Thursday, August 30, 2012

Busy Woman's Toolkit: Amazon Prime

I love my husband, but I’m having an affair with Amazon Prime.

As you build your busy woman toolkit, may I recommend you add Amazon Prime, stat. For an annual fee of $79, you get free two-day shipping on a HUGE range of products and overnight shipping on weekdays for $3.99 per item. For the amount I order, I’m getting my money’s worth by saving on shipping fees. There’s also the opportunity cost. I save tons of time I’d otherwise spend shopping in stores.

Before you say, “Oh, I don’t order that many books or electronics,” let’s huddle up together. Below are five kinds of items you can order and have delivered right to your door, and you may have never even considered using Amazon for them:

Sporting Goods and Gear

Have you ever tried to get your kid’s baseball/softball pants in the right color and size at the beginning of the season… along with every other family in town? Or remembered you need goggles for a swim meet or gloves a few days before a ski trip? Prime has saved me in these situations.

Dec 11 2008 346/366 - Sonicare Replacements

In the last two years, I’ve replaced the broken glass carafe from my coffeemaker, the water filters from my fridge dispenser, printer ink cartridges, vacuum bags, Sonicare toothbrush heads and the sugar bowl from my now discontinued dish set.

Birthday Gifts

 Gifts for Kids Birthday Parties. 

I have saved SO much time ordering birthday gifts on Amazon. Cherry-pick what you want – books, toys, arts & crafts and more. Zero in on a few favorite gifts by age and gender and place the order as soon as you RSVP. No day-of-the-party scramble necessary.

Nars-Nude, "Crusing."


You’d be surprised what you can get on Amazon – Origins, NARS, perfume and of course the drugstore beauty items. The beauty of it, pun intended, is that you know right away if your preferred color or variety is in stock.


Small Appliances. 

I’d much rather skip a trip to the big box store and instead browse with reviews and ratings in front of me. Items I’ve bought with Prime: handheld vacuum, dorm-size refrigerator, air popcorn popper, coffee maker.

And if you’ve made it to the end of this article, there’s another awesome Prime benefit that might seal the deal. As a Prime member, you have special access to a big library of free movie and TV content, as well as free/low-cost Kindle books. I only recently discovered that benefit, and am now caught up on Downton Abbey as a result.

Happy shopping! (Incidentally, I am not sponsored by Amazon in any way – I just love this service and shamelessly evangelize it.)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Weekly Menu 8/27: Easy Dinners for School Nights

Weekly family friendly, easy dinner ideas for back to school

If you have kids and they are already back to school or about to return, you know you have some jam-packed days in your near future. The paperwork! The carpools! The lunch packing! The return to some semblance of a schedule!

With all that on your plate, let me get some tasty stuff onto a different kind of plate without further ado. I bring you some seriously easy, low maintenance dinners that may just earn their way into your weeknight rotation.

Balsamic Brown Sugar Pork

Browned, tender slow cooker pork seasoned with Balsmic vinegar and brown sugar

Shred the pork and serve on your favorite rolls. I tried this dish for the first time last week and it was a *huge* hit in our house - we couldn't stop eating it and had no leftovers.

Cole slaw, rolls and sliced watermelon (optional)

  • Use a "cole slaw kit," which is a bag of shredded cabbage with a pouch of dressing included. Fresh Express is an option.

Make Ahead Notes:
  • Prep the glaze ahead and reheat when you need it toward the end of the pork's cooking time
  • Cut up watermelon for a side dish
  • Slice the rolls
  • 1 (2-pound) boneless pork loin
  • 1 teaspoon ground dried sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
  1. Mix together sage, salt, pepper, and garlic.
  2. Rub the mixture over the pork. Add it to the slow cooker and pour 1/2 cup water in the bottom of the slow cooker. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.
  3. One hour before the pork is cooked, put the brown sugar, cornstarch, balsamic, water, and soy sauce in a sauce pan. Bring the mixture to a bubble over medium heat. It will thicken.
  4. Pour half of the glaze over the pork. Reserve the rest to serve alongside.
  5. Cook the pork for another hour.
  6. Shred the pork with a fork. It will fall apart, it is so tender.
  7. Serve with the remaining glaze.
 Originally found on BakedBree

Grilled "Unbelievable" Chicken

Marinated, grilled chicken served with steamed green beans and buttermilk biscuits

My store now carries a variety of canned, refrigerated buttermilk biscuits with no preservatives, bleached flour or trans fats.They make for a good spur of the moment, comfort food side dish.

Sides: Steamed green beans seasoned with S&P, a squeeze of lemon juice and some lemon zest, plus refrigerated buttermilk biscuits.

  • Buy pre-washed and trimmed green beans

Make Ahead Notes:
  • Mix up marinade and add chicken in the morning or several hours in advance
  • Rinse and trim green beans and place in a microwave steamer bag

  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons prepared Dijon mustard
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • In a large bowl or Ziploc bag, mix the cider vinegar, mustard, garlic, lime juice, lemon juice, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil. Add chicken and marinate 8 hours or overnight. 
  • Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat.
  • Lightly oil the grill grate. Place chicken on prepared grill and cook 6 to 8 minutes per side, until juices run clear. Discard marinade.
Adapted from this recipe on Allrecipes

Spaghetti Carbonara

Spaghetti dish cooked with bacon, eggs and Parmesan cheese

Sides: Arugula or spinach salad and your favorite vinaigrette

  • Buy pre-grated or shredded Parmesan cheese from the deli section
  • Use jarred, minced garlic
 Make Ahead Notes:
  • Fill water pot and set on stove for later
  • Cut up bacon and refrigerate for later
  • Rinse and chop parsley or if you have a kid who's handy with scissors, have them do the chopping into a bowl

  • 2 eggs 
  • 3 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated or shredded
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for garnish
  • 1/4 pound thin-cut bacon
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine 
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 pound spaghetti or spaghettini 
  • Put a large pot of water on to boil. Crack eggs into a large bowl and beat lightly. Add 1/2 cup of the grated or shredded cheese to eggs, and set the rest of the cheese aside. Finely chop parsley and add to eggs. Add pepper and whisk to combine well. Set aside.
  • Cut bacon into 1/4" pieces, set aside. Heat oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to brown. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add wine and cook until liquid is reduced by about half. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • When water boils, add salt and spaghetti. Boil pasta until it is tender to the bite. Drain well and immediately pour pasta into bowl with egg mixture. Toss to thoroughly coat pasta with egg mixture (the heat from the pasta will partly cook the egg and melt the cheese). Pour bacon mixture on top of pasta and toss to combine thoroughly. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Originally from this recipe on MyRecipes

Extra Credit: Roasted Chickpeas

Oven roasted chickpea snack, seasoned with cumin, chili powder, olive oil

This is a fun, healthy, easy-to-make snack that would be great in lunchboxes. My kids scarfed them and said they reminded them of Corn Nuts. These would taste good with so many different seasonings - have fun experimenting.

Make Ahead Notes:
  • Rinse and drain the beans long enough to get them as dry as possible
  • Mix up the seasoning mix in a medium bowl
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  •  1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • Preheat oven to 400. 
  • Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spread the dry chickpeas in one layer.
  • Roast for 30 minutes, turning every 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, whisk the oil with all seasonings in a small bowl
  • Remove the chickpeas from the oven and toss in the oil mixture to coat. Return seasoned chickpeas to pan and spread into a single layer.
  • Roast for 10 more minutes until nicely browned and slightly crispy. Allow to cool thoroughly. 
Adapted from this recipe on Allrecipes

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How to Reuse Stuff: Medicine Cups

Now, I'm no hoarder, but somehow the little plastic liquid measuring cups that you get with kids' medicine or Nyquil started multiplying in my cabinet. One day, when I was prepping ingredients ahead for a dinner and all of my ramekins were in the dishwasher, it occurred to me that those medicine cups are perfect for measuring small amounts of liquid! What I also love about using these cups for cooking is that you can measure several liquids ahead of time and set them on the counter for later -they won't roll over like measuring spoons.

measure liquids for cooking with little plastic medicine measuring cups

Monday, August 20, 2012

Weekly Menu: 8/20. Too Hot to Cook!

 One of my new readers, Eileen, asked to see some easy, no-cook, family-friendly dinner ideas for these sweaty summer evenings when you might be happy with a pint of ice cream and a cold marg, but alas, everyone else in the household wants an actual meal. 

I did a little research online to get inspired for family meals requiring little to no cooking with heat, and was surprised to find so many suggestions for dishes like gazpacho and cold cream of watercress soup. Um, no. I’m all for introducing new foods, but cold soup for dinner is not gonna fly unless my kids have somehow achieved a European sophistication that they didn’t have yesterday. 

So I’ve come up with a menu plan with virtually no cooking, minimal prep work and the ability to “deconstruct” the meal a bit if you’re dealing with picky eaters.  One dish is a salad that can be served item by item for kids or all mixed together for everyone else. My kids ate little piles of most of the items (beans, chicken, tomatoes, corn) and enjoyed scooping them with chips and topping with dressing. Another involves cooking pasta, but that is IT. This is bright and seasonal, and you could easily serve this for a casual dinner party. For picky eaters, reserve some plain pasta, cherry tomatoes and cheese on the side. And finally, the last dinner is inspired by the meals we take to outdoor summer concerts. You cook and prepare NOTHING. All you do is display and serve. The beauty of this summer dinner is that everyone picks only what they want to eat, it’s a finger food dinner, which is usually a novelty to kids and it’s a welcome break from the standard protein + veggie + starch formula.

Other easy dishes that are cooked on the grill and keep your kitchen cool are the Asian Grilled Flank SteakPerfectly Grilled Steaks and the Pork Chops with Carolina Rub from previous Weekly Menus.

But wait... don't miss the grilled dessert, which is our Extra Credit dish this week. Now that we're on the subject, what’s your go-to dish when it’s too hot to cook?

Southwest Chicken Salad

Side: Tortilla chips

 I prepared both the Southwest and the Barbecue dressings to see which we'd like better, and we all ended up using both. I also offered flour tortillas and my kids used those to make wraps with the salad ingredients.

Prep Note: You could assemble all veggies, then pick up the chicken on the way home and add it last for a really quick meal.

  • Use a cooked rotisserie chicken from your grocery store to get great flavor and save time
  • Use bagged, pre-washed lettuce
  • Use canned corn or frozen, thawed instead of fresh

Make-ahead notes:
  • Rinse and drain beans
  • Chop veggies and herbs
  • Blanch the corn to cut starchiness (see directions below), then cut corn off cob
  • Assemble entire salad without dressing, loosely cover and refrigerate for later
  • Mix up the dressing(s), cover and refrigerate for later

Ingredients for shopping list:
  • 1 bag of mixed salad greens
  • 2 ears of fresh corn
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 2 breasts from rotisserie chicken, chopped (also use dark meat if you like)
  • Tortilla chips
For Southwest Dressing:
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 2 to 3 tbsp. fresh salsa (found in tubs in refrigerated section)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
For Barbecue Dressing:
  • 1/4 cup ranch dressing
  • 1/4 cup barbecue sauce

Optional for salad: Fresh chopped cilantro, diced red onion, shredded Jack cheese, sliced avocado
Optional for serving: Small flour tortillas

  • Blanch corn to remove starchiness by cooking it in boiling water for 3 minutes (no longer!), then plunging in ice water to stop cooking. Drain and cut kernels from cob.
  • Combine salad greens, chopped veggies, chicken and any of the optional salad items in a large bowl.
  • Combine Southwest Dressing, adjusting spices to taste and/or combine Barbecue Dressing
  • Serve dressing(s) on the side.

Pasta with Tomatoes, Arugula and Burrata

Side: Crusty Italian bread served with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping

Find the recipe on the Williams-Sonoma site.






  • Use minced, jarred garlic
Make Ahead Notes:
  • Infuse oil with garlic
  • Rinse and halve cherry tomatoes
  • Combine infused oil with tomatoes, arugula and S&P several hours ahead

Ingredients for Shopping List:
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced or passed through a garlic press
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 lb. small cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt, plus more, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup firmly packed baby arugula leaves
  • 2 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 lb. gemelli or other spiral pasta shape
  • 1/2 lb. burrata cheese, roughly torn (substitute fresh mozzarella if you can't find or don't like burrata)


Casual Fruit, Cheese & Meat Platter Dinner


No sides needed, but chocolate-dipped strawberries for dessert would be perfect with this dinner.

Items for shopping list (choose any/all that sound good to you):
  • Baguette
  • Crackers
  • Assorted cheeses
  • Salami and/or prosciutto
  • Ripe stone fruits
  • Grapes
  • Baby carrots
  • Hummus 
  • Dips and spreads (try the Caramelized Onion Dip from Trader Joe's - really tasty)
  • Almonds or other nuts
  • Marinated artichoke hearts
  • Olives
  • Honey

Extra Credit: Grilled Pound Cake with Spiced Peaches

Stick skewers in the pound cake slices to make it easy to flip on the grill and fun to eat. Did I mention the peaches taste like pie when prepared like this?

Ingredients for shopping list:
  • One prepared pound cake, such as Sara Lee, found in frozen section
  • 4 ripe peaches
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • Whipped cream (optional)

  • Set gas grill to medium or heat stove top grill pan on medium
  • Mix cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar in a bowl. Brush the cut side of peach halves with melted butter. Gently toss the peaches in the cinnamon mixture and allow to marinate for at least 5 minutes.
  • Place peaches flat side down on grill. Cover and grill for 5 minutes.
  • Flip peaches, cover and grill for 5 more minutes. Remove from grill, slice each peach half in quarters and cover to keep warm.
  • Wipe grill off of sugar from peaches burn on the grate.
  • Brush both sides of each pound cake slice with butter and place on grill over indirect heat. Cover and grill 1 to 2 minutes. Flip each slice and grill for another 1 to 2 minutes, until slices are crisp and golden.
  • Top with grilled peaches and freshly whipped cream, and serve immediately.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

5 Tips to Streamline Back-to-School Mornings

Just in time for the back-to-school season, I’m so happy to introduce guest poster Karen Farrell, a project management consultant by trade and mother of three young children who has a healthy obsession for process improvement – at work and at home. She joins us for a special series on parenting with smart, practical tips to make some of the more challenging aspects of parenting easier and simpler.

1. Establish a Morning Timeline


That’s right – not a routine… a timeline.   A specific timeline ensures that they complete the routine in time to be ON TIME!

The key here is to be specific – you know, those tasks that you yell in your child’s face 10 times each morning. (Brush your teeth! Put on your shoes!)  The first step is to work backwards from your departure time.  Then layout the routine to a timeline that will allow your child to be successful.   If you know your child takes extra time to wake-up , then build in the 10 minutes to snooze.   See my own timeline in the picture as an example.
I found that once I established this timeline during a family meeting, put it in writing and posted it, even my scatter-brained 5-year old was successful.   

 Brothers learned to race each other and a strong motivation was the reward to turn on a TV show or play a little, if all was done.  I also found a hidden treasure in my older son (who could read) helping my younger son know what to do – they established a bond over getting ready.  That made my morning not just smooth, but soul-satisfying.

2. Get the Kids an Alarm Clock 


Remove yourself from the unpleasant job of waking the kids up and entering the inevitable cycle of “Do I have to? Yes! But I don’t want to!” There is a better way:  let the alarm clock do the waking.   A few tips here:  Let your child pick out the music to wake to by using CDs or iPod alarm clocks.  It is always a better morning when you wake to favorite music.  

If your child likes to wake slowly, set the alarm for 10 minutes earlier than they need to be up and let them have the power to “snooze.”  Again, the alarm clock does all the work and gets you out of the line of fire.

3. Prep for Tomorrow’s Activities


Review your calendar for the line-up of the next day’s activities the night before
 - Pack a lunch or purchased?   Practices?  Tutors? Play dates?
Pull together any uniforms, sporting equipment, instruments, etc. that will be needed.  Nothing is worse, and causes more yelling than not being able to find the baseball mitt minutes before you are supposed to leave.

You can include your older child in this activity, even making it one of their chores, lessening your load and making them responsible for their own activities.   It also helps get them ready and prepare their mindset for the next day – whether excitement over an afterschool play date or knowing not to ask for one because of scheduled piano practice.

4. Use the Night Before to Get Out the Door

Don’t leave it for the morning rush – assemble and pack as much of snacks and lunches as possible and fill water bottles the night before.   Help your child pick out clothes to wear and put them in a designated spot – including socks & shoes.

Tired parents look forward to kids in bed as a time to unwind, but take the extra 10 minutes to do these activities and your morning will be smoother, and likely you will be able to relax easier at night knowing it is done.

5. Get YOURSELF Ready


Be dressed and ready for breakfast yourself *before* your children rise.

As a mother, it can feel like all your energy is put towards doing for others.  Take time to get yourself awake and ready (dressed – and maybe even showered!) before your children wake.   I think we can all agree that it’s an indulgence to dry your hair uninterrupted.

 Feeling ready to attack the day will rub off on your kids – if you are grumpy in the morning and rushing around, chances are grumpy and rushed is what you will receive in return. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Weekly Menu: 8/13

We are fresh off of nearly a week away on vacation, which means a short week of cooking. What I lack in cooking this week, I make up for in laundry.

If you're just joining, welcome to the third week of the Weekly Menu! Each Monday, I'll post several complete menus that are easily prepared by people like us - those with the bar set high for what we eat, but little time to make it happen at home.

I hope you'll give some of these dishes a try and let me know how they worked for you, or how you adapted them.

Thank you and enjoy the last days of summer!

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

baked macaroni and cheese
 Find the recipe on MyRecipes

This is a great old school, make-ahead meal that you really can make in the morning or earlier in the day. Once the pasta's cooked, everything comes together quickly.

Sides: Wilted spinach and applesauce

  • Don’t grate onion - instead zap onion in a mini food processor if you have one
  • Double the recipe and freeze the second portion without the breadcrumb topping. Now you have another night’s dinner!
  • Use jarred, minced garlic for the spinach

Make Ahead Notes:
  • Cook pasta and rinse well with cold water, drain
  • Combine pasta with all other ingredients except topping, cover and refrigerate for later. (You may need to cook longer to heat through if it’s been in the fridge for a while)

Ingredients for shopping list:
  • 4 cups cooked elbow macaroni (about 2 cups uncooked)
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup 1% low-fat cottage cheese
  • 3/4 cup nonfat sour cream
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh onion
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons reduced-calorie stick margarine, melted
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • 1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon reduced-calorie stick margarine, melted
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • About 1 lb. fresh spinach
  • Olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic

Pork Chops with Carolina Rub 

 Find the recipe on MyRecipes

Please don't be intimidated by making caramelized onions. They are low maintenance, but add a ton of flavor.

Sides: Mashed potatoes with caramelized onions, grilled asparagus seasoned with olive oil, S&P before grilling. If you make the mac and cheese and have leftovers, it is a great side for this menu too.

  • Buy frozen mashed potatoes –try Trader Joe’s version – and just make the caramelized onions and stir them in along with buttermilk (see buttermilk cheat below) when potatoes are heated through
  • Skip the buttermilk in the mashed potato recipe and substitute ½ cup milk with 1 ½ tsp. white vinegar or lemon juice added. Let the milk sit and curdle for five minutes, and you’re good to go.
  • Buy pre-chopped onion from the produce section instead of chopping yourself
Make ahead notes:
  • Combine spices for rub and put it on the pork in the morning if you like, then loosely cover and refrigerate for later.
  • Rinse and trim the asparagus
  • Peel and cut potatoes, keep in cold water in fridge to prevent browning until ready to cook
  • Slice onions
Ingredients for shopping list:
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 4 (4-ounce) center-cut pork loin chops
  • Cooking spray
  • ¼  cup barbecue sauce
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 ½  cups chopped onion (or pre-chopped onion from produce section)
  • 1 ½  pounds chopped peeled baking potatoes  -OR- frozen mashed potatoes
  • ½  cup fat-free buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Herbed Chicken Parmesan

Find the recipe on MyRecipes

Sides: Spaghetti or another pasta shape and steamed green beans seasoned with S&P and a squeeze of lemon

  • Use pre-grated or shredded Parmesan

Make ahead notes:
  • Combine breading mix for chicken and refrigerate for later
  • Combine tomato sauce, vinegar and seasonings for use later
  • Fill pasta pot with water for later
Ingredients for shopping list:
  • 1/3  cup (1 ½ ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
  • ¼  cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • ½  teaspoon dried basil
  • ¼  teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
  • 1 pound chicken breast tenders
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 ½  cups bottled fat-free tomato-basil pasta sauce
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • ¼  teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/3  cup (1 ½  ounces) shredded provolone cheese

Extra Credit: Homemade Granola Bars

Find the recipe on

These are nothing like packaged granola bars. You can taste every ingredient - that's a good thing. Great option for school lunches and snacks before sports practices and games.

Ingredients for shopping list:
  • 2 ½  C. quick oats
  • ½  C. crisp rice cereal
  • ½  C. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ½  C. brown sugar
  • ½  tsp. salt
  • ½  C. canola oil
  • ¼  C. honey
  • ½  tsp. vanilla
Note: I always have to add a little more honey than the recipe calls for to get it sticky enough to spread in the pan, so you may want to have extra on hand.

Friday, August 10, 2012

5 Drugstore Beauty Finds

Do you love discovering a great drugstore beauty item? Course you do. While it’s usually worth it to invest well in anything you put on your face or hair, there’s nothing wrong with trying a bargain. Here are my current 5 Drugstore Beauty Finds.

CoverGirl Natureluxe Gloss Balm in Clove. This is just the right shade that’s a little deeper than natural lip color. I’ve tried a few colors and this is a go-to in the purse and in the car.

L'Oreal Double Extend Beauty Tubes is flake-free, I swear! First, you apply a white base followed by the normal colored mascara layer and truly, this stuff does not give you creepy raccoon eyes later in the day. 

Aussie Deeeeep 3 Minute Miracle Moisture Treatment has a tropical coconut smell, goes on nice and thick and makes your hair super soft and slippy.


 Pixi Lid and Line eyeliner has a matching smoky shadow color at the other end of the pencil, plus a smudging tip. Great for saving space when packing cosmetics for travel. I've always found this eyeliner at Target, but it's sold on Amazon too. My favorite color is the Smoky Olive.

I was skeptical about the E.L.F. Eyelash Curler, which cost $1 at Target, but curious about what a buck would buy me in the eyelash curler department. It’s a bit large, but it does the trick.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Weekly Menu: 8/6


It’s only fitting that during the Olympics, we should have a bit of an “around the world” menu, with Greek, Mexican, Italian and Asian flavors. Here’s the deal – in our house, I want family dinners that are varied in flavor enough to keep the adults’ interest piqued, but appealing enough for the small people to eat it. Strategy #1: I include at least one or two familiar and kid-friendly items at each dinner, like pasta, pan-roasted chicken, meatballs, tomato sauce, soy sauce or rice. Then, I can layer in in things like baby spinach, cilantro and feta cheese, which have a fighting chance in the bigger context of the meal. 

Right now, I’m reading a book in which a character has lived his life by the philosophy “act as if,” as in act confidently, act like you know what you’re doing and assume fabulous, best-possible-outcome results will come your way. That philosophy seems like a great way to approach family meals if your sanity is being tested by a picky eater. “Act as if everyone will try it and like it. Act as if the kids will not ask for cereal instead.”  

But in case you’re not quite ready to “act as if,” here’s Strategy #2: When serving said familiar items, always set some aside – such as plain pasta or meatballs untouched by sauce – out of the line of vision. If you have a hard core protester at the table, you can whip out “plain” items as a last resort. It’s a compromise without having to serve a whole different dinner. Guess it’s not so much as Strategy #2 as Plan B.

Happy meal planning and cooking! What looks good to you this week?


Vegetarian Burritos

Here’s your chance to go meatless during the week.

Sides: Roasted Corn, Avocado & Bean Salad (see last recipe at end of this post for ingredients and instructions) and tortilla chips

  • Buy pre-shredded cheese
  • Get layered Mexican dip at your grocery store and serve alongside the burritos instead of separate toppings
  • Use pre-cooked, bagged rice, such as Uncle Ben’s
Make Ahead Notes:
  • Cook rice earlier in the day, if not buying pre-cooked rice
  • You can make the whole thing early in the day, cover it and throw it in the fridge to bake later. If you do that, wait to put the salsa and cheese on until right before baking. Sometimes I’ll prep this while the kids eat breakfast because the effort level is that low. If you have the pre-cooked rice, you can make these up in about 15-20 minutes, tops.
Ingredients for shopping list:
  • 10 flour tortillas
  • 1 can refried beans
  • 1 can pinto or black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can of Mexican style diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 envelope of taco seasoning
  • 8 oz. shredded Cheddar cheese, plus extra for sprinkling on top of burritos
  • 2 cups of cooked rice, white or brown (if using pre-cooked, bagged rice, follow package directions to warm)
  • 1 cup of salsa (I prefer the fresh kind found in tubs in refrigerated section at grocery store)
  • Chopped green onions (optional)
  • Toppings to go on burritos: sour cream, chopped green onions, guacamole, salsa, hot sauce

Cooking Instructions:
  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Lightly coat a 9x13 pan with cooking spray
  • In a large skillet over medium heat, stir together all beans, tomatoes with juice and taco seasoning. The refried beans will be chunky, so gently break them up as you mix. When mixture is heated through and well-combined, about 3-5 minutes, remove from heat.
  • Set up an assembly line with the tortillas, the rice in a bowl, the cheese in a bowl, the tomato-bean mixture in the pan and the baking dish on the end.
  • One by one, fill tortillas with about 3 tbsp. each of rice, tomato mixture and cheese. Try to save some cheese to sprinkle on top of burritos when baking. Roll up each tortilla gently and place seam-side down in pan. The amounts of rice, tomatoes/beans and cheese that go into each burrito don’t matter much – you really can’t go wrong. You may find that you fill only 6 burritos because you like them fuller, or 8-10 if you go a little lighter on the filling. Pour salsa over burritos and sprinkle extra cheese on top.
  • Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes, or until heated through. Remove foil and cook 5 more minutes or so until the cheese on top is slightly browned and melty.

Asian Flank Steak


Find the recipe on Epicurious

Sides: Fried rice, steamed green beans, tossed with a drizzle of sesame oil and S&P

Ingredients for shopping list:
  • 1/2 cup dry Sherry (substitute white wine if you don’t have Sherry)
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 ½ tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
  • 1 (1 ½ - to 1 ¾ -pound) flank steak

  • Buy frozen vegetable fried rice, such as Trader Joe’s version. Doctor it up when it’s heated through by stirring in a few dashes of soy sauce and a teaspoon of hoisin sauce if you have it.

Make Ahead Notes:
  • Assemble marinade with steak in the morning so it’s ready to grill in the evening
  • Rinse and cut veggies in the morning and put them in a steamer bag with a splash of water to cook later.

Orzo with Shrimp, Feta Cheese & White Wine


Find the recipe on Epicurious

Side: Crusty Italian bread

  • Use pre-grated Parmesan cheese
  • Buy frozen, raw shrimp that are already peeled and de-veined

Make Ahead Notes:
  • If using fresh, grate the Parmesan cheese ahead, lightly cover and put in fridge for later
  • If using frozen shrimp, place them in a colander and run cool water over them for a minute or two to start defrosting. Drain and place in a covered bowl in the fridge until ready to cook.
  • Rinse, dry and chop basil to use later. If you have a kid who’s handy with scissors, have them cut up the basil with a clean pair.

Ingredients for shopping list:
  • 8 ounces orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 pound uncooked medium shrimp, peeled, de-veined
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 (14.5)-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
  •  1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper (optional)
  • Loaf of crusty Italian bread

Italian Meatball Sliders

 Find the recipe on MyRecipes

The sliders are easy, but take a bit longer to prepare, so save it for a Sunday or a relaxed weeknight. I double the recipe, which means cooking the meatballs in batches. Cool any extra cooked meatballs completely and freeze for another night.

Side: Spinach and mozzarella salad - find the recipe on Cooking Light

Make Ahead Notes:
  • Chop up shallots for meatballs and bell pepper, onion and mozzarella for salad; cover and store in the fridge for later. Store mozzarella separately.
  • Rinse and dry basil leaves
  • Measure out dry seasonings in a small bowl

Ingredients for shopping list:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil + more for salad
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 shallots, finely diced
  • 1/3 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces lean ground pork
  • 2 (4-ounce) links turkey Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 ½  cups lower-sodium marinara sauce
  • 12 slider buns, toasted
  • 12 basil leaves
  • 1 cup julienne cut red bell pepper
  • 1 cup sliced red onion
  • 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 6 cups baby spinach
  • About 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh mozzarella

Instructions for salad: Combine red bell pepper, red onion, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar in a large bowl; let stand 15 minutes. Add the baby spinach, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Toss. Top with the fresh mozzarella.

Chicken with Honey-Balsamic Glaze

Find the recipe on

Sides: Near East Pearl Couscous with Roasted Garlic &Olive Oil, steamed Brussels sprouts or green veg of choice with S&P and a little butter. Brighten up the couscous mix by stirring in a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a few pinches of fresh chopped parsley or chives if you have them just before serving.

Make Ahead Notes:
  • Combine dry seasonings for chicken in a small bowl and set aside for later
  • If using the parsley, rinse, dry and chop it to use later. If you have a kid who’s handy with scissors, have them cut up the parsley with a clean pair.

Ingredients for shopping list:
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 4 (4 ounce) boneless skinless chicken breast halves
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • A little white wine or chicken broth (not in the recipe, but I recommend adding a tbsp of wine or broth to the honey-balsamic pan sauce to thin it a bit)
  • 1 lemon
  • Fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

Extra Credit: Roasted Corn, Avocado & Bean Salad


Make a batch of this to eat over several days as a healthy snack or lunch. Only add the avocado right before serving.

Ingredients for shopping list:
  • I can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • ½ bag of Trader Joe’s roasted corn, defrosted
  • 1-2 ripe, diced avocadoes (add this last, right before serving)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro (if cilantro’s not your thing, try diced red onion or green onions instead)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Instructions: Combine all ingredients in a bowl and gently toss to combine. Add the avocado right before serving to avoid it going brown. You can tailor this salad easily to your liking with add-ins like different beans, chopped fresh tomatoes or garlic. And here’s how to turn it into a fast app: buy the “scoops” tortilla chips and spoon about a tablespoon of this salad into each chip to serve.