Slow Cooker Italian Sausage & Peppers

  During the winter, I'm ALL about the comfort food. Anything hearty, warm, and full of carbs is what I crave. It's just a bonus when I can use the slow cooker! I am a big fan of the Chief Smokehouse Italian sausage links... have you tried them? We love to grill them up in the summer-time, and serve them on toasted buns with some spaghetti sauce. I'm not about to get out my grill in 12*F weather, so I put my slow cooker to work this weekend. Pan-seared sausages are cooked low & slow with sweet onions & bell peppers, in a rich tomato sauce full of basil. We served up the sausage pieces over pasta, but I've already got my eye on an Italian sub for leftovers tomorrow! FullSizeRender (50) I used a mixture of sweet and hot Italian sausages... cut them into thirds and give them a quick sear in a hot pan. Then place them in your slow cooker. Repeat with sliced onions and sliced bell peppers. IMG_3653 IMG_3654 Layer everything up and cover it with tomato sauce. A little bit of Italian seasoning, and let that slow cooker do its magic! IMG_3655 Soooo good! Add in some grated Parmesan cheese and fresh basil just before serving and you won't be disappointed.  

Slow Cooker Italian Sausage & Peppers

Servings/Yield: 8-10 servings


  • 3 lbs sweet or hot Italian sausage links
  • 2 sweet onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 bell peppers , thinly sliced
  • 1-2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • salt & fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 28-oz can tomato sauce
  • 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (if desired)
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • fresh basil, finely chopped


1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add a drizzle of vegetable oil. Cut Italian sausage links into thirds. Place half the sausage pieces in the pan; brown about 2-3 minutes on each side. Repeat with remaining sausages. Place the sausages in the bowl of a slow cooker.

2. Add another drizzle of vegetable oil to the pan; add the sliced onion. Season with salt & pepper and cook 3-4 minutes until crisp tender. Add to sausages in slow cooker.

3. Add the sliced bell pepper to the pan; cook 3-4 minutes until crisp tender. Add minced garlic and cook 1 minute more until fragrant. Add to onions in slow cooker.

4. Pour tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes over sausages and vegetables in the slow cooker. Add Italian seasoning and crushed red pepper flakes if desired. Cook on low 5-6 hours until Italian sausage is tender.

5. Just before serving, stir in Parmesan cheese and fresh basil. Serve with pasta or on toasted buns with provolone cheese.

Source: adapted from Iowa Girl Eats

Hippie Crispy Treats

Today, I've got a variation on one of my favorite treats ever... the Scotcheroo! This cereal treat is typically made with peanut butter, butterscotch, and milk chocolate, encompassing three of my favorite flavors. Hippie Crispy Treats are a more grown-up version, full of antioxidants (hello dark chocolate) and healthy fats (thanks to almond butter and coconut oil). A little sprinkle of sea salt on top makes it the perfect indulgence. Made with all-natural ingredients, these could almost be considered healthy! ;) IMG_3625 The method is the same - bring the sweeteners to a boil (maple syrup & corn syrup), and then stir in the nut butter and chocolate. Mix in the cereal and press it all into a pan. For the topping, melt some bittersweet chocolate with a bit of coconut oil and spread it over the top. This creates a silky chocolate layer that is irresistible, especially with a sprinkle of sea salt. IMG_3622 Whole grain cereal, almond butter, coconut oil... I've pretty much decided it'll make a perfectly balanced breakfast!

Hippie Crispy Treats

Servings/Yield: 10-16 servings

  • ½ cup pure maple syrup
  • ½ cup corn syrup
  • ½ cup creamy almond butter
  • ½ cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 4 cups cornflakes cereal
  • For the topping:
    • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
    • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
    • ¼ teaspoon sea salt


1. Spray an 8x8-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan, combine maple syrup and corn syrup. Bring to a rolling boil; let boil 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, coconut oil, and almond butter. Stir until smooth.

3. Place cornflakes in large mixing bowl. Pour melted chocolate mixture over cereal; mix until combined. Spread into prepared 8x8-inch pan and press into an even layer.

4. For topping, melt chocolate chips with coconut oil in a microwave-safe bowl at 30 second intervals, stirring between each, until smooth. Spread over cereal mixture and sprinkle with sea salt. Let sit 1 hour in refrigerator or 3-4 hours at room temperature to firm up. Cut into bars and serve.

Source: adapted from Alexandra's Kitchen

Lentil Nachos with Homemade Cheese Sauce

Hello, and Happy New Year! It's been a few weeks... I apologize for my absence. I moved my cupcake business (Sara's Sweets) out of my home and into a storefront on December 15, and it was quite crazy those first few weeks! No better time than the week before Christmas to open a bakery, right??! Well, after 3 weeks of eating nothing but PB sandwiches and frozen pizza (and cupcakes galore), and then all sorts of indulgences over Christmas, I was more than ready to get back in the kitchen this weekend to prepare some wholesome nutritious meals. My husband & I aren't ones to do extreme fad diets - we try to practice moderation, with the occasional indulgence. We try to make healthy choices when we can, and this nacho swap is a great option. Traditional ground beef is substituted with lentils & quinoa... when the nachos are topped with all the traditional toppings, it's hard to even notice a difference! Start off by preparing the lentils & quinoa. In a big pot, combine a large can of enchilada sauce and 2 cups of vegetable or chicken stock to a boil. Add the lentils & quinoa, and let simmer about 45-60 minutes, until the lentils have softened and most of the moisture is absorbed. FullSizeRender (47) About 15 minutes before serving, make the cheese sauce. I have struggled with cheese sauces in the past, but have finally figured out the trick! Make sure the burner is on LOW, or completely off the heat when it's time to add the cheese. Add just a small handful at a time, and whisk until completely smooth after each addition. FullSizeRender (48) That's about it! Use your favorite additional nacho toppings to finish them off. We love to use fresh avocado and fresh cilantro... but it's really up to you! These are SO much better for you than restaurant or stadium nachos. The cheese sauce is made with real ingredients that you can actually pronounce - no preservatives! Best wishes for a healthy & happy 2016! FullSizeRender (49)

Lentil Nachos

Servings/Yield: 4-6 servings

  • For the lentils:
    • 1 cup uncooked lentils, rinsed
    • ½ cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
    • 30-oz can enchilada sauce
    • 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
    • 1 teaspoon salt
  • For the cheese sauce:
    • ¼ cup unsalted butter
    • ¼ cup flour
    • cups milk
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • cups freshly grated cheese, (mix of monterey jack & pepper jack)
  • To assemble the nachos:
    • 1 bag tortilla chips
    • your favorite salsa
    • shredded lettuce
    • chopped avocado
    • chopped tomato
    • chopped cilantro


1. Bring the enchilada sauce and vegetable stock to a simmer in a large saucepan. Add lentils & quinoa; simmer 45-60 minutes until lentils are soft and have absorbed most of the liquid.

2. When the lentils are almost soft, start the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour; whisk to combine. Cook 2-3 minutes until it turns brown. Slowly whisk in the milk; cook, whisking constantly until the mixture has thickened. Remove from the heat and add the freshly grated cheese one handful at a time. Whisk between each addition to melt the cheese. Add the salt and whisk until smooth.

3. To assemble nachos, pour nachos on a plate or platter. Top with lentil mixture, and drizzle with cheese sauce. Top with salsa, shredded lettuce, avocado, tomatoes, and fresh cilantro.

Source: adapted from Pinch of Yum

Cherry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

Baking season is upon us... my favorite time of year! I've always baked goodies to hand out to neighbors, family, and friends for Christmas. I usually make TONS of cookies and put together cookie tins. Cookies are always a hit! However, what about switching it up a bit with a pan of cinnamon rolls or a nice coffee cake? What a great gift - an easy breakfast to enjoy on a holiday morning. This Cherry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake would make a perfect treat for neighbors or friends. IMG_3205 It's really easy to make, and would be easy to double, triple, or quadruple if you want to go the gifting route. You can even swap out the cherry filling for your favorite fruit! I'm thinking blueberry would be delicious. IMG_3200 Make a simple batter, and then layer it with a cream cheese mixture, pie filling, and then more batter on top. A quick trip into the oven, and then top with a simple glaze, and you are done! coffee cake

Cherry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

Yield: 9x13-inch pan

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 21-oz can cherry pie filling
  • For the cream cheese layer:
    • 8-oz package cream cheese
    • ½ cup sugar
    • 1 large egg
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • For the glaze:
    • 1 cup powdered sugar
    • 1-2 tablespoon milk
    • ½ teaspoon almond extract
    • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract



1. Preheat oven to 350*F. For the coffee cake batter, beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla extract; beat until smooth, scraping down the edges of the bowl. Add flour and salt; beat until combined.

2. For the cream cheese layer, beat together cream cheese and sugar. Add egg and vanilla extract; beat until smooth.

3. Spread half the coffee cake batter into the bottom of a greased 9x13-inch pan. Spread the cream cheese layer over the bottom. Spread with the cherry pie filling. Place spoonfuls of the remaining coffee cake batter over the cherry pie filling.

4. Bake at 350*F for 35-45 minutes until golden brown. Let cool.

5. For glaze, combine powdered sugar, milk, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Drizzle over coffee cake.

Source: adapted from The Recipe Critic 

Smoky Black Bean & Bacon Quesadillas

You're probably thinking... a recipe for quesadillas? Who needs a recipe for quesadillas?! Cheese, meat, tortilla - done. That's what I thought, until I saw Rachael Ray whip these up on TV a few weeks ago. Smoky Black Bean & Bacon Quesadillas are full of good stuff - crispy bacon, black beans, and sautéed veggies spiced with chili powder, cumin, and a bit of cinnamon. The smoky flavor goes great with the fresh pico de gallo and sour cream. IMG_2595 It's a little more work than simple cheese quesadillas, but it's pretty easy. Cook up some bacon, and then saute your veggies in the bacon grease. Add the seasonings and then mix it all together with a can of black beans. IMG_2592 Assemble your quesadillas, and then cook until golden brown and the cheese melts. IMG_2593 As Rach would say, YUM-O! IMG_2594

Smoky Black Bean & Bacon Quesadillas

Servings/Yield: 4 quesadillas

  • 6 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 6 cups spinach
  • salt & fresh ground pepper , to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 jalapenos, seeded & diced, divided
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • pinch cinnamon
  • 15-oz can black beans, rinsed & drained
  • ½ cup red onion, finely diced
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, diced
  • 4 large flour tortillas
  • 2 cups shredded monterey jack cheese
  • ½ cup sour cream


1. In a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat, stirring, until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain on paper towels.

2. Add the onion, and cook 2-3 minutes until onion softens. Add garlic, spinach, and half the jalapeño; cook until the spinach wilts. Add the chili powder, cumin, and cinnamon. Cook 1 minute until fragrant. Add the black beans and bacon to the pan, stir to combine thoroughly. Season with salt & pepper.

3. For the pico de gallo, in a medium bowl, mix the remaining jalapeño, red onion, tomatoes, and cilantro. Season with salt & pepper.

4. Heat another skillet over medium; drizzle with olive oil. Assemble each quesadilla by adding a handful of cheese to the tortilla, topping with heaping spoonfuls of the black bean/bacon mixture, and more cheese on top. Fold over the quesadilla, and cook in the skillet until cheese melts and the outside is golden brown. Repeat with remaining tortillas, cheese, and black bean/bacon mixture.

5. Cut quesadillas into wedges, and serve with pico de gallo and sour cream.

Source: adapted from Rachael Ray

Smoked Turkey & Wild Rice Salad

Somehow, the month of November has just flown past, and Thanksgiving is right upon us! I absolutely love all the traditional foods of Thanksgiving - sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, homemade rolls, and especially pumpkin pie!

I love chowing down leftover turkey sandwiches, but sometimes it's fun to switch it up a bit. Today, I've got a Smoked Turkey & Wild Rice Salad that is a great way to use up that leftover turkey. It's a delicious salad packed with nutritious greens, whole grain wild rice, and a bright citrusy dressing. Dried cranberries, feta cheese, and buttery cashews add some extra pops of flavor.


It's a cinch to put together, too. (I threw it together in less than 20 minutes with my 1-year-old at my feet. How's that for multi-tasking??!)

The dressing: juice from a lemon and an orange, some olive oil, and salt & pepper. Shake it up!


The salad: spinach or greens of some sort, cooked wild rice, diced squash (or apples), diced turkey, dried cranberries, sliced red onion, cashews, and feta cheese.



Add your dressing and toss everything together! Start with just about half the dressing and add more as needed. If you're really in a pinch, you could use a nice bottled balsamic vinaigrette.


Smoked Turkey & Wild Rice Salad

Servings/Yield: 4-6 servings

  • For the dressing:
    • juice of 1 lemon
    • juice of 1 orange
    • cup olive oil
    • salt & fresh ground pepper , to taste
  • For the salad:
    • 6 cups greens blend
    • 2 cups cooked wild rice
    • 2-3 cups diced turkey meat
    • 2 cups diced & roasted squash (or diced fresh apples)
    • ½ cup dried cranberries
    • ½ cup sliced red onion
    • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
    • ½ cup cashews


1. Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar or container with tight lid; shake until smooth. Add salt & pepper to taste.

2. Toss all salad ingredients in a bowl. Drizzle with the dressing and toss to combine. (Start with half the dressing and add more as needed.) The salad can be served warm or cold.

Source: adapted from Pinch of Yum

Gnocchi Mac & Cheese with Crispy Kale

There's nothing quite like a warm bowl of gooey mac & cheese, am I right?! My aunt Marti makes the BEST macaroni & cheese - complete with an entire brick of Velveeta cheese. I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving just thinking about it. Today, I've got a great side dish for your Thanksgiving celebration next week. It's a comforting casserole and veggie side, all in one! Gnocchi Mac & Cheese with Crispy Kale combines soft potato dumplings with a rich creamy cheese sauce and garlicky roasted kale. The texture combination is unreal! Crispy kale with the soft gnocchi... so good! IMG_2912 Start by prepping your kale. Cut out the stems and tear the leaves into small pieces. Add the kale pieces to a bowl, and drizzle with olive oil. Massage it with your hands about a minute or so, until it starts to breaks down. Spread half of it out on a baking sheet, season, and roast at 375*F for 15-20 minutes until crispy. IMG_2906 IMG_2908 While the kale roasts, whip up a basic cheese sauce - complete with fontina, white cheddar, AND Parmesan. 'Tis the season for cheese! Once the kale is done, combine the sauce with the gnocchi and kale. Pour the mixture into a baking dish, and top with some breadcrumbs and the remaining kale. Bake the gnocchi another 15-20 minutes until the kale is crispy. IMG_2910 Let me just admit... this is the first time I've prepared kale and actually enjoyed it. Of course, it was combined with over a pound of cheese and gnocchi, but mmmm it was good.

Gnocchi Mac & Cheese with Crispy Kale

Yield: 4-6 servings

  • 1 head kale
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt & fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 lbs potato gnocchi
  • tablespoons unsalted butter
  • tablespoons flour
  • cups whole milk
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground mustard powder
  • 6 oz fontina cheese, freshly grated (1½ cups)
  • 6 oz white cheddar cheese, freshly grated (1½ cups)
  • 3 oz parmesan cheese, freshly grated (3/4 cup)
  • ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs


1. Preheat oven to 375*F. Remove stems from kale and tear the leaves into small pieces. Toss in a bowl with the olive oil; massage with your hands until kale breaks down and becomes noticeably smaller in size. Place half of the kale on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Roast 15-20 minutes, tossing halfway through, until crispy.

2. Cook the gnocchi as directed on package.

3. While the gnocchi is cooking, prepare the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a large saucepan or skillet over medium heat. Whisk in the flour to create a roux; cook 2-3 minutes until the roux is golden and fragrant. VERY slowly, whisk in the milk and cream, just a bit at a time, until the mixture thickens. Whisk in the nutmeg and mustard powder until smooth.

4. Reduce the heat to low, and add the cheese one handful at a time, whisking until melted and smooth. Season with salt & pepper to taste.

5. Stir in the cooked gnocchi and roasted kale. Transfer the mixture to a baking dish and sprinkle with the panko breadcrumbs. Top with the remaining unroasted kale.

6. Bake at 375*F for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and the kale is crispy.

Source: adapted from How Sweet It Is

Roasted Veggie Chickpea Salad

It's that time of year... the weather is getting colder and the days are getting shorter. My desire to eat salads is lessening by the day. My secret to eating vegetables in the winter months? Roast them! Roasted Veggie Chickpea Salad is a great way to pack in those vegetables without eating a bowl of 'rabbit' food. IMG_2575 Tomatoes, onion, and corn are roasted until tender and caramelized in the oven. The veggies are then combined with protein-packed chickpeas, feta cheese, fresh basil and a light balsamic dressing. I love how roasting really brings out the different flavors of the veggies, especially the sweetness of the tomatoes. IMG_2570 We loved this salad over a bed of spinach, scooped up with tortilla chips. It was also delicious wrapped up in a whole grain tortilla. Enjoy! IMG_2573

Roasted Veggie Chickpea Salad

  • 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 jalapeno , seeded & finely diced
  • ½ red onion, diced
  • 1 small frozen corn, bag
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt & fresh ground pepper , to taste
  • 2 15-oz cans chickpeas, rinsed & drained
  • 1 package feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 400*F. Place tomatoes, jalapeño, onion, corn, and basil on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil; toss to combine. Season with salt & pepper. Roast 25-30 minutes, until tender.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine chickpeas, feta, and roasted vegetables. In a small bowl or jar, mix 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and honey. Whisk or shake to blend until smooth. Pour dressing over vegetable mixture and toss to combine. Add fresh basil and toss to combine. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Source: adapted from Annie's Eats

Jalapeno Popper Baked Chicken

BBQ Bacon Jalapeno Poppers are one of my all-time favorite appetizers. I could eat a whole plate of them! They're not the healthiest, so I set out to create a main dish meal that mimics the same flavors.

Jalapeno Popper Baked Chicken takes my favorite appetizer and turns into a healthy chicken dish. Chicken breasts are stuffed with a cream cheese-cheddar-jalapeno-bacon mixture, and then coated with a crispy panko coating and baked until golden brown. I served them up alongside some roasted potatoes and broccoli, and they were a hit!

Start by browning up 2 slices of bacon. (Yes, just 2! Just to get a little bacon flavor.)


Save a little bacon grease in the pan, and saute a few diced jalapenos to give them some color.


To mix up the filling, combine low fat cream cheese, shredded cheddar, the cooked bacon and jalapenos, and some green onions. Divide it up evenly between 4 flattened chicken breasts.


Very carefully, roll each chicken breasts up, securing the filling inside with a few toothpicks.


Drizzle each chicken roll-up with olive oil and lime juice, and coat with panko crumbs. (Yes, I made a mini version for my 11-month-old! He loved it!) IMG_2658

Bake at 425*F until golden brown and chicken is cooked through, about 30-35 minutes.

Serve with BBQ sauce for dipping!IMG_2667

Jalapeno Popper Baked Chicken

Servings/Yield: 4 servings

  • 2 slices thick cut pepper bacon, diced
  • 2 finely diced jalapenos, seeds removed
  • cup reduced fat cream cheese
  • ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • ¼ cup diced green onions
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breast, (about 1.5 lbs)
  • salt & fresh ground pepper , to taste
  • ½ cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • nonstick cooking spray


1. Cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon to drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Leave about 1 tablespoon bacon grease in the pan, and add diced jalapeños to the pan. Cook 3-5 minutes until charred and tender.

2. In a small bowl, combine cream cheese, cheddar, green onions, bacon, and jalapeños.

3. Using a meat mallet, flatten chicken breasts to about 1/2-inch thick. Season with salt and pepper. Divide cream cheese mixture evenly between chicken breasts, and roll up pinwheel-style. Secure with 1-2 toothpicks.

4. Drizzle chicken breasts with lime juice and olive oil; coat in panko crumbs. Spray with nonstick spray.

5. Bake at 425*F for 30-35 minutes until golden brown and internal temperature of chicken reaches 160*F.

Source: adapted from SkinnyTaste

Mummy Halloweenies

Halloween is just around the corner, and I just love getting cheesy with holiday-theme foods. (Flashback to two years ago - Candy Corn Quesadillas.) Mummy Halloweenies are the perfect addition to your Halloween menu. A twist on the classic pigs-in-a-blanket, they are super simple to whip up, and will please kids of all ages. The kids will even love helping you make them! IMG_2639 All you need is a tube of crescent rolls, a package of hot dogs, and some sliced cheese if you're feeling adventurous. Start with your crescent roll dough. Pinch the edges to seal, and cut the dough into thin strips. IMG_2636 Wrap the strips around each hot dog (and cheese slice, if using), in every which way. Make sure to leave space for the eyes! IMG_2637 Bake at 375*F for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Don't forget to add the ketchup eyeballs! IMG_2638

Mummy Halloweenies

Servings/Yield: 6 servings

  • 8-oz package crescent rolls
  • 6 hot dogs
  • 3 slices cheddar or American cheese, cut in half
  • ketchup, for serving


1. Preheat oven to 375*F. Roll out crescent roll dough and pinch edges to seal. Using a pizza cutter, cut into thin long strips.

2. Wrap strips around hot dog (and half slice of cheese if using), to look like a mummy. Make sure to leave room for the eyes!

3. Bake at 375*F for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Create eyeballs with dollops of ketchup. Serve warm with additional ketchup.

Source: adapted from Pillsbury