Crock Pot Chicken Cacciatore

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

I absolutely adore pasta dishes, but my favorite by far is Chicken Cacciatore.  It’s not something that’s easily found in restaurants in the Greater Cincinnati area.  In fact, there’s only one place in town that I know of that carries this delightful Italian dish.  My family is originally from upstate New York, which is rich in Italian heritage.  You can always find great pizza and usually cacciatore at most of the local family-owned restaurants in that part of the country.

So, I’ve been on a quest most of my adult life to recreate the awesome Chicken Cacciatore I used to eat so often growing up.  And I have finally come up with the perfect recipe, made in the crock pot.  Chicken Cacciatore is usually made with tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers.  My hubby’s not a huge pepper fan, so I subbed in artichokes which we both love!  So, if you’d rather have the peppers, then omit the artichokes and add in one chopped bell pepper instead.

 And I am excited that I’ve discovered a gluten-free pasta that tastes amazing and doesn’t get sticky or clumpy.  I found it at my new favorite store, Aldi!  Their “Live G-Free” brand is very reasonably priced and everything I’ve tried from the line so far has been good.  (My hubby especially likes the Live G-Free chocolate chip cookie mix.)  If you’re keeping an eye on your carb intake, mix half past and half zucchini noodles, which is what I usually do with my pasta dishes.  I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!

Crock Pot Chicken Cacciatore


  • 1 – 15 oz. can of tomato sauce
  • 2 – 14 oz. cans of diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 – 14 oz. can of artichokes, drained and roughly chopped
  • 8 oz. fresh baby bella mushrooms, washed and sliced
  • 1 small onion, sliced (optional)
  • 2 Tbs. red wine
  • 1 Chicken bouillon cube
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • ½ tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 3 frozen boneless chicken breasts
  • Pinch of sea salt


Place all ingredients in the crock pot and stir to combine.  Cook 4 hours on high or 6 to 8 hours on low.  Serve over pasta or zucchini noodles.  Pairs well with a nice Merlot or Cabernet!



Meal Planning Monday ~ Veggie Spaghetti

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

As summer gives way to fall, I naturally start thinking about adding heartier dishes to my Meal Plan.  When it’s sweltering hot outside, rarely use the oven and depend on my grill, crockpot, and steamer.  So, as sad as I am about summer’s inevitable departure, I’m looking forward to giving my oven a good workout this fall and winter.  In fact, I’m baking a double-batch of yummy pumpkin bread as we speak!

Pasta is one of my all-time favorite meals, and I have quite a few variations I can choose from for my meal plan.  The only downfall of pasta is all those pesky carbs!  So, I was intrigued when I saw a review for the Super Swizz Spiral Slicer, or as I like to call it the “Veggie Pasta Maker”.

This handy little tool cuts zucchini and other veggies into thin spaghetti-like strips so you can sub them in for your carb-laden noodles.  I decided to try it and do half gluten free pasta and half veggie “noodles” with a nice hearty chicken and mushroom marinara sauce.  It was delicious!  Once you make your noodles, pour hot water over them to cover and let sit for 10 minutes.  Drain and serve like regular spaghetti!

As the weather cools down, I love making hot sandwiches with a nice cup of soup as a filling meal that chases the chill away.  I’m a big fan of the Hungry Girl website for healthy makeovers of my favorite restaurant dishes.  Nick and I both loved these Turkey & Artichoke Panini sandwiches!

I made the recipe even simpler by using the Laughing Cow cheese variety with the garlic and herbs already mixed in it. Nick’s not a fan of pepper and onions, so I used a thin slice of one of our garden fresh tomatoes instead.  Then I melted a little bit of butter and mixed in the rosemary to coat the outside of the sandwich before cooking.  Pair these sandwiches with a cup of soup for a bistro-worthy lunch or quick and easy supper!

For a great snack or as a part of your healthy breakfast, try some Blueberry Chia Pudding.  I found this great little recipe in First For Women magazine.  Take 2 tablespoons of chia seeds, 2 tablespoons of quick oats, and ½ cup of almond (or coconut milk) and combine.  Put in the fridge for ten minutes, and then mix in ¼ cup of fresh blueberries.  Chia seeds are rich in fiber and protein, which means they really fill you up!

The great thing about this recipe is that you can change up your add-ins and make it however you want.  You could add cinnamon, chopped apples, and pecans.  Or raisins, walnuts, and a dash of vanilla extract.  As the weather gets cooler, I’m going to try this as a hot cereal and heat up my almond milk on the stove before combining it with my oatmeal and chia seeds.

Nutritional Info:  Calories – 170; Carbs – 21; Fiber – 9; Protein – 5 grams


What are your favorite cool weather recipes?


Meal Planning Monday ~ Awesome Asparagus

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

Asparagus is pretty awesome, in case you didn’t know.  Asparagus is loaded with nutrients and vitamins, plus research indicates that eating asparagus can help control diabetes, act as a diuretic, prevent kidney stones, and reduce the risk of neural tube defects in babies because of its high folic acid content.  And, as long as you don’t drown it in butter, it’s low in calories and high in fiber, which makes it a perfect vegetable for anyone concerned about their waistline.

I buy asparagus almost every week at my produce co-op – a good-sized bundle is usually only $1.00!  Score!  This week, I’m going to share with you some of my favorite ways to eat this awesome asparagus!

Veggie Omelet with Asparagus, Tomatoes, & Mushrooms

Asparagus for breakfast?  Why not?  I sauté mushrooms, asparagus, and tomatoes in a pan, then use them to fill my omelet with the addition of some shredded cheddar cheese and parsley.  You can be creative with the other veggies you add.  Sometimes I like a little spinach and feta in mine!


Chicken and Asparagus Rolls

These Chicken and Asparagus Rolls with mozzarella cheese were very tasty and super easy to make.  Great for those of us keeping an eye on the carb intake!  I would recommend using chicken breast tenders or cutlets for these.  I used the chicken tenders and wrapped them around the asparagus.  Even with the smaller pieces of chicken, I had to add 10 – 15 minutes to the recipe’s cook time.


Asparagus Chicken with Black Bean Sauce

I was so excited to find this recipe on for my favorite Chinese take-out dish – Asparagus Chicken with Black Bean Sauce!  I haven’t tried it yet, but the recipe has great reviews so I’ll be adding to my meal plan for next week.


Other Ways to Enjoy Awesome Asparagus: 

  • Toss with a small amount of olive oil and several cloves of minced garlic.  Roast in the over at 425 for 10 – 15 minutes.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese the final 2 – 3 minutes of cooking.
  • Lightly season your asparagus and grill it for a few minutes as an easy side dish for
    your steak and chicken.
  • Foil Packets on the Grill.  I love mine with asparagus, mushrooms, and peppers!
  • In pasta dishes!  This Lemon Asparagus Pasta is simple to make and ready in 30 minutes.  Only have 15 minutes?  Try this recipe for Penne with Asparagus and Cherry Tomatoes.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy asparagus?

Meal Planning Monday ~ One Meat, Many Ways

         I love the versatility of ground turkey!  I don’t eat beef or pork, which means I can get sick of chicken pretty quick.  My husband says he doesn’t notice much of a difference in taste between ground turkey and lean ground beef, so we’re both happy.  I’m a fan of ground turkey because it’s high in protein, low in fat, and inexpensive.  The Meijer brand frozen ground turkey goes on sale at regular intervals, so I’ll buy six to eight pounds at a time. It typically makes an appearance in our meal plan, in one form or another, once a week.

            I love to experiment with new recipes, and we tried a great one the other day called Firecracker Casserole (recipe below).  It’s a Mexican style casserole with ground turkey or beef, and black beans.  When I first read the recipe, I thought it was strange that there was a can of cream of mushroom soup in it, but it tasted fantastic!  Nick and I both had seconds, and leftovers were gone within 24 hours.  That fits my definition of a keeper!

            I also experimented with my turkey meatloaf recipe.  Last fall, I was on a quest for an awesome recipe.  After trying five or six different varieties, hubby and I agreed that the McCormick’s meatloaf spice packet made the best one.  I try to eat as naturally as possible, so when my friend, Julie Brawley of Eating Clean 4 Life shared a copycat recipe for the McCormick’s meatloaf mix (the original has added gluten) , I knew I had to try it.  It was pretty tasty; however, the recipe was not quite as good as the real thing.  (Why does gluten have to be so darn delicious??)  However, if you or someone in your family can’t eat gluten, you could certainly use this recipe with gluten free breadcrumbs for a good meatloaf.

Sometimes, I brown several pounds of ground turkey at one time and freeze it.  This saves me a ton of time on busy evenings!  In the morning, I will just take a pound of cooked ground turkey out of the freezer and it’s ready to add into recipes by the time dinner rolls around.  Here are some of my other favorite ways to eat ground turkey.  Of course, you red meat lovers feel free to substitute ground beef.

  • Pasta – There are so many ways to use ground turkey with pasta dishes!  I make turkey meat balls, meat sauce, and eggplant rollitini with it.
  • Mexican – Besides the Firecracker Casserole, ground turkey can be used to make tacos, burritos, and enchiladas.  I found a recipe for homemade taco seasoning that I’m going to try this week.  (Hopefully it will be a better success than the meatloaf seasoning!)
  • Comfort Foods – Ground turkey makes great cheese burgers and is a good addition to all kinds of casseroles.  One of my favorite comfort food recipes is turkey stroganoff.  If you like mushrooms, you’ll love it!
  •  I’ve been eyeing this yummy-looking recipe for Turkey Barley Stew which I plan on making in the next week or two.

What’s your favorite ground turkey or beef recipe?  Comment here with a link, because you know I love trying new recipes!


Firecracker Casserole  (From

8 Servings Prep: 15 min. Bake: 25 min.


  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 flour tortillas (6 inches)
  • 1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
  • 1 can (10 ounces) diced tomatoes and green chilies, undrained
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese



In a large skillet, cook beef and onion until the meat is no longer pink; drain. Add the beans, chili powder, cumin and salt. Transfer to a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish. Arrange tortillas over the top. Combine soup and tomatoes; pour over tortillas.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until heated through. Yield: 8 servings.

Nutrition Facts: 1 serving (1 each) equals 363 calories, 18 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 72 mg cholesterol, 941 mg sodium, 21 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 28 g protein.




Meal Planning Monday ~ Pesto Perfection

            Hi, my name is Christine Luken, and I’m addicted to pesto!  Really – I can’t get enough of that basil, garlic, and olive oil perfection.  And lately I’ve been eating it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Breakfast?  Yes!  It wouldn’t have occurred to me to put a smear of pesto on an egg sandwich until Panera debuted their Mediterranean Egg White sandwich several months ago.  It’s essentially a breakfast panini – bread, egg white, pesto, cheese, and sundried tomatoes.  It’s super-delicious, but not cheap!

            So I decided to make my own version at home!  First I cook my egg in a little bit of Smart Balance spread or butter.  I take two pieces of whole wheat bread, outsides buttered and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.  Once the egg is cooked, I add it to the bread with a smear of pesto on one side and some sharp white cheddar cheese and cook it like a grilled cheese sandwich.  My mouth is watering as I type this!

            Of course, pesto isn’t just for breakfast!  You can add it to your sandwiches for lunch instead of mayo or mustard.  And I love making a great pasta dish with a pesto-based sauce and a good glass of red wine for dinner.  Here are a few great recipes ideas for you fellow pesto addicts!

  • Warm Italiano Spread ~ This is one of my favorite appetizer recipes from Kraft!  It’s simple, delicious, and my party guests always love it!

  • Creamy Pesto Chicken & Bow Ties ~ This is a new recipe that I’m trying this week.  It’s a little different from my usual pesto and chicken pasta recipe and I’m excited to try it!  See recipe below.

  • Pesto Stuffed Crescent Rolls ~ Leah suggested I try these rolls for a delicious side dish for dinner.  Pesto and mozzarella cheese tucked into a warm crescent roll – what’s not to love about that?

  • Pizza ~ If you like to make your own pizza, why not top yours with pesto, mozzarella, and fresh tomato slices?

What’s your favorite way to enjoy pesto?

Creamy Pesto Chicken & Bow Ties (From

2 Tablespoons of butter

1 ¼ Pounds of skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into cubes

1 Can (10.75 ounces) of Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup 98% Fat Free

½ Cup of pesto

½ Cup of Milk

½ of a 1-pound package of bow tie (farfalle) pasta (about 3 cups), cooked and drained.

Heat butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat.  Add chicken and cook until browned, stirring often.

Stir in the soup, pesto, and milk and heat to a boil.  Reduce heat to low.  Cook for about 5 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.  Stir in the pasta and cook until the mixture is hot and bubbling.

Meal Planning Monday ~ Special Orders Don’t Upset Us!

This week’s post is by Sherry Nehl, a fellow member of the Facebook recipe group and Leah and I belong to.  I’ve asked her to share how she overcomes the challenge of having several people in her family on special or restricted diets.

            This is my very first post and I’m grateful to Christine for allowing me the opportunity.  I’ve always loved being in the kitchen and cooking for my family and friends.  As our family has grown, our needs have become more and more diverse.  Within our family of six, you’ll find a peanut allergy, a vegetarian, and an amateur vegan.

            Here is what works for us.  I clean out our refrigerator and pantry on Fridays, and then make the shopping list and menu plan for the following week.  Any fruits that are past their prime go into snack-sized freezer bags for smoothies and veggies go into a large freezer bag to make vegetable stock.

            Saturdays are my shopping day.  I like to set out breakfast and leave before anyone wakes up!  I usually go to Aldi, Sam’s Club, and Kroger every 2-3 weeks.  During the summer I’ll go to the Farmer’s Market first (and, to be honest, every garage sale I pass).  I keep a cooler in my trunk since I make multiple stops.

            Sundays are for meal prep, which saves me time during the rest of the week.  I usually peel and mince three whole heads of garlic to keep in the fridge for the next few weeks.  I wash the veggies and fruits in a vinegar/salt solution and let them dry thoroughly.  For this meal plan, I make up the BBQ rub, BBQ sauce, a big batch of spaghetti sauces (vegan and meat-based, but store-bought is also fine) and assemble and freeze the lasagnas in loaf pans.  On the days when I have chicken scheduled, our vegetarians will omit it and eat just the side dishes.  Here’s our plan for this week.

Monday ~ Spaghetti with Meat Sauce or Vegan Bolognese (see recipe below), served with rolls and green salad.

Tuesday ~ Lemon Roasted Chicken, Pesto Pasta Salad (see recipe below), and Oven Roasted Corn.

Wednesday ~ Pulled chicken sandwiches with, black beans, rice, corn, and caramelized onion (aka BBRC).

Thursday ~ Meat Lasagna and Vegan, Gluten-Free Lasagna with rolls and green salad.

Friday ~  BBQ drumsticks, cheese quesadillas, and leftover BBRC.

Sherry Nehl is a brand-new blogger and full-time mother of four boys.  She loves to entertain, bake delicious desserts, and trade recipes with friends.


Pesto Pasta Salad

  • One box of bow-tie pasta
  • One jar of pesto sauce (or homemade)
  • One pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • One (8-oz) container of Sun-dried Tomato Feta Cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions and rinse well with cool water.  Add pesto and toss.  Add tomatoes and feta and serve.  For vegans, omit the feta.


Vegan Bolognese Sauce/Meat & Veggie Sauce

This will make enough sauce for 8 dinners total (4 vegan, 4 meat-based) and freezes beautifully.  You can easily omit the mushrooms and double the meat, or vice versa.  If there aren’t any good coupon match-ups for canned tomatoes, I buy the restaurant-sized cans of crushed tomatoes at Sam’s Club for less than $3.00.

  • 102 oz. of crushed tomatoes
  • 4-6 oz. of tomato paste
  • 1-2 cups of red wine or vegetable stock.
  • 4 yellow or white onions, peeled and chopped
  • 4-5 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 4 stalks of celery, cleaned and chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 2 packages (8-10 links) of hot or sweet Italian sausage
  • 3 red bell peppers
  • 16 oz. of mushrooms (any variety, Port0bello are recommended)
  • One large bunch of parsley, washed and minced
  • 2 Tablespoons of dried basil and oregano (can substitute fresh)
  • 4 T. crushed red pepper (optional)
  • Parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast


Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  In a food processor, chop onion, carrot, and celery until fine.  Add to hot skillet and cook until onions are starting to turn golden brown.  Add a splash of red wine or stock as needed to deglaze the pan.  Turn heat to medium and add garlic.  Cook until fragrant, continuing to deglaze the pan as necessary.  Turn off fire and remove pan from heat.  Remove vegetable mixture from pan and set aside.

Heat skillet to medium-high again.  Add mushrooms and bell peppers, continuing to deglaze when necessary.  Cook until the mushrooms have released their moisture, and that moisture has been cooked off.

Meanwhile, heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add 2 cups of water.  Slice open the sausages and remove from their casings.  Crumble meat as it cooks until the sausage is no longer pink.  Drain and set aside.

With skillet and Dutch oven both over medium heat, divide onion/carrot/celery mixture into pans.  Add equal amount of tomato paste to both pans and stir into the vegetables.  Once combined, add mushrooms mix back into skillet and cooked sausage back into Dutch oven.  Add crushed or diced tomatoes, dividing equally and bring to a slow simmer.  Reduce heat to low and add all of the herbs and spices, dividing equally.  Simmer for 30-60 minutes and serve or freeze.

For pasta, top with parmesan cheese.