Thursday, August 25, 2016

Healthy after school snacks that kids will love

Enjoy these seven healthy and easy after-school snacks that your kids will actually love and you can feel good about giving to them.

healthy after school snacks your kids will love

I don't like to admit it (because it means summer is coming to an abrupt end), but it's back-to-school time.

(Heck, it's been back-to-school time for weeks now for my nephews but I think they're district might be a little ahead of everyone else.)

Which makes this the perfect time to talk about after-school snacks. Forget about mini packages of chips, cheese curls, candy or any of the other junk you'll see in gargantuan packages at the grocery store. These seven easy after school snack recipes are all healthy and super easy to make.

So you can feel good about giving these snacks to your kids. And maybe to yourself as well.

Check out what I and some of my favorite foodie friends will be snacking on this fall:

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Blueberry peach cobbler cups

Easy dessert perfection: Cute cobbler cups featuring juicy summer blueberries and peaches, topped with a buttery biscuit crust.

Blueberry peach cobbler cups

I probably don't need to wax poetic with you about the awesomeness of summer fruit, do I?

I hope not. I mean, just look at that fruit, juicy goodness up there, would you?!

Blueberries + Peaches 4 Evah

And I don't think it was merely a coincidence that the universe decided to have both blueberries and peaches hitting their stride at the same time in the summer. They are simply perfect together in so many juicy ways.

But as much as I love to eat both blueberries and peaches fresh, by the handful or slice, respectively, or to freeze them by the bagful for winter smoothies, they are amazing to cook with as well. A blog oldie but goodie, my blueberry bread is a house favorite and I keep meaning to re-make those blueberry cobbler bars before the berries are gone this year (plus, they deserve a new photo shoot, don't you think?). And if you haven't added the peach cake muffins to your late summer breakfast rotation, you need to fix that ASAP.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Fast and fresh ranch pasta salad

This fast and fresh ranch pasta salad with crunchy summer veggies and chicken makes an easy, healthy weeknight meal or potluck dish.

fast and fresh ranch pasta salad from

I originally created this recipe while we lived in Vermont. And were once again in the midst of moving.

I know, it's like deja vu, right? But don't worry. I'm not moving again. (You hear me, universe? I. AM. NOT. MOVING. AGAIN.)

But, as you can imagine, moving has a way of cutting into the time (and energy) available for cooking dinner. As does hot summer weather, which we've been experiencing here in Maryland in full force over the past few weeks.

So, just as I did back when we were moving, I've lately been keeping my menu planning focused on quick and easy recipes -- especially the low- or no-cook kind.

Case in point, this easy, fast and fresh ranch pasta salad, which you can throw together in the time it takes to cook a pot of pasta, yet is cool, full of fresh veggies and very satisfying. Plus, it will leave you with lunch leftovers that you don't even need to reheat.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Easy tomato and sausage ragu

Why settle for jarred pasta sauce when you can make this easy tomato and sausage ragu with mushrooms and fresh herbs instead? 

easy recipe for tomato and sausage with mushrooms and herbs

Can you believe I was nearly 30 years old before I discovered the awesome glory of sausage?

[Seriously -- if you a regular reader of the Ninj, pick yourself up off the floor, as you know I tend to add sausage or bacon to nearly everything. Are you new? Go ahead, search on "sausage" or "bacon" in the search box. I'll wait ... get it now?]

Growing up, sausage to me meant an oily, hot sausage-and-pepper grinder (hero, hoagie, sub, whatever) -- and those just grossed me out (they still do). Therefore, in my mind I didn't like sausage. Period.

While Mr. Ninj and I were dating, he would occasionally cook for me (ah, those were the days!), and once he made some pasta dish that involve browning sausage as the first step.

This is so pathetic to admit now, but I watched in utter amazement as he CUT THE CASING OFF and added just the ground meat to the pan to brown. Whhhhaaaaattt???? Crumbled sausage? Sausage that isn't in a log shape or drowning in soggy pepper juice? Pure genius!

It's been fast ride straight down the pork hill from that day. All the way to this easy, way-better-than-jarred tomato and sausage ragu.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Healthy one pot turkey pilaf

Master weeknight dinner with one pot turkey pilaf: only 30 minutes to a healthy delicious dinner with minimal clean up plus leftovers.

Healthy and easy one pot turkey pilaf

Another busy week means another entry for my list of healthy and easy weeknight meals that anyone can make -- one-pot turkey pilaf.

Lazy me is a big fan of easy, one-pot dishes, as evidenced by some of my favorite recipes, including one-pot tomato basil pasta and healthy one-pot Asian pasta. I mean, seriously, what's not to love?

In less than half an hour, from start to finish, you can have a healthy, delicious dinner on the table. With leftovers for lunch the next day, too.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Port wine cheese spread

Cheese and crackers go retro with this super easy port wine cheese spread; all the addictive flavor, none of the garish colors.

Port wine cheese spread

Summer is just the best time for parties and entertaining, isn't it? Who doesn't love celebrating al fresco with friends at a garden party, backyard cookout or cocktail party on the deck?

It's no wonder so many people choose to get married in the summer, too -- talk about an opportunity for a grand outdoor party!

To celebrate summer and special occasions like weddings and anniversaries, I've teamed up with the folks at Uncommon Goods to introduce you to some of the amazing items they have available in their unique catalog that are perfect for gift-giving or entertaining -- and to give you a chance to win a prize package of their wares.

Case in point: the cheese-and-cracker serving board and butter and cheese knife you see in these photos. In particular, the gorgeous, made-in-Vermont cheeseboard is featured in the Uncommon Collection, an exclusive assortment of products that meet their highest standards for uncommon design, sustainability and doing good. I love the kitschiness of the ampersand -- because we all know you've gotta have crackers AND cheese!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Best BBQ sides

Wow the crowd at your next BBQ or cookout with these easy and delicious sides: choose from salads, appetizers and salsas.

Six easy and delicious sides for your next BBQ or cookout

With Independence Day just around the corner, I've been fixated lately on the summer BBQ.

Or cookout. Is this a regional thing? Growing up in New England, we called them cookouts. I had to learn to refer to them as "barbecues" when I moved down south.

Whatever the nomenclature, I love those parties held outside that involve grilled meat.

But, more than the meaty main course, I'm all about the sides: salads, dips, appetizers, chips. Those little unsung heroes are often what makes the meal. And while anyone can bring some ice cream or cookies or a flag cake made with berries and Cool Whip, I highly prefer the guest who brings an amazing side.

So here's a roundup of some of my favorite BBQ (or cookout) side dish recipes, all of which are easy to make, easy to transport and guaranteed to wow the crowd.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Homemade natural bug spray

Make your own homemade natural bug spray with only 3 ingredients: an easy, safe, effective and great-smelling way to repel insects this summer.

Easy and effective homemade natural bug spray

I'm giving you a different kind of recipe this week. And here's why.

Our latest house doesn't have a screened porch. While it does sport a large, expansive deck with lovely wooded views, it doesn't offer the iron-clad protection from flying insects that a screened porch does.


And since I didn't want to spend the summer dousing myself or Mr. Ninj in chemical-laden commercial insect repellent just to be able to enjoy morning coffee or evening cocktails on the aforementioned deck, I whipped up some homemade natural bug spray.

OMG, friends, I love this stuff! Why?

1) It's all-natural, made with lavender and lemon eucalyptus essential oils that have naturally occurring insect-repelling qualities -- yay for nature!

2) It not only smells lovely, it's also cooling and refreshing -- yay for smelling good!

3) It's wicked easy to make, just three ingredients -- yay for laziness!

4) It's a wonderful way for me to incorporate gorgeous cobalt blue bottles into my daily life -- yay for pretty, colorful things!


Friday, June 17, 2016

Slow cooker strawberry butter

Slow cooker strawberry butter is sweetened naturally with pure maple syrup and a touch of honey -- enjoy it on toast or stirred into yogurt or oatmeal. 

Naturally sweetened slow cooker strawberry butter

I scored the very last of the local strawberries from a neighborhood farm market this week. Which threw me into such a panic (No more strawberries until next year? Gaaaaaaah!) that I had to preserve them.

I froze a bunch for smoothies and then thought about strawberry jam. But then I tried to think of something else with less than a bazillion pounds of sugar.

And that reminded me to check Marisa McClellan's latest preserving book entitled Naturally Sweet Food in Jars. This is a whole book of preserves made without refined sugar. Yes! No white sugar -- amazing, flavorful jams and preserves sweetened only natural sweeteners like honey, maple and fruit juices.


I do so love to can but sometimes the amount of sugar required to keep our favorite jams safe for canning makes me feel like I'm defeating the purpose of putting up healthy fresh fruit.

You know what I mean? (It's why my yummy pear honey is used very, very sparingly around Casa de Ninj.)

After making a couple of batches, I've decided this strawberry butter is my new favorite thing. It's like apple butter ... only so much freakin' better. I've been spreading it on toast, natch, but we also love to stir it into plain yogurt for breakfast.

And I haven't even begun to start baking or making overnight oatmeal with it yet!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Strawberry breakfast biscuits

Strawberry breakfast biscuits: not too sweet, with a scone-like texture, and super easy to make. Try them in strawberry shortcake, too.

Easy fresh strawberry breakfast biscuits

Lest you think it's all savory crockpot dinners around Casa de Ninj all the time, I'd like to introduce you to my new favorite baked good: strawberry breakfast biscuits.

(Not that you can't eat them any time of the day that you please. Or multiple times during the day. Trust me, we have.)

Regular readers and makers of my recipes will not be surprised to hear that these are a not-so-sweet biscuit -- not nearly as sweet as a pastry or muffin, with a slightly scone-like texture.

They really let the flavor of fresh, seasonal strawberries shine.

And, of course, they are super easy to make, because that's how I roll -- no mixer, no rolling, no lightly-floured work surface, no biscuit cutters.