What it's all about:

Each week I will put together an easy, kid friendly menu for a week's worth of meals, cooking tips and a shopping list so all you have to do is go to the store. It's an online support system to help you eat better and easier.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Perfect 'Dinner for Four' Dessert

My husband has much better manners than I do and whenever we are invited to dinner at a friends house he always insists we bring something. Which I guess normal people think to do, mostly I'm just excited someone else is responsible for dinner that night. But, the flip side for me is that when I'm hosting dinner, I don't expect my guests to bring anything so it honestly doesn't enter my mind.

A frequent item to bring for a dinner would be wine or a dessert. Wine is great, easy, portable. Dessert can be tricky. Cooking, transportation, planning, etc. Plus the issue of what to bring. A cake? A plate of brownies? Pie? Cookies? That tends to be a lot of dessert for four people. How much baking is required and is stopping at the store for a store bought dessert acceptable? And then, do you leave the plate? Does it get washed?

So many issues...

Then I came across this recipe for Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding. Which more accurately should be called Banana Bread Pudding with Chocolate Chips.

This is perfectly proportioned for four people, with maybe a little leftover but really it's so good that will get scooped up quickly too.

It is incredibly easy to put together ahead of time and then once at your hosts house, pop it in when you sit for dinner and it will be perfectly ready just in time for dessert. Or cook ahead and reheat before serving, either way, serve warm!

4 Eggs
2 Cups Milk
1 Cup Sugar
1 tbsp Vanilla Extract
4 Cups cubed french bread (or any white bread)
2 bananas sliced
1 Cup Semisweet chocolate chips

Mix everything together and pour into a Greased 9x5 loaf pan, then ignore the rest of the instructions on the allrecipes site completely.

All you need to do is stick it in the oven for about 45-55 minutes at 350 degrees. Just until the top is golden brown.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Week 4 (on time!) - Vegetable & Rice Skillet, Slow Cooker Chicken Pot Pie, Tacos and Muffin Mac!

I am officially obsessed with food in muffin tins. It's fun. It's different. It's single serving sized and perfect for gatherings. Not that we gather much anymore, but it's nice to think of all the great ideas we could bring to parties when we once again have a social life!

In all honesty, this week's cooking was a little more challenging than last week's. It makes a huge difference when you have a happy baby and a helpful 3 year old. This week I did not have that and when I started the cooking process on Saturday I actually had two screaming, fighting maniacs that made it a little more difficult than I had anticipated. My one year old has developed a habit of grabbing fistful's of the older girls hair and yanking mercilessly when mad about something. Of course, that something is usually that the three year old has taken a toy away, so it's hard to feel really sorry, but even so, hair pulling is a little much. 

That being said, I split this into two evenings because everything took a little longer than expected. On Saturday I made the crock pot dinner and the chicken/rice skillet dinner. On Sunday I put the mac n cheese together and heated up the ham and a bag of frozen peas. I have not made the tacos and actually have that in reserve for later in the week since all that is required for prep is cooking up the beef.

In another bout of honesty, I completely messed up the crock pot meal. It still tastes great but the house was so chaotic that I put veggies from the skillet dinner into the crock pot and vice versa so what I ended up with isn't quite what you'll end up with (unless you'd like to borrow a couple of maniac children to scream at you while you cook...or you may have your own already and this isn't anything new). The original crock pot recipe was for 16 servings and it what I made, but I literally ran out of room in my (very large) crock pot so I've sized it down for you here to make it a little more reasonable.

(with chicken)


Start 1 cup of rice in the rice cooker (unless you would like to use 1 cup instant rice)**.

Chop two chicken breasts, spray with oil, S&P, cook for 18 minutes or until done, set aside.

Into Crock pot toss:
Two (raw) cubed chicken breasts
5 quartered potatoes
half of an 8 oz bag baby carrots (I chopped mine, but you don't need to)
1/2 cup chopped celery
Can Cream of Chicken Soup
3 Cubes Chicken Bouillon
1 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp celery salt
1 1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 bag frozen mixed veggies (or more, more veggies never hurts)

Cook on low for 4 to 4.5 hours (I never cook chicken longer than that in the crock pot, but check yours for done-ness and cook longer if needed). I then put the whole thing in the fridge for another night. The night you plan on serving, cook up the Grands Biscuits and spoon Chicken and potato mix over the biscuits. Mine didn't come out very creamy, was actually very thin, and the consensus was it is more of a stew than Chicken Pot Pie. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it still tasted good.
After you get the crock pot going:

Heat 1 tbs oil in a pan. 
Slice up the zucchini and 1/2 a cup of green pepper and saute for approx 5 minutes until pepper starts to soften.
Drain & Rinse Black Beans. 
Add beans and tomatoes w/garlic
1/2 cup water **
Bring to a boil

**(I intensely dislike instant rice. There's a weird texture/taste to it that I can't quite deal with so I cooked my own regular rice first. I decreased the water to 1/2 a cup instead of 3/4 a cup. If you choose to do instant rice, add the full 3/4 cup water and once the mix is boiling, add your instant rice, let sit for 5 minutes to absorb).**

Once boiling add cooked rice and chicken. 
I also added 1/2 tsp celery salt and 1/2 tsp of oregano because there were no other spices in this and I was worried about it being bland. Those are completely optional though and up to you.

Remove from heat and mix well. Let sit a few minutes for the rice to absorb some of the liquid.

Serve topped with shredded Cheddar Jack cheese.

That's where I stopped for day one. There wasn't enough mind or will power to continue in the face of screaming toddlers. We had the chicken/rice skillet for dinner and was probably the only time all day that Ali was happy, saying 'mmm, this is good!' with every bite. 

Sunday I heated the ham up in the oven while I got the mac and cheese ready, which, by the way, is so tasty!! It didn't hold together in the muffin tins after baking like I had hoped, but they tasted amazing so I was willing to live with the disappointment. ;) 

Be aware, once you start the saucepan portion of this, you need a solid 10 minutes of paying attention or you will burn it.

Cook 8 oz of macaroni (half a regular 1 lb box).
Spray muffin tins and sprinkle with Parmesan. 
In a large saucepan, melt 1 1/2 tbs butter.
Whisk in the flour (the recipe says two minutes, but I just whisk until it's mixed).
Whisk in the milk, I recommend pouring slowly with one hand while continuing to whisk with the other, keeps the flour/butter from clumping too much.
Allow milk to boil for approx 5 minutes, continuing to whisk regularly or you'll burn the milk.
Add 1 cup shredded cheddar and 4 oz (approx 5 slices) American cheese and keep whisking.
Remove from heat once the cheese is melted, the mix will be getting very sticky.
Whisk in one egg yolk and 1/4 tsp paprika and then mix in the macaroni.

**!!!**!!! Please DO NOT use the whisk to stir in the macaroni!**!!!***!!!

Yeah, I totally did that and ended up with a whisk full of cheesy macaroni mess and had a terrible time getting it all out.

Spoon macaroni into prepared tins, sprinkle with Parmesan and bake 10 minutes at 425 degrees.

When you put the mac & cheese in the oven, start the pot of water for your frozen veggies and serve everything with the ham. Perfect dinner for a three and one year old.

Later in the week, should you run out of left overs, saute the beef with the taco seasoning and serve on tortillas with sour cream, salsa and remaining cheddar and/or cheddar jack cheese. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Week Three(ish) - Creamy Chicken Casserole, Baked chicken nuggets, Meatballs and Lasagna cups

Too much to even get into. January was a complete bust. We're all just lucky to have survived. Flu, Sinus Infection, Bronchitis, it just didn't stop. My poor parents are still sick from having to come take care of all us invalids and getting infected in the process.

Back to it!

My new favorite addiction is iamafoodblog.com. A week or so ago I started looking around online to find some new sources of dinners and this one is so great. Some recipes are super easy, some are a little harder but everything I've tried so far has been worth the effort, and in less than two weeks I've made three of her recipes. If you like bacon (and who doesn't?) you have to try the jalapeno bacon twists. Even if you're hesitant on the jalapeno part, trust me, after cooking for 30 minutes and baking with cheesy goodness, it's not all that hot.

Granted she's living that kid free life that I both envy and don't envy all at the same time and has time for things like cooking Sunday Brunch (!??!) so you have to cut her some slack for those posts.

This week's dinner is all pretty basic stuff, but tasty and a little fun (mini lasagna from iamafoodblog). I'm on a big salad kick right now so two of the dinners have a super fast salad option included. Super fast = bag of greens, cherry tomatoes, green onion (the only thing requiring slicing) and feta cheese.

Here's to the hope of a healthy rest of the winter!!

Shopping List

(with Potato Wedges and Green beans)

Meatballs (with rolls or pasta) and Salad

Now, first off, I know you just clicked the link to the mini lasagna cup recipe and probably saw that it is made using wonton wrappers. DO NOT FEAR THE WONTON! I promise your store has them. And yes, you will have to ask where they are. I know my grocery store pretty well and couldn't for anything figure out where they were hidden. Find the store employee who really knows the store, not the teenager stocking shelves who works there part time after school for a couple hours. My grocery store guru knew right where they were, in the produce section with the fancy mushrooms. Figures, the one refrigerated section I did not check. Never thought that wontons would be in produce.

Here's the dinner breakdown. Mini lasagna's are crazy good and best that night, so plan on those (with super quick salad) for dinner on night one and then the rest either prepped or fully cooked for eating during the week. Another quick note on the mini lasagna's, my version includes beef. My husband does not consider a meal without meat acceptable. Also, apparently it's a Parmesan week. I didn't notice it until I was cooking on Sunday and saw that almost every recipe includes Parmesan. Whoops. Hope you like cheese!

Step by Step
Defrost your spinach.

Cook one cup of rice in your rice cooker (or on the stove) and set aside.

Cook green beans (I dumped two cans worth, with juice, into a Pyrex bowl and microwaved it for 2 1/2 minutes, done).

Cut up one and a half chicken breasts (approx 12 oz) into small chunks, spray with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake at 350 for approx 18 min or until done.

Cut up the rest of the chicken breasts into nugget sized chunks and set aside.

Medium Bowl 1
2 cups sliced mushrooms
3/4 cup chopped red & yellow peppers
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves minced garlic

Small Bowl 2
1/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp pepper

Medium Bowl 3
1 lb ground beef
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 small onion diced (recipe calls for the full onion, but I ended up with massive amounts of diced onion left in the bowl and didn't have enough beef to work in, so I suggest adjusting to half an onion)
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
3/4 tsp oregano
3/4 tsp crushed red pepper (if you have kids who are picky about spicy foods you may want to cut this back to 1/4 tsp, I used the full 3/4 and it's just a little spicy for my three year old. My husband and I think they're fantastic, but for a family friendly version, you might want to cut back).
1 dash hot sauce (see note above)
1 1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup skim milk
1/4 cup Parmesan
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs

Medium Bowl 4
3 eggs whisked with 2 tbs milk

Gallon Baggie 1
2 cups bread crumbs (I used panko)
1 cup Parmesan
1 tsp each of: Salt, Parsley, Pepper, Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp each of: Onion Powder, Oregano, Basil

Gallon Baggie 2
1/2 cup Parmesan
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp pepper & pepper

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet.
Add contents of Medium Bowl 1 (veggies) and sautee until onions and peppers are soft.
Add contents of small bowl 2 (flour), mix and then immediately:
Add 2 cups of milk, defrosted spinach, 1/4 cup of Parmesan, cooked rice and cooked chicken.
Spray 9x13 casserole pan and dump contents of skillet into pan.
Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Cover with foil.
Either bake now or bake the night you plan on eating it.
350 Covered for 20 min.
Uncover, and bake for 10 more.

Take Medium Bowl 3 (beef) and mush it all up together.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (or spray with oil) and make meatballs.
Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes.
Attempt to not eat them all immediately out of the oven (I came pretty close to failing on that one).
Serve later in the week, on rolls with pasta sauce and a super quick salad.

Now for Gallon Baggie #1 (bread crumbs) and Medium Bowl 4 (eggs/milk)
The recipe on the blog I follow shows using wire cooling racks to cook the chicken. I do have one, and only one, but I'm fairly sure it's my sisters, and I'm not confident in it's ability to be cooked. So, I used baking sheets with aluminum foil and a little cooking spray for good measure. You may also notice that her recipe calls for 6 chicken breasts and at this point in the process you should have about 4.5 breasts to use. I did all 6, and then realized that she cooks for 6 kids plus two adults (ok the baby doesn't eat chicken yet) but proportionally she tends to make more. I currently have enough chicken nuggets to feed an army (of 6 children) instead of me, my husband and our 3 and 1 year old. Here I cut it down for you a bit for a family of 4 or 5.
Take the raw chicken that you previously chopped up and set aside. Using a slotted spoon, spoon about a quarter of the chicken into the eggs, and then using the same spoon, into the baggie.
Spoon out and onto prepared baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
Bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes.
Again, attempt to not eat them all immediately out of the oven.
Store for dinner later in the week and serve with Green Beans and Potatoes (below).

Peel the two potatoes and cut into slices.
Place slices into Gallon Baggie #2 (Parmesan and spices).
Place in a single layer on sheets lined with foil and/or sprayed with oil (I forgot to spray and had a terrible time getting them off the pan in one piece).
Bake at 425 for 25 minutes.


And now, the mini lasagna's. These were so fun and so easy that my three year old put them together. Literally.

Spray muffin tin.
Layer wonton
approx 1 tsp of ricotta
approx 1 tbs beef
spoonful of sauce
sprinkle of mozzarella
basil leaf

And then repeat for a second layer, sprinkle a little more mozzarella on top (because there's always a reason for more cheese) and bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes. Watch them if your oven runs hot because the wontons will get over crispy if unattended. Top with another basil leaf and serve with a super quick salad.