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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Chicken Lasagna Zucchini Boats




How often have you found yourself struggling for ideas on what to make for dinner?  I know my husband and I aren't the only ones.  We're constantly trying to think of different meals that we can make for our family.....especially healthier meals.

Late 2015 I started changing how I eat by following a keto-adapted diet.  I won't get into all of that in this post, but choosing to lead a low-carb high-fat lifestyle has helped me make better meals for my family (and I've lost over 100 lbs.....I'll share how I did it in another post - promise).  While I'm all in and committed to this new way of eating, not everyone in my house is and that's okay.  I'd love if they could all be on board and hopefully they'll get there, but for now....baby steps.

In trying to merge our traditional weeknight meals that we love with meals that fit into my diet, I've had to adjust meal planning just a bit.  We make meals based around what I can eat....and the kids (and sometimes my hubby) get to have a side dish that I most likely won't eat....like rice, potatoes, bread, etc.  That's the easy part, because I can eat a lot of different foods....which is awesome and I'm not deprived....the trick is being able to mix it up.  Like, well, what if we want Chinese?  We can have Stir Fried Beef with veggies.....no rice for me.  What about Spaghetti....I can make regular pasta for the rest of the family and I'll roast a spaghetti squash and top it with meat sauce.  Everyone wins.  Traditional meals that we love, but I have the option of choosing food that is healthier.

One of my go to meals now when we're trying to figure out what to make for dinner is zucchini boats.  I love making them because you can pretty much add different fillings to them and they're perfect for a keto lifestyle.  Plus, my kids really like them....which is another huge win.



I first heard of zucchini boats after watching one of those fun quick minute meal videos you see on Facebook.  The video showed in several steps how to make pepperoni 'pizza' zucchini boats.  This girl loves pizza - but it's obviously not low-carb....but here was an option to get the flavors of pizza and it is keto-friendly.  I was instantly hooked.  Once I realized how versatile zucchini boats were, it became one of my go to meals for dinner.  We can make cheese steak zucchini boats, crab-filled zucchini boats, taco style zucchini boats.....the list goes on.  They're also great for adding to your meal planning menu.



You can prep these ahead of time by having your meat seasoned and pre-cooked, veggies cut up  and sauce on hand in your pantry.  I used the new Homestyle Ragu sauce for the recipe I'm sharing today.  I love that it tastes homemade, doesn't have high fructose corn syrup (a keto no-no), no artificial ingredients.....and the sauce itself is nice and thick!  I am telling you....I'm a sauce snob....I either make it myself or buy a basic sauce and add extra seasoning to it, but this sauce doesn't need anything extra at all!  It's definitely going to be a staple in our pantry.  Head over to their site and check out some of their delicious recipes!




Making the actual boats is fairly easy.  You just slice them lengthwise, hollow out the center with a scoop (save the scooped out flesh because you will add it to your mixture), then you fill the boats with a cheese mixture just like you would for lasagna!






I always like to try something new each time I make them.  I thought of adding bacon, but since this is an Italian style meal, I added pancetta!  YUUUUMMM!!!  After rendering down the pork, I added a bit of olive oil and seasoned a few pieces of chicken with a bit of salt and pepper....it doesn't need much because cooking the chicken in the same pan the pancetta is cooked in will pick up those flavors.....double YUUUUUMMMM!  Once the chicken is cooked, I add in the scooped out bits from the zucchini, added the Homestyle Ragu sauce and let it cook until warmed through.





The next steps are easy, you just top the filled boats with the meat and sauce mixture, top with mozzarella cheese and bake in a covered dish for about 25 minutes.







I like  to always add a little extra cheese when I'm baking dishes like this.  So, I tend to go back in and add a bit more cheese and let it cook uncovered for about 5 more minutes.

When the zucchini is ready, you can serve it with a simple side salad.  If your family prefers pasta, a small serving of penne or cavatappi would work great with this as a meal, as well.










I'll definitely be creating more dishes like this and making more family traditions with RAGÚ® Here's my recipe for delicious chicken lasagna zucchini boats!  




Learn more about RAGÚ® Homestyle Sauces and discover more recipes for the family here 


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Monday, January 23, 2017

2016: A Look Back and Lessons Learned

Before I hit publish, I just want to preface this post by noting that what I write below, may sound sappy and overly sensitive, maybe it is.....there is some for sure rambling (sorry).  It's definitely not a post that I typically share on my blog.  For perhaps, the past three years, I believe I've been trying to figure out my place and space in the super saturated world of blogging.  I've been doing this for almost 8 years now and I definitely don't feel that I have found my footing yet, but I'm getting there.  I wrote this post over a week ago and have been sitting on it.  The thoughts and words I share have been on my mind because I've just felt very stagnant about the direction of this blog.  Blogging is about a journey and about sharing and authenticity, my hope is that I always do my best to bring those into the fold.  I'm not so sure I've always done that or done it well.  My goal has been to always bring fresh, new and on trend ideas to you and simply share what I know and hope that you will leave inspired.  What I share below is just a bit of reflection.....and that's all it simply is.  I know there is another gal, mom, boss chick, out there who is possibly feeling the same as me and as it's my hope to share my passion for creating, it's also my hope that there are others who simply relate to where I'm at.  That being said, I'm glad for the new years and new beginnings and am excited for 2017!......



As I look back and reflect on how my blogging year went in 2016 I can say that I may not been as 'with it' as I initially set out.  In January 2016, I shared how much I wanted for this blog and what I wanted to share with my readers.  I was gung ho to do 'all the things' and make it work.  i bought all the goal setting books and had plans written out.....and then at some point....I hit a wall.

I know for sure at some point during the middle of the year....I was just OVER IT....over trying to make things work with this blog.  My intention was always to share all the many things happening with my party business and lots of fun at home party, craft and DIY ideas.....but I honestly struggled with another aspect of blogging that has evaded me for a while.....which was maintaining and acquire various ways to monetize this blog.  I mentioned last year that blogging isn't easy....when you want to reach a certain level of blogging, there is a lot of work that goes into it.  I sooooo wanted to get there and I just could not.  I haven't.  I could say I was in my own way....but I really think I was just not into it.



Monetizing a blog takes work, time, patience, effort.  As a wife, mother, who works a full-time job, my blog, my Etsy shop and my party business naturally has to come in last.....but my blog, Etsy shop and party business bring me great joy.  There's a lot of creativity and passion that go into them.  My family is my biggest passion and my job, my work is a necessity.  It's how our family stays clothed and fed.  If I'm going to put energy and time into the other aspects of my life with blogging, running an online shop and having a business....it better well be worth the time I take from my family and benefit us financially.  But that's just not what it's all about, is it?

You see, I love writing, I love creating, I love making, I love cooking, I love organizing, I love planning and I love doing fun things with my family.  These are the things I want to share, these are things I want to bring to my blog and you!  Getting all of that into a post well, it takes a lot of time.  The reality is, while I want to share, I do wish to do it in the most authentic way possible.  My struggle has been trying to focus on monetizing the blog in various ways while staying true to myself.  You know, at the end of the day, the truth is....if I just stay focused on doing what I do, sharing what I know and be my most true self, everything else will fall into place.  That's where I'm at right now and where I intend to stay.  Right now, I can honestly say, I got caught up in the hype....trying to 'do all the things' that needed to be done to grow my blog and make money from it.  When I started, all I wanted to do was use my blog as a way to reach other moms who I could share my ideas and creativity....that was all.






Don't get me wrong....if opportunities arise for me to earn money to help this little blog grow and for me to keep creating ideas and content....I'm all over it....just not at the expense of making it a priority or making it drive me nuts!  I realize now after reading that beginning of the year post from 2016 and going through some of the most popular posts that I didn't really check in with myself.  I thought I did.....but I didn't.  I lived most of my year frustrated about the things that were just not working with my blog.  I (again) lost the purpose and intent of why I started this blog.  Also, my life just got in the way.....and other priorities took precedence.  I mean...that's okay....it's obvious that family, work, home and self care supersedes so much more than what I'm posting....but, this blog is FUN for me.  As I've said, I love writing, I love creating, I love sharing and if those three things combined can help someone, well....that's all I need.

When I set out to write this post, I thought, well, I'm going to list again all the great things to come for this blog.  I have it written down in a list of goals for the year and I'm adding new blog ideas almost daily....but, I feel that will set me up for disappointment.....not because sharing it with you wouldn't be something that holds me accountable, it totally would....it's that late last year, I realized that life is about moments, moments filled with memories....and that's what I want to really share what's REAL.  I do have lots in store for this blog.....ideas I've been sitting on, posts that I have yet to publish.....and other changes that are on stand-by.  Until that time, I'll be working on preparing my posts, deciding what will work for my life and if what I intend to share on this blog that will be helpful to others.






Much of what I shared at the beginning of last year is certainly still on my radar, some things are not, but I truly wish for this blog to be a place where I can share my creativity in all the different aspects of my life and the things I love......and my hope for myself this year and for this blog is that I will stay focused on bringing you awesome ideas and creativity!  I want to stay true to myself and what I love, pray that it transcends and if that happens....everything else will fall into place as it will.

Here's to a fun, fabulous, AUTHENTIC, 2017!!!!




Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Top 3 Reasons to Visit Medieval Times






A couple weeks ago, I was finally able to cross a visit to Medieval Times off my bucket list.  I've been trying to get to Medieval Times for years.....I would drop not so subtle hints to my husband.....but it never worked.  Luckily, I was able to do a review of the show and I took my family to the Baltimore location for a surprise outing.

When we got there, we saw a huge castle.  My kids had no clue what was going on.  They just saw a huge castle and were very curious what was going on.  Our location is actually attached to an outlet mall, so there are shops all around.....but there's no hiding it when you walk in that Medieval times is the main attraction.  The kids immediately started jumping up and down.

We were greeted by a very friendly hostess at the ticket line and saw that there was a  well 'guarded' VIP entrance.  My visit was comped in exchange for a review, but I was surprised I was offered an upgrade for an additional cost.  I declined but learned later the VIP upgrade would have given me a chance to sit closer to the arena floor and get a few additional souvenirs.


Before the show there is time to visit in the The Great Hall.  My kids had fun interacting with the actors and spending all our money on souvenirs!






Once the show was ready to start, we were ushered into the stadium to our seats and we were set for the rest of the evening.  Let me tell you....this is really a fun time to be had.  Here are some of the fun moments I took away from our visit:




1.  Dancing Horses

I didn't expect to come away from my visiting loving the Equine Entertainment portion of the show, but it was my favorite part.  They showcase many of the talents of  these trained beauties and if you're a horse lover....you will appreciate it.  The horses, jump, leap, kick and dance around and it's a magnificent display.  You can read up more about them here:




2.  The Spectacular Jousting and Sword fighting
Okay - the action part of this show is SO AWESOME!  The jousting is LIVE - it's for real....even though it's clearly well rehearsed and practiced, the weapons and armor are for real.  This is the exciting part of the show and most fun. There is a lot of crowd participation in the way of cheering and booing....the Knights actually get off their steeds and come into the crowd and toss roses at the fair maidens.  It's pretty wonderful.






3.  Good Family Fun
This is an overall good family fun outing.  It was different for us, the kids loved the spectacle of it all.  I'm glad it gave us a chance to go out and do something fun, away from our usual outings.  The staff overall were super friendly - especially the actors.  The venue was clean, net, organized.  The show was absolutely spectacular!





Those were all my positive takeaways from my experience at Medieval Times.  I enjoyed myself overall.  Since this was a sponsored visit, I was asked to review my experience and share it with my readers.  That being said, here are a few things you should know when planning your visit:



- Regular price tickets are  $59.95 for adults and  $36.95 for children 12 & under: use the special promo code to receive discounted ticket prices and SAVE up to $25 OFF Adults and up to $9 OFF children (12 and under) making the price for Adults just $36.95 and Children $29.95. Use Promo Code MT3629 at http://www.medievaltimes.com/plan-your-trip/special-offers/us-family-guide-blogger-coupon-mt3629.html Offer Expires: 2/28/2017

- You can upgrade your tickets to VIP status.....that will give you access to early entry into the arena, first row seating, souvenirs and a framed group photo

- You are given a paper crown based on the color section you're seated in. This helps identify which knight and region you will cheer on during the battles.




-  Medieval Times takes place in Spain.....but everyone speaks with a British accent.....don't let it throw you off....because British accents are still awesome!

- You will stroll around the Great Hall prior to the show for about 30 minutes or so.  Be sure to arrive early to partake in this experience.  This is where you can purchase souvenirs at the gift shops, get a drink at the different drink stations or bars, and take a photo with some of the characters.  Souvenir prices vary.  We purchased a crown for my daughter ($21) and a light up sword and lance for my son ($22-25).  We didn't intend on paying for souvenirs....especially it being so close to Christmas, but we wanted the kids to have a memento from the show.  We didn't realize that during the show, there are people walking around with even more light up swords, roses and pennant flags!  If you're suckers like me and my husband, be prepared to spend a little extra on these things.

- There are wine and cocktail stations along with full bars in the court area.

- You can take photos with the Medieval Times characters prior to the show in a special photo area - a fee applies for an official printed photo and no camera phone photos are allowed in this area.  However, there are other opportunities to take photos with other characters from the show, while in the great hall.




- Our location had a dungeon which we didn't attempt to go in to because my son was a bit skiddish.  Other locations have similar rooms.

- The show starts out with the sound of trumpets in the Great Hall and announcements of when to take your seat.  Everything was well organized and not hectic or chaotic, which I appreciated as a mom of two kids who are easily distracted when in crowds.

- You are seated in a section based on your knight's colors.  We were in the white and black section and were cheering for that particular knight.  We also could cheer for two other knights in our section, the Red Knight and the Yellow Knight.  Our server came around to introduce herself and gave us a breakdown of how the night would go along with our menu - which was cleverly printed on napkins.




 
- Your menu is set (unless you request a vegetarian menu) the meal offered at my location in Baltimore was Tomato Soup, Garlic Toast, Baked Chicken, corn on the cob, and a herbed potato.  Dessert is a slice of pound cake.  Two rounds of beverages (tea, pepsi, or water) are complimentary, along with Coffee at the end of your meal.  Beer, Wine and Cocktails are an additional cost.  (I will be honest with you.  I wasn't fond of the meal at all...and if I were paying full price or even the discounted price, I would be even more upset.  I would say, this would have to be the one area that Medieval Times should step up.  You may have different options at your location.


-  You eat with your hands.  I'm not sure how you feel about that, it didn't bother me, but just know that you do get wet wipes and it's not so bad....but I know for sure a few people planned ahead and brought in their own utensils.



- There are horses.  They will do their business.  It will smell....be prepared.  The 'Squires' are pretty quick with clean up.

-  There is also a falcon that soars through the arena.  I didn't know this ahead of times and little be known, I'm a bit terrified of birds.....usually en masse......but I don't like when they're a bigger bird, with claws and swoop down.  Luckily, we were not in the flight path.   But be forewarned, if you're like me.

- During the sword fights and jousting, a screen is lowered for the protection of the guests.

- If you're there for a birthday - you get a shout-out and special cake - which is pretty darn cool!!!

-  It's overall a pretty fun time!


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