I’m a sucker for a quick and easy weeknight meal. When I ran across a recipe for Spaghetti alla Siciliana, consisting of pasta tossed with olive oil, sundried tomatoes, parsley and parmesan, I knew I had to try it out. What’s not to love? Plus, pasta is one of the only foods for which my 3-year-old is pretty much universally enthusiastic. That is, as long as it doesn’t have too much “stuff” on it.
I mean, seriously. Can you believe this beautiful plate of pasta took a mere 20 minutes to get on the table? And it was twice as delicious as it looks. This will definitely be making it into our weeknight rotation.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions, or until al dente.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large saute pan. Saute the garlic and crushed red pepper until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the sundried tomatoes and half the parsley and stir for an additional couple of minutes.
When the pasta is done, drain and add to the pan with the sundried tomato mixture. Toss, adding a little of the pasta water if necessary, to combine. Add salt to taste.
Serve topped with the remaining chopped parsley and parmesan to taste.
Scrolling through this page over the last few weeks, you’d be excused for thinking it was just a cocktail blog. I mean, I have my reasons (two little ones, actually), and the sleep deprivation inherent in parenting a small baby does make it much easier (and more enticing) to come up with a cocktail recipe on the fly, after the littles are in bed, than it is to come up with a recipe for a delicious and nutritious meal — something beyond, let’s say, ordering pizza or thawing something from Trader Joe’s.
So, mea culpa. I have been cooking on occasion, and we do not subsist on pizza and frozen food alone around here. Occasionally our meals are even well-balanced and somewhat original. Sure, cooking them tends to be a team effort (see: two kids), but that’s alright. It is what it is for right now, and I’m good with that. Parenting small children is all about ebb and flow, I’m learning. There will be another season soon, not too far off, in which more involved gourmet cooking is possible. Let’s all hang on for that season. For now, I’ve got a recipe for a tasty and healthy weeknight meal you can whip up on the fly with pantry staples.
How’s that for working with what you’ve got?
One of the things I love about Nora’s preschool is that they really pay attention to feeding a healthy, varied menu to the kids, and somehow they get them to try (and like!) all kinds of things they just won’t at home. Nora came home from school one day recently talking about the black bean tacos they’d had for lunch, and I was intrigued, so I pumped her for details.* She said they had black beans and avocado, and they were really, really good.
* As it turns out, she was actually talking about black bean nachos, but no matter. Tacos are just as good an idea.
Of course, the wheels in my head started turning, since I am ever on the lookout for a quick and easy meal that my picky princess will actually enjoy. I scraped together a few things we already had in the pantry and fridge, ordered a couple of avocados through Greenling (no one actually goes to the grocery store nowadays, do they?), and got cookin’ — well, barely. Honestly, this meal involves little more than grating up some cheese, rinsing and heating canned black beans and warming tortillas. And, let me tell you — it’s good. Even Nora, who has come to surprising me by declaring a new food she doesn’t like every day,** approved.
** Today it was cheese. What?! Who doesn’t like cheese? Especially this child, who until recently was mainly sustained on cheese, yogurt and Cheddar Bunnies (also cheese-related, no?).
So, if you want lazy, tasty, healthy food, this one’s for you. Enjoy!
1-2 avocados (depending on size), peeled and cubed
grated cheese, sour cream and salsa for garnish
Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until softened and translucent. Stir in the garlic and cumin, and then add the black beans along with a splash of water or veggie broth. Stir until heated through.****
Heat the flour tortillas one by one on a hot, dry griddle, flipping each once to ensure even heating, and transfer to a tortilla warmer (or a plate with another inverted plate on top, as a "lid") to keep warm until you're ready to eat.
Fill each tortilla with a spoonful or two of the bean mixture, soft taco-style. Garnish with cubed avocado, cheese, sour cream and salsa, as desired. Chow down!
*** Get them freshly made, if you're lucky enough to live near someplace that offers that option. Otherwise if you're feeling ambitious, you can make your own using a recipe from my very own hubby. **** If you are really in a hurry, you can just rinse the black beans, cover them and microwave them until warm with a little sprinkle of cumin and garlic powder. No one has to know.
Here’s the deal with dinner lately: I don’t really cook it. It’s not that we don’t eat dinner at home… it’s just that the way our family life works right now sort of preludes me from being the primary chef at dinnertime.
Amelia has an early bedtime, so I have to start her bath at 5:45, do her bedtime routine (which includes nursing, so it’s my job) and then she’s down by 6:30 most nights. Nora, however, doesn’t go to bed until around 8 pm. We used to eat dinner at 6 and then play outside for a little while afterward, but since we like to eat together as a family,* we had to switch it up a bit. At first, we tried eating before I started Amelia’s bath, but it ended up being too early for everyone but her… and she was always on the verge of meltdown that close to bedtime, so it wasn’t working out. Our current solution is to eat at about 6:45, so I have time to put Amelia to bed and everyone can sit down together without throwing off Nora’s bath-and-bedtime routine.
*Well, minus the not-yet-eating-solids member of our crew.
Of course, if you do the math, that usually means someone other than me has to cook dinner, or at the very least do the final steps and get dinner ready to go on the table. And that means that the hubby has been primarily in charge of dinner lately. Sometimes I make the meal plan for the week, and other times we just wing it. Truth be told, I am still a little sleep deprived and unmotivated, so winging it wins out more often than it probably should. Thank goodness for Trader Joe’s freezer meals!
Anyhow, blah, blah, blah, get to the good stuff. I made a delicious dinner the other night (on one of my more motivated days) — and I accomplished it by prepping everything ahead of time (while the babe was napping), and then having the hubby finish it off right before we sat down to eat. This recipe for parmesan and spinach orzo has been floating around Pinterest, and I decided it sounded like a perfect weeknight meal — with some slight modifications, of course. Otherwise, I just wouldn’t be me.
I had high hopes for this one, and it did not disappoint. My only regret is that I really thought Nora would love it — and she did, for a few minutes. She chowed down until she realized that there was green stuff in it, and then proceeded to tell me she didn’t like “the kale.” Everything green is kale nowadays, and despite the fact that I have photographic evidence of her former love of actual kale, nothing can convince her that it isn’t gross. Plus, there were onions. Although basically undetectable to the adult palate (except for the lovely flavor they add), there were in fact onions in this dish, and that was apparently unacceptable. Sigh.
Regardless, the hubby and I scarfed ours down, and finished off her leftovers, too. Her loss, our gain!
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, and add the orzo. Cook until al dente, according to package directions (around 8 minutes).
Meanwhile, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat in another saucepan.* Saute the onion and garlic until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the flour to the onion and garlic mixture, and stir to coat. Gradually add the milk, whisking to eliminate any lumps. Heat, stirring, until bubbly and thickened, 5-10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.**
Stir in the parmesan and spinach and heat until the cheese is incorporated into the sauce and the spinach is wilted.
Add the orzo to the sauce and stir to combine. Serve immediately.
* Or, if you're like me and prefer to minimize the mess, cook the pasta first, drain it in a colander, and then wipe out the same pan to use for the sauce.
** If you're making this ahead, you can stop at this step, and refrigerate the pasta and sauce separately (keeping the sauce in the saucepan for simplicity's sake). When you're ready for dinner, gently reheat the sauce on the stovetop, and then proceed with the recipe.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Naptime Chef is back. I thought, after a couple of years of being limited to meal prep during naptime, that I was past all that. With a child in preschool and plenty of time around the house by myself, I thought I could start to prepare meals like a normal person. Then along came Amelia.
Babies certainly have their own ideas about meal prep — namely that it’s not their favorite thing, and that there are a number of other endeavors on which their waking hours should be spent. So, I am, once again, limited to prepping dinner during naptime, however sporadic and undependable that may be.
And here I am, the Naptime Chef again. I guess that’s how it’s going to be for a while, at least. But, that’s okay, because I do have a few of my old tricks memorized, and I’m sure to discover some new ones along the way.
The difference is, this time, we’re starting out with a young palate to please as well — and yes, Nora has turned out to be quite the picky 3-year-old, despite my best efforts.* But, one thing she does like is rice. The kid will shovel handful after handful of the stuff into her mouth. And peas are one of her favorite veggies, too.
* I guess it happens to most kids eventually, at least to some degree. I just try not to cater to it too much, and hope it’ll pass sooner rather than later!
So, imagine my delight when I ran across this Slate article about the best thing to make with arborio rice that isn’t risotto, complete with a recipe for Risi e Bisi — an Italian rice and pea dish.
Of course, I wouldn’t be touting it if it weren’t also pleasing to adult palates as well. It has many of the same ingredients as risotto — arborio rice, broth, butter, parmesan — but it’s far less time consuming. Even better, it’s something I can easily make ahead (during naptime, naturally) and finish quickly at dinnertime. Now that’s something I can get behind — particularly as our freezer stash is running low and I have to start cooking real food again on a regular basis.
½ cup parmesan cheese, grated, plus additional for serving
salt to taste
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until light golden brown and beginning to caramelize.
Add 4 cups of the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer. Stir in the rice and peas.
Add a generous pinch of salt, cover and cook at a low boil until the rice is just tender, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.** Thin with additional stock if needed. The consistency should be thick, but not quite as thick as risotto.
Stir in the parmesan and taste and adjust seasoning. Serve topped with additional parmesan cheese.
** If you are making the rice ahead, simply stop a couple of minutes before the rice is done to your liking and refrigerate; reheat later, adding some of the reserved broth and finishing with the parmesan.
I’ve been experimenting a lot with pizza lately. Although there is a special place in my heart for grilled pizzas, with the weather turning cooler (at least in theory), and with my pregnancy-fueled love of all things carb-y, I am turning more toward a thicker crust and an oven preparation. I’ve tried several recipes recently — Chicago-style deep dish pizza (recipe to come, once I’ve perfected it), a flatbread recipe that’s to die for (more on that soon) — but this one just may be my favorite.
I was so excited when I saw Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for “lazy pizza dough” — it’s a no-knead dough that you basically mix and forget about until it’s time to stretch, top and bake. She gives options for an overnight, all-day or part-day rise, but I’m going to give you the part-day rise here, since it’s the only one I’ve tried (and it worked beautifully). We also seem to have lost our pizza stone and peel somewhere in the cross-country move (18 months or so ago… which goes to show you how often it got used), so, with some trepidation, I baked this pizza on a well-oiled baking sheet. Guess what? It still tuned out crispy and delicious. So, no special equipment required!
In a large non-reactive bowl, mix the flour, yeast, salt and water. The dough will be craggy, but should come together pretty well. If necessary, you can add another tablespoon or so of water.
Once all ingredients are incorporated, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit for about 6 hours, until more than doubled in size. (See the original recipe for overnight and all-day rise options, if that timing works better for you.)
For the pizza:
When the dough is almost ready, make the sauce and prepare your toppings. Preheat the oven to 500°. Oil a rimmed baking sheet generously with olive oil.
Combine the crushed tomatoes, garlic cloves, salt and crushed red pepper in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and shape it into a ball.
Flour the top of the dough ball and, using well-floured hands, grab one side of the dough and let it stretch down, repeating several times.
Place the stretched dough onto the prepared baking sheet and stretch and spread it with your hands until it is roughly 9 x 13 inches in size (stretching almost to the edges of the pan).
Top with approximately ½ cup of the sauce, spreading evenly (reserve the rest for another use). Sprinkle the mozzarella over the sauce, and top with the parmesan.
Slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the crust is puffed and the cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown, turning once to ensure even cooking.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the basil leaves. Cool slightly, then slide onto a cutting board and cut into pieces. Serve warm with a salad, and enjoy!
I’m late to the spaghetti squash game. I could never really get behind the whole squash-as-pasta-substitute thing, and I never really had too much opportunity to try it until now. But, when life (or, in this case, your CSA) hands you spaghetti squash… you make spaghetti squash alfredo.
For the uninitiated, spaghetti squash has an interesting feature — when it’s cooked, the insides scrape up just like, well, spaghetti, which makes it a perfect, healthy vessel for your favorite pasta sauce.
At first I was just going to use some run-of-the-mill pasta sauce with the spaghetti squash, maybe with some store-bought veggie meatballs thrown in. Then I ran across this recipe, and it looked too good to pass up — despite the “skinny” in the title, which tends to make me roll my eyes.
Let me tell you — it was good! Whether or not it’s truly “skinny,” I can’t say, but it definitely didn’t taste like it. It was creamy, garlicky, filling and delicious. A must try!
2 cups parmesan cheese, grated, plus additional for topping
salt and pepper, to taste
red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
parsley, to taste (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350. Split each spaghetti squash in half lengthwise, and then scoop out the seeds and stringy bits with a spoon. Fill the bottom of a rimmed baking sheet with water, and place the squash cut side down on the sheet. Bake until the squash is tender, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, and add the garlic. Saute until fragrant, and then add the flour, whisking to combine.
Add the milk gradually, whisking to break up lumps, and continue to heat, stirring, until the mixture thickens. Add the cream cheese and stir to incorporate. Remove from the heat, and add the parmesan, stirring to combine, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
When the spaghetti squash are done, remove from the oven and drain the water from the baking sheet. Flip them over and, using a fork, scrape the insides to create that "spaghetti" texture, leaving just a little flesh around the outsides so the squash holds together.
Preheat the broiler. Spoon the sauce into each squash half, and toss and stir to combine, so that the filling is well-coated with the sauce. Sprinkle each squash half with a bit of parmesan, crushed red pepper and parsley (if desired). Place under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, or until the cheese on top begins to brown and bubble. Enjoy!
Ah, tamale pie. I confess I hadn’t ever made it before, but now that I’ve given it a shot, it’s bound to become a regular feature on our weeknight table. Not only is it quick and easy to pull together, but it also serves as a “kitchen sink” meal for veggies I have a lot of — like summer squash and zucchini. Oh, and it’s delicious.
I used a yellow crookneck squash and a zucchini here, plus some roasted sweet peppers, but you could play around with it and add all kinda of fun stuff, depending on what you have on hand. The corn was a must, though — we had some sweet corn that the hubby had grilled a couple of weeks earlier, removed from the cob and frozen, and it was perfect in the filling. Enjoy!
½ cup grated cheddar cheese, plus extra to sprinkle on top
Saute the onion and garlic in the oil over medium heat. When the onions are soft and translucent, add the peppers, zucchini and summer squash, along with the chili powder and cumin. Saute until softened.
Add the beans, mashing with a potato masher as you incorporate them, and the salt, tomato paste, black olives and corn.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease an 8x8 glass pan.
Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan, and then the cornmeal gradually, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Cook, stirring, until thickened and beginning to boil. Add the salt and chili powder.
Spread half of the cornmeal mixture on the bottom and up the sides of the baking dish. Spread the filling mixture over the cornmeal mixture evenly, and top with ½ cup cheese.
Drop and spread the remaining cornmeal mixture over the top. Top with additional cheese to your taste. Bake for 35-45 minutes, and serve warm.
Okay, so I fully admit it is not baked potato weather. We’re going on a streak of 100-degree days here, and I don’t love turning the oven on.
On the other hand, I am loving potatoes right now, and sometimes, when I’m having a blah day,* a baked potato is the only thing that sounds good. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I discovered a recipe that not only promised to deliver the tastiest baked potato possible (with butter and cheese cooked right into it!), but also cut down cooking time by a third.
* Yes, I still have them occasionally, and yes, I’m taking about nausea/food aversions. This pregnancy has been difficult, especially with the heat, but I’m coping — and it could be a lot worse. But carbs are still my friends a lot of the time.
Of course I tried it at the earliest possible opportunity, and — there’s no better way to say it — these potatoes were awesome. The other members of my family, neither or whom has ever been as enthusiastic about baked potatoes as I am, loved them too.
Mom to Bed by 8 offers a great tutorial here, but I tweaked it just a little bit (and not in the direction of making it any healthier, I’m afraid — quite the opposite). So I’ll share my version here, too, but hop on over there to get a step-by-step feel for how you should be doing things. I don’t think you’ll ever make baked potatoes the “old way” again!
Author: Lightly adapted from this recipe from Mom to Bed by 8
Recipe type: weeknight meal
4 large baking potatoes*
Sour cream, chives, salt and pepper and any other ingredients you desire for garnish
Preheat the oven to 450°.
Wash and dry the potatoes. Using a sharp knife, but ¼-inch slices into each potato, crosswise, but don't cut all the way through to the bottom.Leave enough flesh to keep the potato together (think accordion-style).
Stuff each of the slits you've just made with butter and cheese, alternately. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet (make a little foil "boat" to keep things neat if you want -- I did) and bake for 35 minutes.
Add additional shredded cheese to the potatoes and bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the potatoes are cooked perfectly.
Remove from the oven and cool slightly, then add your additional toppings -- I recommend a healthy dollop of sour cream and chives, if you have them, plus salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!
*Or as many servings as you would like to prepare.
Enchiladas around our house are usually a weekend project. I do love me some chard enchiladas, but they do tend to be more time-intensive. The other night, though, I wanted enchiladas, and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time. Enter weeknight enchiladas.
Oh yeah, you can totally pull off enchiladas on a weeknight. You just have to be choosy with your ingredients. These are simple cheese enchiladas (studded with black olives for extra fun) smothered in a flavorful red sauce.*
*Excuse the photo quality. These are the leftovers (which Nora and I were lucky enough to enjoy for lunch the next day), since I originally deemed this meal not “blog-worthy.” Then the hubby convinced me otherwise, and I’m glad he did, since it’s a handy little recipe.
Is it better if you make your own sauce? Absolutely. Do you have to? Not if you’re short on time and have access to good pre-prepared enchilada sauce. The only ones I’ve found that passes the taste test are Frontera‘s line of enchilada sauces. They come in a pouch rather than a can, and both the red chile and the green chile varieties are delicious — and, most importantly, don’t taste canned. (No, I was not compensated for saying that — I just like their stuff.)
You can pull these enchiladas off, start to finish, in 30 minutes. Can’t beat that! Serve them with a dollop of sour cream on top, plus refried beans and rice on the side. I like to jazz up plain brown rice with a can of green chiles and tomatoes (drained) and a bit of tomato paste. Enjoy!
8 oz colby jack cheese (can substitute cheddar or jack cheese)
10 corn tortillas
1 pouch Frontera red enchilada sauce
1 small can sliced black olives (optional)
olive oil for spraying
sour cream for serving
Preheat the oven to 400°. Shred the cheese and set aside about ¼ to ½ cup for topping the enchiladas.
Spray an enchilada pan with oil and keep it handy. Heat a griddle or a large skillet over medium-high heat. Spray or brush the first tortilla on one side and place, oiled side down, on the griddle. Spray or brush the other side, while heating, and then flip. Remove from the heat and place in the enchilada pan.
Working while the tortilla is still hot (but cool enough to handle), fill the center of the tortilla with cheese and roll it up. Place it seam side down in the enchilada pan, and repeat the process with the remaining tortillas.
When the pan is full, spread the sauce over the enchiladas and sprinkle with black olives and the reserved cheese. Bake for 15 minutes, or until warm and bubbly. Serve topped with sour cream.
The days of soup-and-grilled cheese lunches are fading fast, with temps breaking into the 90s here in Austin (already — ugh!), but we may just have a few rainy days left in April. Last week, we had a few gray, chilly-ish days, and grilled cheese and tomato soup was just what the doctor ordered. However, we didn’t have any canned tomato soup on hand, so I decided to improvise. And you know what? I’m probably never going to bother to buy canned tomato soup again. This was creamy, delicious and almost as easy as the canned kind.
Sure, you could just open a can, but this is so much better and it only takes a few minutes more. This soup also freezes well, so next time we have a rainy day, all I’ll have to do is thaw it out. Golden.
I’m a recovering lawyer-turned-freelance writer, aspiring domestic goddess, and mom to a spunky and demanding preschooler and a tiny and demanding baby girl. I love all things food and drink, and I’ve rediscovered a love for cooking now that I’m not spending most of my days locked in the office, but I often have to improvise, since having ankle-biters around makes it more challenging!