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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kid-friendly · Recipes · Slow Cooker

Slow Cooker Honey Garlic Chicken

Inspired by a popular post on Damn Delicious (one of my favorite cooking blogs), this recipe for Slow Cooker Honey Garlic Chicken is beyond foolproof, with no braising, marinating or prep work required — just toss it in the slow cooker, come home after work and eat. You can use any cut of chicken and it still turns out moist and delicious. The original recipe called for chicken thighs, but boneless breasts were on sale and are something Georgia prefers, so we decided to try the recipe with those instead. And it worked perfectly. Life = easier, just like that!

Honey Garlic Slow Cooker Chicken

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 Chicken thighs (or two packages of boneless breasts, which I used here)
  • 16 oz. red potatoes (half a 2.5 pound bag)
  • 16 oz.baby carrots (one bag)
  • 16 oz. green beans, trimmed (one bag)

FOR THE SAUCE

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce (preferably reduced sodium)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Dried oregano, basil, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste (about a tablespoon total)

DIRECTIONS

  • Mix the sauce together and set aside.
  • In your slow cooker, nestle the potatoes and carrots into the bottom of the pot, then layer the chicken on top. Pour the sauce over and set to cook on low for 7-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours.
  • The original recipe calls for basting every half hour, which is fine if you are home but not fine if you’re working. It turns out well either way.
  • In the last 30 minutes of cooking, add in the green beans.
  • Serve warm on a cold day!

OK, so this doesn’t photograph very well as a finished product. Trust me when I tell you it’s even BETTER as leftovers! 

This is a great recipe to pair with the Maple Dijon Pork Chops I posted about a couple of weeks ago when you’re meal planning for the week, because you can buy one bag of potatoes and use half in this meal and half with the chops; the same goes for the green beans.

Are you all set for Halloween?? We are in full Spooky Swing. Last weekend was the “Boo at the Zoo” event at the same place where we hosted Georgia’s birthday party this year, and we had a blast with friends riding the kiddie rides, seeing the animals in their exhibits, dancing to some monster tunes and of course picking up some toys and (healthy) treats along the walking paths. Monday we had a trick-or-treat in my office, which was another hit, and tomorrow G has her preschool Halloween party. It’s an exhausting life when you’re three — and the actual holiday hasn’t even hit yet! I’m not sure Rapunzel’s wig will make it to Monday intact… 🙂

Have a great rest of the week everyone. 

Baby & Toddler · Holidays · JPG · kid-friendly · minted · Slow Cooker

Boo! A Halloween Recap

Hope everyone had an awesome trick-or-treat! We had family over, walked around our neighborhood, and tried our hardest to tucker Georgia out before Daylight Saving Time hit us Sunday morning. Georgia dressed as her all-time favorite, Minnie Mouse, and the lucky girl got to wear her costume THREE times this week: once at my office Halloween party on Monday, another time at the daycare Halloween parade Thursday, and again Saturday night for the real Halloween. She was one happy lady! Just see how happy in this video.


Last year (see below!) she liked walking around and meeting people, but this year she was really into the whole routine. She made it through the entire neighborhood, instead of just half a dozen homes on one side of our little street, and she said “trick or treat!” “thank you!” and “happy Halloween!” to everybody we met.

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Last year. My Baby!!

The best part is that, while she likes picking out colorful wrappers, she couldn’t care less about actually EATING the candy, so more for me!  Good thing I have a candy dish in my office for sharing the wealth.

The transition to Daylight Saving Time went fine for us. We had moved Georgia’s bedtime later bit by bit all week leading up to it, so Sunday morning she woke up at 6:10, which wasn’t too bad, and she took her normal nap from 1 to 3 p.m. My goal was just to have her wake up later than 5 and to take her usual nap, and in that, we succeeded. Spring forward is always much worse for us when it comes to sleep disruptions for Georgia anyway. Everyone felt a little out of whack Sunday with the time change, so we just made it a lounge day. Now it’s back to work.

Remember how I was lamenting my lack of Slow Cooker recipes last week? Well, you guys delivered when it comes to ideas! So many people reached out and offered their family favorites, and I’ll be posting the results as I try them out. Hopefully we have some winners. Meanwhile, I wanted to share these two great ideas from A Year of Slow Cooking: A1 and Dijon Steak, which I just know Mark would love, and Brown Sugar Chicken, which sounds satisfying for my and Georgia’s sweet tooth. That blog even has a slow cooker apple crisp, but I’m not sure how you’d achieve a crunchy top that way, so I haven’t tried it out.

I hope to have even more slow cooker ideas to share in the coming weeks! Plus, an early holiday shopping guide. You know me, I like to be done with Christmas by Thanksgiving, and then I finish designing our holiday card that weekend so I can mail it in early December. Can’t believe that time of year is already approaching! Here’s last year’s card, and the post about our photo shoot.

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Photography by JPG // design by Minted

In closing, I just wanted to also thank everyone who sent well wishes (and mushy recipes) when I had my wisdom teeth out last week. It went fine, and I’m feeling back to my old self now. My friend Jean even sent me homemade soup (and she has a one-year-old!) that tasted simply divine.

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She gave me the recipe from Epicurious, and you better believe I’m going to make it! If I do, I’ll share here. I think Georgia would like it, too.

Have a great week everyone and I’ll be back soon! xoxo

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!

Holidays · Slow Cooker · Tips and Tricks

Waste Not: tips for using up BBQ leftovers

I hate food waste. Mark (half-jokingly) says I’d eat around mold on leftovers rather than throw something out. He’s almost right! So parties can be my worst nightmare. I always buy enough food that there’s plenty of extra — I am part Italian, after all — but the next day that stresses me out, big-time. So what’s a hostess to do? Well, here are a few of my go-to recipes and alternate uses for the kind of leftovers you might have from a cookout or house party.

If you were grilling up burgers (veggie or otherwise), hot dogs, steak tips and chicken, then you probably have a hodge-podge of leftover meats, toppings and condiments, and possibly snacky things like chips, salsa, dip and crudites lying around, too. There are lots of ways to get rid of them.


Leftover chicken, and/or tortilla chips + salsa: Grilled poultry can get dry quickly, and leftovers are even worse. A great way to give these leftovers another life is to use them in soup, and what better way than a tasty tortilla soup that will also knock out the remainder of your almost-stale chips? I like this one from Allrecipes.com, since it has so few ingredients and comes together easily. Another great one: crockpot salsa chicken by Jo Cooks. This can use up any chicken you bought but never grilled, or you can buy new chicken and use this recipe to get rid of your leftover salsa and cheese (either slices from your burgers, or shredded cheese from your tossed salad).

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Leftover fruit salad: I had a TON of fruit salad left over from Georgia’s first birthday party because my aunt went to Costco and bought the place out. So, in that case, I always grab my pint-sized ziploc bags and make ready-to-go smoothie pouches. If you keep either coconut water/milk or juice around for your liquid, you can blend up a healthy and tasty breakfast or a snack in a jiff. As soon as Georgia could drink from a straw, I had her sucking down smoothies, too ~ they are a great way to sneak in some greens, from celery to kale or spinach! I did this a couple week’s ago after Mark’s 30th birthday party when I’d cut up 80% of some chard, kale and romaine stalks for a chopped salad and then had these little stumps left over. Also fun: smoothie bowls, which use a higher ratio of fruit-to-liquid than a drinkable smoothie, and feature fresh topped fruit, nuts, pomegranate seeds, you name it. Just blend frozen fruit to a thicker consistency with yogurt, or ice, or the liquid of your choice, and spoon it up. It’s like a cross between a smoothie and frozen yogurt.

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Leftover baked beans: Ladle into storage-safe plastic baggies and lay flat in your freezer. I use sandwich size bags because they stack neatly and hold just the right amount to thaw out later for dinner. A go-to weeknight meal for us is baked beans, butterflied kielbasa roasted on a baking sheet in the oven, and a salad or vegetable with hot buttered noodles. 

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Leftover hamburger rolls and hot dog buns: These will only stay fresh for about a week or so, so I try to prioritize using these for lunches before turning them over to stale-bread uses. I like to pick up some white fish salad at Costco, or make a tuna salad with mayo, dijon mustard and any leftover pickles or relish from the party, then serve them in extra hot dog rolls for lunch; failing that, you can always save old (non-moldy) bread in the fridge for use in soups or bread pudding later on, and as a last resort we keep a bag of old bread to bring to the pond to feed the ducks. (Although it’s actually better to toss them oats, corn, or peas, according to wildlife experts and conservationists). 

Leftover condiments: Use them for macaroni salad! With leftover condiments like pickles, sliced tomatoes and onions, just add mayonnaise and pasta and follow an easy recipe like The Pioneer Woman’s Best Macaroni Salad Ever. In my family, my mom always made macaroni salad with hard boiled eggs, finely chopped bell peppers, onions and Hellman’s mayonnaise, but I’ve had great versions that included pickles or relish or olives, and really you can customize this however you want for a nice picnic-ready dish. All you need to have on hand is a box of elbow pasta.

Leftover sliced or chopped onions that you used as burger and hot dog toppings: Already-diced onions can be the basis for a simple risotto, or to brine chicken or pork for dinner that week. I’ll be posting a how-to on brining very soon, but the basic idea is that you put your meat in the fridge in a bag or other container with water and salt in a ratio of 4:1 (4 cups of water per 1 tablespoon of salt) along with onions and any other seasonings you’d like to add (carrots, celery, garlic, nutmeg, the list is endless) for at least the entire work day or overnight, then rinse well before cooking. You can pan sauté the onions etc. right in with the meat after brining. Additionally, you can make a nice side dish by sauteeing up sliced onions with other items of your choosing (beans? garlic? Shallots? Zucchini? Fennel? Peppers?) until caramelized. Serve as a side, or use to top a pizza or pressed sandwich along with cheese and tomatoes, eggplant, even crumbled extra hamburger from your cookout.

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With leftover alcohol — which does happen, although not often — we use any opened bottles of wine in risotto and often make beer bread with any random bottles of beer we have left over that aren’t appealing for us to drink. I’ll be posting a simple beer bread recipe very soon, and a good staple to keep around is the boxed mix by Pampered Chef, if you know someone who sells their products. Using different kinds of beer really changes the flavor of this quick-to-make bread, so it’s fun to get creative with flavors the more you make it.

Got leftover Chex Mix, pretzels or mixed nuts? I like to grind these up very fine and use them to coat baked chicken or pork chops. (Nuts can also be used to make pesto). A new trick I just picked up from Blue Apron is to bread your cutlets in flour (I’ve been using Tiger Nut and loving it) then dip in a wash of mustard and water instead of egg, and finish with panko bread crumbs. As long as you let the excess drip off after each step, you’ll prevent gloppiness from resulting. I like to pan saute chicken or pork if I’ve breaded it this way, and the trick to making sure they are cooked through without getting soggy is to heat your oil or butter until you’re certain it’s very hot (test by tossing in a few panko pieces; if they sizzle, it’s hot enough) before adding the meat. Then, cook for about 3 minutes on each side, and let it get nice and brown before turning over. The result, as Georgia says: “yay!!”

Got any other good tips for using up leftover cookout food? Let me know, I’d love to hear about it! Funny, there never seems to be a problem getting rid of dessert, does there? 🙂

Recipes · Slow Cooker

Carbonara 2.0: company edition

A few weeks ago, we were talking about having a friend over for dinner — his wife, a colleague of Mark’s, is on tour for over a year — and Mark thought it would be really nice to hang out together and cook him a solid, stick-to-your-ribs, home-made, comfort-food dinner. And, since he really wanted to do the cooking himself, he either had to learn a new recipe or amp up the wow factor of his spaghetti carbonara, which is really the only dinner he cooks by himself. 

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And then! We saw an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives that gave us just the inspiration we were waiting for. So, after putting Georgia to bed one night during vacation, we put our heads together to start recipe testing. And I think we finally made the tweaks that will turn this weeknight staple into a creamier, more decadent dish worthy of company.

Here are the key things we changed:

  • Cooking the bacon in a tbsp of olive oil instead of relying on bacon fat to grease the pan.
  • Using a stainless steel pan instead of non-stick, which affects the drippings and the heat level you can use.
  • Smashing the garlic instead of dicing in a garlic press, which mellows the flavor; we also added it later in the cooking.
  • Adding wine to the sauteing bacon, but making sure it burns off a bit so the flavor doesn’t overwhelm.
  • Separating the egg whites and yolks, which allows the whites to impart an airiness to the sauce and prevents the risk of scrambling that arises when you add both to a hot pan. Also, adding yolks to the finished dish makes for an extremely creamy sauce.
  • Adding a dash of light cream for a thicker sauce and more fancy mouth feel.
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spaghetti carbonara: notoriously difficult to photograph.

My original recipe for spaghetti carbonara is posted here. I’ll list the new step-by-step directions below. We liked this so much that we are keeping almost every aspect except the cream for our weeknight dinner version! It really takes it to the next level.

Spaghetti Carbonara for Company

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb. linguine
  • 1 package good bacon*
  • 1 cup pecorino, grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed/smashed
  • 2 TBSP white wine
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup light cream
  • 2 eggs, whites and yolks separated
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

* if using high-quality pancetta instead, you’ll need about 4-5 ounces, NOT the equivalent of a 12-oz. package of bacon.

DIRECTIONS

Start by placing a large pot of water on to boil. Meanwhile, chop the bacon into a large stainless steel saute pan and add a swirl of olive oil, about 2 TBSP.

When the water boils, add the pasta to the pot, stir to separate, and start cooking the bacon over medium heat. Cook about 5 minutes and then add in the garlic and stir for just a minute. Add the wine and allow to burn off for a couple minutes, then season with plenty of black pepper and finally pour the cream over the pan.

When the pasta is just under-cooked, remove from the pot and add to the pan with the bacon. Stir. Turn off the heat and pour in the egg whites and half the grated cheese. Stir gently.

Just before serving, pour the yolks over the pasta and toss until the sauce it just thickened. Serve topped with the rest of the grated Pecorino cheese!

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Ways you can adapt this: use milk instead of light cream, or continue to omit dairy as in my original recipe; serve the egg yolks on top of the pasta or in a nest and allow guests to stir in themselves; add more pepper and/or red pepper flakes to heighten the heat; and of course, you can use high quality pancetta instead of run-of-the-mill bacon to make this even better-suited to a dinner party.

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I also know sometimes people like to toss in peas or some other cooked green, like broccolini or spinach, in the same way you would with fettuccine Alfredo. In Italy, pasta is never the main focus of the meal, so my serving recommendation always includes giving each person a small portion of such a heavy pasta, and pairing it with a steamed asparagus, minestrone soup to start, toasted bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil, or fresh bright greens (mesclun, arugula, etc.) tossed with balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and salt. And of course, with a glass of wine! However you enjoy it, I hope this hits the spot.

Stay tuned for Mark’s Super Bowl recipe, coming soon! And, check out these great ideas for game day snacks in the slow cooker, courtesy of the Today Show. I also saw the following cute idea for serving veggies with dip in individual serving cups at a friend’s baby shower:

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Isn’t that clever? you put the dip in the bottom.

Have a great weekend everyone, and stay safe in the storm we are getting up here in Boston. I’ll be here Saturday, and then visiting my mom in the hospital (she is having surgery today ~ keep her in your prayers, please!)