this is what I've decided to do. I prep it in the afternoon, then set it aside. If it's a CrockPot meal, it's a no-brainer. But if it's something that goes in the oven, I just watch the time and it only takes a moment to preheat the oven and pop my ready-to-go dish inside. When Andy comes home, I finish working on the sides and dinner's on the table 15 minutes later!

Here's a favorite I made last night. A real winner. Andy's eating the leftovers for lunch today.

Mexican Lasagna

1 lb. ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 lb. can petite-cut diced tomatoes
1-8 oz. can tomato sauce
1-4 oz. can diced mild green chilies
1 pkg. taco seasoning mix
*8 oz. sour cream
*1 lb. grated cheddar cheese
*flour tortillas, large package
Brown beef and onion in pan, then drain grease. Add all but starred ingredients. Simmer 10-15 minutes. Place ¼ cup of meat mixture in 9x13” pan. Reserve ½ cup of meat mixture. Cover with tortillas, then meat, then cheese. Repeat until finished (about three layers). Before adding last layer of tortillas, spread with sour cream. Put on last layer of tortillas and place reserved sauce of tortillas. Bake at 350* for 25-35 minutes.
I also made peas and green beans with it and my boys seemed to enjoy that along with the cooked tortillas!

Now, if I can only lay off the Halloween candy, I might be losing a little more weight... ;)


Goodbye, McDonalds. We're No Longer Friends.

I love watching my screensaver since I programmed it to go through my picture album. I just love pictures. Especially of my boys' first year! I hardly recognize those small little bodies we took home from the hospital a year and a half ago. And those photos of their first taste of baby food, teeth and steps are so precious.

I melted in front of the computer watching these photos on Saturday when a photo of my husband and I flashed on the screen. We were dating. We looked fantastic. Honestly, it was only four years ago, but there was something completely different about us.  

Andy and I at the Labor Day Fair in September 2006 (that's Diet Coke in his hand ;)

Oh, yeah. We were THIN.

When I met Andy, I was working full-time, eating well and working out three times a week. My hair was super long and I hadn't bitten my fingernails in almost a year. After all, I had to be ready for when Mr. Right came my way! And thankfully, I was!

I showed my husband the photo when he got home and we agreed. It was time to do something about our weight.

We have been doing well with our little 15-minute focus cleaning time. Now we were ready to add something else to our plate. We decided that we would make ONE change together. Focus on that change for a week and if we were ready, add something else the next week. This philosophy had worked well with getting our house back in order, so we knew we could do it. The fact that we would be doing it together would help give us the motivation we needed to keep on going. We talked about our biggest downfall. For both of us, it was fast-food.

It has become sooo easy for me to stop by Tim Hortons on the way to the grocery store for some root beer and (aw, what the heck,) I'll get three Timbits, too. Or how about those afternoons after MOPS where I drive around while the boys sleep? Want some McDonald's? Don't mind if I do! Add this to the fact that it's all within reach of a comfortable drive-up window while the boys are in the back seat and you've got a recipe for disaster! Or at least that little pack I've been sporting on my tummy. I can't blame it on the c-section or even those extra 1,000 calories I can no longer consume because of breast feeding. That little pack was from my fast-food obsession.

My husband said he is so lethargic at the end of the day because he would have to stop for quick lunch during work. I was too lazy to make his lunch the night before, leaving him to fend for himself. Now that we were being productive for a little bit each evening, I was making him lunches. This seemed managable.

We started on Sunday after having this conversation on Saturday night. We weighed ourselves in the morning to give us a starting point (just because I knew I'd lose weight by not getting McDonalds every few days!) Monday was the first real test, though.

Now, in order to give up our quick lunches, we had to plan ahead. Have breakfast at home - cereal or a bagel - and then have a bagged lunch ready to go. I do that for him at night and also make myself a sandwich for that next day. Then I also have to have a plan ready (or already begun) for dinner because by the time he comes home, we're both hungry! For those days when I have MOPS, I have to pack a sandwich for myself so I'm not tempted to stop.

And do you want to know what? It's making a difference!

I haven't weighed myself since Sunday morning, but I feel lighter. My tummy is shrinking and that little pack isn't as noticeable! We have more energy throughout the day, rather than feeling sluggish and tired. It's only been FIVE DAYS and we're already seeing a difference!

Just goes to show you. If you take ONE thing at a time and don't bite off more than you can chew (pun intended ;) you really can make BIG changes! Good thing we started this week, too. McDonalds just started playing Monopology again!! That would have packed on an additional five pounds, no problem! :)


Monte Cristos

I know, I've been posting a lot of recipes lately. But with the busyness of the autumn season as well as preparations for upcoming holidays, I thought this was a perfect one to share! Well, that and I made it for dinner last night :)

Monte Cristos are the perfect breakfast-dinner. It's French toast with a kick: Swiss cheese, turkey, bologna and ham. My mom used to make these all the time on the weekends and now I enjoy making it for my family in a pinch. It's a hearty sandwich where you can add as much or as little as you'd like. Here's how...

Monte Cristos
8 slices of bread
8 slices of Swiss cheese
4 slices of bologna, turkey and/or ham
3 eggs
2 T. milk
maple syrup
Build your sandwich with the cold cuts. I like putting a piece of Swiss cheese at each end so it holds the sandwich together: bread, cheese, ham, turkey, bologna, cheese and bread. Set aside. In a medium-sized bowl, beat together eggs, milk and a few sprinkles of cinnamon. Add salt and pepper to taste. When your griddle is warm and greased, drop each sandwich in the egg batter - both sides - and then put on the griddle. Flip when the side is lightly browned. Serve warm and with maple syrup. Makes 4 sandwiches.


Many Hands Make Light Work

When Daddy comes home from work, it's a whirlwind of activity until it's time to put the boys down. Having only two hours a night with them, my husband treasures that time and seeks to put as much energy into his kids as he possibly can. I love it. Watching those three wrestle and hear their giggles makes my heart weld up with pride. They play while I make dinner, then we eat, clean up, give baths, read books, say our prayers and then it's off to bed!

I work hard all day - Andy does, too - but somehow, those last two hours seem the most taxing. For both of us. By the time we lay them in their cribs, all my husband and I want to do is fall on our bed in complete exhaustion and do nothing for the rest of the night. And that's exactly what we had been doing for quite some time. We'd go numb in front of the television and feel guilty for not doing something more productive.

This became a problem. You see, our boys go down at 7:30pm. That's a whole lot of time we're wasting by simply relaxing night after night after night. It's difficult to get much of anything done during the day while caring for my two busy toddlers. By choosing to relax the entire 11 hours while they slept through the night, my house got more and more messy, more chaotic, and I didn't even know where to start in getting it back together. My mood changed. I ate a lot of chocolate. I felt overwhelmed, discouraged and that I had gotten myself in too deep to recover.

So I did what any good wife does. I vented to my husband.

Now, girls. When you vent to your husband, be prepared to receive a solution. That's how our men were built: to solve problems. They don't enjoy seeing you suffer. They are wired to help. And thank God, my husband delivered when I needed it most.

We came up with a plan that involved both of us working together to help keep our house under control. Doing a little bit each day. And it's making a HUGE difference!

I am so grateful for a supportive husband! Here he is sharing a gentle moment with Ben (foreground) and Jack (on his shoulder.) I just love my boys!

When we put the boys down, my husband and I each work for about 10-15 minutes on anything constructive in the house. We're waiting for the boys to soothe themselves to sleep, so we try not to make a lot of noise by walking through our small two-bedroom apartment. But it's not difficult finding quiet things to do on that side of the house! We'll put some clothes away, open the mail, organize some papers in our bedroom, fold a pile of laundry or clean up the bathroom. We found that the progress we were making was intoxicating. Motivating. We'd finish a project and then look to find something else. We felt proud to have completed TWO things and so we searched out another. Night after night, we'd conquer a tiny piece of our world within that small amount of time and in turn, we wanted to be more productive again during the day. Now, I can get small projects ready when the boys are awake, knowing I will have some time to finish it in the evening. And the best part of this plan? My husband and I are working together!

It's so much more motivating to see progress happening when there are two people working on it!

"Many hands make light work," is a theme resonating with me after Mindy Mancuso spoke at our MOPS meeting this past week about that exact thing. It doesn't take a huge commitment. Start small. Do what you can. Talk to your spouse when you get overwhelmed and then take his suggestions. And trust me, those little things will make a HUGE difference.


Pasta con Broccoli

This is another very easy dish we enjoy any time of year! I make it when I didn't thaw out any meat ahead of time and I only have about 15 minutes before I'd like to have dinner on the table. It's sooo easy!
Pasta con Broccoli
1" pasta (penne and spaghetti are my favorites)
1 large bag of frozen broccoli
1/4 c. parmesan cheese
olive oil

Boil pasta according to package instructions. When it's finished, add the frozen broccoli to the water and let it cook a little longer (3-4 minutes) until tender. Then strain the pasta along with the broccoli. Put it in a larger bowl, tossing with some parmesan cheese and a few sprinkles of olive oil. Add salt to season, if you desire.
If you have some extra time, you could try adding chicken, sausage, or even sun-dried tomatoes. But this is just how my boys like it. So simple and so delicious.