Slow Cooker Chicken Mushroom Pasta

My sister’s family visited for a few days last week and although the physical distance between us makes me a bit sad, it makes the times we do share feel that much sweeter and special.  When we only have three days together, we make the most of it.  I welcomed her family that first evening with cozy bowls of this chicken mushroom pasta along with a heaping platter of this salad.  I relish being around the table together, sharing a meal, nourishing our bodies and our hearts.

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Ricotta Goat Cheese Polenta Bake with Mushrooms, Greens, and Caramelized Onions

December seems to be an especially tricky month for finding balance.  There is so much joy, so much celebrating, so much wonder.  Yet there’s also an inevitable busyness that leads to such a frantic pace of life, which seems so contrary to what this season is supposed to be about.  Eating in balance is also difficult when all I want to do is bake holiday goodies all day long.  This polenta dish provides at least some balance– a little savory to counter all of the sweet.  It’s simple enough for busy days and nourishing enough to compensate for having a bit too much dessert.  The caramelized onions, mushrooms, and greens along with some fresh thyme make an excellent trio; the ricotta and goat cheese add a touch of creaminess, just enough to make it slightly indulgent but not overly so.  The key to perfectly creamy polenta is cooking it over low heat for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and gradually adding more water.  While 30 minutes may seem a bit laborious, it’s just enough time to caramelize the onions, soften the mushrooms, and wilt the greens while the polenta cooks.  Afterwards with some quick assembly, it all melds together in the oven with mounds of soft and melty ricotta and goat cheese.  It’s perfect for chilly evenings gathered around the table with loved ones and friends.

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Wild Mushroom and Leek Strata

Sometimes friends ask if my family sits down to big elaborate dinners everyday given that I have this food blog.  (Oh how I wish!)  While we at least sit down and share an evening meal together almost everyday, on most days our dinners are fairly simple.  Preserving our family dinner time in the evenings has become increasingly more of a challenge as the kids have gotten older, but I’m trying to hold on to it for as long as I can.  On some days dinner is a quick stir-fry, other days it’s soup in the crock pot, and I readily admit that I rely on freezer meals at least a couple times a week.  As much as I love to cook, it’s hard to find time to cook everyday.  Because the after-school hours are crazy filled with activities, it’s important to have a plan for dinner before the kids arrive home from school.  Make-ahead casseroles are great for those days when the schedule is fully packed and yet you still want to still down to a fresh baked dinner.  I love stratas for this reason.

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