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The crockpot is one of my favorite kitchen appliances, especially perfect for days when we’ll be running around until dinnertime. When I want something waiting for us that doesn’t involve a take-out menu or a delivery boy, I pull out my crockpot. Tetrazzini is a dish I learned about from my friend Linda, who grew up in the midwest, where they seem well-versed in the “casserole.” If you don’t have a crockpot, it’s safe to say you can assemble the ingredients in a similar fashion and make this one on your stovetop.
This dish can be made with either chicken or turkey breast, and I’ve heard is popular even with Thanksgiving leftovers. The recipe comes from Crockery Cookery, a great crockpot cookbook, and can be found here. We like ours saucy since we serve it over whole grain spaghetti, so when I make it, I double the cornstarch, water, half and half, and cheese. This is also a meal that’s easy to double, so I often make twice as much and freeze half for a future meal. If you’re making it stovetop rather than in a crockpot, brown the chicken first, then simmer the other ingredients on the stove until a creamy sauce comes together. This is a family favorite, and great to come home to one of those early Fall evenings when everyone is busy at after-school activities, and there’s a snap of cold air and falling leaves all around.
I’ve decided that eating fresh pesto is like eating summer. If you grow your own basil, then what’s the difference between basil and summer, really? To me, they’re fairly synonymous. Cooking with home-grown fresh herbs is one of the treats of the season, and I look forward to it all winter long.
My basil plants were overflowing with great-sized leaves the other night, and I decided it was time for some pesto. Every year at the end of the season I make a few batches of pesto, and freeze them to use throughout the winter. This batch, though, did not last past dinner. In a food processor, combine 2 c. well-packed basil leaves and 1/4 c. chopped nuts (pine nuts or walnuts). Pulse till shredded, then add 2 cloves of garlic, 1/2 c. olive oil, 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/4 tsp. ground pepper, and pulse again. Add 1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese, and pulse until smooth, pushing down as needed. If you’d like to freeze this in a jar for later use, don’t add the cheese until it’s been thawed and you’re ready to serve it.
A Pesto Pasta Salad
Once the pesto was ready, I poured it over a lb. of cooked pasta, then stirred in 8 oz. of cubed fresh mozzarella and a handful of grape tomatoes. Served with some fresh fruit, it was the perfect savory, gooey dinner that satisfied the whole family.
Something about the sound of “zucchini fritters” makes me feel like I’m at a carnival, about to taste a magical creation, and perhaps win one of those ridiculously giant stuffed animals to boot. I came across this recipe last week, and knew it was just the thing to do with those glorious shiny green zucchini I’d picked up last weekend. I cook with zucchini just about every chance I get, and was excited that fritters were about to be my next endeavor.
Crunchy zucchini fritters
With this recipe for zucchini fritters being the main inspiration for dinner, I looked for something that would complete the meal. Bunless turkey burgers worked perfectly, along with a handful of fresh strawberries. The fritters were incredible- moist, slightly crispy, and full of flavor- and we were sad when they were all gone. I pan-fried the burgers since I was already at the stove, and within 20 minutes we had a complete and really delicious dinner. Abundant zucchini this time of year is a blessing!
Chicken is a kitchen stand-by, but it can get boring if the preparation isn’t varied. Especially when feeding a family, you’ve got to keep things interesting, and have your repertoire varied for picky eaters. As I’ve said before, I constantly keep an eye out for new recipes, and collect my findings in a giant binder. Flipping through a Rachel Ray magazine, I came across not only a chicken dish, but an entire dinner. I was excited to try it and add it to my collection, and wasn’t disappointed when I did.
Crunchy chicken with green beans and rice
I followed this recipe closely, making only a few changes. Rather than mayo in the recipe, I used light sour cream, and I found a crusty ciabatta roll to be perfect in the place of a baguette. Finally, I steamed the green beans rather than boiling them, as I hate to lose veggie’s nutrients to water, and added 1/2 cup of pureed cauliflower to the rice. Everyone enjoyed the chicken, and it was a nice change from a regular bread-crumbed breast. It came together quickly, and paired with some strawberries, it was a great dinner.
Everyone knows how to make salad. A salad as a main course, though, is much trickier, especially if you are feeding it to children. It must then be filling, supply adequate protein, and most importantly, be interesting. There are a few restaurants at which I look forward to ordering a big salad. Like anything else, I analyzed what made the meal so special, and recreated it at home. What makes a salad enticing enough to serve as dinner? For me, it must be super fresh, offer plenty of variety, and contain items that challenge my expectations. It’s not the basics, like lettuce or carrots, which make the salad, but the extras that transform the dish from a side plate to a main attraction.
The Big Salad
Here are three salads-for-dinner I’ve made recently. As you can see, there are some basic tenets, like romaine lettuce, baby spinach, carrots, and hard-boiled eggs. Then there are the toss-ins that make each salad a little different– beans, crunchy noodles, homemade croutons, different fruits, etc., so that each salad is unique. I use salad night as an opportunity for a vegetarian meal, letting the eggs and beans serve as the primary protein, but grilled chicken or steak could be a nice addition. Finally, I always arrange each item on the plate individually, rather than a big messy pile, and then it’s fun for my kids to dip and eat.
Most importantly, include family favorites in your salad, and always keep one or two of the ingredients changing. It’ll never be the same old, and with the opportunity to raid the garden or the farm stand for fresh fruits and veggies, salad for dinner is a treat, not a punishment.
One thing I really like to make for my kids are healthy snacks. Especially since I have a grade-schooler who needs daily packed snacks, I’ve had fun getting creative. Mini granola bars, roasted chickpeas, and trail-mix blends are fun to make, and my kids enjoy the little treats they find in their bags. The best part about these snacks is that you can assemble them in bulk, and store extras in the pantry or freezer. With an adequate stash on hand, they’re ready to toss into a lunch cooler or backpack on the fly.
This recipe is a Weight Watchers recipe that a friend had given me almost ten years ago. My daughter says they taste like cookie dough, so I take that as a very good sign. It requires no cooking, is incredibly quick to assemble, and is very portable. I always make this in a triple batch, wrap the extras individually in wax paper, and keep them in the freezer. On a morning when we need a quick on-the-go breakfast or snack, a power stick accompanied with a banana is the way to do it. To make a single batch, combine 1/2 cup of all-natural (sugar and oil-free) peanut butter, 3 Tbsp. of honey, 2/3 cup of whole grain flakes, and 1/3 cup of instant fat-free powdered milk. Mix ingredients in a bowl until well-blended. Form six sticks, and wrap individually in wax paper. Store in an airtight container.
This dinner’s content wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but putting it together resulted in something cute. Breakfast for dinner, which I’ve featured before, is a weeknight favorite in our house. Minimal mess, fairly quick, and easy to include all the food groups- now you’re talking. A while back, I made this meal and was struck with creativity as I made my daughters’ plates. Just a little ingenuity leads to variety in what you can serve, and the more you can spice it up, the better for your health. If you’re looking for something fast on a busy eve, give this a try.
Here’s looking at you
My husband, who is responsible for all of the egg-cooking in our house, whipped up some omelets (eggs along with egg whites) with low-fat cheddar and baby spinach. This looked like a mouth for some reason, and my idea was born. Turkey sausage and whole grain sandwich thins served as eyes, and fruit salad, of course, was hair. Depending on the likes and dislikes of your family, you can customize this using different veggies, fruits, bread, etc. My kids thought this was cute, and rearranging their “breakfast faces” lead to some laughs. This was a great reminder to play with your food, especially when it leads to family conversation and nutrition.
Recipes are not always family friendly, and I’ve grown comfortable adjusting them to the likes and dislikes of my crew. Especially when cooking for children, certain spices or vegetables might require substitutions in order to ensure your kids will eat the meal you’ve just worked so hard to produce. A new cook may be afraid to alter a recipe for fear of ruining it, but I’ve found that substitutions almost always work beautifully. More importantly, by making some minor changes to a recipe, you can try something you ordinarily would have avoided. In broadening your repertoire of dishes, meals become more diverse and interesting, and you expose your family to a wider variety of healthy foods.
Although this is a chicken dish, it started as a coconut beef recipe from one of my favorite crockpot cookbooks. (If you don’t have a crockpot, try this one of the stove, I’m confident it would come out well). Since I don’t eat or cook beef, I used boneless chicken breasts. Next, I noticed that the sauce called for a good amount of curry, coriander, and cumin. Not wanting to completely change the intended flavor, I still used these ingredients, but scaled back on amounts so that it would be milder-tasting. Served over a brown rice pilaf with pureed cauliflower with fresh broccoli and watermelon, this was a great meal that my whole family enjoyed.
I haven’t made this recipe in a while, but it’s part of one of my favorite fun family dinners. One of the most creative chefs I’ve found, Annabel Karmel, has myriad of cookbooks, ranging from baby foods to kids’ cooking to family meals. This dinner is so cute, it’s impossible not to love it.
This teddy bear burger begins with ground chicken breast, and has chunks of apple blended within. The recipe instructs you to grind your own chicken, but you can purchase it ground and skip that step if you’d like. Accompanying the Sneaky Chef’s whole grain mac and cheese (with pureed cauliflower), and served alongside steamed veggies and fresh fruit, somewhere on this plate is bound to be something healthy your family will eat.
I was grinning like the Cheshire cat as my family ate dinner the other night. Why? I was watching them eat a meal filled with foods that normally might have required some cajoling, but instead it was being gobbled bite after bite. We had tacos, which doesn’t sound spectacular, I know. What was done with the tacos, however, was what led to my happy smile. Rather than plain old greasy meat in a shell, this tiny wonder boasted four vegetables, a lean protein, fiber-rich beans, and low-fat dairy.
Rather than a fatty ground beef, I used a 99% fat-free ground chicken, seasoning it as usual. (Even if you stop at this step, you’ve already improved your meal tremendously). Next I added ½ cup of pureed butternut squash, a trick learned from Deceptively Delicious, followed by a medium-sized zucchini, shredded into the mix. A can of black beans and two finely diced tomatoes (canned would work fine) went in last, and then I mixed well. Neither of my daughters would normally eat tomatoes, and zucchini is always a wild card, but tonight there was no discussion. Spooned into taco shells and garnished with baby spinach, low-fat sour cream, and shredded cheddar, no one was the wiser. Only the healthier.