kid-friendly · Recipes

Salsa Verde Enchiladas

Every year I swear I’m going to talk about the weather less on this blog, and then the first mildly warm week rolls around, and all I can think about is how amazing it is that the sun makes people so much happier.

My birthday is Monday, and it’s always a toss-up as to whether it’ll be pleasant or dreary. I never grew up having outdoor birthday parties! Too unpredictable, as anyone with a late April Boston baby can attest.

I have a few traditions for my birthday every year. Get a pedicure (alone), make Mark take the day off if it falls on a weekend, and drag the whole family out for Mexican food. This year, it falls on a week day, and I have to spend it at the DMV of all places, but after that … AFTER that, we shall eat Mexican food.

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I’m the only one who really loves Mexican food in our house, although I’m gradually converting Georgia with tortilla chips, cheese and soft taco bread. (Are there people alive who don’t love those things? I don’t want to meet them).

This year, a new restaurant opened near us called 3 Amigos that I can’t wait to try. I was heartbroken when the former restaurant in that space, Fuloon, closed its doors suddenly in August. It was such a well-kept secret for excellent, spicy Sichuan cuisine! But 3 Amigos has gotten rave reviews in the short few weeks since its grand opening, and the cocktails sound to-die-for. They call themselves a tequila infusion bar; I’m not sure what that even means, but I am willing to test it out. I’ll report back my review!

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Sometimes, like a few weeks ago, I had a hankering for something Mexican when it wasn’t my birthday, so I whipped together this simple enchilada recipe and literally ate the whole thing myself: first for dinner one night, then for lunch the next three days in a row. It’s too good! I never got sick of it.

If your family doesn’t mind a little kick, this has medium spice and comes together very quickly — perfect for a weeknight. It’s even simpler if you pick up a rotisserie chicken and use that instead of boiling and shredding two chicken breasts, as I did. You can always dial down the heat by choosing a “mild” salsa instead of the Pace Salsa Verde I used (which is surprisingly complex for a mass market salsa brand — lots of garlic, lime and tomatillo hints in there!) Or, you can cook up the chicken and shred it one night, then save for dinner the next day. Once you have shredded chicken ready to go, this comes together fast and cooks for less than half an hour.


Salsa Verde Enchiladas

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 24-oz. jar salsa verde
  • 3/4 cup light cream or half-and-half
  • 4 TBSP (1/4 cup) sour cream
  • 1 package corn or flour tortillas (about 8, size depending)
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1.5 cups shredded Monterey jack cheese

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Mix the light cream and sour cream in a bowl with the salsa and stir to combine. Set aside 1 cup of this mixture to pour in the bottom of the baking dish later. To the remaining salsa/cream mixture, add the shredded chicken and stir until coated.

Start by pouring about half the reserved salsa mixture into the bottom of a your baking dish; spread into a thin, even layer. Set aside the rest for the top.

Taking a tortilla in your hand, scoop a spoonful of the chicken mixture in and roll to close, placing in the baking dish seam side down. Repeat until the dish is full.

Pour the rest of the reserved salsa mixture on top of the tortillas, then top with the shredded cheese.

Bake for 25 minutes until the cheese bubbles, or up to 5 minutes longer if it’s isn’t browning and crispy at the edges. Enjoy!

Notes:

  • I used Pace Salsa Verde, which is medium heat; you can substitute any green salsa. Pace is sold at Target, where I shop weekly, and their salsa comes in the right 24-ounce size I needed for this recipe. If you buy a smaller jar, buy two.
  • You can sub in 1 full cup of half and half if you don’t like sour cream.
  • You can use corn or flour tortillas, and they can be any size; I’ve made this with a dozen of the smaller rounds, and about 8-10 of the larger tortillas.
  • I boiled and shredded my own chicken breasts, but it’s even faster if you pick up a rotisserie chicken; or, you can buy packaged shredded chicken at Trader Joe’s and Wegman’s; or, you can hit a salad bar and buy already-shredded chicken, sold by the pound.
  • In these pictures, I had taco blend shredded cheese on hand, so that’s what I used. It looks and tastes even better if you grate a block of white Monterey Jack cheese. You can also buy this pre-shredded from Sargento at Target!
  • I haven’t tried doing it this way, but I bet these would taste good if you put some more of the cheese inside each tortilla as well as on top. If you try that, let me know! Sounds delectably gooey.

Recipe adapted from Everyday Reading.


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Notoriously hard to photograph, I promise you these enchiladas are more delicious to eat than they are to look at. I love having these with a heaping side of guacamole or sour cream, and topped with fresh cilantro (another thing nobody else in my house will eat!)

If you want to shred your own chicken, here’s how to do it. 

  1. Pat the chicken dry and then season on both sides with salt and pepper.
  2. In a large stockpot (I used this one) place the chicken in the bottom and cover with an inch or two of water, then bring to a boil. Lower heat to a rolling simmer and cover.
  3. Cook over medium heat for about 12 minutes or no longer than 14 minutes; you can test the temperature with a meat thermometer, and they should read 165°F.
  4. Remove to a cutting board or clean plate and shred. I find this is easier to do when they are still hot, so I shred right away and then store in an airtight glass container for when I’m going to cook them, always within 24 to 48 hours. I use two forks and just tear in opposite directions, pulling the meat into shreds of whatever size I like to use.

Poaching chicken is a great way to keep the meat moist and full of flavor. The leftover poaching liquid can be re-purposed as a stock/base for soup, and you can add other aromatics to the water to complement the ultimate recipe you’re using the chicken in, such as onions, garlic, bay leaves, whole peppercorns, ginger, even wine.

Happy meal prepping this weekend, and let me know how you like this one!

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Books · Boston Day Trip · Grow Your Own Way · kid-friendly

Six great Earth Day books

It’s Earth Day this Sunday, and don’t you wish it actually felt like spring in New England so we could get in the proper Earth Day spirit?

Alas, it’s cold and windy here, and it actually snowed yesterday. So we are going to celebrate Earth Day in a cozier fashion, all curled up at home with a few of our favorite Earth-themed books.

Last weekend, Georgia and I had a great library haul after the first day of soccer. We picked up a couple of these books, and the others we are lucky enough to own. You can order the Usborne books on Amazon (without Prime) or via their website, unless of course you have a friend who sells Usborne books.

All the Water in the World This has gorgeous illustrations and an engaging, unusual tone as it teaches children all about where water comes from … and where does it go? Georgia loves how the narrator calls her “honey” on a few pages! It’s simple enough to learn something meaningful while enjoying the beautiful painted pictures.

Above and Below This is one of my favorite Usborne books. All their offerings are top quality, but this one has such a great feature: it offers a split-page layout that gives readers a behind the scenes look at each wildlife illustration. Depicting eight of the world’s habitats, from the rainforest to the deep sea, children learn about the diverse ecosystems of our planet, from plants to animals and everything in between.

Thank you, Earth This is a classic for a good reason! Amazing photographs explore the beauty and complexity of the world all around us, with whimsical verses about nature, science, and the workings of our magnificent environment. It’s engaging for multiple age levels and is simply beautiful to look through.

The Bee Book Filled with great information about how honey bees work, and what human beekeepers do to care for them, this book gives a digestible and gradual exploration of why bees are so important to our environment. While many children know bees can sting, I find they almost always understand, too, that they they are incredibly hard workers in the world of the outdoors. This book shows through beautiful pictures and simple words just how brilliant bees are, and how their hard work helps put food on all the tables of people across the Earth.

How Do Flowers Grow? Boy do we love flap books! This is no exception. With adorable illustrated pictures that appeal to preschoolers and enough interesting facts to fascinate older readers, this is a book that can be enjoyed together or independently for elementary aged children. I love buying books like this before Georgia is quite ready for them, because we can page through them together so she understands a few things, and then it’s nice to see her happily look it over on her own, too. She immediately connected the information in the book to her preschool lessons about how plants grow, and always tells us she can’t wait to get started on our family garden after reading this.

The Curious Garden When we first started picking out books at the library last weekend, Georgia was SO thrilled to see this one in our pile because it’s her favorite for story time at school. And it warms my little urban-planning heart! It shows a young child exploring a gray, smoggy city devoid of any greenery. One day, he discovered some fledgling plants on an old train trestle, and he starts nurturing a garden by himself, little by little — until one day the whole city is vibrant again. What a difference it makes to take care of our Earth and all her living things! And to think that children can make a difference in doing this, too — maybe even better than grown-ups.

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If you’re in town this weekend, there’s an Earth Day Agricultural festival Sunday at the Boston Public Market, and the Freedom Trail Foundation just expanded their tour schedule for the season! What’s Earth-friendlier than walking?? If lounging is more your speed, the Swan Boats have also just opened up for the year in the Public Garden, and Eataly  is offering a “tasting by sustainable producers” event as part of their Earth Day at Eataly lineup in Back Bay. Come enjoy a car-free, green day in the city!

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This post contains affiliate links.

Boston Day Trip · kid-friendly · Uncategorized

April Vacation @ Boston Public Market

Looking for something to do while schools are closed across New England next week? In addition to the Marathon on Monday, there’s lots going on at the Public Market this entire next week. Maybe we will bump into you! Nothing is better than spring in Boston. Learn more at BostonPublicMarket.org.

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kid-friendly · Recipes

Rotini with Asparagus, Peas & Goat Cheese

Clearly, I am revving up for spring, because this is a decidedly non-wintery dish. Fluffy rotini drenched in a light, lemony goat cheese sauce mingles nicely with whatever vegetables you have on hand; I love the blend of asparagus and peas, because it’s like a signal to my taste buds that nicer weather is around the bend.

This is perfect for meal prep Sundays, or for throwing together right after work. All you need on hand, after all, are your vegetables of choice — even frozen work well — and a small package of chevre, one lemon, plus a box of pasta. This is a great one for little helping hands, too, because there are just a few simple steps and easy tasks to share!

By the way, chevre and goat cheese are the same thing. They are a goat’s milk cheese which can be easier to digest for anyone with low tolerance for cow’s milk; chevre is also a bit lighter in fat and has a pleasingly tangy flavor and smooth texture. I save about a cup of the pasta cooking water here, and add it in gradually to the dish to loosen up the goat cheese and thin it into a silky, smooth sauce.

CHEVRE ROTINI

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 box rotini pasta (or similar shape)
  • 1 bunch asparagus (or bag frozen, such as Trader Joe’s grilled)
  • 1/3 package frozen peas, or about a good palm full (I estimated)
  • 1 small log goat cheese, about 4-5 oz.
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 cup reserved pasta cooking water
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

If you are using fresh asparagus, I like to roast them on a sheet of aluminum foil in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper at 425 for about 12-15 minutes, or I pick up a frozen bag of the Trader Joe’s grilled spears. No matter which way you prep them, frozen or fresh, chop into rotini-sized pieces after they are done cooking and set aside.

Next, boil water for the rotini and cook the pasta until al dente, or 8-10 minutes. I like rotini because it really grips sauces, but any shape of pasta is OK. If you are using frozen peas, cook them at the same time as the pasta.

Drain pasta (and frozen peas if using), reserving one cup of cooking water.

Return rotini to the pan, stir in the asparagus and goat cheese, and zest the lemon into the pan. Halve the lemon and juice both sides into the pasta, being sure to catch the seeds (using an inexpensive hand-held citrus press is a great way to do this). Lastly, pour in the pasta water a little at a time, stirring until you reach the right consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve warm!

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This makes such great leftovers for the work week, and actually tastes good hot or cold. I haven’t tried this yet, but I bet it would be good to bring to a cookout in the summer as a cool pasta salad. If you try that, let me know. Until then, happy meal prepping, and stay safe if you’re impacted by the Nor’Easter hitting the East Coast right now!

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kid-friendly · Recipes · Slow Cooker · Tips and Tricks

Super Bowl Ideas

I’m just going to assume everyone reading this is rooting for the Patriots like we are on Sunday … ha!

As a kid we watched football every weekend, though the Pats were pretty much abysmal until I went away to college (figures) so I struggle to imagine what it must be like to have grown up watching Tom Brady and Bill Belichick dominate the NFL for basically your entire lifetime. That said, I’ll enjoy the dynasty while it lasts. Once this particular season is over, I can focus on my favorite sport — hockey — and before you know it the Red Sox will have opening day at Fenway Park and it’ll be spring again.

Until then! Here’s what we love to cook up on game day. You know I’m going to start off with my Brown Sugar Kielbasa, don’t you?

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This one is a star for a reason. It has two ingredients unless you want to embellish it, and you just set it and forget in the slow cooker. Giving myself more time with my guests, and to prepare the rest of the game day food, works for me!

We also love to make delicious and simple Shepherd’s Pie. This one is so easy! My friends always ask for this and it is hands-down one of my husband’s favorite dinners that I make. All you need is ground beef, creamed corn and regular corn plus mashed potatoes, and somehow it all comes together and tastes so much more complex. This is a recipe I originally got from my mom, and she used to make it for me in little ramekins that I could take for lunch every day. I don’t even own ramekins!

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Another must-have for snacking is tortilla chips and salsa. I always, always make my own salsa, because it so fast and tastes approximately a thousand times better than canned salsa. I like to use Rotel, fresh tomatoes and heaps of cilantro and jalapenos, but you can very much customize things if you don’t care for the heat or the taste of cilantro.

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If you are hosting vegetarians and are in need of good chili options that involve more than just a ton of beans, I’ve got a few ideas. This recipe has literally four ingredients and very little simmering time, and can be made with ground beef or vegetarian “meat” crumbles, which I normally don’t love but end up tasting delicious here. Morning Star Farms and Gardein both make excellent veggie crumbles.

Another awesome recipe that packs a little heat with a hint of sweetness is this tasty Soy Chorizo Chili, which I usually make by shopping all Trader Joe’s ingredients, from the chorizo itself to the sweet potatoes, black beans and salsa. Serve it with some vegan shredded “cheese” on top or, if dairy is an option for your crowd, some sour cream or (even healthier) plain Greek yogurt. Yum! And spicy!

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You really can’t go wrong with food, friends and football for any game day, so no matter who you are rooting for, I hope you have a blast this weekend and that this post gave you some good ideas. As Georgia says, “go ball players! you’re doing a great job!” haha.

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Christmas · dessert · Holidays · kid-friendly

Our Christmas 2017 Menu

Everyone in my house was thrilled to see a dusting of snow on the ground this morning, the last work day ( for 9-to-5-ers at least; Mark is working all weekend) before Christmas! We’ve sent our greeting cards, bought our presents, (mostly) wrapped them, watched the obligatory preschool Christmas pageant, and now all there is to do is get ready to eat.

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We celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and then I’m thrilled Mark and I are both taking a week of stay-cation until New Year’s Day. It is so hard to get time off together! Up next for him this winter is playing Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, so he’s been on a bit of a fitness spike lately, getting in shape for that…and growing his hair. It’s like I’m dating my 90’s boyfriend (which, as you know, was still him!) all over again.

All we have planned for vacay is to eat leftovers, take G to the movies (Coco? Ferdinand? BOTH?) and relax. OK, and reorganize our toys to make room for the new stuff. But back to the menu for Christmas: here’s what we are eating this weekend.

OUR CHRISTMAS MENU

We have a lighter crowd this year, just seven of us, so the dinner is a teensy bit pared down.

  • Swedish meatballs with gravy & lingonberry jam
  • Buttery mashed potatoes (here’s how I make them a day ahead)
  • Spiral ham & applesauce (& mustard of course!)
  • Broccoli casserole
  • Sweet corn
  • dinner rolls

For dessert this year, we are having Christmas cookies & pumpkin pie with whipped cream and ice cream! Like the rest of the world, I’m now obsessed with Halo Top ice cream, so I picked up a pint of their low-sugar, high-protein cookies n’ cream flavor, and I am dying to try their oatmeal cookie (!!!) and s’more options… but both were all sold out near me. Last year, we made this amazing sticky toffee pudding that was SO easy and liked by everyone. You can probably make it with ingredients you already have on hand right now, just by picking up a package of dates!

For appetizers, we always put out a nice cheese plate with crackers and sliced apples, plus our New Englandy favorite, Cape Cod chips and onion dip, and probably shrimp cocktail. Mark always makes his favorite Sausage Bites, and we serve it all with lots of beer, wine, apple cider and egg nog!

This year, we are also starting a new tradition of Christmas Eve books. Have you heard of this? In Iceland, families get to open one gift on Christmas Eve, and it’s meant to be a new book. Then you spend the evening relaxing and reading! While we probably won’t do much relaxing with a hyperactive four-year-old who is VERY concerned about Santa reaching us without a proper chimney, it sounded like an awesome thing to start doing. I also bought me and G Christmas jammies for the first time this year, but we have already been too eager to start wearing those this week, so we won’t be opening those on Christmas Eve like I know lots of families do! The ones we got at Old Navy are all sold out, but I love their pajamas all year round and Georgia has already asked for a pair for Valentine’s Day. That is, adorably, one of her favorite holidays.

From our household to yours, have a blessed, relaxing and cheer-filled Christmas. See you in the New Year!

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kid-friendly · Recipes

Classic Baked Ziti

I dread the onset of winter with its cold, dark, depressing ways, and anyone with little kids can tell you the havoc daylight saving time wreaks on family sleep schedules. We had an oddly warm fall here in New England; it was 70 degrees out Monday, when I started writing this, and as nice as that felt, I’m ready for the casseroles to start showing up again — even if Mother Nature isn’t. I’ve also been ready to dig into hibernation food for months now!

In that spirit, I’ve made this wonderfully simple Baked Ziti a lot this fall, including for potlucks, Sunday dinner, and for friends with new babies.

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This makes the perfect dish for visiting a newborn: it is comforting, filling, and reheats very easily, and can be eaten with one hand while holding a baby. It can also be frozen if your friends don’t have room to eat it right away. As a bonus, little kids like it, too, which is always an implicit goal of any recipe I post! Georgia simply gobbles this up, and it’s one of Mark’s, favorites, too. Win-win.

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This recipe was inspired by Smitten Kitchen with a few adaptations to make it my own.

Cook time: 30 minutes    Serves: 4-6

Classic Baked Ziti

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound ziti, cooked al dente
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano or Italian seasoning (I like Wildtree)
  • 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • a few handfuls of baby spinach
  • 1 cup mozzarella, grated
  • 2/3 cup finely grated pecorino (or parmesan) cheese
  • fresh basil slivers
  • optional: red pepper flakes

DIRECTIONS

To start, preheat your oven to 400 F.

Heat a pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta very al dente, or at least 2 minutes less than the normal cooking time stated on the box. Drain the pasta, reserving half a cup of the cooking water.

Heat a large skillet over  medium and add a swirl of olive oil until warm, then add the meat alongside the onion, garlic, seasonings and a healthy dose of salt and pepper over medium-hihg for up to 8 minutes, or until the beef is browned, stirring often.

Add the crushed tomatoes and stir to combine, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for five minutes. Add in the reserved pasta water and then the spinach, cooking until milted (maybe another minute or two). Here, I like to add in some fresh basil, slivered, and maybe a couple fresh tomatoes from my garden if I need to use them up.

Stir in the drained pasta and mix together. Pour half into a 9×13 glass baking dish or lasagna pan, and sprinkle with half the two cheeses; repeat with another half of the pasta then top with the remaining cheese.

Bake in the heated oven for 30 minutes or until nice and crispy and browned on the edges. You can even run the dish under the broiler for a minute if you’d like it extra crispy! Enjoy warm.

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NOTES:

  • You can also use Italian sausage, casings removed, if you prefer the taste.
  • To cook al dente, shave 2 minutes off the cook time stated on the package of pasta. Taking care not to overcook is essential for this not turning mushy!
  • Seasoning the ground beef well with salt and pepper is essential; it’s less important if you opt for Italian sausage.
  • I like to serve this with more slivers of fresh basil and, if you have it, fresh ricotta. But that’s totally optional!
  • I have never tried this week meat substitutes, but it’s certainly possible. Other good substitutions to make it vegetarian would be mushrooms, beans, or lentils.

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Stay tuned for my first holiday shopping guides soon, and some inspiration for Thanksgiving dinner! I’m so excited Christmas is right around the corner. I basically live for the holidays once Halloween is over every year 🙂 Have a lovely, cozy weekend.