Menu Ideas

Healthy Super Food Salad

I have recently been researching the so-called “super foods” for some of my kids’ culinary classes.  You know… those foods that pack a big nutritional punch, keep you healthy, fight disease and basically make you feel like a super hero.  (Or at least that’s how I pitch it to the kids.)  I created a salad and a dressing that uses a whole bunch of these super foods.  And it turned out pretty super delicious.  You can increase the proportions of those ingredients that you particularly like.  Have a SUPER time with this one.

Sensible Tips for Prepping Wholesome Family Dinners that won’t make you crazy

Now that school has started, time is a precious commodity for families.  We all like the idea of creating fresh, delicious family dinners but the reality is…. (drum roll)… it takes time to prepare these meals!  Even when your job is to cook (like me), feeding the family can be a challenge!  Here’s the good news… by developing a few good habits you CAN cook yummy meals for your family this year. Here are some “best practices” to get you on the right track.

  1. Force yourself to plan your menu for 7 days.  If planning Monday-Sunday doesn’t work for  you then do it Wednesday-Tuesday or whenever you consistently have an hour to look at your family calendar, decide what you’re going to cook, gather the recipes and make the shopping list for all of it.  And if you’re really organized, grab the coupons that match your list.  You won’t believe the weight off your shoulders when you realize your whole week of “what’s for dinner” is solved!  It doesn’t have to be complicated as long as it’s planned!  If you don’t have a whole hour, do part of it in carpool and the rest while waiting for your child to finish gymnastics or soccer practice. Get it?
  2. Share meal ideas with your friends and family.  Keep them organized into categories that work for you on Pinterest, a recipe box, a notebook, whatever…   Be able to quickly find ideas for categories such as slow cooker, make ahead, super fast, on-the-go, make and take, and no-cook meals.  It’s great to be able to make a recipe that you know will work either because you have made it before or it comes from a trusted source.  Consider posting the menu in the kitchen for the family to look forward to… and to hold yourself accountable.
  3. Prep ahead!  Do all the chopping and cutting for several recipes at once and store in the fridge.  More than half the time of cooking is in the prep work!  If you need carrots for soup, stir fry and kids’ lunches then cut them all up at the same time.  (some veggies like carrots hold up better if stored in water).  Slice meat for steak sandwiches, marinate chicken, cook rice, bake potatoes, brine turkey breast, whatever you can do ahead.. DO IT.  You will love yourself later and you only have to clean up that big counter of chopping mess once or twice a week.   It doesn’t hurt to get the kids involved in the prep work! If you don’t like the idea of batch-prepping then find a time in your day (not dinner time) when you can prep ingredients for the next meal so all you have to do during dinner chaos hour is just cook it!
  4. Plan to thaw. I hear this all the time.  I have stuff to cook but I forgot to thaw it out.  When you are making your menu plan, add notes about what needs to be pulled out of freezer on which days to be thawed in time for preparing.  Frozen meat floating in the sink while you anxiously watch the clock is no fun.
  5. Make good use of leftovers.  Figure out ways to re-purpose leftovers into another meal and make that part of your plan.  Or, freeze leftovers and thaw them out for a second round next week.
  6. Plan a night off of cooking.  I encourage you to pick one guilt-free night each week where you plan to NOT cook.  Maybe you order pizza, let the kids make soup and sandwiches, eat leftovers, go out to McDonald’s, eat cereal, clean out the fridge and pantry and eat what you find….. one night without a square meal is fine!  Announce DOYO– dinner on your own with your head held high!

Try to have fun with this and not just look at it as more work for you (even though it is!).  Why not try a new recipe at least once a week, have the family cook together one night, choose a different country each week and make a featured recipe.  I have been known to take a cookbook and have my child randomly open it to a page and voila- that’s what we made!  Good luck and if you fall off the food truck, pick up your spatula and start again next week.

Cheater’s Gourmet Pimento Cheese Dip

Ok, I admit it!  Sometimes I find a recipe I want to try and then when I get ready to make it I’m just not in the mood to do all the steps or I just don’t have time.  Yes, it happens to me too!  That’s what happened when I found a delicious-looking pimento cheese dip that called for shredding cheese and making a cheese sauce before adding the other ingredients.  Well I cheated and used two jars of Tostitos cheese dip.  I adjusted the rest of the recipe and absolutely loved the results! This is the fastest gourmet dip ever!  Now you can’t cheat on the pimento cheese.  Don’t buy the cheap stuff.  I especially like My Three Sons pimento cheese. It’s amazing. This is a great dip to serve at football parties, Halloween, Thanksgiving or anytime you just want to indulge in cheese.[amd-zlrecipe-recipe:13]

Goat Cheese, Pistachio & Pancetta Poppers

It’s not too early to start thinking about your Thanksgiving menu.  Don’t forget the appetizers!  A dynamite appetizer is a tasty way to entertain your guests as they arrive and talk and hug.  It also buys you a little time if the turkey isn’t quite cooperating.  I like to serve cheese appetizers at Thanksgiving because the meal doesn’t usually include a lot of cheese and everyone loves it!  Here is a make-ahead appetizer that will earn you lots of gratitude points.





Mystery Basket Dinner

Well here I am at our lake place too wiped out from the week to make a 30-minute trip to the grocery store.  Besides, we’re not out of everything and I did raid my fridge at home before coming… tossing every bit of produce and dairy I could find into a cooler with no real menu in mind.  Just hoping I could cobble together a couple of meals before making the store run.  Even when you’re playing mystery basket dinner, it’s important to make a plan and gather all your ingredients before cooking… just like a real recipe.

Ok here goes… I always seem to have a half package of wonton wrappers left over from a cooking class just hanging around and teasing me into not letting them waste.   So let’s do something with that together with a half pound of ground beef and a link of Italian sausage.   I know, ravioli!  But wait… I don’t have any tomatoes or pasta sauce?  Let’s improvise.   Here’s what I ended up making and it was really, really good!

-Heated a little olive oil and a tablespoon of butter in a saute pan.
-Sauteed some minced shallots (don’t need much for good flavor) until translucent, added some minced garlic and sauteed until fragrant, deglazed with a little red wine that has seen its better days, poured in a little beef broth, sprinkled some Italian seasoning, dumped in a leftover packet of marinara sauce from my son’s fast food mozzarella sticks along with a half can of tomato soup.  Ok that looks like a thin sauce.  I let it reduce down and thicken while I combined the meat mixture.  I took the sausage out of the casing and mixed it with the ground beef, some salt and pepper, an egg, a couple handfuls of arugula, the rest of a container of grated parmesan/romano cheese,  and some Italian seasoning.  Then I got out the wonton wrappers and encased little mounds of meat between them, using a little water to seal the edges.  I cooked them in a saucepot of simmering water and the rest of the beef broth.  They cooked through in 3-4 minutes.  I added them into the pan with the reduced sauce.  Tossed around a little and served with some reserved parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.  Voila!  A savory, delicious pasta dinner with a rather interesting sauce.  btw… I had more meat than wontons so I made up some meatballs, browned in a pan with olive oil, covered and simmered with the rest of the tomato soup until cooked through. My son was delighted to have his ravioli with a side of meatballs!  Let’s just say no leftovers this time!

Sometimes this mystery basket thing just works out.

Guac ‘N Turkey Rolls– great summer lunch

Who’s ready for a picnic!  ME!! The best part of the picnic is opening that basket  and finding some delicious bundles to enjoy as you lounge by the trees or the ocean.  Food tastes better out of a picnic basket for some reason.  I like to have fun with picnic food and do something a little more creative than just plain old sandwiches and chips.  Here’s an interesting alternative to a sandwich.  Wrap up a few of these and toss them in a cooler the next time you have hungry picnickers (is that a word?) to please.   I like this recipe because it can be eaten as a “wrap”or sliced into pinwheels for appetizer size portions. Tips: When making a wrap, try to spread all the layers evenly so that one part of the wrap isn’t thicker than the other.  Don’t fill it too full or it won’t roll properly and if you spread filling all the way to the top edge, it’s going to squish out as you roll.  Remember to keep the roll tight and even.


Healthier Ranch Dip for your Kids

Most kids love ranch, right?  Sometimes the only way to get them to eat a vegetable is to dredge it in ranch first.  Well that’s all well and good, but traditional ranch dressing is very high in fat and low on protein- almost negates the vegetable value. Here’s a ranch dip that gets a few more marks on the healthy scale.   You can adjust seasonings to your liking.



Weight Watchers Meatloaf is really good!

I found this recipe in an old Weight Watchers cookbook and decided to make it instead of my usual meatloaf.  Never hurts to feel good about eating comfort food, right?  I made a few little changes-  left out the green peppers, added 2 Tbsp. Allegro steak marinade  (for some extra zest and saltiness) and finished the top with some chili sauce.   I also like to form my meatloaf into 4 mini rectangular loaves instead of one big loaf.  Everyone likes having their own “loaf” and it cooks in just 25-30 minutes on a simple-to-clean sheet pan.  You won’t miss the usual fat content of 80/20 ground meat at all in this recipe!  All the vegetables keep it really moist and the herbs kick up the flavor.   Tips:  Be sure your loaves are evenly shaped rectangles with no skinny ends to dry out.  Also, use the back side of your pinky to make a little ditch down the middle of each loaf to hold the chili sauce.  This little ditch will also keep the juices from dripping off the loaf.. kind of a self-basting trick.



Chili Time! Two of my best chili recipes.

Chili preferences are as individual as one’s favorite team.  There’s Texas red chili, chili with beans, green chili, hot dog chili… the debate goes on and on.  Regardless of which way you lean, most everyone likes chili in one form or another.  So why choose just one chili?  Why not have a chili bar and make a bunch of people happy at your next winter-time gathering.  You could even have a little contest where guests vote for their favorite.  I make chili only slightly spicy and then serve hot sauce and jalapeños alongside.  You can always add heat.  Kind of hard to go back from that.  Don’t forget the toppings since that’s half the fun of chili.  Chopped fresh cilantro, different kinds of freshly grated cheeses, black olives, sour cream, corn chips and cornbread.  Here are two of my favorite chili recipes.  The first one is a slightly sweet recipe due to the baked beans.  This was originally a vegetarian recipe given to me by my friend Laura.  Well, nothing stays vegetarian too long in my house.  The result is a uniquely flavored chili that my family loves.  The second recipe is colorful crowd-pleasing Southwest version.  TIP:  use a potato  masher to break up the turkey meat while browning. So much easier than the back of a spoon.  Just be sure not to use a non-stick pan or you will trash the surface.

1 2 5