Working Mom Gourmet: Weeknight Dinner Solutions

Now that the school supplies are purchased and orientations under our belts, it’s time to settle into to this school year’s weekday routine. And for most people that means juggling carpools, sports practices and games, piano lessons and lots of homework. Oh yeah, you gotta squeeze in dinner somewhere too.

Resist the urge to hit the drive thru, order take out or give in to expensive pre-made or frozen dinners. We almost never do any of those things in my house and I am a pretty busy gal. My friends are convinced I’m a vampire because of all I manage to get accomplished.

A couple of followers have asked for my suggestions for easy weeknight meals with little prep or cook time.  Happy to share!

pesto.jpg

Presto, pesto!  Make a batch now, while the basil is abundant and fresh. Freeze it in ice cube trays or small containers for use when you need it.

Pasta is the obvious pairing with pesto. Choose a quick cooking pasta like angel hair to get dinner on the table faster.  Add the pesto to cooked pasta with olive oil, and toss, and you’re in business.

Grill some chicken ahead of time, or add in some quick cooking shrimp for a protein add-in for the pasta. For a creamy option, add a tablespoon or cream cheese or goat cheese to the pesto mixture. So delish!   If you’re over (or off) pasta, pesto is GREAT on zucchini noodles. Or you can also spread it or chicken, fish or shrimp too, for an herbaceous baked protein.

See below for my go-to basil pesto recipe (I use almonds instead of pine nuts because those are too expensive, plus I always have this super food around). I also like to mix it up and use walnuts for a variety, and I often make parsley, mint or cilantro pesto which is incredible on fish.

For a dinner that’s super kid friendly and fun for both them and adults, try my walking turkey Frito pie. (see previous post, A Portable Picnic, for this recipe)  You can always chop your veggies and cook the rice for build-your-own stir fry bowls the night before. 

Or mix up fresh pizza dough in the morning or the night before (so cheap to make and uses so few ingredients). The dough will be perfect by dinner time.  I use Leanne Brown’s recipe from her book, Good and Cheap.  Getting the kids involved in topping their own pizza always ensures they’re more likely to eat it!  It’s not rocket science, but it is science.  It’s proven!!  Crank up your oven to 500 and that ‘za will be ready in 10 minutes.

pizza

Cut down on cook time for family-friendly favorites like meatloaf, tuna noodle and broccoli, cheese and rice casseroles, pot pie or baked mac n cheese, by portioning them out into ramekins, or cupcake tins. Adults can control their portions better and cook time is cut in half! My kids always get a kick out of eating things “just their size” too.

For tonight’s dinner, I sneaked in some finely chopped zucchini and kale into mini meatloaves for a helping of greens that my children (and husband) won’t even know they are eating. Pillsbury has a really easy crescent roll mini pot pie recipe that I like, too.

Another favorite among my kids is carrot soup. It’s colorful, sweet and savory. Plus it keeps well so you can make all, or portions of it, ahead of time. I usually make it on the stove top with lots of fresh shaved ginger. But I had a bunch of HUGE carrots and some red/yellow peppers from the farmers market so I decided to roast them!  (recipe follows)

If you’re a fan of Mexican food, make baked taquitos.  I like to mix up shredded leftover chicken, cheese, rice and/or beans, and any veggies I have hanging around.  Put a spoonful of the mixture in a tortilla and roll them up tightly.  Place them in a baking pan seam side down and bake at 350 until they’re just barely browned. It’ll take no time at all!  You can dip them in salsa, guac or sour cream. Great way to use leftovers and not repeat taco night!

I always feel better when we have dinner together, especially one that I made myself.  And when it doesn’t take me all night, I’m happy.  We all know, when mama’s happy….

Roasted Carrot and Pepper Soup:

3 large carrots, peeled
1/4 of a red onion
1/2 a red or yellow pepper
1 clove garlic, peeled
3-4 sprigs of thyme
Olive oil
Salt/pepper
1 1/2 c. vegetable or chicken stock
Heavy cream or half and half (optional)

Cut the veggies into similar sized pieces, about one inch chunks so they will roar evenly.
Line a baking sheet with foil and preheat oven to 400*.
Drizzle veggies, and garlic in olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste and toss to coat. Spread evenly on the baking sheet and roast for 30 min.

This can be done ahead of time. And if you double the portion, use the half roasted veggies for a side dish today, use the rest for soup tomorrow!

Place the roasted veggies in a blender with 1 1/2 c. broth (chicle or vegetable). Blend until smooth.

Put the soup in a sauce pot and cook a little longer to thicken. Add salt and pepper if needed. Add a tablespoon of heavy cream or half and half of you want a more creamy consistency.

Basil Pesto:

1/2 c. Pine nuts (pignoli) or almonds
2 c. Loosely packed fresh basil
1 Clove of garlic
1/3 c Parmesan cheese (or Romano)
Juice from half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste (careful with the salt as the cheese is salty already)
1/2 c. Of olive oil

Add the nuts to the food processor first. Blend until they are crumbs.
Add everything else but the oil. Turn on the processor and slowly pour in the olive oil. Taste and adjust (you add more of anything you like to find the perfect balance)

Thanksgiving Comes Early. Demo Dinner and Beer Tasting from Fresh Fork Market

Is it possible to be so full, and yet still hungry?  If so, that’s what I am, after the Fresh Fork Market Thanksgiving Beer Dinner.  It was a demo/dinner/sampling of the company’s Thanksgiving offerings this season.  And my appetite is piqued.

thanksgiving dinner winter squash soup

When we sat down at the communal tables in Market Garden Brewery (which served as the night’s event space), there was freshly baked bread, butternut squash and bacon biscuits, with creamy guernsey butter and belly-warming winter squash soup to start….a good start indeed.

thanksgiving bread and butter

While we sampled one of three beers offered for the evening, Chef Adam Lambert demonstrated several different ways to prepare, break down, and carve a Thanksgiving turkey.

thanksgiving dinner turkey demo

Brining is a must, according to Lambert.  Noted.  Trussing you can do without.  Excellent.  Always intimidated by that part anyway.  To stuff, or not to stuff?  He says for safety reasons (and to not overcook the bird) cook the stuffing separately.  Grill it, smoke it, roast it, or…a new one for me… “spatchcock” it (method of removing the backbone then cooking it flat, thus making for a more even thickness).

thanksgiving turkey spatchcocked

Chef Lambert answered questions throughout the demo, everything from where to place the thermometer, to what kind of knife to use for these various methods.  By then, the smells coming from the kitchen had made their way to the back of the event space and it was time to feast.

thanksgiving turkey roasted

The buffet had everything you look for in a Thanksgiving dinner, plus some things you’ve probably been meaning to try.

thanksgiving dinner buffet

There was turkey two ways, (traditionally roasted and spatchcocked/smoked/grilled) mashed potatoes with turnips, cauliflower risotto, braised carrots and greens, sweet potato casserole, creamed cabbage, roasted Brussels sprouts, two kinds of stuffing, root vegetable hash, cornbread, shaved raw vegetable salad, home fries with cabbage and jowl bacon, Harvard beets.  And these are just the ones I can recall.

thanksgiving dinner my plate

After seconds, and thirds, and finally take out containers were offered…it was time for apple pie.  Since I limited myself to one trip to the buffet line (and one to-go container 🙂  )  I saved just enough room to sample the Amish baked pie.  Sorrynotsorry on that one.

fresh fork market turkeys

Those who sat at my table were discussing which Thanksgiving package they were ordering and already dreaming about the pasture-raised turkey that had their name on it.  (Click here for info on Fresh Fork Market Thanksgiving Orders) Guests walked away with an extensive instructional book, about 45 pages long, that covers everything from planning, to prepping and execution.  A new “bible for Thanksgiving hosts” if you will.  A great takeaway!

I left the evening stuffed, satisfied and stimulated…ready to be adventurous and ambitious in the kitchen this Thanksgiving (stay tuned for a “Friendsgiving” post very soon!)  I’m also convinced that this year, the turkey MUST be brined.  So mom, I’ll be over early in the week to take care of that for us!  Thanks, Chef Lambert and Chef Bosley for the great recipes and inspiration!  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!