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.

kid-friendly · Recipes

Sweet Potato Pot Pie

This is an all-purpose vegan recipe that can be made into a Meatless Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie, or turned into the filling for a Vegetarian  Sweet Potato Pot Pie. With crumbled veggie burgers instead of meat, and your choice of vegetables in a creamy non-dairy sauce topped with buttery mashed sweet potatoes, it’s versatile and hearty!

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Even though this turned into a vegetarian shepherd’s pie — with “meat” on bottom, veggies and sauce on top, and potatoes spread in a thin layer, baked until browned and bubbly — I created this filling with the intent of putting it in a pot pie next time. To do that, I’d keep the sweet potatoes cubed instead of mashing them, thin out the creamy sauce on the stove top with a bit of nut milk, then use a puff pastry shell to cover it in a glass baking dish. Let me know if you try it that way! I really liked how this turned out.

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Sweet Potato Pot Pie

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 veggie burger patties (I used frozen)
  • fresh or frozen vegetables of your choice; I used corn and carrots. You need about two 14-oz. cans worth, or two small bags of frozen vegetables.
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • cashew cream (eyeball the amount) & water to thin it out until spreadable
  • olive oil, for cooking the diced onion
  • butter, for stirring into the mashed sweet potatoes

DIRECTIONS

Pre-heat the oven to 350 then prep the ingredients. Microwave the four patties briefly, following package directions, then cut into triangles and set aside. Boil water in a large pot; peel and cube the potatoes, then cook in the water once boiling until just soft. Drain and set aside. Once they’ve cooled a bit, mash by hand with a pat of butter. Dice an onion.

In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat until warm, then saute the onion and add the veggie patties until the onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Place the onion-veggie burger mixture into the bottom of a glass baking dish — I used a round glass casserole dish, but a square 10×10 or 8-inch glass pan would also work well — and press down so it’s flat.

In a mixing bowl, combine the vegetables (thawing/draining first if frozen/canned) and the cashew cream, eyeballing the amount based on how creamy you’d like the filling of your pie to be. As I noted above, you should add some water to make the cashew cream more liquid-y if you’ll be baking it into a sweet potato pot pie with a pie crust instead of a shepherd’s pie. Pour over the veggie burger-onion mixture in the glass baking dish.

Top with the mashed sweet potatoes, patting down flat so they evenly cover the veggies. Bake uncovered for about half an hour, checking to make sure it isn’t burning, and let cool briefly once out of the oven. To reheat later, I like to put a pat of butter on top! (No surprise there — anyone in my family can tell you what a butter freak I am.)

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This travels and reheats very well, too. I made this in single-serve, miniature ramekins for Mark’s grandfather when he was recovering from surgery a few years ago, and also for friends who’ve just had a baby in winter. It’s just the kind of comforting food that cold days call for, and at least in Boston, we are still having lots of cold, rainy days. Brrr! Hopefully we’ve had our last true deep freeze for the year and we can look forward to warmer weather ahead. It is officially spring now, after all 🙂

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Cashew cream is really easy to make, and if you have a high-powered blender like a Vitamix (let this be yet another reason to justify buying one!) you can make it without even needing to soak the nuts overnight. Of course, you can also make this recipe with a conventional dairy-based white sauce from scratch or by using a can of “cream of” soup such as cream of celery or cream of mushroom or potato. But you don’t need to be vegan to enjoy cashew cream! It takes mere minutes to make, and seasoned with nothing more than a little salt and garlic it’s ready to dress pasta or any number of tasty dishes that would otherwise use dairy. Toss it with egg noodles, cooked spinach and diced butternut squash, or add nutritional yeast to create a “cheesy” sauce for baked macaroni. It can pinch-hit in any casserole you already make, or try it mixed with hot sauce or sriracha and baked with some shredded chicken for a tasty buffalo dip.

Have a great weekend everyone!

kid-friendly · Recipes

Butternut Squash, Sage & Sweet Chicken Sheet Pan Meal

Years ago, I saw this on one of those online Trader Joe’s recipe forums where folks share the meals they make using only TJs ingredients. It took me until now to try it, with a few tweaks to suit our tastes, and it’s a definite keeper for weeknight cooking. It involves minimal cleanup and barely any prep, especially if you buy those grocery packages of chopped fresh butternut squash instead of rasslin’ with a whole one yourself. I chose to use poultry seasoning here because it’s quick to grab in the produce section pre-packaged and we like the taste of it; you could swap it for something you like better. It WILL make your house smell like Thanksgiving morning!

I’ll also point out that you can swap another kind of squash, too. This recipe isn’t fussy. We really like caramelized red onions, but again, any type will do.

Butternut Squash, Sage & Sweet Chicken Sheet Pan Meal

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 a butternut squash, cubed (or buy pre-cut; it’s much easier)
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 package chicken sausage, halved (I used TJ’s apple maple flavor)
  • 1 packet poultry seasoning (thyme, sage, rosemary)
  • 4-6 garlic cloves (peeled and left whole)
  • olive oil for the pan
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350F. Prep the squash, sausage, garlic and onion.

On a sheet pan lined with foil, lay out the squash, onions and sausage links and drizzle with olive oil, shaking to coat. Nestle the garlic cloves and whole branches of herbs around the edges for flavoring. Season the entire tray with salt and pepper to taste, then place in the oven.

Cook between 20-30 minutes, stirring halfway through, or until everything looks browned and the squash are cooked through. Times may vary depending on your oven.

Discard the sage, rosemary and thyme — it’s ok if a few pieces stay on the food — and keep the garlic and the onion if you like them. They should be softened and mellowed out in taste, and thus OK to eat. Taste for seasoning and add more if you feel it’s needed. Serve warm!

I love this because it only uses one tray, so cleanup is fast.

I actually had a whole butternut squash hanging around, so I used half of it here and then roasted the other half, cubed, in a smaller baking sheet on the rack below this in the oven and ate it later in the week with a rotisserie chicken I bought on the way home from work. Done that way, you get two easy after-work dinners out of it!

Georgia loved eating the tender roasted squash and the sweet sausage, too. Trader Joe’s has so many varieties of chicken sausage and you could use any of them here. You could also use spicier sausage instead of sweet, but it will make the dish that much greasier and a tad less healthy. The whole point, though, is that it’s customizable, cheap, and doubles well if you have a larger family. If you try it, let me know what you think!

 

Blue Apron · Recipes

Tomato Zucchini Quiche

Boy, do I love quiche. Too bad it isn’t the healthiest thing around! What it lacks in fiber it makes up for in protein, however, and for vegetarians this can be a very good thing. Not to mention it’s a simple meal to throw together on a hot night, and if you toss a light salad alongside, you can make it a balanced dinner that’s budget- and family-friendly. I use pre-bought pie crusts when I’m crunched for time, and zucchini and tomatoes from my garden when they’re abundant. Combine that with some ricotta, eggs, and cheese, and you’re only 20 minutes away from yum.

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Zucchini & Tomato Quiche

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large, pre-baked pie crust (or 2 mini), store bought or home made
  • 1 zucchini, diced small
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup skim ricotta
  • 1/4 cup fontina cheese, grated or chopped small
  • salt, pepper & olive oil

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 425. Set the pie crust(s) out on a non-stick baking sheet to come to room temperature.

Small dice the zucchini and quarter the tomatoes. Dice or shred the cheese if it comes in a block. Peel and mince the garlic and smash into a paste using either the side of a knife, a mortar and pestle, or a zester.

In a medium non-stick pan, heat olive oil over medium-high until hot, then add the zucchini and cook, seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes or until browned and soft, then add the tomatoes and garlic paste. Stir for a couple minutes or until fragrant, then remove from the heat.

In a medium sized bowl, crack the two eggs and whisk; add the ricotta and whisk again, the add the cooked zucchini and tomatoes, seasoning lightly with salt and pepper.

Pour the mixture into the pie crust(s) and evenly top with cheese.

Bake the quiches in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until the edges are browned and the fillings are set. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes.

Serve warm, at room temp, or even cold straight from the refrigerator!

Notes: 1/4 cup cheese is about one ounce, or 4 TBSP; you can also just eyeball the amount you’d like based on how heavy you want the dish to be. Add more or less to your health and taste needs, and vary the cheese type if you like something else better. You can also add a little more garlic; I did. Don’t want to overdo it, though.

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This recipe came to me in my Blue Apron delivery. Unlike some of their meals, this featured no hard-to-find ingredients or complex preparation steps, so it was easy for us to replicate. I’ve also made more than a few quiche in my day, but even for newbies it’s a pretty hard dish to mess up! Enjoy and stay cool in this drought-level heat wave.

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Recipes

Creamy Boursin Shells & Peas

Happy Monday, everyone! Hope you had a great weekend. We sure did (even though it was in the 90s and our old house barely has any AC!) Georgia and I kept cool with squirt guns, blowing bubbles in the shade, and taking our first boat ride on my dad’s paddle boat in New Hampshire.

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Thanks to Cup of Jo for this great, no-effort pasta recipe that’s perfect for hot/lazy nights when you just don’t have the wherewithal to cook something complicated. All you need is three ingredients: a package of Boursin cheese (the kind you might grab for a party appetizer), a box of medium shells, and fresh or frozen peas. Add a little lemon zest to enhance the complexity of the flavor, and grind as much fresh pepper on top as you like to really make it sing. Comes together super fast, tastes light yet is very filling, and easily feeds babies and toddlers, too. Enjoy!
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I chose to use a bag of frozen organic peas from Trader Joes because that’s what I had on hand. But I would imagine that fresh peas would taste amazing! To thaw this out, I ran the bag under hot water for a few minutes, broke up the frozen chunks in the package with the bottom of a drinking glass, and then added to the dish pretty cold so they could finish cooking in the pan.

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Creamy Boursin Shells & Peas

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb. box of shells, medium or small
  • 1 bag of frozen peas (or fresh peas, if you can get them)
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 package Garlic & Herb Boursin Cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional: fresh basil and a bit of butter

DIRECTIONS

Put a pot of water on to boil. Add the shells and cook until al dente, as they’ll continue cooking in the pan with the sauce.

In a non-stick sauce pan, melt the boursin over medium-high until it turns liquidy. Zest one lemon into the pan and season with plenty of salt and pepper. Add the peas and cook for a couple minutes to blend flavors.

Drain the shells, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the cooking water to the sauce, stir until combined, then add the shells. Cook for a few more minutes and add seasonings as well as a bit of butter if the flavor or creaminess isn’t where you want it. Top with freshly-torn basil and serve warm.
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I added torn fresh basil on top for a bit of extra flourish and fresh flavor. You can include or omit as your tastes dictate. Buon Appetito! 

Recipes

Trader Joe’s Tag: Tortellini Roasted Red Pepper Soup

The pictures for this came out terrible, but it’s a hearty soup that comes together really quickly. We picked up all the ingredients at Trader Joe’s but you could easily make this from any store with comparable products! This isn’t soup from scratch, but it is fast, creamy and satisfying, and uses up leftover prepared pesto that you may have made yourself or bought for another recipe. Plus, it’s vegetarian and filling without being bad for you.

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Tortellini Roasted Red Pepper Soup

INGREDIENTS (all Trader Joe’s)

  • 1 bag dried tortellini, with cheese filling (pesto filling is also OK)
  • 1 carton creamy Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup
  • 1 package frozen Melange a Trois (tri-color bell peppers)
  • 1/2 jar pesto (adjust amount to taste)
  • optional: grated cheese for topping

DIRECTIONS

Set a medium pot of water to boil. Boil the tortellini until they are just cooked (usually when they float to the top). Set aside.

In another large pot — I used a cast iron Le Creuset dutch oven — heat the entire package of soup over medium until simmering. Add in the whole package of frozen bell peppers and pesto, then stir in the tortellini. Once it’s all heated, it’s ready to serve!

Top with grated parmesan or pecorino and enjoy warm.

(This makes a thick soup; if you’d rather it be a bit thinner, use half to 2/3 bag of cooked tortellini instead).

The great thing about this recipe is that you can adjust it however you like. Don’t want to use frozen bell peppers? Go for frozen peas, or string beans. I threw in half a can of corn that was lying around from my Shepherd’s Pie a few days before! Love pesto? Add the whole darn jar. Not a fan? Scale it back or omit entirely. You can use any brand of creamy tomato soup, but I really like how the roasted red pepper element adds flavor here. It’s relatively healthy and will also leave you with a few tasty lunches for the week. Plus, even though I love that it’s vegetarian, you can always change that by throwing in some chicken sausage, kielbasa, ground beef or leftover rotisserie chicken. The possibilities are endless.

Dig in and enjoy!

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kid-friendly · Recipes

Pesto Flatbread

Anyone who has kids (and relatives who watch them) knows that it’s handy to have lots of food in the house for everyone to snack on. I’ve gone from being the type of person who never kept junk food around as a way of watching my weight to buying crackers, cheese, salsa, soda, fruit juice, granola bars and cookies in bulk so the grandparents have something to nibble while babysitting! Boy do I know how that goes: you only have one hand to eat with while chasing after the baby, and the fruit bowl can only get you so full when you’re entertaining a crazy toddler.

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The thing is, I love providing food and drinks that our babysitters and relatives enjoy, because they are doing us a huge favor … but it’s hard not to start snacking on the stuff yourself after a long day at work. Diet coke, wheat thins, tortilla chips and pastries suddenly have a standing place on my shopping list, taking me into aisles I never even would have entered before, and tempting both Mark and I when we are home. Lately, I’ve realized that we also seem to order takeout a lot more often than we intend to, because we get home late and then suddenly it’s Georgia’s bedtime and we are starving on the other side of it, with no energy left to cook. So, I am starting to try out recipes that come together really quickly with extremely few ingredients, ideally the kind you can keep on hand.  It’s a way to avoid the pizza delivery guy and have fresher options than processed foods on hand. That’s how I came to this recipe:

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I love that it has just a few ingredients, and that they are the kind of thing you can keep on hand easily. Plus, it comes together in 10 minutes. I served it with a salad and lime seltzer for lunch when my mom and brother were over, and then we finished it off with some homemade zucchini bread!

Pesto Flatbread

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 packaged pizza round or one large tortilla (any flavor/variety)
  • 1 small refrigerated jar of prepared pesto (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • pecorino or parmesan cheese, shaved
  • optional: fresh basil (I had some lying around from this)
  • extra virgin olive oil

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven per the dough or crust directions. You can also use something like Pillsbury dough and lay it out flat and square). On a pizza stone, cookie sheet or round non-stick pizza pan, assemble the flatbread by layering olive oil on the crust (or tortilla), then spread the pesto in an even layer, then top with as much cheese as you’d like, grating as you go. If you have fresh basil, add it on top, tearing off small pieces and adding to your taste. Cook until the edges of the crust are browned, or about 10 minutes. Slice into individual pieces and serve warm.

We decided to call this a “flatbread” since it’s so thin and snackable, even though you make it like a pizza. Calling it a pesto pizza didn’t seem to capture the experience of eating it, since it’s so light and uncomplicated. One of these easily fed three people the afternoon I made it.

I’ll be on vacation next week, but I will share some photos of our trip to Myrtle Beach and Charleston as soon as I’m back! I can’t believe it’s Labor Day weekend already. At least we all got over the stomach bug just in time to take our trip.