Monday, August 6, 2012

Weekly Menu: 8/6


It’s only fitting that during the Olympics, we should have a bit of an “around the world” menu, with Greek, Mexican, Italian and Asian flavors. Here’s the deal – in our house, I want family dinners that are varied in flavor enough to keep the adults’ interest piqued, but appealing enough for the small people to eat it. Strategy #1: I include at least one or two familiar and kid-friendly items at each dinner, like pasta, pan-roasted chicken, meatballs, tomato sauce, soy sauce or rice. Then, I can layer in in things like baby spinach, cilantro and feta cheese, which have a fighting chance in the bigger context of the meal. 

Right now, I’m reading a book in which a character has lived his life by the philosophy “act as if,” as in act confidently, act like you know what you’re doing and assume fabulous, best-possible-outcome results will come your way. That philosophy seems like a great way to approach family meals if your sanity is being tested by a picky eater. “Act as if everyone will try it and like it. Act as if the kids will not ask for cereal instead.”  

But in case you’re not quite ready to “act as if,” here’s Strategy #2: When serving said familiar items, always set some aside – such as plain pasta or meatballs untouched by sauce – out of the line of vision. If you have a hard core protester at the table, you can whip out “plain” items as a last resort. It’s a compromise without having to serve a whole different dinner. Guess it’s not so much as Strategy #2 as Plan B.

Happy meal planning and cooking! What looks good to you this week?


Vegetarian Burritos

Here’s your chance to go meatless during the week.

Sides: Roasted Corn, Avocado & Bean Salad (see last recipe at end of this post for ingredients and instructions) and tortilla chips

  • Buy pre-shredded cheese
  • Get layered Mexican dip at your grocery store and serve alongside the burritos instead of separate toppings
  • Use pre-cooked, bagged rice, such as Uncle Ben’s
Make Ahead Notes:
  • Cook rice earlier in the day, if not buying pre-cooked rice
  • You can make the whole thing early in the day, cover it and throw it in the fridge to bake later. If you do that, wait to put the salsa and cheese on until right before baking. Sometimes I’ll prep this while the kids eat breakfast because the effort level is that low. If you have the pre-cooked rice, you can make these up in about 15-20 minutes, tops.
Ingredients for shopping list:
  • 10 flour tortillas
  • 1 can refried beans
  • 1 can pinto or black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can of Mexican style diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 envelope of taco seasoning
  • 8 oz. shredded Cheddar cheese, plus extra for sprinkling on top of burritos
  • 2 cups of cooked rice, white or brown (if using pre-cooked, bagged rice, follow package directions to warm)
  • 1 cup of salsa (I prefer the fresh kind found in tubs in refrigerated section at grocery store)
  • Chopped green onions (optional)
  • Toppings to go on burritos: sour cream, chopped green onions, guacamole, salsa, hot sauce

Cooking Instructions:
  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Lightly coat a 9x13 pan with cooking spray
  • In a large skillet over medium heat, stir together all beans, tomatoes with juice and taco seasoning. The refried beans will be chunky, so gently break them up as you mix. When mixture is heated through and well-combined, about 3-5 minutes, remove from heat.
  • Set up an assembly line with the tortillas, the rice in a bowl, the cheese in a bowl, the tomato-bean mixture in the pan and the baking dish on the end.
  • One by one, fill tortillas with about 3 tbsp. each of rice, tomato mixture and cheese. Try to save some cheese to sprinkle on top of burritos when baking. Roll up each tortilla gently and place seam-side down in pan. The amounts of rice, tomatoes/beans and cheese that go into each burrito don’t matter much – you really can’t go wrong. You may find that you fill only 6 burritos because you like them fuller, or 8-10 if you go a little lighter on the filling. Pour salsa over burritos and sprinkle extra cheese on top.
  • Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes, or until heated through. Remove foil and cook 5 more minutes or so until the cheese on top is slightly browned and melty.

Asian Flank Steak


Find the recipe on Epicurious

Sides: Fried rice, steamed green beans, tossed with a drizzle of sesame oil and S&P

Ingredients for shopping list:
  • 1/2 cup dry Sherry (substitute white wine if you don’t have Sherry)
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 ½ tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
  • 1 (1 ½ - to 1 ¾ -pound) flank steak

  • Buy frozen vegetable fried rice, such as Trader Joe’s version. Doctor it up when it’s heated through by stirring in a few dashes of soy sauce and a teaspoon of hoisin sauce if you have it.

Make Ahead Notes:
  • Assemble marinade with steak in the morning so it’s ready to grill in the evening
  • Rinse and cut veggies in the morning and put them in a steamer bag with a splash of water to cook later.

Orzo with Shrimp, Feta Cheese & White Wine


Find the recipe on Epicurious

Side: Crusty Italian bread

  • Use pre-grated Parmesan cheese
  • Buy frozen, raw shrimp that are already peeled and de-veined

Make Ahead Notes:
  • If using fresh, grate the Parmesan cheese ahead, lightly cover and put in fridge for later
  • If using frozen shrimp, place them in a colander and run cool water over them for a minute or two to start defrosting. Drain and place in a covered bowl in the fridge until ready to cook.
  • Rinse, dry and chop basil to use later. If you have a kid who’s handy with scissors, have them cut up the basil with a clean pair.

Ingredients for shopping list:
  • 8 ounces orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 pound uncooked medium shrimp, peeled, de-veined
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 (14.5)-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
  •  1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper (optional)
  • Loaf of crusty Italian bread

Italian Meatball Sliders

 Find the recipe on MyRecipes

The sliders are easy, but take a bit longer to prepare, so save it for a Sunday or a relaxed weeknight. I double the recipe, which means cooking the meatballs in batches. Cool any extra cooked meatballs completely and freeze for another night.

Side: Spinach and mozzarella salad - find the recipe on Cooking Light

Make Ahead Notes:
  • Chop up shallots for meatballs and bell pepper, onion and mozzarella for salad; cover and store in the fridge for later. Store mozzarella separately.
  • Rinse and dry basil leaves
  • Measure out dry seasonings in a small bowl

Ingredients for shopping list:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil + more for salad
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 shallots, finely diced
  • 1/3 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces lean ground pork
  • 2 (4-ounce) links turkey Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 ½  cups lower-sodium marinara sauce
  • 12 slider buns, toasted
  • 12 basil leaves
  • 1 cup julienne cut red bell pepper
  • 1 cup sliced red onion
  • 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 6 cups baby spinach
  • About 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh mozzarella

Instructions for salad: Combine red bell pepper, red onion, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar in a large bowl; let stand 15 minutes. Add the baby spinach, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Toss. Top with the fresh mozzarella.

Chicken with Honey-Balsamic Glaze

Find the recipe on

Sides: Near East Pearl Couscous with Roasted Garlic &Olive Oil, steamed Brussels sprouts or green veg of choice with S&P and a little butter. Brighten up the couscous mix by stirring in a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a few pinches of fresh chopped parsley or chives if you have them just before serving.

Make Ahead Notes:
  • Combine dry seasonings for chicken in a small bowl and set aside for later
  • If using the parsley, rinse, dry and chop it to use later. If you have a kid who’s handy with scissors, have them cut up the parsley with a clean pair.

Ingredients for shopping list:
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 4 (4 ounce) boneless skinless chicken breast halves
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • A little white wine or chicken broth (not in the recipe, but I recommend adding a tbsp of wine or broth to the honey-balsamic pan sauce to thin it a bit)
  • 1 lemon
  • Fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

Extra Credit: Roasted Corn, Avocado & Bean Salad


Make a batch of this to eat over several days as a healthy snack or lunch. Only add the avocado right before serving.

Ingredients for shopping list:
  • I can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • ½ bag of Trader Joe’s roasted corn, defrosted
  • 1-2 ripe, diced avocadoes (add this last, right before serving)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro (if cilantro’s not your thing, try diced red onion or green onions instead)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Instructions: Combine all ingredients in a bowl and gently toss to combine. Add the avocado right before serving to avoid it going brown. You can tailor this salad easily to your liking with add-ins like different beans, chopped fresh tomatoes or garlic. And here’s how to turn it into a fast app: buy the “scoops” tortilla chips and spoon about a tablespoon of this salad into each chip to serve.

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