Pizza Sushi & Healthy, Fun Lunch Box Ideas

This year I am trying to make the boys’ lunches more interesting and fun while maintaining a degree of health and nutrition. I absolutely love all the great bento lunch ideas I see all over the net, and even though my kids are (almost) 12 and 16, they can still appreciate and tote gourmet lunches in school without feeling like a little kid.

My lunch ideas are not all that original so I’m sure you’ve seen a million other blogs posting lunch box ideas. But I will say this- if you haven’t gotten on the bento wagon yet all it takes is a little bit of prep time and you can do it. Here are a few tips for preparing and packing awesome lunches for anyone in your family.

1) Cook extra at dinner and use leftovers for lunch. This could mean extra rice or potatoes or pasta, which you could make salads from, or extra meat. I like to cook extra chicken to make chicken salad with.

2) Get the kids involved. Number One is easy to please so I just ask him what he’s in the mood for (I don’t always pack the same thing for the boys), but for Number Two it’s best if he’s got an interest in what’s coming in his lunch box. Some things I know he’ll like, other things I know he’ll like more if he helps prepare it. I also ask him ahead of time what he’d like the next day (if there are options. If not I just go by the meal plan.)

3. Skip “kid” foods. There is no such thing when looking at your grocers options in terms of nutrition. I’m talking about Lunchables (you can easily make your own), Crustables, and pudding cups, etc. These conveniences are the absolute worst things you could be feeding your kids. Give them real food. They will eat it.

4. Pick your battles. If your child says he/she didn’t like something you packed, trust them and move on. I love the idea of my kid happily munching away on bell pepper sticks at lunch, but I know that’s not going to happen. It’s better to save the veggie battle for dinner time when you can be there to model good eating habits and encouragement.

5. You might get “But he gets lunches like….” complaining. Just stick with your plan, use the great lunchbox ideas that are everywhere, and get your kid(s) involved. You’ll see the struggle wane soon enough when your child realizes that other kids want what he’s got.

6. Menu plan. If you work outside the home this may seem like extra work for you, and I agree. But in the event you are planning your dinners already (as you should be. Trust me, your life will get so much easier!) it really won’t take too much extra time to plan a few extra things. This could include baking a batch of muffins or breakfast cookies while you’re already in the kitchen preparing a meal, or perhaps just taking a little time over the weekend to prepare and freeze some things. Other things like wraps, veggies, fruit, chips, and trail mix can be pre-bagged for the week ahead so they’re all ready to go.

pizza sushi

Ready for the pizza sushi? I adapted this idea found in a Rachael Ray magazine, as well as many of the tips above. It’s a fun lunch for the kiddos and super easy to prepare. Below is also a few options for mixing and matching simple roll-ups and dips.

Pizza Sushi

6 inch tortillas

turkey pepperoni

cream cheese

marinara or pizza sauce

Other options: Mozzarella cheese, roasted red pepper, olives, etc.

Assembly is pretty basic.  Just spread the desired amount of cream cheese onto the tortilla (you can even mix a bit of ranch mix into the cream cheese!) and top with pepperoni slices and anything else you’d like. Roll it up and slice into even sizes. Pack it up in your lunch box with a smaller container of dipping sauce on the side.

Other roll-up options: Really, you can take any kind of sandwich concept and put into a roll-up- though I usually leave out the condiments because I’ll put a dipper on the side. You see it all the time now with all the wrap options offered in restaurants. For example, Number One isn’t going to want pizza sushi in his lunch so he gets a more manly wrap with hummus, lettuce, roast beef, turkey meat, and two kinds of cheeses. Also I use a larger tortilla for those kinds of sammies. Number Two likes all kinds of roll-ups so I can take any kind of meat and cheese combo and simply roll it up, and either leave it whole or cut into sushi-style pieces. He likes the smaller pieces best so he can dip them into ranch, honey mustard, salsa, pizza sauce, etc.

lunch box rollups

I especially love the all natural-nitrate free bologna from Trader Joe’s.

Lunch box sides: One of Two’s favorite things to snack on are carrot sticks dipped in peanut butter. Now you can buy easy to pack  peanut butter to go cups. They are single serving size and perfect for lunches. Even better now is an all natural option. So to round out a healthy lunch I like to add carrots or snap peas, grapes, blueberries, or some other fruit or veggie I know he likes and maybe add a dip if there’s one that’ll go with it well. Dips include hummus, ranch, peanut butter, or chocolate flavored peanut butter (those are available in single size too). Other sides can simply be a pickle or some olives. Whatever you like- there are no limits.

Additional dip options are salsa, ketchup, soy sauce, BBQ sauce, pizza sauce, or any kind of dressing.

Additional dip options are salsa, ketchup, soy sauce, BBQ sauce, pizza sauce, or any kind of dressing.

Another option are salads such as pasta or potato. Number Two has a thermos and likes to have macaroni and cheese sometimes. I buy Annie’s organic microwaveable single serving mac & cheese and just whip it up real quick and put it in the thermos. Lunch is ready in three minutes!

Lastly are the “chips” and “desserts”. This doesn’t mean I include something from every category in every lunch. It really just depends on what I’m packing for that day. But these are some other things I will put in their lunches because sometimes you really want the crunch of a chip. I don’t buy regular chips because personally I think they’re junk, but I do buy and eat pita chips (Stacy’s naked chips are awesome and go great with my hummus!), corn tortilla chips, pretzels, pretzel chips, Veggie Smart chips and straws, and popcorn chips. Also making your own crackers is super easy (I’ll be posting a recipe soon), and it’s way better alternative to buying prepackaged crackers that are full of chemicals.

I know it was a long post- I hope you read through it all and enjoyed it anyway. Stay tuned for my healthy, energy-packed trail mix! It’s a perfect addition for any lunch box, picnic, or snack 🙂

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Breakfast Cookies

Part of my campaign for a healthier year is to make more breakfast options for the boys before school. During the summer I get lax and allow them to eat cereal when they want, but even though I buy relatively healthy cereals I still don’t want that to be what they go to school on.

Hence the breakfast cookie 🙂 I’ve seen posts for this before and thought, “Seriously? That can’t be good.” But I am here to testify that while, no, it’s not as nutritious as a bowl of oatmeal, these cookies are still a far better cry than most boxed cereals. Plus they are packed with protein, fiber, and iron. Also, you can easily leave out the chocolate chips and/or switch out the fruit for some other kind.

I felt really good giving these to my kids for breakfast along with a banana and some yogurt, and I find myself eating these most mornings when I am busy or just don’t want to bother cooking.

breakfast cookies1

Breakfast Cookies

3 small ripe bananas, mashed

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup peanut butter

1/3 cup honey

1/3 cup water

3 egg whites

1 2/3 cup flour (1/2 unbleached & 1/2 whole wheat) *(- 1 1/3 T)

1 1/3 T corn starch

1/3 tsp baking soda

1/3 tsp salt

2 1/2 cups quick oats

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1/3 cup mini chocolate chips

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup dried cranberries

breakfast cookie2

1. Preheat oven to 350*

2. Using a mixer, combine mashed banana, lightly beaten egg whites, peanut butter, honey, water, and sugar until smooth.

3. *After removing 1 1/3 T of the flour, replace it with the same amount of corn starch and sift together thoroughly. This combination works just as well as pastry flour. However, if you have (whole wheat) pastry flour on hand, the measurements would be 1 1/3 cup all-purpose and 1/3 cup pastry flour. Combine flour with salt and baking soda.

4. Stir the flour mixture into the banana mixture. Add the oats, walnuts, chocolate chips, and fruit. Dough will be dense.

5. Scoop onto parchment paper-lined baking sheet, and using a wooden spoon, shape the dough into circular shapes, slightly flattened on the tops. Bake for 15 minutes, or until tops are slightly browned. Makes 15 large cookies.

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FEATURED ON GET HIM FED #8!

FEATURED ON TGIF #18!

Skillet Ratatouille and Chicken

Back in late July-early August when we were on our family vacation on the Crystal Coast, we stayed in a friend’s condo complete with deck-side pool and an awesome view of the ocean. I love this particular beach because it was where I met Hubby over 17 years ago. We could even see the pier where we first met from our location just a quarter of a mile away down the beach. Even better was that both the boys wanted to see where their parents first met.

While we were there we ate some great food, including local seafood (boy, have we missed that since moving off the island!) and other wonderfully prepared culinary delights at a few of the local hotspots. But there were times that I cooked, too. I kept it simple for the most part; tacos and pasta, baked herbed chicken, roasted veggies, salads, etc.

At one point as Number Two and I were wandering around the grocery store trying to decide what to make, he suggested Ratatouille. I was a little surprised at first because I’m not so sure he realized what he was asking for. So I told him. And he still seemed totally up for it. So I was like, heck yeah! But alas, there were no yellow squash in stock and I really wasn’t feeling particularly creative, so needless to say we had to pass on the ratatouille.

Since then I have come across this awesome recipe for a one-skillet meal incorporating ratatouille. How can this go wrong? I am so excited to share this with you guys because I do love me some Ratatouille. Click the link for my previous post on Millefeuille Ratatouille, which is the layered kind seen in Disney’s movie Ratatouille. This recipe was adapted from Rachael Ray.

skillet ratatouiile

Skillet Ratatouille and Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 T EVOO

1 small eggplant

1 yellow bell pepper

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 small zucchini

1 large yellow squash

4 medium tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup red wine

1 cup chicken broth

2 T butter

1/3 cup chopped parsley

salt & pepper

Parmesan cheese, for serving

1. Prep your veggies. Peel eggplant and cut into 34-inch pieces. De-stem and seed the bell pepper, cutting it into 1/2-inch pieces.  Trim the zucchini and squash, quartering it lengthwise and again crosswise in 1/2-inch thick pieces.

2. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat large skillet over medium heat and add 1 T of EVOO. Cook the chicken about 10 minutes, turning over once, and remove from skillet.

3. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Let it simmer a few minutes. Add the butter and broth and simmer a few minutes more. Set aside.

4. Put in some EVOO and add the eggplant to the skillet and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Ladle in some of the wine/broth as needed. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

5. Add the remaining  EVOO and cook the bell pepper and onion, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Add in the zucchini and squash, season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft, about 5 minutes; Stirring often. Ladle in wine/broth as needed. Season with salt & pepper.

6. Add the tomatoes and reserved eggplant, then the chicken and remaining wine/broth. Cover and bring to a brisk simmer.

7. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently, partially covered, until the vegetables are very soft and the meat pulls apart easily using two forks; 30 minutes.

8. Serve over rice or noodles with grated cheese.

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Back to School: Breakfast & Lunch Menu Aug. 26th – 30th

back to school

School is definitely back in session. For many others across the country it has already started, but for us this is our first week back. I can’t complain (even though the summer flew by too quickly) although I still don’t get why they can’t just push it back until after Labor Day like they did in the good ol’ days. Right?

lunch bag

But alas, here we are again. So in an effort to make things easier on myself, and to ensure my kiddos eat healthy, I have come up with some new breakfast and bagged lunch ideas. I will still pull from my older recipes, but I have some great new ones, too.

Red links will be added as the recipe is posted, so stay tuned for those.

Monday, August 26th

Breakfast:  Bacon & Egg Puffs

Lunch:  Turkey & Cheese Rolls, Pretzels, Fruit Gummies, Juice or bottled water

Tuesday, August 27th

Breakfast:  Granola Bars (with dried fruit added), Yogurt, Juice

Lunch:  Macaroni & Cheese in thermos, Carrots & Peanut Butter, Juice or bottled water

Wednesday, August 28th

Breakfast:  Hard-Boiled/Scrambled Egg Wraps

Lunch:  CornDog Muffins with ketchup, Veggie Chips, Trail Mix, Juice or bottled water

Thursday, August 29th

Breakfast:  Breakfast Cookies, Yogurt, Milk

Lunch:  Pizza Sushi with Marinara, Granola, Juice or bottled water

Friday, August 30th

Breakfast:  Breakfast Bagel Sandwich, Milk

Lunch:  Mini Quiche, Pretzels, Fruit Gummies, Juice or bottled water

Oven-Roasted Okra

I love oven roasted veggies. It is my favorite way to enjoy all vegetables in a fresh and delicious way. I want to know that when I’m eating vegetables that I haven’t cooked all their nutrients away, and by roasting them in the oven you have limitless options for flavoring to boot.

My favorite veggies prepared this way are brussel sprouts and asparagus, but I’ve been known to enjoy fresh green beans and squash and zucchini as well. Now it’s time for okra to take a step in the spotlight. If you’ve only eaten it breaded and fried, or in a slimy soup, then you may not know how awesome okra really is.

Now, you can easily cut these babies length-wise for the same delicious flavor, but for more even cooking and the best taste results, I cut them into 1/2-inch bites sized pieces. Seasonings are truly limitless (think garlic powder, parmesan cheese, thyme, rosemary, smoked paprika, the list goes on and on…) but my mainstay is to toss everything in EVOO and salt & pepper. It’s just that easy.

oven roasted okra

Oven-Roasted Okra

8 oz. fresh okra, washed and dried

EVOO

Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 400*

Cut tops and tips off the okra and discard. Slice okra into 1/2-inch bite-sized pieces.

Line baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and place okra pieces on it.

Drizzle EVOO and salt and pepper over the okra and toss with your hands to get everything covered evenly.

(Wash hands) …then place sheet in oven for about 20 minutes, or until okra is done to your liking. You may want to use a spatula to stir things up (gently) a bit.

*Sometimes I crank the oven up to 450* depending on the veggie and the thickness of the pieces and how much oil I used. I like my asparagus tips almost crunchy, while the stalks of all the veggies should be tender and fresh but not mushy. You may have to experiment a few times to get it the way you like it. Just keep your eye on it so nothing overcooks and it’ll be fabulous.

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Tuscan Pasta with Tomato-Basil Cream

This is one of those quick week night meals that tastes like you’ve put a bit more effort into it than you really did. If you’re crunched for time and want a hearty, quality meal, then keep this one on file. All you need are some basic staple ingredients in your freezer/pantry and you can make this in no time.

tuscan pasta

Tuscan Pasta with Tomato-Basil Cream Sauce

1 (20 oz) pkg refrigerated or frozen *cheese ravioli

1 (15 oz) jar sun-dried tomato alfredo sauce

2 T white wine

1 can diced tomatoes, drained

2 tsp basil**

Parmesan cheese

Empty the sauce into a saucepan and use the wine to collect the rest of the sauce in the jar by covering the top and shaking.

Add in the drained tomatoes (or 2 fresh ones, diced) and the basil. **If you have fresh it’ll be about 1/2 cup. Also if you don’t like basil as much as I do and are using dried, you may want to start of with less than 2 tsp, but really, who doesn’t love basil??

Allow all of this to simmer for a bit, about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Cook your pasta according to directions. *I bet mushroom ravioli would be divine in this! 🙂

Drain the ravioli from the pasta water and fold the tuscan sauce into the pasta. Plate it up and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese and extra basil on top.

Enjoy!

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Reason #1 Why I Don’t Eat At McDonalds!

You might have seen this on Facebook. I posted it on my FB page the other day after seeing it on my newsfeed, so you may have seen it on yours as well. This is not new information to me but I believe there is a plethora of people who should be informed – 27 million people to be exact! How is it this many people are still eating this stuff?? Maybe they just don’t care? I personally know many people who like to eat whatever they want (and can’t even always control their cravings) just because they like the taste, and in some cases they like the euphoric feeling the particular food(s) give them even more. Yes, that’s a very real issue. I’m just as guilty in that way because I love me some pizza or fries or something a little too often when I know I should be spanning those types of meals out to maybe once a month.

Below the picture is the story. Beyond that are some very informative links.

mcdonalds

Sorry McDonald’s lovers yucky news!!

I knew there was a reason why I like Jamie Oliver!!

Hamburger chef Jamie Oliver has just won a battle against one of the largest fast food chains in the world. After Oliver showed how McDonald’s hamburgers are made, the franchise announced it will change its recipe.

According to Oliver, the fatty parts of beef are “washed” in ammonium hydroxide and used in the filling of the burger. Before this process, according to the presenter, the food is deemed unfit for human consumption.

According to the chef and presenter, Jamie Oliver, who has undertaken a war against the fast food industry: “Basically, we’re taking a product that would be sold in the cheapest way for dogs, and after this process, is being given to human beings.”

Besides the low quality of the meat, the ammonium hydroxide is harmful to health. Oliver calls it “the pink slime process.”

“Why would any sensible human being put meat filled with ammonia in the mouths of their children?” asked the chef, who wages a war against the fast food industry.

In one of his initiatives, Oliver demonstrates to children how nuggets are made. After selecting the best parts of the chicken, the remains (fat, skin and internal organs) are processed for these fried foods.

The company, Arcos Dorados, the franchise manager in Latin America, said such a procedure is not practiced in the region. The same applies to the product in Ireland and the UK, where they use meat from local suppliers.

In the United States, Burger King and Taco Bell had already abandoned the use of ammonia in their products. The food industry uses ammonium hydroxide as an anti-microbial agent in meats, which has allowed McDonald’s to use otherwise “inedible meat.”

Even more disturbing is that because ammonium hydroxide is considered part of the “component in a production procedure” by the USDA, consumers may not know when the chemical is in their food.

On the official website of McDonald’s, the company claims that their meat is cheap because, while serving many people every day, they are able to buy from their suppliers at a lower price, and offer the best quality products.

In addition, the franchise denied that the decision to change the recipe is related to Jamie Oliver’s campaign. On the site, McDonald’s has admitted that they have abandoned the beef filler from its burger patties.
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The Dark Side of the All-American Meal

Fast Food Industry Secrets

11 Facts About American Eating Habits

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Baked Tilapia with Mustard Lemon & Horseradish Sauce

This is really a very easy and delicious way to serve up dinner. We try to eat fish often, ideally two times  a week, and the same old recipes can get boring real fast. I served this with some roasted okra and Trader Joe’s Harvest Grains Blend.

The flavors in this are subtle so don’t be afraid of the horseradish or the mustard. In fact, I might even recommending amping up the measurements just a tad for a bolder flavor. However, made according to the recipe it was just right for Number Two’s more sensitive palate, and all the boys ate it up quick.

baked tilapia

Baked Tilapia with Mustard Lemon and Horseradish Sauce

4 tilapia fillets

2 T fresh chopped parsley, divided

1 T fresh lemon juice

2 tsp prepared horseradish

1 tsp dijon mustard

1/4 chicken broth

2 T butter, divided into 4 slices

zest from 1/2 lemon

1 tsp thyme

1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges

salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400*. Lightly spray baking dish and salt and pepper fish on both sides. Place fish in single layer in dish.

2. In a small bowl put 1 T parsley, mustard, horseradish, chicken broth, thyme, and lemon juice. Whisk until combined then spoon over the fish, pouring it all in the baking dish.

3. Top each fillet with the 1/2 T slice of butter and bake for 20 minutes or so, basting once or twice, until fish flakes easily with a fork.

4. Sprinkle remaining parsley and lemon zest over the top and serve with lemon wedges.

5. Enjoy this delicious and healthy meal!

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Black Bean & Goat Cheese Quesadillas with Chipotle Aioli

On our last night of vacation on the Crystal Coast the boys and I had an awesome tapas dinner at a local restaurant. While everything was to. die. for. (I truly need to figure out how to make their entire menu) one thing that we tried that I had to replicate ASAP was the black bean quesadilla and chipotle sauce.

Now their version had Monterey Jack and havarti cheese but I didn’t have either of those. Plus I like stronger cheeses that don’t lose their flavor when melted. Since I had several cheeses to choose from we decided to mix and match, so while the goat cheese was my favorite and matched beautifully with the black beans and the aioli, there were three kinds in all: goat cheese, cheddar and feta, & cheddar and smoke gouda (this one was Hubby’s favorite.)

So you can see how simple it would be to swap out flavors and see what you like best. Just don’t forget the aioli!

blk bn quesadilla

Black Bean Quesadillas

1 can black beans (I use organic)

1/4 cup finely diced onion

1 T butter

1/4 tsp cumin

salt & pepper

2 or 3 T fresh chopped cilantro

flour tortillas, large or small

cheeses of your choice, diced or shredded

In small saucepan, heat over medium-high and melt butter. Add in chopped onion and let cook for several minutes.

Stir in the cumin and cook a few minutes more. It’ll smell awesome.

Pour in the can of black beans, juice and all. Salt and pepper. Stir and simmer for 20 minutes.

Drain extra juices if there are any. Stir in the fresh cilantro.

Place some cheese on a tortilla and spoon some bean mixture over it. Add more or another cheese on the beans and top with tortilla. *I use a countertop Foreman grill to make my quesadillas. You can use a skillet on the stove(careful turning those tortillas) or the oven.

If you are using large tortillas you will have better luck filling them with more mixture because you will fold one half over the other, making a half cirlce-shaped quesadilla.

Chipotle Aioli

1/4 cup mayo

1 tsp sriracha

1/4 tsp chipotle seasoning

Combine and whisk all ingredients together. Refrigerate until ready to use (at least an hour if possible). Taste and adjust seasonings.

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Chocolate Chip Blueberry Muffins

This is a great basic muffin recipe that you can use as a base to add your own favorite ingredients to. This time I made blueberry muffins with chocolate chips, but truly you can make just about any kind of muffin you desire. This recipe makes 6 large muffins, or 10 regular-sized ones.

choc chip blue muffin

Basic Muffin Recipe with Chocolate Chips & Blueberries

2 cups minus 2 T sifted all-purpouse flour*

1 T baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

5 T sugar (plus more for tops of muffins)

1 egg

1 cup milk

4 T butter, melted

1/2 cup frozen blueberries

1/3 cup chocolate chips

1. Heat oven to 400*.

2. In a large bowl, sift together flour  (*I used my 1/2 unbleached and 1/2 whole wheat flour mixture) baking powder, salt, and sugar.

3. In another bowl beat together the milk, egg, and butter. (It’s best if the milk isn’t too cold or it will solidify the butter.)

4. Pour the liquid mixture into the flour mixture, and mix just until moistened. Do not over mix- the batter will be lumpy.

5. Fold in the blueberries and chocolate chips just until combined.

6. Fill greased muffin tins (or use paper/foil liners for smaller muffins). Sprinkle additional sugar on top of each muffin.

7. Bake for 25 minutes (a few minutes less for smaller muffins) or until the muffins are golden brown.

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