a balanced plate with room for dessert

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African Chicken Peanut Stew

This delicious stew was accompanied by one of my biggest cooking fails. Ever.

I’ve had this recipe on my “to-cook” list forever. I was inspired by a local restaurant, Buraka. They have to-die-for peanut stew and they serve it with really, really great injera. For those of you who haven’t had injera, it’s an Ethiopian flatbread that has a spongy texture and a bit of a tang. Like a cross between a pancake, crepe and… sourdough bread? I’m not sure how to explain it, but it’s awesome.

Sadly, Buraka was forced to close at the end of October. The building it was in is being torn down and turned into another residential building. Sigh. To make it worse, two more of my fave Madison restaurants were also displaced because of this – Husnu’s and Kabul. This closing meant the end of any peanut stew and injera deliciousness. So, I set off to recreate it. I was partly successful. The stew was pretty good. The injera? A total fail. As in – the smell and taste of it made me want to curl up into a ball and die. I obviously won’t be sharing the injera recipe with you today (or ever – I don’t think I’ll attempt it again), but I do have the chicken peanut stew for you.

African Peanut Stew |

African Chicken Peanut Stew

2 tablespoons canola oil
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 large onion, chopped
3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
8 garlic cloves, minced
3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 – 15 ounce can crushed tomatoes
4 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 cup natural creamy peanut butter
1 cup roasted peanuts
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons cayenne, or to taste
salt and freshly ground black peppers
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

cooked rice, for serving

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Salt chicken pieces and, working in batches, brown them in the oil. It’s important that you don’t overcrowd the pot. Set the browned chicken aside.
  2. In the pot, saute the onions for 3 – 4 minutes, scraping the browned pieces off the bottom of the pot as you cook. Add in the ginger and garlic and saute for another minute.
  3. Add in sweet potatoes, chicken broth, tomatoes, peanut butter, peanuts, coriander and cayenne and stir well to combine. Taste the sauce, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed. Place chicken pieces into the pot and bring to a simmer. Cover and let cook for about an hour, or until the chicken is fully cooked and sweet potatoes are tender.
  4. Remove chicken pieces to a bowl and let cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, shred the chicken and place back into the pot. Stir in cilantro and serve hot with rice.

recipe slightly adapted from Simply Recipes

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SNAP Challenge: Day 5

Today’s Feeding America prompt: “We know that low-income Americans have to make choices between groceries, prescriptions, gas for the car, utilities, and other household necessities. After living on a limited food budget this week, how has your perspective changed about the decisions families facing hunger must make?“

Simply put? I can’t imagine it. Even thought I have limited our food budget, our scenario in no way even compares to what millions of families deal with on a daily basis. We were hungry, but we didn’t go hungry. I had the comfort of knowing that I could fail out of the challenge and get something to eat if we did run out of food. These families don’t have that option.

While Mike and I try to stick to a budget, we realize that sometimes things happen. We might need more gas one week. I might get sick and need to see a doctor or pick up some meds (Mike never gets sick…). Or my car brakes might decide to die. Or my car wipers might decide to stop working…. Yeah, my car is a trouble maker. But, we deal with these unexpected expenses. I honestly don’t know what I would do if I had to choose between gas to get to work or a meal for my family. Would I walk? Try to catch a ride from a coworker? What if someone got really sick? Do we go to the doctor? Do we pay for their medication? Having to choose between life essentials doesn’t seem right.

All these “what ifs” make it clear to me that programs like SNAP are essential for low-income families. It’s a good reminder to be thankful for what I have in life.

This Challenge is bringing about a lot of emotions. Mike and I talk a lot about food insecurity and poverty on the way to work. It’s a really intense way to start the day. Things are getting a little easier for me now. We only have 2 more days left of the Challenge and I can tell that we will have enough food. It’s still hard not having the luxury of eating whatever we want, whenever we want, but I’m starting to adjust.

Unfortunately, I think I’m also getting sick. All I wanted to do after work is eat a bowl of mango sorbet and go to bed. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t even skip making dinner because if I didn’t cook dinner that would mean I wouldn’t have lunch the next day. Blargh.

What we ate today:

  • Breakfast: savory oatmeal with an egg (me) and peanut butter toast with sliced banana (Mike)
  • Snack: peanut butter toast with 1/4 banana (me) and a cookie (Mike)
  • Lunch: pepper chicken with rice (me) and chili with rice (Mike)
  • Snack: peanut butter toast with 1/4 banana (me) and turkey sandwich with mustard (Mike)
  • Dinner: chicken fajitas with guacamole, tortillas, and sauteed zucchini (Mike also had cheese and sour cream)
  • Snack: raisins

easy chicken fajitas |

Easy Chicken Fajitas

for the chicken:
1 lime, juiced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and pepper, to taste
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 teaspoon canola oil

for the vegetables:
3 onions, halved and sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
2 bell peppers, sliced into 1/4-inch strips
salt and pepper, to taste

to serve:
flour tortillas
sharp cheddar cheese, grated
light sour cream
guacamole (see below for recipe)

  1. In a shallow bowl, combine lime juice, garlic, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper*. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Add chicken and turn to coat. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, turning every 10 minutes.
  2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, Brown chicken and cook until cooked through and meat is no longer pink in the middle. Remove from heat and keep warm.
  3. Using the same skillet, add vegetables and saute until tender-crisp, about 10 minutes. Slice chicken into 1/4-inch pieces and toss with vegetables. Serve immediately with tortillas and garnishes, if desired.

*I made a double batch of this marinade and mixed half of it in with my garden zucchini! I seeded the squash, quartered it, and then sauteed it with the marinade over medium heat for about 15 minutes until tender. Delish 🙂

easy chicken fajitas |

This guac made not being able to have cheese and sour cream on my fajita a little more bearable. I ate a ton of it. Splurging on an extra avocado during the shopping trip was totally worth it!


2 medium avocados
1 lime, juiced
2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/4 onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper, to taste

  1. In a medium bowl, mash avocados with a fork. Mix in lime juice, tomatoes, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Stir until well combined.
  2. Serve immediately.

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SNAP Challenge: Day 3

Today’s prompt: “How has eating on a limited budget impacted your mood? Your concentration? How has that impacted your interaction with family and coworkers?”

I’m not as happy and motivated as I normally am. My concentration is a mess. I’m constantly thinking about food – whether we will have enough, when I can eat next, why the hell is my stomach always grumbling?!, what I will do if we run out of food. It’s definitely affecting my productivity at work.  I can’t say my interactions with family and coworkers has really changed. The biggest change between Mike and me is that I am constantly asking him if he’s doing ok, if he’s hungry, if I can get him anything. I’m worried about him and obviously don’t want him to be hungry. I feel bad for making him go through this when he’s trying to study for his exams.

My energy levels are l-o-w. I went for a 7 mile run after work today and it… sucked. I don’t know how else to put it. My legs felt like lead the entire time. My stomach ached. I didn’t have gum to chew. At the end, my body felt like it had just done a 20 mile run, not a 7 mile run.

Here’s what we ate today:

  • Breakfast: toast with peanut butter (Mike) and savory oatmeal with fried egg (me)
  • Snack: red grapes
  • Lunch: three bean turkey chili with elbow macaroni
  • Pre-run snack: 1/2 banana each and a couple raisins
  • Dinner: pepper chicken with white rice
  • Snack: spoonful of peanut butter (Mike)
  • Snack: peanut butter banana oatmeal raisin cookies

The best thing I had today were the grapes. They were so sweet and juicy and I had to stop myself from shoving fistfuls into my mouth. I brought about a cup of grapes to work and rationed them throughout the morning. Every time I finished a project or approved a contract, I got to eat a grape. Oh, and the iced tea with lemon juice I had with dinner? So good. I’m usually a plain water kinda gal, but I really needed something else to drink!

I’m not gonna lie – dinner was pretty fabulous, too. During my run I went past a couple Chinese restaurants (and a few bars… and a few chocolate shops…) and it all smelled so good. Like it was taunting me. Jerks. I was sweaty, tired, and worst of all – hungry. I wanted to cave in and get takeout for dinner, but that obviously wasn’t an option. Thankfully, this pepper chicken hit the spot! Mental note: do not run down streets lined with restaurants/chocolate shops/bars/bakeries any more this week.

takeout fakeout pepper chicken |

Takeout Fakeout – Pepper Chicken

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/4 inch strips
1 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 teaspoon canola oil
2 small onions, halved and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 chile peppers, thinly sliced, optional
2 bell peppers, thinly sliced
8 ounces mushrooms, quartered
3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon white pepper

steamed white rice, for serving

  1. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of the black pepper and the salt over the sliced chicken. Dust chicken with cornstarch until well coated.
  2. Heat canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, Add chicken and cook until browned and cooked through, about 3 – 5 minutes. Move to a bowl and keep warm.
  3. In the skillet, add in onions, garlic and chile peppers (if using). Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft, about 3 minutes. Add in bell peppers and mushrooms. Stir in soy sauce, white pepper, and remaining 1 teaspoon black pepper until well combined. Cook for 3 minutes or until bell peppers are tender-crisp. Stir in cooked chicken and toss to coat with sauce.
  4. Serve hot with steamed rice.

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SNAP Challenge: Day 2

Today’s Feeding America prompt: “How would this experience be different if your spouse and children were also eating off a limited food budget for the week?”

Well, I guess it wouldn’t be any different since Mike is doing the challenge with me. I actually think it would be more difficult for me if he wasn’t on it because he would have the luxury of eating whatever he wanted while I was stuck with what I’ve already purchased! That said, I think Mike would be happier if I were doing the challenge alone; he’s studying for some big exams this week and not having food to munch on has been hard for him.

Day 2 was a little more than Day 1. Yesterday, we spent a lot of time outside at the farmer’s market and just walking around outside. Today, it was raining the entire day. So, instead of doing our 7 mile run and doing other stuff outside, Mike studied all day and I worked on blog stuff. Sitting around usually leads to mindless munching for us, but this time it wasn’t really an option.

What we ate today:

  • Breakfast: oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins, tea, water
  • Lunch: sweet and sour chicken, white rice, tea, water
  • Snack: spoonful of peanut butter with raisins
  • Dinner: sweet and sour chicken, white rice, water
  • Snack: Mike had another spoonful of peanut butter
  • Late night snack: oatmeal with pepper, salt, and dried herbs

sweet & sour chicken |

Sweet and Sour Chicken

2 teaspoons canola oil
2 chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bell peppers, seeded and chopped
2-20 ounce cans pineapple slices, chopped and juice reserved
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons corn starch

cooked white rice, for serving

  1. Heat canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add chicken and brown on all sides, 3 – 5 minutes. Add in onion and garlic and cook until onions are translucent.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together pineapple juice, brown sugar, vinegar, soy sauce and corn starch. Pour into skillet and stir to combine. Reduce heat to low and add in bell peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened. Stir in pineapple and let heat through, about 1 minute.
  3. Serve hot over white rice.

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Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes, Zucchini and Corn

chicken with cherry tomatoes, zucchini, corn and arugula |

Folks, we are up to our ears in tomatoes. Still. It’s been week after week of a million tomatoes. I did one round of canning and got 7 jars out of it. I think I’m all canned out for the season. It’s just not worth all the work.

Unfortunately, that leaves me with about 40 pounds of tomatoes to eat. Every week. I cook with them as much as I can. I bring them to work and try to pawn them off on my coworkers. I lure friends into my home and then won’t let them leave until they take some tomatoes.

Is it bad to say that I’m actually kind of sick of tomatoes? Even worse, a lot of the delicious tomato recipes I’m seeing are filled with my most recent nemesis – cheese (insert sobbing here).

Fortunately, there are recipes out there that are easily adapted to be cheese-free. This recipe happened to not only use up a decent amount of tomatoes, but I was also able to sneak in a garden zucchini and some of our garden hot peppers as well. Win!!

chicken with cherry tomatoes, zucchini, corn and arugula |

Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes, Corn, and Zucchini

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 lemon, zested and juiced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups corn kernels (from 2 ears of corn or frozen)
2 medium zucchini, quartered, seeded, and cut into 1/4″ pieces
1 bunch green onions, whites sliced
2 small fresh red or green chile peppers, finely chopped
3 cups cherry tomatoes
4 cups arugula
1/2 cup parsley

  1. Butterfly each chicken breast by cutting it in half horizontally and season on both sides with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Cook chicken 3 – 4 minutes on each side, or until cooked through and internal temperature reaches 165°F. Remove chicken to a plate and keep warm.
  3. Add remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil to pan. Add in lemon zest, lemon juice, and garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add in corn, zucchini, green onions, and green chiles. Cook until vegetables are tender-crisp, about 4 – 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and parsley and remove pan from heat.
  4. Top each chicken cutlet with a handful of arugula and a healthy scoop of vegetables.

adapted from Rachel Ray Magazine, September 2013

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Easy Japanese Chicken and Rice Soup

Here I am again, yelling from the rooftops about easy dishes. It seriously doesn’t get easier than this. Broth + leftover rice + chicken = dinner. Nice, huh? Simple enough that even Mike could make this 😉 I used leftover rice from the California Rice & Beans and that cut down on cooking time considerably. Brown rice takes about 40 minutes for us to cook, but the broth for this dish was ready in about 10 minutes. Having the leftover rice meant that I didn’t have to putz around for another 30 minutes waiting on the rice to finish!

Easy Japanese Chicken Rice Soup |

Easy Japanese Chicken and Rice Soup
adapted from Eating Well

2 cups cooked brown rice
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
4 eggs, beaten
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed into 1/2-inch pieces
1 yellow squash, quartered lengthwise and sliced
4 green onions, sliced and divided

  1. Heat broth in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour in sugar, soy sauce, and mirin and bring to a simmer. Add chicken and squash to the broth. Gently pour in eggs and let cook for 2 minutes before gently stirring with a pair of chopsticks or a spatula. Stir in 3 of the green onions and allow to cook for 1 – 2 more minutes, or until chicken is fully cooked.
  2. Divide rice between 4 deep bowls and top with the chicken mixture. Garnish bowls with remaining green onions and serve immediately.

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Lightened Up Pesto Chicken Florentine

Lightened Up Pesto Chicken Florentine |

Being split between two cities is going to be difficult for me. I have to learn to live without my fully-stocked pantry and fridge, my stand mixer, endless pots and pans, and my million different cake, cupcake, bread, and cookie pans. I’m going to have to adjust to cooking with the bare minimum.

This dish will have no problem in my “new” life. It requires no special equipment and can be tossed together in no time. The leftovers make for a pretty great lunch the next day, too.

I lightened up this dish by making my own Alfredo sauce. The canned stuff (or worse, the packet stuff) scares me and has no place in my kitchen! This homemade Alfredo also passes on the heavy cream and copious amounts of butter. Trust me, this sauce is delish and you won’t even miss the cream or butter!

Lightened Up Chicken Pesto Florentine |

Lightened Up Pesto Chicken Florentine
adapted from All Recipes

8 ounces dried whole wheat penne
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips
1 3/4 cup lightened-up Alfredo sauce, recipe below (jarred will work as well)
2 tablespoons pesto
4 cups fresh baby spinach
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add in chicken strips and cook until no longer pink on the inside, about 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in spinach and tomatoes and cook for an additional 1 – 2 minutes, or until spinach is wilted.
  4. Mix together Alfredo sauce and pesto and pour into cooked pasta. Stir in chicken and spinach and mix well to combine.
  5. Serve immediately.

Lightened Up Alfredo Sauce
makes 1 3/4 cup

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 clove garlic
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ounce reduced fat (Neufchatel) cream cheese
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

  1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in garlic and cook for 2 – 3 minutes or until soft.
  2. Whisk in flour, salt, and pepper and stir until smooth. Cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in milk and cook for 3 – 5 minutes or until mixture has thickened slightly.
  3. Whisk in cream cheese and Parmesan cheese until smooth.

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Panko-Coated Chicken Schnitzel with Parsley Potatoes

Summer means shorter work hours for me, but for some reason I’m finding myself less and less motivated to make elaborate meals. Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe the shorter work weeks make me lazy. Maybe it’s Summer Brain. 

All that said, I love this dish because it tastes complicated but is really quite simple to make. The worst of it was it requires a lot of pans, plates, and utensils, but that’s not really my problem since Mike does the dishes 😉

Panko-Coated Chicken Schnitzel with Parsley Potatoes |

Chicken Schnitzel with Parsley Potatoes

for the chicken:
1 cup flour
3 eggs, beaten
2 cups panko bread crumbs
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, butterflied and pounded to 1/4 inch thickness
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons capers
juice of 1 1/2 large lemons
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

for the potatoes:
1 pound red potatoes, quartered or cut into eighths if large
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
juice of 1/2 large lemon
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

  1. To make the chicken, place the flour, eggs, and panko in three separate shallow dishes. Mix in 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper into the flour mixture.
  2. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess. Dip into egg and then coat with panko, using your hands to gently press the panko to the chicken.
  3. Heat canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook until golden and crispy, about 3 – 4 minutes each side.
  4. Meanwhile, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until lightly browned. Add in chicken broth, capers, and lemon juice. Spoon over chicken and sprinkle with parsley before serving.
  5. To make the potatoes, place potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in butter, lemon juice, parsley, salt, and pepper. Toss gently until potatoes are coated evenly.

schnitzel recipe adapted from Food & Wine


Summertime Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin has been on my must-cook list for years. Yes, years. I’m not sure why I never got around to making it, but I was pretty excited when I received this recipe for the “cooking with alcohol” swap from My Chicago Kitchen.

Now that I’ve made this, I know that I will be making this again and again and again. It was so easy to put together it was unbelievable. Slow cookers in my house are used pretty much only in the fall and winter. Once summer comes around, it goes into hibernation deep in my cupboards.

Why that happens, I’m not quite sure… but this recipe definitely convinced me that slowcookers are a year-round kitchen tool that I should be using!

Summertime Coq au Vin |

Summertime Coq au Vin
adapted from My Chicago Kitchen, originally from Williams-Sonoma

1 cup all purpose flour
salt and pepper
8 bone-in, skin on chicken thighs
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 shallots, minced
2 cups dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
6 sprigs fresh parsley
6 springs fresh thyme
6 carrots, peeled and diced
2 cups pearl onions
2 cups sugar snap peas

  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Lightly dredge in flour and shake off any excess. Brown chicken in pan on all sides, about 3-5 minutes per side. Place chicken into slow cooker.
  2. Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of grease in pan. Add shallots and saute for 1 minute. Remove skillet from heat and pour in wine and chicken stock. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Pour into slow cooker over the chicken.
  3. Add in parsley, thyme, and carrots, making sure the herbs are fully submerged in the liquid. Cover and cook for 2 hours on high or 5 hours on low.
  4. After 2 or 5 hours, uncover and add in onion and peas, submerging them in the liquid. Cover and cook an additional 30 minutes on low. Serve warm.

Thanks to Taste of Home Cooking for organizing! Make sure to check out the other recipe swap posts!


Lightened Up Cream Cheese Chicken Enchiladas

It’s swap time again! The theme this month was Mexican food and I received a recipe for Cream Cheese Enchiladas from Carrie’s Sweet Life. I read only the name of the dish and raised my eyebrows. I jumped to the conclusion that these were going to be filled with cream cheese and only cream cheese.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love cream cheese. Seriously. But the thought of eating a cream cheese enchilada was a bit too much for me. I read on and was very relieved to see that there were several other ingredients in the enchiladas in addition to cream cheese. Whew!

I absolutely loved these. They were super simple to make and had a great flavor, too. I followed in Carrie’s footsteps and made the filling and shredded all the cheese the night before. Then, the next day I assembled and baked them off. While they were in the oven I threw together a quick apple slaw to go with it.

Lightened Up Cream Cheese Chicken Enchiladas |

Lightened Up Cream Cheese Chicken Enchiladas
slightly adapted from Carrie’s Sweet Life

1 package Neufchatel or reduced fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
2 cup prepared salsa (I used some homemade stuff I canned last summer)
1 cup shredded colby cheese
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
salt and pepper, to taste
8-8 inch flour tortillas

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  2. In a medium bowl, beat together cream cheese and Greek yogurt until smooth. Stir in 1/2 cup salsa, 1/2 cup colby, and 1/2 cup cheddar.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix chicken, corn, cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Fold into cheese mixture and stir until thoroughly combined.
  4. Spread 1/2 cup salsa into the bottom of a large baking dish.
  5. Place 1/3 – 1/2 cup of filling into the bottom third of a tortilla. Roll up and place seam-side down in baking dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Pour remaining 1/2 cup salsa on top and sprinkle with remaining cheese.
  6. Bake in preheated oven for 25 – 30 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and center of enchiladas are hot. Serve immediately.

Thanks to Taste of Home Cooking for organizing! Make sure to check out the other recipe swap posts!