Friday, December 28, 2012

How to Reuse Stuff: Holiday Cards

I bet you have a big, beautiful pile of holiday cards from friends and family right about now, just like we do. While most of them may be photo cards, there will probably be a handful that are the good, old fashioned illustrated kind. Before you toss them, set them aside for a low-effort craft that recycles the cards for the next holiday into gift tags. You may be more inclined to just shell out $1.49 for sheets of peel and stick gift tags, and believe me, I have those too. But this little project is something my mom did with me starting when I was around 7 or 8, and now my kids love to do it. Once you get them started, they may want to do it all on their own. If nothing else, you'll feel a little greener for doing it!

The supplies

  • Illustrated holiday cards (not photo cards)
  • Pinking shears to make a decorative edge when you cut. These are optional - a straight edge with standard scissors is fine too.
  • A hole puncher
  • A "To/From" stamp and ink pad. This is optional - you can write in "To" and "From" yourself.
  • Thin ribbon

How to make gift tags recycled from holiday cards:

  1. With pinking shears or regular scissors, cut out a good image area from a card, making sure that the back side is blank.
  2. Punch a hole near the top edge of the tag.
  3. Use your stamp and ink to add "to" and "from" on the back of the tag or just write it yourself.
  4. Tie a length of thin ribbon through the punched hole.
  5. Now you have cute, semi-homemade gift tags!

Monday, December 17, 2012

One-Dish Dinners: Weekly Menu 12/17

One Dish Family Friendly Dinners

Some evenings, one dish is about all I can handle. Oh, you too? If I can get a protein plus veggies and maybe a pasta or potato into a single dish, I feel like I've gotten away with something.

I have to share some details about how we eat our dinners because yours may go down like this too. Tonight, I tried the Baked Chicken Fajitas for the first time, which I served with baked beans on the side. That's a weird side for fajitas, I know, but I had mistaken the can in my pantry for refried beans earlier in the day. All in all, the dish was a success, but here's how success looked: my husband and I ate the fajitas, assembled the conventional way with lots of hot sauce. My cave woman 9-year old mowed the chicken and onions... then more chicken. My 6 year old ate no chicken, as far as I could tell and stuffed her tortilla with baked beans and shredded cheese, but nothing else, and called it good. My 4 year old ate an empty tortilla, maybe a few beans, a fistful of shredded cheese and a pear that he begged for from our fruit bowl.  I share this because no matter how well composed these home-cooked dinners may look and sound to you in the pictures and descriptions, we always have some level of improv and deconstruction at the table. I say keep calm and keep cooking.

Ziti with Tomatoes, Spinach & Gouda

Baked Ziti with Tomatoes, Spinach and Gouda in a bowl

This veggie-packed dish usually passes the kid taste test because it involves pasta and good cheese. You can also set aside some plain cooked pasta and a few of the ingredients to assemble a separate portion for picky eaters.

Side:  Garlic bread

  • Buy pre-shredded Gouda (my local store offers shredded Gouda now)
Make Ahead Notes 
  • Chop vegetables and set aside for later
  • Shred cheese
  • 8 ounces uncooked ziti
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • 1 cup chopped onion
    1 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
    3 garlic cloves, minced
    1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano
    1 (10-ounce) can Italian seasoned diced tomatoes (such as Rotel Bold Italian)
    4 cups baby spinach
    1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) shredded, smoked Gouda cheese, divided
    Cooking spray

  • Preheat oven to 375°.
  • Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain well.
  • Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and pepper; sauté 5 minutes. Add garlic to pan; sauté 2 minutes or until onion is tender. Stir in tomatoes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add spinach to pan; cook 30 seconds or until spinach wilts, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. 
  • Add pasta and 3/4 cup cheese to tomato mixture, tossing well to combine. Spoon pasta mixture into an 11 x 7-inch baking dish lightly coated with cooking spray; sprinkle evenly with remaining  cheese. 
  • Bake at 375° for 15 minutes or until cheese melts and begins to brown.
Recipe from

Baked Chicken Fajitas

Baked Chicken Fajitas with onions, peppers and tomatoes
Chicken, peppers, onions, tomatoes and fajita seasonings... in one dish!! Though this preparation isn't exactly traditional, it is super convenient and really flavorful.

Sides: Warmed tortillas and toppings such as shredded cheese, sour cream, guacamole, hot sauce

  • Although I haven't tried this, I imagine you could buy a packet of pre-mixed fajita seasoning instead of combining the seasoning blend yourself
 Make Ahead Notes 
  • Coat baking pan with cooking spray; chop the veggies and put them right into the pan for later
  • Chop chicken
  • Mix seasonings
  • You could combine all ingredients ahead and allow the chicken and veggies to marinate in the fridge; bake later

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips (or use boneless, skinless chicken thighs)
  • 1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes, mostly drained
  • 1 (4 ounce) can diced green chilies
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 large bell pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 2 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 flour tortillas, warmed to serve

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 
  • Grease a 13×9 baking dish. Mix together chicken, tomatoes, chilies, peppers, and onions in the dish. 
  • In a small bowl combine the oil and spices. Drizzle the spice mixture over the chicken and toss to coat. Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender. Serve with warmed tortillas and enjoy!

Recipe from SixSistersStuff Blog

Rosemary Chicken with Pesto Potatoes

Roasted Rosemary Chicken with Pesto Potatoes
I went to the store to buy ingredients for one dinner recipe and got totally distracted by a different recipe I spied on a package of Simply Potatoes that I happened to pick up. I was powerless against the suggestion of pesto. Sounded good, and here it is!

Sides: Give yourself a break and buy a salad kit with dressing included. And make one of your kids assemble it if possible.

Make Ahead Notes
  •  Mix up dry seasonings and set aside for later
  • 1 package Simply Potatoes® Diced Potatoes with Onion (I found them in the refrigerated section where eggs are kept)
  • 1/4 cup refrigerated pesto with basil (I used Buitoni)
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 package (approx. 3.5 lbs) fryer chicken pieces, skinned if desired
  • Heat oven to 400°F. Spray 13x9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Stir together Simply Potatoes and pesto until potatoes are well coated. Spread into thin layer in bottom of baking dish. 
  • In small bowl stir rosemary, salt and pepper until well blended. Rub spice mixture over chicken. Arrange chicken, skin side up, on top of potatoes. (NOTE: The chicken cooked just fine, but if you like your skin a bit more crispy, you may want to quickly brown the chicken skin-side down in a pan before placing it in the pan with the potatoes to bake.)
  • Bake, uncovered, 40 to 45 minutes or until juices in chicken run clear. 

Recipe from Simply Potatoes

Chicken and Gruyere Turnovers

Chicken and Gruyere Turnovers made with puff pastry
Seriously, I am a little obsessed with puff pastry right now. I wish you could see the cheesy good stuff inside. I think the fillings could be just about anything you want or have left over - ham and cheese would be really tasty. And these are a perfect accompaniment to soup for an easy weeknight dinner. We ate them with the slow cooker Butternut Squash Soup from a previous Weekly Menu.

Make Ahead Notes 
  • Shred chicken and cheese; if you're pressed for time, just slice the cheese into thin strips
  • Allow the pastry to thaw for about 20 minutes at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Gruyère
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 2 sheets (one 17.25-ounce package) frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard 
  • NOTE:  I recommend sprinkling the filling with salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Heat oven to 400° F. In a medium bowl, combine the chicken, Gruyère, and peas.
  • Open up the puff pastry sheets onto a baking sheet so you have two large rectangles. Cut each sheet of puff pastry in half to form 4 rectangles. Dividing evenly, top half of each rectangle with the chicken mixture. Fold over and seal the turnovers; brush the tops with the egg. Bake until golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve with the mustard. 
Recipe from Real Simple

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cooking from the Pantry: Weekly Menu 12/10

Salmon, Pasta, Meatballls, Potatoes. Family friendly, easy dinners

With all the extra food shopping I do during the holidays, especially for ingredients that I don't usually have on hand, like almond extract or stuffing, I find myself evaluating the pantry staples that I stare at (but don't use up) day in and day out.

Hence this week's pantry raid, where I aimed to use up things like boxes of pasta, bags of rice and cans of diced tomatoes. My pantry is a bit clearer and we had some damn good results, thanks to fantastic recipes from a few of my favorite food bloggers and cooking sites.

In case you also need a pantry purge, here are some other recipes from past Weekly Menus that use up pantry ingredients:

Easy Asian Beef and Noodles: use up packs of Ramen noodles
Roast Sticky Chicken: use up lots of spices 
Vegetarian Burritos: use up canned beans
Italian Sausage Soup: use up cans of broth and diced tomatoes

What do you want to use up in your pantry?

Asian Salmon Bowl with Lime Sauce

 Asian Salmon over rice with broccoli and a lime soy sauce 
 Protein + veggies + rice = a one-bowl meal. Convenient, no?

Sides: With one-bowl meals, sides aren't really necessary, though Mandarin oranges or peeled Clementines would be a good addition.

  • Use pre-cooked, bagged rice such as Trader Joe's or Uncle Ben's Ready Rice
Make Ahead Notes
  • Cook rice ahead if not buying pre-cooked rice
  • Prepare syrup glaze and set aside for later
  • 1 cup jasmine rice
  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 4 salmon fillets (4 ounces each), skin removed
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 2 packages (5 ounces each) baby spinach (or substitute broccoli, but be sure to cook it until just tender)
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
  • Heat oven to 400°F. Cook rice as directed on package. 
  • In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Sauté garlic and pepper flakes until garlic is lightly golden, 1 minute. Add syrup, juice and soy sauce; cook until bubbling, 3 minutes. 
  • In a bowl, combine cornstarch and 1 teaspoon water; stir into garlic glaze. Cook until slightly thick, 1 minute. Arrange fillets on a foil-lined baking sheet. Spread 1 teaspoon glaze over each fillet. Roast until just cooked through, 12 minutes. 
  • In a medium skillet, warm oil over medium heat. Add 1 package spinach; sauté until just wilted. Remove from pan; set aside. Repeat with second package spinach. Divide rice among 4 bowls; top each with 1/4 spinach and 1 salmon fillet, broken into large pieces. Drizzle with remaining sauce; sprinkle each with 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds.
Recipe from Epicurious


 Cider Braised Meatballs

I have been meaning to make this ever since I started reading the amazing blog, Dinner A Love Story. This dish takes just a bit longer to prepare, so save it for a Sunday dinner or a more leisurely weeknight. (What's that??)

Sides: Steamed green beans and buttered egg noodles

Make Ahead Notes
  • Mix up and form meatballs; set aside on a baking pan in the fridge until ready to cook
  • Chop shallot
  • 1 1/4 pounds ground pork
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup plain breadcrumbs 
  • Olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • 2/3 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup apple cider
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • Salt
  • 1 tbsp heavy cream

  • Using your hands, mix together the first seven ingredients and form into golf-ball size meatballs.
  • Set a medium saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add a little olive oil. Brown meatballs on all sides (in batches if necessary) and remove to a plate. They do not have to be cooked all the way through.
  • Add the shallot to the pot and cook 1 minute. Add the white wine, apple cider, cider vinegar, a little salt, and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low, add meatballs back to the pot. Cover and simmer 15-20 minutes.
  • Remove balls from pot, whisk 1 tablespoon heavy cream into the braising liquid. Serve meatballs with sauce spooned on top.
Recipe from Dinner A Love Story

Pasta with Tomatoes, Ricotta & Bacon

Pasta with a sauce of tomatoes, ricotta and bacon, served with broccolini
Although I don't think this was the prettiest looking dish, it tasted great - rich, smoky and cheesy. 

  • Buy pre-chopped onion from the produce section
Make Ahead Notes
  • Chop bacon and put in fridge for later
  • Chop onion and bell pepper
  • 2 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green, red, or yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound pasta, any shape you like
  • Set a pot of water on the stove over high heat and bring to a boil for cooking the pasta.
  • Meanwhile, heat a sauce pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and cook the bacon until just beginning to turn golden and most of the fat is rendered. Add the onion and peppers, and cook until the onions are translucent, about five minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, thirty seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, salt, and red pepper flakes (if using).
  • Let the tomato sauce to simmer while you cook the pasta. Drain the pasta and set aside. Add the ricotta cheese to the tomato sauce. Stir and taste for seasonings.
  • Scoop the pasta into individual bowls and spoon the sauce on top. Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy immediately.
 Recipe from The Kitchn blog

Extra Credit: Crash Hot Potatoes

Smashed, roasted red potatoes with salt and pepper
Extra credit this week is a challenge to mix up your usual potatoes. They are from the Pioneer Woman blog, they are simple and they never fail to be a HIT.

Make Ahead Notes
  • Boil potatoes ahead and allow to cool slightly; do not refrigerate before baking
  • 12 whole New Potatoes (or other small round potatoes)
  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • Kosher Salt to taste
  • Black Pepper to taste
  • Rosemary (or other herbs of choice) to taste 
  • Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add in as many potatoes as you wish to make and cook them until they are fork-tender.
  • On a sheet pan, generously drizzle olive oil. Place tender potatoes on the cookie sheet leaving plenty of room between each potato.
  • With a potato masher, gently press down each potato until it slightly mashes, rotate the potato masher 90 degrees and mash again. Brush the tops of each crushed potato generously with more olive oil.
  • Sprinkle potatoes generously with kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper and fresh chopped rosemary (or chives or thyme or whatever herb you have available.)
  • Bake in a 450 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

 Recipe from The Pioneer Woman blog

Monday, December 3, 2012

Dinners for Sitter Nights: Weekly Menu 12/3

Easy, quick dinners for kids on night when a sitter is coming

It's the most wonderful time of the year - the time when you get to put on a shiny new outfit and head out for an adult evening! Our sitter usually arrives before the kids have had their dinner, and like everyone else, I often default to low or no-cook options like rotisserie chicken, pizza delivery or spaghetti. But sometimes I have a little extra time to prep something homemade and low maintenance for the kids before we go out for the evening. It usually works out when I have a small amount of chicken or ground beef that will easily feed the kids, but isn't quite enough for the whole family.

The recipes below are for quantities to feed a family, so unless you want leftovers, you may want to halve them. Also, you'll notice in the pictures that the side dishes are pretty formulaic around here. Trader Joe's Garlic Naan bread and peas are frequent sides, as are things like buttered egg noodles, Hawaiian rolls, baby carrots and sugar snap peas. I've listed the sides that I might serve with these dinners, but I don't over think it. Sometimes sliced fruit and buttered toast are the sides.

And finally, I went into the wayback machine and made Beer Bread as the Extra Credit this week. I feel like that was something we had a lot when I was a teenager, and was happy to try it again. It tastes great alongside one of the many soups I've been featuring here lately, especially the Butternut Squash Soup and the Italian Sausage Soup.


Easy Baked Fish Fillets

Baked white fish with a citrus mayo and bread crumb topping

 The fish gets a nice, crunchy texture from the bread crumbs. Whenever you have an extra slice or two of white bread, throw them in the freezer and save them for fresh bread crumbs.

Sides: Buttered egg noodles or baked potatoes; green beans or steamed broccoli

Make Ahead Notes 
  • Pulse crust-less white bread in a small food chopper or processor to make crumbs
  • Combine mayo mixture and put in fridge for later
  • Assemble fish completely and put in fridge until ready to bake
  • 1 1/2 pounds grouper or other white fish fillets
  • Cooking spray 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon light mayonnaise
  • 1/8 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs(use crust-less white bread, not wheat)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • Preheat oven to 425°.
  • Place fish in an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Combine lime juice, mayonnaise, onion powder, and pepper in a small bowl, and spread over fish. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs; drizzle with butter. Bake at 425° for 20 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Sprinkle with parsley.
  • Notes: Haddock or cod would make good substitutes for the grouper. Adjust the baking time depending on the thickness of the fish.
 Recipe from MyRecipes

All American Meatloaf

Mini meatloaves with a ketchup-brown sugar topping
I prefer to make mini meatloaves because you get convenient portions and they cook much faster.

Sides: Trader Joe's Garlic Naan bread or tater tots; green peas or baby carrots

  •  Buy pre-chopped onion
Make Ahead Notes
  • Chop onion; use a mini food chopper to make the job even faster
  • Follow all steps below and place in fridge until read to bake
  • 2 lbs ground chuck
  • 3/4 cup uncooked quick cooking oats
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper 
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees; line a baking pan with foil and set a baking rack (if you have one) on top of the foil and lightly coat with cooking spray.
  • Combine first 8 ingredients in a large bowl. Shape mixture into mini meatloaves - about 4"x 2.5" - and place on rack.
  • Combine last 3 ingredients and spoon on top of each meat loaf.
  • Bake for 25 minutes or until done.

Recipe adapted from Southern Living

Deviled Chicken Thighs

Deviled Chicken Thighs with a crispy coating
This recipe can be tailored easily to your family's tastes - instead of Dijon and Worcestershire under the breading, try honey mustard.

Sides: Garlic bread or biscuits; green peas or sugar snap peas with ranch dressing to dip

  •  Use dried parsley instead of fresh
Make Ahead Notes 
  • Prepare chicken completely and set aside in the fridge until you're ready to bake
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh coarse ground black pepper
  • 8 chicken thighs, skin removed 
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 
  • Lightly grease a baking sheet.
  • In a large bowl, mix mustard and Worcestershire sauce until blended.
  • In a pie plate or shallow container, combine bread crumbs, parsley, salt and pepper.
  • Toss chicken thighs in mustard mixture and then coat with crumb mixture.
  • Drizzle melted butter over chicken (this helps them brown)
  • Place on baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, or until juices run clear.
Recipe adapted from

Beer Bread

This bread is super easy, but don't skip sifting the flour unless you want to end up with a hard, chewy texture. Don't have a sifter? Put the flour in a fine mesh colander over a bowl and use a spoon to "brush" the flour back and forth until it sifts into the bowl. 
  • 3 cups flour (sifted - this is a must!)
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 (12 ounce) can beer
  • 1/2 cup melted butter (1/4 cup will do just fine) 
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Mix dry ingredients and beer.
  • Pour into a greased loaf pan.
  • Pour melted butter over mixture.
  • Bake 1 hour, remove from pan and cool for at least 15 minutes.

Recipe from