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!

Five better things to do with Thanksgiving leftovers

Don’t default to tired turkey salad or slap together a boring turkey sandwich in the days after your Thanksgiving feast.  Try mixing it up with these Cheftovers  ideas for your holiday leftovers: Baked Brie with cranberry sauce, Turkey Tetrazzini, Pilgrim Pockets, Mini turkey pot pies, and Thanksgiving casserole.

This year I made home made cranberry sauce for Friendsgiving.  I’ll never buy it canned again.  It was easy, bright and beautiful…and too good to toss.  So I took a semi circle of Brie (inexplicably leftover from a cheese plate one of our guests brought…that stuff usually goes quick in a crowd!) and topped it with about half a cup of the leftover cranberry sauce.  I then wrapped the Brie/cranberry sauce in a sheet of puff pastry I defrosted and brushed it with melted butter and baked it at 375 until it was golden brown.  Spread that melty, sweet, tart, creamy goodness on a buttery cracker and you’ve got a spectacular holiday appetizer.

Brie with cranberry sauce

I like to try to find some way to incorporate pasta when I’m dreaming up leftovers ideas.  Turkey tetrazzini is a savory way to include the flavors and excess from Thanksgiving dinner, but not have a carbon copy dinner on Black Friday.

turkey tetrazzini

I looked up a couple of turkey tetrazzini recipes online and married a handful of them based on what I had and what I was trying to use up.  I used two cups of chopped leftover turkey, and added that to a sauce I made with sauteed onions and garlic, cream of mushroom soup (a Cheftovers pantry must-have) turkey stock (which I made with the turkey carcass…a mindless task you’ll be happy you did) some canned mushrooms, cheddar cheese, and season salt.  I tossed that combo with some al dente linguine, put it in a casserole dish, topped it with some more cheese and baked it (covered with foil) until bubbly.  Toward the end I topped it with chopped parsley (leftover from my herb rubbed turkey recipe) and some red peppers that were lingering from a veggie tray.

pilgrim pocket

The Pilgrim Pocket is simple…make a Thanksgiving leftovers calzone.  Just use leftover stuffing, turkey, and veggies (like green bean casserole, carrots or corn) and stuff that into a pie crust (cut in half, then folded over once filled) I used gravy and/or cream of chicken/cream of mushroom soup to bind the insides and keep it moist on day two.  Pinch the sides to seal in all the goodness and brush the outside with an egg wash, and cut slits before baking. (400* for about 25 min)

pilgrim pocket sliced

If you have some extra Pillsbury biscuits in the fridge you didn’t bake, try some mini turkey pot pies.  I placed the biscuits in a cupcake tin, and filled each with the same kind of filling from the Pilgrim pocket.

making mini thanksgiving pot pies

I suppose you could also incorporate a little mashed potatoes, although I think those freeze pretty well.  I topped them with a dollop of cream of chicken soup, and some french fried onions (in the cupboard from the green bean casserole recipe) and baked them at 350 for 23-25 min.

mini turkey pot pie

Now…if you don’t have biscuits, or pie crust…or you have already used them and STILL have leftovers, like I did…I also made a Thanksgiving casserole of sorts.  I cooked some egg noodles, and place those in the bottom of a baking dish.  Then I took roughly the same combo from above, or whatever you’ve got left, in my case…a few cups of turkey, the last of the green bean casserole, or whatever veggies you have…and I poured in the last of my gravy and mixed everything up.  I topped the noodles with that mixture and sprinkled the remainder of my french fried onions on to finish.  It’s a comforting, easy combo that should reheat pretty well too.

thanksgiving casserole

I’m always looking for inventive ways to use what’s around.  Please share your creative Thanksgiving leftover dishes.  

The Pilgrim Pocket: Post-Friendsgiving

Half the fun of Thanksgiving dinner is thinking about the leftovers.  There’s hardly another meal on the planet that reheats and tastes just as good in the days after as this original, American feast.  But this year, I wanted to think beyond turkey sandwiches, turkey salad and turkey soup.  And I had an idea…the Pilgrim Pocket.

Friendsgiving guests

This weekend I hosted a “Friendsgiving” to celebrate the bountiful blessings and the company of my family and of a couple others.  We watched football, snacked while enticing smells filled the house, then sat down and piled our plates high with turkey and all the traditional trimmings.  The Cabernet and the gravy flowed.  It was a warm, fun evening.

Friendsgiving dinner plate

I took a quick assessment after the table was cleared and the guests had left.   About four portions of the 13 lb turkey, one helping of stuffing, LOTS of mashed potatoes and gravy, half a casserole dish of green beans, a few cups each of corn and fresh cranberry sauce and a couple items in the fridge (a pie crust, and crescent rolls) that I never used.

Since we only get to eat this combination of delectable dishes once a year, I didn’t think it was wise to completely change the flavor profile…best to just repackage it into something a little more exciting than luke warm leftovers.  Enter the Pilgrim Pocket, a thanksgiving calzone of sorts.

pilgrim pocket crust

I pulled out the remaining pie crust I had in the fridge (from the two pack I bought for the pumpkin pie I made) and unrolled it, then sliced in half.  I took a cup full of turkey (chopped) a cup full of green bean casserole and the rest of the stuffing and mixed it all together.  I added some gravy to keep it moist on day two.  I put the Thanksgiving mixture on one half of each of the semi-circles then folded the other half over, and pinched the sides to seal it in.

pilgrim pocket egg wash

I brushed the outside with egg wash and cut a couple of slits in the top to vent.  Then I popped my Pilgrim Pockets in the oven at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes.  The result was a Thanksgiving redux that would have made the pilgrims proud!

pilgrim pocket sliced

Stay tuned…I have plans for that cranberry sauce.  What have you done with leftovers from Thanksgiving?