My friend Katie has a truly funny mama blog. It's called Katie Anna. Don't read it while you're eating, because you will laugh out loud involuntarily and you may ruin your computer. Anyway, she suggested recently I come up with some good quick supper ideas that work for families, something I'd been thinking about a lot. That's because school has started, along with Brownies and Beavers. And I'm now packing two little lunches (the night before, so far, so good) with the kiddies' likes and dislikes in mind. Even someone who really enjoys cooking can get a little tired of the whole dinner thing, especially with children who don't appreciate their efforts. As my daughter gummed her Duck Confit at one year of age, I had hopes of raising mini epicureans, but now I keep it simple. That way, they don't cry when I put supper on the table.
My weeks go best when I plan a menu. If you enjoy reading food magazines or cookbooks at all (and I'm guessing that if you're reading this, you might) spend some time noting things you'd like to try. Then make a list of your family's tried and true favourites. Think about the week to come and slot things in accordingly. If you get really organized, you can take care of some things when you have the time, like on the weekend. Many prepared soups and casseroles keep well for up to a week, even improving (to a point). Make a grocery list so you're only running to the store once a week.
I was getting a lot of resistance at mealtimes until I discussed the issue with my co-worker, Alexis (remember, your childless friends often have the best parenting advice). She suggested to let the kids pick what's for dinner once a week, thereby winning cooperation, and it's worked really well. My daughter has even taken over cooking that meal (yes!), so we plan something she can handle, like quesadillas or macaroni and cheese. That inspired my son to want to help, too.
Perfectionist mommies and daddies, be flexible about what you call dinner. The first time we ate waffles at 6 pm, I felt guilty. Scrambled eggs and toast with a little fruit on the side might seem weird, but it's nutritionally sane and it's fun (hard to choose a wine, though). The same goes for sandwiches. Set up a Subway-style sandwich bar with roasted chicken or ham, sliced pickles, cucumbers, (in my son's world, these count as two separate vegetables) tomatoes, peppers, cheese and some good bread and condiments. Then place your order.
Other do-ahead Kitchen Witch recipes your kids might enjoy include the Baked Tofu and Thai Pork Burgers (while you top yours with cilantro and chili sauce, they can mask the taste of that nasty basil with ketchup and mustard).
Big Batch Chili
At our house, this is a favourite. The optional toppings make it fun and kid-friendly. You may notice it's vegetarian, but feel free to add a pound of browned ground beef or cooked diced chicken. It makes a big batch but it freezes brilliantly.
1 T. Olive Oil
1 large Onion, diced
2 cloves Garlic
2 Sweet Peppers, diced (green or red or one of each)
4 stalks Celery, diced
3 T. Chili Powder
2 t. Salt
3 Cans of Beans (Black, Kidney and White Beans are nice, but it's your choice!)
2 28 oz cans diced Tomatoes
1 small can Tomato Paste, optional
2 C. frozen or fresh Corn
Topping Ideas: Plain Yogurt or Sour Cream, Shredded Cheese, Sliced Olives, Banana Peppers, Diced Avocado, Hot Sauce, and Crushed Tortilla Chips
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, peppers and celery, and stir and cook for about ten minutes, until softened and aromatic. Add the salt and chili powder, and stir another minute. Add the beans with their liquid, and the tomatoes with all their liquid. Stir up the pot and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low and let cook for about half an hour. Stir in the optional tomato paste and ground beef or chicken if you like, and the corn. The chili is ready to serve once the corn has heated through. Serve the toppings at the table and dig in!
These are really just Mexican grilled cheese sandwiches. Choose a decent whole wheat tortilla and talk your kid into as many vegetables as they can handle (sometimes, that's none). At the Cafe, we mix up a filling of black beans, diced mango, red pepper, charred corn and green onion and place a handful of that on top of the cheese. It's delish.
For each quesadilla:
1 large (or small!) Tortilla
a handful grated Mozzarella or Cheddar Cheese
Refried Beans straight from a can, or process 1 can Black or Kidney Beans with 1 clove Garlic and
1 T. Chili Powder until smooth
1 T. Chili Powder until smooth
Optional Fillings: Diced Peppers, Green or Red Onion, Tomatoes, Corn, Pineapple, Mango, Diced leftover Chicken, Pork or Beef
Salsa and Sour Cream for serving
Preheat the oven to 350° if making a quantity of quesadillas. If you're making only one or two, just heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Spread some beans and sprinkle cheese over the whole tortilla and add as many of the optional toppings as you would like. Place the tortilla in the pan. When the bottom has browned and the cheese has melted, fold the whole thing in half and transfer it to your plate. If you're making lots of quesadillas, fold each quesadilla in half once filled and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 10-15 minutes until filling is hot. Serve with salsa and sour cream on the side.
From the Freezer Meatballs
I got this idea from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food. Meatball in the freezer=money in the bank. Saute them straight from frozen and serve with veggie sticks and mashed potatoes, bake them (no need to thaw) on top of a pizza, or add directly to simmering tomato sauce (yours or the store's) and cook for ten minutes before serving them with spaghetti. Isn't that brilliant? Thanks, Martha.
2 lb. Ground Beef or Pork (or a mix of both)
¼ C. Minced Parsley
3 cloves Garlic, minced
1/2 C. Grated Parmesan Cheese
¼ C. Breadcrumbs
1 t. Salt
Pepper and maybe a grating of fresh Nutmeg
Combine everything in a bowl. Form into about 80 little meatballs, placing each one on a baking sheet. Freeze until solid and store in a resealable plastic bag.