Slowcooked Chicken BBQ Sandwiches

Original Recipe HERE

Nothing overly remarkable about this recipe, other than it produces a tasty and easy dish.  I prefer my barbecue on the sweeter side - I can't remember what region that's from, but if I leave the Food Network on long enough, a show on barbecue is sure to come on (and make me hungry).  This fits the bill.  I toasted some sub rolls, melted some sliced American cheese on them, and then piled on the chicken.  Some chopped red onion was sprinkled on top, and I was a happy eater.

2 to 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts - frozen or thawed [I used 2 thawed; approximately 1 pound]
3/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon vingear [I used cider]

1) Place chicken breasts in crockpot.
2) Mix ketchup, brown sugar and vinegar in a bowl and pour over chicken.
3) Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8.
4) Remove chicken from crockpot, and shred with fork. Return to crockpot to keep warm.  Serve on a bun.
Notes: I cooked them for 3.5 hours but got home well after the timer had gone off.  The chicken and sauce weren't burned at all, but next time I'll set it for 3 hours if I'm using thawed again.
Kid Participation:
* Mix sauce ingredients.


Oatmeal Yogurt

Original Recipe HERE

To say I'm not a morning person is a grievous understatement.  I've tried for 30 years to change it.  No, that's a lie...I haven't tried that hard.  But now with two kids, I need to make some adjustments.  I'm concerned about what it'll be like when one or more of them are in school.  We'll have to get certain mandatory things accomplished by a certain time every day.  Pre-10:00am is not a good time to ask me to function, cup of strong coffee or not.  So anything that can streamline my mornings is a blessing.  I'd much rather spend five minutes throwing a batch of this together at 11:00pm when my house is full of peace and quiet instead of trying to fix breakfast for three people during the inevitable morning chaos.

This recipe includes several of my favorite things, and a bonus is that you can use apples year-round in it.  Out-of-season apples are so unsatisfying.  Here, their often meally texture and lack of potent flavor don't matter.  I heated a few spoonfuls of the final product in the microwave to compare, but I thought it was better cold.  Sweet!  One less step to worry about when stumbling around the kitchen in my morning fog.  This will be made again.  I can think of all kinds of variations and add-ins, and the thought of tripling or quadrupling the recipe so everyone eats the same thing for breakfast makes me giddy.

Update: I've since made this many times, including using a six-ounce Chobani plain yogurt and a diced pear. Just as good, though I figured out too late that my pear wasn't ripe enough. I've also used Stonyfield fat free French Vanilla yogurt, wheat germ, and flax seeds.  And I have learned to just eyeball the ingredients.  Both kids gobble up at least two bowls whenever I make it, so double or triple the recipe each time.
4 ounces (fluid) plain yogurt [I used Dannon fat-free]
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cups uncooked oats [I used quick-cook]
1 small apple, peels and diced (1/4" to 1/2" cubes)
dash cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a bowl or tupperware. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Notes: The original recipe says you can substitute vanilla for the honey and suggests using Greek yogurt.  Adding some slivered almonds or craisins in the morning has potential.
Kid Participation (if you're not throwing it together at 11pm):
* Measure yogurt and oats
* Shake cinnamon
* Stir


Stir-Fried Sesame Asparagus

Original Recipe HERE

I really try to like asparagus.  I know it's good for me, and Husband is a big fan.  But no matter how I prepared it (steamed, broiled, grilled, roasted, etc.), I never hit upon a recipe that I enjoyed so much that my 30-year distaste of the vegetable could be reversed.  Until tonight.  This was so good.  *N* even asked for three servings - from a child who takes after her mother in the asparagus department, that's huge.  I was going to take a picture because it looked pretty, all bright green and sprinkled with sesame seeds.  However, Husband devoured the leftovers when he got home.  I guess that means this is a do-again.

2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2-3 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 pounds asparagus [I used one pre-packaged bunch], ends trimmed, cut on diagonal into 2-inch-long pieces
4 teaspoons sesame seeds

1) Stir soy sauce and sugar in small bowl until sugar dissolves.
2) Heat oil in heavy large skillet. Add garlic and stir 15 seconds.
3) Add asparagus and stir-fry until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes.
4) Add soy mixture and toss until asparagus is coated, about 1 minute longer. Season with salt and pepper [I didn't use salt; I figured the soy had enough in it].
5) Transfer to bowl; sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.
Notes: In my haste to make this dish, I accidentally put two TABLEspoons of sugar in - no wonder it didn't all dissolve.  I was going to say to cut the sugar in half next time, but apparently I should just follow the recipe instead.  Oops.  No other changes to be made, other than using more asparagus so we can all have as much as we want.
Kid Participation:
* Stir together soy sauce and sugar.
* Sprinkle sesame seeds.

Banana French Toast

Original Recipe HERE

I was looking for a way to use up some dangerously ripe bananas, as was the case with the cookies a while back (I promise we do eat plenty of bananas at the peak of freshness, but there's always one or two out of every bunch that lingers past its prime).  Since it was the weekend and Husband was available to wrangle the kids, I did a quick search for a banana pancake recipe.  I came across this one instead, and because we do pancakes often, decided to go for french toast.  That was risky, since I can never time things properly.  I soak the bread too long or not long enough, and I usually start off with the heat for the pan too low...so I get impatient that the bread is taking too long to turn golden, I crank up the temperature, and suddenly I have blackened french toast.  This time was no exception, but there were enough good slices for Husband and *N* while I took one for the team and ate the burned ones.

I used regular wheat bread because that's all we had, but I generally have better luck with a baguette or a similar thicker-cut loaf.  I keep meaning to try challah.  Anyway, you could definitely taste the banana, and I smothered mine with butter and a little syrup...very good.  It was an easier "special breakfast" than homemade pancakes and waffles are, as well as a much easier clean-up job.

2-3 large ripe bananas
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
3 egg whites
3/4 cup lowfat milk
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 slices bread
Cinnamon and confectioner's sugar, for dusting [optional]

1) Puree the bananas, vanilla, egg, egg whites, cinnamon, and milk in a blender or food processor.
2) Preheat the griddle. If using an electric skillet, preheat to 375 degrees F.  Use a nonstick spray if needed.
3) Place the bread in an oblong pan and pour the batter over it. Turn the slices of bread so the batter is absorbed evenly. Soak the bread until soft and almost falling apart. You can do this step in two batches.
4) Slip the bread into the skillet and cook until lightly browned on one side. Turn and cook until done. Dust with additional cinnamon and confectioner's sugar, if desired.

Notes: Next time I'll slice up an additional banana or two for a topping, and some sort of nut sprinkled on top (or in the batter?) would be a nice touch.

Kid Participation:
* Peel bananas.
* Crack eggs.
* Dust with cinnamon and sugar.


White Bean Dip

I dusted off this oldie-but-goodie the other weekend when Husband told me at 8:00pm that he needed an appetizer to take to a work party the following afternoon.  Isn't that the sort of stunt your kids are supposed to pull ("I need 48 cupcakes for the fourth-grade bake sale tomorrow morning!"), not your full-grown Husband?  He offered to just buy something at the store on his way, but I told him I'd rise to the occasion.  This dip is easy because I always have the ingredients on hand.  I've doubled the original amounts since it didn't make that much, but exact measurements aren't necessary. You can be careless and taste-test throughout.  This dip can be served hot, cold, or room temperature.  So what I'm really saying is that there's no real way to mess it up.

A note about the garlic: when deciding how much to include, err on the side of less.  I'm a garlic fanatic, but I've been played for a fool by this recipe in the past.  It will sneak up on you, and all of a sudden you have wicked Garlic Dragon Breath.  Also, I like to do use both roasted (for a deeper, more subtle flavor) and fresh (to provide a little sharpness).  The original recipe just called for fresh, so any combination would work.

2 or 3 15 oz cans cannellini or great northern beans, rinsed and drained [any white bean could work]
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons plain yogurt
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley [or substitute a few big shakes of dried]
1 teaspoon black pepper [approximate]
1 teaspoon kosher salt [approximate]
Hot pepper sauce [Tabasco], to taste
4-6 garlic cloves
olive oil [if roasting the garlic]
Pita bread, chips, or vegetables for dipping

1) To roast garlic, separate desired number of cloves from bulb, leaving them in their peels.  Make a packet out of aluminum foil, put the cloves in, and drizzle them with olive oil.  Seal packet and put on the middle oven rack at 400 degrees for 30-45 minutes.
2) Add beans, lemon juice, yogurt, parsley, pepper, salt and hot sauce to the food processor bowl.
3) Take whatever garlic you're using, fresh or roasted, and remove peels from each clove.  Smash so they're slightly broken up and add to food processor bowl.  Process mixture until it's a smooth consistency.
4) Do a taste test and adjust ingredients accordingly for desired result.

Kid Participation:
* Add ingredients to food processor bowl.
* Smash garlic cloves.
* Push buttons on food processor (if you're so inclined).



Original Recipe HERE

This recipe seemed a bit exotic...different from what I normally fall back on for weeknight meals (ahem, chicken and veggies...).  The egg step was what provoked me to bookmark it.  As did the fact that it's actually not complicated at all but looks like it could be to those you serve, so maybe they'd think you spent more time in the kitchen than you really did.

The eggs didn't turn out as I'd expected.  However, upon re-reading the instructions, I see I didn't put the lid on - maybe that would've helped them cook more quickly.  The whites sort of ran all over the pan, and I poked the yolks with a fork so they'd spread a bit into the whites so they'd cook as well (because I just can't do the runny yolk thing without gagging).  Due to a screaming *J* in one ear and a poor *N* pitifully complaining of hunger pains in the other, I tried flipping the eggs because it was taking forever for them to cook.  Do not do this.  It just made a mess.  Then again, by the time it was done, the whole thing looked like a pile of tomato-based slop...but it tasted really good.  Probably not recognizable (in appearance, at least) to anyone in-the-know about shakshuka, but that doesn't matter.

It was also fun to listen to *N* try to pronounce shakshuka.  I heard shachuka, chakchuka, shatuka, katuka, and several other variations that made me smile.  I may have to seek out more dishes with unfamiliar names just to provide some entertainment while I'm cooking.

1/4 cup olive oil
2-3 jalapeƱos, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped [I used 1.5 large ones; next time I'll use at least 2]
1 small yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, crushed then sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
Kosher salt, to taste
Minced garlic or garlic salt, to taste
6 eggs [to serve 4-6 people]
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
Brown rice, for serving
Pitas or naan, for serving

1) Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add chiles and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, about 6 minutes.
2) Add garlic, cumin, and paprika, and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft, about 2 more minutes.
3) Put tomatoes and their liquid into a medium bowl and crush with a potato masher or similar tool [I wonder whether a can of crushed tomatoes would've omitted the need for this step]. Add tomatoes and their liquid to skillet along with 1/2 cup water, reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Season sauce with salt and garlic salt.
4) Crack eggs over sauce so that eggs are evenly distributed across sauce’s surface. Cover skillet and cook until yolks are just set, about 5 minutes. Using a spoon, baste the whites of the eggs with tomato mixture, being careful not to disturb the yolk. Sprinkle shakshuka with feta and parsley and serve over rice and with pitas or naan for dipping.

Notes: I'll try different techniques with the eggs - maybe fry them in a separate pan until they just set and then transfer them to the shakshuka to finish cooking.  I forgot to add the feta when reheating leftovers the next night, and now I realize that it definitely adds some good flavor.  I was surprised at how mild the dish was - using a little more of each spice, as well as additional jalapeno and garlic cloves, would up the "wow" factor (which I can't believe I just wrote).

Kid Participation:
* Smash garlic with meat mallet.
* Add spices to pan.
* Crush tomatoes in bowl.


Creamy Chicken & Rice Casserole

Original Recipe HERE

This recipe makes no claim to be healthy, but it is tasty and easy.  Two out of three ain't bad.  I did try to "health-ify" it a little bit, but I would label it a "comfort food."  Tummy-filling, warm, scoopable, and all the other things that contribute to bringing you to your Happy Place after having eaten it.  And I welcome any excuse to eat fried onions from the can on my dinner.

1 box (6 oz) chicken-flavor Rice-A-Roni
1 can (10 oz) cream of mushroom soup, low-fat or reduced sodium
8 oz low-fat sour cream
1 lb chicken (approximate), cooked & shredded/diced [I used two large skinless, boneless breasts]
frozen chopped vegetables, thawed [I used a bag of carrots, peas, & green beans]
3-6 oz Durkee French-fried Onions [to taste]

1) Preheat oven to 350 F.
2) Prepare Rice-A-Roni according to package directions [I used one tablespoon of butter instead of the recommended two].
3) Mix sour cream and soup in a large bowl.
3) When rice is done, add to bowl and stir to combine.  Add chicken and thawed vegetables.
4) Grease or spray a 9x13 baking dish.  Spread mixture evenly in the dish.
5) Bake, uncovered, for 40 minutes.
6) Remove from oven.  Top with fried onions [to taste] and return to oven for 5 minutes.

Notes: Tasty enough to make again.  I think it would be a great potluck dish, or a bring-to-a-friend-in-need meal (leaving the fried onions off and having them add them after reheating).

Kid Participation:
* Stirring all ingredients together.
* Spreading into baking dish.
* Eating fried onions from the can.


Black Bean Veggie Nuggets with Creamy Avocado Sauce

Original Recipe HERE

Do not let the appearance of the nuggets deter you - I know what you're probably thinking.

I picked this recipe because *N* loves black beans - I think she could polish off an entire can in one sitting.  My daughter has the appetite of a 14-year old boy most days.  It was somewhat labor-intensive, but a lot of the work could've been done ahead of time, including making the avocado sauce.

A word to the wise: chop up the avocado into pretty small pieces.  I left it in big chunks, and the Magic Bullet couldn't handle it.  I had to switch to a big blender, and it still didn't work until I added more yogurt.  I considered adding garlic salt or other seasoning to the avocado sauce, but I'm glad I didn't.  It had decent flavor but wasn't overpowering.

*N* ate several of these for dinner and asked for more, but I insisted she eat her chicken and creamed spinach before she had yet another helping.  Still, she managed to eat a giant portion of beans after all, per usual.

2 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
5 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1 cup grated raw, peeled sweet potato [about 2/3 of an average-sized potato]
1/2 cup panko
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce (optional) [I did not use]
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fine cornmeal
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Safflower or canola oil
1 ripe Hass avocado
1/2 cup plain yogurt [I used Dannon Fat-Free]
Juice of one lime
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
Pinch of sugar

1) Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap.
2) In a small bowl, combine egg, chili powder, salt, hot sauce and pepper; beat lightly and set aside.
3) Place black beans in a large mixing bowl and coarsely mash with a potato masher or the back of a fork. Add the scallions, sweet potato, panko and egg mixture; mix well.
4) Take heaping tablespoons of black bean mixture and roll each lightly between your hands to "pack" the mixture together.  Place on prepared baking sheet and flatten into patties [yielded 24 nuggets]. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
5) Combine flour and cornmeal in a shallow dish; set aside.
6) Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large heavy cast iron or nonstick saute pan over medium heat.
7) Dredge patties lightly with the cornmeal mixture and place in pan (be sure to leave enough space to turn them.) Cook until patties are brown and crisp on one side, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Turn and cook until other side is brown and patties are heated through, 3 minutes more.
8) Remove cooked nuggets to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with remaining patties, adding more oil to pan as necessary.
9) To make the avocado sauce, place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. If mixture will not blend, add more yogurt, a tablespoon at a time, until smooth and creamy [I used 2 tablespoons in addition to the 1/2 cup].

Notes: Next time I'll add some garlic salt to the bean mixture to give it a little more spice.  Some finely grated cheese might be nice as well.  Since the avocado sauce was pretty thick (perhaps I didn't thin it enough?), I spread it on top of a few nuggets and we ate them that way instead of dipping.  Next time I'll substitute low-fat sour cream for the yogurt and throw in a scoop of salsa - we had so much left over, it would be nice to use it as a guacamole.  Finally, I was dismayed at how much oil I used, but the pan kept "drying out."  I'll brainstorm ways to make that step healthier - different oil?  Baking?  Broiling?

Kid Participation:
* Whisk egg and spice mixture.
* Mash beans and stir mixture together (use a very large bowl to contain the bits and pieces that will try to escape due to enthusiastic stirring).
* Combine flower and cornmeal.
* Push buttons on blender (if you don't mind authorizing the use of kitchen appliances).