Finger Food: Cheese Straws

Rich, buttery cheese straws make for a great snack. They are also a perfect change from traditional dinner rolls at mealtime. Try them alongside salads and soups for a super taste treat. Here we give you one recipe for Parmesan cheese straws and one for cheddar cheese straws. Both are fairly easy to make and, given their great taste, you’ll want to make this finger food often!

Parmesan Cheese Straws

Ingredients:

½ cup butter

2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ cup milk

Directions:

  1. Take the butter out of the refrigerator and let it soften. Meanwhile, grate the Parmesan cheese.
  1. In a small bowl, mix the butter and Parmesan cheese until they are well blended.
  1. Add the flour, salt and cayenne and mix all of the ingredients well.
  1. Divide the dough in half. Lightly flour a flat surface and roll each half of the dough into an 18” x 3” rectangle. Now, cut the rectangles into 3” x ½” strips.
  1. Place the strips 1” apart on lightly greased baking sheets and brush the strips with the milk.
  1. Bake the strips at 350 degrees F for 8-10 minutes or until the cheese straws are lightly browned. Remember that the cheese straws will continue cooking a bit once you remove them from the oven so don’t let them get too brown. When you take the cheese straws out of the oven put them on wire racks to cool. Eat them right away or when they are completely cool, store them in a plastic container for later. You should get about 6 dozen cheese straws with this recipe.

Cheese Straws

Cheddar Cheese Straws

Ingredients

Three 10-ounce bricks sharp Cheddar cheese

1 cup butter

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Dash of garlic powder

Olive oil

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  1. Remove the butter from the refrigerator and let it soften. Grate the cheese and then let it sit to warm to room temperature.
  1. Put the softened cheese and butter in the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer. Use the heaviest mixer paddle attachment you have and mix until the cheese and butter are the consistency of whipped cream. This can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes depending on your mixer.
  1. In a separate bowl, combine 3 cups of the flour with the salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and garlic powder. Slowly add the flour mixture to the cheese mixture, one large spoonful at a time. Mix well after each addition of flour so that everything blends well.
  1. When all of the seasoned flour is added, slowly mix in some or all of the remaining unseasoned flour. You’ll want your dough to be reasonably stiff yet soft enough to be go through a cookie press. You may not need to add all of the flour.
  1. Lightly grease 4 or 5 cookie sheets with the olive oil. Put the star tube into a cookie press and press a portion of the dough through it onto a cookie sheet. You’ll want to create long strips of dough that run the entire length of the cookie sheet. Keep going until the pan is full, leaving about 1” between strips.
  1. Bake about 20 minutes until the cheese straws are golden brown and crisp. Be sure not to let them get too brown.
  1. Once done, cut the long strips into 3” lengths with a sharp knife. Remove the cheese strips from the pan with a spatula and let them cool on a wire rack. Enjoy them right away or store them in a plastic container when they are completely cool.

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Healthy Baked Polenta Fries

What’s Polenta?

Before delving into recipes and techniques for polenta fries you might be asking “What is polenta?”  Polenta is not an ingredient or a component but a specific dish.  It is a Central European food made by boiling ground yellow cornmeal into a thick and solidified porridge then baked, fried, or grilled.  Its place of origin is thought to be Northern Italy, France, or Switzerland.

History

In Italy it is though that polenta was eaten since Roma times and originally made from starchy ingredients like farro, chestnut flour, millet, spelt, and/or chickpeas.  Corn was brought to Europe from the New World in the 16th century and after that used as the primary ingredient in polenta.  The dish achieves its creamy texture from the gelatinization of starch yet it might not have a homogenous texture if the grain is a very coarse or hard grind.

Initial Cooking

Polenta is cooked by simmering the cornmeal (or other grain) in water or broth/stock with any other desired ingredients and eaten after the mixture is cooked again.  The initial boiling often takes place in a large copper pot called a paiolo and stirred with a large wooded stick (usually made of walnut) known as a canella until the polenta becomes thick enough the support the stirring rod on its own.  At this point the polenta is ready for its secondary cooking.

Polenta

Baked Polenta Fries

There are several different versions of baked polenta “fries” to appeal to a wide range of tastes.  One is a very Italian variation using sage, rosemary, and parmesan cheese or a similar one like romano or asiago.  After cooking polenta to a solid state sir in the herbs and cheese then transfer it to a baking dish and chill it until well set, about 45 minutes.  Preheat your broiler and line a baking sheet with foil then grease it.  Unmold the chilled polenta and cut it into 16 four inch by one inch sticks.  Brush the tops with olive oil then broil the sticks about four inches from the broiler until golden.  This should take about fifteen to twenty minutes.  This variety is delicious served with marinara sauce.

If you are looking for something a little more traditional and easier to prepare you can use 2 eighteen-ounce tubes of prepared polenta.  Unwrap the tubes and cut them in half crosswise then cut each half lengthwise into eight wedges.  Oil a large, rimmed baking sheet then place the wedges in a single layer turning them over to coat with the oil.  Season with salt and pepper then bake in a preheated 450 degree oven for 45-50 minutes.  The polenta fries are great served with ketchup.

You can go with a Southwest twist for your polenta fries by adding minced peppers, chili powder, and cheddar cheese.  You might want to use corn oil and a seasoned salt or even a commercial chili seasoning packet from your local grocery store.  Prepare these using the same method(s) discussed above and serve them with salsa.

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Easy Asian Fish Cakes

When it comes to Asian fish cakes you can whip up a restaurant-worthy recipe at home in no time at all.  These fish cakes are easy and delicious plus the ingredients for them are widely available.  You can go from mold to wild with these recipes and personalize them to create something perfect especially for you.  Light and zesty fish cakes are a great way to introduce yourself or others to fish plus they freeze beautifully making them a convenient meal.

Getting Started

No matter which recipe you are working with you are going to have the same basic ingredients such as fish, some type of breading (usually panko bread crumbs), and seasonings.  A dipping sauce is completely optional and the choices for these also offer a wide variety of choices.

Basic Fish Cakes

This is a great base recipe as it can be dressed up or down and uses affordable cod.  You can also use canned tuna or salmon as the flavors of these fish mix very well with Asian seasonings.  You can also cut this recipe in half as it is designed to serve four to six people.

Fish Cake

You will need two pounds of cod or some other flaky whitefish, 2 eggs, half a cup of panko bread crumbs (plus more for dredging), a quarter cup of chopped fresh cilantro, two tablespoons of grated ginger, one tablespoon of lime zest, two teaspoons of salt, one teaspoon of pepper, and based upon preference 4 thinly sliced green onions or half a cup of finely shredded carrots.

Put the fish in a food processor and pulse it until it is minced.  Be careful as you do not want a mushy paste.  If you are using canned fish you can eliminate this step.  Transfer the fish to a large bowl then add the eggs, bread crumbs, lime zest, and spices.  This would also be the time to add the vegetables if you are using any.  Using your hands or a spatula gently fold the ingredients until they are well combined.  In a nonstick skillet add a splash of grapeseed or canola oil then add a small pinch of the fish mixture and fry for about one minute.  Taste the piece to determine if the cakes need any additional seasoning and repeat this process until you have achieved the desired flavor.

Fill a shallow dish with the panko crumbs then shape the fish mix into cakes about two inches in diameter and one inch thick.  Evenly coat each cake then pour a half inch of oil into the skillet.  You will need to cook the fish cakes in batches to make sure things don’t get too crowded and make sure they are about an inch apart.  You will need to cook the cakes about 2-3 minutes on each side and try to only turn them once.  As they come out of the skillet place them on paper towels to drain the excel oil.  With that you have a great base recipe for Asian fish cakes which can be tapered to please a wide range of pallets and can be served as an appetizer, entrée, or warmed up for a savory midnight snack.

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3 Sugary Foods you can give your kids

Kids crave sugar all of the time.  It is a sweet, addictive substance that most people find delicious.  Why is that though?  It is because sugar is addictive.  In fact, high amounts of sugar light up the brain just like heroin.  If given in high enough doses, sugar can be used to wean an addict off of heroin.  So it’s not a substance that you want your kids to be eating very much of.  In our modern age, we have sugar in almost everything – in our ketchup, mustard, salad dressings, bread, sodas, juice – refined sugar is everywhere! It’s no wonder we are all so addicted. Having gone through withdrawals after quitting sugar, I can assure you that it isn’t fun.

So how in the world can we let our kids have something sweet if we can’t give them sugar?!?!?!? There are a lot of delicious things that either don’t contain refined sugar at all, or contain only small amounts.  Occasionally, you can give kiddos something with higher sugar, but it definitely should be done in moderation.  So what CAN we give our kids?

  1. Grilled bananas with cereal!

Bananas are LOADED with natural sugars.  A regular banana can be viewed as boring by a lot of kids – but if you grill a banana, the sugars will caremalize into a sweet, sugary treat that kids can love!  This makes a great desert for kiddos, tastes sweet, and everyone can have it – even if you have a child who is diabetic, this is something they can safely eat!

Sugar

  1. Greek Yogurt or Sour Cream with Fruit!

Some added sugar is OK.  If your child doesn’t have anything else with added sugar, a Greek Yogurt can be a nice treat.  If your child eats a lot of sugar, this will likely taste bitter – once their addiction to sugar is eradicated though, it can actually taste unbearably sweet!  I have to mix sour cream in mine now to make it bearable to my taste buds – and it makes it last longer! Pick a plain Greek Yogurt – or even sour cream – and place some fruit in it.  My son loves it when I mix in Frozen bananas and Strawberries, and then microwave for about 30 seconds. It starts to thaw the fruit, releasing sweet juices into the mixture and naturally sweetening the dish.

  1. Chocolate Cake.

You can find a variety of chocolate cake recipes that actually use bananas in place of sugar.  Bananas are like Nature’s sweetener – when mixed into things like breads or cakes, it makes a sweet and moist treat that kids can’t even tell has no added sugar!

Giving our kids sugary things isn’t a problem – the kind of sugar is.  All three of the things listed above are sugary – but they aren’t filled with refined sugar! There are multiple forms of sugar in our food, now all we have to do is find the right ones. Once you do, that sweet spot will be satisfied every time (And you won’t have the sugar crash like you get with added, refined sugar!).

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7 Best Snacks for Kids

It seems like kids are always hungry and asking for a snack to tide them over until the next meal so snacks are an essential item to have in your pantry. Kids will also need snacks for the first few years in elementary school, so now is the time to research snack foods to find the healthiest and the best for them and for you.

Finger Food

The first snack that many kids get is Cheerios. It's good finger food and it tastes good, so there is no reason to stop eating Cheerios even when the high chair is long gone. Cheerios are super portable so putting some in a snack bag for on the road or in a school lunch is still a popular option. For a healthier snack switch to multi or whole grain Cheerios.

Cheese is another great snack food for everyone. It contains protein which helps you feel fuller longer and calcium for building strong bones. For a fun twist on plain cheese, cut out fun shapes with a cookie cutter and serve on skewers with fruit. Another way to serve cheese for extra portability is in cubes, which can be bought ready-made, or in individual cheese sticks, either ready-made or individually packaged or DIY sticks made at home.

Best Snacks for Kids

Fruit

Fruit is always a great snack for everyone and although apples and bananas are the most popular, another great option is strawberries.  They are packed with vitamin C and protein.  For a less expensive option, you can use frozen strawberries mixed in with other berries and packed in a plastic container.  Frozen berries are not finger food, but are still a good option for a snack.

Smoothies are a very popular and a great snack, made with yogurt, juice, and fruit, that makes them very nutritious. For the smooth in smoothie, use low or non-fat yogurt, orange or other juice, and a banana to round out the base for creaminess, and add peaches, strawberries or other fruit. This can go in the car, in a sealed container for school, or anywhere you do.

Stealth Foods

A great way to get picky kids to eat fruit and vegetables is to use in a recipe that masquerades as a sweet treat.  There are many great baked goods that have fruits and veggies and no one will ever know they are in there if you don’t tell.  Try banana bread or muffins, zucchini bread or muffins, or carrot muffins for starters.

Frozen yogurt is a great way to get your kids to eat it if they do not care for yogurt in its store container.  So to get the healthy benefits of non-fat yogurt, along with some fruit, mix some with berries or granola, pour into a Popsicle mold, and freeze.  These are a great summer-time treat.

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of many essential vitamins and minerals.  For a healthy dose of vitamin A, B-6, C and foliate in a portable snack, slice thin and bake into sweet potato chips.

It is not as difficult to find healthier snack food options as you might think even if you are not wild about the idea of homemade treats.  Cheese and fresh fruit are two of the best simple snack foods and can go as-is.  Get creative and have some fun whipping up healthy snacks for the whole family.

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Easy Cookie Recipes for Kids

Cookie Recipes for Kids

Every child gets to the point where they’re interested in learning how to make things in the kitchen.  And this shouldn’t just be a little girl activity.  Some of the best bakers in the world are men and they started by baking with their families.

Here are some ideas for kid friendly cookie recipes that are perfect for the upcoming holidays.

Using Pre-Prepared Dough

This is perfect for young kids who aren’t ready to measure ingredients or use the mixer.  You can get prepared sugar cookie or chocolate chip cookie dough and roll it out.

Kids who are between the ages of three and five will have a great time picking out cookie cutters and cutting the shapes from the rolled out dough.  You can have them help you place the shapes on a baking pan and then decorate them when they’re done.

From Scratch

Preparing the dough from scratch is a great activity for older children.  From about fifth grade on, your kids can accept more responsibility for the cookie baking activity.  Let’s look at some relatively easy recipes that kids will love to do.  These recipes are brought to you by our friends at food.com.

Simple Peanut Butter Cookies

With a prep time of just 15 minutes and a cooking time of 12 minutes, this could very well be the easiest peanut butter cookie recipe around.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of peanut butter, smooth or chunky
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • One large egg
  • Sugar, for rolling (optional)

Directions

Mix peanut butter, sugar and egg together until smooth.  Drop by teaspoons onto cookie sheet 2 inches apart. If you want, roll the cookie in extra sugar before placing it on the cookie sheet.

Press with a fork and press again in the opposite direction for crosshatch look. Bake 10 to 12 minutes at 350° but make sure they don’t get brown and over baked.

Place cookies in a cellophane bag and tie with a ribbon. Attach a holiday label so your recipient knows who the cookies are from.

Chocolate Cowboy Cookies

This cookie recipe has a few more ingredients than the peanut butter cookie recipe but it is just as easy to make and delicious.

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup flour
  • ¼ cup cocoa
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup margarine or ½ cup shortening
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar, packed firmly
  • One large egg
  • 1 cup quick oats
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • Half cup chopped nuts (optional)

Directions

Sift all the dry ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.  Blend together the margarine (or shortening) and the sugars.  Add the egg and beat until light and fluffy and then add the vanilla.  Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients and mix well.

Add the remaining ingredients and mix.  Drop by teaspoons onto a greased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 350° oven for about 12 minutes.  If you like cookies that are crisper, cook a little bit longer.

These recipes are sure to be a hit with your kids and having them as your assistants just might inspire the next top pastry chef.

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On-the-go Healthy Snacks

Fresh Fruit Kabobs And Dip

Quick, Healthy and Delicious Snacks For Kids

If you're a mom, you're all too familiar with the concept of being busy. Since you're constantly on the go, making healthy snack options for your kids can often seem like a difficult task. Thankfully, it's not as hard as you think. Instead of letting your kids munch on fast food, introduce them to these simple yet delicious healthy snacks.
Veggies and Dip
Creamy ranch dip (not ranch dressing) can make an excellent small meal option for youngsters. Not only can the right recipe of ranch dip be healthy, but it can also be filling. To make this dip, you need nonfat buttermilk, salt, onion powder, minced garlic, black pepper, fresh dill (if the kids like it), parsley and softened cream cheese. Once you gather all these ingredients, put the buttermilk and softened cream cheese together in a tiny bowl. Then, mix them well using a whisk. Finally, integrate all of the rest of the components by thoroughly stirring them in, too. Once your dip is prepared, serve it with fresh sliced vegetables such as broccoli florets, carrots and celery. Not only will your kids love it, but it's also excellent nutrition-wise. You can also try it with healthy crackers - those high in whole grains and fiber, and without sugar and artificial flavorings.
Fruit and Cheese KabobsIf you're looking for a tasty, protein-rich snack for your kids, then fruit and cheese kabobs can make a fun and quick option. All you have to do is purchase low-fat cheese cubes and several options of fresh fruit -- think melons, strawberries, bananas, raspberries and apples. After that, all you have to do is put them on wooden skewers. Not only do children usually think these kabobs are yummy and filling, but they also can be helpful for keeping them active and satisfied until supper is ready. At home, you can add some plain or vanilla yogurt for dipping. And they're easily portable if you're on your way to soccer practice.

Whole Grain Chips
Tortilla chips also can make a nutritious and kid-friendly snack, especially if they're whole grain. Cover these chips with shredded cheese, salsa and vegetables. If you have a Trader Joe's in your area, they have some good options. You can also let your kids dip the chips in a tasty guacamole or the ranch dip above.
Other Ideas
If your children are in the mood for a sweeter snack option, not many things can top good old-fashioned graham crackers. For some extra fun, flavor and nutrition, let them dip the graham crackers in applesauce. Or stick to the traditional milk.Hummus is yet another excellent healthy snack for kids. The Middle Eastern staple food dip is chock-full of protein and fiber. It's also rich in olive oil, which is beneficial for the heart. Allow your kids to nosh on hummus with slices of fresh vegetables. Since hummus has a pleasantly subtle taste, kids are sure to appreciate it. Eat with veggies or chips.

Keep your kids healthy, content and active by serving them these nutritious snacks. Kiss junk foods goodbye. These snacks are all perfect for the chaotic, on-the-go lifestyles of families with kids.

Sliced Fruit Popsicles

Fruity popsicle sticks

Delicious Treats

Children love eating frozen popsicles on a stick, especially in the summer when temperatures soar. However, this store-bought snack is low in nutrition and high in calories and sugar, making the food a poor choice for growing children. Also known as an ice pop, these treats are typically made of white sugar or corn syrup combined with artificial flavorings and colors that make the snacks attractive to children. Mothers concerned about keeping their family healthy by providing a nutritious snack can serve homemade freezer pops made with fresh, frozen or even canned sliced fruit.

Gather Supplies

Parents making their own ice pops can still provide a delicious cold snack on a hot summer day for their children. Making homemade freezer pops is simple after gathering the necessary supplies and ingredients. There are online and brick-and-mortar stores that sell special trays and containers to make homemade freezer pops that have sticks. The trays and sticks are often made of a durable plastic that is dishwasher safe, making the equipment reusable. Mothers that want to use the traditional old-fashioned sticks can find the items sold in bulk packages. It is also possible to use paper or plastic cups as containers for homemade ice pops. And for the little kids, try a specialty ice cube tray in fun shapes. A small plastic spoon can be used instead of a stick.

Nutritious Produce

Sliced fruit adds color and flavor to the freezer pops, making them fun for children and parents. There is an assortment of fresh fruit available at grocery stores and farmers markets throughout the summer, but parents can also use produce grown at home. Parents can buy strawberries, kiwi fruit and peaches seasonally, leading to the freshest homemade ice pops at the lowest prices. Preparing fruit for the freezer pops is easy enough that children can help with washing the produce. Small fruit such as blueberries do not require slicing to freeze properly, but larger fruit does.

Translucent Bases

Making ice pops with clear or translucent bases allows the beautiful colors of the fruit to show. After putting the sliced fruit into a container, you need to add a base to make the freezer pops. Pouring homemade juices made from apples, lemons or pears mixed with water over the fruit provides a translucent appearance, making it easy to see the colorful sliced fruit. It is also possible to use clear soft drinks for the homemade ice pops. A clear base made of sugar dissolved in boiling water also makes a delicious homemade freezer pop that tastes more like a store-bought popsicle.

 

Valentine Treats

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Being a mom is not easy. It would be nice if things were easier every now and then, wouldn't it? If doing laundry only took 15 minutes a week, or if dishes were magically washed and put away, or even if everyone in the family could pitch in at meal time, life would be a bit easier. Well, here are a few easy recipes to please every member of the family on Valentine's Day. These treats are "mother tested and kid approved"...and easy, too!

Valentine's Day Chocolate Dipped Wafer Cookies

All you need for this recipe is parchment paper, wafers of any flavor (or madelines, or other plain cookies), a bag of chocolate chips or candy melts and a bottle of sprinkles. You first melt the chocolate. Your children can do the rest of the steps with your supervision. Get them to dip the wafers in the melted chocolate and place the dipped wafers on the parchment paper. Then have them put sprinkles over the chocolate. The last step is to put the dipped wafer cookies in the refrigerator for about 10 minute to help speed up the hardening process.

Chocolate Pudding Cookies

This easy recipe takes only 10 minutes to cook and 15 minutes to prep. Your kids will love mixing their yummy treat. For this recipe you will need:

  • 4.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 cups chocolate chips
  • 2 (3.4 oz) packs instant chocolate pudding mix
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups softened butter
  • 1.5 cups packed brown sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Start prepping by mixing together the salt, baking soda, and flour, then set it to the side. In a much larger bowl mix and beat the white sugar, butter, brown sugar and instant chocolate pudding mix. Blend in your dry mix. Next, add the vanilla and eggs. Once mixed well, add the chocolate chips. Lastly, drop spoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool the cookies on a wire rack and let your family dig in!

Mozzarella And Tomato Salad for Kids

This recipe is the easiest on the list. No baking or mixing! Arrange basil leaves on a plate in a heart shape. Form a large heart shaped outline with cherry tomatoes. Last, fill the center with mozzarella balls. Let your kids do this or do it yourself.

On Valentine's Day, don't let your children forget who your favorite Valentine is...them!

 

Easy Chicken Soup

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For moms who are dedicated to making a healthy meal for their families every night, and can be difficult to find new recipes that are both easy to make and that are in your budget. Making soup or stew is an easy dinner that is both healthy and uses ingredients that are affordable. Chicken soup is a recipe that is quite versatile and can be easily changed to make it very hearty without much effort. The following is a description of how classic chicken soup can be changed into a hearty chicken noodle stew.

The first thing you will need to do is dice up three cups of celery, two cups of carrots, one cup on onions, and 2 cloves of garlic. Melt four tablespoons of butter in the bottom of a large soup pan and add the celery, carrots, onions, and garlic to it. Let this simmer for a few minutes, and then slowly add a half cup of flour to the mixture. Once this is mixed in, pour two 32 ounce boxes of low-sodium chicken stock into the pan and bring to a gentle boil. While this is boiling, cut up one cup of zucchini, one cup of green beans, and open one eight ounce can of corn (or equivalent frozen). Add these three things to the pan as well. Season everything generously with salt, pepper and parsley to taste. Allow this to simmer for about ten minutes.

While the veggies are cooking, you can begin working with the chicken. Cup up one pound of chicken (preferably beast meat) into small pieces. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat four tablespoons of olive oil or butter a frying pan, then toss the chicken into the pan. Cook the chicken until lightly browned on both sides. Remove from the heat and set to the side until the next step is completed.

Once the chicken is done, scoop out one third of the veggies from the soup pan and place them in a blender. Purée them until they are smooth and then pour them back into the soup pan. This will make your stew extra thick and creamy. Mix the chicken into the stew along with twelve ounces of dried pasta. If you would like, use alphabet pasta to make it fun for the kids. Allow this to boil until the pasta is fully cooked. For best results, serve the stew hot with a loaf of crusty bread.