RECIPE: 4 Cheese & Chicken Rotini Bake (using a Progresso Recipe Starters Cooking Sauce)

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At our house, we don't like to use processed, pre-packaged foods. We don't like the chemicals and extra sodium usually found in prefabbed food. But sometimes schedules are such that moms need an extra hand. I was drawn to the Progresso Recipe Starters sauces first for the package design (I am an art director at heart) but also for the opportunity to cut down on time during a weeknight. We bought a few to try, and were surprised at how natural tasting they were. They don't taste (or behave like) overly processed foods and worked well with our creations. They actually helped us get creative with what we had on hand. For this dish, I used the fire roasted tomato starter.


4 Cheese and Chicken Rotini Bake
using Progresso "Fire Roasted Tomato" Recipe Starters Cooking Sauce


1 can Progresso "Fire Roasted Tomato" Recipe Starters Cooking Sauce
1 Tbsp. pesto sauce
1 large shallot, equal to 1/4 cup, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 chicken breast, cut into small chunks
3/4 cup cottage cheese, drained slightly
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Ground pepper to taste
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup torn up mini Bocongini cheese
1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
13 oz. whole wheat rotini, cooked according to package directions, drained and set aside
Dried parsley and extra grated Parmesan for garnish


Preheat oven to 375˚.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Cook the shallot and garlic until softened. Add the chicken and cook until golden on all sides and no longer pink at the center.

Meanwhile, mix the cottage cheese with the egg, ground pepper and Parmesan cheese. Set aside.
Back to your chicken, add the Progresso sauce and cook for 7 minutes. Then add the pesto sauce and cook for another three minutes, stirring gently. Add the cooked pasta and mix in the sauce. Take off the heat.

Spray a large 12 " oblong casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Pour the rotini-chicken mixture into the dish. Spoon the cottage cheese mixture on top of the pasta. With the back of the spoon, push and nestle the cheese into the rotini in places. Next, sprinkle the torn up bocongini on top of the cottage cheese. Next, sprinkle the mozzarella evenly on top. Then sprinkle dried parsley on top, as well as extra grated Parmesan if you have some.

Bake pasta at 375˚ for 30-40 minutes, uncovered, until hot and bubbly with cheese well melted.
Let cool for a few minutes before dishing out the delicious.

RECIPE: Crunchy Pesto Cheese Filled Chicken Breasts

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Who has extra pesto sauce in the fridge? I always do. And I always have left over mozzarella, too. So one night, I was pretty pressed for time. I decided to stuff some chicken with these two ingredients I seem to always have on hand. Then I coated the chicken with potato flakes for something a little different, and they turned out great! AND they were easy.


Depending on how thick your chicken is, you won't need the full 45 min. My chicken was the slowest cooking chicken on the planet it seemed that night! Baking is the slowest part of the dish, really. The rest was a slam dunk.

And every Diva needs a slam dunk once in a while. Right?


Crunchy Pesto Cheese Filled Chicken Breasts



4 breasts, cleaned & trimmed

2 cups dried mashed potato flakes
1/2 cup low fat mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. milk or half and half
1 cup pesto sauce
1 cup shredded mozzarella
Dried parsley for garnish on top



Heat oven to 375˚.
Butterfly breasts and flatten out. Spread each inside with about 1/4 cup pesto sauce. Sprinkle 1/2 Tbsp. mozzarella along the inside center of the butterflied breasts. Close and cinch with toothpicks along the outer edge of each.

Mix the milk with the mayonnaise in a small bowl. Spread the mayo all over the outside of the chicken.In another bowl, press the potato flakes all over the outside. Place in a nonstick-sprayed 13 x 9 pan. Bake breasts for about 45 minutes, until the center measures about 175 degrees. If the chicken isn't golden enough, put it under the broiler for a few minutes. Serve breasts hot.


What my daughter's teaching me about my over-committed life

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I'm a busy lady.

I'm not the urban domestic diva for nothing.

I can bake the 5th grade class some brownies, do laundry, prep for a new biz pitch, run an errand for Girl Scouts and get a blog post up while most people get caught up on their "Walking Dead" series. I not only take great pride in doing all this, I expect it of myself. It's how I define who I am. Some people think I'm crazy. In fact, a colleague was describing me to a neighbor and she responded by asking if I was manic or in a depression.


I mean...I don't think so.

Am I?


But what I've noticed I expect the world, and my daughter in particular, to handle juggling as many plates as I do. We realized we were over-scheduling our daughter a year or so ago. So we have cut back on her commitments. But as she has been honing in on specific interests, I have been finding ways to nurture those interests. Therefore, I keep scheduling her for class after class. I also want to give her opportunities for socialization. Her school class is almost TOO small (yes, there is such a thing) and her quirkiness and creativity alienates her with her classmates. I rationalized that the more opportunities I give her to meet other people with her same interests, the better.

Well, one very long day later (school, aftercare, pick up, snack, home to change, back to school for "girls in the know" class) I am sitting with my ADHD daughter at this "girls in the know" class, and she's yawning obnoxiously. She's doodling. She's restless. The speaker that night was soft spoken and not very engaging, either. We were in the back and she was very hard to hear. I was becoming more and more frustrated with my daughter. Then I looked at the clock (approaching 7:15 pm with no real dinner in either of our tummies) and I think to myself, "This poor thing has been going since 6:30 this morning." With a child that has ADHD, this is a lot to expect. Then I silently curse my husband who decided this week to go on a fishing trip, forcing our daughter into aftercare that day. It was a long day for her. Heck, for me too! But I'm 40-something!

Then I looked around to get some perspective. Some girls were behaving and engaged (why can't my daughter be like that). Some were doodling, spacing out (well, shes not the only one). Some were giggling and whispering. (I wish my daughter had more friends at this annoying school.) and then there was us in the back.

And yes. I Expect my daughter to preform like those kids that at 7:15 were still engaged, behaved and focused. But she's not. She is who she is. She needs breaks. She needs to wind down before I get her into her next activity. I just can't expect her to keep a schedule that's wall to wall packed me. And my colleague said to me when I shared this realization, "Flora, not many ADULTS can keep up with a schedule like yours."

Maybe Flora shouldn't keep up with a schedule like hers, either? Maybe my daughter is on to something? Maybe I need more down time? Maybe I need to let go of something on my to-do list. Maybe I need to say no to volunteering myself for one more thing. Maybe I should just curl up and read or watch a silly show, like my daughter needs to do in between school work. Or have a cup of tea before bed while reading to wind down, like my daughter prefers to do? Or lay on a blanket and watch the stars, like she does on summer nights.

I actually do that with her sometimes. Its the best. We need to do that more.

I need to do that more.

Its so true, our kids have more to teach us then we do them.

RECIPE: Baked Whole Wheat, Maple & Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts

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Does your husband complain about all the collective crap in the house and asks monthly where did it all come from? Does he vow daily to have a garage sale stat? Does he cry and moan when you buy yet another Christmas decoration that you now need to find storage for?

Mine does.

And now I have another reason for him to divorce me, a new Nordic Ware doughnut pan.

Except he certainly loves when I make yummies with it.

We don't complain so much when our mouths are full, do we?

So to keep marital peace, I am just going to keep playing...errr...."make good use of my new purchase" by experimenting a lot with baked doughnuts. This is my newest addition to my baked doughnut repertoire.

Hope you likey. He (thankfully) sure did.

Baked Whole Wheat, Maple & Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts


cup whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
Pinch of salt
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup milk
1 Tbsp. canola oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. maple flavoring
2 tsp. lemon juice
2 1/2 Tbsp. real maple syrup

2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
4 Tbsp. melted butter
Pastry brush


Preheat oven to 400˚.
Mix the flour, baking powder, soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk the egg with the oil, vanilla, milk, maple flavoring, lemon juice and maple syrup. Pour wet ingredients into dry, and whisk until just combined.

Spray a doughnut pan with nonstick cooking spray. Spoon the batter into the molds with a small spoon about 2/3rds full. 

Bake on the center rack for 8-10 minutes until puffy and golden. Let cool in pans for a few minutes, then transfer doughnuts to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile, create your topping by mixing the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl. Melt the butter in the microwave for about 30 seconds at half power. Continue 5 seconds at a time until completely melted. With a pastry brush, soak the top of a doughnut with the melted butter. Then press the buttered side into the sugar-cinnamon mix so the tops are generously coated. Continue until all doughnuts are generously covered. I went through the bunch and gave each a second coating. Serve with a nice cup of tea or coffee.

RECIPE: Morning Detox Booster Water

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morning detox drink water cucumbers mint and lemon
Lemons have been know for years to be a healthy way to detox in the morning. For a time, I was squeezing 1/2 a lemon in warm glass of water and drinking it before drinking or eating anything else in the morning. My skin felt clearer and my allergies and bloating lessened over those months.
I wanted to try a healthier, tastier version of this for my daughter and I to drink in the mornings. I merged a couple recipes I have seen online to this. The honey adds light sweetness that makes it more palatable to my 10 year old! It helps make a good morning!
Morning Detox Booster Water
2 lemons, sliced
1/2 cucumber, sliced
10-12 mint leaves
3qts cold water
4 Tbsp. honey melted in 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan over low heat

Infuse 8 hours in a pitcher.

COOKING: The difference between convection baking and normal baking

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I have an oven that I would gladly trade for a fancy twin-oven stainless steel masterpiece (Some day, it's gonna happen...some day). But my humble oven does have a couple fancy settings on it that I use from time to time. Around Thanksgiving, when I have the oven full of a turkey and some sides, I use the convection roasting setting. It helps to brown my giant turkey in a packed-to-the-gills oven.

But the other morning, I decided to experiment with the convection baking setting. The idea behind convection ovens is about moving heat around the oven by the use of a fan in the back. I have found that the hot air goes around your pan, browning things quickly on the outer edges, but leaving the middle undercooked. Regular baking involves just heat coming from a main source-either top or bottom of your oven, and just stays put. If anything, hot air rises, so the air tends to float to the top. That's why when you want to brown a top, you put the item on the top rack. But generally speaking, regular baking creates uneven cooking, and convection cooking creates even cooking and browning.

So, I bought a frozen apple pancake for breakfast the other day. The pancake was frozen solid, and we had slept in. When I read the directions, it recommended that it defrosts for at least 15 minutes, or in the fridge overnight. I had a hungry crew on my hands, and was dismayed to realize that now, the baking of this yummy was going to take twice as long. To try and cut down on time, I gave convection baking a try.

The result is above. Some of the edges did get a little too brown. But all said and done, it only took 5 more minutes of cooking time (frozen as it was) on convection baking. The middle was cooked through and it rose rather well. So convection baking came to the rescue! I think if the pan you are using has low sides, convection would be a great baking alternative. Pans with high sides, like casseroles, would be difficult to use convection.

So if you need some emergency fast baking on something frozen, convection seems to be a good lifesaver!

RECIPE: Pumpkin Arugula and Sage Pasta

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This past fall, we had some small "pie-sized" pumpkins to make fresh pumpkin puree for pies. But time flew and we didn't have time to puree the pumpkins OR make the pie (you know how crazy back to school can be!?). So before the pumpkins began to rot, we simply roasted the pumpkin flesh with light olive oil in the oven, then peeled the skin off. We cut them up in quarters and stored the pumpkin flesh in the freezer.

Fast forward to spring, and when our budget was tight for groceries last week, I decided to defrost some of the pumpkin for an easy pasta dinner! Once defrosted I pureed it in the food processor until smooth. You can drain off some of the water if there is any, or cook some of the water out of it if you want it thicker-like canned pumpkin. I didn't have a lot of moisture in mine, so I used the puree straight and it was lighter and fresher than canned. You can use canned in this recipe if you wish, it will look darker than what's in the picture above, and probably a more intense pumpkin flavor.

The pasta has a great balance of fresh, bitter greens and a creamy nutty flavor. It's was a cheap, quick dinner on a busy Saturday.

Pumpkin Arugula and Sage Pasta


1/2 lb. whole wheat linguine, cooked according to package directions and drained
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic minced
1/2 Tbsp. fresh sage leaves, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
1 can (15-16 oz)  pumpkin puree, or fresh roasted pumpkin, processed until smooth
1/3 cup fat-free half and half
2 oz. grated Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
2 cups fresh baby arugula
Black pepper to taste

Keep your cooked pasta warm. 

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the onion and garlic until soft. Add the sage leaves and saute. Add the salt and the puree. Mix and cook the puree with the vegetables on medium-low heat for about 8 minutes. 
Add the chicken broth and simmer on low for 5-10 minutes. Add the half and half as well as the cheese. Mix and add the red pepper flakes and black pepper. 
At this point, heat the pasta in the sauce. Rip the arugula with your hands and add to the pasta. Toss until just wilted. Adjust seasonings, and serve warm with extra grated cheese on top.
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