What's Up World: South African Vegetable and Bean Stew

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Welcome to week 4 of our What’s Up World series—each week my children and I read about a different county and cook a meal from that location. Our travels this week took us down to South Africa, a country that’s on my personal bucket list to visit one day (and for now, this will have to do!). We read about the idea that South Africa is sometimes called the rainbow country because people from so many different countries have settled there. You could say the same about the city where my family lives, too—we’re a part of a community where there is a lot of diversity of race, nationality, and religion—and I appreciated the opportunity to reinforce what I always tell my children at home: that God made everyone different and everyone special. In the book, the narrator's meal choices also hit home—he ate cereal for breakfast and macaroni and cheese for lunch. And then we got to the narrator’s dinner and the kids almost fell out of their seats. On his family table was tripe, a disguised word for sheep stomach. My kids begged me that the meal we choose to make NOT be tripe, and I agreed that it was something that none of us could stomach (<—see what I did there?).

So instead I consulted with my friend Sharon from www.cookingwithkidsNY.com who teaches international cooking classes and whose trips have taken her around the globe. She suggested that we make Githeri, an African stew made of beans, vegetables and spices. It sounded perfect!

Admittedly, this recipe required a lot of chopping, but my kids didn't mind one bit. The boys are thrilled any time they get to use their knives (we use these kid-friendly ones from Curious Chef), and they went to work chopping up peppers and scallions while I handled the the heartier potatoes and carrots.

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Once the veggies were all in the pot, we took turns smelling spices: curry, ginger, and coconut cream. I love watching their reaction. My 3 year old loved the smell of the curry while my 6 year  old wrinkled up his nose at the same smell. They both agreed that coconut cream was something we should  have every day, and it was hard to get them to stop sneaking tastes.

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Lastly, we dumped everything in a slow cooker and let it do its thing. On busy summer days it’s such a treat to come home to a done dinner and spend an extra half hour at the park rather than forcing everyone to retreat early so I can cook.

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For fun, I served this over alphabet-shaped pasta, but rice, quinoa or pita bread would make a nice substitution.

Getting kids to eat new flavors can be challenging, but getting them involved in the cooking process almost always guarantees that they'll try it.  If I were to serve this blindly, I can bet that it would have been a struggle for them to take a bite. But this time, they ate it happily and proudly showed my husband what they had made.

I too enjoyed the flavors and I plan to experiment with other vegetables depending on what's in season. This meal would freeze easily, so you could even make it in bulk and then freeze a portion for the future.

But for now, we're closing out our chapter in South Africa, and flying back to Asia. China, we're coming for you!

 

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GITHERI (vegetable and bean stew) makes 6 servings

Ingredients: 2 ears of corn, cut off the cob (or 2 cups of frozen corn kernals 2 cans of pinto or kidney beans* 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes 1 onion, diced 3 cloves garlic, minced 2" ginger, peeled and grated 3 scallions, sliced 1 potato, chopped 2 carrots, chopped 1 green pepper, chopped 1 tbsp curry powder 1 1/2 cups of coconut cream 1/2 tsp salt 1/4 tsp pepper handful of cilantro, chopped (additional ingredients only needed if cooking on a stovetop) 1 tbsp butter 1 tbsp olive oil 1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

Directions: (for the slow cooker) Add all ingredients to a slow cooker through cilantro and mix well. Set on low and cook for 8 hours. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with cilantro.

(for the stovetop) Heat a large dutch oven on medium heat and add the vegetable oil and butter. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add curry powder and cook another 1-2 minutes. Add tomato puree to the pot. Reduce the heat to a low simmer for 5 minutes or until the mixture thickens a bit. Add the potato, pepper, carrots, scallion, corn, beans, vegetable stock, coconut cream, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally for 20-30 minutes until vegetables are soft. Add cilantro and cook several minutes for the flavors to mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

*Traditional canned beans contain a high amount of sodium. Rinse before using or look for low sodium or organic beans instead.

What's Up World: Indian Spiced Chicken Kebabs

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We're continuing our virtual trip to the beautiful county of India (if you're new here, you can learn more about our adventure HERE to join us--it's never to late!). This country, I told the boys, was ALL THE WAY around the world, and they used that information to spend the next three minutes fighting over who could spin the globe to the other side because nothing brings out that special side of siblings like summer vacation. Once both had the opportunity to spin that very object that's on display every day but otherwise gets ignored lest the other shows interest, we moved on to reading all about this special country. IMG_6299

Like the book we read about Brazil, the story about India was narrated by a school-aged girl, and this one had 56 kids in her class. I was surprised to learn that schools are so full in India, that students are divided into two groups--those who attend school in the morning and others who go in the afternoon--to keep up with the demand. We finished the book and I couldn't wait to move on to trying the recipe.

I wouldn't dream about writing about Indian cuisine without consulting my friend Kanchan who grew up there but now lives in Brooklyn. Her cookbook and blog, Spice Spice Baby, include recipes that span from babyhood to adulthood and will inspire you to experiment with all different kind of spices. She also has a Ph.D. in Biomedicine from Harvard (#girlpower for real!) and I love how she incorporates the information about healing power of various spices into her cuisine.

We decided to make these super flavorful chicken kebabs from her cookbook that happened to be her childhood favorite food. On her son's first trip to India, her mother cooked these same kebabs for him, and he devoured them just as she had done as a kid! I personally like using familiar foods as a vehicle for introducing new flavors, so I was excited to make these with my kids. Plus, anything on a stick is always fun to eat and inevitably turns into a kebab sword fight. Ah, boys.

I chopped up the onion, garlic and ginger while the kids picked off  leaves off cilantro and mint. I set out a cutting board and asked them to put the stems in one pile and the leaves in the other, and they went right to it. We also took turns smelling the ginger, garam masala, garlic, and herbs. Once we blended up the herb mixture in the food processor, I sealed off that and the chicken in a large zip lock bag, and the kids got to squish it around to evenly distribute. I left the kebab skewering to yours truly because there wouldn't be enough bandaids in the house to cover the potential boo-boo damage otherwise.

 

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My whole family ate these right up, including my 1 year old whose chicken I chopped into tiny bite size pieces. These make a great flavorful food for baby-led weaning. Introducing infants to a variety of herbs and spices can make them better eaters--in fact studies show that the more flavors a baby is exposed to before age 1 translates to the more variety of foods they eat at age 7.

 

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We're having so much fun with this series, and can't wait to land in our next stop: Italy!

 

Chicken Kebabs with Garam Masala, Mint and Cilantro

makes 12 kebabs

Ingredients:

½ small red onion, roughly chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

A fistful of fresh cilantro (leaves and soft stems)

4-6 mint leaves

1 teaspoon peeled and grated ginger

1 teaspoon garam masala (make your own as in Page X or store-bought)

1 teaspoon salt

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or tenderloins, chopped into 1 inch pieces

Coconut oil

Lemon juice

Directions:

In a food processor,  blend together the first 7 ingredients until onion, and herbs are minced and mixed well. Transfer meat and herb mixture to a a gallon sized ziplock bag and mix well. 

Mold the meat mixture into 2-inch long kebabs and set aside.

Heat a grill pan or skillet to medium and brush lightly with coconut oil. Cook the kebabs, turning them every minute or so for 10-12 minutes to ensure even cooking all around. Brush the kebabs with coconut oil while cooking, every few minutes, to prevent them from drying out. If cooking in batches, avoid over-crowding and brush the skillet with more oil as needed between batches. Check one kebab for doneness – it should not be pink in the middle.

Serve with a cilantro and mint yogurt sauce or enjoy with a squeeze of lemon.  Freeze the cooked kebabs for up to 3 months – just thaw and reheat on a grill pan before serving.

What's Up World: Brazilian Empanadas

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Welcome to the first week of our What’s Up World weekly summer series! For the next six weeks, we’re going to be taking an imaginary trip around the globe, reading one book from the Living in Around the World Collection and making a recipe that represents that country. (You can read more about the series by CLICKING HERE.)

Remember the international vacations you used to take with your spouse before you had children—the afternoons spent wandering down foreign cobblestone streets, sauntering through museums, and enjoying a leisurely glass of wine at at outdoor cafe? This is nothing like that. (What? You have kids now.) Instead, we’ll be exploring different cultures from the comfort of your own kitchen. There are no pricey plane tickets, no museum meltdowns, and no judgement if you choose to pour yourself a glass while you cook, because cooking with kids can have a common side effect of driving parents to drink. I kid, I kid.

We started our trip in Brazil, and I was surprised to see how interested my 3 and 6 year old boys were in learning about the country and locating it on our globe. This particular book about Brazil was narrated by a school aged boy that my kids could easily identify with. Like them, he lives in an apartment in the city and wears a uniform to school. I liked that the boys could see themselves in the narrator, and we talked about how his life would be similar and different to theirs. I personally have found that motherhood is a role that makes the world seem so much smaller since we all share many of the same struggles and joys, and I hope that on some level, this book helped my kids feel this way too.

For the recipe, we went with a traditional Brazilian baked empanada that they refer to as Pastel al Forno made with chorizo, potato, and bell peppers. In Brazil, they typically bake their empanadas instead of frying them, which makes for a healthier recipe and a quicker clean-up. I did most of the chopping in advance, and the boys helped me (I use the term "help" very loosely--ha!) by taking turns sauteeing the filling, spooning the filling into the disks, wetting the edges of the disks, and poking holes in the top with a fork so that the steam could escape. These type of empanadas, I told them, were Brazil's version of fast food--something you could grab and go as an afternoon snack or quick meal--though they were disappointed that I didn't know if kids' meals in Brazil came with a toy.

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It's been a while since I've cooked with my kids--evenings in the school year are just too chaotic--but I was pleasantly reminded how excited the kids were to have a hand in making the recipe and trying it. They couldn't wait to try the finished product and were so thrilled to shove food into their sister's mouth  offer their sister bites of what they made. For us, this recipe was a huge success (my oldest ate 3!), and I believe it was partly because they helped out and also because the elements inside the filling were familiar enough--they're used to eating sausage, potatoes, and peppers. I'm planning on making this again and using it for lunchbox stuffers throughout the week.

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You can also make extra filling by doubling the recipe below. Alone, it makes a delicious hash that you could top with a fried egg.

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Here's hoping the next stop will be as successful. Join us next week as we head halfway around the world to India!

Chorizo, Potato, and Pepper Empanadas

makes 12 empandas

Ingredients:

1 package refrigerated pie crusts, cut into 12  1 1/2 in circles and then rolled out with a rolling pin until they are a 3 inch diameter*

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1 garlic clove, minced

3 chorizo links, diced

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1/2 green pepper, diced

1 small russet potato, diced

1 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper

Directions:

Make filling: Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add chorizo, onion, peppers and potato to the saucepan, and stir until vegetables and potato are fork tender, around 10-15 minutes. Add garlic and oregano, salt and pepper and cook for 2 minutes more. Cool filling to room temperature.

Form empanadas. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place a small bowl of water next to the disks. Place 12 disks on a lightly floured surface, and spoon 2 tablespoons of filling into the center of the disk. Dip your fingers in the water, and run them around the outer edges of the disk. Fold dough in half and seal the edges with a fork. Flip the disk and use the fork to crimp the other side. Poke a hole in the top of the empanada, brush with olive oil, and place on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining 11 disks.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until empanadas are golden. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*You can also use empanada discos found in the freezer section of the grocery stores--just be sure to buy the variety that are meant for baking not frying.

An Easter Classic: Grandma's Macaroni Pie

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I interrupt this recipe to share breaking news: A new highly scientific study found that calories consumed on holidays don't actually count. Are you convinced yet? Good, because you're going to need eggs (1 dozen), plain old white spaghetti (1 pound) and a teeny half pound of salty cheese. Are you still here?To the one person who hasn't clicked away in horror, you won't regret this. Because dishes created by authentic Italian Grandmas don't usually come with a recipe. But lucky for you, this was well studied as I made this alongside my grandma who told me every ingredient was measured "to taste." Hmmm... In case you're wondering exactly what the heck this is, macaroni pie is a classic Italian Easter tradition and something I look forward to every year. Unlike what its name suggests, macaroni pie isn’t actually a pie, it’s more like baked macaroni and cheese that’s cut into squares and served as an appetizer. But even that doesn't do it justice. It's salty from the freshly grated pecorino cheese, spicy from the large heap of pepper, and perfect in every way, You could serve it with a side of garlicky tomato sauce to dip, or even mixed in some steamed and chopped broccoli, but I like the way it is in its classic form--a no-frills, 4-ingredient classic.

Grandma’s Macaroni Pie

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter a 9×13 pan. Cook one pound of spaghetti according to the package directions. In a bowl, whisk one dozen eggs, 1/2 pound grated Pecorino cheese, and one tablespoon black pepper. Add the cooked spaghetti to the egg mixture (eggs will begin to cook a little, but that’s okay). Pour mixture into the prepared pan and spread into an even layer. Bake for one hour, covered with foil, until a fork comes out clean.

Better baby food: zucchini with nut-free pesto (plus a bonus family recipe of pesto chicken risotto!)

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One of the most common questions I get from parents who are making their own baby food is "What's next?"Once their baby has moved beyond single-ingredient purees, they're ready to introduce more flavors, but aren't quite sure where to start. The baby phase when your little one is happily gobbling up everything is THE best time to introduce a whole variety of foods. In fact, studies show that babies who are exposed to a variety of flavors before age 1 eat a wider variety of foods at age 6. Talk about a victory for pickiness!

My philosophy has always been to cook once for everyone in our family--and with three kids 5 and under, it's a true sanity saver. For this recipe, I used both the zucchini and one batch of nut-free pesto to create meals for everyone from my 10-month old baby to my 40-year-old husband and everyone in between. My kids love pesto--they call it their favorite green sauce, and we put it on everything: as a spread on a sandwich, stirred into risottos, and tossed with pasta. I used a nut-free version here since I'm not quite ready to introduce nuts to the baby, and so that I dont have to worry about sending the kids to school with it on a sandwich. I also gave it an extra health boost by adding in a heaping handful of baby spinach, which has such a mild flavor that no one can tell the difference!

I started by shredded a combination of zucchini and summer squash and sauteeing it in olive oil in a deep lidded skillet until it was completely soft. While that was wilting down, I made the pesto in a food processor, and scraped all by about 1 teaspoon out into a bowl (it seriously takes less than 2 minutes to make!). For the baby, I removed 1 1/2 cups of sauteed zucchini and summer squash, and added it to the food processor and blended it all together. Her meal was done! I serve it in these Sage Squeezie Double Zipper Reusable Food Pouches

The rest of the squash I left in the saute pan and continued with the pesto chicken risotto (the full recipe is below). It's an easy, veggie-packed, 1 pot meal that my family loves. I hope yours does too!

NUT-FREE PESTO In a food processor, combine 1 bunch of fresh basil (discard the thick stems), a handful of fresh baby spinach, 1 garlic clove, juice of 1 lemon, 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, and a half cup of olive oil. Process until smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl to incorporate all the ingredients.

PESTO CHICKEN RISOTTO Ingredients: 2 tablespoons olive oil 3 pounds of zucchini and summer squash, shredded 2 cups organic brown rice 1.5 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs 5 1/2 cups organic low sodium chicken stock 1/4 cup pesto or more to taste* extra parmesan cheese for serving

Directions: In a deep lidded skillet over medium heat, saute squash in olive oil until wilted. Remove 1.5 cups for baby food if using. Add rice, chicken, and stock to the skillet. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer until rice is cooked through, around 30 minutes. Stir in pesto, adding more to taste. Serve with extra grated cheese.

*store leftover pesto in the freezer in a covered airtight container

Homemade baked French fries

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We’re deep into the throws of Christmas vacation gone way too long—10 straight days of frigid sub zero temps followed by a blizzard that’s cancelled school the week the kids are supposed to be back (and parents are supposed to be breathing a sigh of relief). It’s been a long two weeks in the house, and although January normally calls for healthy recipes, we’re craving some serious comfort food. And a babysitter. We’re craving that too. But until than, we’ll take these homemade French fries. While many versions of homemade baked fries end up soggy and sad, this version gets extra crisp by preheating the baking sheet in a hot oven and arranging the fries in a single layer. But perhaps the most important part is resisting the urge to touch them while they are cooking. Let them get crunchy and crisp up while you play referee on boredom-fueled wresting matches/ fights over what’s on TV / general sibling showdowns that happen when you spend wayyy to much time together. What, is it only us?

 

Baked French Fries

Place a baking sheet in the oven, and turn your oven to 400 degrees. Scrub and pat dry 3 medium russet or Yukon gold potatoes.

Cut potatoes into evenly sliced 1/4 inch sticks (sticks should be evenly sliced to ensure they cook evenly). In a medium bowl, toss potatoes with 3 tablespoons canola oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Using an oven mitt, remove baking sheet from the oven. Spread fries on preheated baking sheet in a single layer, and making sure the flat side of the fry touches the sheet (and be careful since the baking sheet is hot!). Return to the oven and cook for 25-30 minutes, or until the bottom of the fries are a deep golden brown. Remove from oven, and use a metal spatula to remove fries from the tray. Season with extra salt to taste while they’re still warm.

Your perfect chicken soup

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With a newsfeed that's overflowing with pictures of Christmas cookies and holiday goodies, this chicken soup is begging you: STOP AND LOOK AT ME! If your kids are like mine, they're living on the Buddy The Elf diet of cookies and candy canes. Everywhere we go--school, holiday parties, stores--someone is serving them some sort of sweet treat. Rather than fighting it (hello, meltdowns), I use this month to stay balanced at home, making sure that their regular meals are ones that will keep them healthy despite the month-long sugar rush.

For me, soup is always the answer. I can make a big batch of it that they'll eat for the week (I freeze leftovers), and my kids happily slurp up the veggies. Plus, there's nothing more comforting during an arctic chill (brrrr!).

In this version, I omit pasta and rice (though you can add a cup of either--just be sure to increase the amount of stock by 2 cups), and I flavor it with fresh herbs that I tie in a bundle to season the soup while it's cooking and then remove it before serving (read: lots of flavor without complaints about "the green things"). I also use bone and skin on chicken thighs, which add tons of nutrients and flavor.

Your Perfect Chicken Soup makes 10 cups Ingredients: 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 1/2 cups carrots, peeled and diced 1 1/2 cups celery, diced 1 yellow onion, diced 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced 2 pounds organic chicken thighs fresh parsley, thyme and dill (or any combination of herbs that sound good to you) 8 cups organic low sodium chicken stock **(See note below) salt and pepper Directions: In a large stock pot over medium heat, add carrots, celery, onion and sweet potato. Cook, stirring occasionally, until veggies are fork tender around 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile, gather herbs in a pile and use a piece of kitchen twine to tie into a bundle. Set aside. Add chicken, stock and herb bundle to the pot. Increase the heat to bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through (around 20-30 minutes). Using tongs, carefully remove chicken from the pot and place onto a cutting board. Let cool for 5 minute before handling, then discard skin and bones. Roughly chop chicken and return to the pot. Remove herb bundle and season the soup to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with crust bread or grilled cheese (my kids' favorite).

**Chicken broth/stock is one of those foods that's sneakily high in sodium. I buy low sodium varieties and then season the soup to taste with salt and pepper at the end

Recipe: Squash and Apple Soup

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I've always found that when it comes to Thanksgiving recipes, simplicity wins. Amidst all the heavy appetizers, a massive main meal, and the loads of desserts, this soup stands out as satisfyingly simple in its elements (it contains only 5 ingredients if you don't count the butter) and with all the flavors you crave on Thanksgiving day. It also gets its creaminess from the pureed squash--yep, there's no cream here--which is a welcome relief from the loads of rich and decadent foods.

In fact, I've made this soup almost every year for the past decade as a Thanksgiving appetizer, and it's a win with everyone. With subtle sweetness from the apples, it's a crowd pleaser for kids and adults. I serve it in the slow cooker, set on low, so it stays piping hot. Add pomegranate seeds to garnish, and the colors are vibrant and beautifully Fall in nature.

There are many ways to make a squash soup, and I always use Thanksgiving as an excuse to take shortcuts. You could buy a whole squash and cut it up yourself (more on how to do that here), or you could go for my choice and buy the more convenient (albeit: more expensive) prechopped squash.And like all soups, the longer it simmers, the better the flavors develop, so be sure to make this early Thanksgiving morning or even the day before. I've even made this a week or two before Turkey Day and kept it frozen until the day of, and no one was all the wiser.

If you have a baby, this soup too is a winner! It's the perfect pureed consistency for babies who aren't quite ready for textures, but it also contains delicious flavors and spices to help expand their little palates.

Squash and Apple Soup

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. butter

2 medium onions, diced

3 tsp curry powder

3-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed (or around 3-4 cups butternut squash cubes OR 3 cups of butternut squash puree)

2 apples, peeled, cored, cubed

·3 cups chicken stock

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

In a large pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add onion and saute until tender. Stir in curry powder

Add squash, apples, chicken stock and salt. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes or until squash and apples are tender

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup, or alternatively, transfer to the soup in batches to a blender (careful, it will be hot!). Serve warm with pomegranate seeds as a garnish.

Blackberry-Balsamic Vinaigrette Recipe

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I always beg people not to buy store-bought salad dressing. For one, it's expensive when you compare it to the price it costs to make it yourself. Secondly, most brands are loaded with salt and sugar.  And lastly, homemade dressing takes seconds to make and tastes 10 thousand times better than any type of dressing you can get in a bottle. Trust us on this one. In the thirty seconds it will take you to whirl this together, you'll have a delicious dressing that you can use on salads, drizzle over chicken or grilled vegetables, or even use it as a delicious dipping sauce for grilled cheese or on a cheese board. Adding blackberries to your salad dressing makes it naturally sweet and adds a health boost. Read more about blackberries here!

Blackberry Balsamic  Vinaigrette

Ingredients: 1 cup fresh or frozen (and defrosted) blackberries 2 tbsp. Balsamic vinegar 3 tbsp. olive oil 1 tbsp. honey or maple syrup ½ tsp. Dijon mustard salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Add all ingredients to a food processor or blender, and blend until smooth well. If dressing is too thick, you can thin it with a few drops of water. Store in refrigerator for up to one week.

 

Fresh Tomato Sauce

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I know what you're thinking...Why make may own when I can buy the jarred stuff?Hey, we get it--there's always a jar of sauce in our pantry for hectic weeknights. But homemade tomato sauce is surprisingly easy to make, and when you use summer's freshest tomatoes, there's no jar out there that can beat the taste. And if, like us, you're guilty of overdoing it at the farmer's market when you see all those bright red beauties--and then wondering what the heck to do with 10 pounds of tomatoes--this is the answer. Make a big batch and freeze it for the cooler months ahead..

Fresh Tomato Sauce Ingredients: 10 to 12 fresh plum tomatoes (approximately 2 to 2 1/2 pounds) 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped Pinch crushed red pepper 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped Kosher salt Freshly chopped parsley and/or basil leaves Directions Place a large stock pot filled with water over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Using a paring knife, cut an X on the base of each tomato, being careful not to cut too deep. (This technique is called scoring). Then, place scored tomatoes into a pot of boiling water and boil for approximately 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Remove tomatoes and plunge into cold water until they are cool enough to handle. At the location of the x, use your fingers to peel the skin off the tomatoes. Discard the skin. Dice peeled tomatoes and set aside. Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper, and sauté until garlic starts to sizzle, around 2 minutes. Add chopped onion and sauté an additional 2 1/2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add chopped plum tomatoes and cook approximately 5 minutes. Add salt to taste. Then stir in herbs. For a smoother sauce. Transfer to a food processor to puree or use and immersion blender.

Overnight oats (3 ways!)

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In an confusing twist of events that's beyond all adult understanding, my 5-year-old decided he likes oatmeal. This ill-timed conclusion occurred once the weather settled in at a steady 80 degrees, and around the same day I decided to forgo all hot breakfasts--especially ones (ahem, oatmeal), I'd been trying to get him to eat all winter long. Oh the irony! But when a picky 5-year-old decides he likes something, you make it. Enter these overnight oats. They're so refreshing, can be prepared in advance, and are endless in their flavor possibilities. All it takes is a little advanced planning--overnight oats can be made 1-3 nights before you're ready to eat them so I usually make a bunch of individual servings in mason jars or tupperware (any lidded container will do), and we eat them throughout the week. You can substitute regular milk for coconut milk, almond milk, or whatever, and topping possibilities can include granola, nuts, seeds, shredded coconut, or fruit. And that bit of advanced planning makes mornings so much easier. Just stick in a spoon and breakfast is done.

Here are my three go-to versions. All recipes are for individual servings, but you could also quadruple the recipe make a big bowl, cover it with plastic, then scoop out as much as you'd like. I also love serving these for breakfast when staying with a big group. So much easier than frying up eggs or pancakes in the morning!

MANGO COCONUT OVERNIGHT OATS (pictured) Combine 1/2 cup rolled oats, 1/2 cup coconut milk, 1/2 cup plain yogurt, and 1 tsp honey. Stir together. Top with 1 tablespoon unsweetened flaked coconut and 1/2 cup mango chunks (I use frozen). Cover and refrigerate overnight or for up to 3 days.

MIXED BERRY OVERNIGHT OATS Combine 1/2 cup rolled oats, 1/2 cup almond milk, 1/2 cup plain yogurt, a pinch of cinnamon, and 1 tsp honey or maple syrup. Stir together. Top with 1 tablespoon each ground flaxseed, sliced almonds (optional) and 1/2 cup mixed berries. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for up to 3 days.

CHOCOLATE BANANA OVERNIGHT OATS Note: Since bananas will brown, we stir this all together and add cocoa powder to disguise the color change). Mash 1/2 of a banana, then stir in 1/2 cup rolled oats, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 2 teaspoons cocoa powder and 1 tsp honey. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for up to 3 days.

No-fuss gazpacho soup

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If you dislike cooking, you are going to love this. If you're outside roasting on this sticky 90 degree day, you are going to love this.

If you like recipes that can be prepped and on the table in less than five minutes, you are going to love this.

If you like the idea of your child eating vegetables and if you like vegetables in their purest, most-refreshing form, then you are going to really really love this.

Because unlike many gazpacho recipes that require blanching tomatoes, peeling cucumbers, and straining the finished product, this is the no-fuss (read: no work) version. All we do is blend up veggies with little else, and the result is something so refreshing, so delicious, and so impossible to screw up (I'm looking at you, so-called non-cooks).

Best of all, my kids eat this up AND love helping with the prep. My 5-year-old washes the veggies, my 2-year-old transfers the veggies I chop to the blender, and then they both fight over who presses the on button while I wipe tears of unfairness and mop up the food they've dropped and squished all over the floor. It really is quite fun.

But back to the soup. I love this served with an add-your-own-toppings bar with bowls of chopped peppers, cucumbers, hardboiled eggs, and croutons that can be spooned over the top. So good!

No-Fuss Gazpacho Soup

Ingredients: 3 slices bread 2 pounds of tomatoes, cut into quarters and seeds squeezed out and discarded 1 medium cucumber, seeded and diced 1 bell pepper, seeded and diced 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions: Place bread in a medium bowl and cover with water until saturated. Squeeze water from bread and place bread in a blender. Discard soaking water.

In the same blender, add tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, garlic and vinegar. Blend until well combined, about 1 minute. With motor running, add oil in steady stream until well blended. Stir in vinegar; season with salt and pepper.T

Transfer to refrigerator to chill before serving up to 48 hours.

 

Pasta with Peas and Cheese

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When spring has sprung but there's still a chill in the air, this dish is the dinner that's waiting for you to cook it. It has enough cheese to make it a comfort food for a chilly night, plus enough seasonal vegetables and herbs to make it both taste like springtime and redeem itself as a "it-has-green-veggies-so-it-must-be-healthy!" meal. For kids, it doesn't get more familiar than pasta with peas, which works to your advantage when introducing new flavors--starting with ingredients that kids are already familiar with is one of the best ways to expand their palates. In this case, your basic peas and pasta dinner gets upgraded with sugar snaps, lemon, mint, and basil to add tons of flavor and freshness for very little extra work. In fact, this whole dish comes together in as long as it takes for the water to boil and pasta to cook--and we bet you'll even have time to set the table too!

Pasta with Peas and Ricotta Serves 6-8 1 pound your choice pasta 1 pound sugar snap peas, cut into thirds 1 cup frozen peas 1/2 cup parmesan cheese 1 cup ricotta cheese 2 tablespoons olive oil Juice and zest of 1 lemon 2 tablespoons each fresh mint and basil leaves

Directions Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. While waiting, prep the remaining ingredients: Cut snap peas into thirds, zest and juice lemon, and chop up mint and basil. Cook pasta for two minutes less than the suggested cooking time on the package, then add sugar snap peas to pasta. Cook for two minutes more. Turn off the flame and stir in frozen peas until just warmed through. Drain pasta and pea mixture, reserving 1 cup of cooking water. Add pasta and peas back to the pot, drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, ricotta, parmesan cheese, and 1/2 cup of pasta water, and cook over high heat for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and add in more water if pasta looks dry. Right before serving, stir in mint, basil, lemon juice, and zest.

Picky eater protein-packed spaghetti

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Like every 4-year-old on the planet, my son alternates between stages of scarfing down everything in site and/or protesting via hunger strike when he decides he doesn't want to eat what's on his plate. The past few weeks, he's been doing the latter--refusing to taste his dinner, which culminates in his eventually going to bed without eating a full meal (not my problem) but then waking up before the sun because he's starving (my problem, indeed). Our dinnertime rule is pretty straightforward: You don't have to like what's served, but you do have taste what's on your plate before you decide that you don't like it. And to reassure you that I'm not a mean mommy who starves her children, I always include things I know they'll eat--some apple slices, cheese and crackers, whatever--so they don't feel the "this is all you get" pressure. But alas, a few measly sides don't sustain an active boy throughout the night. And with a newborn at home that awakens a handful of times for feeding, my sleeping until the sun rises is so very very precious.

Enter this dish. It has everything we both want in a meal. He likes that it's spaghetti (and that I may or may not let him pick up strands with his fingers, tilt his head back, and open wide). I like that it's a one pot meal that everyone can eat, that it's packed with protein from the beans and noodles (I buy Barilla Protein Plus pasta, which is made with chickpea flour for added protein, and looks and tastes close to regular), and that it contains veggies that are shredded into such tiny pieces that they can't help but cling to the noodles and become all but impossible to pick out.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Picky Eater Protein-Packed Spaghetti

Ingredients:

1 pound spaghetti (We like Barilla Protein Plus Spaghetti)

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 medium zucchini or summer squash

1 can low sodium or organic small white beans, rinsed and drained*

1/2 cup shredded parmesan or romano cheese

juice of half lemon

Directions:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a teaspoon of salt and pasta and cook pasta just shy of 1 minute al dente. Reserve the pasta water.

Meanwhile, shred zucchini  using a box grater (hint: hold the stem side to make it easier.) Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and garlic to the pan. When garlic just starts to sizzle (but before it takes on any color), add shredded zucchini. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and saute for 8 to 10 minutes.

Add hot, drained pasta to the pan. Toss spaghetti with zucchini and garlic oil. Add cheese and toss pasta with tongs. If the pasta looks dry, add reserved pasta water (start with 1/4 cup and work up from there), tossing pasta as you go. Cook over the stove for 2 minutes more. Add lemon juice and serve.

A few notes on this recipe:

*When buying canned beans, always look for ones that are low sodium or organic, since regular ones contain tons of sodium.

*If your child doesn't mind the "green things," this dish would be made even better with the addition of fresh chopped herbs (basil, mint, parsley, or a combination of the three would work), tossed in right before serving. The same is true for lemon zest.

Macaroni Pie

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On our table at the holidays, my family rarely remains married to any one particular dish. We don't live by rules that say we have to eat THIS on Christmas, and THIS on Mother's Day, and so on. In fact, most of our holiday meals are new recipes that just sound really good but that we would never have time or energy to make on a normal Tuesday; a porchetta that takes 2 days to marinate in the fridge or a baked french toast with homemade berry sauce would never fit into my weekday routine. This recipe, however, is the exception in being both traditional and unfancy. Macaroni Pie--which isn't a pie at all, but more a combination of spaghetti, eggs, and an ungodly amount of cheese--has appeared on our Italian family's Easter table for generations. My grandmother learned the recipe from her mother, who learned it from her mother, and so on. And with a short list of humble ingredients and a prep time that's as long as it takes for water to boil, it's proof that simplicity often wins.

We only see this recipe once a year, and I never understand why. It's a comfort food that everyone can agree on. Adults love that it tastes like a baked version of cacio e pepe.  And try arguing with your kid to taste a food that contains both Macaroni and Pie in its name. Additionally, the recipe can be made even more convenient by baking single servings in muffin tins, rather than in one baking dish as I do in the recipe below.

Either way, I hope you enjoy it!

Macaroni Pie

Serves 16

Ingredients:

1 pound spaghetti

1 dozen eggs

2 cups shredded parmesan (get the good stuff) OR pecorino romano cheese

1 tablespoon ground black pepper (Yes, that's 1 full tablespoon, but you can reduce to 2 teaspoons if you prefer)

Directions.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Generously butter a 9x11 inch cake dish. Set aside.

In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil and add spaghetti. Cook pasta 2 minutes less than its suggested cooking time (pasta will continue to cook in the oven).

While you're waiting for the water to boil: In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, cheese, and pepper. Add drained pasta to the bowl and mix together until combined (two forks  or tongs usually does the trick). Pour into pan and spread evenly.

Cover with foil, and bake for 35 minutes. Remove foil than bake for 10 minutes more until the top gets nice and crunchy. Let cool for 15 minutes and then cut into 16 slices.

Notes:

*This can be made up to three days in advance. Reheat, covered,  in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes.

*If you're making this in muffin tins, we recommend parchment liners to prevent stickage. Also, to make filling easier, add the cooked spaghetti directly to the muffin cups and then use a measuring cup to pour the mixture over the pasta. Reduce cooking time to 20-25 degrees covered and then an additional 5-10 minutes uncovered.

 

 

Yes, you CAN bring back family dinner!

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There's nothing more refreshing after a day full of work, school, activities, homework, meetings, and playdates than sitting down and having dinner with my family.  It's over food that we connect, talk, share and bond. That cherished family meal doesn't happen every night; for me and for most families, that would be impossible. The good news: Research shows that it only takes a minimum of 3 shared family meals per week (breakfast and lunch count, too!) to bring your family closer and make everyone healthier. How refreshing is that? For us, family meals happen mainly on the weekends when we have more time. I love to sit and chat after our plates are clean, and I always sip my wine slowly so my husband is forced to stay at the table with me! It's those meals that remind me of growing up; as a family, we always lingered around the dining table (and we still do when I visit home!). My plea to you is that you give your kids that same privilege—the payoffs of sharing a meal together are priceless, and they include .

  • Meals tend to be healthier and nutritious when they are prepared at home.
  • Children eat more fruit and vegetables when they see other family members eating it.
  • Adults and children alike are less likely to become overweight.
  • Children learn to communicate and interact better (especially in a world where everything happens online!).
  • Family meals are linked to lower levels of depressive symptoms in all family members and improved psychological wellbeing.
  • Family meals can help prevent destructive behavior, including lower rates of smoking, drinking, and illegal drug use in pre-teens and teenagers.
  • Children perform better in school.    

10 Ways to Make Family Dinners Doable, Easy, and Fun! 

1. Think about your week before your dive into the craziness of it all. Are any weeknights free of activities and doable for dinnertime together? Then set your goal to create a minimum of 3 family meals: Friday dinners, Sunday brunches, and Saturday lunch all count!

2. Plan a few meals in advance and add the ingredients to your weekly grocery list. Having everything on hand makes it much easier to whip something up without return trips to the grocery store or stressing out about what you're going to serve.

3. Turn the TV off and make it a rule that mealtime is free of all devices--your children (and you!) can survive 20 minutes without their phones or iPads!

4. Get the kids involved in cooking. Even babies as little as 1 or 2 years old can do certain tasks, such as peeling stickers off of fruit and veggies, washing them under running water, stirring, and pressing the buttons on the blender or food processor.

5. Keep meals simple. The goal is to spend quality time together--not to waste your whole night preparing something elaborate (and then feeling let down if your kids don't eat it.)

6. Create fun themes to get kids excited about mealtime: Think Macaroni Monday, Taco Tuesday, or Special Sunday Pancakes.

7. Let your child pick a recipe a week: Go to the grocery store together, gather the ingredients, and make it together. What they'll learn goes way beyond cooking: price, measurement, and more!

8. Make it enjoyable! Leave the serious discussions for later (read: no talk about Johnny's bad day at school), and let mealtime be a relaxing, calming, and comforting time.

9. Don't put pressure on the kids to eat what's on their plates. Instead, make the focus on the conversation and let the food be secondary. Nothing spoils dinner like constant pressure from parents telling their kids to take more bites.

10. Say grace and/or go around the table and have everyone say one thing they're happy about or thankful for.

 

What do you do to make family meals happen? Share your ideas--and inspire each other!

5 ingredient dinner: Sausage, Kale, and Potato Soup

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Every time my family takes a road trip to the Poconos, we're always sure to make a pit stop at our favorite barbecue place. The kids love the popcorn that the waitresses places on the table before their meal arrives (total appetite killer, but after a few hours in a car with two toddlers, a mouth full of popcorn means a few minutes of silence. Don't judge). And my husband and I love splurging on the brisket sandwiches with their tasting menu of sauces and a side of slaw. But the last time we were there, the waitress noted a special that changed my usual order: sausage and spinach soup. The soup was loaded with flavor and hearty enough that I didn't miss my usual order. And it was so delicious that I've recreated the soup at home a few times since.

With only 5 ingredients, this soup is super simple to make, yet it's still loaded with flavor. There's no tedious chopping or hours of simmering, And once the sausage is browned, everything goes into one pot to create a warming, savory soup that's hearty enough to be a complete meal and perfect for chilly fall days.

I use kale here in place of spinach since it tends to hold up better during heating and reheating, and it also gives the soup a redeeming health quality. Don't fret if your kids pick around the kale (my older one does!). One of the benefits of soup is that the nutrients leach into the broth so kids still get the good stuff without slurping spoonfuls of greens.

 

Sausage, Kale, and Potato Soup

Makes 10 cups

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound sweet Italian sausage, castings removed (NOTE: you can use spicy sausage too, but my kids found that too spicy for their tastes, or  you could try a combination of both)

1 onion, diced

4 russet potatoes, chopped into 1-inch pieces (think a size that fits well onto a spoon)

8 cups organic low sodium chicken stock

1 bunch of kale, chopped well (remove and discard the stems before chopping the leaves)

Directions:

  1. In a large stock pot over medium heat, add olive oil, sausage, and onion. Use a wooden spoon to break up the sausage, and cook until sausage is browned and cooked through, around 5-7 minutes.
  2. Add in potatoes and stock. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until the potatoes are fork tender, around 20 minutes.
  3. Stir in the kale and cook until wilted. About 5 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper.