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Easy Breakfast Recipe: Eggs and Sausage Casserole

I know we’ve posted a lot of recipes here in the last few days, but I just had to share this one today. My mom has been making this casserole for more than 20 years, and we eat it while we open presents around the tree on Christmas morning. Of course it’s delicious, but it’s also great because you can assemble it a day ahead and just pop it in the oven an hour before you’re ready to feed the hungry masses. It's also filling and will hold everyone over until Christmas dinner later in the day. But of course there is no reason you have to save a dish this tasty just for a holiday ...


2 pounds sausage

9 eggs, beaten

3 cups milk

1 ½ tsp. dry mustard

1 tsp. salt

3 slices bread, cubed

1 ½ cup grated cheddar cheese


Brown meat, drain and mix in eggs, milk, dry mustard, salt, bread cubes and cheese. Pour into greased cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Can be assembled a day ahead, then baked the next morning.


Beyond Brown Bags: Avoiding the caloric bomb

I’m just over the moon to introduce a new guest columnist and the regular feature she’ll be sharing with us. Melissa Owens lives in the western suburbs and details her family’s efforts to eat locally on her blog “Table for Three: A Midwestern Locavore Family Photo Journal,” filled with beautiful, mouth-watering photos. You can also follow her Twitter feed at Melissa_Owens. For Go West Young Mom, Owens will be writing a regular column called “Beyond Brown Bags,” featuring photos and descriptions of a week’s worth of lunches that Owens packs for her son, who started 1st grade this year. Owens will also write up some tips and hints that we hope will make it easier for you to pack healthy, tasty, creative lunches for your children. I’m really excited to add a feature I hope you’ll find inspiring but also filled with practical ideas. -- Tara

Back when I was in school, packed lunches followed a certain formula: sandwich, chips and a cookie.  I don't imagine I was alone; after all, most fast food and restaurant kid's menus still follow a similar format - meat, starch and a sweet. The only real variety for me came from my first thermos. Bean and ham soup always conjures up memories of eating steaming soup out of the "cup" top of my thermos. 

These days, parents have lots of different motivations for packing lunch for their kids. Individual tastes, dietary restrictions, and quality of the food all come into play. My first glimpse of the school menu last fall was dismaying for an additional reason.  My son is a wee little kid; starting kindergarten last year he weighed in at a mere 34 lbs. At home he's a good eater, but he eats small portions of whatever my husband and I are eating. Even at restaurants, I usually share my meal with him instead of getting him his own meal. On the first day of school, the cheeseburger, potato wedges, fruit cup and milk meant to be eaten by 11-year-old kids would have completely overwhelmed my then 5-year-old boy. There is such a disparity in ages in an elementary school cafeteria, yet all these kids are served the exact same meal. For the little kids, school lunches can be a major caloric bomb.

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Back to School: Sandwich Recipes and The Lunch Dilemma

You know how you can look back on something, something you did years ago, and wonder how it came to be? Well, that’s how I am about my high school lunch habit. Except for a handful of times when I treated myself to french fries and a milkshake from the cafeteria (healthy, I know) or brought an Oscar Mayer lunchable (I had sophisticated tastes, obviously) my lunch consisted of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a piece of fruit, and a small bag of chips like Fritos or Cheetos. Every. Single. Day. For four years.

Photo by Ibán on flickr.Why on earth did I eat so many peanut butter sandwiches? I’m sure my mom (who made my lunch, and packed it nicely in a brown paper sack with a napkin inside) would have given me something different. Maybe I was just too busy navigating the dangerously choppy waters of high school to care what my lunch was. (My chief worry was wearing an outfit again too soon, until I bought a tiny notebook where I wrote down what clothes I wore every day. I found that notebook recently, and was mostly amused at my solution.)

I still do like peanut butter sandwiches, although now I try to use a jelly other than grape and a bread other than soft white. In fact, I still really love sandwiches in general, although the ones I can buy at Jimmy John’s or Potbelly always seem so much tastier than anything I could do at home.

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The easy route to tasty bacon and a mess-free kitchen

I have a love/hate relationship with bacon. It’s the perfect combination of crispy and salty.  And I’m sorry, the turkey kind just doesn’t cut it. But why, oh why must it be so painful to prepare? Splatters on the stove and on your wrists, while you mutter words under your breath that you don’t want your kids to hear. Then you have a pan full of hot grease to dispose.

You could always try those “As Seen on TV” microwave bacon cookers – but I don’t know about you – it just seems doubly wrong to nuke something I know I shouldn’t be eating too much of anyway. And although I’ve never tried them, I don’t believe they work. 

So finally, I asked the waitress at one of our family’s favorite pancake houses, how do they make their bacon? It always seems so crunchy and flat, not curled into the fetal position like the strips in my skillet at home. The answer? They bake it! 

It took a few experiments to get the right temperature and timing – and you’ll probably fiddle around with it for your own oven – but it’s worth it.

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Healthy summer snacks that kids can help make 

I’m so pleased to introduce a new guest columnist to Go West Young Mom, and her name might be familiar to you. She’s Rachel Engelhardt, the owner of A Closet of Her Own, an online business that features t-shirts in girly colors and styles decorated with images usually reserved for boys' clothing. We did a great giveaway with A Closet of Her Own a few weeks ago, but even before then, I was so impressed with Engelhardt that I was hoping I could recruit her as an occasional guest columnist. The following column ran previously on the A Closet of Her Own blog, and you can subscribe there to make sure to get notified of new posts.

Engelhardt with her son and daughter.Some of Engelhardt’s favorite topics to write about include children’s books, ideas for keeping active, healthy snack recipes  and ways to nurture creativity and curiosity in children. She also uses her columns to share her hope that all children will feel both free and encouraged to pursue their interests, even when those interests go beyond traditional gender stereotypes.

Her first Go West column focuses on healthy summer snacks, but look for blogs on topics as varied as dirt and yoga in coming weeks!

Here are some of my family's favorite healthy summertime snack recipes.  We enjoy making them together. All of these are great for young kids who like to help. My kids are 5 and 2 ½, and they help with all of these. 

1.  The classic "ants-on-a-log" - small slices of celery, spread with some kind of nut-butter (or nut-butter alternative), and topped with raisins.  We enjoy using small carrot slices instead of celery.  I also like to mix two parts peanut butter with one part carrot baby food (homemade or commercially-prepared). This makes for a good dip for apple slices, too. 

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Attack of the Killer (Backyard Garden) Tomatoes

Bursts of red peeking out from a tangle of green vines: August is just around the corner and that means tomatoes, tomatoes and more tomatoes. Last year I planted way too many tomato plants, about eight, in my small garden, which was my first foray into growing my own vegetables. I canned some, made ratatouille, gave bags away and many committed suicide – falling to the earth before I could pick them.  
I smartened up this year, or so I thought, and planted fewer plants. To my surprise, tomato plants I had not planted started sprouting – I’m told veteran gardeners call them “volunteers,” tomato plants that pop up from seeds of the previous year’s fallen soldiers. I shouldn’t complain. Anyone who has eaten a garden-fresh tomato, whether from your own yard or the farmers market, knows the taste can’t compare to the sanitized blandness of the plastic wrapped varieties at the supermarket.  
So today, here’s a super simple recipe that uses A LOT of those tomatoes up and gets dinner on the table in about 20 minutes.  The great thing about this pasta dish, which is a bit of a variation on a Caprese salad (tomato,  basil, mozzarella), is that if you don’t count the pasta and salt and pepper, it only has five ingredients.

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Meat Takes a Backseat on the Grill: Try Veggies and Fruit 

I’m excited to introduce another Go West Young Mom guest columnist, and this writer is especially dear to my heart. She is my best friend Maria Balice, who also happens to be the best cook I know. The two years I lived with Maria in Lincoln Park after college were the most memorable, gastronomically-speaking, of my life. The great thing about Maria is that while she has been known to spend a whole day creating an amazing multi-course meal, she can also just whip something up in a few minutes based on whatever she has in her refrigerator or pantry. Here Maria tells you why you should be using the grill for more than burgers and steaks this summer.

Grilling is such an easy way to get dinner on the table, but meat is usually the star. However,  with fresh zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes and all sorts of yummy vegetables bursting on the scene in either farmer’s markets or your own backyard, the grill is a simple way to bring out the flavor of fresh vegetables and, yes, even fruit. 
Almost any summer vegetable just needs a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper before it goes straight onto the grill.  Grilled tomatoes make a fabulous accompaniment to a burger or a steak.  And if you’re worried about veggies falling through the grate, forget about those fancy grill baskets.  All you need is a disposable aluminum cake pan – 13 inches by 9 inches (you can find them in the household items section of the grocery store or any dollar store). Plop in your vegetables, olive oil, salt and pepper and put the pan right on the grill rack over high heat.  Use some tongs to mix the veggies every few minutes and in about 10  to 15, you’ll have veggies everyone in the family will love.

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