Chicken & Rice Casserole with Healthy Recipes for 2016

Chicken and Rice Casserole on Whisk Together

Happy New Year Everyone!  I hope you all had a great couple of three day weekends or some time off.

I have my photography website up and running again!  I took it down after my last child was born and her bedroom took over the indoor studio.  Some of my absolute favorite photographs of the kids were in the studio and I want to set that up again.


Here’s the website at

Here’s the business card I finished making.  The large border is the trim that will later be cut off at the printing lab:

Back template business card verson 2 on Dec34

I have still been working out with my pals Daniel and Kelly for the past two years or so with great results!  What I eat is still about the same.  I was 135 pounds consistently from 2011-2013.  From 2014-2015, I have been around 138 pounds.  Sometimes 140 pounds.  But, the jeans still fit (for the most part) and nothing else has changed but my routine.  I think the extra 3 pounds is muscle.  Jillian Michaels uses 3 pound weights in her routines.  I purchased the Power Block weights* that Daniel and Kelly use.  These weights go up to 48 pounds total which might attribute to the weight gain.

**Note:  ALL of my Amazon links are not affiliated.  At all.  I make no money and just like linking to them so you know exactly how much the weights are.  I live in the state of Missouri – which passed a law that made Amazon cease all affiliates here.  For the weights, keep an eye on the price – it may change in January since a lot of exercise equipment goes on sale in January.  Last January (2015), the price dropped $40 around the 16th.**

January will be a GREAT month for Exercise!  Fitness Blender will do a new 60 minute workout every Monday.  January 11th they post a new 1000 calorie workout, and Monday (the 4th) will be a new 5 day challenge!

If you are new to exercise, try the 5 day challenge!  It is always fun and you can pick between high and low impact because Kelly and Daniel switch.  All you ever need is a set of weights which can be dumb bells, medicine ball, sack of flour (5 pounds usually), a gallon of milk (though… the milk might go bad…), etc.

If you are not new to exercise, the 1000 calorie workouts are SO much work but you feel amazing afterwards.  They are worth it and great if you are trying to get those last extra few pounds off.  Or, if you miss a workout day like I did on Christmas – then I just went ahead and did a 1000 calorie workout on Saturday to make up for two days of workouts.


Here is a collection of some recipes we make all the time at home and are really healthy for you while tasting amazing.

Greek Yogurt Egg Salad

Sweet Potato Soup

Pork Tenderloin and Beans

Light & Loaded Baked Potato Soup

Slow Cooker Chicken Nacho Chili

Steak and Broccoli Stir Fry

Honey Ginger Chicken

Crock Pot Santa Fe Chicken

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Green Lemonade (Kid Favorite!)

Paleo Swirly Crustless Quiche

Creamy Baked Pumpkin Oatmeal

Harvest Salad

Butternut Squash Salad

Chicken and Rice Casserole Recipe:

One of my hubby’s favorite meals is chicken and rice.  It was hard to find a recipe online that didn’t use cream of something soup or onion packet of MSG.  Instead this comfort food classic was re-invented with using just ordinary pantry items and real food from the fridge.

Real food and real comfort.  Whether trying to lose weight or just eat healthier  – here is a go to way of making a homemade classic.

Chicken & Rice Casserole
Author: Mary Ellen P. Riley / Whisk Together
Serves: 8-10
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 5 carrots, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
  • 5 ribs of celery, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 cup wild rice, brown rice or white rice
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast or thighs, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 4 Tb. butter
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground sage
  • 4 Tb. flour
  • 1 and 1/2 cups milk, warm preferably
  • salt and pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray.
  2. Into the pan, add the onion, celery, carrots, rice and broth.
  3. Cover pan with foil. Bake 1 hour and 15 minutes.
  4. In a medium pot on the stove, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour, salt and sage. Stir together for 1 minute.
  5. Whisk in the milk. Keep on medium heat until the sauce becomes a little thicker.
  6. Once timer is up on the rice, add the raw chicken and sauce you just made. Stir together.
  7. Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Cook 20 minutes. The chicken should all be cooked through. Cook longer if necessary.
  8. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.
Recipe adapted from Pinch of Yum


Roasted Tomato Soup and Saving $3,800 Per Year

Roasted Tomato Soup-3858

Hi ya’ll!  I’ve been taking and editing about 75-100 photos per night for Vacation Bible School this week!  Not a lot of new recipes going on, but here is….

What I did learn this week in the kitchen:

1.  You can double the Whole Grain Chia Waffle recipe.  It does great!  I add an extra 1/4 cup of milk because the batter is a little on the thick side.

2.  You can use a whole pound of Italian Sausage or Italian Turkey Sausage instead of 1/2 beef and 1/2 sausage in the Tortellini with Italian Sausage.

3.  Making a Taco Braid is fun.  But using Whole Wheat Pizza Crust instead of the regular Pizza Dough is not as tasty. I love Whole Wheat Pizza Dough… but not with taco meat.

How to Save $3800 per year on Whisk Together

In addition, I wanted to include how we save $3800 per year.  I know there are a LOT of lists out there.  I tried to keep this practical and thought-provoking and hopefully something new.

Where did I come up with the $3,800 figure?  Here is my breakdown:

1.  Haircuts at Home ($240)

I purchased a Wahl Hair Cutting kit back in 2004.  The new one they have looks really cool!  Mine’s all black and boring.  This kit that I bought in the past did come with a DVD to help learn how to cut hair.  Back to our regularly scheduled program…
I help cut my husband’s hair about once every 4-6 weeks.  At $15 per cut (and that’s not including a tip) and 8 cuts per year = $120 (or $1200 over 10 years!)
I use the same Wahl clippers to cut my son’s hair once every 6 weeks or so.  Let’s say he is cheaper at the hair salon and we don’t tip (which would be bad… but I don’t want a tipping debate on how much to tip and how I skewed my numbers) = 8 cuts at $10 each = $80
Now my daughter’s hair needs cut only every 12 weeks or so.  That’s $40.

For guys, it is relatively easy to cut hair.  Use the right clipper guide for his hair (we like 1/2″ guide for overall and 1 and 1/2″ for the front).  The instructional video is now on Youtube as well.

For girls, it isn’t so easy.  But wait!  There’s YouTube!  In this 6 minute video, my daughter and I figured out how to cut her hair.  Nothing fancy, but it’s what she wanted.

I can’t cut my own hair.  If you need a cheap place to get a haircut, locate a salon school nearby.  Our salon school charges $6 for a haircut.

2.  No cable/satellite and no landline ($900)

Charter would LOVE to sell us cable and a telephone line.  We played that game before – hook us in with a great intro rate and then after 12-18 months we are way in over our heads!  Our family watches a handful of shows which are almost all on Netflix or Hulu.

I signed up for their free trials.  I put the “Cut off” date for the trial on my calendar to alert me that my trial would end.  But, instead we let it go and kept them both and cut off cable.  I do miss watching “Elementary” and the “Food Network”….  Sometimes.  But we DO get to watch: all the seasons of “Merlin” (I can’t believe it ended!), “The Good Wife”, “Castle”, “Once Upon a Time”, “Agent Carter”, “Marvel: Agents of Shield”, “Frasier”, “Third Rock from the Sun” and many others.

Amazon Prime has movies and TV shows as well.  But it doesn’t work with Chromecast since they have their own “Amazon Firestick”.  It might work for you though.  Or we could just get the stupid stick.  OR Amazon could change it so I can Chromecast without buying their stick!  Ha!

3.  Saving my money at Vanguard instead of a brick and mortar bank ($63)

Back when I had a full time job at Citibank, I was one of those weird people who listed to the afternoon radio talk shows.  Here in St. Louis it was always about how to save money.  Or in other words – the best way to use the money you have.

US Bank and many others have a savings account and/or money market account rate set for .05%.  It used to be higher before the recession.  But for now, it is .05%.  You could get a tiny bit higher if you lock your money in a CD or deposit over $1,000,000 into a savings account that would earn .05% more and that would be silly.

At this rate, $1000 in a money market account would earn you 50 cents…..for the ENTIRE year.  Putting that same amount into a mutual fund at Vanguard could earn $63 per year.  (Assuming that the rates are going to be about the same… the past year earnings have been as high as 9%, but the lowest I have seen is 6.3% so I’m using that number).

Now #1:  this is money invested.  No future guarantees of course.  But since the stock market will more than likely be higher in 10 or 20 years (we hope) then it is a better return.  Actually with inflation, money sitting in a 0 or .05% account is losing money because of inflation.  The best way to save is not to spend your money.  True.  But letting it sit also causes you to lose money through inflation depreciation.

#2: This is only money that you have AFTER  you have an emergency fund in a liquid account like those savings and money market accounts that don’t make any money.  In case something were to happen, an emergency fund is necessary and Dave Ramsey gives a great “baby steps” outline on how to get there and why.

#3 This is also money AFTER you have paid the debts off or refinanced the house.  Say you have a mortgage for $100,000.  Over 15 years, the interest is $24,305.  Over 30 years, the interest is $56,567.  That’s $27,000!  (Based on 3% 15 year and 3.5% 30 year.  30 year mortgages are always higher because the bank is at a greater risk.)

Vanguard is one of the least expensive management firm out there and never changed or sold my accounts like other companies do.  I did a search and some other people have done the same as I have: tried different places to invest and moved EVERYthing to Vanguard.  Just a .5% change in the management fee can mean tens of thousands of dollars lost at retirement age.  (I’m 35 years old, so gives you an idea as to why that would matter to me.)

Fees can destroy your return.

Why do I have a Vanguard account?  I taught public school for two years and therefore had money in a 403B retirement account.  It’s like a 401K in the private sector.  When I quit teaching, I wanted the money to earn a better interest rate somewhere with low overheard fees.  So hence why I did all this research.  No, we don’t have tons of money.  I wish!

4.  Investing in a toaster oven (my pizza oven) in order to eat out less ($1780)

I think I might spend more than average at the grocery store, but we started eating out a LOT less.  Gas money saved, time saved, healthier eating and just better food over all.  For our family of 4, eating at a fast food restaurant costs about $25 per meal.  Do that once a week and you have $1300 per year.  Eating at a sit down restaurant costs about $40 per meal – Do this once a month- at about $480 per year.

A few years ago, I purchased a toaster convection oven.  What prompted me?  It was 115 degree heat index here in St. Louis for almost 2 months and over 90 degrees for 3 months.  Too hot to grill and too hot to turn on the oven.

I use the toaster oven every single day to toast bread, broil 4 grilled cheese sandwiches at once, bake pizza, roast vegetables, bake oatmeal, keep meals warm, bake appetizers, extra oven space during the holidays, and reheat leftovers so they are crispy and not soggy.  Eating leftovers is super frugal.  But sometimes they are not very good out of a microwave and 2 extra minutes in the toaster oven turns a cold, soggy pizza into a crisp, fresh slice of pie.

I know it was a little money to buy it in the first place, but avoiding eating out several times a year over the past five years as saved us ten times what it cost.

Where do we shop for food?
1. Aldi:  produce, butter, cheese, cream cheese, raisins, peanut butter, canned tomatoes, canned pumpkin.
2.  Trader Joe’s:  dried fruit, nuts, tea, seasonings, chips, cage free eggs, milk, mascarpone cheese, baking powder, cookies, chocolate, frozen fruit and vegetables, lasagna, turkey corn dogs, white whole wheat flour, and the kids get a treat for finding the stuffed animal in the store.
3.  Costco:  fruit and nut bars, yogurt, meat, fish, frozen wild blueberries, fresh spinach, cinnamon, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, lemon juice, olive oil, strawberries in season.

None of these places take coupons I know.  But after kid #1 got sick and almost ended up at the doctor’s office because of a “freebie” I found while clipping coupons, I stopped clipping them and started shopping at other stores.

5.  Exercising at home instead of the gym ($840)

Our local YMCA charges $70 per month for a family membership ($70 x 12 months).  This does include childcare and all kinds of cool things.  People have different goals.  People need the motivation of a gym membership and I get that.  Being a healthy weight will save time and money in the long run as well.

One of the commenters on my blog mentioned “Fitness Blender” workout videos, and I have been hooked ever since.

1.  I like their upbeat personalities
2.  I like that there is no music.
3.  They have a variety of low impact and high impact/challenging workouts.
4.  They have a great website where you can put in your desired time, workout level, target area, etc.
5.  These workouts really work!  I gained 5 pounds this past year, but my clothing size stayed the same.
6.  They wear normal workout clothes.  (Sorry… watching bikinis every week 5 times a week?  Doesn’t motivate me.)
7.  Every video 100% quality and is 100% FREE.

I’m not saying Jillian Michaels does not work.  I still love those workouts.  But after 3 years of the same one, it is nice to pull from a different variety.

Link: FitnessBlender and Youtube Channel Fitness Blender

The past 3 years I have been at 135 pounds.  This year recently I am up to 140 pounds.  Truthfully though I tried on my jeans and they fit just fine.  I think it is the heavier weight lifting on Fitness Blender that caused the weight gain.  That or the Twizzler Bites cherry flavored 🙂

**Note:  I am not paid to promote or post about any of these blogs, videos, websites or products.  They are just items I use on a daily basis that help save us money and make every day go a little smoother.**

Roasted Tomato Soup-3851-on Whisk Together


This soup is PERFECT for this time of year!  Tons of tomatoes and basil are at hand and ready for picking right now.  Not in the mood for hot soup in the summer?  No problem!  Cool to room temperature and freeze until winter.


Roasted Tomato Soup
Author: Mary Ellen P. Riley / Whisk Together
Serves: 8 servings
  • 3 pounds ripe plum (Roma) tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
  • olive oil cooking spray
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onions
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tb. butter
  • 1 -28 ounce can plum tomatoes, whole tomatoes or diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 4 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp. dried thyme
  • 4 cups water or chicken broth
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 rimmed cookie sheets with parchment or foil. Spray with olive oil cooking spray. Lay the tomatoes cut side up on the sheet. Spray with more olive oil cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt and roast for 40-45 minutes.
  2. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the butter over medium heat. Add chopped onions. Cook until translucent and turning brown – about 10 minutes. Add garlic. and cook 30 seconds.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients: canned tomatoes, basil, thyme and chicken broth or water. Add the roasted tomatoes with their juices as well.
  4. Turn heat to medium high and get the soup up to a boil. Turn heat down to medium or medium low and simmer for 40 minutes.
  5. At this point, you can use a blender to puree the soup in batches, or an immersion blender, or a food processor, or a food mill with a coarse blade.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste. I like to sprinkle shaved Parmesan cheese on top.
Recipe adapted from The Barefoot Contessa[br][br]Recipe will easily cut in half


Banana Bread Breakfast Bars

Banana Bread Breakfast Bars_3CR

Book update:  I started “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn which is supposed to be a huge hit, but even set in good, ol’ Missouri it isn’t doing anything for me.  I’m only on page 20 though and I’m sick with a cold, so maybe I’m just irritable because of the sinus headache.  I should have known – I get a cold EVERY year for the past three years right before auditions.  This year we are doing “Oklahoma.”

This week in Positive Psychology we are talking about subjective well-being.  Here is where a lot of my disagreements with the field probably shine through.  Not everyone can be an optimist – and not everyone should be.  I don’t want the FBI agent protecting some kid to believe “everything will turn out just fine.”  I want them to go through every bloody scenario that could possibly happen and try to plan for it.  One of the 14 Fundamentals to being happy per Dr. Michael Fordyce is lowering your expectations.  True… it might make you happier.  But, would that help our society as a whole?

Recipe: We LOVED these breakfast bars.  Cheap, easy to make and taste great.  I had all the stuff I needed for them in my pantry.  Most the breakfast bars I see have peanut butter in them.  I think peanut butter went up in price and we have been using gobs of it to make our own Trail Mix Granola Bars.  These breakfast bars, however, are baked so they stay together very well at room temperature.  I thought the brown sugar topping got a little soft after a couple days, but they were still VERY tasty right out of the oven and tasty several days later.  I’m excited to make these again using pureed pumpkin from a can with a little more cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg, ginger and cloves.

Fast and easy snack or breakfast.

For followers, I have updated the Pumpkin Cake Pops tutorial and made some notes to the Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes recipe.

Banana Bread Breakfast Bars
yield 8 bars

1 ripe banana mashed (or 1/3 cup puree banana or puree pumpkin)
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 Tb. honey
1 egg white
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. brown sugar + 1 tsp. brown sugar, divided
2 cups rolled oats
2 Tb. ground flaxseed (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 8×8 or 9×9 pan, or line a pan with nonstick foil.
2.  In a big bowl, mix:  mashed banana, applesauce, honey, egg white, cinnamon, vanilla, salt and 1 Tb. brown sugar.
3.  Add the oats and flaxseed.  Mix to combine.
4.  Press the mixture into the pan.  Sprinkle that 1 tsp. of brown sugar on top.  Truthfully, I just sprinkled some brown sugar on top to cover the bars with a light coat.  Use as much or as little as you like.
5.  Bake it for 30 minutes.
6.  Cool your bars and then cut.  Wrap in saran wrap or store in a sealed container.

Banana Bread Breakfast Bars_1CR

Recipe from The Svelte Gourmet

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