Pasta with Tomato, Basil, and Brie

Original Recipe HERE

This is one of those recipes where using just a few flavorful ingredients makes a big impact.  Because it's kept simple, you can taste each one individually, yet they work together to make the meal better than just the sum of its parts.  It can work as a side dish or entree, as well as warm or cold (though I preferred it warm so the brie was melt-y).  Any smaller pasta could work, though ones with nooks-and-crannies, like shells or ruffles or rotini are best because the sauce gets trapped.
Since the garlic is raw and gets somewhat infused into the olive oil, be careful with the amount and err on the side of caution.

12 ounces small pasta
2 large tomatoes
4 ounces brie cheese
1 tablespoon minced garlic or 1 to 2 garlic cloves, pressed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar [optional]
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced into small strips
1) Cook pasta according to package directions.
2) While pasta is cooking, chop tomato into bite-size pieces.  Add to medium bowl [preferably metal].
3) Remove rind from brie.  Cube into small pieces [shape and uniformity don't matter].
4) Add brie, basil, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper to tomatoes.  Stir to thoroughly combine.
5) After pasta is drained, add to bowl with other ingredients.  Stir thorougly to combine.
Notes: This tasted great both warm and cold, though I preferred it warm so the brie was melt-y.
Kid Participation:
* Stirring ingredients (though be careful for overzealous mixing that results in olive oil stains on clothing)
* Eat extra pieces of brie


Green Chili Chicken

Original Recipe HERE

This is one of those recipes for which I always have all the ingredients in the pantry, so it'll be a good "fall-back" recipe.  Like for those nights when I defrost some chicken because I don't know what else to do, then I'm scrambling an hour before dinnertime with what to do with it.

The original recipe called for flattening out regular chicken breasts - something I'm never good at.  I go at it with a mallet until the meat starts to fall apart, yet it's not thin enough to roll or fold.  And it can be tough on the outside but not cooked through to the inside.  So I went Plan B (see below) pretty early in making this, though I did flatten the chicken a bit to make for more even cooking.

3 to 4 chicken breasts
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon pepper
2 4-ounce cans green chilis
2 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese [or sour cream]
1/4 cup salsa
1/2 to 1 cup shredded cheese, mexican blend

1) Preheat oven to 375.
2) Combine garlic powder, cumin, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish.
3) Pound chicken breasts to an even thickness.  Dredge each side in the spice mixture.
4) In medium-size pan, heat olive oil.  Add chicken and brown slightly on each side so spices adhere.  Remove from pan and put in greased baking dish.
5) Combine chilis, cream cheese, salsa, and shredded cheese in bowl.  Mix thoroughly, ensuring that cream cheese is blended.
6) Spoon sauce over chicken.  Cover and bake for approximately 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

Notes: None.

Kid Participation:
* Pound chicken (if you trust them with a mallet)
* Stir spices
* Stir sauce ingredients together


Guiltless Alfredo Sauce

Original Recipe HERE

I love alfredo sauce, but it doesn't always love me back.  Being mildly lactose intolerant, I need to be careful about anything with an unknown amount of heavy dairy ingredients.  And lots of fresh alfredo is made with cream.  And Lactaid pills don't protect me like they should.  I learned this the hard way New Year's Eve 2005-2006 when a friend's husband whipped up some delicious salmon alfredo pasta.  I took two pills (which isn't supposed to do any more good than one, but I was determined to eat that dinner), and within half an hour my body was cursing me.  I lasted until midnight because I made myself, but I was miserable.  And because I was miserable and couldn't stand the thought of consuming anything else, Husband got to have some beers.  Which meant I had to drive home, clutching at my stomach in agony and huffing and puffing while he blissfully enjoyed his Welcome to 2006 Buzz in the passenger seat.

Anywho, so I stay away from fresh alfredo.  And the storebought stuff can be pretty nasty.  So I was so excited to see this recipe that I thought my innards could tolerate.  I halved the original recipe, and it made plenty for three people to eat for dinner with a little left over.  It tasted great (not too heavy!), and I had no aftereffects.  There's a definite garlic flavor - not too strong, but I'd think the amount could be decreased or eliminated (with perhaps a little more salt and some pepper to liven the sauce back up).  I'll be making this again now that a whole world of alfredo dishes has opened up.

1 cup low-fat milk
1/4 cup (2 oz) low-fat cream cheese
1 Tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 Tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1) Put milk, cream cheese, flour, and salt in blender.  Process until smooth and set aside.
2) In non-stick medium sauce pan, melt butter on medium-high heat and add garlic.  Saute garlic (slightly bubbly) for about 30 seconds.
3) Add milk mixture to pan. Stir constantly for 3-4 minutes or until just simmering. Keep stirring and let cook for a few minutes more until noticeably thicker.
4) Remove pan from heat. Add Parmesan cheese, stir, and cover immediately. Let stand for at least 10 minutes before using (it will continue to thicken).

Notes: I may try adding a few diced tomatoes and their juice just to experiment with flavors.

Kid Participation:
* Add ingredients to blender
* Push buttons on blender (and teach them about the importance of holding their hand on the lid)


Creamy Fruit Freeze

Original Recipe HERE

Summertime, with its abundant fresh fruit, makes me want to take advantage of nature's bounty.  However, my family doesn't always consume mass quantities (of the size that makes a pick-your-own outing worthwhile) quickly enough, and some goes bad.  Except blueberries.  *N* can eat those by the truckload; I should've named her Veruca.  I know I can freeze it, and I sometimes do - but usually in pureed form to add to plain yogurt or smoothies later on.  Those options were getting a little old, so I thought I'd try this recipe.

I didn't have enough fresh fruit varities that seemed like they'd combine well, so I used a frozen bag of mixed berries and cherries from Trader Joe's.  The end result was a lovely treat.  It didn't have the "airy-ness" of good ice cream, but it had a melt-in-your-mouth quality that I really liked (because, obviously, it's frozen, so it's going to melt...but I couldn't think of a better description).  I added a few spoonfuls to some smoothies, and it gave them a richer texture - funny, since I had been feeling burned out on smoothies-made-of-frozen-fruit.  This isn't healthy, but it's super easy.  And at least you know it's not full of scary-sounding additives, artificial flavors, and suspicious colors.

2 cups berries or diced fruit, fresh or frozen (thawed)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1) Combine fruit and sugar in a food processor or blender.  Process until smooth.
2) In mixing bowl, whip heavy whipping cream until soft-medium peaks form.
3) Gently fold whipped cream into puree just until combined.
4) Place in a freezer safe container and freeze until firm (about 2-4 hours). Scoop into bowls for 6 small servings.

Notes: Next time I'll combine the puree and cream more thoroughly.  It had a marbelized look before being frozen, so I'll go for a more uniform appearance.

Kid Participation
* Pour fruit and sugar into food processor
* Mix puree and whipped cream together


Whole Wheat Oat Pancakes

Original Recipe HERE

I had some buttermilk in the fridge for a meal I'd planned to make.  But I didn't save the link in my "This Week" folder, so I couldn't remember for the life of me what the buttermilk's intended purpose was.  So pancakes it was.

These were really good.  I like that they aren't loaded with butter or sugar, and they have plenty of whole wheat flour and oats.  I used fat-free buttermilk, so while I de-healtified them by drowning them in butter and syrup, I didn't feel quite so guilty as I might've.  The texture is really moist on the inside, which I'm assuming is due to letting the oats soak in buttermilk.

The original recipe says it makes 4 individual pancakes, which wouldn't be nearly enough for us.  So I doubled the recipe and got 18 to 20 medium-sized ones.  We kept them in the fridge and finished them up over the next two days (I was too lazy to freeze them, and I welcomed the opportunity to get out of my cereal-every-morning rut).  Some prep work can be done the night before (like mixing the dry ingredients), thus making the creation of a "real" breakfast (instead of just bowls of the aforementioned cereal) seem more do-able.

3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, divided
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 Tablespoon packed brown sugar

1) Soak oats in 3/4 cup buttermilk for 10 minutes.
2) Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in large bowl.
3) Whisk egg, butter, brown sugar, remaining 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, and oat mixture together.  Pour into dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
4) Heat skillet over medium heat until hot and lightly brush with oil. Pour 1/4 cup batter per pancake onto skillet and cook until bubbles appear on surface and undersides are golden-brown (about 1 minute).  Flip with a spatula and cook other side, about 1 minute more.

Notes: The original says you can serve it with sliced bananas, which I'll try.

Kid Participation:
* Measure & whisk dry ingredients.
* Measure & whisk wet ingredients.

Linguini with Bacon, Spinach, and Chicken

Original Recipe HERE

This is an easy pasta dish that I embellished a bit.  To make it even easier, just follow the original recipe.  But I didn't have the makings for garlic bread, I didn't feel like making biscuits, and my go-to of a spinach salad would be redundant due to already having the leafy green stuff in the main dish.  So I wanted to make this into a heartier one-dish meal.

As always, I salted the pasta water.  However, since you use some of that cooking water in the final product, that was a mistake.  The food tasted great, but it was too salty.  The bacon provides plenty of that flavor, and the grease serves the same purpose as the salt (keeping the pasta from sticking).

3/4 lb of linguini
6 to 12 oz fresh spinach
1/2 cup chopped red onion
8 slices bacon
4 oz sliced mushrooms [I used baby bella], rinsed and patted dry
2 chicken breasts, cooked and chopped into bite-size pieces
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Boil water for pasta.  Cook pasta while preparing rest of meal.  Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid before draining.
2) Cook bacon in skillet large enough to hold entire meal.  Set aside to drain on paper towel.  When cool, crumble or thinly slice.
3) Use a paper towl to wipe / absorb some of bacon grease from pan if desired.
4) In same skillet used for bacon, saute red onion and mushrooms in bacon grease until translucent.
5) Add spinach and saute until wilted.
6) Add chicken, drained pasta, bacon, and 1/4 cup of pasta water to skillet.  Add additional pasta water if preferred.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Notes: Just to not salt the pasta water.

Kid Participation
* Break linguini noodles in half.
* Eat extra bacon slices.


Whole Wheat Waffles with Oats

Original Recipe HERE

I love homemade waffles.  They're 200% better than any of the storebought ones.  And the great thing is that I usually have a few leftover ones that go into the freezer and can be enjoyed on subsequent mornings. 

I had planned on making a buttermilk waffle recipe that's an old stand-by in my kitchen.  But I realized that morning that I had no all-purpose flour.  I considered just substituting wheat flour and hoping for the best, but it seemed like too much of a risk.  At least not one I was willing to take while craving waffles and therefore would be really pissed off if I had to go without.  Luckily they turned out well - denser than the average waffle, but (probably due to the oats) not tough or dry.  I got two large (meaning 8 smaller) waffles by doubling the original recipe.  The amounts below are the doubled ones, and a few ingredient tweaks were made - so see the original to compare and make substitutions to suit your preferences.

2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup quick cook oats
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon [optional]
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg [optional]
1teaspoon vanilla extract
2 whole eggs
4 Tablespoons apple sauce [or canola oil]
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablepoons milk
3/4 cup buttermilk

1) Preheat waffle iron.
2) Mix dry ingredients together in large bowl.
3) In separate bowl, whisk wet ingredients.  Pour into dry ingredients in several batches; thoroughly combine.
4) Spray waffle iron with non-stick spray.  Ladle batter into waffle iron and follow iron's instructions for cooking.

Notes: Next time I'll mess around with the substitutions and amounts just to compare.

Kid Participation:
* Measure dry ingredients
* Whisk dry ingredients together
* Crack eggs
* Whisk wet ingredients together
* Whisk all ingredients together

Cream Biscuits with Blueberry Topping

Original Recipe HERE

My mom brought several pounds of freshly picked blueberries on her most recent visit, and my first instinct was to made them into a dessert.  Without much time to spend on making them, and not wanting to go to the store to buy ingredients, I tried this recipe.  Without any butter in it, I was concerned that they'd be too light - fine for some occasions, but I prefer a denser biscuit for shortcake.  These were a great solution.  It yielded 7 biscuits that were 3" each and one mini-biscuit for *N*.  To serve, I split it in half, scooped mascerated blueberries on top, and added an unhealthy amount of Redi-Whip (yes, taking the lazy route).

Ingredients for Cream Biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the surface
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Ingredients for Blueberries
2 cups fresh blueberries
1/4 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons lemon juice

1) Add blueberries, sugar, and lemon juice to small sauce pan.  Allow to simmer until some blueberries begin to burst and reach a thick syrup-like consistency (leave some blueberries whole).  Taste-test and add more sugar or lemon juice if desired.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.
2) Preheat oven to 425°F.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
3) Sift two cups flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into large bowl.
4) Fold in 1 1/4 cups cream. If dough is not soft or easily handled, fold in remaining 1/4 cup cream, little by little.
5) Turn dough onto floured surface, mound into a ball and, using your hands, press it to a thickness of about 3/4 inch.
6) Cut into rounds approximately 2.5" diameter and arrange on baking sheet at least 1" apart.  Gather dough scraps and continue to make rounds.
7) Bake until golden, 12 to 15 minutes.

Notes: None!

Kid Participation:
* Add dry ingredients
* Whisk dry ingredients
* Measure and add blueberries (watch for kidnapped berries)
* Press out dough
* Cut biscuit rounds