Cowboy Joes


My boys sometimes get to choose what is for dinner.  Often, this is their request.  By often, I mean we could eat them once a week. 

Cowboy Joes are a smoky, tasty, twist on a classic sloppy joe you know and love.  Last time I made these, my youngest was switching schools so he got to choose what was for dinner the night before.  On the way to school the next morning, in the midst of a narrow canyon, around a sharp bend, we come upon an entire herd of sheep and sheep herders coming right toward us.  On the highway, side to side, cars lined up the other direction for a long way. (Check out the picture – ignore my dirty windshield)


Completely slowed us up, but we made it to school on time!

These truly are one of my cowboys absolute favorite meals.  You can’t go wrong!!  Serve ‘em up and please the cow punchers (or regular folk) in your life!!   ~Kathy

Ingredients for beef:

1 lb. 95% lean ground beef

¼ c. onion, finely chopped

½ tsp. garlic powder

½ tsp. heaping salt

½ tsp. pepper


Ingredients for sauce:

1 T. Worcestershire

1/3 c. water

¼ tsp. garlic powder

2/3 c. catsup

4 T. smoky BBQ sauce

1½ tsp. mustard

Salt & pepper to taste



In a large skillet, combine first 5 ingredients.   Cook until beef is cooked through.   Drain on paper towel lined plate and return to pan.   Add remaining ingredients, stir well to combine.  Adjust seasonings if needed. Simmer about 15 minutes or until sauce has thickened and no longer runny.

Serve immediately on hamburger buns.

Weight Watchers info:  This recipe makes 7 servings.  Each 1/3 cup serving is 4 SmartPoints.  We did not include a bun in the calculation; this gives you more freedom to choose your favorite.


Mama’s Italian Cream Cake


Our Mama and the youngest of the Four Sisters, Erin, have the same birthday.  So, as you can imagine, for the years of our childhood Mama’s birthday was always on the back burner (in fact, most things for Mom were on the back burner in favor of us girls).  Mom turned 70 just a few days ago and for once, the day was all about her.  Dinner at her favorite steak house accompanied by a nice glass of wine, followed by her choice of homemade birthday cake.  Her choice – a delicious Italian Cream that is soooo worth chopping pecans and getting out your baking pans! ~ Tracy


For the cake:

½ c. butter (1 stick)

½ c. shortening

2 c. sugar

5 eggs, separated

2 c. flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 c. buttermilk (if you don’t have any see note)

1 tsp. vanilla

1 c. coconut

1 c. chopped pecans

Cream butter and shortening together, then add sugar.  Beat until smooth.  Add the egg yolks one at a time.  Beat well.  Combine flour and baking soda, then add to the butter mixture alternating with buttermilk.    Stir in vanilla, coconut, and pecans.   Beat the egg whites until they begin to form soft peaks.  Fold beaten egg whites into cake mixture.

Pour into 3 greased and floured 9” cake pans.  Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

For the frosting:

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

1 stick margarine, softened

1 box powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1 c. finely chopped pecans

Cream together cream cheese and margarine.  Add powdered sugar and vanilla, beating until smooth.  Thin with one tablespoon of milk at a time, mixing after each milk addition, until frosting becomes the proper consistency to frost the cake.  Stir in nuts.


Buttermilk can be made by pouring a scant cup of regular milk and adding approximately a T. of white vinegar to the milk.  Allow milk to sit for a few minutes to curdle and use as regular buttermilk.

Cakes frost much more easily when they have been placed in the freezer for a couple of hours.  For this cake, I actually left them in the freezer overnight covered in wax paper.  Freezing the cakes keeps the cake from crumbling into the frosting.






Crockpot Jalapeno Popper Chicken Chili

I love anything I can put in the crockpot and basically forget about all day. This is one of those recipes. It’s beyond simple. The only real prep work is chopping the jalapenos. You know the appetizer where jalapenos are hollowed out, stuffed with creamy cheeses, wrapped in bacon, and cooked until hot and bubbly? This has all that flavor — but in soup form! It’s not overly spicy since you remove all the seeds and ribs from the jalapenos (that’s where the heat is) but it’s infused with that delicious peppery flavor. Topped with some bacon bits and shredded cheese, I’ve turned the popular popper into a warm bowl of comfort food. So easy, cheesy, and bacon-y.  Yes, that’s a word… at least in my vocabulary. Bacon makes everything better!  ~Erin



2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast (frozen in single pieces)

4 oz. low-fat or Greek Cream Cheese, softened

1 (10.75 oz.) can condensed cheddar cheese soup

4-5 large jalapenos, seeded and chopped

32 oz. fat free chicken stock

1 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 T. salt

3 (15.5 oz.) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 tsp. black pepper

For serving:  real bacon bits (I like to cook mine for a few minutes in a small skillet to crisp them up.), reduced fat shredded cheddar or Mexican blend cheese, chopped pickled jalapenos, chopped green onions


In the pot of your slow cooker, whisk together softened cream cheese and condensed cheddar cheese soup until well combined.

Whisk chicken stock, salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder into cream cheese/soup mixture.

Add jalapenos and frozen chicken breast. (You can use thawed chicken breast as well but keep in mind, it will cook faster.)

Cook 4-5 hours on high or 7 to 8 hours on low. When 1 hour of cook time is left, remove the chicken breasts from the pot, shred, and return to pot. Add cannellini beans and continue to cook for the last hour of cook time.

To serve, top each bowl with 1 tablespoon real bacon bits, ¼ cup reduced fat cheese, and, if desired, pickled jalapenos and green onions.

Weight Watchers info.:   

This recipe makes 8 servings.  Each serving is 13 ounces (weight) or about 1 ½ cups.  The soup by itself is 7 SmartPoints per serving.

By adding the suggested amount of bacon bits (1 SmartPoint) and reduced fat cheese (3 SmartPoints), the total value of each serving would be 11 SmartPoints per serving.

Apple Cake


All of us have those recipes that remind us of home, or in the case, Grandma’s house.  This is one of those recipes for me.  Normally I say you shouldn’t mess up a good cake by putting fruit in it – cakes are really for chocolate!  But this one always reminds me of my Grandma making it (and probably letting me lick the bowl).  It’s sooo yummy right out of the oven and great for breakfast or a dessert.  And that perfectly crisp top with the soft, lightly cinnamoned cake is impossible to beat.  ~Tracy



1 ½ c. vegetable oil

2 c. sugar

3 eggs

3 c. flour

2 t. cinnamon

1 t. baking soda

½ t. salt

3 c. peeled, chopped apples (Granny Smith work well in this recipe)

1 c. chopped pecans (if desired)



Preheat oven to 350°F.

Sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

In large mixing bowl, blend vegetable oil and sugar together.  Add eggs mixing well after each.

Stir in dry ingredients, gently mixing until all are incorporated.  Add apples (and pecans if you like them) and stir just until mixed together.

Pour into a 9 x 13 pan that has been greased & floured or sprayed with baking spray.

Bake for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes or until toothpick comes out virtually clean.

Chicken Chow Mein Spaghetti Squash


So, Friday is my birthday.  It’s also my mom’s birthday.  Yep, I was born on her birthday (just barely – at 11:55 p.m.).  Hours and hours of labor with no drugs.  Happy birthday, Momma…you’re welcome!


Mom always said I was the best birthday present she ever received.  She’s a sweet momma.  And I always loved sharing my birthday with her (still do).  It helped that she always let me have all the glory.  She’d cook my favorite meal and bake whatever flavor cake I wanted.  I’d always have all this planned out well in advance because I ALWAYS planned my birthday well in advance… like 6 months in advance.  That’s how much I love my birthday.  As an adult, I started celebrating my birthday ALL WEEK…because why not?  I did this until I had kids and then I had to give up my birthday week because… kids.  I still like to treat myself as much as possible all week though.  If nothing else, I make my favorite meals.  It’s my birthday week.  “I don’t care if you want hamburgers; I get to pick, kid!”  🙂  So this week I’ll be making one of my favorite healthy dinners:  Chicken Chow Mein Spaghetti Squash.

This recipe has a similar flavor profile as our most popular recipe to date, Egg Roll in a Bowl.  It is a bit more time consuming, since you have to roast the spaghetti squash, but that can be done in advance.  In fact, the chicken can be cooked in advance and the sauce mixed up too!  Combining them all at the end takes almost no time at all.  It’s worth the work because it makes a ton (Hooray for leftovers!) and the serving sizes are huge.  You can eat a whole plate full for very few calories/SmartPoints.  And it tastes amazing!  You don’t even notice that it’s spaghetti squash.  I don’t say that lightly because, normally, I believe there’s no substitute for real pasta.  However, in this recipe, it totally works.  And did I mention the serving sizes are huge?  Size matters.  ~Erin



1 large spaghetti squash (mine was almost 4 pounds raw and made about 5 cups of “spaghetti”)

Non-stick cooking spray – I prefer olive oil spray

1 ½ lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat & cut into bite size pieces

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. pepper

1 T. garlic powder

3 tsp. sesame oil or extra virgin olive oil, divided

1/3 c. to ½ c. low sodium soy sauce (I use ½ cup.)

1 tsp. ginger paste or freshly grated ginger

3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

½ a large onion, diced

3 stalks celery, diced small

1 (16 oz.) bag tri-color coleslaw mix (shredded cabbage with carrots)

Optional garnishes:  chopped green onions, sriracha sauce, or red pepper flakes



Preheat oven to 460°F.

Line a baking pan with foil and spray the foil with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.  Cut the spaghetti squash, length-wise, and scoop out the seeds.  Place the squash cut side up in the pan and spray the squash with cooking spray.  Bake in the pre-heated oven for 40 minutes.  (If you have a smaller squash, check it earlier.)  Remove the squash from the oven; using large tongs or oven mitts, carefully flip the squash over, cut side down, and bake for 5 to 10 more minutes.  Remove the squash from the oven and allow to cool completely.  Scoop the strands & set aside.  The spaghetti squashed can be cooked in advance and stored in the refrigerator until ready to use.

In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, ginger, and minced/pressed garlic cloves; set aside.

Heat 1 tsp. of oil in a large, high-sided skillet, pot, or Dutch oven on the stove over medium-high heat.

Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt, pepper, & garlic powder.  Add the chicken to the pan and allow to brown.  Flip and brown the other side.  Remove chicken from the skillet & set aside.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add 1 tsp. of oil, then celery and onion.  Continue to cook, stirring often, until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the last 1 tsp. of oil and the entire bag of cole slaw mix to the pan.  Stir until the cabbage begins to wilt, about 3 or 4 minutes.

Add chicken, spaghetti squash, and sauce to the cabbage mixture.  Stir until heated through.

Garnish with chopped green onions and, if desired, sriracha or red pepper flakes.  Serve hot.

Weight Watchers Info.:  This recipe makes about 7 servings at a mere 3 SmartPoints each.  Each serving is 10 ounces (weight) or about 2 cups.

Orange Ricotta Pancakes

We are NOT morning people at our house.  Carver, however, loves his sister so much he REALLY wanted to drop her off at her bus yesterday. But he was also still pretty much asleep–anybody else struggling to get into a good school-year routine? He decided he could manage both.  See exhibit A in photo–yes, that’s his blanky he’s curled up with. On the sidewalk. That’s how we roll.


We may not be morning people, but we are breakfast people – bigtime.  Breakfast food is hands down my favorite (probably because you get to eat things that taste like dessert and call it a meal)!  As a result of this combo, we do a lot of breakfasts for dinner.

These holiday-worthy pancakes melt in your mouth. The first time I made them, I was afraid the ricotta would be grainy, but it melts down on the griddle and just adds to their just-right, slightly tangy, light orange flavor. I didn’t believe I could love a pancake more than my usual, plain pancake — or, occasionally, the basic recipe plus blueberries. But these fancy schmancy pancakes have totally won me over.

They’re perfect for a weekend brunch, an evening when you’re feeling indulgent (throw some bacon on the griddle & you’re rocking a complete meal in my book, folks), or, if you’re more ambitious than we are in the mornings, actual breakfast.  ~Robin


1 ½ c. all-purpose flour

2 T. sugar

½ tsp. baking soda

1 ½ tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt + a pinch

½ c. orange juice

1 tsp. orange zest

¾ c. milk

¼ c. half & half

1 lg. egg

1 c. ricotta cheese

¼ c. butter (½ of a stick)

½ tsp. vanilla

Oil or vegetable shortening for cooking on the griddle*

A bottle of your favorite maple syrup…I have a passion for Griffin’s original maple syrup; it is by far the best syrup I’ve ever had – and Griffin’s is a local(ish) Oklahoma business! We even ship some out to Kathy now and then since, alas, her Utah grocers don’t carry it–yet.


In a medium bowl, mix together the dry ingredients:  flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In another medium bowl, whisk together egg, orange juice, orange zest, milk, half & half, well-softened butter, and ricotta.

Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and gently whisk together.  Do not overmix – some lumps are normal.

Heat a skillet or griddle to medium heat. Tip: To test the heat, wet the tip of your finger and (from a safe distance) flick a drop of water into the pan – it should sizzle immediately upon contact if pan is hot enough.  When hot, add a dollop of vegetable shortening or a drizzle of oil to the pan and allow to spread/heat through.

Pour about ¼ c. of batter into the pan for each pancake. Pancakes will spread out on their own for the most part without assistance – if they seem extra thick in the middle, you can carefully tilt pan to spread batter.  Do not attempt to “peek” or lift the pancake until several big bubbles have formed (usually a couple of these bubbles have even popped when they’re ready to flip) in the topside of the pancake. Then flip each one; the 2nd side will not take as long as the first, but since the pancake is already fairly well-formed, it’s okay to “peek” after a minute or so on this side to determine its readiness. Remove when 2nd side reaches a golden brown color of the first. These gorgeous babies are best served with a handful of berries (fresh cranberries are awesome in the fall and winter time when you can get them) and that perfect Griffin’s maple syrup. Best when served immediately.

*Pancakes are a recipe for which I insist on using Crisco shortening like Mom did — yummmmy. But you can also just use your favorite cooking oil (as long as it’s not something with a strong flavor like peanut oil, of course). For me, I have no delusions that this a health food, so I go for it generously with the Crisco that can really brown the edges a bit like I love (see photo – oh my!).  If you don’t want that lightly crisped golden brown edge (it’s worth at least trying — texture is a big deal for food, after all), you can do less of whatever oil you’ve chosen.

The Best Mexican Casserole Ever

Do you have foods that immediately take you back to a certain memory in your life?  Fried chicken reminds me of my Mammaw, and snickerdoodles remind me of spending the night at my friend Dana’s house.  This Mexican casserole takes me back to the Home-Economics room at Chandler High School.  During an FHA (our younger readers will know this org. as FCCLA) cooking contest, my friend Sherri made this incredible casserole that was modeled after a recipe of her grandmother’s.  Every time I make this version (which is often), it’s 1989 again and we’re back in that classroom learning, laughing, and making sure our 80’s hair didn’t fall!  FHA_andbigHair

I’m still friends with all of those girls, and though we don’t get to see each other as often as we’d like, I’m so thankful for the memories of food, fun, and friendship that have stayed with me aaaaallll these years!   ~Tracy


1 lb. 95% lean ground beef

½ c. chopped onion

2 c. condensed cream of mushroom soup, unprepared*

½ soup can of water

1 can Ro-tel tomatos with green chilis

1 package reduced sodium taco seasoning

2 c. shredded sharp cheddar or your favorite blend of cheese*

6 to 8 flour tortillas*


In a deep skillet, cook hamburger meat and onion.  Add Ro-tel, water, taco seasoning, and soup.  Bring mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, approximately 10 minutes.

Spray a 9 x 13 casserole dish with Pam or similar cooking spray.  Pour a thin layer of the meat mixture into the bottom of the casserole dish.  Lightly sprinkle approximately ½ c. of cheese on top of mixture.  Tear tortillas into strips and place on top of cheese.  Continue layering the meat, cheese, and tortillas, working to end with sauce and cheese.

Bake at 375°F until bubbly and heated through.  Usually around 20 minutes.

Weight Watchers Info.:  Makes 8 servings at 5 SmartPoints each.

*WW points were figured using 98% fat free soup, 50% reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese, and 6 medium fat free tortillas.