kid-friendly · Recipes · Slow Cooker

Slow Cooker Cheeseburger Casserole

Thanks to Dizzy Busy and Hungry (boy if that isn’t an apt name) for inspiring this recipe! I’m always on the hunt for crock pot ideas, since I really only have two go-to recipes — Brown Sugar Kielbasa, and Creamy Chicken Curry — and since they make such large portions, I can only use them here and there or risk revolt from the troops. This one has been a great addition to my repertoire and with minimal prep, I can get it ready all before work and then time it to be done as we walk in the door from daycare pickup.

Ground meat is notoriously hard to photograph in an attractive manner, but I did my best here because this was easy and tasty and I really hope you try it! I used ground turkey, but you can absolutely go with beef instead. 

Since the recipe only calls for half a box of macaroni, I opted to boil the entire container and then use the other half to make scratch mac n’ cheese. I just threw in some butter and milk, added Wildtree mac n’ cheese mix and some shredded organic cheddar from the fridge, melted it in the same pan I used to boil the pasta, then topped it with bread crumbs and popped it under the broiler for less than two minutes. Voila: two different dinners for the price of one.

Slow Cooker Cheeseburger Casserole

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 ounces (half a box) whole grain or fiber-enriched elbow macaroni
  • 1 pound ground turkey (I used 80/20 lean)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 24 oz. frozen veggies with cheese sauce (I used Target brand; any will do)
  • ¾ cup low-fat shredded cheddar
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped (I actually used 4 or 5 roma, chopped)
  • 2-3 pickles, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 TBSP ketchup, plus however much more you’d like on top

DIRECTIONS 

Cook the pasta until just becoming tender (about 5 minutes). Drain and set aside.

Mix the turkey, ketchup, and onion in a large bowl. Add the frozen veggies and cheese sauce, shredded cheddar and pasta, and mix until combined.

Place the entire mixture into the your crock pot and cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 8-9 hours.

Serve with chopped tomatoes and pickles on top, plus a little extra shredded cheese!

Options: You can of course make this with ground beef instead of turkey. Turkey is healthier but tastes less “juicy” than beef does, which in turn makes this taste more like a turkey-burger casserole instead of a true cheeseburger casserole.

This recipe originally ran on Hungry Girl, which calls specifically for frozen cauliflower with cheese sauce as the veggie. Mark hates cauliflower so I subbed carrots and broccoli and it tasted just as good; go with whatever you prefer and can find at the store.

As for toppings, just pick whatever you would put on a burger! So obvious picks are pickles, tomatoes, cheese, ketchup and onions, but you can also shred some lettuce, or barbecue sauce, cilantro, hot sauce, honey mustard, or mayo — there are endless possibilities. Next time, I’m hoping to try some caramelized onions, or maybe pan-fried shallots with a flour coating, or perhaps even some jalapeno slices or a pepper jack cheese.

The great thing about this recipe is that it conveniently ‘hides’ a lot of veggies, which is something I said I’d never resort to with my child, but lo and behold here I am.

I really hope your family enjoys this one. It reheats extremely well and makes good use of late-summer/early fall tomatoes. (Although we still have so many that I’m doing this on Saturday to preserve them for sauce all winter!) And, of course, the best part is that casseroles travel very well to daycare and preschool, and the texture of this makes for very toddler-friendly eating. Plus, what kid doesn’t like cheese and ketchup??

Have a great rest of the week everyone, and if you have good slow cooker recipes to share, tell me in the comments below!

News · Tips and Tricks

Digest It: Food News for Fall

OK, so pumpkin stuff is everywhere, the temperatures are dipping below 60, Mr. Autumn Man is popping up on the Onion, and blah blah blah. Over in my house, we are in denial. Just say no to boots and tights! And people with jackets? Don’t even get me started!! Here’s where my brain’s at:


In that vein, I’m going deeper into denial by fixating on very summery recipes, food trends and news tidbits these days. A few things I’m finding helpful in pretending winter isn’t coming:

Shape Magazine’s Annual snack awards. So helpful in evaluating junk vs. worthwhile tidbits for in-between-mealtime eating. The best part is that they are categorized according to what you’re craving, from crunchy to creamy and sweet to savory. (Is anybody else craving ice cream with pretzels after reading that?) Some of my favorites from the list are Wholly Gaucamole’s travel packs, Blue Diamond’s Sriracha Almonds, Chobani’s Salted Caramel Crunch yogurt and Whole Foods Tropical Greens popsicles. Doesn’t that say summer? Or at least vacation?

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In a tropical vein, I am always looking for a good mock Orange Julius recipe. Darn it if I don’t love those things, junk that they are! It’s like I’m right back at the mall doing back-to-school shopping in 1992. Find the recipe here.

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And this is super summer-y, but have you ever found yourself with so much extra cucumber from your garden that you can’t possibly hope to find a new way to eat it? Enter the trend over-taking New York, the “Smashed Cucumber Salad.” I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, but it’s supposed to be a game-changer.

I’ve always loved House Beautiful Magazine, and this piece really hit home. I have the smallest refrigerator of all time — smaller even than my college apartments — and am always, ALWAYS looking for tips to make better use of it. I can’t even fit a gallon of milk on the top shelf, that’s how tiny it is! This list is pretty good, in particular this binder clip tip below. Great for freezing a bunch of those warm-weather fruits that just won’t taste the same when they’re out of season come winter.

Last but not least, if you live in Massachusetts, I have two fun things for you to consider! 

The first is a Pop-Up “Urban Apple Orchard” at the Ritz Carlton in Boston, starting this weekend and continuing at the hotel every weekend up to Halloween. They will be serving caramel apples, spiced cider, mini pastries and locally-picked apples by the full and half dozen, with proceeds benefiting The Food Project. Georgia and I agree: plentiful apples, and more specifically going apple picking, is one of the only worthwhile things about the weather turning colder. Also, making apple crisp, which is on our agenda for next month for sure.

And last but not least, if you’ve ever wanted a vanity or charity plate for your car but no cause really spoke to you, or you simply never got around to it, here’s your chance to get in at the first stage of a new licence plate supporting local food! Visit mafoodplate.org to find out more about how and when you can be among the first to sign up for a “Choose Fresh and Local” license plate. I’m going to do it, but first I have to replace the regular plate that got lost in a snow dune last winter. Which I’ve been meaning to do all summer.

And the other exciting thing I have on the calendar for mid-Fall is the Halloween Trick-or-Treat event at Stone Zoo, or “Boo at the Zoo” if you like! Let’s just say animals will be looking festive and so will Georgia.

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From what I understand there will also be a haunted maze (possibly too scary for a toddler; we’ll see), crafts, ‘ghoulish’ games and, of course, a costume contest. Probably we don’t have a chance there — we are going less creative this year as Minnie Mouse, which is Georgia’s favorite! And joking aside, giving animals items like pumpkins is more than a prop, it’s an enrichment tool for their development and well-being. You can learn more about that here.

Have a great weekend everyone and let me know what you’re doing to pretend summer is still here get in the mood for Fall!

Blue Apron · Recipes

Sirloin Steak with Smashed Purple Potatoes & Green Beans

As you all know, I am barely a meat-eater, never mind a steak eater. But in the interest of broadening my child’s palate, and in treating my poor Irish husband to more of the meat n’ potatoes fare he grew up with, I have branched out into cooking sirloin … for the first time ever. And I dare say it came out really good.

Thanks to my Blue Apron membership, I had a recipe that I knew would turn out really well, and I loved the idea of pairing a good-quality organic meat with something offbeat, like Purple Potatoes and this tangy Green Bean side dish zipping with the flavors of garlic, tomato and scallion.

Sirloin is a cut from the back of the animal. It is a bit less tender than top sirloin, but not at all tough if you cook it for the exact amount of time called for. Seriously, if I can’t screw this up, then truly nobody can.

Sirloin Steaks with Purple Potatoes & Green Beans

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 sirloin steaks, best quality you can find
  • 10 oz. purple (sometimes also called ‘blue’) potatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 8 oz. green beans
  • 2 scallions
  • 2 oz. cherry tomatoes
  • 1 bunch of tarragon
  • 4 TBSP butter
  • 1 TBSP red wine vinegar
  • olive oil for the pan
  • salt and pepper to taste for seasoning

DIRECTIONS

To start, wash and dry the fresh produce. Heat a small pot of salted water to boiling on high and large-dice the potatoes. Peel and slice the garlic thin. Cut off and discard the root ends of the scallions; thinly slice the scallions, separating the white bottoms and green tops. Trim off and discard the stem ends of the green beans. Halve the tomatoes. Pick the tarragon leaves off the stems (discarding them).

Add the potatoes to the pot of boiling water. Cook 10 to 12 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain thoroughly and return to the pot. Off the heat, add half the butter. Using a fork, mash the cooked potatoes to your desired consistency. Stir in the white bottoms of the scallions; season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and set aside in a warm place.

While the potatoes cook, pat the steaks dry with paper towels; season with salt and pepper on both sides. In a large pan, heat 2 TBSP olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the seasoned steaks and cook 2 to 4 minutes per side for medium-rare, or until cooked to your desired degree of doneness. Transfer to a cutting board, leaving any browned bits (or fond) in the pan. Let the cooked steaks rest for at least 5 minutes.

While the steaks rest, heat the pan of reserved fond on medium-high until hot. (If the pan seems dry, add 2 teaspoons of olive oil.) Add the green beans; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 2 to 4 minutes, or until slightly softened. Add the garlic and tomatoes; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 1 to 2 minutes, or until the tomatoes have softened slightly.

Add the vinegar and ⅓ cup of water to the pan of vegetables; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 2 to 4 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by ¾ and the green beans have softened. Add the tarragon and the remaining butter. Cook, stirring occasionally, 1 to 2 minutes, or until thoroughly combined. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Slice the meat against the grain and add any juices left on the cutting board to the vegetables, then stir to combine. Divide the sliced steaks, mashed potatoes and finished vegetables between two plates, garnish with the green tops of the scallions, and enjoy!

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Options: If you really prefer much creamier potatoes, you can add milk, sour cream or creme fraiche to these, but I prefer them without. You could also decrease the amount of garlic and/or scallions if they’re too strong for you. And, it’s possible to substitute other types of vinegar (such as cider) if you don’t have red wine on hand.

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Buon Appetito!

And enjoy the last truly warm week we are going to get. I know I am. 


Uncategorized

We’re Back! {A White Mountains Adventure}

Well, our last vacation of the summer is in the books, and I woke up to a dreary, drizzly morning in the 60’s yesterday, just in time for my return to work. To think that just a few days ago we were sweltering up to the top of Loon Mountain in a ski gondola under sunny skies amid 90 degree heat!



I spent a lot of my childhood summers in New Hampshire, so taking Georgia to the White Mountains this past week was a fun trip down memory lane. A lot has changed since the 1980’s though! For one thing, there’s basically wireless everywhere, and even as recently as 2007 when Mark lived in Lincoln doing summer stock with Papermill Playhouse, you had to visit an internet cafe to go online, or walk into the center of town to make a cell phone call. Even the rest stops along 93 north looked like Disney Land when compared to the log-cabin-style facilities of my memory!

And, of course, there’s no more Old Man of the Mountain.

But there is so much to do in the Whites! We stayed at The Village of Loon, and we brought along this blow-up toddler bed which Georgia was NOT having unless I held her hand until she fell asleep, which is exactly what I did every night.

The first day, we hiked in Franconia Notch, which was so overrun with people I thought maybe we’d accidentally gone to the Cape. But we made it pretty far in before Georgia started to get tired, and there weren’t as many hikers further up the trail. Lots and lots of dogs, though, including one in a stroller (?!) and several people swimming down the flume as if it was some kind of damn water park. Made me think of this article about how people no longer know how to behave in nature. 
  
  After that hike, we got lunch at Black Mtn. Burger Co., then visited Chutters, “home of the world’s longest candy counter,” which has everything old and new you could possibly imagine. After a frenzied five minutes inside with Georgia, we hastily selected some gummy butterflies for her and sour watermelon slices for me and beat it.

The next day we went to StoryLand! 

I knew it was geared toward kids of all ages, but I just wasn’t sure how Georgia would respond. Let me just tell you, at two years old she was utterly enthralled. We visited all the fairy tale houses — the three little bears, the old woman in the shoe, humpty dumpty (at which point she recited the whole rhyme out loud), schoolhouse, grandfather tree — and she got really, really excited by the talking characters. When we got to the farm animals, she would not stop calling out to them, and broke into song with “Baa Baa Black Sheep” and “Old MacDonald” as we walked away! Next up came the teacups ride (oof) and the pumpkin coach to Cinderella’s Castle, after which we finally broke for food and then rode the train back to the park entrance. She napped on our drive back through the White Mountain National Forest on the Kancamagus Highway. We honestly saw about half the rides and attractions at StoryLand, but we’ll have to leave the rest for another visit!    

    
    
   IMG_2413The next day, we took the gondola up Loon Mountain (a favorite ski spot of mine) and explored caves at the summit, had a picnic lunch, even climbed atop the fire tower to see 360-degree views of the Presidential Range, including Mt. Washington. We did have one minor incident in which Georgia threw her binky down a ravine and I climbed over the railing and scaled a few boulders to retrieve it…only to have her throw it back over the edge a second time. And, in case I needed any more reason to ditch the pacifier for good, I actually went and got it a second time, and she clapped for me and yelled “yay, mama!” while I scrambled back up.


        We spent all our down time in the resort’s pools, helping Georgia to overcome her new-found fear of the water (and it worked!) We also had a great dinner at The Common Man our last night in town, followed by the biggest kiddie size ice cream cone I’ve ever seen at Ice Cream Delights. They have some solid old-school flavors like butter crunch, black raspberry and maple walnut. Highly recommend.  My other two favorite places to eat up in this area are Polly’s Pancake Parlor and the Woodstock Inn & Brewery. Looking for more to do up in the White Mountains? Next time, we want to add Santa’s Village, the Cannon Tramway, Whale’s Tale Water ParkClark’s Trading Post, The Polar Caves, The Lost River and the Mount Washington Cog Railway to our itinerary. And, of course, there are countless opportunities for outlet shopping on your way to or from the mountains in Tilton, North Conway and Merrimack! There’s plenty to keep you busy for a week or more, and that’s exactly how long I hope to stay next time.
Hope you are having a wonderful weekend! Back with new recipes real soon! 

Recipes

Chicken Piccata for Two

I don’t eat chicken that often, but when I do, this is one of my favorite dishes. It looks so simple on the surface but so many flavors lurk within, and it’s always so satisfying. I’ve never really had a go-to recipe for it, though, and it always seemed silly to order chicken in a restaurant when there are so many more complex dishes and new cuisines to try when ordering out. Plus, chicken? Put it right alongside pasta and risotto as having the biggest markups of any food you could order in a restaurant.

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Well, now I’ve lost my fear of doing Chicken Piccata right, and thanks to one of my first Blue Apron deliveries way back when, I now have a date-night dish that I whip up for just Mark and I to feel special without any of the hassle I was expecting.

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Chicken Piccata for Two

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 Chicken Cutlets
  • 6 Ounces Fresh Linguine
  • 3 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 Bunch Garlic Chives
  • 1 Organic Lemon
  • 1 Large Bunch Parsley
  • 3 TBSP Chicken Demi-Glace (reduced stock)
  • 3 TBSP Flour
  • 2 TBSP Butter
  • 2 TBSP Capers
  • 2 TBSP grated Parmesan Cheese

DIRECTIONS

Wash and dry the fresh produce. Heat a medium pot of water to boiling on high. Peel and thinly slice the garlic. Cut the garlic chives into ½-inch pieces. Zest the rind, then quarter and deseed the lemon. Pick the parsley off the stems, discarding. Thinly slice half the parsley, keeping the rest whole. Rough-chop the capers.

Separate the strands of the pasta by hand and add to the pot of boiling water. Cook 2 to 4 minutes, or until al dente (still slightly firm to the bite). Reserving ¾ cup of the cooking water, thoroughly drain the cooked pasta; rinse under cold water to prevent sticking. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Rinse and wipe out the pot.

While the pasta cooks, pat the chicken dry with paper towels; season with salt and pepper on both sides. Place the flour on a plate. Coat the chicken in the flour, shaking off any excess. In a medium nonstick pan, heat 2 tsp olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the coated chicken and cook 3 to 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Flip and add half the butter. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through.

To the pan of browned chicken, add the chicken demi-glace, capers, sliced parsley, the juice of 2 lemon wedges and ¼ cup of water; season with salt and pepper. Cook, occasionally swirling the pan, 2 to 3 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened slightly; season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and set aside in a warm place.

In the pot used to cook the pasta, heat 2 tsp olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the garlic, garlic chives and lemon zest; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, 2 to 4 minutes, or until the garlic is golden brown and the garlic chives are bright green.

To the pot of aromatics, add the cooked pasta, Parmesan cheese, remaining butter and ½ cup of the reserved pasta cooking water; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, 2 to 3 minutes, or until heated through and the sauce is slightly reduced in volume. If the sauce seems dry, gradually add the remaining pasta cooking water to achieve your desired consistency (I usually use all of it). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the finished pasta between 2 dishes. Top each with a finished chicken cutlet. Garnish with the whole parsley leaves and remaining lemon wedges. Enjoy!

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Want to make it vegetarian? Try using Seitan instead of chicken.

Miss that white wine flavor of many piccatas? Deglaze the pan of chicken with a splash before proceeding to add the next ingredients.

Can’t get enough lemon taste? Squeeze the quarters over the dish before plating instead of just using as a garnish. That’s what I did.

Need some more veggies? Serve a salad alongside.

Chicken cutlets too thick for your liking? Pound them flatter before cooking.

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This takes me under an hour start to finish (probably around 40 minutes total) and is a stress-free recipe that turns out a special dish. I hope you get a chance to try it soon.

Georgia and I are going away for Labor Day and will be back shortly after, hopefully with lots of fun pictures. See you then!