Busy parent baking hack: How to make Wonton Crackers

Over the last year, while working on my book, Make It Easy: 120 Mix-and-Match Recipes to Cook From Scratch—with Smart Store-Bought Shortcuts When You Need Them (which is available for pre-sale, by the way!), I've been thinking a lot about how to, well, help make it easy for busy parents. If you've been following along for long enough, you know that I was once a hardcore scratch cooking advocate. But several things have brought me to the middle, where I am today. First off, I wrote that book and got busy. Really busy. Because at the same time, I also helped launch Cool Mom Eats. Oh, and all of that coincided with our baby sitter of years moving on, so I've also been sole primary caregiver through it all. Even though I've always been a busy work-from-home mom, I was able to prioritize cooking until all this happened at one time. Once I realized what it felt like to not be able to do cook every night—a feeling I know many (many) parents live with—I started to better understand the compromises that family cooks have to make. And also how frustrating it is that nobody makes those compromises easier by giving parents the info they need to make them healthfully. I came to see that family cooks need an advocate who is a champion of scratch cooking, but also nonjudgmental and flexible enough to know that scratch cooking is not always an option, and when it's not, someone who is willing to guide them towards the healthiest, smarted shortcuts that the supermarket has to offer. From that, my book—and recipes like these easy, customizable Wonton Crackers—were born. (more -- including step by step how-to photos -- after the jump)

Busy parent baking hack: How to make Wonton Crackers

Over the last year, while working on my book, Make It Easy: 120 Mix-and-Match Recipes to Cook From Scratch—with Smart Store-Bought Shortcuts When You Need Them (which is available for pre-sale, by the way!), I've been thinking a lot about how to, well, help make it easy for busy parents. If you've been following along for long enough, you know that I was once a hardcore scratch cooking advocate. But several things have brought me to the middle, where I am today. First off, I wrote that book and got busy. Really busy. Because at the same time, I also helped launch Cool Mom Eats. Oh, and all of that coincided with our baby sitter of years moving on, so I've also been sole primary caregiver through it all. Even though I've always been a busy work-from-home mom, I was able to prioritize cooking until all this happened at one time. Once I realized what it felt like to not be able to do cook every night—a feeling I know many (many) parents live with—I started to better understand the compromises that family cooks have to make. And also how frustrating it is that nobody makes those compromises easier by giving parents the info they need to make them healthfully. I came to see that family cooks need an advocate who is a champion of scratch cooking, but also nonjudgmental and flexible enough to know that scratch cooking is not always an option, and when it's not, someone who is willing to guide them towards the healthiest, smarted shortcuts that the supermarket has to offer. From that, my book—and recipes like these easy, customizable Wonton Crackers—were born. (more -- including step by step how-to photos -- after the jump)

Matcha Green Tea Milkshake for a naturally delicious St. Patrick’s Day.

If you've been reading a while, you know that St. Patrick's Day isn't my gig. It used to be that I hated the throngs of drunk people who would swarm the city as I tried to make my way home (or to the bar where I'd try to quietly meet up with friends), but those days are long over. (After work drink—ha!) Now the issue is—get ready for it—dyed green food and drink. It annoys me, because gross. Yes, seriously. It grosses me out enough that I'm writing about it. It's not that I don't like green food (spinach rocks!), it's that I don't like green food that isn't meant to be green—and is very green thanks to artificial food color. Like I said: gross. But naturally green food? I'm not a total scrooge. I can get down with it! And the best way to make things green the honest way is to add matcha green tea powder. Because then it tastes like green tea, too, which is meant to be green. (more after the jump)

How to cut a mango perfectly. (It’s easy.)

Mango is one of our favorite fruits. It's totally delicious and nutrient dense, perfect for smoothies (Coconut Mango Smoothie), salads (Grilled Chicken and Mango Salad), salsa (Tropical Pico de Gallo), school lunch (Mango Fruit Sushi), and so much more, including just plain. But oh how to cut one! You don't need an expensive mango cutter to get it right (and, okay, they aren't expensive, except if you factor in the fact that they only do one thing). And you don't have to randomly hack, which is annoying and also ends up leaving fruit on the pit. Instead, you can follow these 5 easy steps for how to cut mango like a pro. Because who doesn't want to be a mango cutting pro? I mean, right? (more after the jump)

Genius Pico de Gallo, 3 ways. (The original easy, skinny snack dip.)

Ever since the beginning of the year, I've been trying to eat better an exercise more. I know: It's so cliche and boring, but I'd truly gotten off track after a crazy 2015 that culminated in a holiday season of excess. You know, to treat myself for how hard and busy life had been. And then I just didn't feel good. Eating healthfully is not hard for me. Other than a splurge here or there, I don't eat junk food and leaving dessert behind just means not making dessert. Easy enough. What's not easy, though, is finding that 3 pm snack option that's satisfying, can tide me over until dinner time, and feels like a treat—because I truly deserve one by 3 pm—without destroying my efforts to eat better. The only thing I've found that accomplishes this without fail is this fresh, delicious pico de gallo, which I can vary several ways and also eat with several things, from a handful of tortilla chips or Triscuits to carrot and celery sticks. So, basically, this recipe is saving my ass. Literally. Two other great things about pico de gallo: The kids love it and it's easy to vary—and the kids love the variations, too. Is that three great things? Oh! Make it four great things because all three variations—Classic Pico de Gallo, Tropical Pico de Gallo, and Pico de Gallo Guacamole—are made with nothing but fresh produce. So this isn't a lame skinny snack dip full of weird low-fat ingredients, but rather it's vegetables that everyone will crave. How can you beat that? (more after the jump)

How to cook pasta like a pro in 5 easy steps.

Pasta is so often a busy family cook's lifeline—it's quick cooking, versatile, and beloved. Kids might even gobble up all their veggies when they're mixed with everyone's favorite carb. And with gluten-free pasta getting better and better, it's even a staple in gluten-free homes. The best part, of course, is that pasta is easy to cook. Anyone can do it well—right? Right. Sort of. Though the technique for cooking pasta perfectly is easy, it’s not the brainless boil-until-it’s-soft approach that so many home cooks take. In fact, with just a little bit of technique, you can cook pasta like a pro and it will taste even better. Yes, pasta can taste BETTER. (5 easy steps after the jump)

Lacy Heart Pancakes: Easy Valentine’s Day breakfast recipe

Ahhh! Who else is working this Valentine's Day gig at the last minute like me? I've had a (very) crazy week that you probably wouldn't believe even if I told you. So I won't tell you. Because you've probably had a crazy week, too. But fret not, just because we haven't planned, doesn't mean that we can't pull of making Valentine's Day special this year. We can. We will! Here's how, with the easiest cute Valentine's Day breakfast recipe ever: Lacy Heart Pancakes. (more how-to details after the jump)

Super-healthy Turkey Taco Salad recipe (that can transform into a meal for even the pickiest eaters).

Age old problem: The kids like tacos, but you want salad New go-to solution: This super-healthy Turkey Taco Salad. That's right people, this easy, fresh dinner is the answer and it's delicious and healthy, too—even if the kids pick around the greens. (more after the jump)

DIY microwave popcorn recipe: Just as easy, no chemicals.

Maybe I'm late to the party (it wouldn't be the first time), but I just recently learned that microwave popcorn is full of chemicals. Like a lot of them. It's not just the flavors and additives, but also what's used to line the bags. We all draw different lines with how pure and all-natural we want to keep our family's diet, but honestly, by all accounts, microwave popcorn is pretty toxic stuff. And the weird thing is that I'm not sure why given how easy it is to make microwave popcorn with nothing more than kernels, oil, and a paper bag. Yup: Three simple ingredients, all low cost and available at the supermarket (if not already in your cupboards), turn out microwave popcorn that you can flavor any way you like in all of 5 minutes. With this easy DIY tutorial, store-bought actually becomes a waste of money. And making and flavoring this is pretty much my kids favorite kitchen project ever. (more after the jump)

This Week for Dinner podcast + my secret kitchen tip

Are you guys into podcasts? I'm obsessed. And yes, I was obsessed even before Serial (though I'm really obsessed now). I listen in the car, whenever I've got to walk somewhere, and the best, while cooking dinner. While most of my podcast listening has little to do with food—I guess I save that for my reading and writing—one of my new favorite shows is the This Week for Dinner podcast with Jane Maynard. Jane is the powerhouse mom-of-three behind the eponymous blog where you can not only grab great family-friendly recipes, but you can also get weekly dinner menus that you can print out, along with a  shopping list, complete with links to all the recipes. It's like one of those weekly meal planning services, but you know for sure that the menus are made by a real working mom and they're free. (more after the jump)

Make It Easy with: Make-ahead Smoothie Packs

Everyone says that making smoothies is so easy. While it's true, nobody understand JUST how easy something has to be in order for busy parents to fit it into the hectic weekday morning schedule until they are a busy parent themselves. If you are, you know that pulling out the blender and measuring ingredients while also trying to get kids dressed, fed, and out the door for school is no small feat. So making smoothies in the morning? Not always as easy as it sounds. Unless you've got these smoothie packs on hand. Make-ahead smoothie packs totally change the smoothie game. With everything pre-measured, frozen, and ready to go, making smoothies becomes a much more realistic endeavor, even on the busiest mornings. And putting these together won't even take up much time. All you need are freezer-safe baggies and an extra 10-minutes anytime you can find it. (video & tons more recipes after the jump)

Coconut Almond Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies for Santa!

Happy holidays, friends. I've got a gift for you! Tons (and tons) of last-minute Christmas cookie inspiration, including my Coconut Almond Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies for Santa. I worked again this year with Kin Community and a host of awesome YouTube creators on the 2nd Annual Kin Christmas Cookie collaboration and holy deliciousness! There are so many recipes, your head will spin—in a good way. And, don't worry, most of the recipes are easy even at this last minute. In fact, I adapted one of my favorite cookie recipes to make it easier to bake with ingredients that you're more likely to already have on hand. Handy, no? (more after the jump)

Top 5 make-ahead holiday appetizers!

If you ask me, the best thing about holiday eating is cocktail party food and appetizers. From DIY cheese crackers to 2 tasty dips and the ultimate bacon party bite, these are my favorite make-ahead recipes for holiday snacks. Whether you're hosting a big party or just want a few noshes around to tide the family over until the big holiday meal, these are the ticket. And the best part? Every single one can be prepped or made entirely ahead. Easy and delicious: The perfect combination. (more after the jump)

Slow Cooker Italian Meatball Soup: A healthy, hearty family meal with hardly any effort.

It’s the beginning of winter and, as if on cue, there’s excitement about slow cooker meals. You can hardly wonder why: The slow cooker makes warming cold weather meals easy to make. But here’s a secret: I also love using my slow cooker in the summer, too, because then I don’t have to turn on the stove in hot weather. So, no matter what the season, you can whip out your slow cooker to make this healthy, hearty Italian Meatball Soup. Which, I admit, is especially great right now on chilly days when I get home from running around between work, picking up the kids, and gift shopping. (Oh the holidays.) It’s a warm meal ready to go as soon as we walk in the door. And, thanks to my long-time sponsor, Earthbound Farm Organic, it's also nutritious thanks to tender, dark leafy greens. Genius! (more after the jump)

Make It Easy: Classic Italian Meatballs

You know that saying truth is stranger than fiction? Well, I need a similar saying, but about things that aren't necessarily strange. See, I'm all about making quick, healthy cooking easier for you guys. But, truth be told, even though I'm a busy working mom, too, making dinner isn't always hard because, well, I develop recipes for a living. At least, that's the way it used to be. These days, though, getting dinner on the table has been hard. So very hard. For the last 9 months, I haven't just been developing whatever recipes sound good, rather I've been creating ones that tell a cohesive story for my upcoming book (gah!), Make It Easy: 120 Mix-and-Match Recipes to Cook from Scratch—with Smart Store-Bought Shortcuts When You Need Them. In other words, dinner didn't always fit neatly into my days, already in the kitchen on my feet for hours and also having to write, too. Oh, yea, and I also have this job as Managing Food Editor for the awesome (and only!) food site just for parents, Cool Mom Eats, where I do way more writing and editing than I do cooking. So I've been busy. Like too busy to post here often (though, you see, I'm coming back—hang in with me!) and, sometimes, too busy to make dinner the way I'd like. Pretty funny given that I've been working on a book to make cooking easier for people who don't have time to cook. Right? Life imitating art. Or something. I don't know—it's hard to get idiomatic expressions right when you're a child of immigrants. Anyway, I digress. The point is that I, like you and all the (millions of) people who will buy my book, need meals that make it easy more desperately than ever. And, a lot of times, that means going back to basics like in this recipe for Classic Italian Meatballs. (more after the jump)

Best holiday dessert recipes and Christmas sweets. As in, holiday cookies galore + more!

Thanksgiving may be all about the big meal but, if you ask me, Christmas is all about holiday cookies, cocktail party food, and sweet snacks. Oh, yea, and dessert, too. So, of course, I had to round up my top 5 holiday dessert recipes and Christmas sweets with something for everyone—including the big guy. Because keeping Santa happy is in all of our favor. (more after the jump)